Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Tower 51

Back in October I bought a Tower 51, a 35mm rangefinder camera sold through Sears in 1954. Sears didn't make any cameras, but had various manufacturers, such as Nicca, Olympus, Mamiya, etc. supplied cameras that were branded "Tower". The Tower 51 was made by Iloca, a German manufacturer. Supposedly the Tower 51 was a re-badging of the Iloca Rapid B, which is also referenced on Karen Nakamura's wonderful site. But my Tower 51 does not have the film advance on the left, as with the Rapid B, rather it is in the "normal" spot, on the right. Matt Denton's Tower 51 is the left-handed version, so there were at least two versions of the Tower 51.

This camera arrived in pretty good condition except that the viewfinder is very dirty. And the film advance feels so rough that I couldn't be sure the film was advancing properly. I threw a roll of Kodak B&W C41 (black and white film but processed in the same chemistry as colour negative film) just to test it. It took me quite a while to get the film developed and scanned to CD, and I wasn't too hopeful.

But, Shazaam! the results were quite good! As a meterless camera, I had to either use an external meter or choose my exposure by the "Sunny 16" rule. Next step is to do a CLA myself. I'm not going to send it out for a cost of $50-80, as I only paid $10 plus shipping. If I screw it up, I'm not out much, but I DO love the lens, a Steinheil Cassar 50mm/f2.8 which seems to be wicked sharp.

For Miss K: Here is a shot of the advance mechanism under the top plate. I have more photos of the disassembly procedure. Let me know if you want me to send them to you.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Scans Redux

Yesterday I picked up the rework of the scans I mentioned what, 5 weeks ago? Seems longer, so with the holidays I guess I shouldn't be too judgmental.

I'll post some JPGs here later; the results are better, but not totally satisfying. Sharpness is a lot better, for the most part, but dynamic range hasn't been retained. One of the contributors to the APUG forum is a photographic engineer and used to work for a major photographic manufactuer here where I live. I asked him if he knew of a better local source for scans. He hasn't been happy either, so bought his own scanner. I'll end up doing the same, but given my "standards" (does that sound self-absorbed?), it won't be cheap. So I'll need to wait until the wallet recovers from the HDTV purchase.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Thoughts on Digital Photography from a Film Luddite

I recently exchanged an email with my good friend Decrepitoldfool (aka DOF) regarding the state of analog/film cameras in the past year. I forwarded some thoughts by Tom Abrahamsson on the year past, in which he celebrated the release of many new lenses for rangefinder cameras, and the release of new RF bodies from Cosina and none other than Zeiss, the new Zeiss Ikon using the Leica M mount.

DOF replied that he was working on a blog entry on film vs. digital from a broader perspective. This prompted me to put together some of my thoughts in reply. Partly I was simply expressing myself as thoughts flowed, and partly I was happy to give DOF food for thought.

So, here is what I wrote. I'm not trying to steal his thunder, and I don't want to spark a film vs. digital debate. If anything, I see the advantages of digital being thwarted by inferior industrial design. OK, it's not just inferior, it's just plain stupid and idiotic.

Look at what Perez said about film and current digital cameras; he envisions image capture in glasses, jewelry, anything wearable. Huh? Technically achievable, but apart from spies, what consumers really want it? Most consumers can't operate the arcane digital interfaces that Kodak and others are giving them. 80-90% of a camera's capability are wrapped in a shround of menu/symbol mystery. Just when the interface is understood, a totally new generation/paradigm comes along. And... How will you frame image in your engagement-ring-cam?

What drove photography both as a hobby and as a profession was the stability of the controls interface that dovetailed with advances in lenses (the camera itself advanced only insigificantly) and film technology. I could pick up my OM-1 and transfer the knowledge of its control to an older Asahiflex IIa (pre Pentax/Spotmatic) or to a newer OM-2 or OM-4. Or a Leica, etc.

Now if I own a Kodak digicam and switch to a Fuji, Canon, Olympus, etc., it is much harder to re-learn the interface. Not impossible, but relatively fewer will do so than with film, and the remainder will use their cameras less. Given that the consumer digicam industry is built on product churn and repurchasing relatively frequently (the upward trend in total sales can't continue forever), this is a stupid thing. When equipment sales plateau, consumable revenue becomes even more important. Can the manufacturers entice users to regularly consume paper and ink to print their own images? I'm not so sure the current state of printing technology is acceptable, both in terms of ease of production and cost. My lord, I'd much rather have casual snaps printed at the corner grocery store on good quality Fuji or Kodak materials.

Cameraphones are "the thing" right now, but I haven't quite figured out how the component manufacturers can make good money with them. The real revenue goes to to the wireless service providers. If Zeiss provides lenses for a Nokia cameraphone, does Zeiss get a percentage on every image transmitted? Does Kodak get a cut on each transmission by virtue of supplying the sensor in a Motorola phone?

Interesting times, but my Olympus 35 SPs have a spotmeter and my head can do matrix metering calculations. Betcha I can't get that in a cameraphone.

Another problem is that photofinishers have been moribund in providing good service and being innovative. I'd post some ideas here, but they might actually make sense and be valuable. Hmmm.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Recreating a Room

A move (local only) is in the near future, so getting the house de-cluttered (Lord, where DID all the stuff come from?), painted and repaired is absolutely necessary. This weekend the living room got painted and a lot of unnecessary shit was either tossed or boxed up. New paint (from a pale blue to Glidden's "Water Chestnut") went on the walls, and all the furniture was totally rearranged so that the room was "opened up". The new TV was installed on a coffee table and placed into a corner, with the components on the shelf below. Looks cool.

So, what about the TV? I'm happy. The only problems I had were:

1. It appeared that the component inputs weren't working.

2. I tried to get ahold of Syntax support to no avail. Their technical support call queue kicks you out after a very few minutes, forcing you to select an option from the IVR. If you go to the operator, you're often as not on hold and then have to back to the IVR for another ineffectual selection.

Of course, it didn't occur to me that I was calling during CES, the holy grail of trade shows for a company in this market. Once I realized this, I sort of understood what was going on, BUT the operator (once I got ahold of her) could have explained.

Email didn't work very well either, and I resorted to multiple email submissions and then emailing the PR contact at the parent company, which I found via a company press release.

Bottom line, I got the problem resolved, but it took far too long. Minus for customer service.

As far as performance goes, however, I am very happy. Image quality is very good, with the factory defaults being quite good. Yes, I've tweaked it a bit, but all the settings are easy to get to via the menu system. I do not have any high def content yet (another story), but SD images are not bad for an LCD/fixed pitch display which has to convert.

The most surprising discovery is the audio performance. I don't expect very good sound on a TV. No, it's not true HiFi, but it's actually quite good for a TV monitor. There are quite a few effect settings, most of which (all but one) are hokey, but with no EQ setting or on "pop", sound quality is better than average by far ... at least in my experience. The audio out is fixed, meaning you need to control volume via whatever amp/receiver it is feeding. It makes sense, but since I can't program my satellite receiver remote to control our current receiver, it's a PITA having to have 3 remotes.

I hope to have HD content by Saturday evening for HNIC. That's when I'll be able to better judge video performance, especially how it handles motion. The set has "Super in Plane Switching" (Super IPS) to minimize smear of fast-moving images such as a puck on the ice.

All-in-all, so far I can recommend this set. Time will tell regarding reliability, but the build quality seems very high, on a par with major brand names.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

New TV

I've been lusting after an HDTV for a couple of years now. I'd been living with a Sony 27" stereo dinosaur since about 1996. It was pretty spiffy at the time, having S Video input, and in 2001 I bought a JVC SVHS tape deck to compliment it and the satellite receiver which had S-video output.

Everything was was fine until I got married and we made the decision to use live in her house and sell mine. The layout of the living room is long and narrow, with a fireplace at one end and the main entrance at the other. So the only place to put the TV is along a long wall, with a sofa against the opposite wall.

The result is a crowded room if you have a coffee table in front of the couch. That 27" TV isn't big by today's standards, but a CRT set is deep, so the footprint isn't really good for a smaller room.

The solution? Flat screen of course! I used this argument on my wife for a long time ... "It will save space!" I repeated over and over. Plus, I had upgraded my satellite receiver to a High Def model, largely because the slightly larger dish that came with it meant I might improve my signal strength.

I have been watching reviews and comments on the Olevia brand of LCD TVs from Syntax Groups for almost two years. An "off" brand, it was cheaper by a wide margin that competing brands with similar specs. But I was wary, of course. And even the lower price point was still too for quite some time.

On Christmas day, however, I saw that the LT32HVE model was on sale on and had a $300 rebate. I was wary of having something this expensive shipped to my house. Obviously I'd want to be there to receive it, but arranging that would be something of a hassle. So I waited to the next day and went to a local Radio Shack to see if they had stock. They don't stock TVs that large, but they did say I could have it shipped there as long as I picked it up promptly, as they had limited storage.

So I went home and ordered it. A 10% off offer was no longer available :( but it was still a good deal.

It arrived on the January 3. Today I received a DVI cable to use as the connection from the receiver and the picture is closer to optimal than with S-video. But I don't have high def programming downloaded to the receiver yet (another story), so I can't really give a valid review. Once I get that sorted, I'll post some comments. One thing I have noticed is that the control of colour temp is very good. Watching HDIC right now, the flesh tones are right on, reds are not over saturated; the balance is very good.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Hockey Day in Canada (HDIC)

One of my other passions is hockey. The Stanley Cup is the epitome of a championship ... four rounds, 7 games each round, at the end of a grueling 82-game regular schedule. Men play hurt, come up huge, skate on pure grit and adrenalin.

But the real story of hockey is not just the NHL, the AHL, or other pro leagues. It is the Junior teams and those "below". A couple of years ago, driving along highway 18 in January in western New York, I passed a bunch of kids playing pond hockey in a farmer's field. Classic across Canada, more rare in the US. It was a magical moment for me, just seeing those kids out there having pure fun.

On January 7th, CBC will broadcast Hockey Day in Canada (, a celebration of the game at the grassroots level. I'll sit in front of my new LCD TV, eating homemade chipotle chili, watching kids in Stephenville, Newfoundland play the game and adore heroes like Wendell Clark, Don Cherry and Darcy Tucker. And there will be other stories all across Canada that will literally bring tears to my eyes. I'll record it to DVD (I've recorded past years' broadcasts on tape; now I'm "with it") so I can cry again later.

This stuff is purity of life.