Saturday, July 25, 2015

Chrome powered time machine

Sometimes you find a lost roll and it reminds you of a time you had forgotten.

After finding a roll of long ago shot slide film, I finally got it developed. I think it’s from around 2011 or 2012, since the 4Runner is still wearing the street tires it came with when I bought it in the one frame it appears in. I’m not even sure what emulsion this roll is. All I had at the time was Astia 100F and Velvia. I think it’s probably Velvia 100.

After all, The Slideprinter here in town offers something that most other cities do not have: same day slide processing. Of course, I’m always at work when they are open, so I’ve never been able to get by there. I’d bought some rolls of Retrochrome from the Film Photography Podcast store and shot the first one to see how that worked out. I’ll do a review on that at a later time. But while I was at it, I went ahead and dropped off that old roll.

shoot-403Finding old shots is like opening the door on a time machine. There were shots of Central City in fall, the old tractors that show up at Chatfield for the pumpkin festival and corn maze, and some of a drive we took up Old Fall River Road.

I haven’t thought about that drive in a long time. It had snowed hard up high that winter, and they couldn’t get the road open until a couple of months late. Shortly after we drove it, it was closed again for maintenance and that was it for the year. Weather can change pretty rapidly, and you don’t want to get caught out in it up there. I didn’t need to lock hubs driving it, but lower clearance vehicles would have been out of luck.

I don’t remember taking a lot of photos of that drive. Paying attention to the road, I think. But the ones I found were enough to bring the memories back. The magic of photography is the ability to take a fraction of a second and make it last longer than life. It’s a visit back via a time machine.

I doubt I’ll find any more rolls like that in the future. I’ll take them by the Slideprinter or drop them in the mail. It’ll turn things around and get them back to me faster, but still, I’m tempted. I might just have to hide a roll from myself now and then, just so I can find it later on and relive something that happened again. Slide film is actually a bad choice for that, but it worked. Whatever I chose to use, it’ll be like leaving a time capsule for myself, a day that can be repeated, and last a lifetime.

Chrome powered time machine

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Sekonic L-308 Light Meter

I bought a light meter as a part of a long ago photography class. I never used much it in that class, after how it worked was explained and then we moved on to other things. I was shooting with a camera that had a meter built in, and I was always forgetting where I put the thing. It was in the wrong bag or pocket when I needed it, and finally it vanished along the way.

Many years later, I took a portrait lighting class from Richard Peterson here in Denver and bought a new one. I was working with strobes, and learning all about studio lighting, so it was necessary to get a meter with the ability to trigger flashed. I settled on a Sekonic L-308.

Unlike my last meter, an older Gossen, it was digital and easy to use. The L-308 Flashmate is the smallest meter Sekonic makes that will work with strobes, which was attractive to me. I was already lugging a huge Nikon pro digital body around so anything I could do to lighten the load was a good thing. The meter is shutter priority: it gives you the f-stop when you dial in the desired shutter. It doesn’t do aperture priority. I no longer have many cameras that have meter in them anymore, but the ones I do, the F3 and the XAs, are the opposite. They are all aperture priority.

shoot-402It can also do both incident and reflective light. You switch between the two by using the little translucent plastic cover called a Lumisphere. Cover the sensor to meter for incident light readings, reflective is uncovered. It also does EV and has a mode for use when shooting motion picture cameras. Obviously, I’ve not used these modes.

Along the way, iPhones and their like have acquired light meter apps that are useful. They are good at reading ambient light and have the additional utility of recording what they meter with jpegs so you can match up the shot and the settings later. They seem to be almost as accurate, but that’s just my feeling. I have no evidence to back that up. But they can’t fire a flash set up with a PC cord, or meter incident unless you buy an add-on.

So do I still carry this meter around? Sometimes. And sometimes I don’t. When I hiking with a meterless camera like my Zorki, I mostly rely on my iPhone. It’s one less thing to carry with me, and the latitude of most films makes up for whatever loss in accuracy I feel the phone has.

But when I do the occasional portrait, I reach for the L-308. It does that job far better, and it’s the one I got it for.

The latest version of the L-308 is the S. It improves on the basic model with some tweaks, but mostly it remains the same. They also have a DC model with more features for the film maker who uses it.

Sekonic L-308 Light Meter

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Podcast Roundup

shoot-396A couple of weeks back, Stephanie and I were interviewed by Tim Mooney of the Pedalshift Project. The Pedalshift Project is a podcast about bicycle touring I’ve listened to since it began to glean information about touring, and hear some common experiences from other riders. I have been listening to podcasts in general for a long time, and it was fantastic to be on one.

Tim is a bicycle tourist based out of Washington DC, and I had listened to his tour posts from the GAP/C&O ride he took a month or so before we rode the same path with interest. It was like getting your own pre-ride report. It’s also a bit of community I always miss when I’m not on the trail. That’s the only part of bicycle touring I think is lacking is the social one. When you’re on a tour, especially if you’re using a trail or a route, you meet like-minded folks and spend your meals and some evenings talking with them and you’re part of a community. But when you’re out of the community and in the middle of that thing that happens between tours (I think they call that “real life”) it’s nice to have some way of keeping touch with it.

I do listen to a few other podcasts, but there aren’t that many that touch on my interests. As a result, I spend a lot of time refreshing my feed impatiently and waiting for something new to come down the pike. When Tim goes on tour he will post little snippets from the road and that helps keep things interesting.

In addition to Pedalshift Project, I do listen to a few other podcasts:

The Sprocket Podcast was the first bicycle related podcast I listened to. It’s pretty Portland-centric, but they talk bikes, beer, and transit, so it’s all good.

I caught the Film Photography Podcast on its second episode, and have stayed with it since 2009. It’s nice to hear some other folks geek out about film cameras and gear, plus they bring some unique emulsions to the market as well.

Pdexposures Podcast is a Portland based film photography show (I see a trend here). Their opinionated, ranty brit seems to have left the show, but they’re still at it. It’s been especially helpful lately, with them touching on self-publishing.

The Classic Camera Revival is a new one that talks about great classic cameras. Like the intro says, it can feed your G.A.S. They’re from Canada, and while they’re very polite, I still haven’t heard one of them go “eh?”

Putting together this list, I did notice a couple of things. Podcasts seem to be bi-coastal in origin (except for the Canadians). I haven’t found much relevant from the center of the country. Also, while there are quite a few podcasts on the outdoors and some other tangentially related activities, there doesn’t seem to be anything about Amtrak out there.

Give a listen to Tim interviewing Steph and I and join in with his podcast.


Link List:

Pedalshift Project

Sprocket Podcast

Film Photography Podcast


Classic Camera Revival


Podcast Roundup

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Schwalbe Marathon Tires- the magic carpet

I begin to see why Schwalbe Marathons have such a cult following.

Many years ago, when I first went back to biking, I was having a bad season. I was falling victim to the dreaded Colorado Goathead. An especially nasty variety which is prone to puncture almost anything at any time when riding. They’re especially bad in dry years, it seems, and it was a dry year.

As I was sitting on the side of the bike path, changing and re-inflating a tire for the third time in a month, I was running out of fun tickets. A friendly bicyclist had stopped to see if I needed help, and on hearing how many flats I had gotten, he suggested I look in to Schwalbe Marathon tires. I went home and fired up Google, finding where to order them online. The idea of putting $100 worth of tires on a $50 frankenbike seemed a little absurd, and there the idea stalled out.

This year, I went ahead and pulled the trigger on a pair, with the hopes of avoiding flats on the most recent tour. They did exactly that. This was the first tour with no flats. But there were some other things I noticed about the tires.

shoot-394The ride has both an upside and a down. The upside was its many times smoother than the ride the previous 28c tires I had on there gave. On pavement and gravel both, there was a cushy sensation I was not used to getting. There is a nice dampening of lateral motion leading to excellent stability skinner tires just don’t have. There’s even a sensation of squish when going over the expansion strips on the bike path paving. All in all, a very nice magic carpet ride.

The trade-off is the rolling resistance. I had read in some reviews there was increased rolling resistance. I didn’t think it would be quite so much. Climbing on these 35c Schwalbes at 65 psi feels like using the 28c tires at around 25 psi. You have to work a bit more. Coasting is noticeably shorter as well. It’s less pronounced when fully loaded, it seems, but still there.

But the other bonus is the way they handle mud. I was able to deal with the peanut butter consistency mud we faced pretty well. The tread design just dug in, allowing me to drop down to the lowest gear and make it through until it got too deep and I sunk in. These things work great on a rough trail.

While I like these tires, they aren’t the choice I would make for all-around touring. They’re ideal for gravel, chat or mud, but not my first choice on the road. I should have upgraded to their higher model that rolls better, the Schwalbe Marathon Supreme. That might be a second set I get just for riding around town and road touring.

Schwalbe Marathon Tires- the magic carpet

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Thoughts on Amtrak after the tour

I came close as a part of this tour, but I didn’t quite make it. I didn’t cross the country by train. I’ve long wanted to try to do it, but this trip didn’t require me to head toward the west coast. I still have that to look forward to.

Travel by Train That sign won't steer you wrong.

Travel by Train
That sign won’t steer you wrong.

There is some residual romance in train travel. On some level, it’s still a leftover vestige of a long gone time when movie stars took gleaming stainless steel trains on vacation. But the truth is another thing.

Amtrak likes to say it is America’s railroad. Our American railroad is tired and run down. It’s easily outclassed by almost any train in Europe. It’s given short shrift by the host railroads, who seem to go out of their way to push passenger trains on to sidings and make them wait. I remember once waiting on the City of New Orleans in Memphis and being able to see the train, but it was stopped just outside of the station and held so a freight could go by on another track. If they’d let it move a train length, it could have been in the station on time without holding that freight up for more than a minute. This sort of absurdity is how our railroad is run.

Stephanie had never gone on a long distance train ride before this tour. I wanted her introduction to go smoothly. It didn’t. The train was dirty, the crew was tired, and because it was almost eight hours late, they ran out of food. I was half way expecting her to demand we get plane tickets for the rest of the way. It says a lot that she was still game to get on the train the next day.

A few years ago, Amtrak ran more on time. They weren’t perfect, but they had a better chance of making it. The freight railroads sued to get out from having to help move the passengers along and won the first round. Amtrak is still fighting, but it’s been hurting them at a time when ridership is up. Congress, who could help with this situation, instead has been cutting Amtrak’s budget. Congress is the best hope of fixing Amtrak, which is why it’s in sad shape. America deserves a better railroad. I think it deserves a better Congress as well.

shoot-379But on some levels, Amtrak succeeds in spite of itself. When the train was too late to help, they put us up in the Swissotel on Wacker and it was far better than any hotel I expected. Customer service is still alive on America’s railroad. Last time I was on a flight that was too late for connections, I wound up sleeping in the airport.

In spite of all the issues, I still want that cross-country ride. I want to meet people in the dining car, to travel relaxed, and see the country in the way that only rail travel allows you to. I’ll get that ride one day, and I’ll get to take pictures of places I haven’t seen before.

Thoughts on Amtrak after the tour

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The chaos of film

I shot digital for a few years. I don’t hate on digital images, I just don’t care for the process. But I do miss one single aspect of the digital workflow: the organization.

I’d come home, plug the CF card in to a reader, and the computer would zip the files off of it and arrange them neatly on the hard drive. All in all, an easy, mindless process.

Film isn’t that easy.

As I write this, the desk is covered with film holders for the scanner, and sleeves for three different sizes of negatives. The pile is substantial. More live in binders on the shelves, and on the floor. They’ve slipped from organization in to utter chaos and it seems I can’t corral them all and get everything back under control.

I’ll admit, I’m not the most organized person as a rule. I like to tell people I thrive on chaos and madness and to a degree, that’s true. But sometimes, I do wish I could find a particular negative without devoting a lot of time and profanity to the search.

I’ve been looking for a system to file negatives for some years now, and I can’t seem to find or create a workable one. I’ve thought of getting a file cabinet and organizing that way, but we live in a tiny loft apartment, and I really don’t have the space for any such thing. It doesn’t keep me from thinking about how it could be done and walking about with an eye to finding a space, I just haven’t had any luck so far.

shoot-377This is one of the things I like most about film biting me. Unlike those digital files slipped automagically in to virtual folders on hard drives, film is a real thing. You can hold an image in your hand, and look at it on a light table. It’s not a collection of ones and zeros that require a machine to interpret it and show it to you, it’s a real, tangible thing you can just look at and take in. And as a real, tangible thing, it takes up real, tangible space and there’s the rub.

Hoist by my own petard, as that English guy would say.

So now what? What am I going to do about it? I’m still looking in to that. In the mean time, I need to corral all these negative sleeves and get them under control. I still haven’t looked at all the pictures from the tour we just finished. They’re developed, and nicely cut and sleeved, but then they were consumed by the gaping maw of disorganization that is my desk and vanished.

I’ll spend some time this weekend sorting that chaos out. I’m going to need an old priest and a young priest.

The chaos of film

Monday, July 6, 2015

The problem with a tour

The only problem with a tour is that it comes to an end.

You spend your days riding, soaking up new sights, eating your own weight in whatever strikes your fancy at the moment, meeting new people, and laughing. And you get used to it. You accept this level of happiness as your new normal pretty quick. It feels right, like you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing. And then you come to the end of the trail, and you think, maybe I should just keep going.

You haven’t had enough sunshine. You’re not tired of the smell of the rich loam of the forest, or the dust from the crushed stone. You’re not tired of being grateful for cloud cover that doesn’t rain on you.  You’re not tired of talking to people you meet when you stop for water, or food, or just to catch your breath after climbing a hill.  You really are perfectly content being out on the road and just spinning petals. And frankly, you’d just as soon not do anything else.

Western Maryland Rail Trail- this felt like cheating- smooth and fast

Western Maryland Rail Trail- this felt like cheating- smooth and fast

But every trail has an end. It’s part of their nature. And getting to the end is part of the experience. If it’s been a good ride, it will leave you feeling wistful. Now that we’ve gotten back to Denver, I’m looking for more trails. I’m just not as happy riding the bike paths I’ve ridden before. Well, the flooding that has made many of them impassible hasn’t helped. I find myself hitting Google and looking at the options. Where can we ride that’s near here? Where can we hit that’s a weekend ride? I’ve still got unburned vacation, what else can we do?

There are a lot of miles of trail I haven’t ridden yet. There are many more winding back roads I haven’t ridden either. I’m sure at least one more trail will get checked off this year. Maybe two.

Each trail teaches you something. This works better than that. Next time, leave this home. More hill training, less weight. More saddle time to get acclimated. This brand of bike shorts, not that one. More water, less food, or vice versa. Being on the trail always teaches you a good lesson. And you always want to run out and apply your shiny new knowledge right away.

So I’m thinking I want to see how pretty the rails-to-trails project in my home state is. Plus there’s one in South Dakota. And Nebraska. I think there’s one in New Mexico. I’ll have to look in to that.

It’s true that it’s a bummer when tours end. But that just prepares you for the next one.

The problem with a tour

Carol at Flutot's fixes a shutter

Sometimes I’ll buy something with little to no expectation and end up not only getting something great out of it, but learning a lot and finding new resources. Getting my Polaroid SLR 680 was that way. Buying this Deckel Compur shutter with a Zeiss Jena 135mm f4.5 was another.

I came across this shutter and lens combination on the first leg of buying parts for my large format camera. I’m taking the Johnny Cash “One Piece at a Time” approach, only with a bit less theft involved than the song. This lens and shutter was for sale in a bit of a junk clearance online. It was advertised as not known if it was working, mounted in a home-made lens board, and cheap. I bought it thinking that if it didn’t work I was only out $50, so not bad, and I could take the lens out and put it in another shutter. It showed up a bit tatty, and a pipe flange fitting was used to mount it to the lens board. The hole had apparently been hand cut with a keyhole saw. But the shutter worked, and I took a test shot or two before it stuck a little and I started looking for a repair shop.


At the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge. These small birds were zipping over the water feeding on insects. Apologies for the lousy stitched scan. I still have much more to learn.

Perusing the internet led me to find the limited choices and start whittling them down. Among the most highly recommended on the forums I found was Carol at Flutot’s Repair. She was also the cheapest by a pretty wide margin. Nothing ventured, I thought, and I fired off an email. Her business is so good, you have to wait to get the ok to send her gear to repair. After a few weeks, I followed her instructions, disassembled the lens, packed the shutter as well as I could, and sent it off.

In a shorter time than I expected (she advertised up to a 6 week turn around, mine was closer to three) I paid and she shipped it back. I was amazed. The shutter was clean, and the rim set was smooth as butter. It went in to the highest speed without effort, and the blades were spotless. Carol had tested the shutter speeds and written down the true speed at each indication. They were all spot on except the highest one- 1/200th is actually 1/150th. Given the age of this shutter, that’s as close to perfect as it’s ever going to be. Carol was delightful to deal with, a treat in an industry that seems to have its share of curmudgeons these days.

I’ve not shot that much with it so far, still learning how to large format and all. But the results I’ve gotten make me love this lens and realize how much of a steal I got. I find myself using this uncoated almost 80-year-old Tessar more than the other lens I have.

Teaching myself large format has been hit and miss, with more miss than I expected. I hope all the parts to come are as easy and perfect as dealing with Carol at Flutot’s.

This is Carol’s website. Let her fix your large format woes.

Carol at Flutot's fixes a shutter

The simple joy of riding a trail- Tour Tales

I saw a lot of things I thought were right on this ride. Like a group of shirtless guys pedaling like maniacs on crap bikes.

We saw the guys every day on the trail except one. On the second day, I stopped to take a picture of the empty trail ahead of us, as I like to do, and the first of their number blew past with flags flying. After we were back on the road, the rest of them came by, giving each other a hard time, yelling out a greeting to us, and moving on ahead of us. There were eight or so of them, mostly wearing nothing more than bike shorts, shoes, helmets, and beards. They were on beater bikes they had bought cheap or in at least one case, borrowed for the trip.

When we caught up to them at Ohiopyle, they were stopped, and one of their number had his rear wheel off and was gone to find professional help. Other members of his crew had stepped in to the bar under the restaurant we had lunch at, and were procuring beer and flirting fruitlessly with the bartender. When we came out, one of the guys was playing Jenga, seeing how many beers he could fit in the nooks and crannies of the haphazard collection of bags he had bungeed to his bike.

shoot-373As would be the norm, they would catch up and pass us on the trail, and we would pass them in the morning since we got up earlier. They would pass us going to lunch, and we would get ahead again since we didn’t spend as much time drinking beer as they did. This repeated until we came off the trail.

They hollered encouragement to us every time the passed, and when we passed them, they would loudly complain “Oh man, the old guy is ahead of us again!” When we were climbing the last bit to the Divide, I was not having fun. It was uphill in to the teeth of a substantial headwind, which are two of my least favorite things. They came up from behind and hauled out to pass when one of them pointed to the windmill on top of the mountain we were climbing and yelled “Don’t worry about the headwind! When we get to that big fan we’ll turn it off!” as they went by. It was a much needed chuckle in the middle of an un-fun slog. They hooted and hollered in the tunnels. Once they rode past and the last one pointed back and said “Bear behind us. Pedal faster.” as he hauled away.

shoot-374This is what bicycle touring is at it’s best. Not a lot of gear. A reasonably serviceable bike. Not a lot of money. Just people out on bikes having a good time and going places, pedaling along and enjoying being outside and on the trail.

The simple joy of riding a trail- Tour Tales

Nikon One Touch- I'm Doing it Wrong

shoot-371The other day, Nate Matos posted a picture of a Nikon F that someone had just given to him, since they knew he was a film guy and it was a film camera. I never get that sort of thing. If I get a Nikon, it’s more like this one: a One Touch Zoom 70 AF. Clearly, I’m doing it wrong.

It is true I get cameras given to me just because I’m the only film shooter most of my friends know. From time to time, they’ll find a camera in a drawer or closet or someplace, realize it uses film, and hand it to me next time they see me. It’s a feature of shooting film: free cameras.

During the 80s and 90s, this sort of camera was pretty common. A point and shoot with little to no control over the image and a tiny viewfinder. Most of them, oddly enough, were this same silver/champagne color plastic with the retracting zoom that popped out when the power switch was hit.

This Nikon One Touch has basically four modes: flash, no flash, timer, and auto. Selecting one of those modes is about it for creative control. Well, aside from deciding whether or not to zoom in. It defaults to flash mode, so you have to cycle it and turn things off every time you start it up. It also features a date stamp imprinter. I had no idea how to turn that off, but I lucked out when randomly pressing the buttons and got that result I wanted. I purchased an expired roll of Fuji c-41 at Englewood Camera and popped the back, with low expectations. The little Nikon whirred to life when I touched the power button and loaded the film on the first try, and it was off to the races.

Horrid film. Camera's not that great either.

Horrid film. Camera’s not that great either.

The little viewfinder has a bright framing line of a sort, and LEDs to indicate if the flash was ready. I couldn’t tell if anything was in focus. If it hadn’t of been, I had no way to fix that anyway, so I went ahead and snap-shotted merrily away.

The images reminded me of the horrible photos that used to be the result of a family outing. It didn’t help the film was so old it had shifted blue, which was also compounded by the overcast days that were the norm last month. The results make me want to just rid myself of this camera. The point and shoot zooms of that era were not worth the time it took to shoot a roll of film with them, sadly.

I don’t think I’ll get a camera like an F handed to me anytime soon. I already have a box of point and shoots, and it’s likely I’ll see more when the chance arrives.

I need to up my game. I really am doing it wrong.

Nikon One Touch- I'm Doing it Wrong