Third Almost to Minna

Third St Almost to Minna

Itís been a while since Iíve written about the web tech of botzilla or random photo gear issues. No time like the present.

First off Iíve been slowly updating all of botzilla to use more modern web frameworks, which happily work well with the ratchety old Moveable Type backend. The blog portions were easy to complete, the older Powershot & Streetphoto archive bits will come soon enough. Iím also rearranging some of the tag bins, mostly to reflect the changes in botzilla intent since the original charter.

Given the general growth of the blogosphere since botzillaís early day, I doubt that anyone other than myself will really notices these changes.

On the camera front, my Canons are being retired, along with my TLRs and Bronica rangefinder (one TLR, the Bronica, a 5D body and a couple of lenses are still for sale!). I initially intended to replace them with the latest Leicasonic LX (LX-7) and later a Fuji X100sÖ to my surprise the littler of these little cameras was dominant for a while, though over time and practice Iíve come to use the X100s more and more, eventually supplanting it with an X-T1 which is terrific and provdes a second career for my Contax lenses, but the X100s is still doing the bulk of my shooting as of September 2014.

Like everyone, Iím also shooting a lot with my phone, occasionally with a tablet, and intermittently with Google Glass. More entries to come on all of these technologies as I stumbled along ahead.

Upgrades: posted September 10, 2014 | 0 Comments

Sharp Distinctions


I'm something of a believer in half-baked photo tests. If test results aren't obvious except in highly-exacting circumstances, for equipment that's unlikely to be used in exacting circumstances, then: who needs them?

If results can be shown in ad hoc, half-baked test situations, then they're more worth examining. So here's a quick little comparison. I'm not looking at bokeh, or chromatic aberrations, or anything else. Just focus near the center.

I was concerned about some wobble in the focusing elements of my Canon 50mm ƒ/1.4 lens. I figured I should compare it to my corresponding rock-solid Contax-Zeiss 50, that I can mount to the 5D via a "Cantax" adapter. And since I was shooting at ISO 100 anyway, why not do a quick comparison against my compact LX1?

What you see above are pixel-to-pixel crops from the centers of three photos. The white-balance was set to "auto" for all, so the color shifts are not significant.

The results surprised me a bit. These shots are all made around ƒ/4, 1/250th of a second — handheld but leaning against a wall. I made several exposures & these are 'representative.'

The first surprise, to me, was how poorly the Zeiss lens did compared to the Canon. I had expected the opposite. While it's possible that my manual-focus skills aren't up to snuff when compared to the Canon AF (even with the special Canon 'S' manual-focus screen), I did check the entire frame, and found that there were indeed areas where the Zeiss focus was a bit better than here in the center, specifically in the corners. So either way, the Zeiss had less flatness, or maybe it was just less sharp at the center.

Or I can't focus. Either way, since in this case I only care about photographs that I myself will make, the net effect is the same: I get a sharper result with the Canon, at least for the 50mm. And that was a surprise (I'll have to test the 28mm lenses after the holiday).

I also found that the wobble seemed to have no effect on the effectiveness of the Canon lens (still disconcerting, and I may have to send it in. If I tilt the lens forward or back after locking focus, the elements move — and then I do shift focus. I can also feel a distinct "thunk" when the elements slide).

The third surprise was just how well the little compact PanaLeica held up. At ISO's above 100, or in terms of instant-on accessability, the big Canon dominates — but for good light, the LX1 (or LX2, which has the same Leica zoom lens) puts up a real competetive fight! Especially for a pocketable camera that costs one-fifth the Canon price (or even less: since the LX2 came out, I've seen real LX1 deals. I ran into one at Fry's last week, brand new for less than $300).

Sharp Distinctions: posted December 23, 2006 | 0 Comments

Aww Gee's

Aww Gee's

One glance at Craig's List and 20 minutes later I was in possesion of another G, from a fellow just a few blocks away and dirt-cheap. So now I've got a Canon G5 to replace the long-suffering, taped-together, and now deceased G1, and as a quiet digital companion to my Contax G2.

Dumb? Hmm, just last week I picked up an LX1 (aka Leica DLux2) for the wide lens and the 16:9 aspect ratio (looks cool displayed on the Sony PSP — a great way to carry a catolog of images, added to my other catalogs on the celphone and ipod)

I forgot to include my other G in this snap: the old Canonet G-III. Ah well.

First impressions of the G5 over the G1: manual use is incredibly improved, along with strobe handling. Sounds like it's time to revise some of the Botzilla Canon pages, now that the G5 has been out of production for months...

Aww Gee's: posted March 25, 2006 | 0 Comments

Cantax Part 2

A few months ago I wrapped up my Digital Rebel/300D "Cantax" in black gaffer tape. At first it was just a few pieces of tape on the large curved surfaces, then more, then pretty much everywhere that I could fit it that wouldn't cause operational trouble. Why so much tape? Is it useful, or just some dopey affectation (declared another shooter: "it's so, like, ghetto")?

My first thought in taping it was to knock-down the shine of the camera body. Silver bodies worked — sort of — back in the day when cameras were boxy, but todays rounded blobject cameras have lots of broad, shiny curved surfaces from most any direction. The highlights are big and eye-catching (see?). Canon's designers' choice to color the body silver makes the thing just too doggoned shiny and conspicuous. Good for selling consumer electronics, I suppose, but poor for use in a crowd. The newer black-body version of this camera is still shiny. Tape's not shiny, it's dull and quickly looks worn to bits. Which is good.

I also don't care for large brand names on my gear (or on anything else), so I covered them: on the body, the strobe, the lens caps. Just black.

But the surprise came in actual use. Taped-up, the camera is just a lot nicer to hold, a little bit firmer grip and more gentle to the fingers. Much preferable to the naked plastic. I've since taped-up other tools: computer mice, laptop palm rests, and of course electrical cabling. I may yet tape-up a lot of others. Love it.

Permacel gaffer tape: Nature's perfect food.

Additional note about using a small DSLR with manual lenses: it's easy to knock the eyepiece diopter wheel on this camera. If you don't catch it, it will trash your manual focusing and you might not even notice at first. Let that be a lesson to you. Or to me, at least. Ouch.

Cantax Part 2: posted March 23, 2005 | 5 Comments

Fastest Thumb in the West


After having to answer this over and over again, and by request, I'm making a permanent entry here on the subject of fast accurate focusing with the Contax G2. The next time a Leica collector starts up about "slow AF" (this from a guy with no AF), I'll at least be able to lean back and type a URL to them with a smooth, authoritarian air.

So here goes:

The trick to using a G2 quickly is to ride the AF lock button. There, that's it. Really. Treat it a bit like a good EOS (Think Custom Function #4, sorta). It's all about the grip.

Here are the standard complaints I hear about the Contax. I hear them on the web, in emails, in person. The truth is they're pretty well dispatched as long as you know how to hold the camera.

  • The AF is slow.
  • The AF is noisy.
  • The lens moves back and forth between shots and it causes a delay.
  • The AF is never as good as a good manual focus.
  • It's just a fancy point-n-shoot.
  • The manual focus is impossible to use because the distance scale is on the top of the body, rather than the viewfinder.
  • It's not fair that it costs 1/5 of the Leica and has such good lenses.
  • See? It has no red dot!

Universally, these complaints come from folks who hold the camera wrongly (if at all — often such comments are prefaced with "the guy at the camera store told me...," or "I heard on photo.net..."). Part of the problem, surely, is a nearly-universal human tendency to avoid any sort of work and assume that if convenient technology is available, that it must be used; a attitude which is deeply wrong-headed imo.

The Contax G (like the Nikon F6) can be used as a point-n-shoot. Sometimes that's all you need. But just because the camera can be operated by a three-year-old doesn't mean that's the way it should always be used (this is a problem many users have with all sorts of equipment, BTW. In the face of technology that's increasingly idiot-proofed, people often think that it gives them a free license to be an idiot, or even the belief that idiocy is required).

The solutions are actually all in the Contax manual! But bits and pieces of crucial info are scatteed on odd pages. Further, the siren song of automation probably keeps a lot of folks from ever reading the Contax manual (here's a Leica advantage, all right — you need to know at least a little bit about what you're doing before you start. The manual struggle of just loading a camera like the M7 keeps most three year olds at bay).

Here's What to Do:

Set the camera in SAF mode, hold it with your thumb on the lock button, ready to press — aim the AF patch appropriately, press the lock button to focus and lock. Repeat as appropriate. Once you're happy with the focus, keep your thumb pressed.

When your thumb is pressed, the lens drives out to the actual focus position (this is a bit different from an AF SLR. In an AF SLR, the lens needs to move to determine focus. In an AF rangefinder like the Contax, the lens motion and distance detection can be separated, because the AF isn't TTL). As long as you hold down the AF lock, the lens stays put. No back-and-forth between shots, no delay. No noise either — the "noisy AF" complaints come not from the AF at all, but from the motor that drives the lens. If you're using the AF lock, and not cycling the focus its full length on every shot, the focus noise is nearly non-existant.

(Sure, it may seem awkward to hold the AF button when you take your eye away from the finder — go ahead and refocus. Would you trust the focus lever of a mechanical rangefinder to not get bumped?)

The focus-lock button does the same magic for manual focus — drives the lens to the right spot. You can use MF without the lock button, sure — but then you'll have to wait for the lens to move. The focus lock, when in MF, also provides a little-known bonus: the distance in meters appears directly in the viewfinder. Not just on the LCD panel atop the camera, but in the VF too.

And an even less-known feature: if you focus using the AF lock in SAF mode, hold down the button while turning the mode-select collar from SAF to MF. Now you'll be in manual focus mode, but the distance setting has been automagically copied from the SAF value (this works best on a body that's seen some use — the collar tends to be a bit stiff on brand-new bodies, but it's easy to turn once you've had a bit of practice and time to break-in the controls (and your fingers)).

Look at the illustration below (visitors to contaxg.com may recognize the source images from a folder of G-series bloopers). The little [ ] marks show where the central AF markers are placed.

In the first example, the focus is on the ceiling in the back. That's what you get if you just point-n-shoot.

If instead you ride the AF lock, you would focus on the face to one side, lock the focus in place, and re-compose. In other words, exactly the same sequence that you'd follow using the RF patch in a Leica.

Of course, there are a few differences:

  • You can use the Contax in dark conditions, especially at close range (the Contax IR will kick in and can focus in complete darkness. You can shoot, if you have a strobe).
  • You can use it with one hand — even wearing winter gloves.
  • You can use it in a pinch without even looking through the VF (takes a little practice, but the Contax is a terrific hipshooter).

The viewfinder is cited variously as a strong or weak point of the Contax. YMMV. It's a telescoping finder, so it doesn't show you areas outside the frame. Then again, neither do SLR finders. It zooms-in for using the 90mm lens, and zooms-out for the 28mm, without changing the overall size of the finder. Just like an SLR. Some people like that. I do. I keep around a Voigtländer 50mm outboard finder for use with the Contax 45mm, but I rarely, rarely have found it to be useful.

The finder in the Contax does have one lack w.r.t. a traditional mechanical split-image rangefinder patch — sometimes it can be tricky to verify where you're focused, other than looking (when in SAF mode) at the LCD panel. But the viewfinder, like a Leica M, is parallax-correcting. With a small amount of practice, you'll find that you can pretty accurately tell where the lens is focusing just based on the amount of right-to-left shift in the VF window (relative to the meter info and RF marker) as you adjust focus. Window moves to the right: close-up. Moves to the left: far.

A few Leica users get very comfortable with their focus, proud of the fact that their left hand just "knows where to go" without even looking at the patch or looking through the finder — quarter-turn for three meters, half turn for one meter... and I'm a huge fan of that. It's good to have a close physical connection to your tools, whether it's a camera, a shovel, or a violin.

I'm 100% convinced that modern camera designers tend to casually dismiss the muscle memory and hand skills of an expert user. In their rush to reduce all functions to a single electronic controller and an on-screen menu, they seem to have all forgotten the interconnection between hand and eye that's been essential in almost every successful tool since the days of the stone axe.

Fortunately, you can do the same sort of focus-by-feel with the Contax, though with its own flavor. When you press and release the AF lock, the lens drives in and out. Over time, you get a natural sense of how much vibration corresponds to a focal distance. No vibration: infinity. A little: 3 meters. A lot: very close. For critical focusing wide-open, look through the finder. But 1/250 f/11 outside on the street? No problemo.

One handy bit of extra info: I printed up a wee hyperfocal-distance chart and taped it onto the back of my G (you can see it in the top pix). I based it on this Google chart that prints a tiny, pocketable guide to DoF for every Zeiss lens at each f/stop (I keep the guide in my wallet, for occasional but rare reference). The little on-camera chart makes it easy to use the Contax with hyperfocal or zone focusing, which I do a fair deal (often I leave my AF set to 2.7 meters — a favored fixed distance for the 28mm at f/11).

So there you have it — my complete kit of fast and quiet focus tips for the Contax G.

HEGR-biased backpedallers will be unconvinced, of course. "The camera is too loud, it has a motor." As do M cameras with Leicavits. As do the Konica Hexar RF and the Xpan. "The shutter is metal, not that quiet Leica *kfik* that you get from a cloth shutter." True enough, it has a metal shutter just like the Voigtländers, the Konicas, and the Xpans. Or most any SLR. Not that you could tell with the motor running. I'm totally convinced that these subtle differences are worth four or five thousand dollars to some people, though I suspect that many of them would pay more for the red dot than the fabric shutter.

One final handy fact about the correct Contax grip:

When you use your thumb firmly, it's a lot easier to use the AE lock too. Your index finger is freer to move around. Of course, AE is one of those foolish modern features that no proper rangefinder user would want. I mean, not before 2002, at which point it became perfect.

Fastest Thumb in the West: posted February 07, 2005 | 4 Comments

Supply Chain

It seems like Ilford is back from the edge of the dissolution abyss, at least for now. Despite all the anxiety over the "death of film," it seems to me that it won't be film that will dry up. It'll be other parts of the expendables supply chain that will first disappear and make life difficult.

In my own experience, the most problematic supply item has been acquiring decent negative sleeves. And right this moment, I'm completely tapped out.

Sure, there's a pack on order from B&H. It'll be here Monday or Wednesday. Some time soon. But at the moment all film processing is halted, because the only negative sleeves I actually like — Print File 35-7BXW — are already next to impossible to find without driving for 40 minutes or waiting for a week's worth of shipping delay.

As I've already ranted about sleeves, print, and framing sizes, for some lame reason negative sleeves are always too small for those of us who typically get 37-40 frames from a 36-exposure roll (it's not that I try to be extra-frugal in my film winding — it's automated). So I can buy 35-7BXW (seven strips of six frames, total capacity 42 frames) or two of the typical 6x6 or 6x5 pages (that I could just buy at the local Long's drugstore) to store a single roll. Grrr.

Don't even get me started on the local Rodinal supply situation....

Supply Chain: posted January 21, 2005 | 1 Comments

Ad Libris, X-tol

Stopped by the city library to quickly look for a book (Wright Morris's Time Pieces, for the sake of a single reference for an article on PhotoPermit), stepped into the "Friends of the Library" store and walked out with a spotlessly mint copy of the Lustrum/Ralph Gibson SX-70 Art, hard to find and currently listing used on Amazon at $75. Heh. My expense: one crumpled U.S. dollar.

Tonight I'm brewing up a five-liter batch of Xtol for a couple of rolls shot a few nights back while watching Death Cab for Cutie at the Warfield. The exposure was all guesstimated so something with a longer curve than Rodinal is in order.

I have to admit that in general, I'm deeply disinterested in concert photography. Not only does it seem completely inappropriate for the core material — a musical performance — to be locked down into a motionless silent rectangle, but the creative options feel near-nil, you're stuck with the light the designer gives you, the constrained persectives. During the DCFC show there was a fellow lurking just offstage and between the Marshall stacks, snapping and winding his Leica. Looked like he was using a 50mm or 35mm, never closer than ten feet from anyone in the band. No doubt his shots would be technically polished but ultimately impersonal. As I expect mine will be.

They Might Be Giants had some sense — John Linnell kept snapping away himself during their last San Francisco show, grabbing a compact digi between songs. At least he put the camera on stage, among the band, where there's some hope of getting something other than another blue and red blurred tele shot of some sweaty guy with a guitar.

This afternoon I saw a wall full of generic and awkward color concert snaps posted on the wall of a café, along with a sign advertising the shooter's services for hire. I'm sure the phone is ringing off the hook.

Ad Libris, X-tol: posted November 10, 2004 | 1 Comments


That's "Read the Flash Manual."

...that is, unless what you want to know is nowhere in the flash manual. Or any of the otherwise-good web references.

The question is: How do you use flash with the EOS when using manual, stopped-down lenses?

No simple E-TTL for Cantax, alas. Trying E-TTL with the Zeiss instantly resulted in a pile of underexposed shots. Hmm.

Well no problem -- just dig out the little Metz 28C-2 that I've used with my film Contax for years. It's a great strobe. Just set to "A" and set the lens to f/8 and.... hey! Nada. For reasons I can't yet fathom the 300D body simply refuses to fire the Metz. How am I going to use those Zeiss lenses with flash? Am I stuck with using manual flash exposure on the 550EX?

Fortunately, I noticed that the exposure at ƒ/8 was wrong but looked a lot like another wrong exposure at ƒ/1.4. A pattern emerged: On 550EX, E-TTL is off by three stops using manual lens adapters. The exposure will be approximately right if F.E.C. is set to +3 stops.

Of course +3 stops is the upper limit for the 550EX — so if you want brighter flash than that, you'll have to go manual. But it's a start.

The built-in flash has no F.E.C. or manual mode, so am I stuck using the great-but-heavy 550EX? Nah. There's no F.E.C., but you can fake it — aim at something three stops darker than "normal" exposure (that's Zone II for you old-school B&W types), hit the * button to lock the flash exposure, recompose during the next 15 seconds or so and shoot.

Or for manual exposure, use a variation on the same technique. The built-in flash for the 300D has, by my estimation, a metric Guide Number of 13 (39 in feet). To get the flash to deliver the full charge, put your hand over the lamp and hit * — the flash will lock on full-power. Now focus, set your f/stop appropriately to the GN (distance 2 meters, 13÷2 at ISO 100 is ~ƒ/5.6 or so — or ƒ/11 at ISO 400), and shoot.

BTW, the actual "normal" GN of the 550EX is not 55, as would be implied by the name. It's only 55 in telephoto mode. For normal-lens usage, the GN is really 42.

And while we're on the subject of the 550EX zoom head, why did Canon get the auto-zoom wrong on cameras with smaller sensors, like the 300D and 10D? When I put the 50mm Canon lens on the camera, the 550EX should really zoom to a format-appropriate 85mm, not 50mm. Even with the EF-S lens, the strobe gets a 35mm-appropriate dispersion. Whoops, guess I'll have to set it manually (or burn through some extra batteries).

RTFM: posted May 07, 2004 | 0 Comments

The Cantax

Today's (linkless) photo is for Eddie, who tragically turned down a 300D because he didn't like the color and it didn't look "Reuters" enough.

C'mon man, your Contax G2 is silver too (and the Leica as well? Tsk!) You know darned well that the camera body is just a little dark box at the back of the lens, with an extra little hole for peeping through.

It's also for Michael Johnson, who has rollover pains with regards to cameras that aren't made of metal. (You should subscribe to his newsletter anyway — here's hoping he can manage to keep printing it!)

Now to doctor-up a logo...

(Sorry for the obvious pixel noise in this quick snap — shot with my old Canon G1.... which has been recently borrowed often by my daughter. A mere 8MB card? Not a problem when you're enthusiastic as she is....)

Followup, March 2005: More here about that shiny silver body and some lessons after a year of use...

The Cantax: posted February 28, 2004 | 0 Comments

Short tele

Six rolls Delta 400, 11.5 mins Xtol 1+1; one roll at ISO 100, around 9 minutes. Brita rules — should've done this a while back.

Ran across a new resource last night: the Analog Photography User's Group. Picking through the member logs and clicking the "www" links, one will find that there are some fine shooters connected to that group, and most of them without the laughably strident "digital is not art" attitude found in a few other analog-centric quarters.

I've been fascinated recently by the peachfuzz on the skin of kids, how it catches light in places that, if I were shading them in the computer, I might have thought was incorrect. It gives their faces an added dimensionality that adults lack, and an effect that makeup suppresses, despite its usual promises of a "youthful glow." For one moment, at least, I also remembered why I used to enjoy my fast 85mm.

Short tele: posted August 18, 2003 | 1 Comments


It's Streetphoto Salon day once more, today's theme: Duplicity.

Scanning the last round of negatives, I can see that the heavy filtration has worked, but only to a degree. On a couple of rolls the dirt is almost eliminated, but there are still occasional cabbage-shaped patches that look like hard water stains. Maybe not enough wetting agent on the final rinse?

Very busy these past few days — still almost a dozen rolls in the "unprocessed, pending" box.

Duplicity: posted July 07, 2003 | 1 Comments


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