Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A tricky shot

With every picture I take for the r/Houston Photo Project, I meet another cool person from the Internet. My weekend ended at Brewski's Pub in Katy where I met redditor HakeemOlajuwon. While redditor pbdot's portrait was indoors with low light, there was also quite a bit of fire involved, so I wasn't worried about exposure. The dimly lit lounge at Brewki's was a completely different story. There was no light.

I set my aperture to f1.4, cranked my ISO to 640, cheated my shutter speed to 1/60s and hoped for the best.

The r/Houston Photo Project: HakeemOlajuwon

In the perfect world I would have liked to have captured this shot at f5.6 with strobes, but that wasn't an option. However, the Nokton didn't let me down. HakeemOlajuwon's bartending flair is now on record for posterity.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Does size matter?

I had a question from a reader considering the purchase of an X1. He wanted to know if there was a noticeable size difference between the X1 and an M and how it all compared to something like a Nikon DSLR. I understand his frustration because here in Houston, there's really no place you can go to see Leica cameras in person. Occasionally one will turn up at Houston Camera Exchange or Camera CoOp, but for the most part, this is a Nikon and Canon town.

I was just getting ready to pack up the X1, so that I can ship it to some lucky eBay winner this weekend, but I pulled it out to grab this quick comparison shot.

Nikon D7000 vs Leica M8 vs Leica X1

If you didn't realize how small the X1 is, hopefully this puts it into perspective.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The r/Houston Photo Project Continues

I had three people scheduled for shoots this week, but one canceled last night, so it looks like I'm only going to get two in the bag, but my schedule is clear next week to start rounding up more volunteers.

So far I've had some really good results.

The r/Houston Photo Project: pbdot

The r/Houston Photo Project: areefadanklin

The r/Houston Photo Project: ultramus

The r/Houston Photo Project: beernerd

The r/Houston Photo Project: goatkindaguy

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Introducing the r/Houston Photo Project

I was sitting at my computer desk one Sunday afternoon editing photos and surfing I thought to myself, I wonder what these people look like. I wonder what they do for a living. I wonder how old they are. Then the following idea came to me: I should meet and take portraits of Houston redditors and then have a big party where they can all meet each other.

That idea continued to germinate until the r/Houston Photo Project was concieved.

For those who are not familiar with r/Houston, to access subreddits that address specific topics, you utilize a URL with an r/, i.e. The subreddit consists of (and exists because of input from) Houstonians from all walks of life who discuss Houston news and events.

The r/Houston Photo Project is an attempt to remove the anonymity of the Internet, engage the community, and display the diversity, talent and personalities of Houston redditors.

The project was officially launched yesterday when I photographed redditor goatkindaguy at MacGregor Park near the University of Houston. Special thanks to him for being the first.

The r/Houston Photo Project: goatkindaguy

The project, which is set to run through the end of September 2011, will culminate in a gallery exhibition and what we hope will be the largest meetup of Houston social media users to date.

If you are interested in sponsoring the project or hosting the exhibition, please contact me for further information.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Sailing with shade

For two years I've spent weekends on the boat slathered in sunscreen and fighting sun stroke. I watched with jealousy as other boats sailed by, their happy crews shaded by colorful biminis.

The Starwind has a complicated cockpit. The mainsheet comes down to a traveler in front of the companionway. The backstays and backstay adjuster run right over the top of the helm on their way to the stern. The boom is low. We couldn't just wander over to West Marine and grab something off the shelf. It was going to have to be a custom canvas job, and custom canvas jobs don't come cheap.

The other Starwind 27 in our marina had two small biminis and directed us to Kemah Canvas. The guy from Kemah Canvas showed up and said, sure, he could make us a custom bimini like that ... for $1600.

Considering that was more than we paid for the boat, I couldn't bring myself to spend the money, so we continued to live with sunburn.

Then, a couple months ago, I heard our marina neighbor Dale had started doing some canvas work, so I asked him to take a look. A couple weeks later he said he had figured something out and gave me an estimate of $650. A month later, here's what I found on the boat.

Starwind 27 custom bimini

He made a custom two-part bimini that zips together on each side of the backstay. The space for the backstay also doubles as a window to see the sail. The rear portion of the bimini also gives you a little more head room while the front portion clears the boom with no problem. I honestly, couldn't be happier. We sailed for almost five hours Saturday without getting burned.

And not only did he make the bimini, he threw in free winch covers with the extra material! The boat looks better than it ever has before.

Starwind 27 with new bimini

Which brings me to the next project. Mary bought a Brother TZ1-B651 sewing machine from our other marina neighbors. I spent a couple hours cleaning the rust off of it and oiling the parts.

Brother Tz1-B651 sewing machine with hand crank

The machine is now turning freely, but aligning the bobbin and adjusting the mechanism is beyond my realm of knowledge. However, once I get the sewing machine sorted out we can start measuring to re-cut the oversized Genoa sitting in my spare bedroom to fit the Starwind. It would have come in very handy last weekend when we barely had enough wind to move at all.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Explored 8-12-2011

I finally won Flickr with this impromptu shot of Mary I took the other day. No setup, no lights, just snapped it with the M8 and the Voigtlander Nokton Classic 50mm f1.1. I've had a Flickr account for years, but this is the first time I've ever been explored.

L1020035 Explored 08-12-2011

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Memory Card Failure

I started shooting digital in the year 2000. Never in that ten plus years of using memory cards have I ever had one fail. I even have a 64MB SmartMedia card from my first camera that still works. One time the 5-year-old 2GB Compact Flash card in my Nikon D70s got fidgety and lost a couple shots after I used it in a card reader, but once I cleaned the contacts in the Nikon and reformatted the card, I haven't had any other issues with it.

I've had this 16GB Class 6 SD card for at least three years. I originally purchased it when I bought my Canon HF100 video camera.

Leica M8 SD card failure

I recently upgraded the Canon to a 32GB card, so I moved this one to the Leica M8. It handled thousands of pictures over the past month with no problem. Then last night, I was snapping photos of my niece when the M8 stopped previewing photos after I shot them. The red light was flashing and the camera locked up after taking only three shots in rapid succession. After pulling the battery to reset the camera, I was only able to see about half of the photos I took, the others just displayed the file name. However, the card was still reading in the camera and allowing me to take more photos. At that point, the photos were still salvageable. (Note: If your camera starts doing this, and the photos are important, stop using that card immediately and run it through a memory card recovery program.)

Not thinking it was serious, I decided just to reformat the card in the camera to get rid of whatever glitch was going on with it and to shoot all the photos again. That's when I started getting the following message when I turned on the camera.

Leica M8 SD card failure

Of course, if I hit the Play button, it would then give me this message.

Leica M8 SD card failure

My card was dead. I didn't have a spare.

When I got home I popped the card in my Leica X1 to see what would happen. It immediately asked me if I wanted to format the card. I said, yes, thinking maybe I could still save the card and bring it back to life. No luck. The X1 couldn't format or read the card either.

This morning I downloaded CardRecovery to scan the card. Of 33554432 sectors scanned, 33229318 sectors showed up bad. Nothing was recoverable.

Leica M8 SD card failure

Lesson learned -- always have a backup memory card. I don't trust hard drives any farther than I can throw them. I don't expect them to last more than two years. However, I've never worried about flash memory before. I've obviously become too complacent. Then again, one card failure in ten years isn't too bad. I just hope the M8 doesn't start eating memory cards the way the M9s have been. I think it's cheaper to go back to film than to have to pay for a new card every shoot.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

f1.1 versus f1.4 continued ...

I didn't mean to leave everyone hanging in regard to the results of my test shoot using the Voigtlander Nokton Classic 50mm f1.1 versus the 40mm f1.4. The questions was, is it worth paying twice the price and doubling the size and weight of your lens for that extra stop?

Nokton f1.1 versus f1.4

The magic settings for the unevenly lit, dark stage in Kemah seemed to be:
f1.1 1/250s ISO 640
f1.4 1/125s ISO 640

Even at 1/125s, the performers were tending to blur as they moved around the stage, so that extra stop did make a difference.

Here's a couple from the f1.1:


And from f1.4:


As you can see, in this extreme situation, the 50mm f1.1 is a bit sharper with less ghosting and motion blur. The extra size and cost isn't just hype. I also found the focusing ring on the f1.1 smoother, more natural and much faster than the focusing tab on the f1.4 despite having had practiced with the f1.4 for a couple weeks.

The two lenses had about 13mm difference in range, but neither was really wide enough to catch the entire stage and the signage without being too far away, so the slightly wider focal range of the f1.4 wasn't any help.

In average guy, average budget terms, I still have to say the 40mm f1.4 is the better value for the money. I got mine used for just under $400. If you shopped smart and watched the deals on eBay, you could probably get the Voigtlander Nokton Classic 40mm f1.4 along with a used Voigtlander Ultron 28mm f2.0 and a used Leica Hektor Wetzlar 135mm f4.5 for the cost of one Voigtlander Nokton Classic 50mm f1.1.

However, in Leica terms, the 50mm f1.1 is an amazing deal. It's sharper than the 40mm, it's faster than the 40mm, and the only new lens currently in the same category is Leica's Noctilux 50mm f.95, which runs $10,000.

In other words, if you have the money to spend, do it.

I'll leave you with my favorite shot of the night from the 50mm f1.1.


Note: None of these guys were actually wearing purple. Like all good bands, they were in black, but the M8 is especially sensitive to infrared light, so if you don't have an infrared filter, black clothes come out purple. Yes, I'll be buying an infrared filter this week.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Starwind progress

I haven't talked about the sailboat much lately. After the July 4th weekend I was planning to write a long, ranting tirade about how trying boat ownership can be. I spent the better part of two days that weekend chasing diesel gremlins, changing out fuel filters, etc. I went to bed that Sunday night with the motor still refusing to start. I woke up Monday morning and turned it over one last time, and it decided to suddenly run fine. We were able to take it out to watch the fireworks, and a horrible, frustrating weekend ended with an incredible evening on the water.

Due to the fact that I've been so busy, you were spared that boring blog post. However, I thought I'd bring everyone up to speed on the latest progress.

First, the new bimini we commissioned should be finished this week. For the first time ever, we'll have shade when we go sailing this weekend. The frame was already installed when I got to the boat Friday.

New bimini frame

I still haven't finished fiberglassing my ghetto air-conditioner box, but it's doing its job in this extreme heat. It's a huge step up from the canvas bag we had on the Cruis-Air unit.

My super ghetto sailboat air conditioner

Of course, my visit to the boat this weekend wasn't just for fun. I had to deal with one of the worst problems, perhaps THE worst problem, you can have on a boat -- a broken head. Yes, my brother and his friends used the toilet several times last weekend only to find the head would no longer pump out. When I arrived Sunday, the boat was emitting the worst odor imaginable and my brother was trying not to vomit while bailing urine out of the bowl and into a bucket.

This weekend picked up where he left off, and despite my best efforts to service the pump without making a mess, I managed to flood the floor of the head and cover myself with a mixture of holding tank and sea water. It was probably the grossest job I've ever had to do.

I was amazed that the old Wilcox-Crittendon Headmate had quit again because I rebuilt it with all new seals last summer, and then re-lubed them again at the beginning of this summer. It was all explained when I finally got the pump apart and found that the shaft of the pump handle had corroded in two. On one hand, I was happy my previous maintenance hadn't been at fault for the incident. Unfortunately, it also meant that I couldn't repair the toilet again.

The first option was the $130 Jabsco sold at all West Marines. That toilet was not highly recommended by my marina mates. Everyone said it has a life of about six months. Being covered in urine and feces is not something I want to do every six months.

My friends Chris and Rachel pointed me in the direction of the Kemah Boaters Resale Shop and told me to look for the rebuilt Wilcox Crittendon Junior they had seen on consignment there. They said I'd know which one it was because unlike the cheap modern toilets, it was made entirely of cast iron.

It was indeed easy to locate the Wilcox Junior because it was a beast among the boat toilets lining the shelves at the resale shop. The thing weighs at least 40 pounds and has a huge stainless steel pump handle. I hauled it up to the desk to ask if the clerk knew for sure whether or not it worked. He looked at it for a minute then said, "I'm not really sure, but there's a 3-day guarantee, so you can take it home and poop in it a couple times to check it out. If it doesn't work, just bring it back."

The price marked on it was $249.99, but with the resale shop's intricately confusing colored highlighter sale codes, it came out to $199. Paying $200 for an old toilet that might be better used as a boat anchor wasn't especially appealing to me, but I decided to risk it, and I'm so glad I did.

Wilcox Crittendon Junior

This thing flows water like the wind. If the boat was flooding, you could bail it into the toilet and pump it out. It flushes better than my toilets at home. If anyone is able to break this thing, I will be seriously impressed -- and they will also be cleaning it up themselves.

Friday, August 05, 2011

f1.4 versus f1.1: is it worth it?

I'm on a very tight budget when it comes to photography, so I'm always looking for the best deals. When it comes to new gear and new lenses, I always have to stop and ask, is it worth it?

My first M lens was a Voigtlander Nokton Classic 40mm f1.4. I bought it for two reasons, it was fast and it was a bargain. I picked it up used for just under $400. First off, I really like the lens. I have only two complaints. One is that I tend to get ghosting and reflection at times. This happened when I was attempting to shoot flowers at f1.4 in the botanical gardens in Brazil. The other is that it can be hard to frame since it pulls up the 50mm frame lines but doesn't quite capture the entire viewfinder area outside of the frame lines. I had to check a few photos after I took them just to make sure I didn't inadvertently chop off Christ the Redeemers head.

Because I liked the lens so much, it got me started hunting for a used Nokton 50mm f1.1. I figured, why not get the fast lens you really want that will match up with the frame lines? It will pay for itself in the long run, right?

We don't have a Voigtlander or a Leica dealer in Houston. It drives me crazy. I can't touch these lenses and see them in person before I buy. I just have to do my research and hope for the best. Here's what I was not expecting when the f1.1 showed up.

Nokton f1.1 versus f1.4

The f1.1 is HUGE compared to the f1.4. It easily triples the weight of my camera. It's larger than the 50mm f1.8 on my Canon AE-1.

I snapped a couple test shots in my office to see if I could tell the difference between the two of them. Here's a 100 percent crop from each of them.

Nokton 50mm f1.1 vs 40mm f1.4 100% crops

Obviously, their performance in low light and how they render bokeh is also going to be a big factor, so I'm hoping to do more test shots tonight while I'm in Kemah.

The big question, is gaining an extra 2/3 of a stop worth another $500 and adding two pounds to your bag? We'll see.

Of course, the f1.1 sure made Dixie Belle look nice this morning.

Dixie Belle