Thursday, February 04, 2016

Paris - Developing a Travel Plan

Those who know me personally may understand another reason I have been apprehensive about making an epic journey.  One would think that with a pretty solid foundation in French it would be a no-brainer.  (I heard what you're thinking, Roger!)

Time out for a little story ... my first father-in-law, Samuel Barnston Hunter Smeaton (aka Barnie Smeaton) was a linguist.  (That gene obviously passed to my children.)  If my memory is accurate he spoke about seven languages fluently and could read and write in quite a few more.  His speciality was lexicography, and for several years he was an editor for a major English language dictionary.

My mother-in-law, Rita Smeaton (née Burwell) would never travel overseas.  Because she "didn't speak the language," even with a translator as companion.  Sigh.  I loved her (RIP) but I didn't want to repeat to that mistake borne of irrational fear.

With rusty French there is some language fear, but not that much.  The nagging doubts were more about mobility and stamina - I  mentioned this issue before.

But once I took the plunge, my thoughts turned to both itinerary (too much to see - must be selective!) and the logistics of travel.  The latter weighed on me.  As in I want to travel as lightly as possible.

The luxury I have is lodging, so here is my strategy.

I will travel to Paris with the clothes on my back, a carryon containing my cameras, minimal toiletries and maybe one change of clothing.  The latter two are for the unlikely eventuality of being stuck some where in transit.  That's it.  What?

I will ship additional clothing ahead.  Yes, I could check one bag at no charge, but then I have to schlep it.  With mobility assistance at each airport, this would not be an issue.  But then there's transport from De Gaulle  (CDG) to my son's apartment.  I want to carry/handle as little as possible.

I will ship the rest of my clothing ahead of time.  Most of what I ship will be articles I can dispose of before I leave, older articles that I no longer need or care about.  Toiletries?  There's a pharmacy steps away from the apartment; I can buy travel sizes for use during my stay.

There is a Lomography shop a 4-5 minute walk from the apartment.  For my film needs I will buy film there - probably Ilford XP2, which can easily be developed  during my trip (it's a C41/colour negative process film that produces black and white negatives) so I don't have to worry film going through multiple X-Ray inspections.  And yes I will have a digital camera with me (along with my iPhone 6s,) but nothing beats a pure, analog manual camera.  What would Cartier-Bresson do?

This will leave me with a nearly empty bag for the return voyage.  Can you say du vin et chocolat?

Bien sur/I thought you could.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Going to Paris - Deux

Taking so long to go to Paris was not optimal.  I could say that money was the reason, but that would be less than honest.  Over the years I have spent more than enough money on other things, such as cars, housing, etc.  Certainly those are essentials, but also certainly I could have made different choices and saved the difference.

So maybe the real answer is priorities and being clear with myself.  When after a few decades of no contact I reconnected with my oldest friend the French teacher, I began thinking about going.  Having her relate her experiences during and after each journey got the juices flowing.  And after all, she is my personal travel resource for Paris in particular, and France in general.

Somehow I got it in my head to use frequent flyer miles to make the trip "free".   I had a few thousand miles on United, but not enough for a return trip.  So I started accumulating more by transferring points from other loyalty programs when possible, and eventually got a United-branded credit card with a bonus of several thousand points for signing up, plus points awarded for all purchases.  This works really well when I use the card for travel and other expenses reimbursed by my company.  Win!

But of course there is a dark side.  What capitalist pig business wouldn't get you coming AND going?  As I approached the number of miles required for a free return ticket (30,000 as I recall,) the amount changed - the number of points required, that is.  I watched it go up from 30K to 40K and eventually 60K.  I detect bastages in the marketing department!

When my son moved to Paris for work I was thrilled for him - and myself, of course.  Free lodging!  So that became a key element of the plan.  Sure I could pay for lodging, but that would have meant a shorter stay.  I may never be able to afford to go again, so staying for longer than a few days, if at all possible, is important to me.

That also means I can relax.  No need to cram everything into a few days.  While I will succumb to visiting at least a few of the tourist sites that everyone considers de rigeur (for a reason to be admitted discussed below,) whenever I travel I like to seek out the hidden, unknown and even ordinary.  Especially cities are defined by the people who have built and are building them.  Obviously geography and weather are foundational to how a village, town, city, et., is shaped.  But the everyday breathing in and out of a city is defined by its citizens.

And is there a better major city to people watch?  I am certain there will be disagreement on this, some of it centring around certain beaches in Brazil, Cannes, etc.  I'm not allowed on those beaches -that has nothing to do with my current parole stipulations.

The real reason for visiting at least some of the usual touristy sites is that if you don't, you catch hell from everyone.  "What?!?  You didn't go to the Eiffel Tower?  What are you, a commie pinko?" (Someone knows who he is ...)

"You didn't even try to get to La Sainte Chapelle!!! I'm no longer your oldest friend!!!"

Ok, I'm using a bit of hyperbole to just say my aim is balance.   

Back to why the delay ... more than financing the trip, the other factor that kept me from booking for such a long time was the reality of mobility issues.  Paris is a walking city, which is a significant part of its appeal.  That's hard for me at the best of times.  But after a few years of weight gain, combined with reduced flexibility due to a sedentary job, I knew I could end up going and being disappointed.

I decided to turn that into a challenge - make Paris an absolute goal so that it became my motivation to get in shape.  I started that process near the end of December.  I went back to my physiotherapy provider, going twice a week for a few weeks to kick start me and provide instructions for continuing at home.  Once I booked the ticket this weekend, I was fully committed.

Once Christmas was past, I began reducing my caloric intake.  As I got more flexible I was able to walk more easily, which helped with losing weight, which helped increase flexibility, which helped ... the opposite of the vicious circle.

My goal is another 10 pounds loss minimum, but I'm not fixated on that.  In fact my real long term goal is another 15-20 pounds.  I don't know if that's realistic, but we will see.  I'm not going to defeat myself by trying to grab the unobtainium.  Anyone who does that usually ends up regressing, sometimes ending up in a far worse situation.

Once the weather warms up a bit more here at home and daylight lingers longer, I will go on walking photo excursions of increasing duration.  I may even buy a cheap-ish bicycle and get back my cycling chops.

I hear people ride bikes in Paris and they can easily be rented.  The bikes, that is, not the people.  Well, some of them can be rented, but that's not permitted.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Going to Paris - Partie la Premiere

I began taking in French in Grade 5.  Our teacher was the formidable Mme Foreman.  I can't recall if she was from Paris or elsewhere in France, but she married and emigrated to North America.  If there was a better French teacher for elementary level, I can't imagine it.  Even students who did not like nor did well learning French, liked her.  Most of us loved her.

For several years we did not see a printed word of French.  This is the way we learn language in infancy -- duh.  We were privileged to be in a laboratory school run by the local university.  It was very progressive and allowed for experimentation of curriculum and methods.

I can't say that everything that the school attempted worked, but the method of foreign language instruction was an unqualified success.  One of our classmates struggled with pronunciation - you could see his brain churning as he struggled to translate and speak.  Yet he ended up living in Belgium, becoming fluent and accomplishing a stellar career in marketing management for major corporations involved in both consumer and commercial marine operations -- en deux langues. Or more.

Another classmate, whom I knew from birth and thus is my "oldest" (she will hate that designation!) friend on this earth became a French teacher.  With undergraduate and graduate level studies at two universities in France, including La Sorbonne, she retired after 33 wonderful years of teaching high school French.  She is a true successor to Mme Foreman, ushering a huge number of students not only into the joy of learning a new language, but of being open to a cultural world holding wonder and fascination.  (She travels back to Paris at least annually, so I may have a travel guide ...)

At the end of high school I was nearly fluent.  I remember walking a path along the St. Lawrence, chatting with an innkeeper in Cap Madeleine, Quebec, and being nearly giddy that we could converse without any trouble on my part either to understand or speak.  Our conversation flowed easily; it was heavenly.  I managed to keep my giddiness concealed.

Fast forward a few decades and I am no longer fluent.  Or even close.  I can shift into gear, but the right vocabulary, the correct grammar is locked a few levels lower, encased in cobwebs.  It comes slowly.  Sometimes Google or an app are required.

But my children.  Oh my children ...

My daughter achieved her Masters at University of Toronto and has embarked on a career teaching in a French immersion school in Toronto (Scarborough) ... and my son gained Bachelors, Masters and PhD diplomas in linguistics, with heavy computer science qualifications.

My son now works in cognitive linguistics and computation in ... Paris.  He lucked into a wonderful apartment in le troisieme (le Marais) so it seems eminently logical that should Dad choose to visit, free lodging would be available.  And it is.

Next up ... why the wait?

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

More X-Pro/Zuiko Love for Kalli

I am in the process of "thinning the herd" - that is, selling excess camera gear.  So I've been bringing cameras, bodies, lenses, accessories and paraphernalia from storage to sell online.  It turns out I have two Zuiko 50/1.4 lenses, and I stuck the one I'm going to sell on the X-Pro to shoot my favourite subject.

I'm getting better at manual focus (I actually read the manual to learn about focus magnification!) so this time the focus was much better.  And I think  my post process sharpening was better, though I'm sure someone could comment about "sharpening artifacts".  Whatever, it's the dog that counts.  If I recall, this was shot wide open at f1.4.

Click the photo to embiggin.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Zuiko OM on the Fuji X-Pro 1

I bought an adapter to use my Olympus OM Zuiko lenses on the X-Pro.  With the APS-C crop factor and manual focus, the X-Pro is no longer a fully digital age camera.  But whatever.  I'm not addicted to autofocus, and if I can figure out how to do it with the X-Pro, I can accomplish manual exposure.

The adapter adds depth to the OM lenses, negating their small size.  Sigh.  With the superb Zuiko 21/2 (equivalent to 32mm on a 35mm "full frame" camera,) the combination is almost as large as the 18-55 zoom that came with my X-Pro.

My initial attempts with the 21/2 were ho-hum, but that has nothing to do with the lens.  I was just learning.  But with the 28/2.8 (equivalent to 42mm "normal",) combined with a little more skill, I seemed to find a sweet spot.

I missed focus (on the eyes) a bit, but this was low light and the EVF is not the best under those conditions.

I'll be using the combination more.  

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Converting to B&W With the Fuji X-Pro1

I shoot in both black and white and colour.  But essentially I see in b&w and feel most satisfied with it.  With the acquisition of the digital(!) Fuji X-Pro1 I have been learning not only the controls and (too many) options, but how to take the RAW files and convert to black and white that looks like film.

Yes, the Fuji X cameras can produce really nice b&w jpeg files in camera, but the b&w settings are, by necessity, somewhat limited and generic.  To a significant degree b&w films are defined by their spectral sensitivity - that is, how the level to which they respond to red, green, blue, UV and IR content of the original scene.  Digital sensors don't work that way.  A built-in computer takes the information from the sensor and saves it in a "RAW" file which essentially contains all the data that is translated from the light hitting the sensor cells.  (It's more complicated than that, but that's essentially it.)

All digital cameras have modes which can manipulate that information into a modified type of image, normally stored in a JPG file, which represents a combination of settings which are simply manipulations of the data to produce a specific look.

Throughout the absolutely glorious history of black and white film emulsions there have been hundreds of formulations, each with unique renderings.  And as b&w is an abstraction of how most people see a colourful world, none of them is "right".  Some are classics, such as Kodak Tri-X, Fuji Acros,  Iflord HP4, dozens of others, and my favourite, Agfa APX100.

So how the hell do I get a particular look of a specific b&w film from an original RAW file?  It turns out there are two essentials:

  1. Using the appropriate controls in image editing software such as Photoshop, GIMP, Lightroom, etc., which basically involves changing the amount of primary colours (Red, Green and Blue) content and 
  2. Knowing (or discovering) what the levels of each colour should be for a particular b&w film type
From those changes, you tell the image editing software to convert to monochrome.  You can then add brightness and contrast changes as desired, and even add grain effects to complete the conversion.  I haven't mastered this -- I've just discovered these steps, and haven't even played with applying grain.  

So, I'm a beginner in the "digital darkroom" - which has always seemed so foreign to me, a somewhat accomplished traditional darkroom worker.  But I've been helped immensely by my friend Gene Wilburn, whose series on b&w digital workflow starting here pointed me in the right direction.  And, quite by chance, I stumbled across an incomplete but highly helpful list of levels for several b&w emulsions about half-way down the page here.

So with a little work tonight, using GIMP for Mac, here are some samples.  I used the Fuji 18-55 zoom set at 18mm (approximately equivalent 28mm field of view in 35mm film terms) on the Fuji X-Pro1.

The first picture shows the original colour image.  The day was mostly cloudy with low contrast light, so I bumped up the contrast, then sharpened a little bit and resized.  After applying the appropriate levels for the colour channels in the GIMP channel mixer, I then used the exact same brightness, contrast and sharpness settings for the b&w conversions.  Naturally I don't have shots made with the actual corresponding films (and I haven't tried all the settings listed on the linked site,) but the results are very interesting.

Edited colour image:

Agfapan 25

Agfa APX 100

Agfa APX 400

Ilford PanF

Kodak Tmax 400-2

As I work through other settings, I will add to this post.  Some day I may even learn how to save the settings in GIMP so as to automate the conversion process.  And if anyone can figure out the settings for Adox films, that would be super!

Of course, I could just keep shooting film.  Which I will do.

Saturday, December 12, 2015


A little over three years ago we adopted a rescue dog.  Kalli had been abandoned in a field in North Carolina, not an uncommon occurrence in some areas.

She was clearly scared, having been mistreated (we later learned,) gone through clean-up, veterinary treatment, a foster home and then to our family already populated by three cats plus a male dog who is definitely an alpha.

It took her several weeks to become comfortable with us.  At first she wouldn't come in after she had been let out into the back yard for exercise and essential duties.

The adoption group called her a Border Terrier mix, and she does have some of those characteristics.  Only genetic testing would be definitive.  Personally I think she has Pekingese traits; my wife disagrees, but I know I'm right. :)

Every once-in-awhile I make some photos of her.  Her underbite is clearly adorable, and the various lengths of her coat give her lots of different looks.

Everyone agrees she is sweet and adorable.  I love her.

© Earl Dunbar December 02 2015

Fuji X-Pro1

And here is her ADORABLE underbite, courtesy of the really nice iPhone 6s camera.

The following shot was made with an Olympus Zuiko OM System 28/2.8 lens.  Focusing legacy, manual focus lenses on the X-Pro 1 is not easy.  "Focus peaking" is a camera feature that highlights the area in focus; it appears as brightness, sort of like shimmering.  I slightly missed focus on this.  The first version is the JPG straight out of the camera.  For the second version I applied some sharpening, but no other editing.