Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Recent Yashica Lynx Photos

Just over a year ago, I had acquired a Yashica Lynx Rangefinder, and at the time said " it takes the best pictures of any camera that I own". Well, I haven't used it all that much since, being so busy trying out a whole bunch of other stuff. But, having recently finished a roll of Fuji something or other (I forgot to look, even when bringing it in for processing), but having found that slecting Fuji Velvia-50 from the list of G'mic Film Emulations actually changed the look of the pictures extremely little, I'll calll it that - even though I'm pretty sure it wasn't. 

This doesn't make me much of a film photographer, does it, if I pay so little attention to the film I'm using. I think in this case, it's because I'm not really a Fuji fan, and only pick some up if that's all I can find at the store. I used to find Fuji particularly unattractive back in the '70's, and found that different qualities of their formulations, even between print and Slide, tended to all look the same anyway. All of the following used a touch of "Velvia-50" emulation, which added only a slight bit more contrast to whatever film this really was. "Wait - you can actually do that - use Film Emulation Software with real film?" Sure why not?

The big, bright f1.4 Yashica 45mm lens on the Lynx is still performing true to form.

Open Sky Farm #1
^ I'm just noticing how occasionally, this lens shows a lot of barrel distortion, so we're not dealing with perfection here - notice how the horizon in the above shot is very noticeably bowed. I could've easily straightened it with software, but, as this is a continuing camera review, I decided to leave it alone, to show how this really shows up in strange ways with my Yashica Lynx. It could be a scanning anomaly, but I've not seen it before. I can't help but love the buttery smooth transitions from dark to light this camera provides.

Open Sky Farm #2
^ Again, with the bowed horizon. But the textures are magnificent.

Open Sky Farm #3
^ Seeing a bit of grain in the sky, which tells me this was probably a roll of Fuji Xperia-800 I had bought last year at Walmart, seemingly at a sell-out price.

N.B. Telephone Co. Ltd.
^ From this one, I know the distortion is not the fault of my Scanner - this is barrel distortion from the lens, now very visible in the vertical corner of the brick facing. When it happens both horizontal and vertically on a Flat-Bed Scanner (emphasis on the word "flat") you know it cannot be the Scanner.

Open Sky Farm #4
^ Beautiful textures! And the way in which this lens handles colour is a bit unlike any of my other cameras (naturally) - colours are subdued, but yet have a high impact. And check out the way in which strong light is enhanced within the deep shadow in the bottom right corner of this picture (above). Now, in this rare case where I placed the intersection of the horizontal and vertical in the very centre of the frame, there is no barrel distortion.

Open Sky Farm #5
^ I'll put in another plug for film photography, and why I think it should never go away - with a bright noon sun shining down on these bikes, and me guessing at exposure, because the battery chamber of my Lynx-14 is pitted badly, it is very hard to make a wrong exposure with modern C-41 process film done at a mini-lab.

Morning Shower
^ Here's an opposite exposure extreme - a low morning sun just breaking through the clouds after a summer shower which leaves a nice gleam on the asphalt, and a perfect recede to white where the street meets the sky. I like film in general, because of unexpected things like this - film adds a magic of it's own to reality.

Open Sky Farm #5
^ More magic - this one's over-exposed, but, all the subtle reflections (including an image of myself) are preserved in the back of the truck and yet there is still some pure black and pure white, with the highlights rolling off gracefully.

Open Sky Farm #6
^ The barrel distortion is back, but it is the window reflections that caught my eye before setting up this shot, this time with deliberate over-exposure, instead of purely accidental.

Open Sky Farm #7
^ This kind of shot is perhaps what the Yashica Lynx-14 is best for - lens distortion doesn't matter, and it becomes purely an exercise of light and texture. I'm amazed at how every subtlety of light is captured here. And although this exposure was yet another lucky guess, I've said before that I'm still terrible at guessing distance. Fortunately, with a coupled rangefinder, you don't have to guess at focus, and this shot, as well as the one below, show how helpful this can be.

Open Sky Farm #8
^ The junk-pile, with canoe. Another close-focus shot, nailed perfectly with the Lynx's coupled optical rangefinder.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

VW Golf Wagon Review

2014 VW Golf Wagon Trendline 2.5

2010 VW Golf Wagon Comfortline TDI

This is really off-topic, except that I took the photos.

But it's from a recent experience that needs to be talked about. Back in March 2010, I bought a great car - the VW Golf Wagon TDI (Turbo-Diesel Direct Injection) pictured above. My goodness, this car had a lot going for it, and in the end, it was a good purchase that panned out - but not without a major problem, which literally FORCED me to trade it for the 2014 Trendline 2.5 gas model.

I had bought the TDI while I was still working, which caused me a long commute of 100 Kms. every day - the Diesel engine really made sense then, with it's near 50 MPG warm weather fuel economy. But two years into ownership, I retired, and ended up driving a lot less, not to mention the peculiar phenomena of living in a Canadian Province, which I'm sure must be the only jurisdiction in the world where Diesel fuel came to cost significantly more than gasoline - in winter especially, sometimes 12 cents per litre (50 Cents per US Gallon) more. Although this frustrated me, I still thought I must be saving a bit of money by driving Diesel. At least, for the first four years of ownership, I could also boast of trouble free driving. But in March of this year (2014), my warranty ran out, and that seems to be exactly when trouble started running in. At first, it was nothing serious - just a couple of side mirror signal lights, for which the entire lower mirror housings had to be replaced. Also, the Diesel engine braking system worked so well, the rear brakes were rarely used, and they corroded so bad, I had to get a brake job on the rears only. After 131,000, the front brakes were still good - which is phenomenal on any car. As a rule, the front brakes are the first to go. Also, I had no problems with steering, suspension or exhaust in those first four years,, which I regard as excellent.

But then came the big story. I won't go into detail about how it happened, but basically, the Dealer Service Dept. misled me concerning a Check Engine Light indication that began a few months ago. As it turned out, my continued driving, because they said "don't worry about it until maybe winter" led to a $4000 system breakdown, associated with the car being a Diesel. It was an honest mis-communication on both my part, and their part - I could have done more research into the problem, which I finally did when it was too late, but they acknowledged their error, and allowed me full wholesale on a trade-in. As much as I loved that new TDI with it's amazing 236 ft-lbs of Torque at only 1700 RPM (you simply have to experience driving this if you haven't already), I determined that the TDI, in the interest of clean air, was way too complicated, so on the trade, I opted for the 2.5 Liter 5 Cylinder gasoline engine instead. This engine too has plenty of Torque and Horsepower, but it comes on at a much higher RPM, so the car doesn't feel as peppy. But already I'm seeing 36 MPG, compared with the TDI's 48-50, for which, with the cheaper fuel and less driving, I should not see much of a rise in my motor fuel expense. This engine is not near a as complex, and was only created for the North American market, and is regarded as VW's most reliable new engine. The unfortunate part is, like all good things, it's being phased out in favour of a turbocharged 4 cylinder gasoline engine which is almost as complex as the TDI. So I may seek to ride the wave of endurance with the "low-tech" but still economical 5 cylinder.

So the big question is - what's changed in 4 years? True to form, VW has changed nothing in the successful production run of the Golf Wagon. This body type, along with the 5 cylinder 2.5, is also being phased out this year - the 2015 Golf is already in Showrooms, with no Wagon option, and no five cylinder. The Marketing Wizards seem to think nobody wants an "Estate Wagon" any more, when they can have an SUV or Mini-Van Cross-over instead. If that's true, I wonder why I'm seeing so many of these Golf Wagons, not to mention the Jetta Sport-Wagon (which is almost identical, but ended in Canada in 2009) on the roads? I suspect that, in spite of being a car that people really want, the people in Marketing which love to tell people what they really want, don't want the little super-extended hatchback wagon, to cut into their more profitable sales of bigger SUV's and X-Over cars.

Both the 2010 and 2014 are by far the most comfortable cars I've ever owned, period. Even with my often painful muscular condition, I could drive this car all day without aggravating my pain - it's a true therapeutic chair on wheels if there ever was one. Thankfully, this has not changed a bit, and just as thankfully, there is no difference in seating, or interior dimensions between the Highline, and more costly Comfortline models. Every creature comfort, and interior feature for driver and passengers is identical, right down to the leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. Actually, the shift knob for the Automatic Transmission is the only thing that has changed - the older model had a T-Handle, while the new model has more of a round knob, with the inter-lock release on the front. I prefer the older one, but quickly got used to the newer.

The Highline now has a mere handful of items missing compared with the Comfortline:
  • Chrome Exterior Window Trim
  • Fog Lights
  • Alloy Wheels
  • Multi-Colored Instrument Lighting

I say a big "who cares" to all of these. Even without the spiffy looking Alloy Wheels (the Highline has conventional steel wheels and silver plastic hub-caps instead), the tire size is identical at 205-55-R16 so there is no difference in handling. Think too about the difference in cost if an Alloy wheel gets damaged as opposed to a plastic wheel cover. Besides, I recall the Alloys as being quite heavy, so I suspect very little difference in unsprung weight, which normally tends to make a car equipped with Alloys pitch around a bit less. But I do not see any difference in the ride and handling between these two cars, except the older TDI had a slightly more on-centre feel to the steering, which could be attributed to tires alone. At 80,000 Kms, I had replaced the TDI's original Hancooks with Michelins. And guess what? The new 2.5 has me back to Hancooks! I have inflated these to 42 PSI, which in itself seems to have made a huge difference. I had kept the Michelins up to 44.

The new car has added a few options which the TDI did not have, which to me, are all much preferred:
  • Blue-Tooth, with controls built into the steering wheel, and voice command
  • A Multi-Purpose Vehicle Computer
  • Rubber Monster-Mats, in addition to the standard fabric floor mats
  • Mud-Guards on all 4 corners.
  • Enhanced radio controls to go with the Blue-Tooth
  • Larger head-rests

The big difference between the two cars is the engine and transmission related driving experience. I've already mentioned the TDI's amazing low RPM Torque, and engine braking. It was equipped with an "automatic" 6-Speed Direct Sequential Gearbox (DSG) with dual computer controlled clutches, whereas the 2.5 has a 6-speed conventional  automatic with a lock-up torque converter, commonly known as a "slushbox" due to it's less direct application of the engines power to the road, and reduced fuel economy. This gives the TDI a much more "seat of the pants" feeling which I immediately fell in love with. The 2.5 feels more like a Mom-Mobile minivan in comparison. The engine sounds are different too, from the inside, but neither one ever sounds too busy. The TDI has a wonderful low V8-like rumble, while the 2.5 is very quiet, so that the whine of the transmission is more of what you hear than the engine, unless you really step on it, in which case the 2.5 has a distinct raspiness, that's not like the drone of a 4 cylinder, nor is it like the downright stupid rough sound of a V6. It's a lot more like a BMW Inline-6, old Audi 5 Cylinder or the old discontinued VW VR-6 I think.

Stepping on the gas pedal, the 2.5 is understandably less responsive from a direct stop, having less torque available, but as the RPMs build, so does plenty of power, in typical gas-engine fashion. With the TDI, the power is already all there, just waiting to be used. Still, the 2.5 is a lot more like North American drivers are used to, and so, if one has never experienced a TDI, they would find the 2.5 more than adequate. For me, it just took a bit of getting used to. My wife probably didn't notice the difference,as she just mashes the gas on take-off anyway. She's far more aggressive behind the wheel than I am.

Gas mileage for the 2.5, although less than that of the TDI, really surprised me (good surprise), because many reviewers were quite critical of it. With my first tankful, I got 32, with the second I got 35 and with the third, got 36 MPG - not bad in comparison of the TDI's year round average of 44 MPG (Diesels get worse mileage during the winter, because winter Diesel fuel is designed to keep flowing at -40 degrees, and has less energy content).

The TDI, as exciting as it is, simply is not the practical engine it once was, with so much added on in the interest of clean air (I'm not against clean air, but I think auto makers have a ways to go to attain it with a balance on less to go wrong with engine management sub-systems. This applies to Hybrid cars also). Here's what the new TDI has that I'm happy to no longer have to worry about:

  • A Diesel Exhaust Particulate Filter (DPF) which will ultimately need to be replaced at 200,000 Kms or so at a cost of $4000 - that's 2 years of car payments! Mine failed at 131,000 as noted above
  • There are 4 heat sensors associated with the DPF that cost $500 each - failure of one of these is what started my system breakdown
  • Contaminated Diesel Fuel will result in the need to replace entire fuel system - cost is over $10,000!
  • A variable pitch intake manifold with a motorized flap that has reported failures
  • A variable vane Turbocharger, also with reported failures
  • An Exhaust Brake flap, with enough reported failures that VW extended the warranty for it.
  • A timing belt with scheduled replacement interval of 160,000 Kms. The 2.5 has a Timing Chain, with early reported failures, but VW has fixed that problem, and it is now rated as a "lifetime" item, whatever that means
  • Piezo Glow Plugs which cost over $200 each!
  • The DSG Transmission, which is only available with the TDI, needs a $300 fluid change every 60,000 Kms. The conventional automatic in the 2.5 never needs a fluid change, although it is optional, and probably wise to do at 120,000 or so.
  • The TDI requires expensive and hard to get engine oil, to maintain the health of the DPF.
  • Two Catalytic Converters instead of the usual single unit. Also, these converters are more expensive and prone to failure if the DPF system malfunctions, resulting in raw fuel in the exhaust

In addition to all of this, the TDI can only be had with the Comfortline model, and if equipped with the DSG Transmission, adds $5000 to the price of the car. You have to do a lot of driving to make the extra gas mileage worth it, and a lot of driving carries a lot of added maintenance cost and almost guaranteed very expensive failures. Take my advice - this is one of the finest cars on the road today, with a modest price compared to it's Estate Wagon competitors, like the Audi A3, BMW 3 and 5-Series, or I suppose the big 4-Door Mini. One can be had at around $24,000 plus all the usual stuff. My advice is do not even take the TDI for a test drive, because I guarantee you'll fall in love with it. Make sure if you do go for the TDI, you can afford to trade it before the Warranty runs out.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Another Cheap Camera

When I find a fairly decent, innovative film camera at a yard sale or thrift store for $10 or less, why wouldn't I buy it? Just trying it out and comparing it to others in my collection is a lot of fun, and the results can often be rewarding. In this case, I'm featuring a Konica C35 EF Viewfinder Camera.

Konica C35 EF With Kodak Colour Plus 200

Konica C35 Stock Picture

It's certainly an eye-catcher. I paid $10 for it. Too much? Who cares. It has a 38mm f2.8 Auto-Exposure, manual focus lens, all metal construction, a good textured grip, exceptionally good mechanics as felt by the film advance, Cds Exposure meter which is highly visible in the bright viewfinder, and a self-timer. There's also a built-in flash powered by two AA batteries. The Exposure Meter is powered by a small mercury button battery, or equivalent. Exposure Mode is strictly Automatic, although the film ISO is manually set on the front of the lens, so a +- EV can be achieved by setting this above or below the rated film speed. The focus is similar to the Olympus Trip-35, with four select-able Zones (in-between stops would make it eight). Also, similar to the Trip-35 is the combined two-bladed Leaf Shutter / Aperture; an arrangement which I feel is for cost-cutting, and probably has a negative effect on image quality. Let the results speak for themselves:

Konica C-35 EF
Olympus Trip-35
The above two compare the Konica with the Olympus Trip-35 with similar subject matter. Although the anomalies are somewhat similar, I feel the Trip-35 is better in this instance, and it also adds the benefit of being the world's only Auto Exposure camera that works without batteries.

Back to the Konica

Konica C-35 EF with B&W By DxO FilmPack 3.0
One thing rather interesting about this camera is how it seems to expose much better when pointed into direct sunlight - scenes which are not brightly lit tend to overexpose a bit. It's easy to compare the C35 with the Olympus Trip-35 for image quality - it is somewhat similar, although I think the Olympus is slightly better. Zone Focus is not my strong point - I find it hard to estimate distance, but the Konica, with it's 38mm lens is more forgiving than the Trip-35, with it's slightly less wide 40mm f2.8.

It's also a good camera to compare with the Russian made Smena Symbol. The Konica C-35 uses "symbols" for Zone Focus, whereas the Smena uses them for exposure, by setting the shutter speed. It is a totally different way of thinking, but these are certainly two cameras that compete in the same class. The Smena is totally manual and does not use batteries, nor (naturally) is there a built-in flash. However, the Smena separates the Leaf Shutter from the Aperture, both of which are multi-bladed, which is a far superior choice of mechanism, and I believe the results show it - the Smena Symbol might be quirky, fully manual with no light meter which might slow you down, and, except for the lens barrel, is all plastic, but I believe it is the better camera as far as image quality is concerned. Here's a little reminder:

Smena Symbol with Kodak Color Plus 200
They're both great compact film cameras of that most interesting 70's vintage, but when it comes right down to the image quality, the Smena has it by a small margin, and so does the legendary Olympus Trip-35. If you need a flash to shoot indoors, or the convenience of Auto Exposure, then the Konica C-35, with fully automated flash output, is the logical choice.

Note that all of these cameras are contenders in the realm  of "Lomography", which is a phenomena that is growing way beyond adherence to cameras built in the Russian Belomo factory. Lomographer Blogs are popping up everywhere with reviews of all of these cheap, but very effective cameras.

I scan all of my film using the lowly Epson Perfection V500 Flatbed Scanner. It is a great scanner for these kinds of low-end cameras, but I've found that in doing scans of my Canon EOS series, for which I share lenses between both film and 35mm digital bodies, the scanner becomes the weak link, although with some tweaking and know-how, it is certainly adequate. But at this exceptionally fun end of the camera spectrum that has become known as "Lomography", the V500 easily reveals the differences from one camera to another using the same film, which means it is more than adequate.

In my heart, film photography certainly lives on, and I'm hoping that it will still be around for many years to come.