Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Gardening (And Cameras) In 2009

Because the drought causes brown stunted grass I haven't been able to cut the lawn since early spring despite watering as much as I dare. Stage II watering restrictions have substantial fines attached to watering outside your assigned day and times.
The allowed hours don't make sense--the perfect time for me to be moving the sprinkler around is from 10pm to 3 am, but for some dumb reason that's against the law. 3 am to 8 am is when I'm asleep, and I can't even finish the front yard between 8 and 10pm, let alone the huge expanse out back.
So I do what I have to do.
My grass sucks even though there's 200 years worth of water underground, but we can't let the springs run dry during the tourist season, although for some reason our lovely fountains are shut off.

All of that sets up the fact that I've been getting my yard fun from an explosion of potted plants. I can move them around for optimal sunlight/shade ratios, water the hell out of them, and take pictures.

And eat some of the stuff I'm growing.
Like banana peppers:

This is the first one that turned colors before being eaten, and only because it was a shorty that I expected to grow some more.
Thought these stayed yellowish-green.

Like this much bigger one.
Almost zero heat, and not much flavor--no wonder they usually get sliced and pickled. Great on pizza--learned this at Rome's.

This pothos vine (or is it a philodendron?) was a house-warming gift that used to be several feet long but has declined over the last few years.
In May I replaced the soil and it perked-up within hours, tripling in size since then.

Sylvia filled 3 pots with petunias that cheered her up.
Got the variegated bougainvillea on the right track again.
Just started some jalapenos for late fall fire.
The margarita sweet potato vine will get it's own story.

Camera/Flash Details:
Skip this part if you don't care.

The pepper photos are proof of why I missed my Sony F717 and welcomed Matthew's F828 with open arms.
The first one I shot using my old technique for small items (arrived at through years of trial and error) of jamming the lens up close and hand-holding an automatic flash about 6-8 inches over the subject. Took 2 minutes.
With Sony F-Series cameras (and MANY others of all brands) all you have to do is push the button with the flower icon to tell it that you're trying to focus close to the lens, and it will. 2cm away from the lens is about as close as the F828 will focus, and that's fine.
As soon as you move the camera a bit further away the magnification drops-off dramatically so you might try to add some zoom, but in most cases you're still too close for the minimum-focus distance of that particular zoom setting which equals blurry junk.
The 2nd photo was at the very edge of minimum-focus distance because I was trying out the Strobist's angled food lightbox design. No matter how I positioned everything, once I moved the camera away I was forced into WAY more croppping with less resolution remaining. And despite using a tripod it simply wasn't as sharp as handholding the camera and flash right up close as I did for the 1st photo.
This picture was also a test of using my cheap Cactus radio triggers to fire remote flashes from the F828. Worked 100%.

What about depth of focus?
Almost the same--the longer pepper in #2 is the deciding factor because if I hadn't eaten pepper #1 the night before there would have been a better comparison.
At the extreme wide-angle setting this zoom lens has much more DOF.
In fact, I probably could have opened up the aperture on #1 some more without a significant DOF penalty.

Then there's the apparent size of the light source, which boils down to bigger = better, but much closer = bigger.
Here I still have to give the edge to #1.
When an external flash is within a few inches it's size compared to a small subject is suitably huge and therefore softer.
Move it a few feet away to light an umbrella or in this case a sheet of paper on the side of a cardboard box and you not only lose a ton of output, you also sacrifice the flexibility to move it a few degrees in any direction or a couple inches closer/further without having to stop shooting and adjust stands and modifiers.
Just watch the replay on your LCD and compensate accordingly by hand in seconds.

I could easily spend $500+ on a macro lens for my main A300 DSLR camera that might give me the results I've always been able to get with "obsolete" Sony F-Series cameras and their incredible German Zeiss lenses and a relatively cheap external flash.
It's a shame that regaining a specific "niche" capability can cost as much as the original camera that got you hooked.
When it comes to digital cameras, the manufacturer's response to consumer demands is often along the lines of "one step forward, two steps back".
Marketing departments have been in control for far too long.
Photographer's needs are at least 5 steps below BS specs and buzzwords.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Loud Nine, Live At Oasis

The full story is here.

And let me just say that I love everything about my shirt.
Fits well, thin (cool) material, design on chest is on the right so it doesn't conflict with the bass's strap (surprisingly hard to find--most are on the left), got it at Ross for cheap--what's not to like?

Black longsleeve shirts aren't very comfortable in Texas during the day but at night in a nightclub with your own electric fans onstage it's not too bad.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Check 1 2

There's news at Loud Nine's blog...

Friday, July 17, 2009


The record lack of rain, the unending march of 100+ degree days, the brown grass, the utter death around us...it makes me sad and tired and crushes my spirit.

The "new" camera has made it's first foray into the Texas heat, and brought back a photo I was positive would never get made just days earlier.
I wanted to shoot this dead tree in IR, nothing else would do.

Even with four filters on the end of the lens there still was more vignetting (mostly cropped out) than I expected, but oh yeah this lens goes to 28mm-e versus 38mm. That explains, and it's not a problem at all.
Neither is purple fringing. IR doesn't see colors, so I'm immune to it.

My other mission for this camera is flash macros of small critters.
This is another big part of my photography that the DSLR fails at, and I tried many times. I'm not buying a macro lens anytime soon, and the DSLR's inability to use a fast shutter synch makes these other cameras a better choice anyway.

I knocked this out in two minutes using my old techniques, and couldn't be happier with the results.
And with that, my photographic drought is over and I can now do everything I could do before my F717 died, and then some!
I feel complete for the first time in a year.

I'm very excited to be able to plug these holes in my repertoire.
And the size, grip, weight, and black finish make me feel like I'm holding a real camera--this thing is a tank compared to the F717!
Looks enough like a DSLR that I won't have to take any crap from camera snobs.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

I Had The Most Amazing Day

One year and 3 days ago my first digital camera died for the last time.
I was heartbroken, panicked, sick to my stomach, devastated, etc.

As usual, Sylvia came to my rescue and within two weeks I had my beloved Sony Alpha300. It's a great camera, and is so much more advanced than the Sony F717 I was using that it took over a month to feel comfortable taking pictures again--so much to learn!

But my Alpha300 is a fairly standard consumer-grade camera, while my late F717 was state-of-the-art when it was introduced and had some features that aren't popular enough today to have been retained.
Mainly, the ability to take photos in the infrared spectrum instead of visible light with the addition of a few filters that screw onto the end of the lens.
I was just getting good at IR photography when my F717 crapped-out, and it was a major blow to my mood and sales.

For some strange reason I woke up at 9am (noon is more my style) and it's a good thing I did!
The US Postal Service truck in the street convinced me to put on pants and answer the doorbell.
I signed for a box from Toronto

On the right is my dead-meat F717.
On the left is it's improved successor, the F828, sent to me by my internet friend Matthew Robertson.

In addition to being able to shoot IR (again) this camera also takes much higher quality video, has a wider range of lens focal lengths, is built studlier than my older version. It's been improved in many areas and was pretty much the best digital camera in 2003.

How do you thank someone for sending you an awesome camera that gets you back in the infrared game?

Might as well send the flash, too?
You can see that the flash for my old camera had but a single power switch, while the HVL-F32X flash Matthew sent me has an LCD sceen and lots of buttons for more control.
I missed being able to shoot flashed macros of small animals (my Alpha300 system won't support this unless I buy an expensive new macro lens) so I'm also excited to renew this ability!

This level of kindness is not unknown to me, but is the exception rather than the rule for so-called 'internet friends', meaning people you have never met but get along with on the www.
My IR filter was a gift from Bruce, and my older Sony flash was shipped down to Texas from WA by C.Moore--also gratis.

The only way I know how to thank such kind people is to make the best use of their gifts as possible.
Let them see that what they gave to me is being used to produce better photos.
It's a challenge, but I'm ready to accept it.

Thank You, Matthew!!!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Busy Week

Has it really been a week since my last post?
I worked 5 events with 3 bands and am physically and mentally spent.

Usually photos taken at gigs aren't shown here, but I'm making an exception because this is more about cameras and my good luck at having his LCD screen look so good on the first try:

Big things are brewing in the very near future, but all I care about is getting myself somewhere cool to take pictures.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Flattery Or Theft?

Sylvia was taking a little quiz on Facebook tonight, and while showing me the results I spotted something:

She didn't believe me at first when I said "That's MY f-ing picture! I took that! What the hell is it doing there?"
She said "show me" and I did, and after comparing the way the crops and exposures match exactly we are confident that it is indeed my photo.

A little more sleuthing (that's french for Google) and I turned up a likely chain of events.
Whoever picked the pictures for the Facebook quiz probably got mine from this website, which shows up on page 2 of Google Image search for Corpus Christi:

In this one you can even see that the meager clouds on the left side match, which is as conclusive as it gets.
RockFreakingSolid Proof, my friends.

If you expand the search criteria, my own Flickr page shows up on page 2:

And here is my Flickr page of the photo.
You can see that this photo has been viewed at least 3777 times--it's one of my most popular.
It's in "Explore", meaning it was among the top 500 "most interesting" photos uploaded to Flickr that day, out of literally millions.

The real estate website didn't ask for my permission to use that photo, so they are in violation of my copyright and if I felt like suing I would win.
Since they are using it to sell real estate, the monetary damages might even be worth the effort.
I have the original, plus all the ones taken before and after with minor adjustments. No court could possibly rule against me unless they were crooked or stupid. (I know...)

Whoever put together the Facebook quiz is also stealing from me, but I think they just grabbed it from the first thief.

Will I take any action?
Probably not, beyond a message letting them know what's happening and a request that I receive a photo credit if they want to keep using it.

But this was the trigger I have been waiting for.
I've always said that when I catch someone stealing a photo of mine for commercial purposes is the day I start putting a very visible copyright tag on all of my uploads--I already do with my band shots, but now I'm afraid that everything I blog will have a bit of ugly in one corner.

I hope you can forgive me.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

It's The 4th Of July--America Celebrates

Burgers, hot dogs, potato salad, yum!
Family, fireworks, beer, yum again!

We decided to try "ghetto fireworks" by parking on the side of the road near a public display--it was less than a mile away.
I'm sure Dave knows exactly where we were.

It was hot, dusty, and fire ants or something were biting our feet.
Power lines, streetlights, a fence, and a lack of interesting subject matter on the ground limited my camera work to what you see here.
Check my archives for better stuff in 2006-7?

You need a tripod and manual camera control.
I found that a shutter speed of 1 second at f7.1 and iso100 worked for me.
Tungsten white balance gives the most accurate colors, in my opinion.

Happy Birthday USA!
Our founding fathers were some seriously smart guys.
We would do well to read what they wrote and try to get back to their original ideas of how this country should be.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Spanish Mauser FR-7

Take a look at this first photo closely.
(Click on it)
Looks like an early type of military assault rifle, complete with flash hider at the muzzle, a protected front sight that's adjustable for both windage and elevation, and a bayonet lug underneath.

Not at all the kinds of features typically found on a bolt rifle using a Mauser action designed in 1893!
I bought this oddball at a gun show in the mid-'90s for $65. I was looking for the more desireable FR-8 model ($150 at the time) but other collectors had already beat me to them and the supply had dried up, so I settled for this FR-7.
The seller had probably taken it in a trade since he didn't know anything about it, and apparently neither did the dozens of chumps who had handled it before me.
There was serious damage to most of the moving parts from assclowns trying to work the bolt as if it were a modern Ruger or Browning or Remington.
In fact, the bolt was fully retracted when I found it and the dealer told me he didn't know how to close it!
I did, but played dumb and spent a few minutes looking over the condition while pretending to try and figure it out.
Then I stuck my finger in it and pushed down the badly gouged magazine follower so I could close the bolt.
I told him it was kind of interesting but couldn't possibly be a serious rifle.
And that it had damage here and here and especially here.
Offered half of what he wanted and let him think he got the extra $15 through his shrewd bargaining skills.

Here you can see that the rear sight is a rotating disk with apertures at various heights above the bore.
This was designed to emulate then-recently adopted CETME assault rifle that Spain had chosen in the early 1950s. The German H&K G-series are more recent CETME-types.
Since their economy and political situation was very bad after WWII it was difficult to aquire enough of the new rifles to outfit the Army, Air Force and Navy with sufficient numbers as it was, let alone divert a bunch for training purposes, so Spanish armories modified existing M1916 (FR-7) and M43 (FR-8) Mausers to a configuration that was similar enough, and these rifles also found use in the Guardia Civil which would be a close approximation of our National Guard.
They modified the original wood stocks (some of which are very nice pieces of wood like mine) and put on new barrels chambered for the then-new 7.62mm NATO cartridge still in use today for machine guns and special purpose rifles half a century later.
The popular commercial .308 cartridge is very similar but has slight dimensional and pressure differences that make it a bad choice for the FR-7, but is considered safe for the FR-8.
I've put 20 rounds of .308 through this rifle without blowing myself up, but am planning to work a trade using some 1955-vintage Lake City Arsenal M2 ammo (.30-06) I have for some true 7.62 NATO.

There is also the problem of the parts I had to replace.
The bolt was heavily damaged, as was the magazine follower, and the safety, bolt shroud, cocking piece, ejector, extractor, firing pin...hell, I had to replace everything that moves.
Now that I have my hands on this rifle again I'm trying to get it back to shooting condition.
It kicks like a mule but is one of the truly unique guns of the last century and I want to contribute to the knowledge base so others can benefit from my research and testing.
Fusil Reformado 7