Monday, December 30, 2013

Peace, Love, and Cameras

The end of the year is a time of introspection, for me at least.  It's a great time to look back at the highs and lows that happened during the year.  There have been a lot of changes, a lot of endings and a few beginnings.  And pictures.  Never enough, though, no matter how many I take.

As an amateur historian and the proud hubby of the family genealogist, I see a lot of old pictures.  And as a camera geek, I spend a lot of time wondering about the people who took them, and about the gear they used.

The camera I'm talking about in this post hits all the sweet spots.  It's old, and it has a family connection.  This particular rig, an Argus C4R, belonged to my Great-Aunt Opal, the woman who raised my grandfather after his mother's early, mysterious passing.

Before I get into the meat of this entry, take a look at this glamour shot --


She's all original, right down to the Argus branded leather case.

My Great-Aunt and -Uncle traveled a lot after his retirement and this 35mm rangefinder went everywhere with them.  Every time I visited them, I insisted on seeing their slides (much to my mother's chagrin).  Most, if not every single frame, passed behind the lens you see here.

When my Great-Aunt could no longer take care of herself, her camera passed to me.  Even though I've had it in my collection since the late 1980s, I've never shot anything with it, until now.

A bit of Argus history.

The Argus C4 was produced in large numbers in the 1950s.  Later versions, like the C44, had interchangeable lenses.  The C4 is a rangefinder, meaning that the image you see in the viewfinder doesn't pass through the lens via a mirror/prism arrangement like an SLR.  Focusing is a bit different, too, and I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I didn't know how to do it when I shot the first test roll.  More on that in a minute.

A visit to an Argus collector's site helped me pin down the year this camera was built.  As it turns out, my C4 is actually a C4R, which stands for (R)apid Wind.  I don't have another C4 to compare it to, so I'm not sure what the difference there is between this and the standard model.  The C4R was made only in 1958, which makes this one, if not rare, at least uncommon, and easily the oldest usable camera in my collection.

Shooting the C4R was better than a time machine as far as I'm concerned.  There are no electronics of any kind - no meter, no auto exposure, no auto focus, nothing.

Speaking of focusing, since I had never used a rangefinder and didn't bother to look for a manual before loading it up, what I did was guess the distance from the camera to the subject, then dialed the focus ring to the the distance I had estimated.  I couldn't believe that Great-aunt Opal managed to take such beautiful pictures of the American Southwest by guessing distances.

Turns out she didn't have to, and neither did I.  If I had done my research before shooting, I would have known that there is a way to get very good focus, at least as accurately as an SLR.

Rangefinders focus by displaying a double image in the viewfinder.  All you have to do is turn the focus ring until the images become one, and you're there.  Duh!

The viewfinder on my C4R is more than a little dirty, so I didn't even notice the double image when I was shooting my test roll.

On to the pictures!

 The scratches are just 30-odd years worth of dust and dirt.  The lens is pretty good shape.  Even with the dirt, it's hard to take a bad picture of this cat!


 The line through the photo is from the photo lab scanner.  It's not on the negatives.  I love how modern film still looks like it was shot decades ago

 How hipster!  Leaves, rocks, and ice.

 7 days earlier, the spot I was standing on was under four feet of water.  That's still ice back there, even though it was well above 40 degrees when I shot this.  Gotta love Indiana in the winter.

 This is the sharpest shot of the bunch.  Not bad, considering I was guessing the distance to focus.

Notice that the dirt and scratches were nearly gone by the end of the roll.  But the C4 is still due for a good cleaning before I take it out again.

There were plenty of shots on this roll that were WAY out of focus, but now that I'm know what I'm doing, the next bunch should be better.

Like I said before, there's no metering on this rig, so this was my first chance to try out the Minolta meter that I picked up at an auction a few months ago.  The exposures it calculated were dead on, matching the meter on my Nikon DSLR.

There's no way to know for sure how long it's been since the C4R last saw action, but I'm sure it's been silent for at least 35 years.  Even after all that time, it performed perfectly.  I'm going to clean it up and run another roll through her.

Pressing the shutter button on a half-century old camera is like a trip into the past, and I'm eager to take it again.

The future...

I still have lots of cameras to share with you in the coming year, and even more that I hope to find.  Yard sales will start up again in a few months, and there are still auctions in the winter, so the treasure hunt continues...

May 2014 be full of of peace, love, and cameras for all of us -- and for the benefit of your family historians, take more pictures!









Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Film Camera Farewell Tour Continues

I'll get to the cameras in a minute, but since this is a blog, and by definition, a self indulgent exercise, I'm gonna just ramble.

Middle age or - more likely - just past middle age, is a strange time.  When I was a kid, if I had ever given any thought at all to being 43, I would have thought I would have the big stuff figured out by now.  You know, the 'what am I gonna be when I grow up' type stuff.  The only thing I really know now is how much I don't know.

Take a look at my 'About Me' page.  Every one of the things I've done, I did because I thought at the time that it was the end of the journey.  Each time, I thought 'This what I'm supposed to do with my life.'

And I've been wrong - every time.  The truth, which should have been obvious, is that it's all about the trip, not the destination.  As long as I can keep the lights turned on, I guess I'll just enjoy the journey and not worry so much where I'm going.

During one of my detours, I spent a couple of months earlier this year getting certified as an antiques appraiser.  My wife and I hit yard sales and auctions as soon as the weather was warm enough, looking for the big score, the hidden treasure that we could flip for a fortune.

We didn't lose our asses, at least.  We pretty much broke even.  But we learned tons.  One of the biggest lessons was that being in the right place at the right time is great, but being there with the right knowledge makes all the difference.

On to the cameras!

A few months ago, the stars aligned and we made our first killer flip.  We were at a local auction where a pro photographer was going out of business and selling off all his gear.  Right up my alley!

I'm not the kind to kiss and tell, so I won't go into the exact numbers, but we easily quadrupled our investment.  As a bonus, I got to photograph and play with a couple of gorgeous cameras before I passed them on.

There was some other gear, and I'll go into that stuff later, but this post is all about the cameras.  We picked up two Bronica SQ-A cameras and an SQ-Ai.


Here's the SQ-Ai moments after I won the auction.

\


Back when I was shooting wedding videos, before digital was affordable, these were the rigs the pro still photographers were using.  The Bronicas were built like tanks, but way less expensive then the Hasselblads.

These are medium format cameras, which means that the film is bigger than 35mm, which allows for bigger, higher quality prints.  The film comes in rolls, not in cartridges like 35mm, in 12 and 24 exposure lengths.  Another benefit over 35mm was that the film was loaded in removable backs that could be switched mid-roll.  The photographer could switch from color to B/W, or to a different film speed, at any time. 

Also, the bigger lenses gathered more light, giving better results in underlit churches.

Once I got them home, they needed only a little cleaning to make them presentable.

This style of camera is modular, and there are tons of attachments and accessories available for them.

  
 
That's Velcro on top of the viewfinder.
The previous owner had radio triggered flash units, and he attached the transmitter there.


There are no electronics in this other then the electrically fired shutter.  Exposures had to be calculated with a separate meter.  Alternately, an eye level viewfinder with a built in meter was available as an upgrade.


It's funny when you see one of these rigs with the lens removed.  They aren't much more than metal boxes with a crank on the side.  This is one of the SQ-A's.  This model came out in the early 1980s, but they're still usable and still in demand.


This one came with the waist level viewfinder, as opposed to the eye level one.  You had to look down into the camera to compose.  And everything is reversed in the viewfinder image, so it took some practice to compose quickly.


Though not in the numbers they once were, this type of camera is still in use by professionals today.  Medium format film and processing are still available, but who knows for how much longer?

I don't have any test images to post from these rigs.  I sold them about two weeks after I got them, and I was too cheap to spring for the film since there isn't anywhere locally to get it processed.

In addition to the cameras, we got some flash battery packs, assorted cables, and a couple of light meters.  I sold one of them, a Minolta spot meter.

 
This may be the prize of the whole day.
Purchase price - $10
Sold on eBay for just shy of $200!

The other meter, also a Minolta but not a spot meter, I'm keeping to use with the couple of non-metered film cameras that I'll be sharing with you in coming posts.

The cameras and other gear are perfect examples of the value of being in the right place with the right knowledge.  From the low bids, I'm sure no one else at the auction had any idea what this stuff is worth.

I would loved to have added the Bronicas to my collection, but what's the point of keeping beautiful, usable cameras that I'll likely never use?  And there are always more cameras to find!

The weather looks to be a little warmer this weekend, so I'm hoping to get my 60+ year old Argus C4 out and have some test shots to share.

Thanks for reading - check back soon!



Sunday, December 1, 2013

Smutmas is coming!

There may not be a lot of updates in December.  Christmas is coming and lots of people will be giving and getting brand new Kindles, Nooks, and tablets of all descriptions.

I intend to crank out the smutty stories between now to ride that wave.  I'm aiming for 1500 words a day and at least 5 new releases this month.

I'll try to pop in every couple of days with a status report if anyone is interested.  Otherwise - have a great December!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Ebooks are here to stay.

There aren't going to be any food pictures or cat videos in this post. This one is just about words, and about how this amazing time we live in gives nearly everyone the opportunity to make their own words available to the entire world.

But first, an explanation.  All you have to do is take a look at that 'About Me' tab up there at the top and you'll see that I have a wide range of interests.  Go ahead.  I'll wait.

The down side to that is that there never seems to be enough time to devote to any one of them.  On any given day, my favorite out of that list will be different than the day before.  When there's a long lag between blog posts, that's most likely why.  I'm not making excuses, just speaking some truth.

And speaking of truth, the title of this entry is a big hunk of it.

I know a few readers who are going to take more than a little exception with what I'm about to lay out here.  Such is life.

Ebooks are the present.  They are also the future.

The reason I haven't been writing here is that I've been doing some other writing.  You saw on that list that I write smutty ebooks, right?  In between cooking and playing with cameras and keeping the bills paid, I'm experimenting with self-publishing.

Anyone who has ever written with the intention of getting published knows what a frustrating, humbling, sometimes humiliating experience it can be.  Professional writers love to tell stories of the endless rejections they've received, seeing them as a badge of honor.  The problem is that often the rejections don't have anything to do with the skill or talent of the writer.

We've all seen the stories of how many times books were rejected before finally finding a publisher and getting into print.  But how many other wonderful books were stillborn, not because quality was lacking, but for any number of dumb reasons?  Maybe an editor was having a bad day, or new on the job, or simply not very good at his job.  But the writer wasn't sufficiently thick-skinned, and gave up after a nasty note or two.  The writers I have known aren't always the most confident people, even if they are terrific writers.  Patience isn't necessarily and indicator of talent.  Neither is persistence.  Self publishing has long been an option, but it was expensive and ofter looked down upon by 'real' authors.

Ebook publishing has changed all that.  Now anyone with a computer can publish a book or short story or manifesto and have it distributed worldwide.  The nuts and bolts of how that all works is a Google search away, so I'm not going into that.  I'm saying that every writer that wants to be published should be published.

I can hear the complaints now.

But what about quality?  And the feel and smell of paper books?  What about loaning books and what about the high cost of reading hardware and all of that?

Quality?  That's an easy one.  Have you seen some of the crap that actually gets published?  Book editors aren't any better judges of quality than anyone else.  I have printed books that contain typos and misspellings and are still interesting books.  I've also bought books by 'professional' authors that don't have so much as a misplaced comma, but are brutally dull.

This is the wild west for writers, and it's a great time to be a reader.  Most indie ebooks sell for a couple dollars or less.  Indie writers are like indie filmmakers or indie artists.  It's not all about the money, it's about getting the work in front of eyeballs.

What about the feel and smell of paper?  Anybody have allergies?  An aversion to mold or bugs?  How about moving or travelling with printed books?  Screw that!  My ancient Nook reader is hardly state of the art, and it holds a hundred or more books, magazines, whatever.  Forty bucks on eBay, less than a couple new release hardbacks.  It takes up no more room than a couple of magazines, and silverfish don't eat plastic.

Lending?  The major sellers have lending features built-in to their readers.  Not a problem.

We're back to the big one, then: the hardware.

If you're reading this, you have the hardware.  Ereaders are great, but hardly a necessity.  Ebook software is available for just about any computer, along with smartphones, tablets, even game consoles.  What's more, ebooks are, if anything, more permanent than print.  Paper decays, and once it's ruined, it's gone.  Make a backup copy of your ebooks and you're golden.  Any bugs that remain will be worked out soon, I have no doubt.  Reading on a Nook or a Kinde or, better yet, a tablet computer, takes only a few minutes to get used to.

If you're a writer, what could be better?  Ebooks never go out of print or sell out.  Once you've sold one, you can be sure that your work will exist somewhere forever.

Just because books sell cheap doesn't mean there isn't money to be made as a writer.  Even at fire sale prices, writer's get a greater percentage of every ebook sale than they would get from any traditional publisher, ofter in excess of 70 percent.  Try and negotiate a deal like that for your dead tree book.  Since July, I've put out 14 short stories, and I started making money the very first week.  Print books are often in editing and printing for months before the author sees a penny.  Those big advances just don't exist for most writers.

I say all this as someone who has worked in professional publishing for more than half of his adult life.  The writing is on the LCD display.  Printing will be around for a long time, sure, but it will eventually be a boutique industry, like vinyl records or handmade paper.  But daily newspapers, magazines, and mainstream novels and non-fiction?  Forget it.

Embrace digital now.  It's the future!




Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Cast Iron Pizza Update

The 'Analog Camera Farewell Tour' will continue soon.  Some of the stories still to come:

  • A duplicate of my very first video rig - a VHS-C camcorder from the mid 1980s
  • A really expensive (in 1994) S-VHS camcorder that got me my first job in video
  • A 35mm rangefinder that could qualify for Social Security
  • and maybe a zombie video!

But tonight it's all about pizza!

We've had a few weeks to perfect our cast iron pizza process.  And I think we've just about got it.  I wrote a few posts back that pizza is a big deal, so there was no way we were going to settle for just 'ok'.

But before I get to the pizza update, I want to tell you what I've learned about the pan we're using.  I'm not an expert on this, so I'm only going by what I've read online.  On the back of the larger pan, it's stamped 'Long Life Skillet' and '1758a'.  Initially, I didn't pay much attention to the marking, since I didn't see a brand or a logo.  In truth, I figured that it was an imported piece with no real history.  Oh, how wrong I was. There are people who collect cast iron, and they have a presence on the web, just like pretty much every other hobby in existence.  This site has quite a bit of information on identifying cast iron cookware, including my pan.

I'm not going to go into all of the history here, since I'd like to keep the post moving, but here's the short version:  'Long Life' was a store brand of cast iron cookware produced by Wagner.  1758 is the design number, and the 'a' means it was from the first run of pans made of that design.  The even shorter version is that the pan is from somewhere in the 1930s and from a known American manufacturer.  I'm more than a little pleased that it is actually a vintage piece and over 80 years old.  Pretty cool.

We've added one more piece to the cast iron collection: a round griddle. I don't like buying new if I can help it, but the price was really good, we make eggs a lot, and I want to try pancakes soon.

Back to pizza.  The mistake we made the first time was simply using to much dough for the size of the pan.  This time, we made the same amount, but split it in half.  Instead of one really bready pie, we get two that are just right.  The new griddle is almost exactly the same size as the skillet, so we can make two at a time now.

Lisa has got the dough production down to a science.  She's using the same recipe as before, but letting is rise for a couple of hours and mixing seasonings right into the dough.

With the dough issue settled, it was time to experiment.  We made two different versions tonight: Mexican and Hawaiian.

The dough doesn't hang over the side of the pan anymore!

I'll probably cut the pineapple smaller next time.


Before and After



Not bad for a first attempt! 

The Mexican pizza is a favorite from back when out daughter was a baby and I was making pizzas for a living.

80 years worth of seasoning - you better believe it doesn't stick!

Damn, that's pretty!

Just add a little hot sauce if you're so inclined....
We don't even talk about ordering out for pizza anymore.  We can whip a couple of these beauties up faster than we can drive to any of the local pizza joints.

If anybody is interested in recipes, or maybe a video of how we make these, let me know in the comments.









Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween!

New posts are in the works, but I need to say Happy Halloween!  And a Blessed Samhain to my Pagan friends.

Take a few minutes to remember those on the other side - family, friends, pets, even total strangers that may have had some impact on you.  No one really knows what happens on the other side, but no one is really gone so long as they live in our hearts and memories.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Obsolete? Not my Flip!

The word 'obsolete' bothers me, especially when talking about cameras.

Film cameras, at least at the consumer level, have been obsolete for a while.  But plenty of people still use them and still enjoy them, and not just hipsters and Luddites.  Film will be around as long as there is still a demand for it, even though the prices will surely make it less popular.

Digital gear, like computers, are practically obsolete before you get them home.  Unlike computers, though, obsolete digital cameras and camcorders can still be a lot of fun.

What follows here is not so much a review as it is a love letter to outdated technology.

The Pure Digital Flip Camera probably falls under the 'obsolete' label.  The one I have was one of the first models, and I bought it new sometime in 2007.



I rarely buy cameras new, because I'm cheap.  But this one seemed like something special;  no tape, no moving parts, just dead simple.  It was perfect for kids or tech-phobes or even your grandmother.

Too bad for the Flip that it didn't come out a few years earlier.  It existed in that brief moment before smartphones were powerful enough to shoot decent video, but after analog tape cameras had declined into their own obsolescence.

Before you think that I'm shooting through my rose-colored filter, I'm happy to admit there was lot to criticize about the Flip, too.

Let me give you my list:
  1. No manual focus.  I hate this on just about every consumer level camera.
  2. No optical zoom.  It has a digital zoom, but all it does is to make a mediocre picture unwatchable.
  3. No mic input.  Another feature that early analog cameras often had, but now is hard to find outside of high-end gear.
  4. No removable media.  Some of the later Flips had more on-board memory, but mine is limited to 30 minutes.  Then it's either download, delete, or you're done.
  5. You better hope that there's no breeze if you're shooting outside.  Otherwise, the wind noise obliterates any other sound.
  6. It's nearly unusable in low light.
Anybody who used this camera could give you more, but these are some of the biggies.  Later models added a few more features, as well as HD recording.  My older model is still standard definition 640x480.

Why did I drop $100 in 2007 money on this?

Look at it!  It's built for fun!  Don't bother trying to get perfection with the Flip.  It's the digital video version of Lomography.  It's the 1990s version of the PXL-2000.

Take it outside, film the cats, the kids, the bugs on the fence.  If the batteries run down, don't screw around with recharging for hours - it runs on AA's (later models used rechargeable Li-Ion power).  Put the video in Movie Maker and run every stupid effect on it; you can hardly make it worse.

Even better, since the Flip has been out of production for years, it's dirt freakin' cheap!  I've seen them on eBay for less than $20.  If it gets lost or broken, at least you're not out any serious money.

And since there's no media to change and the USB plug is built in, as long as it will power up, it'll never be really obsolete.

Here is a compilation of  video taken with my Flip over the years.  The first bit is from a family trip to Charleston, South Carolina.  You can hear how the wind overpowers most any other sound.  Also, notice how the digital zoom degrades the picture.  Otherwise, you can see the Flip is perfectly capable of capturing a vacation, entertaining nosy cats, or documenting my killer homemade biscuits and gravy.



At the risk of sounding like an old guy, man I wish these had been around when I was a kid.  I might have gone outside once in a while.

The Flip was doomed even before Pure Digital was bought out by Cisco in 2009.  The Flip line was discontinued in 2011.  Think of the Flip as being like a netbook: it was a good idea, but had the twin problems of being too under powered to compete with laptops, but too big to compete with tablets.  It was just the wrong time.

I don't use my Flip much anymore, but it's just too cute and too much fun to let it go.  As long as it still works, it's not obsolete to me.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Video in the 80s and 90s

The 1980s were an amazing time to be a kid, especially a geeky kid.  Technology that either didn't previously exist or was too expensive for the middle class suddenly became available.  Sure, it was expensive - at first - but by the middle of the decade, we had real video gear, along with video games, home computers, electronic music, and more.

Lucky for me, my mom worked at a major consumer electronics company - which no longer exists, except as a brand name - so with her employee discount, we were among the first to have a VCR.  That top-loading beast must have weighed forty pounds, featured manual channel tuning, and a wired remote that only controlled two or three functions.  But it was coolest thing I had ever seen.

A few years later, we got our first camcorder, which was even cooler.  That little piece of awesome is the subject of an upcoming post - I'll get to that in a minute.  Shooting home video was fun, but with no easy way to edit, half of the equation was still missing.  So the camcorder came out of the case less and less the older I got.

By the time I started high school, I knew that I needed to have my hands on technology for the rest of my life.

The photo bug had bitten me hard in my early teens, but photography couldn't beat radio for pure geek appeal.  I worked at my school radio station for two years and was sure that I would be spinning the hits for a living.  Until I got to college.

I would have been happy to study radio, and only radio, if it had been an option.  But the program was broadcast production, not just radio.  I took the TV classes because it was part of the program.  Once I learned how to edit, as well as shoot, video, there was no contest.

Pictures trump audio.

Here are a couple of college projects I worked on in 1991.  I was behind the camera for both of these clips, and did all of the editing on the second one.  The cameras and studio gear were cutting edge at the time, but it all looks painfully dated now.








After college, I hopped from job to job like so many people do early on.  But I never lost my passion for video.  Sure, I got sidetracked into other jobs, other hobbies, but cameras consumed me.  They still do, and I love it.

At the end of the last post, I said I was going to talk about my first camcorder, the one we got in about 1985.  I don't have the actual camera anymore, but last year I found one just like it on eBay.  When I dug it out last week, I discovered that I don't have a working battery for it.  So, while I track one down, I'll have to profile another camera from my collection.

Since the last post was about a film still camera, I'm jumping forward a couple of decades and talking about a digital video camera that I couldn't have even imagined when I was 13 years old.  In 2013, though, it's already obsolete.

It's the original Flip camera, and I'm putting together video samples now, so look for that in the next few days.

On a non-video note, I have a very good reason for not getting a new post up sooner.  As one of those people that can't pass up an opportunity to do something he's never done before, there was no way I could let this one get away.  Two longtime friends and co-workers got married over the weekend, and they asked me to perform the ceremony.  It was my honor and my privilege.

Congrats Brian and Cathy!





Sunday, October 13, 2013

My Olympus OM10

Before I get into the meat of this post, I wanted to say a few words about the address of the blog.  You can still get to it with the blogspot URL, but now it has its very own domain - www.genericderek.com.

Sometime soon I'll tell the whole story of the name, but for now, on to the cameras.....

For my first in depth test drive of an old camera, I present my Olympus OM10.





As a piece of photo history, it's not much more than a footnote.  There was nothing especially cutting edge about it.  I won't bore you with all the tech specs.  My mom was the original owner, buying it in probably 1981 or 1982.  Check out the TV commercial from 1981 --




I have the receipt for it somewhere and it seems like it was around $250 - almost $550 in today's money - with the kit 50mm f1.8 lens.  She also got the manual adapter that allowed it to operate in full manual in addition to aperture priority, where you set the f-stop and the camera selects the shutter speed.  The adapter doesn't seem to work anymore.  I don't remember if it ever did.

Mom took the OM10 everywhere, including on an infamous trip to Canada.  She slipped on some rocks near Niagara Falls and proved why it's a good idea to keep a UV filter on the lens all the time.  The filter was a loss, but the lens survived the trip.

Over the years, Mom moved on to other hobbies and I borrowed, then eventually just kept, the OM10.  After getting me through high school journalism, two trips to Myrtle Beach, two years at yearbook camp, three weddings, college photo assignments, baby portraits, pet portraits, Christmas portraits,  several girlfriends,  professional wrestling matches, an art class with nude models, high school soccer games, miniature golf field trips, and hundreds of rolls of film, this American made workhorse finally went into storage about a decade ago, after not once needing a repair or getting any proper maintenance.

When I got it back out a few days ago, the shutter wouldn't fire.  I was disappointed, but not shocked, given that it's over 30 years old.  But I wasn't ready to give up on the old girl just yet.  As it turned out, it just needed fresh batteries.  Unlike my Pentax K1000, the shutter mechanism needs power, too, not just the metering system.  Even after a decade of inactivity, the old batteries had barely corroded at all.  Two new button batteries and everything worked just like I remembered.

Before I get to my test shots, I have to say that shooting film for the first time since about 2003 wasn't as odd as I thought it might be.  But using the Oly again was bittersweet.  After years of being my primary camera, I realized as I loaded it that I might be loading the last roll of film it would ever shoot.  It's not worth much on the used market, not like I would part with it anyway at this point.  Between my digital rigs and all the video cameras I still want to play with, I can't see another reason to use it again.  I hadn't planned to shoot nearly the whole roll on kittens, but the sky wasn't cooperating for the long exposure stuff I had planned on shooting, so it is what it is.

Here's the gallery, followed by a couple of closing thoughts.






A couple of things that I learned from shooting and scanning again after all these years:
  1. I really need to clean my scanner.  The dust and crap are from the scanner glass, not the camera.  And I won't get the matte finish again.  It scans as a weird texture.
  2. The OM10 tends to overexpose.  If I shoot with it again, I'll underexpose a half a stop - maybe a full stop.
  3. This crap is expensive!  The cost of a roll of film, processing, and a set of prints - pretty close to $15.
  4. I love the 50mm 1.8 lens.  Luckily, I can still use the glass.  More on that in a future post.

Unless you are rich, film forces you to be more selective when you shoot.  With no auto winder, you have to advance the film manually after each shot, and there's no autofocus either.  Shooting with a manual camera is a bit of a Zen exercise in patience.  You can shoot action, but no multi-shot burst.  The metering is pretty good, but a good photographer knows when not to trust the meter.  There's no immediate feedback with film, so skill, experience, and occasionally luck are required to get consistently good shots.  There's no exposure lock.  With just about all modern cameras, even point and shoots, you can partially press the shutter button and lock the exposure settings.

Shooting with the OM10 took me back to my earliest days of photography and helped me remember why I fell in love with cameras in the first place.  It also reminds me why I stopped shooting film as soon as I bought my first digital (also an Olympus).

Next time, I'm shooting video with a nearly 30 year old RCA camcorder.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

My name is Derek and I'm a camera junkie.

I'm really a simple guy - no sports cars or motorcycles or secret torrid affairs necessary.  But I am, most likely, at or near the halfway point in my life.  After years of hard work and sacrifices, I've come to understand why some guys have a mid-life crisis.  I've actually been planning mine for a while.

This very blog, in fact, is a symptom of it.  I've spent a good portion of my life trying to figure my purpose - not in any spiritual or metaphysical sense - but just doing a lot of self-analyzing to determine what I'm best suited to.  I have a spare room full of half-completed projects and ill-considered career plans.  But I've always come back to two or three real interests that border on obsessions.  All of them have to do with communication in one way or another.

At this point, I've decided that may be as close as I'll get to a solid answer and I'm gradually accepting the notion that my purpose may be more vague than I would have expected.  The name of the blog itself describes a couple of my obsessions, but anyone who has known me for more than a few minutes knows that I have a slightly unhealthy fascination with cameras.

The next few posts here, maybe more than a few, will be about my cameras and my relationship with photography and videography.  Many of the major events in my life involved cameras, either directly or indirectly.  I'm going to show you pictures of some of my collection, and when I can, post photos or video shot with them.

What's great about cameras right now is that all kinds of technology falls into the economic sweet spot known as 'dirt cheap'.  Analog tape cameras are easy to find at thrift stores for next to nothing.  Standard definition digital, while not quite Goodwill material yet, is easy to find on eBay or at yard sales.  Even hi def is cheap if you're willing to overlook mass produced plastic optics.  What an amazing future we live in!

And film cameras?  SLR's that sold for literally thousands of dollars just 10 years ago are sold for next to nothing now.  I don't shoot much film anymore, since I'm incredibly cheap, but that doesn't mean I'll pass up a chance to use pro level gear if I can buy it for the right price.

I rarely buy cameras simply to use them.  I like unusual ones, or ones that bring back a memory or two.  My collection isn't huge, but every camera I own has a story and I'll share those, too, as I tell you about them.  We've all heard that anything posted on the internet will live forever.  I'm counting on that.

Fall in Indiana is a great time for photos and video, so look for my first self-indulgent camera post in a few days. 

Monday, September 30, 2013

The Zen of Pizza

I've been busy with some other writing projects.  Sadly, my personal blog is last priority right now.

Today I'm going to talk pizza!  Now, this isn't primarily a food blog, but I think a lot about food.  During my last couple of health episodes, my diet was severely restricted - not permanently, but long enough that I sometimes dreamed about food.  Jim Gaffigan was right when he said that the Food Network is like porn when you're hungry.  I watched a lot of food porn.

The eating challenge / competitive eating shows always make a big impression on me, but likely not for the intended reasons.  They disgust me.  Not just because it's mindless eating, which is bad both physically and morally, but also because it removes a lot of the joy of eating.  I try not to eat too fast, because I want to savor whatever I'm eating.

Forgive me for jumping around in this post, but I feel like I have to explain why I spend more time being conscious of my food.  I spent a good portion of my 42 years overweight, if not actually obese.  Food, like alcohol for some people, has been my greatest joy as well as my biggest enemy.  Even having 18 inches of my guts removed a few years ago wasn't quite enough to make me take my health seriously.  Once our daughter moved away, my wife and I both decided that enough was enough.  Since January of this year, she's lost nearly 80 pounds, and I've lost over 60.  Friends and strangers are disappointed when they asked how we did it.  No magic pill, folks, just eating less and moving more.  It's just physics.

In some other post, if you want to know, I can go into the details, but for now, all that's important to my point is that we cut our daily calories by more than half.  So when we did eat, we were VERY conscious of what we were having.  The funny part is, we ate less and enjoyed it more.  One of the side effects of the new lifestyle was that we cooked at home a lot more.  I discovered (well, rediscovered) that I enjoy cooking.  A lot!  It runs in the family.  I can go into that sometime, too.

Backing up a bit, pizza is for me, and maybe for you, a celebration food.  Pizza is more of an event than simply a meal.  It was a reward at school, or a Friday night treat, or even a middle of the week-had a crappy day comfort food.  Pizza is one of those great dishes that can be made a hundred different ways, and none of them are really bad.  Like sex, right?  Even when it's bad, it's still pretty good.

For me, early on, pizza was my livelihood, too.  My first job out of college was at a pizza joint.  I tossed dough the day before my daughter was born.  Once I had my first real grown-up job, I worked at another pizza chain on the weekends for beer money.

Is it clear, yet?  Pizza is a big deal.


Now that I've pretty much reached my goal weight, I don't have to deny myself quite as much.  But the constant food awareness is habit, now.  Since we're cooking at home more, I spend too much spare time looking up recipes and techniques.  I decided a few days ago that I wanted to try two things:
  1. To start making pizza at home again, and
  2. to try cooking with cast iron.
I could have bought new cast iron pans, but I'm cheap and I like treasure hunts too much.  A local antique shop yielded a two new to me, well used pans this morning.  What follows is the story of today's cast iron pizza adventure.  Thanks for sticking with me this far.  I told you we'd get there.

First off, the pans are used, so some restoration was the first order of business.  A Google search provided lots of options for cleaning.  I opted for the cheapest.



Here are the pans, just as I found them.







I used some table salt and half a potato to grind off the worst of the rust and grunge






Then a coating of oil and some time hanging out in a hot oven.  Here they are - cleaned, seasoned, and ready to rock and roll.








Now I'm back in familiar territory, making pizza dough.  I've tried a few recipes, but they're all fairly similar: flour, water, yeast, salt, sugar - nothing fancy.  Some mixing, a few minutes of kneading - perfection.







Let that bad boy rise for an hour or so, then time to make magic!





The rest of this is all experimentation.

Add some homemade sauce - Thanks, Lisa!


Toppings....




And into the oven.

22 minutes later....



And we're done!  Time to eat!

The verdict?

Well, remember what I said about sex?  The cast iron pan worked perfectly, no sticking, the bottom of the crust was evenly browned, so no complaints there.

But....

Way too much crust.  I could have made two, maybe three of these with that one dough ball.  The pizza was just too bready.  My other compliant?  I still haven't cracked the code on getting the yeasty, deep dish flavor in the dough.  Even though this was made from scratch, it tasted like it could have been Bisquick.  I've been working on that puzzle for at least five years and any number of dough recipes.  Any suggestions?

I still call this one a success.  Since we controlled all the ingredients, the calories, carbs, and sodium were within reason.

We don't eat out much these days, but tomorrow I'll be making an exception.  October 1st, and Dairy Queen rolls out the pumpkin pie Blizzards.  I'm good for another year once I've had one, but I look forward to it like I do the first day of Autumn and Riley Days.

I'll try not to take another month to post again.  Whatever you eat - enjoy it!



Sunday, August 11, 2013

Life Changing Moments

The first post in my new blog is about life changing experiences.

The phrase is kind of meaningless.  By definition, every moment is a life changing experience.  Any decision we make, along with a hundred other variables, make any moment - every moment - life changing.  But you know what I'm getting at -- those moments in life that stand out as meaningful for some reason.  Maybe it was something traumatic: an accident or injury, the loss of a pet or a friend or a parent -- the kind of moment that makes you question your place in the world or commit to making it better.  Or maybe it was a great moment: a milestone - first day of school (bad example, sorry), meeting someone special or finding that thing that will become your life's passion.  Finally, it could be what this post is about:  some little event that may not have been obvious at the time, but for some reason has become part of who you are.

This is one of my little moments: hearing George Carlin for the first time.

Unlike some of those moments, I can't put an exact date on it, but I can get pretty close.  It was the fall of 1980, sometime between Labor Day and Thanksgiving.  I was 11 years old and deep in culture shock, having left the Nazarene school I had grown up in for the wilds of township public school.  The bullying that would define a large part of my adolescence wouldn't start for another couple of years, and I was starting to make some friends.  Chris had invited me and few other kids over to spend the night.  Chris's house would be the setting for a number of firsts for me: my first sip of wine (didn't care for it), first time seeing Playboy magazine, and my first exposure to George Carlin.  Chris's dad had an album on vinyl - I'm pretty sure it was Toledo Window Box - and we took turns listening to it.  We had to listen through headphones, one a time, so his parent wouldn't hear it.  We nearly got busted, anyway.  We fought against the gales of tearful laughter, first from the album, then from each other as we quoted the routines back at each other all night.

I never knew anything so funny and filthy and profane could even exist.  We'd all heard profanity before, so it wasn't just the forbidden language that make it so wonderful.  It was the simple truth of life's absurdity being said out loud.  I fell in love with George Carlin and with stand up that night. I wouldn't understand the real value of either one until years later.

There's no way I'm the first person to make this comparison, but I see comedians as the philosophers, the thinkers, of our time.  We accept truths, even uncomfortable - especially uncomfortable - ones from comedians that wouldn't take from doctors or priests or parents.  A good standup can hold up the mirror and make us see the ugliest in ourselves - without judgement.

Some kids, especially outcast kids, would sit in the dark and listen to music.  I listened to Carlin.  And Sam Kinison, Bette Midler, Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, and Andrew 'Dice' Clay.  Later on came Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby.  I wore out cassettes and had to buy them again.  I could, and still can, recite some bits word-for-word.  I never moved on to the next step - writing more material.  It was more than enough for me to just listen.

Maybe you've already heard it, maybe it's before your time - but if you can spare it, give George a few minutes, huh?