Category Archives: Blog

Separate, small items.

The Death of Progress

A couple weeks ago we lost another Apollo astronaut, Edgar Mitchell. He was eighty-five and lived a long, good life it seems. Now about half of the people that walked on the moon are dead. The youngest of them is eighty years old.

I am forty-two now. All of the moon landings happened before I was born. The NASA space program has pretty much been a spiral of irrelevance my whole life.

We had a space station whose design was whittled down in scope to the point that most of the work taking place on it was to keep it aloft. Making it even more fun it was damaged on launch and was bandaided so that it wouldn’t become an expensive fireball immediately. However, it proved so pointless that Jimmy Carter dropped it on unsuspecting Australians.

We had a Space Shuttle that, again, was whittled down in scope that by the time it was finished was not much more than a space joy ride device. The plan was to launch every month and do… things. This never happened and in the almost 20 years the project was in service it went up about 135 times.

The less said about the International Space Station the better.

We don’t even have the rockets to launch these heavy objects into space any more. Instead we rely upon Russian left-over parts in Kazakstan.

With this technological trajectory there is a pretty good chance that no one will go back to the moon in my lifetime.

Which leads to the latest output from NASA:



These posters are wonderful. But, you ever hear the phrase “all hat, no cattle”? Let me work a new one: “All space suit pictures no moon base”. Unfortunately this is typical of current society. We can make all of the pretty pictures but cannot actually do the things that should inspire them.

But you know the worst part? Look at the style. The current phrase for such things is “retro-futurism”. In the late-50s to early-60s this style was everywhere in advertising. It was a look of optimism that the future was ever-upward, conquering obstacle after obstacle.

So, you may ask yourself, why would posters showing the future made in the 21st century use the same visual language we developed fifty years ago? Quite simply it is because that future is dead. Even the folk at NASA cannot see us getting to Mars from our current technological place. In order to show that future they had to go to the past.

You can’t get there from here.

Alright, I hear you say, it isn’t that bleak. Aren’t a handful of billionaires putting together space programs? Why yes they are. They are doing things slightly more advanced than the Soviets did with Sputnik… in 1957. The backward slave state North Korea just did something similar. Hurrah.

There really is no point to my rant. Sure, I could recommend another X-prize like thing. Let’s take NASA obviously ample public relations budget and put a bounty on a manned space flight. Perhaps after that one make another for putting an object on the moon. Perhaps that is the way out.

Perhaps. My bet is we are all stuck on this planet for the foreseeable future.

This is why they call me Mr. Happy.

Imaging Indecision, Part One Hundred Twenty-two

[Note: This has been sitting in my drafts folder since March of 2013. I ended up not going with the M as I have issues composing with a rangefinder and its attendant parallax challenges. Anyway, thought I’d throw it up here finally because I found it a funny glimpse in my thought process.]


So, I picked up a Leica M9 to play with. Reasonings could be as follows:

A. Having actually had the same photo set up for upwards of 8 whole months, I must go insane and waste time and untold amounts of energy selling and buying stupidly. You see, the rest of the world’s photographers try to take good photos. God bless but that’s not my way. I play with fun toys and in so doing, occasionally, by accident, take pictures I don’t hate. Well, hate that much.

B. I like small cameras. Ever since I got the Fuji XPro1 my D800E has sat in its bag unless I was taking catalog shots. The Fuji can fit in my jacket pocket and, as such, I take it everywhere. My trip to London a month or so ago was great with the Fuji.

I have a couple problems with the Fuji though. The smearing problem is the biggest. Even with Capture One this does not go away. Further as the ISO increases noise in the dark areas bunch up into odd shapes that you really can’t fix.

Now the second problem is pretty fixable if you stay at 3200 max. MOST of the time you will not see the problem unless the frame is pretty uniformly dark. But if you keep it at 1600 max it is great all of the time.

However the first problem doesn’t go away. I recently did a quick catalog shoot with the Fuji as I had left my D800E at home. It was a tool that was a special and was shipping that day so time was cramped. I took a ton of pictures of it and put it in UPS. I was really, really excited about one set of the pictures. This was one I was thinking that I could blow up and use on our booth at trade shows. When I was editing the pics later I noticed the vast majority of them had areas where the detail became washed out. We have lettering that is cast in aluminum and the detail was lost even when converted to B&W. It looked like plastic. Odd. These were not really useable on anything but a small print (which is completely fine for the vast majority of my work). But I really wanted that shot so the next day I had another tool built to take pictures of with the D800E.

The last problem is just one of aesthetics. The Fuji lenses are incredible and have really wonderful rendering of black to white. Everything is damn smooth. I have a couple Leica R lenses and they really remind me of them. Just buttery. Now I also have a couple Zeiss lenses and they are not that. Contrast is huge and all pervasive. Things that are black can be none more black. And I just absolutely love this. For example:

1. Note ISO 1600 and no NR

Now that is an image of nothing, sure, but doesn’t it just look heavy as hell? I just love the tones. The Fuji would give you a completely different, actually more detailed image. But it doesn’t move me as much. Don’t get me wrong I do love what the Fuji can do. I mean, this shot I really like:


walter-hop (1 of 1) by Andy Henry Photo, on Flickr

These two pictures have pretty much the same processing through Nik Silver. Number 2 though is much smoother in contrast than 1 and it just isn’t as striking to my eye. Again, this is personal preference not an absolute better or worse thing.

I did buy the Fuji M-mount adapter to try mounting the Zeiss stuff on the Xpro1. It is pretty good but manual focus on that is a fair amount of work. If it had focus peaking like the X100S or NEX cameras do this would fix this. But as it stands it is too much of a pain.

While we are on that subject, why not a NEX-6 or NEX-7? First, colors. When I had a NEX-5N and NEX-7 I just never shot in color. No picture ever worked for me that way. It was only when I got the D800E that I realized the problem. The Nikon colors are just fine for me but the Fuji’s are incredible. And the Leica seems to be in that same league:

Now this is, again, a crap photo of nothing but this is just straight out of the camera. To me it is great.

The second problem I have with the Sony is ergonomics. The tri-nav on the NEX7 was really pretty good. But I just like the obviousness of the Fuji or Leica manual controls. It is really easy to change settings quickly and know where you are at a glance.

Conversely, this is also true with pretty much every DSLR. (If you are still reading this respond on this thread with the word “orange” just to cause confusion for the non-massochistic among us who stopped reading or, smarter still, never started.) The Nikon (and Canon) ease of changing aperture, speed and exposure comp with finger dials is great. You really don’t have to take your eye off of anything to get everything done. This was especially true with the D3S which seemed to have a few more buttons and switches but that is definitely overkill on little cameras.

So with Sony and Fuji with things that I don’t find optimal, that kind of leaves me with Leica (and Samsung but I’ve never even seen one or heard of people using it–not a knock but I’d like a bit more data).

The initial impressions are:

3. Holy wow detail:

Working on this shot actually reminded me of when I first got the D3S. The Nikon zoom lenses having to cover only 12 mpix of really clean sensor left me with hilariously sharp images at 100%. If you had to crop or print bigger you really had no worries. This is actually a very, very, very small problem with the D800E. I really think that most of the time the bottle neck in the equation is now the lens. I don’t really think most of the lenses are capable of 36 mpix of detail. Again, small nitpick but it is real.

Noise is an issue with the M9 but 1600 in B&W is really workable. I would say that it is comparable if not a small bit better than the noise I would get out of my NEX3.

4. Note no NR

I can live with that for the time being. If I have a working ISO 3200 I can be happy. ISO 6400 and I then can forget about all things ISO.

So I think my plan is going to be to play with this for another couple weeks. See if I can live with the focusing patch–this is taking a bit of getting used to. I am finding myself slower on complex subjects where I wouldn’t be with an old SLR type split focusing screen. But on other subjects it is faster because you can figure out which way and how far you have to turn the focus by the position of the double image.

If this works out I think I’ll sell the Nikon and Fuji stuff, some plasma, the neighbor’s baby and the title to the Brooklyn Bridge and get the new M. That would fix the known problems with the M9 being better high ISO, lacking live view and the ability to mount long lenses as the M has an EVF so TTL focusing is on.

And then I’ll keep that for at least a year. Oh, who am I kidding. Six months. Tops.

Frank Hurley Photo Exhibit

A Frank Hurley photo of the Endeavor before being crushed by ice.

One of the neatest things we did on our last London trip was visit the Royal Geographical Society. They have an exhibit of Frank Hurley’s photographs from Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition in 1914. The expedition was doomed pretty much from the beginning with the ship getting stuck and eventually crushed by the ice in the Weddell Sea.

The best part was they had the original glass plates on display next to the prints. Most of these glass plates have an incredible story in that they were trapped in the bottom of the boat as it was slowly crushed by the ice. Hurley a couple days diving in the frigid waters to the space far below decks–in pitch dark–to rescue his photos.

This is just a quick shot I took of one of the plates. I inverted the image on the right so you can see the normal photo.

Hurley went on to become a famous photographer in both World Wars and traveled back to Antarctica on a few more expeditions. Actually, the Shackleton one wasn’t his first–he was stranded a few years before with Mawson on the other side of Antarctica.

What I’m saying is he was insane.

Attempted Portraiture

This morning shone with a beautiful quality of light so I chased after the pups to get some group portraits. This was folly.

Firstly, this was before the woman was fully ambulatory so I was without a wrangler. Secondly, this was the pup’s first trip outside for the day, a time filled with possibility. There could be deer! Failing that, there are always those tasty morsels that deer leave! And birds! And… wind! Perhaps the old man across the street will dare to venture forth from his home!

Needless to say, trying to get them all to do something together is a practice in patience.  Continue reading Attempted Portraiture