Maam Valley

It’s good to be back on the blog! Margaret and I took our Irish honeymoon the first two weeks of September. It was the trip of a lifetime.

We flew to Dublin and immediately took a train to Galway on the opposite coast. There we rented a car and drove north to Ireland’s northern tip. We spent a day in Northern Ireland along the Atlantic coast (where we got to meet fellow photoblogger Michael McNeill) and then over the next several days slowly made our way back to Galway.

We spent several days in Galway, as this is where Margaret’s family is from. We met cousins and saw the remote western island where her grandfather was born and grew up.

From there we took the train back to Dublin, where we spent a couple days. Then we flew home.

In between all the stops we explored the countryside, seeing cliffs and ruins, mansions and everyday homes, and endless sheep. We ate in pubs and, gluten-free diets be damned, drank Guinness. (It didn’t kill us!)

And we soaked in each others’ company, enjoying how we both just liked hiking through nature and touring historic sites with our cameras in our hands. I shot 999 photos with my digital Canon S95, and five rolls of T-Max 400 with my Nikon N2000.

I’m only about halfway through processing the digital photos, and the b/w film shots should be back from the processor early this week. So as photos become ready, I’ll share the best of them here and tell the stories behind them.

Photography, Road trips

Two weeks in Ireland

Stories told

Goodbye, Rick, sort of

Down the Road is on hiatus. New posts resume on Monday! Here’s one last rerun, one that’s special to me. I’m happy to run it again because the first time around (July of 2008) this blog was barely a year old and had few readers.

My brother and I didn’t see eye to eye on most things when we were kids. We didn’t hate each other, we just found each other to be extremely frustrating. We could make each other really mad with very little effort. The house rule was that whoever hit first was punished, so I knew I had really pushed Rick’s buttons when he pointed to his chin and said, “Hit me. Right there. Please.”


The man in earlier days

After I left our hometown for college, I didn’t see Rick except on holidays. He moved to my town eleven years ago, but I still barely saw him except on holidays. Our holiday times together were always fine, but somehow we seldom phoned and never dropped by.

But Rick was the first person I called when my now ex-wife wanted us to separate. He let me stay with him for a month, and he was a source of real strength as I started to recover from that horrible situation.

And then a couple years ago I ended up getting a job at the small software company where he worked. Understand that I’d spent my whole career, 17 years at the time, in software development. I even got my degree in mathematics and computer science, right up my career’s alley. But Rick got a degree in psychology, then worked seven years as a preperator in a museum and four in mortgage banking before making another big career change to come here. Both our careers had led to software quality assurance, his just through a very indirect route. We even reported to the same boss. And for the first time in our lives, my younger brother preceded me, and I lived in his shadow a little bit.

It has been great. Where daily childhood life emphasized our differences, adult work life has emphasized our similarities. We both like to think things through and do a thorough job. We both actively try to solve the problems we see. We both want to build team processes that make everybody more effective. We both want our teams’ efforts to bring more value to the company. So we regularly bounced ideas off each other, discussed thorny problems, and encouraged each other through challenges. I don’t think either of us knew the other had it in him.

It has long been clear, though, that Rick has grown about as much as he can at our company and was losing his enthusiasm. He needed new challenges – to learn new technologies and software development processes – to get his fire back. And so when I come back from vacation a week from Monday his cubicle will be empty. He’ll have a new job at a place that he thinks will provide the spark.

For the first time in my life, I’m going to miss my brother. Now that we have some momentum going, maybe we’ll call each other sometimes.

I’m happy to report, eight years later, that Rick and I have become very close. We still both test software for a living and swap war stories. And he’s still one of the first people I call when I need someone to talk to.

Cameras, Photography

Canon Canonet QL17 G-III

Down the Road is on hiatus, returning Monday, 26 September. I’m rerunning old posts in the meantime. One more camera review for you, of a very well known rangefinder. A buddy of mine gave me a complete set of new light seals for this camera four years ago, to solve its light leak problem. I still haven’t gotten around to installing them. It’s a shame, because this camera is a peach.

Just after I bought my Canonet 28, I scored the Canonet QL17 G-III I wanted. Yee hah! I’d been looking for one for over a year. It’s not like I had any trouble finding one – Canon made 1.2 million QL17 G-IIIs between 1972 and 1982, and I swear half of them are available on eBay at any given time. But either the price was too high or the seller couldn’t represent the camera’s condition. I hate buying a camera and finding out it’s broken! A tip for all you eBay sellers: Know something about your camera before you list it. If you want me to bid, don’t write “I don’t know anything about cameras and so I don’t know if it works” in your description!

According to the code stamped inside, my QL17 G-III was made in 1977. It’s dented in one corner and the rangefinder glass has a small crack in it, so this one’s clearly seen a bit of rough usage.

Canonet QL 17 GIII

Every part of this camera’s long name means something:

  • QuickLoadingQL stands for Quick Loading, a clever system that made loading film fast and foolproof (though I must be a sufficiently talented fool, because I managed to goober it up; more on that later)
  • 17 refers to the six-element 4omm f/1.7 lens, highly praised for its “Leica-like” sharpness and ability to focus as close as 2.6 feet
  • G means “grade up” and recognizes quality improvements over an earlier Canonet QL17
  • III represents the third (and final) generation of Canonets; see them all at Canon’s online museum

The QL17 G-III overflows with goodies. Its very quiet leaf shutter fires from 1/4 to 1/500 second (though mine seems to stick at the slowest speeds). If you plug Canon’s Canolite D flash into its hot shoe, it syncs at all shutter speeds. Its viewfinder compensates for parallax. It has a self timer. And, most enjoyably, when you set the aperture dial to A and choose a shutter speed, it selects the aperture for you – shutter-priority autoexposure. Its CdS light meter is designed to use the banned PX625 mercury battery, but a size 625 Wein cell zinc-air battery will do, despite the slight voltage difference. To see if the battery has any juice left, press the red button next to the viewfinder. If the blue dot lights, the battery’s good to go.

Canonet QL 17 GIII

I itched mightily to shoot a roll of film with my Canonet and see what kind of results I could get from the highly regarded lens. So I stopped at a nearby camera store for a size 625 Wein cell (for $8, gack), dropped in a roll of Fujicolor 200, and went shooting.

But for one flaw, this Canonet was a pleasure to use. It was fairly lightweight and fit into my jacket pocket. The winding lever worked easily and quickly. Inside the viewfinder, the yellow rangefinder spot was bright and easy to see. To focus, you move the focus ring until the yellow rangefinder image lines up with the viewfinder image. I especially liked how the focus ring has a little tab that falls right between your left index and middle finger as you shoot; it made focusing almost effortless. I found myself focusing without even realizing I was doing it, as if the camera was part of me. But I was jarred back to reality every time I pressed the shutter button. It had more travel than I expected, and I was constantly pressing down to no result. I kept having to reposition my finger at a steeper angle and press again. I expect that if I run another couple rolls through, I’ll get the hang of it.

I also managed to screw up loading the film. I was shooting happily away when I noticed that the counter said 29 – on a 24-exposure roll. I hadn’t stuck the film’s leader into the quick-loading mechanism far enough, the film failed to wind, and I had exposed the leader 29 times. After I reloaded, I snapped this shot. I turned on autoexposure and then fiddled with the shutter speed until I got a wide aperture. An f stop guide is inside the viewfinder; a needle points to the f stop the autoexposure system has chosen. I was deliberately trying to get some depth of field. I got it, but the subject could be more interesting.

Hoch lebe Deutschland!

I brought my dog outside (she’s a favorite subject) and kept experimenting with depth of field. Of all the shots of Gracie I made that afternoon, I like this one’s composition best, but it reveals that the camera has a light leak. A few other shots show it too. I knew this was a risk, as one of the camera’s light seals has disintegrated and the other is gooey. I wonder why light leaked on some shots but not on others.


When the camera didn’t leak light, however, I was very pleased with the colors, detail, and clarity. I took some fall shots in my neighborhood a week before with my Kodak EasyShare Z730 and I liked how they turned out, but I had to punch the shots up in Paint Shop Pro to get the depth of color I got straight out of the QL17 G-III. Also, it seems to me that the individual leaves in this photo have more definition than those on a similar shot from my Z730, and that it captured greater texture in the tree, created by the shadows the leaves cast on each other.

Fall color in my neighborhood

I visited South Bend while I still had a few shots left on the roll. I strolled through downtown in the late afternoon and shot these flags.


I just love the St. Joseph River bridge on old US 31 at Leeper Park. South Bend is fortunate to have several lovely bridges in the City Beautiful style in its downtown. By this time, I had gone beyond just trying out an old camera and had moved to just enjoying shooting with a nice piece of equipment.

St. Joseph River bridge, South Bend

I’ll load up the Canonet QL17 G-III again and again, there’s no doubt. After I replace the light seals, that is.

If you like classic cameras, check out my entire collection.


Down the Road is on hiatus, returning Monday, 26 September. I’m rerunning old posts in the meantime.

Inside the Olympic Stadium

I spent the summer of 1984 in Germany on an exchange trip with other Hoosier high-school German students. While the trip’s purpose was to immerse us in the German language and culture, we did travel around Germany a little. We spent most of a week in Berlin seeing the sights, including a stop at the Olympic stadium. In 1931, Berlin was chosen to host the 1936 Summer Olympics. An existing stadium was going to be used for the Games, but when the Nazis came to power in 1933, they saw the excellent propaganda opportunity the Games offered them. Wanting everything associated with the Games to be tip top, Adolf Hitler ordered this grand new stadium built. Amazingly, it survived World War II almost entirely unscathed.

This image from inside the stadium is actually three photographs. My lousy 110 camera made fuzzy images, but it was the best I could afford and I made the most of it. I made a habit of shooting large scenes as sequential overlapping photos so that I could lay the prints out in the same order to see the whole. It worked, but the results were a bit wonky. I could not have imagined that 25 years later I’d be able to digitize them and use sophisticated software to make seamless panoramic images of them.


Captured: Inside the Olympic stadium

Cameras, Photography

Agfa Isoflash Rapid-C

Down the Road is on hiatus, returning Monday, 26 September. I’m rerunning old posts in the meantime. Here’s a camera review from 2010.

Until about the mid-1960s, no matter how simple a camera was to operate, loading film into it was a pain. Film came on a spool, which you secured at one end of the camera. You then stretched the film and its protective backing paper across the camera and threaded film and paper into a waiting takeup spool. If the backing paper slipped out of your fingers, it would curl and you’d have to try to stretch it back out while still holding the film and the camera. This required three hands. Making the task more exciting, you had to manage all of this in the dark to keep from fogging the film.

Kodak, always looking to remove the barriers to photography, finally made it trivial to load film in 1963 when it introduced the Kodapak, a sealed film cartridge. You might know the Kodapak better as size 126 film. To load a Kodapak-ready camera (Kodak called them Instamatics), you just dropped in a cartridge – in any light.

Agfa Isoflash-Rapid CBecause innovation usually breeds competition, rival Agfa introduced the Rapid film system in 1964. More accurately, it reintroduced and renamed its 1930s-vintage Karat film system. It improved on the spool system but wasn’t quite as easy to load as the Kodapak. The Rapid system coiled 35mm film into special metal cartridges. You dropped a full Rapid cartridge into one end of a camera, an empty Rapid cartridge into the other end, and closed the camera. When you wound the camera for the first photo, the camera threaded the film into the empty cartridge. As you shot the roll, the camera coiled the film into the takeup cartridge, which you then sent for processing.

I’ve been curious about Rapid cameras for some time, but never so curious as to lay out  money for one. But then my old friend (and copywriter and SEO expert) Mike, who shares my interest in vintage cameras, came across one in its box at a thrift store for $1.31. He scooped it up – and immediately placed it on permanent loan in the Jim Grey Camera Collection.

Agfa Isoflash-Rapid C

The camera inside looks to never have been used, though the spent flashcube inside the box suggests otherwise.

Agfa Isoflash-Rapid C

The Isoflash-Rapid C was first made in 1966, though I haven’t been able to find out when Agfa quit making it or how many were made. It sold for $14.95, which doesn’t seem like much until you consider that this is almost $100 in 2010 dollars. It shoots the 24mm square exposures typical of the Rapid camera family (although a couple Rapids shot 24x36mm exposures). Its fixed-focus Isitar lens operates at f/8.2; its Parator shutter has two speeds, “sunny” at 1/80 sec and “shade/cloudy” at 1/40 sec. So the biggest mistake you can make with this camera is to forget to set the shutter speed to match the sky.

Agfa Isoflash-Rapid CThe Isoflash-Rapid C’s ability to take flashcubes distinguishes it from the earlier Isoflash-Rapid, which used AG1 flashbulbs. A battery hidden under the removable bottom plate powered the flashcube. My camera’s 43-year-old battery was installed; I’m amazed that it never leaked! I can’t tell what size battery it is, but I understand that some people have successfully fired the flash after stacking four SR44 button batteries in that compartment.

The box also contained a roll of Rapid film that has been expired since 1968. Dig that crazy aluminum film canister! I wonder whether the film is exposed. I’m not sure I’m willing to have it developed to find out. I understand it’s possible to spool modern 35mm film into a Rapid cassette, but I’m not up for that. I think I’ll let this Isoflash-Rapid C sit on the shelf and look good.

Agfa Isoflash-Rapid C Agfa Isoflash-Rapid C

Agfa’s Rapid gambit didn’t pay off in the face of Kodak’s muscle. Few manufacturers other than Agfa signed up to make Rapid-system cameras while nearly every camera manufacturer made 126-cartridge cameras. Agfa eventually decided they couldn’t beat ’em, so they joined ’em, turning out their own 126 cameras. The Rapid system was left to fade away, and Agfa quit making Rapid film sometime in the 1980s.

If you like classic cameras, check out my entire collection.

Stories told


Down the Road is on hiatus, returning Monday, 26 September. I’m rerunning old posts in the meantime.

Headstone FriendsWhen I was in college, I should have just had my work-study paycheck direct-deposited into Headstone Friends’ bank account. I spent most of it there anyway on used records and CDs.

Headstone’s is a music store in head-shop trappings. Step inside, and suddenly it’s 1969. Well, it’s 1969 after your eyes adjust to the dim light. But you smell the sweet incense right away. Heck, you hear the loud music all the way out in the parking lot. Anyway, the counter is on the left, offering jewelry and silly buttons and, at least at one time, scales and rolling papers. On the right are ceramic dragons and fabric Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix wall hangings and a rack of incense sticks. Then racks of CDs line the wall all the way to the back where a few bins of records remain. In the corner, next to the drinking fountain that has never worked, is a room aglow with black-light posters.

Things do change at Headstone’s. When I first set foot in the place twentymumble years ago it was half the size it is now, full of waist-high record bins. They expanded into the building’s back section a few years later, and slowly tall homemade CD racks crowded out most of the record bins. And every so many years, when the building’s mural and sign are faded and worn almost beyond recognition, they repaint. When I was there last Saturday, it looked pretty fresh.

Headstone Friends

Headstone’s is seriously old school. They have one location, on Poplar at 12th Street in Terre Haute. They’re not on the Web. They don’t take credit cards. The owners, aging hippies who were about the same age I am now when I first visited, work the counter. They keep inventory records on index cards in cardboard boxes. When you find a CD you want, you go to the counter and have someone come unlock the cabinet for you. Then they total your purchases on paper receipts and calculate the tax by hand.

The staff is very low key, but while I lived in Terre Haute I visited so often that they came to recognize me. One fellow named Harold became friendly and came to recognize my buying habits. One day a college friend came by my dorm room and said that I should see Harold next time I was in. He had set aside a promotional poster from a Paul McCartney album for me. The album wasn’t Paul’s best, but the the cover photo, of Paul and his wife taken with the kind of camera used for 1940s Hollywood glamor shots, was outstanding, and larger than life on the poster. “We get this junk all the time and never use it,” he said. “You buy all kinds of Beatles and McCartney so I figured you’d like to have it.” Sure enough! I had it framed. Despite generous offers from collectors, it still hangs in my house.


Harold was there on Saturday. I haven’t seen him in at least ten years, but he looked just the same – long brown-and-gray hair curling halfway down his back, reading glasses at the end of his nose, and a round, tan fisherman’s hat covering his head. There was a glimmer of recognition on his face when he saw me, but it had been so long I wasn’t sure he’d remember me even if I did give him my name, so I kept to myself. I didn’t find any CDs I couldn’t live without, but just for fun I did buy a tie-dyed T-shirt. It filled my car with Headstone’s scent all the way home. I hated to wash it.