Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Film versus Digital

It was close to the perfect holiday weekend. Not only did I get to do some serious sailing, but I got to shoot pictures while sailing.

It was my first time out with the Leica M3 and the Voigtlander Nokton 40mm f1.4. I'll admit it up front that I kept making one huge mistake when using the M3 -- I forgot to remove the lens cap.

It's the first camera I've ever used that still lets you see through the viewfinder with the lens cap in place. Half the shots on my 24-count roll of FujiFilm 800 were left unexposed, but what can you do?

It's not really until you use film again that you realize the versatility of digital that we take for granted.

Digital plus #1: ISO
I had loaded the M3 with 800 ASA film because I was looking forward to taking evening shots with the low-light lens. That left me with uneccesarily grainy shots during the day whereas I was able to instantly take the ISO up and down in the Leica X1.



Digital plus #2: Instant review
With the X1, I know when I've got the shot and can move on.

I don't have a film example here because my night shots of the Kemah boardwalk just didn't come out.

Digital plus #3: Color AND Black & White
I left the X1 JPEG setting to Black & White and got some great shots. However, I also had the RAW files in case I wanted to pull some into color. No choice with the M3.


Memorial Day Weekend

Digital Plus #4: Cost in both time and money
I could have uploaded the digital photos from the boat if I'd wanted. In fact, for $15 a month, my wireless carrier will give me a digital hotspot that would allow me to upload my digital photos from anywhere in the world. On the other hand, it cost me $3 for a roll of film and $14 just to get 24 photos developed and put on a CD for me. If we average that cost of $17 per 24 exposures, film developing costs alone would pay for a used Leica M8 in 3,105 photos. Considering I shot 303 photos on my X1 at the parade last weekend, that's only a dozen events before film becomes a burden.

However, shooting with the rangefinder was a lot of fun. Unlike the X1, the rangefinder focus was always dead on -- although I'm not particularly fast with it yet. By the end of the day I was also getting better at just knowing my exposure settings instead of having to take a meter reading every shot.


Though, some guesses were better than others.


There are only two things that are keeping me from making the investment to switch to a digital rangefinder. The first is the lack of telephoto options. I have a 90mm f2.8, which is a great lens, but even at 90mm, the focus area in the rangefinder gets really small. I'm not sure my eyes are good enough for that. The second issue is focusing at night. It gets very hard to see the rangefinder focus area in low light.

I really like these Leica lenses, but I'm still not sure if I'll keep the M or head back into the world of DSLRs.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Anticipation with reservation

I've been photo crazy lately, and I just couldn't leave well enough alone. A 1956 Leica M3 Double Stroke showed up at my house last Friday.

Leica M3

I've been envious of the photos captured by fellow forum and flickr members with their M8s and M9s using fast glass while I was trapped with the Elmarit f2.8 on my X1. Don't get me wrong, I've been thrilled with the results my X1 can deliver. At this point, I carry it around more often than my Nikon. The problem comes at night. I've learned that all I can do is set the aperture to f2.8, the shutter to 1/60s, the ISO to 1600 and HOPE I got enough exposure that I can save something from the RAW files. If you slow the shutter beyond 1/60s, people are blurs. Nobody holds still for 1/30s unless they are deliberately frozen to pose for a photo.

Slowly over the past year, it's eaten away at me. I knew very well that if I was going to upgrade my camera gear, the sensible decision would be to go with a new Nikon D7000 body and some fast glass. For months I knew that was what I should do. Then suddenly, I'm bidding on M3s.

The M3 has no electronics. There is no Auto mode. There isn't even a meter. If you don't manually set the shutter and aperture correctly, you've just wasted film.

And the film is another daunting thought. I haven't shot film since around 2001 when I got my first digital camera. Suddenly, each photo costs money. Suddenly I've gone from being able to shoot hundreds of pictures at an event to being able to shoot 36. Suddenly instead of being able to review the shot I just took and adjust, then retake it, I have to know I'm right before I risk the shot. I was hoping to be able to shoot the art car parade with it, but I took 303 photos of that parade. As I was clicking away with my X1, trying to capture each and every entry, I thought, how much would this be costing me and how many shots would I be missing while I changed film in the M3?

For the past week the M3, which is 22 years older than myself, has been sitting on my coffee table staring me down. It's like she's saying, "Do you really think you're up for this kid?"

I could tell most people go with a vintage 50mm Summicron f2.0 as their first lens. However, I was bargain shopping, so I ended up snagging a Voigtlander Nokton Classic 40mm f1.4. No, I'm not thrilled that it won't match up with the framelines, but it was both cheaper and in much better condition than the old Summicrons that I could afford. Plus, the images that were driving my lust were all produced with the Noctilux. I wanted to go as fast as possible.

So what happens? Will I end up with a roll of poorly focused underexposed/overexposed film? Will my shots look anything like the ones I'm lusting after? I'm nervous to find out.

There is some solace in this experiment. Yes, I may find that I'm a terrible manual photographer. I may find I'm horrible at focusing a rangefinder. This may destroy my ego. However, I'm pretty certain that unlike any other brand of gear, I'll be able to get back exactly what I paid for the M3 and the lenses.

To be lounging in my salon ...

I really didn't think it would ever happen, but it looks like this weekend -- Memorial Day Weekend 2011 -- we will be lounging on upholstered couches in the Starwind's salon. Or is it saloon? The fact that nautical terms tend to be regional makes them even more confusing at times. I even have one sailing book that seems to switch back and forth between salon and saloon randomly.

Boat upholstery is in progress

The best part? We were able to use the old sunbrella fabric that came with the boat, so the whole project has only cost about $50 in needles, thread and velcro.

Of course, then you add in the labor. Thankfully I have a wonderful girlfriend who actually likes boats and also knows how to sow. I told her she should go into business after she finishes these cushions because it would have cost me almost $2,000 to have these done at an upholstery shop. However, I don't think there's any amount of money that would get her to do another set after this.

I did help, though. I cut out some of the fabric. Her dog also insisted on helping. No matter where she had the material or what position it was in, he could find a way to lay on it.

The dog is so helpful

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Rum Trail

My marina neighbors Matt and Carla shoved off Sunday morning and started a two-year adventure aboard their 34' Allied Seawind Escondida. They're currently headed east to Louisiana at which point they'll head south across the Gulf of Mexico to the Yucatan Peninsula. Apparently that route helps avoid a great number of shipping traffic and offshore platforms.

You can follow their updates at www.therumtrail.blogspot.com.

They don't have Internet on the boat, but they do have a Spot GPS tracker, so while updates to the blog itself won't be frequent, there is a link to the Spot page, which is charting their progress.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The sweet smell of success

It smells like antifreeze!


The broken temperature sender has been defeated. A new Faria sender has been installed although I was doing the work very early Sunday morning while other people slept in, so I didn't get a chance to start up the Kubota to see if my temperature gauge is working again.

Fixing that made me feel better about life. We also have one boat cushion now uphostered and in the boat. More are in progress. We may be celebrating Memorial Day lounging on couches in the salon. I don't want to get my hopes up, but it is possible.

We stopped by the boaters flea market Sunday. I'm guessing all the good stuff was sold Saturday because it was pretty slim pickings. However, there was a beautiful maroon jib up for grabs. It was too big for the Starwind, but at $50, I figured it was enough of a bargain that having it cut and sewn into a 110 Genoa wouldn't be too expensive.

After the flea market, it was off to the Houston Art Car Parade. Since it's a daytime parade, I decided to use it as a chance to test my custom Leica X1 teleconverter. While, it gave me almost the perfect focal length, it did cause some distortion and vignetting at the corners of my photos. Then again, it gave them sort of a "look." I just can't decide if it's a "look" I like or not.


As always, it was quite entertaining.


See all the parade photos on flickr at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ffacker/sets/72157626658792693/with/5750819963/

Friday, May 20, 2011

I need longer weekends

Ever since I started the boat project almost two years ago, my house has been rather neglected. I'll let boat parts and projects stack up in the living room and kitchen. I'll let the yard go an extra weekend without getting mowed just so I can spend more time at the marina.

My mother came to visit last weekend. It was great to have her, but I as I started cleaning in preparation for her visit, I realized how bad things had gotten at the house. We're talking a formal living room that looked like it belonged to a hoarder and almost two hours of scrubbing the shower floor before the tiles were white again. It was bad.

Despite taking a full day off work before she arrived JUST to clean, I still ran out of time and ended up having to pile a bunch of boat junk into my study to clear out the spare bedroom.

The good news is, the new temperature sender for my boat finally arrived. The bad news is, I really need to trim my hedges and do some more house cleaning instead of sailing all weekend. I'm not sure what I'm going to do.

In the meantime, the new girlfriend adopted a Maltese named Tex from Poodle Rescue of Houston.


I wish I could say nice things about Poodle Rescue of Houston. They did have nice facilities and seemed to spend a lot of time with the dogs. However, they did not seem like very nice people. Once they had their rather exhorbitant $350 adoption fee, they actually got downright rude. I highly suggest adopting directly from a shelter or other rescue organization because they just seem to be pulling small dogs from shelters and marking the adoption fee up from $75 to $350.

Since my house is finally clean enough to have the portrait studio set up in my living room again, I'm trying to make the most of it before I have to bring all my gear back to work.

My sister came by, so I shot portraits of my niece and nephew.

The niece
The nephew

Then I helped the neighbor out with some product shots for his web site.

Sno-Cone Syrup

But too much photography and not enough boat time always gets me in trouble. The rangefinder bug started itching again. Before I knew it, I was browsing eBay. Then I was making the low bids. Then I was bidding.

I now have a Leica M3 and a Nokton f1.4 headed my way. That wasn't in the plans or the budget, but at least I'll finally know if rangefinder shooting is for me or not. Plus, I got the combo for less than the cost of a new Fuji X100 -- the fake digital rangefinder with an f2.0 -- so I feel pretty good about that.

The only downside is that it won't be here in time to shoot the Art Car Parade on Sunday.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Sometimes you just have to see what it's all about

An Australian Internet meme called planking hit the world-wide news this morning when the Australian Prime Minister called for plankers to think of safety first when planking.

What is planking, you ask? Apparently it is having your picture taken lying face down on top of various objects.

Dear Australia

Maybe it's just because it's my first time, but I don't really get it.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

In the Press

My shots on flickr got picked up two weeks in a row in the Houston Press Blogs.

One from the Offshore Technology Conference


and one from the Junior Achievement Bowl-A-Thon


Monday, May 09, 2011

Some days you eat the bear ...

The new girlfriend is off running wild in Key West, so instead of spending the weekend sailing, I had some down time to get some work done. It was a beautiful weekend in Houston with temperatures breaking into the 90s for the first time this year. I'm guessing it was the last weekend that I'll be able to sleep without the air-conditioner running on the boat. I think summer has arrived.

Nice evening at the marina

I spent Saturday cleaning house, so I didn't make it to the marina until Saturday evening. It was great to see all the neighbors on F-dock, and I was treated to a steak on the Tina Marie before I played guitars with Chris and Ray late into the night. (I think we're getting better.)

The sun burning through the open hatch of the v-berth had me up by 8:30 Sunday morning. Shortly thereafter, Chuck from Kemah Canvas, showed up to evaluate the Starwind for a bimini. Between my backstays, the backstay adjuster, the low boom, and the main sheet, there's a lot of junk taking up space in my cockpit. I feel my envy growing every time I see a Hunter, Catalina or Beneteau with a nice open cockpit covered by a large, shady bimini. To get the same effect on my boat, I'd have to spend quite a bit of money to move the traveler over the companionway, raise the boom, and then have the main sail re-cut. I'm probably better off just buying a different boat.

Chuck did some measuring and calculations to see what he could create to custom fit the Starwind and provide some shade. Unfortunately, a custom bimini comes out about $1500. I think we're going to have to live with sunburn one more summer.

After meeting with Chuck, I stopped by McDonalds for some coffee since I disabled my percolator last weekend and I still haven't come up with a new perk dome -- but losing a perk dome was nothing compared to this weekend's folly.

After my McGriddle, I started my repair work. First, I sponged out the bilge to tackle the loose ground wire from the mast. The nut that held the ground to the keel bolt had disintegrated, and the stainless washers were only about half there. I cleaned up the wire and got it cinched back down in the keel. Success.
After that I took a look at the toilet, which had stopped pumping seawater when flushed. I cleaned up and reseated the valves, ran some fresh water through it, and it started flushing again. Success.

Then I turned my attention to the medicine cabinet, which has been a gaping hole in the wall of the head for the past two years. I used some little L-brackets to bolt the panels back in place. Success.

Rebuilding the medicine cabinet

By this time, it was getting close to 4 p.m., and I was thinking about calling it a day. I really SHOULD have called it a day. However, bolstered by all my little successes I thought, why not have a look at that engine temperature sender and do some trouble shooting?

I didn't have the correct wrench to fit the sender, so I ended up resorting to vice grips to twist it out of the block. That probably wasn't good for it since it's made of soft brass. Then, as I was screwing it back in, SNAP!

Broken temperature sender

I had wondered what sort of mechanism was inside of these senders, but this was not how I wanted to find out. Of course, I had no extraction tools with me. Even if I'd had something to get the old one out, I had no new sensor to replace it. In fact, I'm not quite sure where I'm going to get a new sensor. West Marine doesn't carry them. The auto parts stores are useless. The online boat outlets have some, but they all seem to have SAE threads, and I'm quite sure the Kubota is metric. I called the Kubota dealership when they opened this morning, and they said I'd just have to bring the sender in to see if they could match it, but the guy on the phone didn't sound too hopeful.

The sad part is that my parents are visiting this weekend and were hoping to go sailing. Unfortunately, when I took them out for the first time last fall, I had a loose coolant hose, and the engine promptly overheated, cutting our cruise very short. Then when they visited at Christmas, I had the heat exchanger off for repair because it had cracked and was leaking after the overheating incident. There seems to be a correlation between parents visiting and cooling problems.

On the upside, my repair list is getting shorter. It's down to this:
1) Fix temperature sender
2) Replace fuel gauge sender
3) Re-wire v-berth bilge pump
4) Fix steaming light and anchor light
5) Re-cover boat cushions

Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? Maybe.

It would be brighter if I'd stop breaking things.

Monday, May 02, 2011

A reliable diesel?

Three weekends in a row. Yes, that's what I said -- three weekends! Three times out to the bay and back with no mechanical issues on the boat. And this week, I kept the GPS system running to track our speed and found that we were motoring at 5.5 knots even with a heavy headwind. I'm still missing a knot somewhere, but I don't want to push the diesel too hard until I get the temperature gauge working again.

I checked my transmission fluid before firing things up this week, and it was holding steady. The engine mounts are also staying tight. The alternator is charging. There's no smoke in the exhaust. I'm scared to say it, but I think we've finally got all the kinks worked out of the system. I THINK we've finally got ourselves a reliable propulsion system.

I really had every intention of fixing the fuel gauge last Saturday, but motivation was lacking. It had been a very long week, and I spent most of the morning lying in a hammock drinking coffee with a dog on my stomach.

Then when I finally made it down to the marina, my motivation didn't get any stronger. I found out I was playing guitars with Chris at Texas Hippy Connection from 9:30 p.m. - 1:30 a.m. That was quite the interesting news since I hadn't played guitar for more than an hour since, I don't know, 2007? Not only was I questioning my vocal and strumming endurance, but I was pretty sure I didn't have four hours of songs left in the memory banks. Instead of doing any boat work Saturday afternoon, I practiced a few songs and took a nap. The Texas Hippy Connection musical experience is a tale for another blog post, but it's definitely getting a chapter in the book.

The boat was looking good, though. Chris and Rachel gave it an anti-mold scrub down. She had turned a bit green since the previous summer.

Sunday morning arrived with wind gusts that were shaking the boat in the slip in a way I'd never experienced before. Stephanie was already on her way down to the marina, so I figured heading out in the wind was either going to be really scary or really fun, but either way, it was going to be an adventure.

As we motored out, the wind was blowing so hard across Clear Lake that the boat was heeled at least 20 degrees just from the force broad-siding the hull. However, as I mentioned before, I was thrilled to see the motor was still pushing us along at 5.5 knots. The boom was bouncing around like crazy.
It was at this point I looked at the thin, camouflage nylon camping twine I'd used to "temporarily" rig the topping lift at least a year ago. I thought to myself, I wonder if that's going to hold.

It was about 30 seconds into raising the main sail that a loud crash gave me the answer. The end of the boom was now sitting on the deck with the loose main flapping wildly in the wind while the topping lift swayed about.

I bungeed the main, and we spent a few minutes sailing with just the jib, but decided to call it a day.

This weekend, it was just as windy, but with a proper yacht braid line on the topping lift, we had no problems. That's not to say the day wasn't without excitement.

I took my new girlfriend and her roommate out Saturday, neither of which had any sailing experience. While the Starwind performed admirably, the conditions were a bit advanced for me, much less my crew, so there were some tense moments of extreme heeling from time to time.

I thought I'd reef down the main to deal with the high winds, but I found that while my reefing lines would pull out of the boom just fine, I couldn't get them to cinch down into the boom. It looks like I'll be re-rigging them for the third time this weekend in hopes of finally getting them working correctly.

The only downer of the weekend was that after brewing up the coffee Saturday morning, I dumped the last bit of coffee out overboard and the Lexan percolator dome flew off the lid of the coffee pot and into the depths of the waters of Marina Del Sol. I was pretty sad about that considering a new percolator was $45. However, I found replacement percolator domes at Campor.com for $2.99 ($9.98 after shipping), so I ordered one. Hopefully it will fit.

I talked to a guy from Kemah Canvas about a bimini, but he hasn't had time to stop by the marina yet. A little shade would be incredibly nice with summer on its way.

My Review of REI Campware Percolator - 12 Cup

Originally submitted at REI

Can't get going without coffee? Brew up your favorite blend in the backcountry with this REI Campware percolator.

Sturdy construction, works well

By JETEXAS from Houston, TX on 5/2/2011


4out of 5

Pros: Stable, Durable

Cons: Easy to lose clear knob

Describe Yourself: Avid Adventurer

What Is Your Gear Style: Minimalist

Was this a gift?: No

I use this on my sailboat, and it works great. I thought it was a little overpriced, but it's much sturdier built than any other perocaltor I found. However, the clear knob on top comes off very easily. In fact, as I was dumping the last bit of old coffee out over the side of the boat, it fell off into Galveston Bay. Sadly, you can't just buy the clear knob, so it looks like I'm out another $45.