Thursday, May 30, 2013

My First Ebay Listings

Rockport Clouds

Today, after much pre-preparation, I did my first listings for Ebay prints. It was encouraging to find out that I'm not alone in thinking this is a good idea. This little article was written ten years ago, and so it is noted that postage costs have sky-rocketed since then, and now, using Canada Post's most basic shipping, it's not cool that the postage charges will be  a lot more than what I'm going to be asking for my prints. On the up side, Ebay has reduced their listing fees to "free"! They only charge now for extras, and then a small charge when the item sells.

So here's how I'm doing my "priced to sell" breakdown -

  • 4" X 6" for $3.95 + $4.00 S&H to Canada and USA (in a bubble envelope)
  • 8" X 10" for $6.95 + $15.00 S&H to Canada and USA (bubble envelope plus cardboard backing and wrapped for protection)
  • 8.5" X 11" for $7.95 + $15.00 S&H to Canada and USA (bubble envelope plus cardboard backing and wrapped for protection)
  • 13" X 19" for $12.95 + $25.00 S&H to Canada and USA (mailing tube, rapped on both sides for protection)
It's also unusual that I'm offering different sizes, and "unlimited editions", or "Print On Demand". Another feature is that if anyone wants ten or more items, I will ship for free, because it wouldn't make a huge difference in my postage cost to pack ten prints together into one package. It's a great way to kill the ridiculous postage for the buyer, and to increase my sales volume. One more thing - some of what I am selling go naturally well together in sets of two, three or four, as you'll see from my ads. If you want to check it out, just click on this ad, and then click on "sellers other items".

Don't forget to look at my Print Catalogue. You can reach me by email at

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

It All Works in Linux!

A Gawd Awful Picture, But It Doesn't Matter...

... because I scanned it using my Ubuntu Operating System!

Yes, my life is really that exciting. I reckon having a physical disability makes me accept that my activities have to be different than normal Canadians, who like to go outdoors hunting, or playing hockey. My thrills aren't nearly so physical - they simply can't be. But this is an accomplishment that make me feel smug. I got both my Epson V500 Scanner and Canon Pixma Pro-100 Printer to work under Linux. Now I don't need to re-boot to Windows-7 in order to scan or print. After being a long time Linux user, and seeing  the huge improvements that have come to this platform over the years, I always get a knot in my stomach whenever for various reasons I need to go to the utter bloated chaos that is Windows.

Linux always is under one huge disadvantage compared with Windows or Mac, and that is in the area of hardware support. Linux development is always focused on the "Core" of the system, not the peripherals. In actual fact, this is true of Windows also - Microsoft does nothing to develop the software necessary to make a Canon printer or an Epson Scanner work; but Canon and Epson, and every other hardware manufacturer do! They develop the "Drivers" and other (useless) peripheral software to run each and every device they make under both Windows and Mac, but very seldom Linux. Actually, Epson is one who does put some attention into developing Linux Drivers for their machinery, and that's what saved my bacon here. I simply didn't do enough exploring on the internet to find the three files needed for various versions of Linux to run the V500 Scanner, until today. They call it "iScan", and you need to look here and here to get the three files required. Once I had these downloaded and installed, which by the way is incredibly easy to do with Ubuntu, or any Debian based Linux, my Scanner began to make it's wonderful "whirring" sound as it came to life. The GUI Interface for the Driver is very similar to the one that comes with the machine for Windows, but it does things in a slightly different order, and also actually has more "goodies" in terms of manipulating the look of your final scan, which can mean less Post-Processing downstream.

Now, when it comes to the printer, things are a little different. Canon to the best of my knowledge, has never made Linux Drivers available for their products, and the Pro-100 is a relatively new product, being released just last year. So all Canon Printer Driver development for Linux is left to "the community", meaning the long-hired computer enthusiasts to whom us Linux lovers are forever grateful. The Printer Driver community is called the "CUPS" project, meaning "Common Unix Printer Software" or something like that. Typically, we have to wait patiently a couple of years for them to create new printer drivers; don't forget- these people work for no pay, and live off donations only. So, at first when I tried to install my Pro-100, I didn't have much hope I'd be able to find the right Driver under CUPS, at least not yet. But I did notice they have a Driver for it's immediate predecessor, the Pixma Pro-9000 Mk-II.

All I had to do was Google for a solution, which is how I discovered "Turbo-Print for Linux". They're a little different, in that although they're Linux, they don't work for nothing. They offer you a free 30 day trial, after which you can pay for the Print Driver. It will always be true that paid people work faster, and so, indeed, the Linux Driver for a Canon Pro-100 was added to their list in February of this year. I've downloaded the freebie, and I must say, it works incredibly well. As for paying them, there are two options - a "Pro", for around $35, and a "Studio" for around $75. I wouldn't mind paying the $35, just to be able to avoid going into Windows, but $75 is pretty close to what I saved on buying the printer in the first place, by asking the store to do a price match. You see, when I save money, I like to keep it just that way - "saved". So what's the difference? The Studio-package adds a CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black) color space in addition to the usual RGB (Red, Green, Blue) standard. Fortunately, the 30 day freebie includes the CMYK option, to help you decide. I printed off two of the same picture, one with RGB and the other with CMYK. I can see very, VERY little difference - maybe a wee bit more shadow detail in the CMYK print, but not near enough to make me want it. However, the Studio version has something that I think I will be wanting in the future - the ability to add additional ICC color space profiles, which allow a printer to self-optimize for various brands of photo paper and canvas. Maybe if I'm going to use an odd-ball media, most likely a photo-canvas, for the odd time I'll be doing so, I can tolerate using Windows for that. Hmmm....

Why am I so hyped on Linux? Because once you discover how fast and smoothly it runs, without the constant churn that Windows does to your hard drive, and there is no constant interruptions when Windows demands that you re-boot right in the middle of you're doing something, not to mention that Linux is virus proof and utterly secure by nature, there's just no going back. 

In summary, my film scanning workflow can all be done with these Linux applications from beginning to end now: 1) iScan, 2) the Linux File System, 3)GIMP and / or Photivo, and 4) Turbo Print. I love it when things get simple!

Don't forget to look at my Print Catalogue. You can reach me by email at

Monday, May 27, 2013

My New Print Catalogue

Print of the Day - Appalachia #4

Today, I finished setting up a Print Catalogue, which will naturally be growing in size on a regular basis, but I am making seventy prints available to begin with. I am simply going to offer them on Ebay, initially posting 7 prints, followed by posting one per day on a 7 day offer. Pricing will be according to size, for which there will be three options plus a file transfer, and eventually including photo canvas. One thing I have yet to determine is how much UPS will charge me to safely support, wrap and ship each print - I'm just hoping this will not end up costing so much it will make the offers a turn-off. If my Ebay trial brings some sales, I know I can come up with a better way of selling these prints on line, but for now, I simply want to take the path of least resistance.

It would be very encouraging to see if this works out. There are a whole lot of people already doing this on Ebay, which could be a good thing if they're actually selling prints, or a bad thing if they're just trying to get something going, but ultimately failing at it.

Also, if anyone is interested in purchasing anything you see in the catalogue, please email me at for details.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Do You Need to be Printing?

"Collapsed Into The Marsh"

Do you need to be making prints of your photographs? I believe so. Making prints from whatever you've photographed is the final step of making the photograph. It is the actual Value Object of your work. For many years I was satisfied with having my strips of negatives to hold as my Value Objects, and scanning them into digital files as needed for electronic display and distribution. Occasionally, I would make a 4X6 on my Canon Selphy CP780 to either stick in a photo album, or give to somebody upon request, but doing this had little impact on my approach to photography. Many now are not printing at all - instead storing digital photo files on a Tablet Computer, and beginning a whole new debate about which Tablet makes their photos look the best. I do the same with my Samsung Smartphone, and I find that my photos look absolutely fantastic on it's little screen- they do not look very natural, mind you, but the color saturation and contrasts look great!

But immediately this tells me something - when a picture changes it's look from one screen to another, then which is the real picture? Fact is, no image file displayed on a video screen is a real picture at all. It's merely a temporary representation of digital data which makes up a picture, and it disappears as soon as you switch the screen over to monitor some other process. Now, it is true - these files do have some value. I checked on Ebay, and found out that most people who are selling their digital files on-line are asking between $0.30 and $2.00, with free shipping of course, because the files are simply downloaded from Ebay once the buyer pays for them. The buyer is then free to do as he/she pleases with the file, but the point is, it will look different on each buyer's display screen.

Photography used to be entirely about a finished object that could be stored in an album, hung on a wall, or projected onto a screen. Very limited and cumbersome, yes, but the final product was done - it was not a representation that could be made to appear, and re-appear somewhere else, looking completely different every time. Some of these real printed photos, if original, are now fetching close to $2 million at auction. A reproduction of the same photo would go for much less - usually under $200. Care to guess what a digital file of the same piece would go for? Absolutely free! Digital files of a valuable photograph are not allowed to be sold, but if there's one out there, it can be "stolen" by simply mouse-clicking it. You can legally own a digital file of a Vivian Maier photo by simply right-clicking and downloading them from this site. However, if you try to re-sell it, even for only $0.30, then you are in violation of the copyright laws. Same with anything really - people download movies, music and books in much the same way, and can enjoy some of the benefits of all of these art forms for free. In fact, I really want to see this brand new movie about Vivian Maier, and I'm certain I could find it in the Bit-Torrents for free. However, I've never done that where music and movies are concerned; and you can be sure I'll be watching this movie by somehow paying for it, as a matter of principle - I want to be sure the movie-makers get paid so they can go on continuing making more great movies for me to watch. At the same time, if there's anything available anywhere which I want, or need, and it's legally free of charge, then I will gladly take it. Open Source Software (Linux) is the best example I can think of. I am running Linux for 90% of the time I spend on the computer. If anyone offers me a free lunch, I never say no!

So the long and the short of it is that the finished print is your Value Object as a photographer - not a digital representation of your photos on an I-Pad device.

In addition to checking Ebay for photographic art digital file prices, I found that a lot of good amateurs are selling their actual printed work for an average of $20.00 plus shipping, making the cost-value of an unknown photographer's prints to be over 20 times the value of a file - and rightly so.

But is this the only reason you should be printing your photos - to increase their potential cost-value? Absolutely not! In fact, this only provides a potential value of something that will be a really hard sell in today's world anyway, and if you can even recover your printing and packing costs, you'd be lucky. A far better reason to make prints - and I mean big prints, like 12"X18" is to make sure your photographs actually do stand up as a finished product. A print reveals things you don't see on a screen. Every aspect of exposure, colour accuracy, focus, composition, tonality and depth of field really show up on prints. The most common example is exposure - if you're shooting with a digital camera, your pictures will be underexposed in a print, although they will look fine on screen. And by this I mean that even if your camera's auto-exposure gives you confidence that all is well - it really isn't! Film fares much better in this regard, because that's what a film camera is designed for - to capture images that will be printed, with no expectation they will ever be displayed on a screen. Digital cameras are the opposite - it is assumed that a digital photo is intended for screen viewing, not for print.

Now that I've taken up printing, I'm finding that 80% of the pictures I've taken since 2008 are not good enough to print! The prints always reveal some aspect that I seldom really know what I'm doing, although I might find them to be acceptable on-screen. My criteria for judgment comes from the real-value discussion above - it is the question, "would I try to sell this print?" In the vast majority of cases, the answer is "no".

We all need to be extending our vision past the computer (or Tablet) screen. Try some printing for yourself if you haven't done so - even on a cheap ink-jet printer, and you should see what I'm talking about. Then with every shot you take, think about what it will look like hanging on a wall, and not how it will look on Flickr.

Don't forget to look at my Print Catalogue. You can reach me by email at

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Simplest Print Method Among Many

The File I Printed

The Original

There are a great many ways to make a picture file print-ready. Naturally, the printer manufacturer packs a software disk in with the machine with one or more "solutions". I've always found Canon's software solutions that come with the camera to be very weak. That which comes with their printers is even worse - to the point that hardly any of it even works at all - not that you'd want it to anyway. I originally had planned on exploring the Canon Support Web-Site, to check for later versions, but once I read the instruction manual for the software, I could see that what Canon is offering is nothing but crappy software, intended to be helpful for beginners. The biggest problem with such "solutions disks" is that every manufacturer does it different  so that computer beginners get roped into one way of doing something, then when they upgrade to another product, they don't know what to do with the new solution, because it doesn't resemble what they're accustomed to.

It's best to learn how to organize your picture files directly within your computer's file system, and use nothing but your operating system, be it Windows, Mac or Linux to locate a picture, open it for editing, re-save it, and then print it direct from the filesystem, if that's what you intend to do. Once you get used to this method, you'll find it is by far the simplest way of accomplishing many things, and it never changes very much over the years. Your computer is still set up with files and folders today in much the same way as computers were in the early 90's, with Windows 3.1! So, I encourage you, if you want to save a lot of frustration, leave the "solutions disk" in the box - all that you need is the Printer Driver, and Windows will find the latest version of that automatically for you as soon as you connect the printer USB cable and turn it on. The Printer Driver contains all of the functionality the printer itself is capable of - the "solutions disk" merely repackages the Driver into some other cock-eyed way of using it, supposing that they're making things simpler, but they're really not helping anybody!

Printing really boils down to a two step process. 1) Edit your picture so it is optimized for paper, and not your monitor, and 2) finding your edited file to configure your printer to print it on your preferred media (another word for "paper"), and initiate (another word for "start") the print.

To accomplish Step-1 without using anything on the manufacturers "solutions disk", what you do is simply use whatever editing software your accustomed to, be it Photoshop, Elements, Lightroom, something from DxO Labs,  or opensource (another word for "free") software like GIMP, RAW-Therapee and Photivo.  In order to use the Application (another word for "App") that you're used to using to get a file print-ready, you will have to do things a little differently than what you're already doing. This will take a little time and patience, and you'll waste a little ink and paper, but the thing you want to get out of this is "how does your new printer behave in relation to your monitor?" I've always been accustomed to cheap CMY+BlacK Inkjet printers as making prints that are much darker and muddier than what I see on screen - this is quite normal, and so with such a printer, you need to work toward making your pictures brighter on-screen, so they'll print normal. Now, with the Pixma Pro-100, this is not the case. Because it is equipped with four additional inks that are all made to contribute brightness, it turns out that I don't need to add brightness, and what I see on screen is very close to what's gonna print. In fact, I'm coming across some files which I need to darken and make richer - like what you see at the top of the page. This picture was taken at sunset, and I over-exposed the original a bit. To make it look more sunset-like, I had to use a lot of good tricks in Photivo to get my final result, which looks far better on paper than what you're seeing at the top of the screen. Again, I repeat - there's only one way to discover how your printer behaves, and that's practice - the more the better. Make sure you try a variety of papers too.

Step-2 is much easier. Make sure you re-save your print-ready picture from Step-1 with a different name, or better still, in a different Folder labelled "Prints", so it's easy to find in your File System. It also helps to have the "Preview" (another word for "Thumbnail")  turned on. Then all you have to do is right-click on the file, and select "Print" from the drop-down. When you do this, your printer's Driver App will open, and this is where you make all the necessary choices required to print the picture correctly. Like I said before - everything your printer is capable of is found in here somewhere - nothing's missing which would require any additional "solutions". The important things to look for are Paper Size and Quality, which Paper Feed Tray, Normal or Borderless, Pictures per Sheet, Portrait or Landscape, B&W or Colour, etc. The Pro-100 Driver ha some additional things, like Brightness, Contrast, and you can adjust the relationships of the eight ink colours (but don't go there unless you know what you're doing). It also allows you to adjust print quality in five steps, from "Fast" to "Fine", along with a few other goodies. So, once you've gone through the whole Driver and made all the right choices, click "Print" and wait for the Preview to pop up as a final verification on-screen that all is well. Click on "print" again, and your printer should either clank and bang into life, or show an on-screen alarm telling you something is wrong (like you forgot to open the paper exit door).

It really pays to buy the best printer you can afford, and make certain that you buy one that is more geared to Photo work than Office work. Yes, an Office printer will print photos, and some of them will do it on 11" x 17" paper, which makes them tempting. But make sure you read the reviews, especially the part about photo printing. An honest reviewer will tell you if it prints photos well or not. The best choices in Photo Printers use at least six ink colours, not four, but these might be beyond your budget. Sometimes, a perfectly good four colour Photo Printer can be had for less than $50 - buy one of these first, and use up the ink that came with it, just to get used to the concepts I've told you about in this posting. Then, when it runs out of ink, don't buy new ink, which usually will cost more than $50 - buy a better printer instead. Make sure you re-cycle your cheap printer according to your city by-laws on electronics recycling - or give it to one of the kids.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


EOS 650, Fuji Superia 800 Film, B&W PP by GIMP, Canon Pro-100, Epson V500

I am surprised at how much further along the purchase of the Canon Pixma Pro-100 printer will take me. I spent most of yesterday with it, and made fifteen prints in various sizes and configurations - just experimenting. The first thing I noticed, of course, is how disappointed I am in my own work, which is pretty much "the word" given by everyone who already has something to say about the subject. It is so true, that until you print your photos using a professional set-up, you don't really know what you've got when merely looking at them on a computer monitor. I was expecting the initial disappointment, but really had no idea what actual problems I would encounter.

With my film camera shots, the biggest disappointment is seeing dust on the scans that wasn't otherwise showing up on screen. The Epson V500 Scanner I use does a fair job at digitally removing dust, with it's Digital ICE Technology, and also I use physical measures to keep dust off my negatives while scanning, but it took a printer to reveal that it isn't being done as completely as I had thought.

As for digital, most of my prints were made from shots taken with the EOS 7D last year, which as you'll recall was a camera I was really struggling with, and so I traded it for a Rebel T3i. Of course, what I was seeing in printed images shot with  the 7D was a huge amplification of what I was struggling with, which is that camera's well known auto-focus issues. The EOS 7D has a focus micro-adjust feature, by which you set the sensor back-distance individually to optimize for every lens, and it took me several months to realize that making these adjustments is not an option - you absolutely must do it. Things did improve after I did the adjustments, but the only photos I would want to print were done before I made this discovery. Result? I was printing photos that were slightly blurry. I had suspected as much viewing them on-screen, but it really shows up in a horrible way when making big prints. Some of them might be salvageable using digital sharpening ("Unsharp Mask"), but when this is done, it's pretty obvious, and unless applied very subtly, it makes bad in the other direction with an obviously phoney sharpness.

Then there is an overall challenge that comes with printing, that when an image looks bright enough on-screen, it will probably look too dark when printed. I've always encountered this in the extreme when using my previous cheap four colour ink-jet printer, but with the Pro-100, this was much less noticeable a problem. Canon has equipped this printer with four additional cartridges - Grey, Light Grey, Light Magenta and Light Cyan, which, as their names suggest, all contribute "lightness" to the print-out in a way which a standard CMY+BlacK four colour printer cannot do. To ensure that I get good light, I pretty much select "Light" in the Colour Management Dialogue box for every print. This is a good step, but I think I need to learn quite a few more tricks to improve my printing. I did manage to get one result I'm fully satisfied with - the one at the top of this page was the last one I printed out last night. Before printing, I made a Gamma adjustment  and a Local Contrast boost to the original TIFF File using Photivo, re-saved it, then used GIMP to change it to B&W (because GIMP does this best by far I have found). Then I printed the TIFF using Letter sized HP Lustre Paper, making sure I turned on the "Sharpen for Printing" option. Finally, I re-scanned the print as a JPEG using my Epson V500 set at 150 ppi. It looks great, and gives me hope that I might be able to master this, and come up with a decent Gallery Exhibit.

So, as I promised yesterday, I'm going to be mostly philosophical concerning my digital imaging efforts, so here goes.

Digital Imaging might be a bit misunderstood in one sense by die-hard darkroom aficionados. I'll agree entirely that there is something wonderfully magical in the craft of darkroom printing - something that truly adds deserved value to the actual results. But I've never set foot in a darkroom, and in fact, am only now just getting my feet wet with actually "finishing the job" using digital printing.

I made an interesting discovery yesterday when I tried my first full size 13"X19". I put the paper in backwards, meaning of course, I wasn't printing on the glossy side. Amazingly, when the print made it's way out of the machine, I saw that the ink wasn't drying at all, and just laying on the paper in blotches that wouldn't even make for a good watercolour! So up until then, I had always thought that the fast-dry capability was a function of the ink itself - this is so not true! It is actually a function of the paper. The glossy side of ink-jet printing paper has a gel-coating on it which instantly absorbs the ink, controls it's dispersion, and dries it all at the same time. I say this for the benefit of my darkroom friends who might say "the darkroom offers such a wonderful chemical process that you don't get with computers and digital printers". Well, my little accidental discovery makes me beg to differ - digital printing is also a chemical process, just as much as it's a computerized process! The ink and papers used must be designed to interact together chemically, otherwise it does not work. I had always wondered how an ink-jet print - even if made with a real cheap printer, actually feels like a real darkroom glossy - in other words, you don't really 'feel' the ink at all. Now I know why that is.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Finally Ready to Print

 The Front View - This Thing Is As Wide As My Window

 Here It Is Opened Up With my Very First Print

Larry Is Showing His Approval, and Found Yet Another New Home

After months of grinding my gears about it, I finally bought a decent printer, having convinced myself that it is right what is being said these days - a true photographer must be producing something that exists as an actual object, and not merely a computer file. Actually I've known this all along, which is the biggest part of why I prefer shooting film - at least I'm producing a real negative, but even that, being an object that I can physically store, of course, is barely viewable, and actually more useless than a computer file until it is printed.

So about this printer - it is Canon's new Pixma Pro-100, which I got for $399.00 by asking a chain store to do a price match. They agreed to do so as long as I bought a complete set of (eight) ink cartridges. The printer itself comes with "Setup Cartridges" which are about one-third full - you can actually see inside the semi-clear cartridges that there is a baffle inside each one which is about a third the volume of the entire cartridge.

There are plenty of good reviews out there on the Pixma Pro-100, and it's more up-scale kin - the Pro-10 and Pro-1, so I'm not going to do much in way of a review here. The Pro-100 is the cheapest of the lot, because it uses ten dye-based ink colours, whereas the other two use eleven pigment based colours, and a twelfth one to apply a "clear gloss" to certain paper types. It is generally considered that pigment based prints are better for longevity, and therefore preferable if one is serious about gallery work, I suppose, but the Pro-10 is just beyond my reach for cost. All I'll say in terms of a review is this printer is very big and heavy, meaning I was initially worried about two things -1) especially as the "Safety Warnings" leaflet states this machine should always be carried by two people, would I be able to get it up my stairs, and 2) once I got it up there, would there be room for it in  my extremely cluttered and small workspace? Well, in answer to the first question, I was able to get it upstairs, unpacked and in position by myself, even with an already sore back, and as for the second, the pictures above speak for themselves. The only feature I don't have room for is the front-to-back thick media feed, which would require a couple of feet behind the printer.

As for getting this printer ready to go, I found it extremely easy to go through the whole set-up process. The only problem I had was that I would have preferred the Wireless Network set-up  and I thought that would've been accomplished in the usual way of simply finding my in-home WiFi and putting in the password, but instead it has to be done by linking to your Router as an Access Point, which requires that you are able to press the WiFi button on the printer at the same time as the Access  button on your Router - not possible in my case, as my Router is located downstairs. So instead of WiFi, I had to make use of the USB connection.

I expect to be blogging about my printmaking efforts over the next little while, and this will be somewhat philosophical rather than trying to provide blow by blow accounts of what I run into. I'll briefly touch on one major point right now... can a digital print (or digital imaging in general) possibly take the place of a traditional film darkroom for artistic photography? This is a question I plan to ask of some local art galleries, and am looking forward to giving you their answers. However, in my opinion, I would have to say no, at least not quite. Darkroom printing is still very special, and getting moreso, as it becomes more and more rare. I'm starting off absolutely certain that as far as image quality is concerned, yes - Inkjet based digital printing can be every bit as good as darkroom printing. I say this because most photo speciality shops have long ago abandoned their darkrooms in favour of digital - even for film shooters - I don't think there remains a store in Eastern Canada that produces darkroom prints "in-house"; instead, everybody is now scanning the film negative and printing with digital printers. It is only the film roll itself that sees the dark - inside a canvas bag as it is transferred into a development tank. What's missing is the "Craft" of darkroom printing, which I expect is what I'm going to find is preferred by art galleries. This gives real darkroom prints a true value advantage, to which I  would agree ought to be the case, and most likely, the full darkroom work, especially when done by somebody famous, should sell in the thousands, and digital prints would rightly sell in the hundreds of dollars. I should have my true valuations by this time tomorrow, as I plan to visit a couple of local galleries this afternoon, so stay tuned!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Some Digital Camera History

The Nikon Coolpix 990

I should be called "Five Buck Freddie". Here's another $5 purchase at a yard sale yesterday, and this time it's digital (sorry!)

But it's "significant digital", and it works (mostly). Although there were earlier digital cameras on the market around the turn of the century, including two predecessors to this one (the 900 and the 950), the Nikon 990 was the best implementation of the design. At the time, it was pretty special, and people were even willing to pay $1000 for one of these! Remember, this was only a dozen years ago. It has a whopping 3.2 Mega-pixels on a 1/1.8" CCD sensor, a 3X optical zoom lens, and a 1.8" 110,000 dot LCD display. Best of all is the swivel body - a design which has never been duplicated by any other camera to my knowledge, which has escalated these Nikon 9** series cameras to "Cult Status" - what an honour!

Does it take decent pictures? Let's see...

Considering this was taken facing the sun, it's not bad. I would say typical of most digital cameras, even the very latest models. Yes, I'll stand by that statement, and why wouldn't it be true? In the year 2000, Nikon had only introduced three digital cameras - their first practical DSLR the D1, this one (the 990) and a little pocket model the 880. The 990 was called a "Pro-sumer" camera, the same as a mid-range DSLR is labelled today. It was considered "usable" by certain professionals, because really, SLR's were simply "not there" yet, being extremely costly, and not really built to best exploit the advantages of digital.

I think this camera is quite good, in spite of it's great age. In the late 90's and on into 2000, the Coolpix 9** series was absolutely revolutionary, because Nikon used it as a platform to introduce every imaginable digital feature possible, not the least of which was the incredibly clever swivelling body. So let's start with that. With this design, you can turn the "lens half" right around to the "control half" to compose self portraits - fairly common today with the articulated LCD, but only a dozen years ago, this was unheard of. Not only that, but the swivel covers a full 300 degrees, allowing extremely flexible, and therefore creative views for shooting. And with the camera set "straight on" frontwards or backwards, you could shoot waste-level, either in front of you or behind you, for completely candid shooting, and people wouldn't even recognize this as being a camera, because in some ways, it looks like a radio, or tape player of some sort.

Now, the rest of the features that Nikon introduced in these "flagship" cameras makes for quite a list:

• 1/1.8 ̋ high-density CCD
      • Total number of pixels: 3.34 million
Image size Selectable from:
          • 2,048 × 1,536 pixels
            • XGA (1,024 × 768 pixels)
              • VGA (640 × 480 pixels)
                • 3 : 2 (2,048 × 1,360 pixels)
• 3× Zoom-Nikkor
• f = 8 – 24 mm [35 mm (135) format equivalent
to 38 – 115 mm]/F 2.5 – 4 with macro
• Nine elements in eight groups, all elements
made of environmentally-friendly glass
• Nikon Super Integrated Coating (SIC) applied
• Glass-molded aspherical lens element included
• Contrast-detect TTL autofocus with 4,896-
           step autofocus control including macro range
          • Five-area multi AF or spot AF available
Focus modes 

• Continuous autofocus (when using LCD moni-
• Single autofocus (LCD monitor off and/or
 single autofocus selected in M-REC mode)
• Manual (fifty steps from 2 cm/0.8 ̋ – ∞ with
      Focus Confirmation indication)
Shooting distance 
• 30 cm (11.8 ̋) – ∞

                  • Macro mode: 2 cm (0.8 ̋) – ∞
0.4 – 1.1×
Optical Viewfinder

Real-image zoom viewfinder with LED indication
Frame coverage Approx. 85 %

Diopter –2 – +1 DP adjustment
LCD monitor
 1.8 ̋, 110,000-dot, low-temperature polysilicon
TFT LCD with brightness and hue adjustment
Approx. 97 % (through/freeze image)
Auto-off mode
30 s; can also be set manually (1/5/30 min.)
System Digitally stored (uncompressed TIFF or com-
      pressed JPEG)
CompactFlash (CF) card
Shooting modes
• Fully-automatic ([A]-REC) mode
• Custom ([M]-REC) mode (three combinations
of mode settings can be memorized)

This is just a brief summary, but, with the exception of resolution and screen size, doesn't this resemble a feature list of any digital camera you can buy today? Twelve years ago, Nikon defined the digital camera with the Coolpix 9** series. All we've been getting since then are various improvements to these specifications - nothing revolutionary beyond that. 

Also note there have been a few things lost along the way - notably the CCD sensor, which is arguably the thing that made this camera take "decent" pictures - the industry now has completely gone CMOS. For a brief time, I owned a Nikon D70 which was a 6 Megaixel DSLR introduced in 2004. It had a CCD sensor, which made far better looking photos than the newer CMOS based Canon Xti I had at the same time. Since then, I've been convinced that CCD is better, although CMOS is improving... this must be a case where marketing economics, and not quality once again come out on top. 

Other things we are loosing - the Optical Viewfinder.. I mean, why??? These used to be included even on the smallest and cheapest compact digitals... why has the industry abandoned such a necessary element? 

One more thing - look at the Macro Mode shooting distance this camera is capable of - it's only 2 cm (that's 0.8")! If for nothing else, I'll be using this camera for Macro shooting.

I guess my point is, once this camera broke the ground of digital feature capabilities, there really hasn't been much change taking place - it's more like improvements and variations on the same theme. What could I wish for that would've been different? For one thing, this body design should have been extremely patent protected and kept by Nikon, and still built right up to the present - but enhanced with availability of several different detachable "lens - sensor halfs", so you could build the camera to suit your needs and budget. Ricoh kind of did this with their modular lens approach, but it failed to catch on. I think it failed for two reasons - 1) It didn't swivel, and 2) It's Ricoh. I'm not saying that Ricoh is bad - far from it. They make great stuff, but it takes a market name like Nikon or Canon to make great innovations stick.

Digital cameras are ultra-capable of being modular cameras - Nikon proved this with that wonderful swivel body over a dozen years ago. It's just that ultimately, they didn't actually modularize it, but it sure looks like this is what they were thinking! They could've had one common control grip and LCD module for all of their premium cameras, but a separate line of lens-sensor modules - some with Optical VF's, some without; some with Zoom lenses, some with Fixed; some with CMOS, some with CCD; some with DSLR-like optics, others more like the trendy "Mirror-less" design. For a big price, they could've even built a Medium Format lens-sensor module to attach to the common control grip module. Naturally, the control grip module could be completely Android based; or not!

It's almost as if Ricoh failed to make it happen in the market, so that now everybody else is afraid to try it. There's one big advantage that digital cameras have over film - and that's in the area of hardware and software innovation, the sky is the limit, but somehow it seems like more camera innovation was actually done during the film era!

Oh yes - about my $5 purchase - it kind of works - it will take pictures, but overall, it's operation is quite flaky. Most importantly, it won't turn off. In the "off" position  it keeps beeping and toggles the LCD screen off and on. Other times, the LCD won't switch on when I want it to. To save batteries, I have to remove them completely. I doubt I'll use the thing much, but it sure is an interesting piece of photographic history.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Rolleiflex Versus Phone Camera

 Number 1

Number 2

One of these was taken with my Rolleiflex TLR with Fuji 120 - Pro-400 film, and the other with my Samsung Galaxy S-II Smartphone Camera. I didn't try to hard to get the exact same composition, which is difficult anyway because of the old TLR's slightly vague framing lines ("vague" simply means that I don't quite know enough to figure them out). Exact same composition would've been nice, but I was really concentrating on getting the correct exposure and focus with the old Rollei, both of which on the Samsung being of course automatic. Can you tell which is which?

I would expect seasoned photographers who have that visually experienced sixth sense will see this as a no-brainer, and get it right at first glance. Others, who only have experience with Digital, might have some difficulty. I'm kind of in-between, neither a well seasoned film pro, but not a complete "digital dummy" either, and - here's a small clue --- I was quite surprised, even when knowing which is which. My surprise is actually how reasonably good the phone camera is.

Take your best guess and reply below.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Construction Site Photography

Rolleiflex Automat, Fuji Pro-120 400 Film
I love the way the sunlight was being caught on the sign here.

Finding good subject matter is an especially hard challenge, especially in a small town. But wouldn't the most exciting thing be the construction of a brand new "Centre For The Arts" on the Mount Allison Campus? I decided it would be a great idea, and I happened to have a fresh roll of Fuji Pro-120 in the old Rolleiflex. Construction activity always presents challenges and opportunities for some really unusual compositions, it turns out.

The biggest challenge with the Rolleiflex is it's fixed moderately wide angle lens. You need to get up close and personal with it, or be simply satisfied with the abstractions of a wider view.

The Medium Format film used in the Rolleiflex gives a Negative that's about 4 times bigger than "full frame" 35mm, and therefore it can take everything you throw at it - incredible tonal range that requires no messing around with exposure in post-processing. It just happens naturally. All of the post-processing I did here involved correcting the perspective and cropping, which is typically required when photographing architecture with a wide angle lens.

He's looking right at me very curiously

Light and shadow are adding their own things to the composition

A Pedestrian's Perspective

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Abandoned City Centres

EOS 650, EF 28-105 usm, Fuji Superia 800 ISO

This is a bit of a continuation of yesterday's Post... the theme being that nothing is really the same as it used to be. I had some time to kill this past Saturday in the city where I grew up, once called "The Hustling Hub City", because of it's busy rail connections. This is a rather attractive rail-road bridge in the very centre of town; naturally the train is absent, but while leisurely walking around, I couldn't help notice how I was walking through a ghost town - everything else was absent too! The only thing working was the traffic light, and even that didn't matter - Green in all directions would've been OK.

When I was a kid in the 1960's, this corner would've been jammed with traffic and people, chances are good there would've been a train on the bridge, and shop doors would've been open for business on a Saturday afternoon. My idea for these pictures was to punctuate just how wonderfully alone I felt in these moments - to have no people or cars; nothing but a deserted street. I had plenty of time to compose the pictures with no signs of life in view.

I have a strong preference for abstractions, textures and light, so if these shots seem void of a subject, all you have to do is shift your view a little bit to realize that textures and light are usually my only preferred subject matter. Added to that are the distant memories of noises and smells that no longer exist - back when it was OK that cars made each their own sound and when music was blaring from shop windows... or it was OK when trucks, trains and buses belched black soot and sulphur. I guess the world's a much cleaner place now, but not nearly as interesting somehow.

We must always keep things in perspective, however. Most of the world's population would long for an environment that is as clean and safe as the Main Street of Hustling Hub is today.