Photography

A rare luxury purchase

I bought a Nikon Df DSLR.

I’ve wanted one since they were introduced in 2013, but the price tag chased me away. But when I started my new job, my wife encouraged me to buy myself something very nice to mark the transition. Not only is my new job exactly the position I’ve wanted for years — being selected felt like a serious validation of what I bring to the table as a leader of software engineers — but it came with a healthy pay increase. I’m not normally given over to extravagant purchases for myself, but I went ahead this time. I could have bought myself any number of other things. For example, for years I’ve wanted a fine Swiss watch. But it appears that Nikon might have recently discontinued the Df. Stock was low everywhere, especially in silver over black. If I wanted a new Df, this was probably my last chance.

My Nikon Df

This purchase was far more emotional than rational, but here are all of the allegedly rational reasons for owning this Df. It looks and operates very much like one of Nikon’s film SLRs from the late ’70s and early ’80s. It also takes all of my manual-focus Nikkor lenses with very little fuss. If I still had any pre-AI lenses, I could mount them on the Df no problem. When you mount a non-AF lens you have to use aperture-priority or manual-exposure modes, but the meter works perfectly. The Df is a smashing fit for the way I like to make photographs.

Even though the Df was first manufactured eight years ago, an eternity in digital-camera history, it’s still modern enough for me. Its full-frame sensor grabs gobs of detail. Newer full-frame sensors have more than this one’s 16 megapixels, but the 4920×3280-pixel images this camera delivers are more than large enough for my purposes. Really, I bought this camera primarily because of how it functions in my hands.

My Df came with a 50mm f/1.8G AF-S Nikkor Special Edition lens. It has aspherical elements to eliminate lens aberrations, not that my eye is sophisticated enough to see it. Here are a couple shots I made with it.

Suncatcher
Squirrels

I mounted my 35mm f/2.8 AI Nikkor for a few photographs. I had to input the focal length and maximum aperture into the Df, but not only was it not hard, but I was also able to assign it to a preset for the next time I use this lens. The viewfinder doesn’t offer a split prism, my favorite way to focus. But the LCD offers a > O < display to show when you’ve locked focus. You keep adjusting focus until the > and < fall away and only the O is lit. It worked smoothly enough.

Citrus fruits
Kitchen

Our granddaughter came over to visit. I mounted my 28-80mm f/3.3-4.5G AF Nikkor, an inexpensive kit lens that came with the N65 I used to own. I’ve always had excellent luck with that kit zoom. I shot 150 photos that morning. This camera is super fast! Hit the button and it’s immediately ready to go again. I was easily able to keep up with our speedy little granddaughter.

My wife and our granddaughter

This purchase relegates my beloved Canon PowerShot S95 to backup camera status. It served well for more than ten years. I hope to get twenty years or more from the Df.

I’m excited to be able to use my manual-focus Nikkor lenses on this camera so easily. But at age 53 my eyes aren’t as good as they were just a few years ago. I feel a slight struggle to focus on fine details, a struggle that didn’t used to be there. I’m sure that at some point, hopefully many years in the future, I’ll find myself unable to see the focus aids in my film SLRs’ viewfinders. At that point I may need to say goodbye to my manual-focus cameras. Thanks to the Df, I won’t have to also say goodbye to the usability I’ve come to be used to with them, or to my small collection of good manual-focus Nikkor lenses.

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Bridge over the St. Joseph River at Leeper Park

Leeper Bridge
Kodak EasyShare Z730
2008

Of all the bridges I’ve documented, this is one of my top favorites. It carries Michigan Street, former US 31, over the St. Joseph River in South Bend. Built in 1914, its 56-foot-wide deck was unusually broad in its day. Even today it carries two lanes of traffic in each direction, which certainly helped it survive. Starting in 1917, it carried State Road 1; in 1926 it began to carry US 31. A great deal of traffic passed over this bridge over the years. Had it been able to carry only one lane of traffic in each direction, it would have been insufficient and would have been replaced long ago. Even though US 31 was rerouted onto a bypass of the city many years ago, this road remains a highway as State Road 933 today. It carries about 31,000 vehicles each day.

Bridge standards evolve over time, and today this bridge’s 56-foot-wide deck is considered intolerable for that volume of traffic. I’m sure it survives primarily because it is in fair condition overall, according to its last inspection. I hope it gets good maintenance so it can keep serving, because it’s a beautiful bridge. Many excellent views are available in Leeper Park, which hugs the south bank of the river here on both sides of the bridge.

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Photography, Road Trips

single frame: Leeper Bridge

A beautiful concrete-arch bridge north of downtown South Bend.

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Tug of war

Tug of war at Field Day
Kodak EasyShare Z730
2008

When my older son was in the fifth grade, I think it was, his school held a Field Day and invited parents to come watch. I took the day off and went with a camera.

That’s my boy there in the orange shirt. That’s such a normal look on his face, when he was doing fun things with groups of kids — happy as a clam to be a part of the crowd! When he was smaller, I’d take him and his younger brother to the park to play. He was a surprising kind of leader at the park — he’d gather all of the other kids who happened to be there and get them to figure out a group activity, which he would then participate in as an equal with everybody else. He didn’t particularly want to lead the group, he just wanted there to be something fun to do with everyone and he could see it would be up to him to organize it!

He grew up to be as introverted as his dad; his favorite place to be is at home. But he still plays in groups, just online in MMOs and D&D games.

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Personal, Photography

single frame: Tug of war at Field Day

Tug of war on school grounds.

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Photography, Preservation

Beautiful old buildings in downtown South Bend

In the 1970s and early 1980s, my hometown of South Bend, Indiana, gleefully tore down as many of its old downtown buildings as it could. That’s how it seemed, at least. During most of my childhood, downtown was full of holes where old buildings used to be.

I didn’t much care in those days. My inner preservationist wouldn’t awaken for a few decades yet. But now I recognize how staggering a loss South Bend suffered.

One April day in 2010 I was in town on personal business. I’d needed a will for some time, as I wanted my estate (as modest as it was) to go into a trust for my children in the event of my death. My mom was a clerk in the probate court in St. Joseph County, and one of the attorneys she knew agreed to write my will for a nominal fee as a favor to her. It was a real kindness to me — even though I made good money, the majority of it went to child support and paying off the attorney fees from my divorce. Money was always tight then.

The attorney’s office was in the J.M.S. Building, on the northeast corner of Main and Washington Streets. (In South Bend, Main Street isn’t the main street; Michigan Street, one block to the east, is.) Completed in 1910, it is named for John Mohler Studebaker, at the time Vice President of Studebaker Corporation. It was the tallest building in the city then. The marble first-floor facade is not original; it was added in a renovation some decades ago. The interior underwent a renovation in the mid-2010s.

JMS Building

As you can see, I brought a camera with me this cool spring day. A friend had given me his old Canon PowerShot S80 as a gift and it had become my everyday camera. I slipped it into my coat pocket before I made the trip north that day. I had this blog then; I have no idea now why I didn’t share these photos with you when they were new! Better late than never.

The St. Joseph County Courthouse is on the opposite corner from the J.M.S. Building. Completed in 1898, it has been in use as a courthouse except from 1969 to 1971. The terrific Courthousery blog has the full story; read it here.

St. Joseph County Courthouse

This courthouse replaced one built in 1855 on the same site. The old courthouse still exists — it was moved to a lot behind this site! It was turned around to face Lafayette Blvd., which runs parallel to Main Street one block to the west. For whatever reason, I didn’t photograph the older courthouse this day — except for its cupola. If you’d like to see the rest of it, check out this entry on the Courthousery site.

Courthouse Cupola

I did photograph this 1889 church building, across the street from the older courthouse. It was originally the First Presbyterian Church, but today it houses a congregation called Ambassadors for Christ. This building also has a Studebaker connection, in that Studebaker Corporation co-founder John M. Studebaker contributed funds so it could be built.

Ambassadors for Christ church

Back on Main Street, I walked to the end of the block the courthouse is on to photograph the First Bank Building. That’s what I’ve always known it as, at any rate, as until the 1980s it was the headquarters of the First Bank and Trust Company. But as I researched it for this post, I learned it began its life as the Farmers Security Bank building upon its 1915 completion. I don’t know what became of Farmers Security Bank, but I do know what became of First Bank. They renamed themselves to First Source Bank around the same time they built a modern steel-and-glass headquarters on Michigan Street where one of the holes had been. The old headquarters remains, however, as an office building. It’s one of the most distinctive older buildings in town.

First Bank building

To wrap up my photo walk, I headed east to Michigan Street and then north to Washington Street to photograph the grand Palace Theater, which was built in 1922. In its day it was one of South Bend’s grand movie houses. I wrote about those movie houses here. Today, after a wonderful renovation, it’s known as the Morris Performing Arts Center. In 1987 — before that renovation, the interior not in great condition — I got to see It’s a Wonderful Life on the big screen here. I told that story here. The last time I was inside the Palace was in 2006, when I saw the rock band Heart perform here. I got to meet the band that day, a story I told here.

Palace Theater

I was pleased to find these photos and remember this very nice day.

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Photography

Adapting a Kodak Monitor Six-20 Anastigmat Special lens to a Fujifilm X-mount digital camera – the FrankenLens is alive!

After I shared my updated review of the Kodak Monitor Six-20 recently, reader Dave Powell wrote to say he had modified the Anastigmat Special lens off one to work on his Fujifilm X-Pro1 mirrorless digital camera. I love to read about creative adaptations of old gear like that because I’m too chicken to try it myself. I asked Dave if he’d be willing to write about his experience and share it here as a guest post. He readily agreed!

By Dave Powell

When Jim reviewed Kodak’s marvelous Monitor Six-20 medium-format folder here, it reminded me of a long-delayed personal project. I last used my own Monitor Six-20 around twenty years ago to capture some architectural details of a historic mansion before its restoration. The camera’s 101mm f/4.5 Anastigmat Special was wonderful.

I still have that camera and may shoot with it again. The lens is so good! I’ve long been curious to see how it would perform if I adapted it to my Fujifilm X-Pro1 mirrorless digital camera. But I’d never destroy a working Six-20 to find out.

Last year, I found another Monitor Anastigmat Special at a yard sale. Its body was a rusted, corroded, frozen mess, but the lens appeared to be in great shape. I plunked down my dollar and knew just what I wanted to do with it.

Hauling out the hacksaw

To determine how best to separate the lens from the camera, I first unscrewed its front element. It’s a four-element Tessar design, and the optical element just behind the front glass is built into the lens’s metal mounting plate. Removing the lens and its mounting plate as a unit seemed the only way to preserve infinity focus.

The Monitor is built to last. I had to (carefully) use a hacksaw to free the lens board from the body. These photos show the lens assembly front and back. Though not needed, I kept its CyberPunkish viewfinder!

The glass still looked clean and clear, but the shutter blades had oil on them. Sadly, the retaining ring for the rear element wouldn’t budge, which effectively sealed in the shutter and some glass surfaces. I again decided to leave well enough alone. The X-Pro1 body has its own electromechanical shutter, and I could use a locking release cable to hold the lens’s shutter open at any selected aperture. The oil became a non-issue.

Cobbling a camera mount

The next issue was attaching the lens to the camera. On my good Monitor Six-20, the lens’s mounting plate sits around 95mm in front of the camera’s film plane. I hauled out a box of lens adapters and extension tubes that I’d collected over the years and spent an afternoon experimenting. In the end I glued a 30mm long Accura T-mount extension tube to the back of the lens, and mounted them on the camera with a T-to-X adapter. Both are shown here beside the lens assembly.

Industrial-strength E6000 adhesive bonded the extension tube to the back of the lens plate. With the tube screwed into the T-mount adapter on the X-Pro1, the lens fell only a few millimeters closer to the camera’s sensor than it would have been from the Monitor’s film plane. Not a problem, though! The focusing front element rotates in a deep brass thread mount. And while its focusing throw was nearly 1 rotation (357 degrees) on the original Monitor Six-20, I had removed the focus stop post from my FrankenLens, which let it turn through a whopping 2.25 rotations (810 degrees) before coming off the camera. This huge range still allowed the lens to reach infinity focus. The next two photos show the finished X/T-Mount FrankenLens itself and on the X-Pro1.

But why two release cables? The black one in the front is self-locking and holds the Kodak lens shutter open (in bulb mode) at any selected aperture. The gray cable is screwed into the X-Pro1 shutter button, for triggering photos without shaking the tripod-mounted camera.

The X-Pro1 with FrankenLens attached can be hand-held (carefully). But Kodak designed the lens to cover a large 6×9 cm area (which is around 5.5×8 cm in my Monitor Six-20). Only a narrow wedge of light from the center of the lens reaches the Fuji’s smaller sensor, and based on comparing its field of view against Pentax and Topcon primes adapted to the camera, the Kodak lens has become a 135mm telephoto. This magnification factor calls for steady support, especially in the difficult tests I had in mind.

Shooting Snowmageddon

On test day, Boston (where I live) began a multi-day snow dump. I could only shoot out through windows. And most of the photos showed surprisingly bright ghost flare that was unlike anything I’d seen when I last used my good Monitor. These next five photos were the best of the lot, with the purple flaring most visible in the first one. (FYI, the last image is a tight crop onto squirrel tracks in the camera’s 16mp image.)

I thought a hood might tame the ghosting, but none of mine fit the lens. However, a short piece of black rubber tube friction-fit nicely around the focusing element and made it easier to focus the lens without blocking the viewfinder with my fingers.

The flare was especially odd because it occurred regardless of the direction the camera faced or the relative location of light sources. It even occurred when the only available illumination came from behind me. Treating the Accura extension tube like an old bellows, I slipped a mini flashlight into it and found that molded bumps on the back of the Kodak mounting plate kept the tube from pressing fully against it everywhere. This created an almost 360-degree, 1/16th-inch gap between the tube and plate. Several applications of liquid electrical tape fixed that.

Going dark

The time had come to really tax the lens with some lamp-lit shots in our basement. The X-Pro1 excels at high-ISO low-light photography, and I wanted to see if the Kodak lens could keep up. This image of my desk lamp’s finial was shot from around a yard away, and drastically cropped. Taken at f/8 and focused on the top-front edge of the ring below the finial, it’s decently sharp, with smoothly graded depth of field all around.

Moving to my nearby “art gallery,” I shot two photos of a woven-paper abstract that I made from two forgettable watercolors I painted in high school. The frame-filling first shot was taken from around 15 feet away, and the second photo shows the lens’s field of view at its nearest focus point, around 31 inches away.

One benefit of attaching the lens using a T-mount extension tube is that the tube was part of a set. The other tubes are 10 and 15mm long. Adding the 10mm tube to my FrankenLens reduced its closest-focus distance to around 21.5 inches, which produced this closer view.

Then, adding the 15mm tube to the others pulled the closest-focus distance further in, to around 14 inches.

The next two shots come from the adjacent library area. In 1969, well before he’d become today’s architectural star, a young Frank Gehry created and sold an “Easy Edges” line of furniture. He fabricated it from plywood and corrugated cardboard, and this lamp is one of his. In both photos, I tried to focus on its hand-velvetized corrugated column. (Sadly, the lamp didn’t come with Gehry’s original corrugated shade, but the one on it now looks fine.)

And in this closer shot of a Native American grain basket hanging above the lamp, you can again see some faint ghosting just below the basket’s central whorl.

Drat!

I turned off every other light in the room, but the flaring remained. The lamp itself must have caused it, for one or two reasons: the lens’s older coating couldn’t remove all flare, and/or there may be some almost-invisible film in the parts of the lens I couldn’t clean.

Then, I moved to the cyberpunkish glass vase in front of Gehry’s cardboard lamp. During the 1940s and ‘50s, my father was a well-known metallurgist and vapor-deposition specialist at Battelle Memorial Institute, in Columbus, Ohio. (While there, he helped develop the early Xerography process and the carbonless carbon paper that we still use today. And much later, his last project was the Space Shuttle’s heat-shield tiles.) He made the blue glass vase and its welded metal stand seen in this photo. I focused on the teeth at the front of the gear at its base.

Then before shutting down, I grabbed a final shot (from 15 feet away) of the gas fireplace that kept me warm during the shoot.

After turning the fire off, I repeated the grain-basket shot, and the mild flaring was still there.

After I finished this article, I shot some bright snow scenes with the FrankenLens. The ghost flare not only brightened at wider apertures, but it also became perfectly rectangular! While my improvised lens hood (along with the Anastigmat Special coating) probably did remove a lot of flare, the persistent ghosting I saw may be the Fuji’s own sensor reflecting onto the rear of the Kodak lens, and then perhaps back again on the sensor.

Critiquing my FrankenLens

Here are some thoughts about the adapted Anastigmatic Special:

  • My example exhibits persistent ghosting. If you decide to try this experiment, use the cleanest lens you can find. You may not be able to access and clean all of its elements.
  • Mounted using the T-mount adapter and 30mm-long extension tube, the lens could reach all focus points out to infinity. But just barely! Its closest-focus setting was dangerously near the front element’s detachment point. Its brass threads are so finely milled that reattaching it requires patient back-and-forthing. ( gained lots of practice, and on my sample, the best place to start was with the Kodak “K” on the lens’s front bezel aligned with the Kodak “d” on the surrounding aperture/shutter-speed ring.
  • The Anastigmat Special lens became a 135mm telephoto on the X-Pro1. In anything but the brightest conditions, a tripod and cable releases are recommended. But this also brings the “zen of slow photography” to the digital realm, if you’re so inclined.
  • The X-Pro1’s magnified focus-peaking didn’t work well with the lens opened wider than f/8. That’s why even my lamp-lit interiors were shot at f/8-16 at shutter speeds of ¼-1 second at ISO 800. I believe I shot the exterior snowscapes at speeds of 1/1000-1/60 second at ISO 100-400.
  • Kodak’s Anastigmat Special lens IS reasonably compact and sharp on the X-Pro1, even in low light.
  • It also LOVES color… absolutely eats it up! We also see this in Jim’s review.
  • At 5.5 ounces, it’s the lightest 135mm telephoto I own. Plus, it’s easily macro-extendable!

My Fuji X/T-Mount Monitor Six-20 FrankenLens is a keeper that I don’t plan to deconstruct any time soon. It may not make it into my digital go-bag, but I look forward to trying more landscapes when spring colors return. The FrankenLens is alive!

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Photography

Dots per inch (DPI) and pixels per inch (PPI) in scanning negatives and printing images

This is the first guest post ever on Down the Road. Reader P wrote such an excellent comment on how to understand dots per inch and pixels per inch in scanning and printing that, with his permission and a little editing, I’ve turned it into this post. Thanks, P, for demystifying PPI and DPI!

By P

Pixels per inch (PPI) and dots per inch (DPI) are challenging to understand in large part because the Internet is littered with outright wrong information about what these things are. Also, plenty of people use the terms improperly.

For the sake of brevity, parts of the following discussion are oversimplified. The purpose is not to explain everything, but rather to eliminate a lot of the confusion surrounding these terms by establishing a foundational understanding what PPI and DPI are, and what they are not. Doing a deep dive into every technical aspect, of every technology, of every possible situation where these terms might be used, in order to be 100% accurate and technically correct in every possible way, would defeat the purpose entirely as it would no doubt add to the confusion instead of alleviating it.

Understanding PPI

PPI has to do with screens: monitors, televisions, cell phones, tablets, and so on. It is merely a measurement of how densely packed the physical pixels are on a display — the pixel density. This in turn tells you how much physical screen real estate a given digital image will take up when viewed at 100%. PPI is simply the ratio of the screen’s native resolution, a×b pixels, to the screen’s linear physical dimensions, x×y inches.

Polka dots
A 1 DPI pattern on this cup

Horizontal PPI is a pixels/x inches = a/x PPI. Vertical PPI is b pixels/y inches = b/y PPI. These days most screens use square pixels — pixel height and width are the same, so there’s no need for separate horizontal and vertical PPI values. We just say a monitor or screen is such-and-such PPI, a single value, because it’s the same horizontally and vertically.

The closer you are to a screen, the greater the PPI needs to be to provide an image of acceptable quality. For example, a big-screen LCD TV offers far fewer PPI than your cell phone.

Understanding DPI in print

Screen PPI and print DPI are similar in concept, but they are not the same thing. However, people use them interchangeably and it causes confusion. Instead of being the density of pixels on a display, DPI is the density of dots laid down on a physical medium such as paper to form a physical image.

The closer you are to a print, the greater the print DPI needs to be to provide an image of acceptable quality. For example, the DPI of a billboard advertisement is far less than that of your 4×6 vacation photos.

Understanding DPI in optical scanning

In scanning, DPI measures the scanner’s resolution. Look at it as the number of dots per inch the scanner can allegedly resolve when scanning a given piece of film. Let’s say a scanner has a maximum optical scanning resolution rating of 3600 DPI. This means that for each linear inch of film, the scanner is capable of resolving 3600 dots of information — allegedly, as the true, effective resolution will be less, a topic outside the scope of this discussion. These individual dots of information captured become individual pixels in the output digital image, the “scan.”

For square medium format negatives (1:1 aspect ratio), which are 56mm square, the calculation is:

3600 dots/inch × 56 mm × (1 inch / 25.4 mm) = 7937 dots

In other words, you get a scan of 7937×7937 pixels.

For 35mm negatives (3:2 aspect ratio), which are 36x24mm, the calculations are:

Horizontal: 3600 dots/inch × 36 mm × (1 inch / 25.4 mm) = 5102 dots
Vertical: 3600 dots/inch × 24 mm × (1 inch / 25.4 mm) = 3402 dots

That’s a scan of 5102×3402 pixels.

Going from scanner DPI, to screen PPI, to print DPI

Polka-dotted chair
Dots per yard (DPY)?

In print, dot density matters, combined with the pixel resolution of the digital image that’s being printed, along with the image’s overall quality or the amount of information and detail it contains. Pixel density, which is not the same thing as the pixel resolution of a digital image, applies only to screens. The term DPI as it relates to the optical resolution of a scanner and the density of dots on a physical print are not the same thing. The former is a measurement of how much information the scanner can resolve while digitizing a piece of film, while the latter is a measurement of how densely packed the dots are that form the image in a print.

That said, when printing from a digital image the number of dots per inch (DPI) the printer lays down is related to the pixel resolution (a×b pixels) of that digital image. In simplified terms, due to differences in various printer technologies and how each one lays down dots on a physical substrate such as paper (which is also beyond the scope of this discussion), if there aren’t enough pixels in the original image to match at least 1:1 the number of dots that need to be printed at a given DPI and physical print size combination, then the digital image will have to be upscaled to a higher pixel resolution to match the printer’s DPI and print dimensions. This is a problem, as it means interpolation will occur, artifacts are likely to present themselves, and image quality will be greatly diminished. If an image is already lacking in pixel resolution or resolved image detail, you can’t do anything to salvage it. You can’t create detail that didn’t exist in the first place.

Advice for scanning

As stated previously, a scanner’s actual effective optical resolution is less than the rated value. For flatbeds, it’s much, much less.

For a typical flatbed scanner, I’d scan everything at a DPI that provides scans that are at least 4 times the pixel resolution (total area — 2 times the length and width = 4 times total area) of what I want my final output resolution to be.

For square, medium-format images, if I want my final files to be 2500×2500 pixels, I’d scan them at no less than 2400 DPI as 16-bits-per-color/channel TIFFs (i.e. 48-bits-per-pixel for color images, and 16-bit-per-pixel for greyscale). I would then do all of my levels editing, dust/scratch spotting, cropping, and so on at that original large resolution, but not yet sharpen anything. I’d save these as my “master” images, again as 16-bpc TIFFs. Then, I’d resize them to 2500×2500 pixels using the Lanczos-3 method, and finally use unsharp masking to sharpen them to my liking. That would be my final image for output, for sharing online, which I’d save as JPEGs.

I’d follow the same practice for 35mm. So, if I want my final 35mm images to be 3000×2000 pixels, I’d scan at no less than 4400 DPI, and then follow the same procedure as I did for medium format, cropping 3:2 instead of 1:1.

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