Blogosphere

Recommended reading

Just one post to share this week, and it’s a doozy: a man with a 20-year-old blog reflects in an interview on the state of blogging. As Laura Hazard Owen shares on the NiemanLab blog, Jason Kottke probably wouldn’t start a blog today if he didn’t already have one. And he feels like a vaudevillian after everyone had moved on to movies and television. Read Last blog standing, “last guy dancing”: How Jason Kottke is thinking about kottke.org at 20

This week’s camera reviews and experience reports:

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Stories Told

A man needs to feel useful

My dad’s last words to me were about my son, Garrett.

DadAndGarrett

My dad and my son Garrett in 2005, before the cancer.

It was Dad’s birthday, his 77th, and we had planned a quiet celebration. Mom called me that afternoon to warn me that Dad had not gotten out of bed all day. More than that: he had taken a turn over the weekend and was in real pain.

As I stood at the foot of his bed Dad experienced several spasms. First his face clouded, and then he grimaced and grunted low for the few seconds each one lasted.

I tried to wish him a happy birthday, but Dad had something to say. “The younger one,” he said. “The younger one,” his voice strained, wobbly. Weighted down.

“Garrett? You mean Garrett.” Mom hovered anxiously.

“Yes, Garrett. He asked about the knives.”

knives

My middling-quality knives always cut beautifully because Dad kept a perfect edge on them.

Several years ago my father taught my sons how to sharpen knives. He was extremely good at it. When I was a boy Dad made a friend at work, a fellow of his father’s generation named Pat, who taught him how. Dad and Pat used to spend their breaks at their whetstones in friendly competition to see who could get the best edge.

When my brother and I were young, Dad tried to teach us, too. But his patience was terrible. When we didn’t get it right away he lost his temper. It pushed us away

But a man mellows with age. Time and life burr off his rough edges, much like the whetstone burrs off metal splayed along a dull blade. Dad taught my sons with a level of patience that, while still not perfect, was greater than anything I ever experienced from him as a child. I envied my sons, who learned it readily and were and happy to present me my knives, sharpened.

I can only assume that Garrett had lately asked his grandpa for a refresher. And here was Dad, concerned about it more than his pain.

“Garrett wanted me to show him again about the knives.”

Or at least that’s what I think he was trying to say. Morphine slowed and slurred his speech. Pain spasms interrupted him every fourth or fifth word and caused him to lose his place. He kept trying again to say it. Finally, exhausted, he fell asleep.

Dad stayed asleep. No candles were blown out, no cake was eaten. My gift to him, two pairs of new Levi’s 505s, the only jeans he would wear, went unopened.

Early the next afternoon I was at a coffee shop with my brother discussing some matters of our mutual employer. Mom called: “Your father stopped breathing about an hour ago. He just quietly passed away.”

A man needs to feel useful, to know he’s offering something valuable and meaningful. In my dad’s cancer years he seemed less and less sure what purpose he served.

Actually, his search for purpose went back farther than that. Dad had been all about his family while my brother and I were under his roof. After my brother and I grew up and moved away, Dad went into business for himself making custom wood furniture. After that venture failed, he returned to manufacturing management. But it was a kick in his teeth when that job encountered surprising difficulty and ended involuntarily. He seemed simply to lose his will to work.

My father drilled into his sons that a man works, period. It was extremely challenging for me to see my mother have to return to work to put food on the table.

Dad threw himself into building coalitions that might revitalize South Bend’s economically depressed west side, where he lived as a teen. He had admirable aims but seemed only to want to be a catalyst for something happening. He simply would not roll up his sleeves and do the hard work to make something happen. None of his initiatives bore any real fruit.

When their home became too much for Dad to care for, he and Mom sold it and retired to Indianapolis to be closer to their sons and to the VA hospital where Dad got all his medical care. But with that, Dad withdrew from everything. He had only his Internet forums and his family.

When my brother or I visited, Dad mostly wanted to hear how our jobs were going. We’d share our frustrations and challenges and Dad would always offer his advice. Unfortunately, his 1970s-1980s manufacturing experience seldom informed my brother’s and my modern software-development reality. It frustrated and sometimes agitated him; more than once I had to deescalate his anger and change the subject. Sooner or later our conversation would remind him of one of his on-the-job stories, such as how he ended 300% annual employee turnover at one plant, which improved productivity so much they soon needed to build another plant. We’d just lay back and let him tell it again; it seemed to let him feel better.

During these years I always had some major home-improvement project underway. Mom and Dad were always eager to come and help. But by this time Dad’s health limited the physical work he could do.

SewerConnect1

Destroying my front yard to connect to city sewer.

I have one especially good memory of Dad from those project days. Four years ago the city forced me to fill in my septic tank and connect my home to the sanitary sewer. It destroyed much of my front yard. Dad and Mom and my sons and I spent an entire Saturday spreading topsoil, grading, and planting grass. I issued my sons shovels and stationed them by the giant mound of soil I had delivered to my driveway. All day long they’d load the wheelbarrow and Dad would push it into the yard, where Mom and I waited with rakes. Dad would dump the dirt, Mom and I would spread and grade, and Dad would go back for another load. It was a very good day, the five of us working together. Dad did go inside twice to nap. He probably needed two or three more naps that day. But he pushed through because he wanted to be in the action. He was happy to be in the action.

KitchenCabinets

My kitchen on the day I last saw my old house, the cabinets still aglow from Dad’s expert waxing.

But that was the last time he was able to help much. As I got my house ready to sell last year, Dad and Mom came over frequently to do what they could. I found jobs that his terrible vision allowed him to do. The best of them was waxing my kitchen cabinets. He had perfected a wax-finish technique in his custom furniture days and could make bare wood glow. Even with his poor vision, his work on my cabinets deepened the dark finish and made them look almost new.

But no matter the job, Dad could work only for minutes at a time before his breathing became too labored and he had to stop. He spent a lot of time sitting on the deck, watching his dog run around my fenced back yard. Whenever I needed to run to Lowe’s, he always ran along. Eventually he’d nap. He tried not to show it, but he clearly hated being sidelined.

I’ll probably never understand why he gave up on working when his last job ended, or why he wouldn’t go all in on his economic improvement initiatives, or why after he moved to Indianapolis he gave up on almost everything.

Because when his life came to an end, the thing that was on his mind was being useful, giving something of value. And it was too late.

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Wall

Wall
Canon EOS 630, 50mm f/1.8 Canon EF II
Eastman Double-X 5222
2018

I took the EOS 630 all over, shooting whenever I had a little time and good enough weather. I hadn’t been to Crown Hill Cemetery in a while so I made some photographs over there. This low retaining wall borders the military portion of the cemetery. That 50/1.8 resolves pretty well on the Double-X.

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Film Photography

single frame: Wall

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Blogosphere, Life, Photography

Chasing fake Internet points

The primary reward I receive for what I publish online is interaction with you.

Some of that interaction is of high quality: namely, when you leave an interesting comment, especially one that teaches me something I didn’t know or helps me see something from a different perspective.

But most of what I get is in the form of likes. Or hearts or upvotes or favorites or claps or whatever it’s called on whichever platform I’m on. It’s a form of acknowledgement that whatever I posted resonated somehow.

One of those platforms is Imgur (here’s my user page), where Imgurians call them “fake Internet points.” Being Imgur, there are memes.

wonderfulFakeInternetPoints

It is fashionable now to pooh-pooh chasing after fake Internet points. Chasing them is, at the end of the day, a waste of time and accomplishes little.

hateFakeInternetPoints

Yet each fake Internet point delivers a small dopamine hit. In moderation, what’s wrong with that?

dayBrightenedByFakeInternetPoints

The primary place I go for fake Internet points is Instagram. I have tried to use it as a way of promoting this blog’s film-photography posts, but it’s not really working. I might get one or two clickthroughs from each Instagram post.

But my followers keep clicking the little heart on my posts, and it feels good to get them.

When you chase fake Internet points you need to consider return on investment and opportunity cost. Do the good feelings you get from likes, favorites, et. al., seem like a reasonable reward for the time you spent posting? And would that time you spent posting have been better spent doing something else?

make time to write in this blog: I get up early and write in it each morning. It’s because the reward I’ve received for doing it seems to be worth it. Your comments have taught me so much. They’ve also affirmed me as a photographer. Also, it’s just smashing fun when one of my posts gets shared around the Internet and gets a lot of visits. But most importantly, I’ve found community through this blog and many other photography blogs.

I post to Instagram opportunistically, that is, when I have some downtime that I couldn’t profitably use in some other way. When you find a new Instagram post from me, you can assume I had five minutes between appointments with little to do but wait. It’s a nice use of my wait time for the return I get in those sweet, sweet fake Internet points.

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VDGN

VDGN
Canon EOS 630, 50mm f/1.8 Canon EF II
Eastman Double-X 5222
2018

Vardagen is a T-shirt and coffee shop in one of Fisher’s few remaining old buildings downtown. I go in there about once a week, for cold brew in the warm months and Cubans when it’s cold.

They like to stylize their name as VDGN. This is the back of their building and the building next to theirs.

Upcoming in Operation Thin the Herd, my Canon EOS 630. It’s an early example of Canon’s EOS series of SLRs.

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Film Photography

single frame: VDGN

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Photography

Comparison: Canon PowerShot S95 vs. Pentax K10D and 28-80 SMC Pentax-FA

Welcome to probably the least likely camera comparison on the entire Internet. But these are the two good-quality digital cameras that I own. So I’m comparing them.

I’ve loved my compact Canon PowerShot S95 from the moment I got it. It’s so small and capable. But I’m not impressed with the JPEGs the camera generates. So I shoot RAW all the time and use Photoshop to do a handful of adjustments that give the results I want.

I’ve yet to fully figure out my large, heavy Pentax K10D DSLR, but I do respect that it can use all of my manual-focus Pentax lenses. For this comparison I used my 28-80mm f/3.5-4.7 SMC PENTAX-FA lens, which offers a zoom range close enough to the S95’s 28-105mm (35mm film equivalent) range to make the comparison useful.

For the comparison I set both cameras to set white balance automatically. I meant to set both cameras for automatic ISO selection as well, but it looks like I inadvertently left the K10D set at ISO 400. All other settings were whatever they happened to be, which is essentially camera default.

I’ve written several times how I wish the S95 returned usable in-camera JPEGs. The photo below might be the first time I’ve shown you a JPEG straight from the camera. This photo shows both common S95 faults: how white balance runs cold, and muted colors (typical of all Canon digital cameras, I hear).

CR 800

Here’s what this photo looks like after one minute of work in the Photoshop RAW processor. First I manually adjust color temperature until I’m satisfied. Then I click “Auto” above all the basic settings (exposure, contrast, etc.) and then tweak them. I finally use the built-in lens profile to correct distortion, because the S95 doesn’t go far enough to correct it in camera.

CR 800

In contrast, the K10D gave me usable in-camera JPEGs in every shot.

CR 800

A tiny bit of work in the Photoshop RAW editor brought out what is, to my eye, more natural warmth and color, and helped un-wash-out the sky. All I did was tweak the basic settings a tiny bit.

CR 800

From here on out I’ll show just the RAW-processed photos. At this cemetery gate, the S95 struggled to navigate the shadows, and I had to bring out the details in Photoshop.

Salem Cemetery

The Pentax K10D handled the shadows much better.

Salem Cemetery

I was surprised and disappointed by this photo from the S95. This is exactly the kind of scene I’ve shot over and over using this camera, with lovely results. I couldn’t Photoshop this one credibly to the level of warmth I saw at the scene.

Salem Cemetery

The K10D nailed it.

Salem Cemetery

Maybe the S95 was having an off day. Maybe comparing it to the K10D with its larger sensor makes the S95’s performance just seem worse than usual. Maybe my eyes see more keenly now than in 2010, when I got my S95 and it impressed me so. Maybe the camera really does perform worse now than when it was new — although I can’t imagine how that is physically possible.

Salem Cemetery

Whatever: the K10D blew the S95 away in most of these photos, in that the K10D’s photos are simply more appealing. And the K10D is even older than the S95, having been released in 2006.

Salem Cemetery

One place where the S95 did edge out the K10D was in focusing close. I should have put the camera into macro mode — it’s not hard to do, and it would have let the camera focus on the C. But even in regular mode it focused on the E immediately with a cheerful bee-beep and I made the shot.

Salem Cemetery

In contrast, the K10D would simply not focus on anything in this frame. That 28-80 lens hunted like mad. So I turned on manual focus with a single lever flip and brought that C in sharp with the lens’s focus ring. The S95 has a manual-focus mode, too, by the way. But it involves using the tiny wheel on the back of the camera to focus, and you have to trust your eyes reading that 3-inch screen to know when you’ve focused correctly.

Salem Cemetery

This is the only pair of photos where it’s hard to tell which camera I used. First the S95.

Salem UMC

Now the K10D. On the in-camera JPEGs, the church’s doors were lost in the shadows. Photoshop fixed that easily in both RAW images.

Salem UMC

I have really loved my Canon S95. It is so tiny yet has returned wonderful images for years. Over the last few years I’ve been shooting it RAW+JPEG, which coincided with the time my satisfaction with the in-camera JPEGs trailed off. I think I’ve figured it out: lots of in-camera JPEG-optimizing settings are unavailable the minute you turn on RAW. I think the camera assumes you’re going to post-process and don’t therefore need the in-camera boosts. Well, I want those enhancers and the RAW file. I guess I’m out of luck. But I’m growing weary of all the post processing. I’m ready for a camera that delivers good-enough JPEGs at the second I touch the shutter button.

The Pentax K10D delivers usable in-camera JPEGs. But it slips into no pocket in any coat I own. Slung over my shoulder I am keenly aware of it at all times — it might be the heaviest camera I own, heavier than my wonderful Nikon F2AS. And I haven’t found the right lens for it yet. The 28-80 I used here tends to a little chromatic aberration and too frequently blurs the foreground in long shots. My 35/2 delivers good work, but I shoot it in manual-focus mode most of the time because the K10D focuses it accurately only 1 or 2 out of 10 times.

Because do a lot of documentary work, such as on my road trips, I really want a camera that slips into my pants pocket, offers a zoom range starting with at least 24 or 28mm and running to at least 85mm, does credible close work, and yields usable JPEGs. The S95 ticks all but the last of those boxes.

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