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What follows here is not so much a review as it is a love letter to outdated technology.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

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.