Photo Equipment

Anything interesting to note down about the camera gear is here.

Background

In about 1988 I went to Taiwan on business, and only after I got back did it occur to me that perhaps I should own a camera! (Prior to that I had been vaguely against the whole idea.) I was somewhat familiar with a Minolta SRT-101 my dad had so I thought I'd probably want one of the then-new autofocus SLR's, but I was unwilling to pony up the bucks for one only to find that I wasn't using it. So I bought a Nikon point-and-shoot as an inexpensive trial. I used it a fair amount, but kept running into things it would/could not do that I knew how to do with an SLR. This was frustrating, so I decided to step up. I wanted the new autofocus gear rather than older, less-expensive stuff. At the time I was very much taken with Nikon's glass, due to their general reputation and in particular the work of John Shaw, I didn't think much of Minolta's Maxxum line due to what I thought of as their focus (ahem!) on bells and whistles at the expense of the basics, and I hated the Canon EOS due to a vacation with a girlfriend who had a 650. She hadn't brought along the manual and I couldn't figure out how to use it except in point-and-shoot mode, and it was just as frustrating to me as my little Nikon. Had I my dad's Minolta I would have easily been able to get the pictures I wanted, yet the Canon stymied me. (And with a film camera you can't just screw around with it and see whether or not it's working the way you want, especially if there is already film in it.)

So I went SLR shopping, with a heavy Nikon bias. Well, it was funny, but having read all the literature during the shopping process it turns out that I was very impressed with the engineering in the Canon line. Not only was it somewhat less expensive than Nikon, the optics had a very good reputation and the autofocus system kicked ass. (Their per-lens dedicated motors made for comparatively fast and quiet operation.) Once you knew how it worked it was just as easy to use as anything else; I was hooked! I ended up buying the newly-out Canon EOS 620 and a 50mm f/1.8 lens at the local camera store (Huppins), and have never regretted the decision.

I ended up giving EOS cameras (used ones, as I recall) to all the other members of my immediate family as Christmas gifts, so that they'd have good cameras and so that we could share lenses and accessories, if required.

When family members started getting married I volunteered to take candid photographs. I picked up a Mamiya C330 TLR and a Sunpak 622 Super flash, along with a Quantum Turbo battery to power the flashes. This gear worked very well, in conjunction with the Canon.

Log (belated)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Labor day, and I'm to take pictures of the Cd'A symphony in concert in the park. (A volunteer effort, they get what they pay for.) I dusted off the Quantum Turbo battery and recharged it. It's been neglected of late, and that has not done it any favors. (Lead-acid batteries don't like to sit discharged.) While it's now pretty weak, some exercising over the last few days has resurrected it to some degree. I really should open it up and put in a new battery. I find, though, that Canon, in their infinite wisdom, has made my stopgap Rebel digital camera incompatible with their old line of flashes, specifically my workhorse 430EZ. It fared so poorly that I got out the Sunpak 622 and used that for fill-flash instead, using the flash's own auto-exposure setting. I had to put the camera on full manual, though, which was less satisfying. (Film photography with the 1N/430EZ combination under these conditions was always highly satisfactory, basically using it as a point and shoot. Canon's film fill-flash algorithms are excellent.) I took quite a few photographs, most of them discards. (A lot of exposure problems.) I cycled mostly between my two favorite lenses: the 20–35 f/2.8 and the 80–200 f/2.8. I'd brought others, but didn't end up using them. My main complaints are two: the camera's reduced-size sensor means that my favorite wide-angle lens isn't really very wide-angle, and the flash situation. And, of course, there's the Rebel's mediocre shot-to-shot time.

My main approach is to take a lot of shots of the pre-concert rehearsal, wandering in and around the orchestra, then move to the edges and into the crowd during the concert. The only problem with that is that the orchestra (and any soloists) aren't usually fully dressed, or even necessarily all there, in the close-in shots.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Last Monday I dug out the camera gear to take semi-official photographs at the CdA orchestra's free Labor Day concert. It'd been awhile since I got out the big L lenses (80–200/2.8 and 300/4), which worked well, and took the bulk of the 288 shots I kept. What did not work well was the flash. Because the 430 EZ doesn't work with the digital camera I had to resort to the Sunpak 444 that I use on the Mamiya C330 6×6, which meant I was running 'open-loop' on exposure. I had to set the camera to Manual exposure (around 1/200 and f/2.8) and set the flash on automatic. That meant there were a lot of overexposed shots—whenever the ambient light got bright. (I really need to get the 550 EX flash!) Anyway, this all worked as expected, what did not work well was the Quantum Turbo Battery. It had been neglected for too long and didn't want to take much of a charge. (It's supposed to be recharged every three months. It's probably been charged only half a dozen times over the last ten years.) I didn't start charging it until that morning, which was much too late. I tried to rig an inverter in the truck so I could continue charging on the trip there, but it only blew the cigar lighter fuse—too much inrush current. I had it charging again once I got to the park, but it still didn't hold much usable charge by the time I needed it. Good thing I'd brought some C cells for the flash's alkaline battery carrier. I'd never used it before but it worked very well here.

Anyway, since then I've been charging and 'using' the Turbo to try to exercise the cobwebs away. It seems to have recovered somewhat, but it probably needs new lead-acid cells installed. (Last I heard this was around $100 to have Quantum do, probably less than half that to do it myself, assuming I can find suitable cells.) Today I put it all away, cleaning the lenses and such. I cleaned the 20–35/2.8 zoom which has desperately needed it for awhile; the big glass was OK. I removed and bagged the alkaline batteries from the flashes in the camera bags, and stowed everything. The batteries in the bag's pencil flashlight had leaked, so it took some time to disassemble and clean it and get it working again. At least you can disassemble and clean a Mag-lite. I wiped the pictures from the camera's CF card, they've already been transferred to CD and given to Jill.

I got some good pictures anyway, but I had a lot of exposure problems, and some focus problems. A fair number of composition and shake failures too, because the camera/lens/flash combination was so big and heavy. It got fatiguing to hold. I consider the exercise to be a qualified success nonetheless.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Recently a Canon 1Ds II showed up on craigslist. I made a $1500 offer, which they accepted. (That being about the going rate for these now. New, six years ago, they were some $5000 or so.) I met the guy today and made the exchange. The camera looked to be in very good shape, but has been well-used. (Not a closet queen, in other words.) The guy's wife is a professional photographer, and found the weight of the camera to be a bit much. She'd gotten one of the newer, lighter bodies (5D?) and was well-pleased by it. The 1DsII was then sitting on a closet shelf, devaluing by the month. I, however, wanted 'the beast'. The heft is nice and it has the features I've wanted; I've been waiting for an affordable one for years. This is the first camera Canon made that feels like a suitable successor to my film 1N. (Solidly built, full-frame sensor, fast shot-to-shot time, high resolution. Everything that my stopgap Rebel is not.)

The camera was mostly complete, and came with two Pelican cases (for CF cards) and two batteries, along with the original box and packing materials. (It's missing the software that should have come with it.) There is a two-battery charger, and a power supply for use in-studio.

We have a pile of 8GB CF cards at work that we'd pulled out of some systems due to reliability concerns. (These were the main filesystems on some just-developed network gear, and we'd had some problems on a couple of systems. When a customer is to pay in excess of $250,000 for a piece of gear they expect it to behave itself, so we'd just replaced all the CF's with better ones to be safe. We had experienced no problems with any of these particular CF's.) I grabbed a dozen and formatted them, and filled the Pelican cases. It's probably a lifetime supply, for me.

Friday, February 14, 2011

I finally caved in and bought a Canon 580 EX II flash on eBay, about $420 brand new. It came today. I'm still angry that my good 430 EZ is essentially unusable on Canon's digital bodies. There are a few advantages to this flash, besides that it works:
  1. Built-in wide-angle diffuser lens, and white bounce card.
  2. Nice hot-shoe toggle lock.
  3. Ability to turn off the internal inverter when using external HV pack, saving battery life.
I guess that I can still use the 430 EZ as an optically-triggered studio fill strobe, old-school. (And, of course, on the film bodies.)

Saturday, July 8, 2011

I've recently been reading about all the uses to which one can put a fisheye lens in these days of digital, it seemed to me that it was no longer a limited-use lens. Since I'm such a wide-angle fan I decided to get one. Recently one turned up semi-locally on craigslist and I bought it for $575. (Actually we bought it last Tuesday. My wife was headed to Seattle and stopped off in Moses Lake to purchase the lens at her favorite coffee stop. She tried it on the Rebel I sent along with her to prove that it worked before buying it. She's had it with her since then and I only just today got it.) The lens is in perfect condition, with box, and works nicely on the 1Ds II. Very interesting just as it sits, I don't yet have any software to do rectilinear or virtual-reality conversions, or panoramic stitching.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor day, and I'm again to take pictures of the Cd'A symphony in concert in the park. This year I have more suitable equipment: the 1Ds II and a mating 580 EX flash. The Quantum Turbo was again dusted off, on the smaller flash it worked pretty well in spite of its decrepitude. I brought along three lenses: my favorite 20–35 f/2.8 and 80–200 f/2.8, and the new-to-me 15 f/2.8 fisheye. Between the full-frame sensor on the camera and the new fisheye I'm very much better equipped on the wide-angle front this year. On the whole the process went better than last year, though I don't think I got that many good pictures. One problem was that I forgot to check the camera's ISO setting, something I never had to do with my film cameras, and I'd managed to leave it on ISO 3200 for a daylight event! Many shots are noisy, it's surprising that things weren't worse than that. I need to be more diligent about checking this when using digital bodies. The camera body sporadically has problems holding focus in one-shot mode in my usual focus-then-compose technique. I'm not sure if it's defective, or I'm using it wrong. It's disturbing, nonetheless. (The problem is accompanied by a lot of half-lit AF sensor marks in the viewfinder, that's weird enough to make me think it's defective. I hope not, the camera is long out of warrantee.) I took a lot of shots using the fisheye from a ladder over the conductor's head, I like the effect but I have yet to get a very good one. I also used the fisheye to take a lot of shots of the crowd. Most of the photographs were taken on the camera's lowest resolution setting, Jill said that this would be just fine. (The smaller files are a lot easier to work with.)

I used my squeezer script (below) to make a screen-friendly synopsis folder of the results, and burned the whole mess to a CD for Jill.

#!/bin/bash
#
# Usage: skrunch <dir> [<destdir>]
#
# Takes a directory tree full of camera JPEGs and squeezes them to
# screen-viewable size, while leaving the originals in a "fullsize"
# subdirectory (unless an alternate destination is specified).  The
# directory structure of the source is maintained in the destination.
# If a destination is supplied, it may NOT be within the source dir!
#

function errexit() {
    echo $1
    exit 1
}

function skrunchfile() {
    IN=$1
    OUT=$2
    MAXW=800
    MAXH=600
    echo Processing $IN to $OUT...
    set `djpeg $IN | sed -n 2p`
    WIDTH=$1
    HEIGHT=$2
    FACTOR=1
    while [ $WIDTH -gt $MAXW -o $HEIGHT -gt $MAXH ]; do
	let WIDTH=$WIDTH/2
	let HEIGHT=$HEIGHT/2
	let FACTOR=$FACTOR*2
    done
    < $IN djpeg -scale 1/$FACTOR | cjpeg > $OUT
    touch -am -r $IN $OUT
}

[ $# == 1 -o $# == 2 ] || errexit "Usage: $0 <dir> [<destdir>]"
DIR=$1
if [ $# == 1 ]; then
    DESTDIR=$DIR/smallsize
    [ -d $DIR/fullsize ]  && errexit "Pre-existing $DIR/fullsize directory, won't continue"
else
    DESTDIR=$2
fi
[ -d $DIR ]           || errexit "$DIR must be a directory"
[ -d $DESTDIR ]       && errexit "Pre-existing $DESTDIR directory, won't continue"
mkdir $DESTDIR        || errexit "Can't make $DESTDIR directory"

if [ $# == 1 ]; then
    cd $DIR           || errexit "Can't cd to $DIR"
    find . \( -name smallsize -prune \) -o \( ! -name . -type d -print \) -exec mkdir smallsize/{} \;
    find . \( -name smallsize -prune \) -o \( \( -name '*.[Jj][Pp][Gg]' -o -name '*.[Jj][Pp][Ee][Gg]' \) -type f -print \) | while read file; do
        skrunchfile $file smallsize/$file
    done
    mkdir fullsize    || errexit "Can't make $DIR/fullsize directory"
    find . ! \( -name fullsize -o -name smallsize -o -name . \) -maxdepth 1 -exec mv {} fullsize \;
    mv smallsize/* .
    rmdir smallsize
else
    (cd $DIR && find . \( ! -name . -type d -print \)) | sed s@^@$DESTDIR/@ | xargs mkdir
    (cd $DIR && find . \( \( -name '*.[Jj][Pp][Gg]' -o -name '*.[Jj][Pp][Ee][Gg]' \) -type f -print \)) | while read file; do
        skrunchfile $DIR/$file $DESTDIR/$file
    done
fi

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A couple of days ago I bought a Vivitar 283 flash, $2 at the thrift shop. It was in beautiful condition and was made in Japan. S/N 3097050. These have high-voltage and trigger jacks on the side, when I got it I was thinking about inexpensive fill flash, either portable on a Quantum Turbo or studio on wall power. I knew the 283 is well thought of for these purposes and this one was certainly cheap enough. Today I opened it, just to see what's in there. The photoflash capacitor is 1100 µF, 350 V, and fills the knuckle. I hooked 6 V to the battery posts and turned it on, it made odd noises for awhile (probably while re-forming the capacitor) and then made the usual charging-up whine. Interestingly, as it hits about 310 V on the main capacitor the inverter chops on and off as it holds it there, and the neon Ready lamp flashes in time with the inverter. Pushing the lamp button fired the flash normally. After a flash the residual capacitor voltage is about 68 V.

I was most interested in examining the high-voltage plug and how it tied into the innards. The keyway houses a mechanical link to the power switch, so when the high voltage (HV) is plugged in the flash is turned OFF. This is because the power switch is really just the inverter switch and they don't want it to fight with the external power supply. It is apparent that the flash doesn't require battery power to operate, it all runs off the HV. There is a diode from the step-up transformer to the HV feed bus, said bus is switched to the socket when the inverter's turned off. (The HV bus is also diode-isolated from the capacitor so that the capacitor can't discharge back through the power jack.) I watched the voltage on the HV feed bus as it charged up, it went right to the capacitor voltage before it got basically unmeasurable with any normal meter as the inverter turned on and off. What is interesting is that I read that the SB-4 puts out 200 V at 4 mA, which is nowhere near the fully charged voltage. (The keyway side of the HV connector is positive.)

The sync voltage is about 250 V, so one must be careful what one hooks this flash to! Few modern cameras will survive this level of voltage, this flash was designed in an era when the trigger was a mechanical switch on the shutter. (The Canon 1Ds II hot shoe won't tolerate this voltage either, but its PC terminal can.) My main intention was to plug one of the optical slaves into the side of the flash. Wein peanut? I already have a shoe-mount optical slave. (Turns out I also already have a peanut, too.)

There are many vintages of the 283 out there, this is probably more-or-less the original design from the early 70's. Like my Sunpak 622 Super, it's all high-voltage and no batteries are required when using the external HV power plug.

I got out my Heathkit IP-17 regulated high-voltage power supply and used clip leads to attach it to the flash. At 200 V, the supposed rating of the SP-4 power supply, the flash works fine. At the 310 V of the internal inverter, however, my Luna-Pro F flash meter says it puts out 2 stops more light! At 285 V the Ready light will come on. The SP-4 is rated at 4 mA, the IP-17 will put out 150 mA and in fact given the way that its current meter pegs after a flash it might be twice that. The IP-17 has the flash fully charged in 2 seconds.

I believe a safe (isolated) studio power supply for this flash could be constructed from a pair of transformer-style AC wall warts connected back-to-back and a diode or three.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Labor day, and I'm again to take pictures of the Cd'A symphony in concert in the park. The equipment is unchanged from last year, it works very well. (The Fab-4 f/2.8 lenses, camera, and no flash.) The attendance was way up, the weather was perfect and Jill had been working up more publicity for the event. I took about 300 shots, mostly the crowd and some specific ones that Jill had requested. The rapid shot-to-shot time of the 1DS is very nice for this event.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

While photographing Bassoonarama I managed to drop my favorite 20–35 lens on the carpeted floor, from about waist height. Not all that high and it landed flat, but no matter: 'twas death anyway. The rear lens group broke loose from its cam, and rattles around loose. The current new equivalent is about $1,800 mail-order, and a used one maybe $600. Worth getting fixed, if possible.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

I dropped the damaged 20–35 lens off at Alpine Camera, a local shop that fixes such things. Estimate was $185 and a week or two, more if it needs parts.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

I picked up the repaired 20–35 lens at Alpine Camera. The total bill was $201.10. (It had been ready more than a week, but I was busy.) No parts were needed, the rear lens group had jumped out of its track, and had not gotten damaged. Expensive, perhaps, but the alternatives all were worse. This is the second repair for this lens. (The first time the AF switch had come off, and the screw had dropped down inside the lens.)

Friday, September 26, 2014

Today I found a Vivitar 285 flash to go with the Vivitar 283 flash, $7 at the thrift shop. This has a power jack on the side, I'm still thinking about inexpensive fill flash. (This may never go anywhere.) This uses a low-voltage SB-6 power supply, not the high-voltage SB-4 of the 283. (My mistake, I'd thought this was a HV flash, but that's the 285HV! I wouldn't have bought the flash if I'd realized this.)

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Argh! Today the 28-80L plummeted to the pavement after Jill's concert, from about chest high and landed flat on its side. It popped off the lens hood and cap and rolled about 20 feet away. At home I checked it out, the hood and rear cover are scarred, the hood particularly so—chewed might be a better term. The plastic filter ring is cracked and deformed, I doubt it would be usable for filters anymore. There was no glass damage, and nothing seemed loose. The zoom ring worked OK. I mounted it on the camera, and it zoomed and focused OK, and I took a picture with it. It all seemed fine. Dodged a bullet? A vintage replacement is maybe $500.

I've got to be more careful!

Return to Site Home