Monday, May 28, 2012

Photos On Line

I have a big old Epson Stylus Photo printer that takes up a lot of room on my desk.  I've only used it a couple of times in the past year.  I bought the printer originally to make prints for gallery display, but I soon tired of that whole scene.  I did make quite a few prints with it for myself, but there is only so much wall space in my home for hanging pictures.  I started putting prints in large cellophane sleeves and storing them in binders, but I seldom got them out to show anyone or even to look at them myself.  At the same time all that was going on, I started up a web site and later a blog.  I have now put hundreds of my pictures on line, and I'm perfectly happy having them seen on computer displays.

Of course, on line display of photos is not without pitfalls.  Photo sharing sites like and Flickr do a pretty good job of displaying photos, but the rules and the context are under their control rather than yours.  At the other end of the wire is the viewer's actual screen display, and you really do not control that at all in any significant way.  It is shocking sometimes to go to someone's home and see how your pictures look on their computer screen.  People crank up brightness and contrast to the max, and the photos look horrible.  Often people will work their way through your web site, blog, or photo sharing site displays and never click on a thumbnail image to view the photos at full size.  It can be a pretty discouraging experience.

In addition to all of the above, we also now need to contend with the fact that everything on line, including photos, is moving rather quickly to mobile devices such as tablets, cell phones and e-readers.  On high-end devices like the iPad, the display is potentially excellent  in many, though not all, respects.  As you move down-scale, the compromises start kicking in and displays not specifically configured for smaller screens and a limited tonal spectrum are often not worth looking at.  Before I take this any further and get us all depressed, let me say that I see the move to a mobile web as an interesting challenge and an opportunity, much as was the case when I was a Fidonet administrator devising ascii text graphics, or when I put my first web sites on line and viewed them with Marc Andreessen's Mosaic browser.

I got my Kindle Touch to use as a reader and it works very well for me for that purpose.  However, I'm also excited by the possibilities this inexpensive device shows as an implement for sharing information and images.    The built-in wireless capacity makes acquiring books and other data effortless, and there is even a rather good little web browser available.  The screen on my Kindle measures 3.5 inches by 4.75 inches, and thay lets me display a photo at a size close to what I normally want to show on line at my web site or my blog.  To be sure, there are just sixteen shades of gray availble for my photos, but if I pay attention to contrast, levels and sharpening, I can show a pretty good looking image.  

An encouraging aspect of the move to the mobile web is that a great deal of it is already automated.  The folks who are running the show at Google, Facebook and all those other big sites know where it is going, and they are making  tools available to developers and users to make the transition tolerable.  For instance, if you want to have some personal documents or photos available for viewing on your Kindle, you can email them to your Kindle email address and have them come back to you automatically formatted within minutes for viewing on your e-reader.  If your ambition is more expansive, you can publish a complete e-book with text and illustrations and market it on Amazon -- all with free tools.

Of course, e-books and photo display are just niches in the bigger picture of the web today.  There are also great opportunities in video and audio production, 3D graphics, game design, and other forms of communication which are yet in the dream stages.  If you want to share your art and have it be relevant, it is worth giving some thought to where the web is headed.

New Toy

Margaret bought me a Kindle.  I got the Touch model because it allows setting your own default dictionary and retrieving definitions with a single touch.  I was three-quarters of the way through the paperback of Tolstoy's Anna Kerenina when I got it, so I bought the Kindle Spanish edition for 99 cents and finished the book that way.  Also picked up a Merriam-Webster's Spanish-English Dictionary and installed it, and found that it works very well.  Yesterday, I started Los Cuatro Jinetes del Apocalipsis by Blasco Ibáñez which I downloaded free from Project Gutenberg.

As illustrated above, the Kindle is also a pretty good platform for displaying and publishing photographs.  I'll have more to say about that once I've learned more about the process.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Shooting the Mamiya C330

Early in the morning the sun was dulled by smoke from a forest fire to the west of Albuquerque.  The Spring winds had let up a bit as well, so it seemed a good time to get out for a walk along the river with my Mamiya C330.

The bellows on the C330 allows close work, but one really needs slow speeds, small apertures and a tripod to ensure usable shots.  It would also be nice to have a paramender which permits raising the camera 50mm up its long axis to get the same view to the film as is seen on the tlr's view screen.

Mamiya must have sold a lot of these cameras as one sees them often on ebay, often for grossly inflated offering prices.  A kit like mine with the 80mm and 180mm lenses may go for $300-$400, but earlier models including the C33, C3, C220 and C22 can often be had for under $100.  A similarly wide spread of prices will be found for accessories such as eye-level prism finders, lenses, lens hoods and paramenders.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Car Show Color

Many of the cars at this big car show are starting to seem like old friends as I have run into them many times around town since moving to Albuquerque four years ago.  I think I first shot this '36 Ford coupe three years ago at another show site with my Argus A2F.

My XA2 generally performed well with the Fuji 200.  I was surprised, though, to find a couple shots underexposed by about two stops that were made in bright sun.  A quick google search reveals that it is not an uncommon issue with the camera.  People often recommend changing batteries, but I suspect the programming and placement of the auto-exposure system.  I came across a comment by light-seal guru, Jon Goodman, suggesting that shading the light sensor under a high sun with your free fingers would alleviate the problem.

Monday, May 21, 2012


The annual Albuquerque Museum Car Show provided me with a nice excuse to give my Kodak Duo Six-20 a workout.

The Chevrolets were featured this year, but there were many finally restored models from every major American manufacturer of the 20th Century.

Some of the cars have been in the possession of their owners for decades,  a few were bought new by the person who still drives them.

The handlebars, seat and other details of this motorcycle betray its origins; it is a 1927 Harley.  What seems remarkable to me is what it shows about how little two-wheel design has changed over such a long time period compared to what has been experienced with the auto industry.

I was pleased with the performance of my recently-acquired Duo Six-20 which I think is well suited to portraying these historic vehicles.  The Compur-Rapid shutter is still snappy and the 1/500 top speed allows the use of about any modern film type.  The uncoated f3.5 Kodak Anastigmat lens renders very nice detail and tonal qualities.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Annular Eclipse at Albuquerque

These are digital shots of this evening's eclipse seen from near the Albuquerque airport.
I also shot a roll of Kodak Gold 100 in the Pentax Spotmatic.  If I got anything on the film, I'll put up the pictures tomorrow.

My results on film were less than stellar.  I bracketed exposures widely to try to capture details of the corona extending out from the sun's surface.  However, such subtleties were swamped out by photographic artifacts including flare and reflections from internal lens surfaces.  I probably would have been better off with a conventional telephoto rather than a zoom and a 2x telextender.

There is a Flickr group devoted to pictures of the 2012 annular eclipse with a lot of good shots from all along the path of the event.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Getting ready for the eclipse on Sunday

Looks like good timing and weather in Albuquerque for viewing the solar eclipse late in the afternoon on May 20th according to this NASA site:

Pretty much everything you need to know about photo techniques for capturing pictures of the big event can be found at 

I'm thinking I'll likely set up for the few minutes of totality with a telephoto and a telextender to get the maximum size image on the film.  Organized preparation and rehearsal are crucial for this kind of opportunity.  There are also a lot of chances for getting interesting images before and after the total phase.  I snapped the two below a few years ago, and included them in a discussion of the origins of pinhole photography.

The Albuquerque Astronomical Society
Eclipse Details for Albuquerque

UPDATE: Can't make it out West to view Sunday's annular eclipse in person? The National Park Service will broadcast the eclipse live by webcast from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. from New Mexico's Petroglyph National Monument.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Zeb Andrews

I recently came across the work of Zeb Andrews on Flickr.  I've added a link to his web site to my list of outstanding pinhole photographers, and I wanted to say a few words about him here.

Zeb clearly has a good eye for landscapes and waterscapes.  Any viewer of his images is going to be struck first by the intentionality of his compositions.  They are not accidental or serendipitous, but rather carefully considered and rendered.  

The next thing to be noted is Zeb's medium of choice: color film exposed in a pinhole camera.  What sets his work apart from the crowd is his unusual and thorough grasp of the unique qualities of the pinhole image.  While many of his pinhole pictures are uncommonly sharp, a close examination also shows subtle departures from normally perceived reality in regard to color and tonality.  Dramatic intensity is provided by the pinhole's extreme depth of focus, and time and space are rendered elastic by the extended exposures required to register an image on the film.

I asked Zeb if he would mind sharing some comments on the techniques and equipment he uses for his pinhole work:

"I don't mind sharing info at all. Photographers who aren't confident enough to share technical info is kind of a pet peeve of mine. Anyhow...

Most of my pinhole work is done with the Zero Image pinhole, either the 2000 (which is 6x6cm) or the 6x9cm model. So there are a couple of the variables right there. 1) I am using medium format and producing large negatives so the images look crisper and more detailed because they are enlarged less. 2) The Zero Image pinholes are exceedingly well made in terms of how clean and precise the pinhole is. It is almost sort of ironic I know, to be using such a primitive means of photography and producing images that others often don't realize are pinhole at all because of how sharp they are.

Other than that, all the usual stuff, low ISO film for finer grain, work usually from a tripod for stability. Cannot really say I have any "secrets" other than that. If I think of any other good additions I will let you know. The fact that they are Zero Image cameras is well worth mentioning though. The cameras are absolutely gorgeous in hand... all hand made at that. And they perform wonderfully, as my images exemplify.

Oh, I said most up there, didn't I? The other pinhole camera I use is the 6x12 pano made by Holga. Black, plastic, no where near as elegant looking as the Zero Image, but the pinhole in that is surprisingly good too."

This blog entry provides only a brief glimpse of what is available at Zeb Andrews Photography.  His Flickr photostream is also well worth a visit; recently, he has been posting some delightful pinhole views of Paris there.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Shooting the Kodak Reflex II

The Kodak Reflex II is one of those cameras that I always feel I should be spending more time with.  I've got quite a few lenses on my old cameras that are as sharp or sharper than the Kodak Anastar on my Reflex II.  None, however, can best it in rendering subtleties of black and white tonality.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Shooting the XA 2

National Train Day in Albuquerque provided a nice opportunity to put my newly refurbished XA 2 through its paces.  I couldn't find anything to complain about in its performance; it handled a variety of circumstances with aplomb.

Some of the day's events took place at the Wheels Museum which is housed in one of the  Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Shops buildings.  The big old buildings which are mostly empty now all have a marvelous quality of light due to the banks of high windows.  The shops were famously photographed in the '40s by FSA photographers including Jack Delano.

I don't recall having much previous experience with a three-zone focus camera in the past.  I wasn't sure how well such a system would function in low light at medium and close distances.  The little Olympus seemed to take it all in stride.  I'm thinking I may even like this simpler XA 2 better than the XA rangefinder model, which is a nice camera, but a little fussy in use compared to the XA 2.  The XA 2 also has a simpler lens design which seems less prone to vignetting.  Four bucks well spent.

Friday, May 11, 2012

a good day at the junk shop

It has been quite a while since I found anything interesting at the local thrift shops.

Of course, the first thing that caught my eye today was the Olympus XA 2 and its four-dollar price tag. I popped a set of batteries in when I got home and the camera came to life and the shutter seemed to be working perfectly. I was patting myself on the back while loading a roll of film in the camera when I noticed that it was missing the pressure plate. Oops...  Another bit of good luck -- I happen to have an XA with some fungus on the lens which I had already used as a parts donor. Popped the pressure plate off and put it on the XA 2. I'll give the camera a chance to show its stuff tomorrow, which is National Train Day.

 The Kodak Brownie 44 A is pretty uncommon in this country, though they probably go for a dime a dozen in the UK where they were built. This one has three apertures: f8, f11 and f16, fixed focus and a fixed shutter speed of about 1/40 sec. Mine is missing the clip-on cover which attached with a couple lugs on the camera's bottom. I believe the fact that there are three rather than two apertures means that the camera was built after 1964; it was designed for Kodak by the award-winning British industrial designer, Kenneth Grange. The shutter and the back latch were very sticky on the 44 A. I took off the front to get at the shutter, and some Ronsonol there and on the latch got everything working smoothly. I'm curious enough about this camera to be tempted to pick up a roll of 127 film to try it out; I think this may be one of the first Kodaks with a plastic lens. I was hoping its rather large size for a 127 shooter would mean I could run some 35mm through it, but it doesn't look to me like that would work.

 The Sekonic Auto Lumi meter looked like it was new from the dealer and I could see at the shop that the needle was reacting strongly to light. However, the dial on the front was completely stuck. I took the thing apart and found that the grease behind the dial had dried out completely and was keeping anything from moving properly. More Ronsonol, and Bob's your uncle.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Deco Beauty

There are quite a few pictures of the aviator, Amelia Earhart, holding a Kodak Duo Six-20 camera.  This one was probably on board her Lockheed Electra when it went down somewhere in the Central Pacific in 1937. 

I picked up my Duo Six-20 recently on ebay for $29.  I was a little apprehensive about being the only bidder on the camera as you wonder what defects you might have overlooked that others saw.  Luckily, my fears were unfounded, and the camera was in very nice shape for its age.  The only real sign of use was the paint worn away from the metal trim.  It is a little tempting to try to retouch those worn spots, but I think I prefer to let the camera wear a bit of its history.

I cleaned all the lens surfaces, got some tape residue off the back panel, and applied some black dye and Kiwi Parade Gloss to restore the leather.  The T and B settings were a little sticky, but the other shutter speeds all seemed good.  One tiny pinhole in the bellows was patched with a dab of black fabric paint.

This Duo Six-20 has a 70mm f3.5 Kodak Anastigmat lens that is nicely sharp and which renders tones beautifully. The camera is a bit smaller than the Series II model which I have had for some time, and it does not have the top-deck shutter release.  I shot my first roll in the camera this morning while walking around the UNM campus.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

The VM Juggernaut

Not Vivian Maier
The NY Times Lens Blog today features the latest developments in the Vivian Maier found photo saga.  Along with a few pictures there is an announcement of a forthcoming biography, and a segment of "This American Life" devoted to Ms. Maier's life.

I wrote here about the Vivian Maier phenomenon soon after it became known.  I liked her work then and still do, but I have even more reservations now about the process that it has been subjected to.  It seems to me that the subject has shifted inexorably  from photography as art to photography as commodity.

Vivian Maier was a private person who enjoyed the process of photography, and she made some good photographs along the way. There is no way now to really know what she would have thought about the exploitation of the unfinished work she left behind.  It may be that the biggest lesson to learn from all of it is to be sure to burn your negatives before you die.

Friday, May 04, 2012


When the Contaflex I appeared on the market in the early 1950's the company's ads made much of the idea that the camera's single lens reflex viewing system allowed you to see just what the film would see.  It is true that the view through the finder is bright and clear and -- unlike the twin-lens reflex or view camera systems -- the image was not reversed or upside-down. Most importantly, perhaps, there was no parallax discrepancy as one inevitably got with rangefinder cameras.

The Contaflex ads did, however, promise a bit more than the camera actually delivered.  The split image spot at the center of the viewing field makes it easy to focus precisely, but the only part of the view which actually shows the focus at full aperture is a small doughnut around the central spot.  The rest of the screen shows the image nearly fully focused.  For the 'fifties tourist shooting chromes under the bright sun at small apertures, there was no evident problem.  In low light and at large apertures, however, there is quite a difference between what is presented in the viewfinder and what the film sees.

Focusing nuances aside, the coated Tessar f2.8 lens always delivers nice images to the film, and the Contaflex is still one of my great favorites.