Upgrades Revisited

M6TTL, CV 35 1.4 SC, FP4@250, Rodinal 1:100

M6TTL, CV 35 1.4 SC, FP4@250, Rodinal 1:100

Kate and I got a bit of a windfall earlier this fall. Our savings are in good shape, we’ve got new shoes and the car has a new muffler, so a new computer seemed in order, but we delayed until after our trip to Europe. After Europe turned into after the holidays, with the end result that we didn’t get the new computer ordered until last week. Yesterday, our new – refurbished – 2.6Ghz iMac arrived. Setup was quick and easy, most of the data has been moved over and I’ve even got my old Windows edition of PS running in a virtual machine. I haven’t installed the printer yet, but barring problems on that end, I’m back in business with little more than a couple of hours invested.

M6TTL, CV 35 1.4 SC, FP4@250, Rodinal 1:100

M6TTL, CV 35 1.4 SC, FP4@250, Rodinal 1:100

I use a Mac at work, although primarily as a platform for VMware, and I’ve owned Macs before, so even though my previous computer was a Windows laptop, surprises have been few. So far, the screen is the only real surprise; the difference in screen gamma shows all the flaws in my photos. Most of them look pretty good, but a few of those done on the old machine look just awful, for example compare the photos illustrating this post with the versions posted here. Luckily, the bigger screen and extra horse power of this machine make cleaning them up a relative breeze.

M6TTL, CV 35 1.4 SC, FP4@250, Rodinal 1:100

M6TTL, CV 35 1.4 SC, FP4@250, Rodinal 1:100

I’m using Sun’s free Virtual Box virtualization software to run the windows virtual machine. It’s pretty straightforward, and if you’ve used any of VMware’s desktop products, the transition is easy. If you’ve never used virtualization before, this is a straightforward way to keep access to your old applications when you move to a new platform. Performance is just dandy as long as your host machine has got enough juice.

M6TTL, CV 35 1.4 SC, FP4@250, Rodinal 1:100

M6TTL, CV 35 1.4 SC, FP4@250, Rodinal 1:100

We decided to go with a Mac for a number of reasons, but primarily because a Mac was the only platform that allowed us to consolidate our household computing needs onto one computer. Kate’s video editing software is Mac specific, my stuff will run on anything with virtualization, so there we go. And the Mac just looks cooler sitting on the desk.

M6TTL, CV 35 1.4 SC, FP4@250, Rodinal 1:100

M6TTL, CV 35 1.4 SC, FP4@250, Rodinal 1:100

I’d say that there weren’t any other upgrades in our near future, but whenever I say no upgrades, I seem to have to take it back shortly. If nothing else, at least now I can listen to iTunes while I edit photos.

Around the Web: Feb, 2008 Edition

Hexar RF, ZM Biogon 35, Delta 400, Xtol 1+1
Hexar RF, ZM Biogon 35, Delta 400, Xtol 1+1 (straight Xtol seems to give more shadow detail)

Dancing About Architecture

Hexar RF, ZM Biogon 35, Delta 400, HC110

Kate setting up her mother’s computer to get podcasts

Studio 360 recently ran an interview with David Plowden, one of the few times I’ve heard a photographer interviewed on the radio. It’s worth a listen, particularly if you enjoyed Plowden’s recent book, Vanishing Point. The interview makes it clear that vanishing point perhaps refers as much to the disappearance of his favored subjects as it does to a feature of perspective.

Get the MP3 here.

A Viewing List

I’m blessed with a local library that values photography books. Here are a few of the books I’ve recently plucked from the self.

  • Harry Callahan. The Photographer at Work.: fascinating, more about this one another day.
  • Moksha, by Fazal Sheikh: beautiful, ethereal B&W, troubling subject. I usually pass on social justice sort of photography, but this book is hard to set aside.
  • Weeping Mary, by O. Rufus Lovett: another book of great B&W work on an interesting documentary subject.
  • Work, by Mitch Epstein: I just didn’t get it, but maybe you will.
  • My America, by Christoper Morris: a retrospective of the excellent VII photographer’s time with George W. I couldn’t decide if this was boring or creepy? Subversive or patriotic? Is there a difference?
  • David Hilliard: a weird, eponymous book of shabby-chic, large format work. I wanted to dismiss this at first, but I kept going back to it. There’s something there, but I’m not sure what.

What have you been looking at?

3.5 Million Pictures + 1: An Explanation of the Serial Numbers

Hexar RF, 50 Hex, Delta 400, Tmax Dev
Picture number 03580035?

Marek asks “have you already made more than three and a half million pictures in your life Matt?” Er, well no, not exactly. Here’s how the serial numbers work. The first four digits are the roll number. The last four digits are the frame number. Any letters indicate that there are multiple workings of that particular frame. So picture 03520008b (Thinking Wide), is the second (b) version of frame 8 of roll 352. Why 8 digits? Room for growth. Who knows, film may one day come in 9999 frame rolls 😉 I’ll wish I had gone for 16 digits when I break 10,000 rolls of film, but until then the system works.

I started using this numbering scheme just a few years back, so I actually have shot more than 382 rolls of film (scanning 383 as we speak). Really, I have. For each frame from each of those 383 rolls, there are a number of resulting files. 16 bit 3200 DPI TIFFS of the original scans get archived off to external drives. Full resolution JPEGS of every frame go into a folder on my computer for back up and quick reference. Thumbnails, the 740px wide images that end up on this site, of the edited frames go into an Index folder divided up into 50 roll sub-folders (Roll 1-50, Roll 51-100, etc). These Index folders are easy to eyeball for just the frame I’m looking for, and, since they just contain 100kb or less jpegs, they browse quickly even on my crappy computer, much faster than browsing in Photoshop for example. For each frame, the file number stays the same through all the different file sizes and types. So for frame 03520008 there’s 25mb 16bit TIFF (03520008.tiff), the PSD file I print from (03520008.psd), the full size JPEG (03520008.jpg) in the JPEGS folder, the small web sized JPEG in the Index folder (also 03520008.jpg), and the alternate version presented in the previous post (03520008b.jpg). It is not necessarily efficient for disk space concerns, but it makes things easy to find.

One Keeper Per Pound

Kate’s been planning a mystery vacation for us. I have a bit of hard time planning vacations, but I do fine if someone just shoves me on the plane, so the idea was to just cut me out of the planning phase altogether. One morning last week she lit slip our destination before her morning coffee kicked in; I knew addicting her to caffeine would eventualy pay off. The destination, Paris, with a side trip to Brussels to see our friends Kelly & Joe.

My only planning for this trip has been deciding what camera gear to take. One camera, one lens and a bag full of film seemed to work well in Tokyo, so I though I’d do the same on this trip, but take it one step further and standardize on one film, Delta 400. This should keep photo-futzing to a minimum, which for me seems to result in more fun and better pictures. I’ve pretty much decided on taking the 35, but I might change my mind and go for the 50 at the last minute. If I have a moment of weakness it will be the 50 and the 28 🙂

Just about the time I had fully decided on this minimalist course, Antarcica In the Bag popped up on LuLa (props to Colin for the LuLa appellation). I’ve enjoyed Reichman’s other ‘In the Bag’ essays. Reading about someone shlepping a hundred pounds of gear through airports is a good cure for gear lust. Unlike previous essays in the series, this one contained some statistics for people to latch onto, mostly about how all those poor suckers with 1 series canons had to resort to using digi-rebels when the big iron failed in a light rain. I’m not sure why folks think that Canons are really “Pro” cameras any more when the market is surely mostly retired dentist and studio photographers. Why build them to pro standards when the only pros that use them are going to use them in a studio? That’s a rant for another day . . .

Lurking in that failure rate story was something more interesting though. Reichman only brought back 92 keepers. A few folks have noted that 92 divided by the 7000 some frames he took is a really small number. A slightly less small number is the 92 divided by the weight of his gear. Here’s the math:

  • H2 body, 3 pounds
  • 35mm Hassy lens, 2 pounds
  • 50mm-110mm Hassy lens, 3.5 pounds
  • 210mm Hassy lens, 3 pounds
  • 1DsMKII, 2.5 pounds
  • Canon 24-105, 1.5 pounds
  • Canon 70-200, 3.5 pounds
  • Canon 100-400, 3.00 pounds
  • M8 and assorted lens, call it 5 pounds
  • Tripod and Head, 8ish pounds
  • Laptop, 5 pounds is pretty standard
  • 4 compact hard drives, 5 pounds
  • LowePro Dryzone 200 bag, 5 pounds?
  • Thinktank monstrosity bag, 10 pounds, empty!
  • Batteries, chargers, etc, 10 pounds?
  • Eh, rounding error, 50 pounds so that I can say he carried 100 pounds of gear

OK, fine, he didn’t actually carry 100 pounds of camera gear. Even if we round it down to fifty pounds and round his keeper count up to 100 – I like nice round number and even math – we are still left with only two keepers per pound. Applying that to my 5 pound equipment load for Paris, I can plan on taking home 10 keepers? I’m ok with that. If we redid the math to make it keepers per dollar spent on equipment, I’d be lucky to get one otherwise good but half-fogged frame. Good thing we aren’t doing that math!

Other Uses for $300 worth of Camera Bags, Part 1

Bags, OM-1, Olympus 50mm F1.8, Delta 400@800, Xtol
Can you spot the lunch bag?

The Camera Bag as Lunch Bag

As I’ve written before, I have a complicated relationship with camera bags. In part this relationship can be expressed by the following formula:

(Desire for expensive camera bags + Contradicting desire to not be encumbered) / Feeling of guilt over useless purchases = Lunchbags

Yep, lunchbags. That’s what all those expensive camera bags get used for around here, and some work better than others.

Billingham Hadley as a Lunchbag

The Hadley is quite the snazzy looking bag particularly the black one that I’ve got. Kate uses it as her lunch bag as it goes nicely with her black wool coat. With the padding removed from the main compartment, it’s got quite a bit of room for lunch indeed with enough leftover for a hardback book, a notebook, and the miscellany that always seems to float at the bottom of a bag. Without that padding, though, the bag lacks structure. If you don’t pack carefully, your pbj will get crushed by your book when the bag deforms to your body.

As you would expect of a $200+ bag, the materials are excellent. That Billingham coated fabric really is entirely waterproof, both inside and out, as Kate found out when her water bottle popped open inside the bag, creating a mini lagoon in the bottom of the bag. Her voice recordermaratrix spent a week drying in a bag of rice after that, but it’s now as good as new.

Domke 803 as a Lunchbag

Although the Domke is smaller than the Billingham, all that canvas makes it a fairly heavy bag, which is why it doesn’t work that well as a camera bag; packed full of lenses it’s just entirely too heavy. Lunches are decidedly less dense however. I carry the 803 most days with my lunch, one camera with attached lens, a small paper back, and a collapsible umbrella. Load like this the weight is fine for the 40 minute walk to work.

The Domke’s structural padding and heavy canvas – two weight-increasing features that make it a poor camera bag – make it a pretty darn good lunch bag. The provided insert (stripped of extraneous padding) keeps my hard-edged camera from squishing my PBJ or my banana, while the overall rigidity of the bag prevents bag deformation from making a gooey mess of all my treats. In this respect, the Domke is far superior to the Billingham.

Where the Domke fails is size and water-resistance. Because of the limited interior space, my copy of the mamoth Joan Didion collection, We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live can only come with me if I’m eating a burger and drinking a beer at Murphy’s; my bosses might have a problem if that was on the agenda everyday. Beer and Didion are enough to keep any sane person from getting back to the office on time. A paperback slipped into on the front pockets has to do. The Domke’s other lunch bag failing is its sponge-like quality. Water resistant canvas, ha! That brown canvas is perfectly water resistant when you try it out at home. In the world outside, however, it actually pull moisture out of the air until the bag ways approximately 30 pounds. Why did photojournalist ever carry Domkes?


Both these bags are foolishly expensive for lunch bag use, but once you’ve spent the money, you’d be a fool not to use them for something. In almost all respects, the Domke makes the better lunchbag, albeit a smaller, heavier, and less stylish one than the Billingham.

Site Maintenance

I’m “re-publishing” most of the camera and lens reviews in order to circumvent wordpress’ “pages don’t belong in categories” limitation. I’ve never really understood the logic of this limitation, but I’ve gotten beyond questioning the logic of most of wordpress’ quirks. Just work around and move on.

If you haven’t ever read these reviews, now is the perfect chance. If you have read them before, I promise, it will all be over soon 😉

And I’m apparently breaking things in the process . . . sigh.

Yeah, definitely breaking things. I think I just broke all historical inbound links to posts. w00t!


Sixth grade math was the only class I ever got a C in. I spent the whole following summer doing math exercises with my dad as penitence or practice; it was never entirely clear which. Given that, I’m always surprised that I find numbers so interesting, but its inescapable. Perhaps its an occupational hazard. In IT, our managers love numbers. They provide a convenient way to cover your ass if a decission turns out to be ill advised; “The usage statistics indicated that we could reduce available machines by 20%. Really, I was just trying to save money!”

What’s all this got to do with photography? Nothing. But here’s a neat graph of this site’s viewership patterns.

Site Stats
10 months of stats via www.statcounter.com

Total page views are trending down, but repeat and unique viewer counts are up. I’d say there’s a couple of factors at work there. First, sometime during the late summer I stopped doing the galleries, which had a tendency to inflate the number of pages on the site. Second, I started the second blog, which I think got people coming back more often. Third, while Kate and I were in Korea, a lot of family and friends that didn’t normally look at the site started to check it out particularly in those first few months. Not all of them stayed, but I’m glad that they clicked through so many of the galleries on their way out the door.

In other news, the equipment reviews are getting more hits from the search engines after I made some changes a couple of months back. I still need to transition the reviews into the new site architecture. It will be interesting if the search engine optimization survives the move.

All this stuff is secondary to the actual photography, but I find that monkeying with this site allows me to do something photography related when I’m not feeling all that creative. What’s the photographic equivalent of writer’s block, and what did photographers do about it before they had websites to monkey with?

New Theme

I’m messing around with a new theme again. The whole two column thing was forcing me to use smaller pics than I use on the photoblog, which has been a PITA. Of course, as with any redesign, it looks like junk in IE. I’ll fix this when I get a chance. Until then, although I still have some work to do, at least it looks pretty good in Firefox.

Update: Funny, don’t know what I changed, but now it looks pretty much the same in IE and Firefox.

Comments appreciated.