Thursday, February 28, 2013

The new M is born

The new full-frame CMOS digital Leica M has finally arrived. I mean, MINE hasn't arrived, but Leica has released it to the world. Famous people like Steve Huff and Ming Thein who have spent years building their brands as "Leica guys" are getting them. Supposedly a few uber-rich photography nuts in Singapore were the first to have one in their hands, but they were required to buy sets of lenses with them to the tune of $16,000. Crazy stuff. One guy has already posted an unboxing video, but let's hope he's a better photographer than videographer because his camcorder is out of focus and the M is out of frame most of the time.

I have mixed feeling about the M. Sure, I want it, but lately as I sit in the midst of all my clutter and projects, I keep thinking about "things versus experience."

For many years, I wouldn't spend any money unless it meant the acquisition of something tangible. Unless I was walking away from the transaction with something I could use, touch and feel -- something that would last and create a long term return on investment, I wouldn't spend a dime. That meant no fancy restaurants because food is only for a moment. Why eat some small portion of fancy stuff if I can live on a hotdog? That meant no vacations. Spending the money to travel when the experience is over in a few days, and you're left with nothing did not seem like a good deal to me.

But now as I stare at the eight guitars hanging on my wall that haven't been played in years and the garage full of boat stoves and bike parts that need repair and reassembly, I really wonder if I made the right choices. Life is not about the acquisition of stuff. All that stuff just traps you.

I've slowly been trying to let go of the stuff. So far I've sold two camera lenses and some old car parts that went to a car I haven't owned in over a year. I know, it's not much, but it's a start. I think my large PA system and multiple guitar amplifiers that haven't been touched since my career as a rock star ended abruptly in 2007 must go next.

My goal is to slowly scale down my junk until everything I own can fit on a boat. I'm not sure I actually want to live on a boat, but I definitely do want to be able to use my spare bedroom and my garage again. Do I really need my boxes of Guitar World magazine? Do I really need the T-shirts from every blood drive I've participated in since 1998? Do I really need my floppy disks and cassette tapes? Do I really need drawers full of broken electronics "for spare parts'?

However, a new Leica M would totally fit on a boat -- and it's weather sealed!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

It's cold and windy

Perhaps I jumped the gun in thinking that spring was here. It’s cold again. My camera sits unused, still holding the same roll of film I loaded in January when I arrived in Austin. It’s not even half exposed.

What to shoot this week?

Unlike digital, you can’t just change the ISO to easily move from shooting indoors to outdoors or from day to night. Nope, you’ve got to pick a film speed, load the roll, then just wait for it.

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo has begun, and I wish I had gotten some photos of the parade. However, I was participating in the Rodeo Run 5k, which preceded the parade. I decided jogging with a camera around my neck wasn’t the best decision. However, I did snap a photo of Mary’s otter, Gatsby, all dressed up for Go Texan Day. (What, you don’t dress your taxidermy up for holidays ?)

Go Texan Day

Saturday night I made it to the marina just in time to witness an absolutely spectacular sunset. The weather wasn’t too cold, but it was just cold enough to make your nose drip if you stood outside for more than three or four minutes.

Red sky at night, sailor's delight

The gusting winds shut down all outdoor activities at the Rodeo last night, and they haven’t slowed down. The temperature is also set to keep dropping all week with a possible freeze this weekend.

I’m supposed to lead our team’s first MS 150 training ride of the season Saturday morning. I’m not sure I’m looking forward to riding in 30-degree weather.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Battle of the budget wides: 28mm VC Ultron f2 versus 28mm VC Ultron f1.9

If you're a Leica M shooter looking for a budget wide angle lens, the Voigtlander Ultron is a great lens. However, there are now two versions widely available in the used market, the current M-mount Ultron f2 (below left) and the discontinued screw-mount Ultron f1.9 (below right).

28mm Ultron f2 vs 28mm Ultron f1.9

The current Ultron f2 is slightly smaller, just a little lighter and narrower, has a focusing tab and a screw-on hood.

The Ultron f1.9 is screw mount but easily adapts to M mount, which could increase its versatility if you have an older rangefinder. It has a knurled focus ring and a larger press-on hood. (Cosmetically it looks suspiciously like the 1970s Summilux although it is bother taller and wider than its 50mm doppelganger.)

Various forums on the internet have complained about backfocus issues with the Ultron f2, but this lens practically lived on my M8 for more than a year, and I never had any backfocus issues whatsoever.

So is there really a difference between f2 and f1.9? What was improved that caused Voigtlander to discontinue the f1.9?

Test shot Ultron f1.9 at f1.9

f1.9 test Ultron f1.9

Test shot Ultron f2 at f2

f2 test Ultron f2

After this first test shot, I realized this wasn't going to be a very exciting shoot out. When viewed at 100 percent, the f1.9 photo might have slightly less depth of field but at the expense of some sharpness and color smearing along the edges of the letters on the bottles -- especially on the Kraken label.

Test shot Ultron f1.9 at f5.6

f5.6 test Ultron f1.9

Test shot Ultron f2 at f5.6

f5.6 test Ultron f2

At f5.6 the smearing of the word Kraken has disappeared in the Ultron f1.9 photo. However, the Ultron f2 photo is still crisper and the text on the soda can is noticeably sharper.

Test shot Ultron f1.9 at f8

f8 test Ultron f1.9

Test shot Ultron f2 at f8

f8 test Ultron f2

At f8 lens performance seems identical. I could not tell the difference between the two when viewing 100 percent crops.

So what about the out-of-focus areas? How is the bokeh?

Bokeh test Ultron f1.9

bokeh test Ultron f1.9

Bokeh test Ultron f2

bokeh test Ultron f2

Once again, not a very exciting test. The f1.9 has slightly softer circles wide open, but both lenses have perfectly circular bokeh at all apertures -- not that you're going to get much bokeh with a wide-angle lens.

In real world shooting, I don't think you'd see any difference between these two lenses. If I had to pick a winner, I'd go with the newer Ultron f2 for its superior technical sharpness, reduced flare and focus tab. However, with only the subtle differences, if I was in the market now, I think I'd go with whichever is cheaper. Either one is a winner on your M and comes in at a quarter of the price of a Summicron.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Jankety bands and jittery gifs

It was an event-filled weekend. After a long Friday at work I collected the dog and headed south for the marina. Due to traffic I was late to the party, but once I got there the Friday Night Boat Band was in fine form. I actually brought a condensor mic and plugged it into an iPhone to see if I could capture some of the magic. I don't know that the recordings with the shotgun mic were any better than the ones with just an iPhone, but here's one of the tracks.

There was no rest for the weary Saturday morning. The dog, feeling slighted of her usual extended grass-sniffing time Friday night, was in my face and ready to walk before the alarm even went off. We toured the marina as the sun came up and then I headed into town for the February meeting of the Texas Photographic Collectors Society at Professional Camera Repair.

Charlie Chernoff gave a presentation on the history of Polaroid, made much more intriguing by the fact that he had almost every Polaroid camera made to display as he discussed the various innovations.

February TPCA Meeting

Another TPCA member brought in several boxes of books that his wife was insisting he remove from the garage. I picked up an interesting Leica brochure and a book of Stereographs taken of Hollywood stars by Harry Lloyd.

I had planned to spend Sunday sailing and shootings photos, but the rain put an end to that idea. Instead I took some time Sunday night to look through the new books, and I scanned a couple of the stereographs then stitched them into animated GIFs to see if I could capture the 3D effect without the assistance of 3D glasses. They're interesting, but if you look at them too long you get jittery.

The weekend wrapped up with an hour on the bicycle as I continue to prepare for the MS 150. This week the training rides jump from one hour to two hours. Good times.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Is it spring yet?

The groundhog didn't see his shadow. Of course, it was already 70 and sunny on Groundhog Day here in Houston.

Sunny February

It's still hitting the 50s at night, but we've had very pleasant days for the past week. There's still a chance it could get cold again, but I don't think it's very likely. Now I'm just stuck waiting on the wind and the tides, so I can get out on the water like this guy.


The north wind has been blowing all week, which means despite the prediction of a south wind on Saturday, I probably won't have enough water to escape the marina -- even at high tide. Thankfully, my friends with motorboats have a shallow draft, so I can still get out on the water, but the Seahorse hasn't moved in more than two months. I'm getting antsy to sail my own boat. It's even harder to take when you get out in the bay and come across this.

Kemah Regatta, Feb. 2

I asked my marina if there was any chance they were going to dredge the channel. The answer was a big negative. Maybe it's time to bite the bullet and move. It will be sad to leave the friends I've made, but at least I'd be able to meet them on the water instead of being stuck at the dock.


I'm headed back to the marina tonight. It's that short time of the year when you can actually sleep without a heater or an air-conditioner with open hatches, looking up at the stars.

Gulf King

I just have to keep reminding myself -- at least we're not snowed in.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Cryptomundo Night at Museum of the Weird

I'm getting behind in my blogging again, but Saturday, Jan. 26, I headed to the capital of Texas to meet with some of the greatest minds in Cryptozoology. It was Cryptomundo Night at Museum of the Weird.

We stayed at the Omni, so Austin's famed 6th Street, where Museum of the Weird is located, was just a short walk away.

Cryptomundo Night at Museum of the Weird

Museum of the weird was an intriguing place. They'd brought some of their attractions to Cryptopalooza in Jefferson, Texas back in October, but the museum has this creepy feel to it, accentuated by all the strange sideshow gaffes on display.

Cryptomundo Night at Museum of the Weird

Tiny mummies? They got it.

Cryptomundo Night at Museum of the Weird

Human-head fish? It's there.

Cryptomundo Night at Museum of the Weird

Two-headed cows? There's more than one.

Cryptomundo Night at Museum of the Weird

Flesh-eating frogs? Of course.

Cryptomundo Night at Museum of the Weird

Shrunken heads? Straight from the warrior's cooking pot.

Cryptomundo Night at Museum of the Weird

But none of that compares to the full-size King Kong diorama up in the theater.

Cryptomundo Night at Museum of the Weird

Ken Gerhard talked about his new book, "Encounters with Flying Humanoids."

Cryptomundo Night at Museum of the Weird

Lyle Blackburn discussed the reality of Bigfoot being a lost primate and was the host for the late-night screening of The Beast from Black Lake.

Cryptomundo Night at Museum of the Weird

Dave Coleman gave his always intimate discussion of the history of Bigfoot in film.

Cryptomundo Night at Museum of the Weird

And Nick Redfern added the crazy sauce with his entertaining discussions of Bigfoot as a fortean, psychic creature in the UK.

Cryptomundo Night at Museum of the Weird

The night ended with dinner at the appropriately-themed Chupacabra Cafe and drinks at the Jackalope.

Cryptomundo Night at Museum of the Weird

Maybe someday I'll research and write a book about a monster.