Farewell to Film

Bessa R3A (by StarbuckGuy)

Last Friday I sold my Bessa R3a and Nokton 40mm f/1.4 s.c. lens. I felt as if part of me, a photographic part of me, had died. Selling that body and lens was hard. I’m seriously glad it went to someone I know will love it like I did.

The Bessa was the biggest hurdle on the way to dispensing with all my film gear. I’ve been thinning my collection for some time, but even though I kept thinking I’d shoot some film, I never did. When the choice came down to shooting with film or digital, I went with digital every time.

After months and months of this, it became apparent that my film gear, lovely as it is, was sitting on the shelf. I don’t like to see good cameras sit on the shelf, so I decided, once and for all, to go 100% digital.

Certainly convenience and speed of turnaround were the biggest factors in my decision. Life is short, something you really feel when you reach your 60’s. I no longer wanted to spend time developing film and scanning it. Even though I love film, I love digital even more, so it’s not as if I’m surrendering to some Dark Side.

My main interest in film is B&W and I still maintain, as I always have, that film B&W and digital B&W are different — that film has more subtlety. However, I have also discovered Nik’s excellent Photoshop (and Lightroom) plug-in, Silver Efex Pro. The digital B&W’s I’m pulling from that are so satisfying that I’ve not felt the need for film to express myself in B&W. Once I fully realized that, the writing was on the wall.

Another critical factor was purchasing a Panasonic G1. Because the sensor on the G1 is located so far forward, it can be adapted to a huge range of lens mounts, including rangefinder lenses. I sent to Shanghai for Leica-M, Nikon F, and Pentax M42 adapters. With them I can use any of my existing manual focus lenses. I no longer needed the film bodies.

I’ll either sell, or give away, my remaining three film bodies. Then I’ll thin my lens collection to just those manual-focus lenses I intend to use regularly. It’s time to move on.

One of the things I’ve moved on to is writing. I’ve always written, but it’s become a major focus for me now. Fiction as well as nonfiction. Personal writing, plus writing on assignment.

Another thing I’m doing is catching up on about three to four decades of pop culture — movies and TV shows, especially. I missed a lot of great stuff and I’m now in viewing overdrive, and loving it.

So, goodbye film. It was a long love affair, about 50 years. I hate to see you go, and I’ll never forget you. Sadly, though, you won’t be missed.

Mur’s PDF-1

For the last couple of years, my favourite podcast has been, and continues to be, Mur Lafferty’s I Should Be Writing, which she describes as “a podcast for wannabe fiction writers by a wannabe fiction writer.”

I’ve listened to all the episodes, dipping into the archives back to episode one. In sharing her writing experiences, hopes, disappointments, and achievements, she has encouraged a large number of us to keep trying. I was thinking recently that it would be great if Mur could gather some of the writing tips from her podcast and put them in print form.

I got my wish, and want to draw everyone’s attention to it. I Should Be Writing: The PDF-1 is now available and Mur has asked everyone to distribute it as widely as possible. It’s free, and has been released under a Creative Commons license.

Her Rule One: “It’s OK to suck.”

I think she’s right about this. If you don’t give yourself permission to suck, you’ll never write anything creative. I still have trouble with this. I write something and think, “god, this sucks,” and I feel ready to give up trying to write creatively. “I’m just not good enough,” I say to myself. What Mur reassures us is that we all feel this way. That it’s okay to suck. That doesn’t mean you quit trying. The more you work at it, the less you’ll suck, but first you must give yourself permission or you’ll never improve. Yes, it’s hard on the ego. Yes, it’s discouraging. But so what?

As she often says as she signs off: “I should be writing, and so should you.”


Chapter 2: Put Your Butt in the Chair

When Size Matters


A friend of mine is thinking of moving up from a good P&S digital camera to a DSLR and, like many first-time buyers, is confused by all the models out there and how they compare. She is currently wondering which of the brands takes better pictures.

What I want to explain is that the brand makes little difference, when it comes to image quality. What matters is size — the size of the pixels rather than the number of pixels or megapixels. The larger the pixels, the better the image will look. In general, the larger the sensor, the larger the pixels.

If you look at the chart above, you can see how consumer digital cameras compare in sensor size. Using 35mm as the “gold standard,” what’s called a full-frame (FF or FX) digital has a sensor the size of a 35mm negative or transparency. There are some high-end Nikon, Canon, and Sony models that offer these. They’re expensive, and big. You would have no trouble making smooth, gorgeously sharp 16×20″ prints from a sensor this large, and you could print even larger without losing too much detail.

Compare that to the little 1/3″ and 1/2″ sensors in the center. That’s the size of the sensor in most P&S digicams. Considering the difference in size, the P&S units do a remarkable job and can print beautiful 8×10″ prints and can be stretched to 11×14″ and still look relatively okay. A few P&S digicams have the more desirable 2/3″ sensor, but they’re limited to a very few models.

The majority of DSLR’s fall into the middle, from 4/3″ to the slight variant of the APS-C size sensor (1.6x crop for Canon, 1.5x crop for Nikon). If you compare these to the tiny sensors on digicams, you can see why there is a big jump in image quality potential in this mid range. An APS-C sensor has a slight advantage over 4/3, but as the diagram shows, the difference isn’t dramatic.

The thing is, any brand of camera in this mid range is capable of excellent image quality. 11×14″ prints will look great, and they can be stretched to 16×20 without too much quality falloff. They also allow for better prints after cropping than a P&S digicam.

The brand doesn’t make a lot of difference to any of this. True, each manufacturer puts its own processing software in the camera and there are very subtle differences in the default look of images. Canons tend toward warm tones, Nikon toward cooler tones. But you can adjust any of these cameras to look pretty much like the output from any other. Panasonic and Olympus have done such a good job of processing on the 4/3 sensor that they can be used up to ISO 800-1600 and still deliver good quality.

The real leveler in all this is Photoshop, or whichever photo editor you use. It’s good post processing that takes a good image and turns it into a great looking image. That and the photographer’s eye, of course.

There are reasons to think about brand. Where they differ most is in their ergonomics, which is why it’s important to try them out in the store to see which feels best and most natural to use. I personally don’t like the ergonomics of Canons, but that’s totally subjective. To me, Nikons and Pentaxes (and Sonys for that matter) seem to have controls and menus that are located where I expect them. Take a look at how menus are organized too. Again, I find Canon menus confusing, compared to Nikon menus. That’s one of the reasons I switched from Canon to Nikon, but bear in mind there are people who go the other way, for the same reasons. Canons feel right to them.

Lens selection can be a factor. Canon and Nikon offer more “pro” lenses than other brands, which is why the pros use them. If you’re not a professional photographer, though, this is likely not a big issue. All the brands have a good selection of consumer lenses, and they’re very good.

So, the bottom line is that any DSLR in the mid range can deliver great results, including the 4/3 cameras made by Olympus and Panasonic. Choose the one that feels like you want to use it a lot. Then brush up on your Photoshop!

Battlestar Galactica (new series), Season One

Battlestar Galactica is another series I missed when it was current. But with the aid of Zip.ca, Marion and I have been viewing Season One, beginning with the miniseries. We would have finished the season by now but the next-to-last disc arrived cracked and we’re waiting for its replacement. We skipped ahead to the final episode of the season since we had the disc in hand, but an awfully lot of plot happened in the gap.

We’re gripped by what we’ve seen so far. My favourite character, as soon as I saw her, was “Starbuck”, Lt. Kara Thrace, performed by Katee Sackhoff. After the Buffy series, I really love seeing sassy women who are able to kick serious ass. The casting is good throughout and the premise is good SF. I think this Amazon.ca reviewer of the Complete Series, (Rob H., Canada), has summed up the series admirably:

This is television with intelligence; television with emotional resonance; and television with soul. It is unfortunate that the name and surface appearance of the subject matter place it squarely in the “geek” domain of science fiction because beneath the outer trappings lies a deeply religious, philosophical and spiritual discussion that can (and should) be enjoyed by everyone. The complete series is beautiful. The visuals, sound, writing, directing and acting are all exemplary and are deserving of being viewed in the highest quality possible.

His only complaint is the high price of the BluRay disc set.

The first two discs of Season Two should arrive next week, along with the Season One replacement disc. I find that after watching an episode or two, I like reading about it on the Battlestar Galactica Episode Guide. Kudos to the folks who assembled this excellent resource!

On the reading front, I picked up a new novel by Canadian SF/F writer Charles de Lint called The Mystery of Grace.  I won’t post any spoilers, but I’ll say if you’re interested in exporing a new take on life after death, this has been a very good read so far. I’m a little over half way and am having trouble putting the book down.

[addendum] Finished reading The Mystery of Grace early this morning and I can recommend it. The plot keeps turning in unexpected directions and there’s a fascinating philosophical/spiritual underpinning to the story. And you’ll love Grace, and her affection for rebuilding classic cars and listening to rockabilly and hot-rod/surfing music. It’s just that she’s in this really weird place and I don’t mean her head.

My First Fanfic

It was probably inevitable that my affection for Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer would lead to first reading, then writing, fan fiction. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, fan fiction (or fanfic) is fiction written by fans about the characters that exist in books, movies, comics, or TV shows. These stories cannot be sold, of course. That would violate the copyright of the authors. They’re more tribute, wish fulfillment, or just imaginary takes. They’re written for fun, to be read for fun.

If the concept interests you, you need look no further than FanFiction.net, where you can find thousands upon thousands of such stories. Some very, very good, and some just awful. Everything in between. And something for everyone. There’s a lot of creativity taking place on sites like this. New stories pop up daily.

For Joss Whedon fans, there’s a particularly energetic podcast devoted to audio readings of Joss-based fan fiction. Called Strangely Literal, it’s one to subscribe to if you enjoy what’s called by fans, the Jossverse.

So where’s this leading? Yesterday I had an idea for a fanfic story based on Willow, the delightful Wicca who’s also Buffy’s best friend. Along with my morning coffee at Starbucks, I fired up T-Rex (my Palm TX) and folding keyboard, and dashed off a first draft of a story called “Willow in Detox.” I really enjoyed writing it, and later in the day I polished it up a bit then asked my friend Steve Brannon (host of The Way We Write) if he’d act as beta reader for the story. As usual, Steve’s eagle eye caught problems I’d never have noticed. Thanks Steve!

Feeling bold, I “published” the story on Live Journal: Willow in Detox. I’ve created an account on FanFiction.net and will likely send it there as well. If you’re familiar with the Buffy series, I hope you’ll read it and enjoy it. If you’re not familiar with Buffy, the story will be indecipherable.

Feeling even bolder, I sent the link to Tabz, the Joss lady who chooses stories for Strangely Literal, as well as being one of the key figures in the Between the Lines Studios productions. Tabz liked it and added it to the signup list of stories to be read (all done by volunteers).

So there you go. From inception to “publication” to “acceptance” in one day. The wonder of the Internet.

Summertime Blues

Sometimes I wonder, what am I gonna do
Cause there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues

— Eddie Cochrane

July already. The days grow shorter. Not that it’s noticeable, but in a few weeks my morning walks will be in closer alignment to sunrise. The sunset times don’t affect us much because Marion and I aren’t night people. Our routine after dinner is to snuggle on the couch and watch a rented video or one from our collection. We retire early and rise early.

It wasn’t always like this. During my youth and my student days I was a nighthawk. I slept late, unless there were classes, and I confess I slept through a few of those. I usually stayed active until 2-3am. I had friends who kept a similar schedule and we spent many an hour discussing the state of the universe, usually agreeing, by 3am, that it really WAS existential.

What knocked the nighthawk out of me was getting employment and having to be at work and productive in the morning. It never tamed me entirely. Even while working I stayed up until midnight or so. I’d get to bed early enough, but sleep was elusive. I read a lot of novels between 10-12.

But aging has changed my natural circadian rhythms. I’m now keeping farmer’s hours. Funny that. I would have thought my natural rhythms were hard-wired and wouldn’t change during my lifetime. Surprise!

The main aspect of my life this has affected is my reading. I’d developed a pattern of reading fiction late at night. Now when I try to read in bed, I last, at best, a page or two. I often wake with my reading glasses on and a book in my hand. It’s cut down the amount I read. When I try to read during the day I get fidgety and find it hard to keep my focus.

On the plus side, I’m catching up on pop culture movies and TV series. It started by my getting hopelessly addicted to Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Fortunately so did Marion. We then branched out to other Whedon productions: Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse, and Dr. Horrible. Angel was okay, and better than most of the fare on TV, but it never reached the quality of Buffy. Neither of us cares much for David Boreanaz as an actor, so it was hard to very excited about the series. If it weren’t for a great supporting cast, and a few very good episodes, we’d never have watched the entire series. Firefly was good, as was the follow-on movie Serenity. Dr. Horrible was funny, and clever. Dollhouse is disappointing. I was surprised to hear it was renewed for a second season.

In an effort to branch out to see other movies and TV series that we’d missed over the past thirty or so years, I’ve been asking friends to make recommendations. We’ve signed up with Zip.ca to rent titles from our wish list. Zip has most of the TV series I’m interested in.

I particularly like to see how a well-done TV series introduced its story and characters to the audience for the first time. That makes the season one, disc one offerings especially useful. I believe a budding fiction writer can learn a lot from good TV and movie productions.

Starting this month I’m going to start chronicling what we’ve been watching and which shows we really liked, or didn’t, and why. A couple of teasers: we’re loving Battlestar Galactica but couldn’t even get through the very first episode of Star Trek: Next Generation.