Photography

The Nikon Df in downtown South Bend

I’m continuing to inventory Michigan Road Historic Byway signs all along the route, looking for missing ones so they can be replaced. A recent day off work saw me inventorying signs between Indianapolis and South Bend. I brought my Nikon Df along, with the cheap and cheerful 28-80mm f/3.5-5.6 AF Nikkor lens attached. I shot the Df on a photowalk in downtown South Bend.

Here’s the Morris Performing Arts Center, originally known as the Palace Theater. The light was odd this late-winter afternoon — thinly overcast and moderately bright. I wasn’t wowed with how the Df handled this light. I punched all of these images up in Photoshop, including adding about a half stop of exposure to each.

The Palace Theater

The Palace opened in 1922, and so the Morris is celebrating the venue’s 100th anniversary this year. I shoot straight JPEG in the Df. It has a RAW mode, but I haven’t tried it yet.

The Palace Theater

Here’s a detail shot of the Palace’s terra cotta. We’re fortunate to still have the Palace. Another theater, the Granada, used to stand across the street but met the wrecking ball about 50 years ago. It was equally grand.

The Palace Theater

The Palace could easily have met the State’s fate, too. It’s down Michigan Street a couple of blocks. It’s vacant and has received minimal maintenance over the years. The state of its wonderful sign breaks my heart. I saw my first movie in the State, a reissue of Disney’s Bambi. I remember well when this sign used to light up at night, and it is a glorious sight.

State Theater

I stepped way back and made a photo of the whole building from the front. I had to tilt the camera up to fit it all in. Photoshop’s perspective correction tool set it right. The 28-80 lens was a kit lens on countless late-film-era Nikon SLRs, but it’s a solid performer and lets me pull large buildings like this into the frame.

State Theater

The State may be closed, but one business continues to operate out of one of its storefronts. I slung the Df over my shoulder for this walk. You notice this camera when you carry it — it’s larger than, and almost as heavy as, a Nikon F2.

Idle Hours Bookshop

I walked a little bit down Colfax Avenue to pass by The Griffon, a longtime bookstore for nerds and gamers. (I’m definitely a nerd, so I can say that.) I used to go in here sometimes when I lived in South Bend in the early 1980s. I’m thrilled to see it still operating, and I’m even more thrilled to see its facade in such great condition.

The Griffon

I walked a bit down Main Street, which isn’t actually South Bend’s main street (Michigan Street is). This is Fiddler’s Hearth, a longtime Irish pub.

Fiddler's Hearth

I needed to use perspective correction in Photoshop to set the St. Joseph County Courthouse square. I think it’s a little overcorrected. At least I could get the whole building in the frame at 28mm.

St. Joseph County Courthouse

I stepped down Jefferson Boulevard to recreate a photo I made in 1985. Let’s just say my photo skills weren’t that sharp then.

Former WSBT building

Here’s my original photo, from 1985, shot on film of course because we didn’t have digital yet.

One last photo. Michigan Road signs only recently went up in South Bend, along with Lincoln Highway signs. The Michigan Road and the Lincoln Highway share the route west from downtown South Bend for about 18 miles.

Michigan Road and Lincoln Highway

I am pleased to own my Nikon Df, but I don’t use it nearly as much as I thought I would. One reason is its large size. I hesitate before taking it along for the ride. This was my first ever road trip with the Df! It performed adequately as a road-trip companion. But frankly, my Canon PowerShot S95 is an easier companion because it fits in the palm of my hand.

Naturally, the Df’s full-frame sensor is going to beat the S95’s 1/1.7-inch sensor every day of the week. The Df also benefits from about seven years of digital imaging advances over the S95. The Df is hardly the latest and greatest, however — even though I bought mine new last year, the camera was introduced in 2013. Its 16.2-megapixel sensor attests to it being from that era of DSLR.

Even after a year, I’m still getting to know my Nikon Df. I’m not unhappy with it, but I’m not fully in love like I thought I would be. Because it was so touted, and so bloody expensive, perhaps my expectations of it have been too high. I am in love with my Canon S95, but I believe my expectations of it have always been in line with its reality.

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Photography, Road Trips

The Michigan Road as it crosses the Flatrock River and enters St. Omer, Indiana

After I originally published my long report about my 2008 survey of the Michigan Road in Indiana, I got separate emails from Fred and Estelle Hargitt about what they believed to be an old alignment of the road that passed through their property. Fred and Estelle live on the road in northwest Decatur County, just south of a little town called St. Omer and north of where the road crosses the Flatrock River.

The road’s route has definitely changed over time in this area. Here’s an excerpt from an 1882 atlas. I’ve highlighted the Michigan Road in green. Next to it is a screen shot of about the same area from Google Maps that I made in January of 2022.

From Decatur County 1882, Indiana,
Published by J. H. Beers & Co. in 1882, courtesy Historic Map Works (map here)
Map data ©2022 Google

It looks very clear to me that the Michigan Road was moved slightly west from just south of the Flatrock River to just before its entry into St. Omer.

Fred Hargitt wrote that he moved to this area in 1934 as a small boy, when the Michigan Road was State Road 29 here. He said that it was about this time that the original alignment of SR 29 was abandoned and a new alignment built. He said that traces of the old road still run through his property. I’ve studied the aerial images on Google Maps many times over the years and can’t see with certainty any elements of the old road.

On this excerpt from a current Google Maps aerial image, I’ve marked in green my best guess at where the original Michigan Road used to go here.

Imagery ©2022 IndianaMap Framework Data, Maxar Technologies, USDA Farm Service Agency. Map data ©2022 Google.

I ought to contact the Hargitts to see if they still live on the land and could show me the traces of the original road.

I have been unable to find what kind of bridge was built over the Flatrock River here when the road was moved in the 1930s. Steel truss and concrete arch bridges were typical in that era. I feel certain that the bridge here today is a replacement of that bridge, and is probably a common steel stringer bridge.

As a bonus, here’s some shaky, handheld video I shot in 2008 of me driving the road northbound to cross the Flatrock River.

Unfortunately, when I reached St. Omer I didn’t properly document this small town. I did, however, photograph its schoolhouse, which is a residence today.

School at St. Omer

Next: The Michigan Road as it enters Shelby County.

I’ve documented Indiana’s historic Michigan Road extensively. To read all about it, click here.

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Essay, Photography

What’s the point of single-use cameras?

Last month, Kodak introduced a single-use camera loaded with its iconic Tri-X black-and-white film. It got a lot of news coverage in the film-photography community.

I don’t buy the hoopla. Single-use cameras aren’t all that useful, and they’re certainly not economical.

The Tri-X Single-Use Camera costs about $15, and offers 27 exposures. Ilford also offers a single-use camera with HP5 Plus inside; it costs about $12. And both Fujifilm and Kodak offer single-use cameras with ISO 400 color film inside. I’ve seen them available for anywhere between $12 and a whopping $20.

Why buy one when you can buy an old point and shoot camera for under $20 at a thrift shop, load a roll of film of your choice — and reuse the camera? Even the simplest point and shoot probably has a better lens than any single-use camera, and you’d be money ahead after only a few rolls of film.

I can think of only one reason to buy a camera like this: you need a camera but don’t have one on you. It happened to me once. I had flown to Washington, DC, on business. On arrival I learned that an illness had postponed my meetings by a day. I had a whole day to myself, and I’d never been to DC before! I stepped into a drug store and bought a single-use camera, and then took the subway to the National Mall to do some sightseeing. (I stumbled upon a mostly struck set from the movie Forrest Gump that day; read that story here.) Here’s a photo I made of the U.S. Capitol with that camera.

US Capitol, 1993

But this happened in 1993, long before all of us had a camera phone in our pocket. Today I’d just use my iPhone. It’s not my favorite camera, but neither was this single-use camera I bought. Both would have gotten good enough shots for an unexpected day as a tourist.

I think disposable cameras sell primarily to people with too much disposable money.

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Photography

Minolta DiMAGE Scan Dual II

When I learned how to develop black-and-white film, I needed a way to make digital images of the negatives so I could share them with you on this site. I first tried my existing flatbed scanner. It did passable work with medium-format negatives, but 35mm negatives always turned out muddy with poor shadow detail. A reader not only suggested that I try a dedicated 35mm scanner, but also linked me to a used one at a good price at KEH. It’s this Minolta DiMAGE Scan Dual II. I bought it right away.

Minolta introduced this scanner in 1999. The state of the scanner art has improved slightly since then, but the Scan Dual II is still plenty useful. You have to choose patience when scanning with the Scan Dual II, as it connects to the computer using old, slow USB 1.1. It also lacks automatic dust and scratch removal, but do as I did: buy a squeeze-bulb air blaster and an anti-static brush to clean your negatives. And it scans at a maximum of 2,820 DPI, whereas modern dedicated 35mm scanners claim 7,200 DPI. (See this article, which demystifies DPI in scanning.) 2,820 DPI is good for a scan of about 3800×2600 pixels, just under 10 megapixels. That’s enough for an 8×10-inch print.

Buying any old scanner used is risky because they can be used up and worn out. KEH had refurbished mine, and offered a 180-day warranty. Risk mitigated!

The Scan Dual II came with scanning software, but it won’t run on the latest versions of Windows and MacOS. All is not lost: buy VueScan by Hamrick Software. It makes the Scan Dual II, and virtually any other old scanner, plug and play on any modern computer.

The Scan Dual II comes with holders for 35mm negatives and slides. When new, an extra-cost APS holder was available. The holders are sturdy. They come apart so you can lay in your negative or slides, and snap back together for scanning.

It took me considerable trial and error to set up VueScan to yield scans that pleased me. Here are some things I learned:

  • I turned off multi-pass scanning. My negative holders allow for a little slippage of the negative, probably from wear over the years. That slippage leads to blurry multi-pass scans.
  • VueScan offers a few film profiles, but I found that Generic Color Negative looks best — and I scan black-and-white films primarily.
  • To gain a little speed, I preview at 1,410 DPI but scan at the full 2,820 DPI.
  • VueScan never perfectly frames the images; I always have to tweak the framing after previewing but before scanning.
  • I leave VueScan’s sharpening setting off, and use Unsharp Mask as my last step in Photoshop for fine sharpening control.

The Scan Dual II supports batch scanning — it can scan an entire negative, or four mounted slides, in one go. This helps make up for the slow USB 1.1 interface, as you can press the Scan button and go do something else while you wait.

You feed the negative/slide holder in the front of the ScanDual II, and the scanner draws the entire holder in as it scans. My Scan Dual II is noisy as hell, grinding and whirring and whining as it does its job.

But have a look at the good work my Scan Dual II does. These images look as good to me as anything I ever got from the labs I used to use. I get good sharpness and detail every time.

Lucy Walker
Pentax ME SE, 50mm f/1.7 SMC Pentax-M, Fomapan 200 at EI 125, Ilford ID-11 Stock
Fat Dan's
Nikon N70, 28-80mm f/3.5-5.6D AF Nikkor, Kodak T-Max 100, HC-110 Dilution B
Corn
Konica Auto S2, Foma Fomapan 200 at EI 125, Ilford ID-11 1+1
Thing
Nikon N90s, 50mm f/1.8D AF Nikkor, Ilford HP5 Plus at EI 1600, HC-110 Dilution B
Kilroy's
Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK, Ilford FP4 Plus, Ilford ID-11 1+1
Tire
Unknown camera, Ultrafine Extreme 400, LegacyPro L110, Dilution B
Rocket Liquors
Minolta XD-11, 50mm f/1.7 MD Rokkor-X, Ilford FP4 Plus, Ilford ID-11 1+1

I shoot the occasional roll of expired film. I’m impressed with how well the Scan Dual and VueScan cut through the film’s base fog. Look at the good detail and tonal range I got on this image, which I shot on film 50 years expired! This scanner can’t save badly degraded film, but it will get as good of an image as is possible off the negative.

Morristown, IN
Nikon N90s, 50mm f/1.8D AF Nikkor, GAF 125 Versapan (expired 7/72) @ EI 80, HC-110 Dilution B

I seldom scan color film in the Scan Dual II, as I send my color film to a lab for processing and scanning. But here’s a color frame I scanned with the Scan Dual II just to try it. I had to do a fair amount of color correction in Photoshop for it to look right, but I suppose that would be true of any scanner’s output.

Abby and Amherst
Olympus OM-2n, 50mm f/3.5 Olympus Zuiko MC Auto-Macro, Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400

The Minolta DiMAGE Scan Dual II can be a relatively inexpensive way to start getting quality scans of your 35mm negatives. I’ve had great luck with mine, as you can see.

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Photography

Weekend update

It took a few days for the shock of Rana’s death to pass. Then I was very tired for a few more days — I slept 9 or 10 hours a night and needed a nap every afternoon. That’s passed, and now I’m spending my time finding things to do that take my mind off this staggering loss.

Nikon N90s, 50mm f/1.8 AF Nikkor, Ilford HP5+ at EI 1600, HC-110 B

I took the week off from the blog, which is why there’s no Recommended Reading today. It’ll probably return next week.

My company gave me two weeks off to grieve, rest, and recover. I wasn’t sure at first that I’d take it all. When my dad died, I took no time off. That was different, though. I knew for months that his time was short, and I’d processed through a lot of losing him before he died. Losing Rana was entirely unexpected and I don’t believe I would have been capable of working.

I did test the waters a little on Thursday. I had an interview scheduled for an open position on my team and I went ahead and did it. I also scheduled an hour with my boss to catch up. I got through them, but afterward I was surprisingly exhausted by the interaction.

So I’m going to take my company up on the second week off they’ve offered. I’ve nothing to do — Rana’s mom handled making all of the arrangements (obituary here) and as far as I know they’re done. All that’s left for me is to show up at the memorial service on Saturday.

I must go. I need to go. But since the divorce I’ve deliberately separated my life from my ex-wife and her family. I’m going to see some or all of them again for the first time since 2004 under these horrible circumstances, and I feel some trepidation over it.

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Essay, Photography, Travel

How to deal with difficult feelings about a photographic subject

First published 3 June 2016. I suppose every American has some baggage around 9/11, even those of us hundreds or thousands of miles away.

While we were in New York I couldn’t figure out how I felt about visiting the new World Trade Center and the neighboring memorial. Ambivalence gave way to curiosity, which yielded to revulsion. Then ambivalence returned and stayed. But visiting the site was on the must-do list for Margaret’s teenagers, who accompanied us. So off we went.

World Trade Center

I took just a few photos, and only these two are worth a darn. Above is the new World Trade Center, and below is the waterfall in the north pool of the memorial site directly to the south.

9/11 memorial

These photos offer no connection to the place. This could be any tall building; this could be any man-made waterfall. I think it’s because I didn’t want to be connected to this place. And the memorial felt sterile to me.

We walked from there a couple blocks to St. Paul’s Chapel. Margaret knew only that it was a 1766 church among the lower Manhattan skyscrapers, and that therefore she wanted to see it. We didn’t know its special, critical connection to the aftermath of 9/11.

St. Paul's Chapel

We learned that for eight months St. Paul’s Chapel was an aid and comfort station for everyone working the recovery. The building was open around the clock; volunteers fed and prayed with the workers and various doctors came to tend to their medical needs. Musicians even came to play for everyone.

Despite being so close to the collapsed towers, St. Paul’s survived without even a broken window.

St. Paul's Chapel

Even though this is still a functioning church with services every Sunday, memorial panels full of photographs line the north wall inside. I wasn’t prepared for that. I had hoped to get away from my feelings about 9/11 by just enjoying and photographing the architecture here. The only photos I took of the memorials are two photos of patches from police and fire forces around the world. They were sent here in a show of solidarity and mourning for their injured and dead comrades.

St. Paul's Chapel

The rest of my photographs were typical-of-me architecture shots, trying to record a solid sense of this building. Back in Indiana there are no buildings from 1766. It was a great joy to experience this one.

St. Paul's Chapel

It is a lovely church, perfectly maintained in every detail.

St. Paul's Chapel

We stepped out back and found a graveyard. In New York as in Indiana, churches used to bury their dead out back. It was surreal to see these very old gravestones amid the towering buildings all around. It was even more surreal to learn that in 1766, St. Paul’s Chapel was the tallest building in the city. I loved imagining a time when that would have been true. Apparently, the church was surrounded by orchards!

St. Paul's Chapel

St. Paul’s Chapel is a stunning building. But I recognized that because I couldn’t escape 9/11 here, I wasn’t connecting to it in the ways I normally would. And then I came upon the bell.

St. Paul's Chapel

It was a gift from the city of London to the city of New York after the attack, a symbol of friendship and solidarity across the oceans. This is where it all connected for me: this tragedy had worldwide reach, and it affected everyone who heard of it. There’s no shame that my feelings about 9/11 remain unsettled, uncertain. I cried here for a minute, quietly.

I shot my Canon S95 raw, which meant a lot of post-processing in Photoshop when I got home. It takes a little time to tweak each photograph for its best look. It gave me time to process not only my feelings about our visit to these sites but also more of my feelings about 9/11 itself. While processing photos, I slowly reviewed the day and thought about each scene, including those I didn’t photograph. That time and space to think, alone in my quiet home office, let me find a little more peace.

One photograph I didn’t take was of one of the pews. A few years ago St. Paul’s removed most of its pews, replacing them with individual chairs arranged in a U. But a couple pews remained in the back. In this church so perfectly maintained, the pews were gashed and gouged and chewed up — by the heavy shoes and gear of the recovery workers who rested on them. These pews remain as a memorial.

It was emotionally difficult to follow the news stories of the recovery work in the months following the attack. I dealt with it by dissociating from it. But seeing those gouged pews made those people and their experiences real. And so I don’t need a photograph of those pews; I’ll never forget them.

Canon PowerShot S95, shot raw, processed in Photoshop.

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