Saturday, May 30, 2009

Garage Sales Adventures....and Misadventures


Shortly after I bought my D60 I began to search the Internet to get some feeling for the range and price of the lens that were available for the camera. While I was struggling with Nikon's confusing lens naming conventions, I kept finding reference to the Nikon 50 mm f1.8 manual focus prime. This cult lens from the film days had no fancy features except a classic lens design that rivaled its more modern rivals for sharpness and overall optical quality.

On ebay, it could be had for around $60--not bad for almost anything photographic I was discovering. But I dropped the idea of buying one. My unreleased and brand new 35mm f1.8 lens was preordered. That and the fancier lighting would exaust the budget. Another lens, even a cheap cult one, would have to wait.

Yesterday, when I spotted some scattered garage sales signs while returning from Home Depot I almost passed them by. Duty called. The bag of weed and feed was in the trunk, and once the clouds cleared off the weather was forecasted to be perfect for zapping the weeds that infested my lawn.

Still, what the heck, the weeds would still be there. Besides the garage sales would only be a detour on the way home. At the third one, I found and purchased a tripod that extended up to 6 feet for $2.00--not the sturdiest in the world but one that would work well as a light stand. And in the next few: a couple computer games Charlotte would love, and then a decent metal picture frame.

On a roll, the weeds can wait.

But as it sometimes happens--baby things, more baby things and even more baby things. By the time I had my fill of baby thing I'd driven out of my neighborhood. As I was driving home along some twisty side roads I almost missed the little sign pointing into a dead end court. One more sale and then home.

From the street the sale didn't look like much but inside-- the picture of the loot is below

A cleaning kit top right. A Nikon EM SLR complete with a motorized film advance, the 50 mm 1.8 prime I'd been semi-lusting over, and a dirty but otherwise decent UV filter. A non working but repairable ( broken battery terminal) off brand swivel flash. A Vivitar 35-70 macro zoom with an almost frozen focusing ring. A lens hood and polarizer. A Vivitar 2X teleconverter. And last but not least a padded photography case.

After I pointed out the problems--non working flash gun, seized up zoom lens and general worthlessness of film cameras in a digital age--we settled on $20 for the whole kit.

All in all, not a bad garage sale day.


Naturally I wasn't expecting the fancy stuff, vibration reduction and autofocus, that we have come to know and love. But I knew the workaround rules. Set your shutter speed to the reciprocal of your focal length for sharp photos. That worked out to 1/80 sec or less for the lens I bought. No problem. And over the years I'd manually focused some extremely complicated optical setups. Written on how to do it too so the field service folks wouldn't end up in too much trouble if they attempted a reallignment. Should be no problem either.

Even the stuck focusing ring on the zoom lens might be fixable. If I couldn't work it free I could tear the lens down, clean, and reassemble. Since it wasn't the lens I was after, the worst that would happen would be to end up with more additions to my loose lens and parts collection.

(After repeated twists and turns I managed to work out a squashed bit of something from inside the lens. Now it stiffen up when focusing around 10 feet, but I don't feel the need to reach for a strap wrench anymore.)

Best of all, page 116 of the D60 manual told me about the rangefinder. This neat little hunk of firmware uses the autofocus electronics to display a bar graph at the bottom of the view finder. It tells you which way to turn the focusing ring and when you have two little lines spaced around zero you have as good a focus as the autofocus motor would ever come up. Sweet.

Nikon takes good care of its customers. Or so I thought!

The real scoop.

First exposure metering. Everything needed to do it is mounded in the camera. If implemented correctly any lens--even a pin hole--will meter correctly.

How do I know. Camera hackers have mounted cpu clips from busted lens to extension tubes where you can solder to the necessary contacts without major camera surgery. With that hack to fool the firmware the camera meters correctly.

A hassle. One totally unnecessary. In the firmware they could have added a new line to the menu--elderly non cpu lens in use. With one or two dummy variables so the firmware thinks a cpu lens is mounted, metering would have worked. Easy programming too--a morning's work even if the firmware engineer hit traffic, arrived late and still took a longish coffee break.

Bottom line--Nikon deliberate crippled the D60,

It gets worse.

In the program, shutter, and aperture mode I get a big warning--Lens Not Attached. Can't take a picture--the shutter button does nothing. But lens or no lens warning the rangefinder still works like the manual claims.

There is one mode where I don't get the warning--manual mode-- and pushing the shutter button takes the picture.

But guess what! No focusing rangefinder appears in manual mode where it it is needed! Double crippled! In the crudest way!

What going on?

Nikon has gone to some length to:
Claim in their sale advertising that they have a great new feature.
Make their great new feature so difficult to use with manual lens that no one would want to try.

Why? To force you to buy their automatic and high profit lens, obviously. Garage sale lens don't add anything to their bottom line. Marketing strikes again

Did I waste my 20 bucks? No. My D60 and its lens and accessories now have a padded secure home. Depending on the flash's electronic innards, it maybe covertable into an optical slave flash. And while I already have a polarizer and lens hood I've been known to lose things out in the woods and fields. So it doesn't hurt to own spares

And there are workarounds for the lenses. If the optical quality of the 50 mm is a good as they claim--but that's the subject for another post.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The spacing is all crazy---gaps where I took them out and no spaces where I put them in---but it's a plog post

Look Ma--No Wires!!

My own photo blog. Or is the new correct word for it, plog?

Which ever way, what am I going to do with it.

My normal posting site is flickr ( and I suspect it will stay that way. And since I have no commercial ambitions I won't be using this to try to promote a business. The competition is too fierce. Everybody and their kid sister own a digital camera, a computer and editing software. So for the same reason I don't hire a photographer or buys her images---why pay when you can do it yourself.

So this blog should end up being a series of musings and howtos that are somehow connected to the art and science of image making.

The howtos should range from the elementary to geeky. How geeky--I'm an optical engineer but I will try to hold my fingers back whenever they have an urge to type page after page of techno jargon.

But if I can't control them--I'll try to remember to type in a less geeky explanations. After all--what can be as fascinating as Poisson noise and its archenemy, wavelet noise reducti...

OOPs ---naughty naughty typing fingers.

Onward to the start of the first of a series of elementary howtos on portraits, still lives and studio lighting.

How elementary? Very. I own a few books on lighting and portraits and have sampled a few strobist sites but otherwise I don't know much about this area of photography. This blog will follow my misadventures.

So lets introduce my new model.

On the street they call her "Twisty Missy" She has the patience of a true mannequin, doesn't blink when the flash goes off in her face, and can hold a pose for hours

And here she is inspecting the new toys---the Alien Bees that landed on my doorstep.

That whimsically named company sell, among other things, a wireless control for an offcamera flash. The radio transmitter in mounted to the hot shoe of the camera and the receiver is hooked with an adapter cable into my new Vivitar 285hv flash.
My first misadventure
That was not how I originally planned to control the flash. When I bought the 285 I already had three Wein peanuts--small light detectors that sense the light of a master flash and then fire the flash they are attached to. Unfortunately they did not work with the new 285. The peanuts draw their power from the batteries in the flash through its hot shoe and it appears the 385 doesn't supply enough voltage or current to run the peanut.
This is a classic example on why photography can be such an expensive hobby. After spending $100 on an off camera flashgun I then spent $155 on the accessories to make it work the way I wanted it to work. Not to mention the photographic umbrellas, the light stands, the clamps to attach the flash, the umbrella and the ..... You get the idea.
And all to start this blog rolling. Will it be worth while? We'll see
So until the next scribble..................

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Goggle has been having....

Google has been having its problems. When I first tried to set up this blog I needed to sign into an old google account but it wouldn't accept the password I semivaguely remembered using. So I asked for a reset and an email to tell me what to do.

After waiting a couple days no email. But guess what. My semivaguely remembered password now worked. Sweet--the computer gods were smiling and I set up a blog.

But today when I decided to make my first real blog post, the computer gods were growling. No way they would accept my password.

After some thinking and before I did some serious fiddling with my setting, I decided they must have finally reset the password. After all they have had some very well publicized server problems and I expected to find a email on my firewall computer.

Nope. But before I started pulling out my hair trying to find the problem, I made one last attempt to connect. Not only did it work--I am writing this--blogger even used the password I'd saved on this computer.

Semi-sweet. But I think I'll wait a day or two before I tell the flickr world about my new photoblog. There are many blogspots out there and from my somewhat limited online research, some of the ones where you pay few bucks a year have sexy feature sets.

So if any of the select few who know about this stop by to look, be sure to leave a comment. I could use the feedback to be certain everything is working right.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

up and running

I'm here world. Now I have to figure out how to run this thing