Outro – Don’t let the door hit you on the arse, 2020

23 December 2020

I’m going to try to avoid all cliché statements about 2020 being ‘a year like no other’ here. Instead, I will cut right to the chase: 2020 absolutely sucked.

However, I must acknowledge that I have been fortunate that most of those in my life have remained healthy and I have not been put out of a job or a home by the pandemic. Not everyone I know has been so lucky. I have lost acquaintances from the virus and people I know have been extremely ill. A bunch of people I know are staring at the potential to be out of work if things don’t turn around soon.

There have been some good times sprinkled amongst the rest of 2020’s events. Travel-wise, well…that pesky virus did take the sails right off of the ol’ boat, didn’t it? I did get to roam around the Soggy Island a little bit with my wife in between lockdown 1.0 and lockdown 2.0, but it was certainly brief and it was definitely, definitely weird. It has just been announced that we will be heading into lockdown 3.0 immediately after Christmas. Joy.

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Santa reacts to the news of yet another imminent lockdown

I, like so many, have spent (too much) time looking at videos online this year. YouTube is at once valuable and dangerous. It’s valuable from the standpoint that it can help one find a whole bunch of valuable information and inspiration easily. It’s dangerous because it can waste hours of one’s time, as well as waste some energy, and it can help to generate false feelings about one’s abilities in both a negative and a positive sense.

I have found some great inspiration online this year, though. For example, YouTuber Nick Carver, a southern California-based photographer with a substantial amount of broad experience, provided both hours of inspiration and some seriously-good information on a variety of subjects including camping gear and whiskey. He also provided some seriously-grounded reality checks which continue to resonate within me each time I pick up a camera.

What happened in my world during the year, photographically-speaking, that I am thrilled about? A couple of things come to mind. To start, I picked up a 120-format film camera for the first time since I was a kid. What’s more important is that I liked the experience very much and it had a strange calming effect on the rest of my photography habit. I certainly don’t want to go back to using film all of the time (or even most of the time), but I am enjoying my time with all of my cameras in a slightly different way thanks to a few rolls of film used in an old, low-end TLR and also some time with an old, mid-range Pentax AF SLR. Hell, I even used color film for the first time in eight years! For anyone who knows my affinity for black and white emulsions, that’s quite an amazing event in itself.

Moving on from that, I’ve just realized that I have become a heavy prime-lens user this year. It’s not that I don’t have a lot of time for good quality zoom lenses anymore, it’s more that I wanted to get at the core of what I do and don’t like about particular focal lengths. It turns out that if I spend enough time with almost any focal length, it becomes comfortable enough for me to say, “yeah, I can use this and it’s ok.”

Take for instance 36 mm – not 35, and definitely not 28 – 36 mm. I’m not actually referring to the focal length, but rather the angle of view (62° diagonally) provided by a 24 mm lens on a crop-sensor digital camera. I used a 24 mm lens on two of my APS-C bodies for the entire month of November (a nod goes out to Ted Forbes for that one). It turned out to be a great exercise in both restraint and resourcefulness that I believe made me a bit stronger in the snap-decisions-about-composition department. For me, mental visualization of a composition becomes easier once there isn’t any other angle of view on the table; I simply adopt the viewpoint provided by the lens I must work with.

Phoney Lady - My winning contribution to B&W's phone competition

Finally, I will share that I had a photograph published in Black & White Magazine’s January 2021 issue. I very, very rarely participate in competitions (I really don't enjoy them, most of the time), but I submitted a few photos to this year’s ‘smartphone photo contest’ at B&W magazine largely because it was free to enter. It turned out that the image the judges thought was the best of my entries was the one I would have thought would have the poorest chance of making it into press. I note this just because it goes to show that sometimes one never can tell for sure what others are seeing in an image.

Bring on 2021.

Please stay safe.

Return of the Soviet – Quality time with the Lubitel 166B

28 November 2020

During summer, I picked up an early-eighties Lubitel 166B from a local fellow on the cheap. Along with it, I purchased a bunch of expired Ilford FP4+ (also at a bargain-basement rate) and proceeded to spend some time getting to know my plastic komrad inside and out. (You can scroll down to find my previous entry on the subject of the Lubitel.) Overall, it’s been a fun and educational experience, but certainly not without some frustration.

I finally burned through most of the old FP4 and picked up some fresh HP5. I’ve been sending the film to Harman’s UK lab for developing and scanning. Recently, I picked up more of Ilford’s film ‘flavors’ including Delta 100 and 3200 as well as some Pan F 50. I also bought a couple of rolls of Fomapan just to try out somebody else’s B&W emulsion, too.

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Six months into my time with the Lubitel, I have no desire to rid myself of it, that’s for sure. I do like it and I would say I actually like it a lot. No, it’s not a camera I’m confident using and it’s not the pinnacle of resolution with its 3-element, 75 mm,  f/4.5 lens. However, I’m mighty surprised at what it can resolve with some care and practice. A tripod and a cable release are essential to get the most out of the Lubitel, but a little bit of ‘bell wire’ greatly helps me use the camera without a tripod simply by giving me something that resembles a shutter release extension.

I’ve included a few images below from my time out-and-about with the Lubitel.

A few photos from the Lubitel 166B and Ilford films

I look forward to using the Lubitel a bit more now that our lockdown (2.0) is coming to an end next week. The days are short and weather sucks, but maybe there will be some opportunities to get out and take some pics between now and the new year.

Until next time, I’m urging everyone to do your best to stay safe going into the Holidays and through the rest of winter!


On The Road With CSN&Y – Traveling with a quartet of prime lenses and an A7

24 October 2020

Just as the Irish government announced new measures blocking nearly all travel due to the ongoing pandemic, my first day of vacation arrived. Given that the rest of 2020 has been completely cursed, I wasn’t too surprised. This year will go down as one of the weirdest I’ve experienced. I usually like weird, by this kind of weird is not what I, nor anyone I know, normally have in mind.

Unusually, Mother Nature, the Cruel Mistress herself, blessed me with a fine day of changeable-but-pleasant weather for my last day of unencumbered mobility for the next six weeks. I got up early and took to the roads of Connemara in search of autumn color and solitude. I found both in spades.

Loaded into my backpack were The Three Tenors…Errrrrr…On second thought, no. No, these lenses are more like Crosby, Stills and Nash, actually. I’m referring to Samyang’s tiny autofocus primes – 24 mm f/2.8 (‘Crosby’), 45 mm f/1.8 (‘Stills’) and 75 mm f/1.8 (‘Nash’). For this tour, they requested an old friend and collaborator go along with them; a 43-year-old, PK-mount version of the Hoya 135 mm f/2.8 (which is obviously ‘Young’). Since I’m assigning names due to personalities, I’ll call the Sony A7 ‘Ahmet Ertegun’ for bringing these fine performers together ahead of the tour and for keeping them all working in sync (No, not NSYNC!) for the duration.

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The band just before embarking on the tour

I also put the Lubitel into the car (but not into the backpack) just in case I was taken with some subject that I really wanted to put onto film in a 6x6 format. Interestingly, the Lubitel didn’t see the light of day for the duration of the tour, but CSN&Y did capture some B&W images, for sure.

I’ve had Stills for a year and Nash for about five months, but I just got Croz as a bargain-bin buy while ordering film for the Lubitel. (Two thumbs up for Ffordes Photographic in Scotland, by the way – my first purchase online from them was flawless.) This was my very first trip out with Croz. Young has been a part of my lens collection for nearly a decade and I cannot say enough good things about that little lens.

So how did the tour go? Did the performers all play nice together and engage with the audience at hand? Yes, they played a brilliant set and rumor has it that Ahmet is already planning a reunion tour in six weeks.

Here are example images from each lens in conjunction with the A7.

Photos with 'Croz' - Samyang 24 mm

Photos with 'Stills' - Samyang 45 mm

Photos with 'Nash' - Samyang 75 mm

Photos with 'Young' - Hoya 135 mm

Creating Alternative Realities – A tale of two 35 mm lenses

10 October 2020

With all of the freedom permitted across Ireland during the Covid-19 slowdown of July, August and September, I drifted away from this web space a bit more than I intended. However, it was great to get to travel a little bit and to spend quality time outdoors. But, now that more stringent anti-Covid measures are being rolled out to squash the rising tide of infections, I’m back inside and in front of a computer much more than I like.

I’ve written about my love of the little Fujinon 35mm C-mount lens before, but I’d like to compare and contrast it with another 35mm lens that started a new life with me over the summer. That ‘other 35’ is a Lensbaby Edge 35 mm f/3.5 inside a Composer Pro II body for E-mount. I’m using this combo on both APS-C and 135 format bodies.

Back in 2018, I picked up the little Fujinon 35 mm f/1.7 CCTV lens as a cheap experiment with the world of optical imperfection. It’s not something that I would gravitate towards all of the time, but every once in a while, I grab the little beast and take it out looking for compositions that simply scream ‘alternative reality’. It’s a bit like using a digital Holga. But, it can also produce extremely high resolution images up close, so it’s not that it doesn’t have legitimate optical chops, it’s just that it’s quirky and has 24/7 baked-in vignette. When mounted on a camera with a sensor too big for its optical circle, and with its decidedly spherical focus plane, it suddenly becomes a window on another world. I find working with it inspiring when I’m in the mood to ditch convention but still want to have good sharpness over most of the image.

Distortion Ahead - What the C-mount Fujinon 35 mm does best

On the other end of the weird optical spectrum, we have the Lensbaby Edge 35 in its native, full-tilt Composer Pro II setting. These are normally pretty pricey new, in relative terms (~$450), so I hadn’t ever really considered buying one until I found a bargain. A like-new copy crossed my path one afternoon at a price that was less than half the original retail, so I plopped down the cash and took it out for a spin.

Creating alternatives to the truth are what both of these lenses do so well, but the Edge 35/Composer Pro II combo has a different kind of transformative ability. One can get the ‘miniature effect’ with it through the use of its crystal-clear slice-of-focus against a contrasting zone of radical blur (and trust me, it’s way better than the digital facsimiles of many cameras), but it can do more than that. It’s specular highlights can be varied in a way that most other lens’ cannot and it can emphasize components of an image in a very pointed fashion.

Grim Reaper - with the Edge 35/Composer Pro II on Sony

Compared to the rather conventional handling of the tiny Fujinon 35, the handling of the Edge 35/Composer Pro II combo is very weird. I can’t help but to think Lensbaby still hasn’t completely finished the Composer system itself; I find it downright sloppy. I wish it had a center ‘detent’ to let one know if the lens is perfectly centered, because when it is, the Edge optics are just about as good as any manual prime lenses available. The Edge 35 from f/4 down is incredibly sharp all the way across the frame, so it makes a great all-purpose 35 mm for both APS-C and 135 as well as a tilt lens. The focus ring is ok, but I really don’t like the rough tension control that locks/unlocks the tilt because it just feels so crude.

Full Tilt Boogie - Edge 35 and Composer Pro II on Sony

But, it’s about the output, right? Considering the effects and options these two 35 mm lenses provide, the quirks and ergonomic oddities should be expected if not completely embraced. No, they aren’t for all-purpose use, but they are indispensable for creating alternative realities. We can all use that from time to time and especially right now.


First Returns Are Promising – My Lubitel experience thus far

1 August 2020

When last we left our author, he had just experienced the raw power of a cloned 1930s camera for the first time…

Ok, so I’m now a whopping two rolls (23 frames!) into my deflowering by 120 film. It’s already been a very interesting experience. I was a good boy and wrote down my exposure settings and the source(s) of my metering for each of these initial frames. To my amazement, most of the images were properly exposed. Through careful comparison between images metered with my digital camera and metered with my 40-year-old Gossen Pilot II light meter, I determined the Pilot was suggesting I underexpose by about 1 stop under most lighting conditions. I fixed that with a gentle twist of the fine-tuning screw on the Pilot. I was also surprised that my ‘Sunny 16’-based estimations in cloudy conditions were very close to accurate. Even the flash photos I tried with my tiny Sunpak SP140 strobe turned out perfect. I do, of course, owe a large portion of this success to the exposure latitude of Ilford FP4. If I had been using slide film, I wouldn’t have been so lucky in a few cases.

Dark and beautiful – the Lubitel’s triplet lens at f/4.5

It wasn’t all wine and roses, though. With the first roll, I didn’t do a particularly good job of spotting when the numbers came up in the little red window while winding. Thus, I missed one frame entirely and I also managed to overlap a couple of frames. While working through the second roll of film, I managed to lose the metal hinge pin that holds the door on the camera and it actually popped open! I have no idea how, but apparently gently squeezing the camera while carrying it was enough to get the pin to wriggle out of the hinge. That created a whopping light leak (to say the least) and partially wiped out three frames. My repair for the lost hinge pin was a carefully-straightened paperclip.

Double exposures and heavy fogging – fun with the imperfections

One additional weirdness was encountered with the 6-months out-of-date film. It was returned from development with lines running the length of the film. From what I have read, this was probably due to moisture collecting and freezing between the backing paper and the film. The gentleman I bought my film from did keep it in a freezer. Apparently, Ilford advises against freezing specifically for the backing paper issue.

Lots of detail – a slight crop of a gritty subject

What I like about the Lubitel thus far: The triplet lens does a very good job and it's much better than I expected. It’s sharp enough at f4.5 to do fine work with centralized subjects. Stopped down a bit, most of the frame is sharp, but the edges are never as sharp as the center. I like the simplicity of the camera. It’s basic, but not too basic. The 166B is also small and unobtrusive; I can slip it, along with a couple rolls of film and the light meter, into the smallest camera bag I have and it takes up very little space.

What I don’t like about the Lubitel thus far: What is the trick to getting used to the viewfinder image being reversed??! It’s actually better for me to look at my subject and position the camera than to try and do it via the viewfinder. The snap closure on the back door is awful. I put a rubber band around the camera as cheap insurance against accidentally opening it with the strap (as I have done a couple of times with the camera unloaded). The shutter release tab is so incredibly tiny that I swear it was left that way to punish the poor Soviets who used these on a regular basis. I now understand why these cameras have a short cable release included with them; I’m actually trying to make a shutter button for this camera at the moment.

With FP4 B&W film, I really like the look of the images I’ve gotten out of the 166B so far. I’ve begun to experiment with adding orange and red filters and am changing-up the film selection a bit (still B&W, but I’m not that big of a color film fan, anyway.) I’m planning to take the camera on a road trip to the southern-most end of Ireland in the near future. We’ll see if I’m able to get any respectable images out of it on that trip.


Why Make Things Easy? – Continuing on with film photography

12 July 2020

For some reason, I developed a renewed desire to try medium format photography last winter. This seems to happen about once every decade. In 2010, I thought about it for a long while, but ended up doing a digital project based on a box camera simulation instead. I’ve never actually used a medium format camera (except when I was eight years old – literally once).

With the pandemic and its associated lockdown, I’ve spent more time than I care to mention reading about film photography and perusing internet sites dedicated to various types/genres of analog photography. There it was again – the allure of the roll. Roll film, that is; we have to be specific when referring to rolls of things at the moment, don’t we?

What is the allure of bigger film, anyway? For me, it's largely the intersection of high resolution and distortion in one less-than-predictable package. Visually, it’s easy for me to imagine how to get a sharp subject within a backdrop of softness or genuine chaos with big film and how it will play out in 6x6 or 6x7 format. If it wasn’t for the costs and hassles, I’d simply upscale to a 4x5 for the same reasons. However, there has to be some level of physical and economic restraint with my film habit. That’s largely why I’ve only used 135 film to date – everything else was just too much trouble to work with or too expensive.

Film - I still use it and I still like it (sometimes)

I’m certainly a fan of ‘low-fi’ in a lot of things (hence my love of my Fujinon 35mm CCTV lens), but Holgas and Dianas are just too crude for me, generally. I’d rather use a Brownie simply because it’s likely not to have light leaks and might also possess a lens which can actually do a 2.25” x 2.25” negative some sort of justice. If I want excessive vignette, poor contrast and light leaks, I can always add them. And, I gotta have exposure control - ideally both aperture and shutter speed must be variable.

I decided early on that I'd like to give a TLR a go. Enter the often hated, but also much loved, Lubitel series of Russian cameras. Cheap and cheerful, available readily, and (on paper) a tantalizing mix of control, convenience, uncertainty, and genuine pain. After some internal debate between cameras like the Seagull Chinese TLRs, a few other flavors of old Rollei knock-offs, and the Lubitels, it turned out to be the Lubitel 166B that separated me from my cash. A small amount of cash, I might add. My Lubitel 166B cost significantly less than the 10-pack of expired Ilford FP4 I bought to go with it.

From Russia (and England) with love - a stack of B+W film and a Lubitel 166B

I’ve only had the opportunity to run one roll through it so far, so my initial verdicts are pretty limited. What I can say, without a doubt, is that my experience with the Lubitel has already changed a few of my preconceptions, particularly with the use of TLR-type viewfinders. Whoa - it's weird!

We’ll see how things progress between the Lubitel and I. If it turns out that my externally-metered, frame-limited, focus-challenged journey is not enjoyable (or educational), I will simply put the beast up for sale. In the meantime, I’m hoping I’ll gain something positive from this 120 film experience.

Stay tuned.

LightPix Labs FlashQ Q20II – Shedding some light on things

4 May 2020

To begin, I’m going to reaffirm that I’m largely a ‘natural light photographer’ as I open this blog entry. I don’t really use strobes all that much, but I do have use for them sometimes, mostly in situations where filling in shadows is essential (like portraiture).

I own a Cactus transceiver system that I use with my Pentax flash units and I also have the extremely versatile Cactus RF60 flash that works well with them. I’ve also got a bunch of older generic flash units that I’ve collected over the years. All of these have their uses, especially for off-camera applications, but they’re a pain to lug around unless I absolutely know I’m going to use them.

When I bought my Sony A7 which doesn’t include a built-in flash, I wanted a compact flash that could take with me anywhere and just leave in the bag all of the time. Just by chance, I read an entry on DPReview’s forum that included reference to the LightPix Labs Q20II. Further investigation led me to Eduardo Pavez-Goye and his most-interesting use of the little LightPix unit with an old Minolta SRT 35 mm film camera. Mattias Burling uses the Q20II on his Ricoh GRIII and seems to like it very much, too.

The LightPix Q20II lighting its own way off-camera

To me, the most intriguing attribute of the Q20II flash was that it appeared to work so well as an off-camera light source; that’s not a trick most of the tiny flashes available at the moment can do without adding a separate trigger mechanism. I ordered the Q20II from an online retailer for about US $90 plus shipping based largely on the reviews I had seen to date.

Not much bigger than a pack of playing cards but still equipped with a pivoting flash head that accepts gel filters, the Q20II is truly compact. It has a nice feature set for a non-TTL unit including step-wise power selection from full down to 1/64 power. It can be used as an optical slave and also is equipped with a genuinely-useful LED video/modeling light which can also be tuned between full and 1/64 output. But, by far the coolest feature is the detachable shoe trigger that even has the ability to change the flash output intensity remotely with the simple push of a button. The removable flash trigger has its own Li-ion battery that can be recharged via USB. The flash unit itself can also be charged by USB if one uses 2x AA rechargeables (like Eneloops) in it.

I’ve put the little LightPix to work in a variety of situations over the past 6 months. So far, I’m extremely pleased with it. The Q20II is surprisingly powerful for its size. Is it perfect? Absolutely not (more on that in a minute), but it’s pretty damned useful. I’ve used it alone indoors as an on and off-camera flash with a variety cameras and it has rarely failed to fire on command. I’ve used it outdoors as a macro flash and for spot-fill. Cycling times at less than ½ power are impressive for a 2-cell strobe. Even full power cycling isn’t so slow as to be frustrating.

Shed some light on it – the Q20II at 1/16 power held directly above the subject

Where the Q20II falls down on the job is at a distance. Firing reliability suffers rapidly as the flash is moved further from the little trigger. Outside, I am only able to get about 10 feet of range before triggering becomes sporadic. As an optical slave, the Q20II is only so-so indoors and it’s just about worthless outside, even in the dark. That can probably be attributed to the tiny optical sensor window on the front of the flash. It’s just too small and has very limited angles of exposure.

Overall, I can still enthusiastically recommend the Q20II. If the flash continues to be reliable and ages well, I think it represents uncommon value. Just because it can do so many things effectively and is so easy to take along on any photographic outing I don’t ever want to leave it behind.


The Hardest Hit – Memories of Spain and Italy in much better times

4 April 2020

As I watched the events unfold over the past month, I anticipated the movement of SARS-CoV-2 through Europe and to where I live at the moment and also across the US to the southwestern United States where I grew up and where I still have family. It brought with it a feeling of dread which has been brutally validated by the death and disorder we have seen thus far. With more than 28,000 fatalities across Italy and Spain alone and the ever-larger number of fatalities around the rest of the globe, I am completely deflated.

The Irony - from a beach in Falconara Marittima, Marche, Italy

I have had the opportunity to travel across continental Europe to satisfy my own curiosity and also for work. In my travels, Spain has probably been my favorite place to visit, largely because the culture and language resonates deeply within me due to the many complex influences brought to my home region from Spain beginning nearly half a millennium ago. There is also the amazing beauty of Spain’s open areas and mountains which has its own magnetic appeal. There are places in Spain which, despite my near-inability to communicate in Castilian Spanish, feel remarkably like home.

Granada and its People - Granada, Andalusia, Spain

Italy is a bit more removed in my psyche than Spain, probably because I can’t speak a word of Italian, but it has elements of culture, history, and geography that also strike the home cords in me. When I am there, I wish I could speak Italian because I believe it would help to open up a door to Italy that I have yet to find. Nonetheless, I have enjoyed my time traveling in Italy and with the many people I have met and worked with who come from Italy originally. One of the highlights of my time in Italy has been Camerino and the Marche region that surrounds it.

Camerino - Marche region, Italy

The news today is, indeed, horrible and it does not appear to be set for any quick improvement at any place across the globe. I can only hope that we, as an inextricably-linked group of animals with similar needs and desires, can get through this with as minimal harm as possible. I look forward to the day I can return to Spain and to Italy. Let us hope it isn’t too far in the future.


Locking Down - Time to self-isolate and wait for the storm to pass

16 March 2020

It's only been two weeks since I uploaded my previous entry to this blog. In the short time that has passed, COVID-19 cases have expanded across the globe forcing countries seal off borders and people everywhere to take drastic measures to stop the spread of the virus.

I get a lot of questions from others because I am a molecular and cellular biologist by training. I remind them that 1) I'm not a medical doctor, 2) I'm not an epidemiologist, and 3) I'm not a virologist. But, I do try to answer questions about the mechanics of viral transmission and infection when I do have the knowledge to provide.

People are scared. There's plenty of reason for them (us) to be scared, but there is also considerable reason for hope and to look to the future. We, as humans, have experienced this sort of epidemic/pandemic behavior throughout our evolution. We have experienced it when we had no idea or understanding of what the cause was and when we had no way to try and fight it or mitigate against it. Today, we can at least understand the mechanisms of transmission and also provide real means of controlling the spread and assisting those who are infected. Globally, this is what is happening right now.

To be sure, there is going to be more sickness and death before things get better. But it's important to look for the glimmers of hope that may be just around the corner. It will help us as we cope with the challenge at hand and it may help to speed the recovery.

As I write this, the first human vaccine trials are being conducted in Seattle to see if the mRNA-based strategy of antigen delivery and presentation will provide substantial resistance against SARS-CoV-2 infection. We can only hope that it works as planned and, if so, there will be immediate mobilization to produce the vaccine for general distribution. It will be months, perhaps, before a vaccine candidate can be put into full production, but that's still much faster and more systematic than any response in our history.

I wish all of my readers the very best and hope that each of you and your loved ones remain healthy in the trying days and months that lie ahead.

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Leap Year 2020 – Ramblings from the kitchen when the weather just plain sucks

29 February 2020

As I write this on Leap Day in the middle of storm Jorge’s visit to Ireland, we have 45 mph winds driving horizontal rain. This period (largely November through March) is the most miserable time of year to be living here on the west coast of Ireland. Somewhere on the horizon of time, probably about April, we will get decent weather again. Until that happens, all I can do is hope the these days of brutal winds and rain will lessen as we approach (actual) spring.

Today's Worry – the headline around the world on this Leap Day 2020

Many photographers embrace the bad weather and it’s true that ugly weather can make for dramatic images. I’ve gotten very good at keeping my camera equipment reasonably dry even in completely shit weather. I only own one lens with weather sealing (a Pentax 55-300 zoom) and a couple of weatherized camera bodies, but I’ve still managed to get out and about in the lousy weather without killing any cameras or lenses. That doesn’t mean it’s always an enjoyable or fruitful experience, however. Days like today are over-the-top and I don’t even think about venturing out.

Old City Blues – NEX-6 and Sigma 30mm f/2.8 ART

I spend more time with monochrome photography in bad weather than in good. I try to let the gray, flat light help me to see interesting black & white compositions and also to help me concentrate on details rather than bold scenes.

Alley Brides, Dublin – NEX-6 and Sigma 30mm f/2.8 ART

Recently, I decided to experiment with ND gels in behind my Sigma 12-24mm for some long exposures. It turns out that the Irix ND gel filters available for their Firefly and Blackstone lenses will work quite well in the older-style rear filter holder that’s included on many of Sigma’s wide angle zooms. They require just a little bit of trimming, but otherwise, the Irix gels are right at home in the Sigma filter holder. By stacking a couple of gels in the holder, I can achieve a 10-stop reduction in light transmission with ease and I don’t have to mess with trying to fit a giant filter holder in front of the bulbous element and permanent lens hood of this particular lens.

Winter, Barna Pier – A7 and Sigma 12-24 with two ND4 gels

I’m really looking forward to spring. Let the days of sun not be too far in the distance.


Motorola One and Android One - A One-derful Pairing

8 February 2020

After experiencing infinite frustrations brought on as a result of the non-removable bloatware that came with my Samsung phone (mostly courtesy of AT&T who doubled the bloat), I decided that my next phone would have to be different.

Android One was immediately intriguing because of its promise of a “pure Android experience” and an absolute minimum of bloatware on products sporting this version of the OS. Plus, it comes with a guarantee of extended updates and compatibility that will help ensure a longer service life. I do not buy new phones unless I really have to and Android One goes a long way to ensure I could feasibly not have to replace my phone for several years.

I looked at mid-range offerings from Nokia sporting Android One, but none of them really got a lot of high marks in the performance department. Motorola, now owned and operated fully by Lenovo, had a few Android One phones on the market which had gotten generally good reviews. I decided, with the help of one of my favorite local, independent mobile phone retailers, to buy the original Motorola One (aka, the Moto One).

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At left: The Moto One – reflecting in the day’s rain


My particular version of the Moto One has only 3 GB of RAM and 32 GB of onboard storage (a 4+64 version is also available in most markets). However, I am totally amazed at the speed and efficiency of the beast, undoubtedly a result of the lack of extraneous crap running on the phone at any given time. I have already added a very conservative 32 GB SD card to boost storage capacity, but I have the option of adding much, much more (at least 128 GB) if I need to.

The rear camera is a dual lens/sensor setup (2 Mp + 13 Mp) designed to work with Google Lens. My main interest in this camera combo is the ability to add Open Camera and use the 13 Mp sensor to capture DNG files. The main camera and sensor sports a 26 mm-ish equivalent field of view and an f2.2 aperture which is, unfortunately, fixed at that large aperture. Overall, it does a decent job of capturing sharp images, but I have noted that it is slightly decentered; the left side of the frame is definitely softer than the right.

Running either Open Camera or the OEM Motorola built-in camera app works extremely well, but RAW capture isn't possible with the latter. I’m still adapting to the focus habits of the Open Camera app, but I get great results going full-manual with it. I have added Snapseed 2.0 and Polarr to the suite of on-board editing tools and these are quite useful on the go – even if I use them to quickly adjust images from my mirrorless cameras downsized to ~6 MP. Not bad!

The Devil Made Me Do It – 1243 ISO (!), 1/14 sec, f2.2, developed from a DNG file

I got this phone for €135. In general, this phone and it’s bloat-free Android One setup are quite impressive for the price. Now we’ll just have to see if I ever will get used to the ergonomics of using a phone for photography. (As of February 2020, the phone still feels like it’s alien when I use it for photography!)

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