Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Free iphone tethering ... sort of

tethered with tether

Free data tethering programs for the iPhone have been around since it was first jailbroken. I was using MyWi for a while, but due to corporate security issues, I had to lock my phone back down to test Good Messaging as a Lotus Notes app. Being grandfathered into AT&T's unlimited data plan, I've been hesitant to start paying an extra $15 a month for the 4GB data plan with tethering.

But just as I was about to give in to the data caps, iTether suddenly appears in the iTunes app store. Yes, Apple allowed a tethering program into the app store. For $17 (which is less than the cost of MyWi) you can tether your iPhone to a computer via a USB cable.

That's not quite as good as turning your phone into a mobile hotspot, but when you're in the field and have got to get photos from your camera to a computer to the Internet, it will work.

I tested it last night and had no issues with installation or setup.

Sadly, iTether has already disappeared from the app store this morning.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Leica nature

I spent the week of Thanksgiving visiting my parents in Kansas. There's not much excitement in Kansas, but the rural nature of Independence gave me the chance to practice something I seldom get to practice in Houston -- nature photography.

Day 3: Still no bigfoot

The Leica M isn't particularly known for nature photography, probably because the longest lens that works with the rangefinder is 135mm. I had an Elmarit 135mm f2.8 with goggles on my M8. The 1.33x crop of the M8 APS-H sensor gives you the equivalent of a 179mm lens. That's still not a very long lens. It's similar to a 6x zoom on a point-and-shoot camera. The upside to the lens is that it's fast, so you can catch those early morning low-light shots. (Of course, the fact that the M8's highest usable ISO is only 640 kind of negates the gains of the fast lens, but what can you do?)

The goggles on the Elmarit are both a blessing and curse. On one hand, the lens pulls up the 90mm focus lines and the goggles magnify the focus area. Those are good things. The M8 doesn't even have 135mm focus lines, so those two factors make framing and focusing much easier. On the downside, the M8 mount protrudes slightly from the camera while film M mounts sit flush with the body. This moves the goggles away from the rangefinder windows, which creates just the slightest bit of backfocus. It's easy to compensate once you realize it's there, but it would be nice if these vintage goggled lenses worked better on the M8 and M9 -- especially the 50mm Summicron Dual-Range, which sadly, doesn't work at all on the digital Ms.

I spent three very cold mornings waiting on wildlife to show. It was a bit frustrating since the deer seemed to enjoy early morning grazing around 6 a.m., but it wasn't light enough to shoot anything until 7 a.m. I managed a few shots, though.


Jay at sunrise


Blue Jays at sunrise

reeeaaach for it

Then there was the not-so-wildlife that I caught with my 28mm Ultron ...


dog race

And then there was the highlight of Dixie Belle's trip -- the field mouse she proudly caught and refused to spit out.


Nothing like a dog running around with a mouse in its mouth to keep all the ladies screaming.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Solar Fail

I started my correspondence with Don from DAG Camera Repair in Wisconsin a couple weeks ago when I was searching for someone to repair the focus shift in my VC Nokton 50mm f1.1. After realizing I only had two options in the U.S. to get this lens fixed, I thought, maybe the world needs more skilled Leica and Voigtlander repair persons. I thought, maybe my passion lies in repairing these old cameras.

It doesn't.

Talk about a frustrating job -- I spent almost six hours last Friday with a repair manual, meticulously taking apart a Leicameter.


My goal was to bring the Leicameter back to life by replacing the dead selenium cell with a new silicon solar cell. It seemed like a straightforward, achievable task. Unfortunately the little wires on the galvanometer are so thin I can barely see them at all.

I finally got the circuit hooked up with the new cell ...

Solar Fail

... only to find it still didn't work.

I'm going to give it one more shot using a couple photo cells to see if that works better than the solar cell, but I now see why nobody is bothering to fix these old things.

I tried to pick up both an old M2 and an old Leicaflex on eBay that needed repair to see if I could bring either one of those cameras back to life, but some idiots seem to think dead Leicas are still worth over $200. My experimentation and repair budget maxes out at $25.

I'm hoping my lens made it to DAG. I'm sad that I won't have it for Thanksgiving, but hopefully it will be back in time for Christmas.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Off to DAG

I spent at least an hour Tuesday night and took nearly 200 photos just focusing, unfocusing, refocusing, testing, moving, retesting the Nokton 50mm f1.1. I wanted to be absolutely sure that it was the lens with the problem, not my usage of it or my M8.

Even at f2.8, there was noticeable backfocus while my 90mm Elmarit f2.8 was spot on. However, by the end of the evening, I was pretty adept at focusing and then unfocusing just enough to get a good photo.


The amount of backfocus changes gradually from 1m to infinity, so with near-focus objects I have to make quite the correction by turning the focus ring several degrees clockwise. It takes less and less correction as the objects get further away. Past 25 feet or so and I can just focus normally.

However, all the practice paid off yesterday because I managed to pull off most of the shots.


Today the lens gets shipped off to DAG in Wisconsin for adjustment. Let's hope they can make it as good as new.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Back focus frustration

My Voigtlander Cosina 50mm f1.1 back focus problem continues.

The monster has arrived

The guy at Professional Camera Repair was very nice, but he couldn't find anything wrong with the lens after an outward inspection and didn't want to open the lens because while he is Leica certified, he is not Voigtlander certified. Despite the fact that I assured him the lens had worked fine for months before developing the back focus problem, he still thought it was a factory defect.

I contacted DAG and CameraQuest for info on repair costs. Don at DAG has been very communicative and friendly, but I haven't heard an estimate. Stephen at CameraQuest has been a bit curt and requested a check for $250 + $15 return shipping just to look at the lens with a disclaimer that it will probably be $400 to fix it. (He also threw in a threat of yet another $200 to "reset the helical focusing" if the lens was a "victim of an amateur repair attempt.")

$250+ to fix this lens when I've only owned it for 3.5 months is a real kick in the nuts. I paid $860 for it used even though it was less than a year old. If I had just paid the $1k for it new, I would be covered under warranty. So far my 28mm Voigtlander Ultron hasn't had any problems, but I'm glad I do have a warranty on it.

Most video lenses actually have a back focus adjustment. It's basically a section that screws in or out to move the lens elements closer/further to the mounting collar. A very similar solution could be easily fabricated by adding shims under the mounting collar of the Nokton, but I don't know if it would still focus correctly at infinity.

The most educated guess I've heard as to what went wrong with this lens was from one of the moderators at the Leica User Forum. He says Voigtlander lenses have shims for each lens element and that one of the interior shims must have slipped out of place.

I've got a big shoot tomorrow with the specific request for shallow depth of field, so I'm going to try to overcompensate for the back focus and get it done before I send the lens off Thursday.

Whether I go with DAG or CameraQuest, looks like the soonest I can expect to see the lens again is Christmas.

I really need to become a camera tech. There obviously are not enough good ones in the United States.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Still stuck in port

A new raw water impeller arrived for the Starwind last week. I installed it Sunday morning with the hope it would solve our cooling problem. I was a bit annoyed that the new impeller didn't come with a paper gasket, but thankfully we had a couple sheets of construction paper left in the galley cabinets after the last gasket making incident.

The new impeller worked great. Everything seemed good. I had great waterflow. Running at full throttle in the slip, I couldn't get the boat over 175 degrees. We decided to take a test run, so I put the aft berth back together and secured everything.

As soon as we pulled out of the slip, the water flow in the exhaust completely disappeared. We were blowing white smoke/steam before we got out of the marina. I turned it around and put her back in the slip.

I checked the strainer and found a fish flopping around in the catch basket. It was a tiny fish, though, so that didn't explain the sudden loss of water flow.

I had to take a break to let the heat exchanger cool down and to ponder my next move.

Laid back Sunday

After two weekends of troubleshooting, the only thing I hadn't checked was the heat exchanger tubes, which I'd just cleaned last February. I set about pulling it apart. Fortunately or unfortunately, it was still clean as a whistle. There was no solution found.

My latest theory is that there's some sort of a big flap of algae and barnacle growth over the raw water inlet. When I'm sitting at the dock, water flows fine. When I move, it flips the flap of algae up over the inlet and chokes off all my raw water flow.

I've got the heat exchanger at home for a scrubbing and reassembly and a diver stopping by to scrub the hull. Hopefully this will be resolved by next weekend.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Focus Calibration

I'd been using my Leica M8 with a Voigtlander Cosina Nokton 50mm f1.1 for portraits and headshots for the past few months with great results. I'd shoot at f1.4, and it would really pull the subject away from the background.

Then last week, I snapped some new headshots of a COO, and when I flipped back through them, they were blurry. Instead of his eyes being sharp, his ears were sharp.

I thought maybe I screwed up the focus, so I just scheduled a re-shoot. Fuzzy again. I switched over to my Nikon D7000 with a sick feeling in my stomach.

I did a quick focus test in my office. Here's a crop of my results.


I was focusing on the center dart. The Nokton was suddenly giving me at least an inch of back focus at f1.

I ran the same test with my other lenses. The 28mm Ultron and the 90mm Elmarit checked out ok, but the 135mm Elmarit was also back focusing.

I only found one place in Houston that works on Leicas, Professional Camera Repair, located on Richmond Avenue.

I made a run over there at lunch, and the owner took a look at my lenses. He warned me that the Nokton was known for having a factory defect that caused back focusing. I assured him that it was working correctly just a week ago. He said that since my other lenses were focusing correctly, he didn't need the M8 and that he would check the 50mm and the 135mm and let me know what he found sometime next week.

I guess a week is better than three months in Solms.