Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Film is Not Dead

Highland Park, Rochester, NY 11/07

Highland Park, Rochester NY, 11/07

Highland Park, Rochester NY, 11/07

Evaporators, George Eastman House
Rochester, NY 11/07

Supposedly Kodak has turned into a digital company, and the world no longer cares about film. But don't tell that to Mary Jane Hellyer, the President of Film & Photofinishing and Executive VP. Over the last year under her direction, Kodak has twice updated Portra, its professional colour negative emulsions, and recently has updated T-Max 400, a professional black & white emulsion available in 35mm, 120 & 4x5 sizes.

T-Max 400 (TMY) has had a somewhat tepid response in the past due to its inability to handle overexposure of highlights. This is quite different from the nicer curve of Tri-X. While Tri-X has a totally different grain structure;indeed, Tri-X is a "traditional" emulsion while TMY is a more modern "T-Grain" formulation. So there was a trade-off.

But the new TMY-2 formulation is much improved. I can't say for sure that Kodak has completely solved the issue of highlights; that would take careful testing and I have only had one roll to play with. The film isn't widely shipping yet. But my casual use of TMY-2 has been a wonderful experience. In addition to its improved tonal rendering, it seems to be a true 400 speed film, not the 250 or 320 speed I find optimal for Tri-X.

Kudos to you, Ms. Hellyer. I am sure your budgets for film R&D are not generous. But you have managed to marshal the still significant brain power and production prowess at Kodak to shine beautiful light in the silver-halide world.
Edit/Postscript, 2/1/08

Fuji is showing a prototype for a new medium format film camera at PMA. Their press announcement emphasizes that as an imaging company "Fujifilm remains true to its heritage and to the acknowledged superior image quality delivered by professional photographic film products."

Compare that to (CEO Antonio) Perez' mealy-mouthed public statements on film, and you get the sense of why many photographers are confused about Kodak and its future. No doubt Kodak must be a digital company, but Fuji clearly has a clearer vision of what imaging is and that there are more photographers than those who must use digital due to the need for speed of delivery, increased production quantity, etc. Hellyer recognizes this, unfortunately she is not the CEO. Yet.

Rangefinder Forum has an interesting and entertaining thread about this. And apparently the camera looks like this.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Update: Gene's R3A & Nokton 40/1.4

Photo: copyright Gene Wilburn

On a stopover at Gene's Sunday morning, I was able to play with the Bessa R3A & Nokton 40/1.4. The grey finish of the camera is absolutely gorgeous. If I were to get an R3A it would definitely be the grey. And the Nokton is certainly smaller than I ever would have imagined.

  • Nokton size and smoothoperation
  • Solidity of the Bessa
  • Brightness of the Bessa viewfinder, and layout of framelines

  • Handling of the Bessa. Its shape feels a bit odd/clunky, especially compared to my 35SP. That might be because Gene had the inexpensive half case on, though. While decent protection, I don't like half cases unless they are luxurious ones such as the Luigi case.
  • While overall the VF is great, I found using it with spectacles not optimum. I'd need to wear my contacts for best results
  • Shutter sound. While not terribly loud, louder than my Olympus 35SP and a Leica. I think maybe the pitch and metallic quality might be what stood out
Sadly, Gene says this sample has jammed three times, so it is back to the vendor for replacement.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Vespa & Leica ... and the Nokton 40/1.4

Over on a new member from central Pennsylvania popped up, citing his blog about the tie-up between his Vespa and shooting Leica. Scooter in the Sticks is a cheerful site which includes some nice photos. And who knew there were electric gloves made for riding in winter?

My friend Gene writes about saying goodbye to his Leica M2 and hello to a Bessa R3A. After acquiring the Bessa, he ordered a Nokton 40/1.4 lens for the new toy. I'm sure he'll have a blog entry (and sample shots!) up pretty soon, but in an email he related how small it is, especially for a fast lens. I can tell he's excited, but I think I may be just as excited as he is. Flickr has a goodly number of images tagged to this lens, and one photographer of note is Ben in Vancouver, aka sockeyed who does good work with it.

This lens is on my list of probable acquisitions once I dive back into the M mount world, but Mr. K of Cosina is introducing a 35mm f1.4 Nokton, so now the decision will be even more complicated. Sigh.

A New Beginning But Without Much Hope

As a member of Leafs Nation, that worldwide fraternity of fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs, I seem to be a glutton for punishment. Today Maple Leafs Sports & Entertainment Limited announced the firing of GM John Ferguson, and the hiring of Cliff Fletcher as interim GM. Fletcher, on a 19-month contract, will be in charge of both player personnel and the search for a new permanent GM. This was announced by Richard Peddie, President & CEO of MLSEL.

In my inbox today was a letter from Mr. Peddie with the official announcement of the change in personnel. All I can say is that I am so frustrated with Peddie that I could spit. Here is my open letter to you, Mr. Peddie, which I will also try to post on

Mr. Peddie,

I forgive you for the one incomprehensible (non-) sentence in this letter; I attribute it to poor proofreading by the PR department. That's not understandable for what is supposed to be the top hockey organization in the world, but still I will let it pass.

What I cannot forgive is the fact that you have not resigned your own position. I am sure there are other board members who share culpability for the current failure of the Leafs to be a top performing hockey team. But you, as President & CEO, are the person who holds the buck when it stops. Or should.

Please, sir, resign your position effective immediately and let someone who knows more about hiring and managing talented hockey people run this team. Stick to real estate and merchandising, but please do it with some other unfortunate organization.

It is the fans, the people who literally built Maple Leaf Gardens and supported this team, who are the real shareholders. You may have a responsibility to Teachers and other financial shareholders, but the true moral and ethical responsibility is the Leafs Nation. Our blood is blue right now because we must have ice in our veins to withstand the savage way in which you have run this organization.

A proud Leafs fan, but a sad observer,


Sunday, January 20, 2008

Top of the Chain

What happens when a species at the top of the food chain disappears? If one species of whale, say a species with a relatively small population, were to go extincet, what would be the consequences?

I suspect many, if not most, people would guess that the rest of the food chain, on which the top species was perched, would simply flourish, and that any follow-on effects would be minimal or none.

While it is true that species directly below likely will increase their numbers, a chain of changes will inevitably follow. Rather than speculate about the disappearance of a species of whale, the polar bear or other species at risk, a look at a species that was eradicated from a confined area can serve as a good example.

Wolf eradication in Yellowstone (and surrounding areas) came as a result of ranchers who blamed wolves for excessively preying on their cattle. What the exact number of losses were is probably not truly known, but what is known is that wolf predation on commercial livestock was largely a result of the elimination of bison (buffalo) herds, a primary food source for wolves. At the time, however, hard science, even if it were available, didn't matter. The wolf had been made an object of fear and hatred, to the benefit of a particular economic interest.

With the removal of the grey wolf population, however, the elk population, having also been an important food source to wolves, increased dramatically. The increased elk herds overgrazed various species of vegetation, including pine trees. The loss of enough pine and other vegetation resulted in soil erosion, loss of ground cover for other species, and the loss of food for still more species.

The soil erosion was significant enough to cause flooding problems, further disturbing the ecosystem.

Whatever one thinks might be the specific effects of ecosystem disturbance or change, no matter how refined one's modeling, there are always at least a few unanticipated results. Ecologists are paid to understand ecosystems and provide at least guidance, if not accurate and specific predictions of ecological change. Given that there is no such thing as 100% accuracy, the combination of uncertainty and the lack of immediate consequences presents a danger to public policy making and societal knowledge of ecological issues. This is especially true with matters of global scale. As humans, we focus on our immediate surroundings and what we can see now.

Lake Superior -- Top of a Chain

The example of wolves in Yellowstone is a relatively simple example of how changes precipitate unintended and unwanted consequences. The same principle obviously applies to geologic systems. The sheer size and power of Lake Superior deceives most into believing it is immutable -- that it cannot be moved, cannot be adversely affected by anything but events of a nuclear scale.

I think most people experience Superior through something akin to a drive-by shooting "Stop here! That's a great picture!". So 99% of its visitors are probably caught in the spell of magnitude and beauty. Absolutely this is essential to understanding our planet, our home.

Three times in my life, out of four trips to Superior, I have been able to stop and live for a bit on the shore. These times have not been simply pleasant vacations, but have been "incrementally" transformative, if that makes any sense.

This last trip was a bit longer. Perhaps not long enough in an absolute sense (permanent residence would be appropriate), but long enough to calm my soul while opening it to "small" things that open up a world not often noticed, hidden behind size and power.

The image that best illustrates this, I think, is this photo of moss & cedars growing from pre-Cambrian rockface of the shore. The whole concept of organisms that break down rock -- and granite at that -- has always amazed me. The conversion to soil as a result of whatever chemical action that is employed is remarkable. In this case, it challenges one to consider that the "food chain" is actually inverted. We would normally consider granite one of the most permanent features of this ecosystem, yet it is lowly moss & lichen that reign. Without species that can convert ancient rock to soil, other species such as the cedars cannot survive.

I am not a working biologist, even though my undergraduate degree is in Biology with an emphasis on invertebrate zoology and my strongest interest continues to be aquatic ecosystems. I am sure that I have oversimplified things with this example. So I admit to being a bit of a wannabe, despite my original grounding in the sciences, and I do welcome comments, corrections and any additional input.

Despite feeling that I have missed something important by not having pursued a work career in my field of study, I am encouraged that I can choose to "reclaim" that study as a foundation for the finale of my life, and combine a renewed interest with my experience and vision in photography and my love of the water.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Pukaskwa Part Deux ... Paddling the Calm

The day after the morning mist paddle, the weather was extremely calm and the lake nearly as smooth as glass. While one can never count on the weather holding, I felt very confident that the day would be fine for hours. So I headed out with cameras, water and a snack. I was mentally prepared to be gone the whole day, but was open to staying out only as long as I felt comfortable.

I headed out of Hattie's Cove, the entrance to which is a small "notch" (duh, it's a cove) that faces more or less south. My intention was to go north, past Horseshoe Bay, then proceed to the mouth of the Pic River. Horseshoe Bay is the bay adjacent to our campsite; a trail led past our campsite to the bay, and the latter part of the trail is a boardwalk, as the trail traverses a delicate, sandy ecosystem.

The first photo shows the calm waters on today's trip. The bay is somewhat protected, but when the weather is "up", the surf can be quite strong. The second photo (taken on a different day) shows the surf on a typical good weather day. The log in the foreground is blurred because it is actually in motion, being propelled by the incoming surf. I chose a shutter speed that would somewhat freeze the waves in the background, but that was slow enough to hint at the movement of the log.

Even though the surf on photo two is not that heavy, it has enough energy to shove the tree trunk back.

These dunes are north of Pukaskwa proper, on the north side of the Pic River. One of the park's interpretive programs is a trip to the dunes.

Turning up river I paddled to the ceremony grounds for the Pic River First Nation. Near this pavilion are small cottages and trailers, housing some of the band members during the summer. I definitely want to come back here during powwow days and find out more of the history of this site, the people, etc. Pic River people have been here for thousands of years; there's a lot to be gained by learning.

Coming back in, there is a small island at the mouth of Horseshoe Bay. It was fun to paddle around and make at least cursory notice of the flora. By this time I was so "emotionally relaxed" that I really didn't work too hard at making "good" photos. Being relaxed and not thinking too much normally produces better work for me. But this time I was simply more attuned to being where I was, to absorbing rather than creating. That was a good place.

Heading back in for the final leg, I actually missed the entrance to Hattie's Cove. So I ended up paddling around Pulpwood Bay, casually exploring before returning to the cove.

To say I was exhilarated would be a monumental understatement. The day was topped off with the simple elegance of relaxation in a camp chair .... absorbing campfire wood smoke, a bottle of 2003 Hillebrand Estates Showcase Chardonnay and grilled chicken.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

No Resolutions for Me

My friend Gene has bravely blogged his 2008 resolutions --

I gave up on New Year's resolutions quite some time ago. I have nothing against them, but the concept just doesn't work for me.

It finally occurred to me that the reason may simply be that resolutions are too specific. I am far more engaged by "big" ideas, by the themes of my life.

So this year I feel the "right" thing to do is to adopt one or two guiding themes or principles as focus areas.

The first is consciousness. So much of my living seems to be on autopilot, lived in habit. I want to discover what practices, what strategies, work to let me be conscious and live in the moment.

The second I'm not so sure of, or is not so well-formed. Kindness. Or maybe Ahimsa is the better term.

Yes, the next Superior article is coming. ;)