"When faced with a problem you do not understand,
do any part of it you do understand; then look at it again."
~(Robert A. Heinlein - "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress")

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Monday, December 31, 2012


This is a Ricoh Singlex TLS (Through the Lens System) single-lens reflex 35mm camera ...

This model was developed in 1967. In early 1972, I bought one very much like it (along with a 300mm telephoto lens) for the events I posted about in Adventure of a Lifetime, and its sequel The Adventure - Continued (about my trips to Cape Canaveral to watch the launches of Apollo 16 and Apollo 17). 

I used it for fourteen years, until mid-1986 when I had to sell it during an extended period of unemployment.

It was totally manual, with the only electronic part being a built-in light meter, using the match-needle exposure system.  Other than the rewind knob (with folding lever) on top of the camera, at the right end of the picture above, the main controls were here ...

You'd open the back, thread in the film (up to 36 exposures on a roll), close the back and thumb the advance lever to move the film (one frame each time) and cock the shutter.

The shutter speed and film speed controls were combined on a single knob. You'd pull out on that knob (I think. It's been over 26 years now) and turn it to the ASA number for the film you are using (I favored Kodak High-Speed Ektachrome, at 160 ASA). The camera in the picture appears to be set at 100 ASA; that's a 64 showing below it). With the knob back in its normal place (it's spring loaded), turn it to the shutter speed you want (in the picture it's set at 1/500th of a second).

With the match-needle system, a combination of aperture (lens opening) and shutter speed control the exposure.  While looking though the viewfinder, adjust the aperture (set with a ring on the lens) and/or shutter speed until the needle visible in the viewfinder is centered.

What I liked so much about it was that the controls were relatively simple, becoming instinctive with practice, and easy to use just by feel. The shutter button I've pointed out above is actually a top button that presses on the real button inside the camera. The part that protrudes above the rest has a tapered threaded hole in it, to which various release cables or timer devices can be screwed in that use a rod to press the button (or lever or whatever) inside the camera.

That button, with that raised part is easy enough to find by feel, but it can be improved even further with a screw-in "soft button", like this one ...

i had a black version screwed into mine, and it allowed for a more sensitive touch when trying to shoot without unduly disturbing the camera, especially at slow shutter speeds.

As you can see from the picture below (of a different camera) ...
It would also make it even easier to locate by feel.

For an air show, I would use the telephoto lens I mentioned above, presetting my exposure by picking an airplane on the ground that showed a good combination of light and shadow, setting the slowest shutter speed I could get away with using that lens (around 1/30th of a second). I did that because a lot of the planes I would be shooting had propellers and really fast shutter speeds would freeze those props.

I preferred color slide film because, with it, "What you shot was what you got."  When shooting an airplane in the sky, you got a lot of very bright sky in the background. With color negative film, automatic processors would interpret that as overexposure, and would "correct" it when doing the prints. The only way around that with negative film and prints would be to pay for custom developing, trying to explain just what you were after (surprisingly difficult; I'll get back to that in a bit).

With that old-fashioned manual antique, I could even take shots while driving. Just preset the exposure and focus and, if something interesting showed up, pick up the camera with one hand, thumb the advance lever and shoot. Piece of cake.

Ok. So much for past history. What do I try to take pictures with today?

At the moment, I have two cameras. An Olympus D-520 ZOOM pocket camera I've used for some blog pictures recently. I've had it for years, but nothing at all instinctive about it. And, a Canon Power Shot SX-10 IS (IS is for Image Stabilization) that I bought around late October of 2009.

I liked it a lot, but in late 2010 I began experiencing carpal tunnel syndrome leaving very little feeling in my finger tips. It was (and still is) like trying to do things with gloves on.

Both of the cameras have very small controls and shutter buttons that are flush with the camera body. I simply cannot operate them by feel alone.

This became glaringly obvious when I took the Canon to an airshow in October of 2010. I vented about it in Airshow, after not being able to get even one decent shot, because I had to keep taking my eye out of the viewfinder to make sure my fingertip was even on the shutter button.

If you want to to try and preset either one, you have to wade through several menus, and your settings only remain while the camera is switched on.

As for quick shooting, you look through the viewfinder, press the button halfway down (really fun when you can hardly even feel it) and wait a second or two while the camera automatically tries to work out exposure and focus, and finally tells you it's happy and you can finish pushing the shutter button.

Such is progress. :(

(And, YES! I'm actually considering going for an old 35mm camera. Scanning the slides (especially if there are a lot of them) can be a nuisance, as is waiting a day or two to even get the slides back. I'll have to find out what services are available -- and affordable.)

The thing I said I'd get back to was about explaining things to people. The most frustrating thing about this is talking to camera salesmen and seeing in their eyes that I might as well be speaking in South Martian -- They haven't a clue as to what I am talking about.  Never, never think that just because they sell the things they actually know something about them. That is an assumption; all too often unwarranted.

What I'd love to find would be a digital version of that old Ricoh Singlex, as manual and mechanical as possible, and of course with controls I can actually feel.

Any ideas?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Two Movies. (Updated)

Right now, I'd rather talk about them than about politics.

You may have guessed that I absolutely love movies, and devour them.

Since the disaster of November 6, I haven't felt like seeing anything until I finally went out and caught Skyfall (2012) Monday evening. I'll get back to it in a bit, but if you surmise from the fact that I've even mentioned it here, that I liked it a lot, then (in Yoda speak), "Be mighty correct you would!" :-)

I don't recall what was the last thing I saw before the election, but the best thing (about three weeks before) was Argo (2012).

What's it about?  In late 1979, when Iranian militants stormed and took over the American Embassy in Tehran, six Americans (seeing what was likely to happen), slipped out of one of the back doors and made their way to the Canadian Ambassador's residence where they were given refuge.

The CIA worked up a plan to get them out of the country by giving them false identities as a Canadian film crew scouting out exotic locations for a science-fiction movie named "Argo" (actually based on a real script that was never  produced).

Not at all far fetched; a few years prior George Lucas and company spent some time in Tunisia shooting desert scenes for this little thing called "Star Wars".

CIA operative Tony Mendez, who was a specialist at getting people out of very bad places, went in with the necessary (and false) documents and handled the operation.

Ben Affleck directed this, and played Mendez.

Sometime back, I posted Presence in which I tried to define the term with examples of what it was. In that post, I mentioned Affleck as an example of what it was not. Give it a look, Ok?. It's one I'm rather fond of.

After seeing "Argo", I updated the post, noting that it was time for me to stop picking on Affleck. He has greatly improved as an actor, and as a director he is absolutely first rate. This is his third directorial effort (after "Gone, Baby, Gone", and "The Town"). For a while this year, I considered "The Avengers" as the best movie of 2012, just for its pure entertainment value. I still love that movie, but I now consider "Argo" the best. If it's still showing in your town, I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Ok, then. The title of this post is "Two Movies". So let's get on with "Skyfall".

This is the third time for Daniel Craig as James Bond, and was directed by Sam Mendes (who had worked with Craig before, in a Tom Hanks movie, Road to Perdition (2002), set during Prohibition in which Hanks is an enforcer (with a Tommy gun) working for mob boss Paul Newman. Craig played Newman's son, whose actions result in all out war between Hanks and Newman.)

In "Skyfall", MI-6, and especially M (played again by the wonderful Judi Dench) come under attack by a former MI-6 operative who feels that he was sacrificed by M, that this was a betrayal, and is just not going to get over it.

That operative is played by Javier Bardem, the killer in No Country for Old Men (2007), and he is something else as an adversary. I think I'm correct in using that term instead of villain, as his motive is vengeance, which he feels is entirely justified.

Everyone in "Skyfall" is first rate, but when Bardem shows up he makes the movie his own. Simply put, the man is mesmerizing. Should I ever expand my "Presence" post further, he would be a perfect addition.

Seeing how menacing he could be in "No Country" and "Skyfall", it's difficult to believe that, before "No Country", this Spaniard was mostly known for romantic comedies in Europe. When the script for "No Country" was submitted to him, he called the Coen brothers to say, "I can't drive. I speak bad English. And, I hate violence! Are you sure you've got the right guy?"

Maybe it was something that only the Coens could see, but they certainly had the right guy that time. As is also the case for "Skyfall".

After fifty years of 007, this latest is, if not the absolute best, is certainly damned near the top of the list.  Am I recommending it?

Do you really have to ask? :-)

Update - Thu, 13 Dec 2012 - The # 1 reason to check out "Skyfall" ...

Top photo from explore.bfi.org.uk, lower 
photo from bjjjicjalapicture.blogspot.com

Those two photos are of Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh in "No Country for Old Men". Supposedly, his first reaction to the hair style he would wear for the film was, "Oh, Great! Now I wont get laid for months."

He was nominated for a best supporting actor Academy award for that role, and WON.

And now, here he is as Raoul Silva in "Skyfall" ...

The top photo of this pair is from weblogs.variety.com, and the lower 
(a behind the scenes picture of his character, obviously in disguise 
as that character is not on the side of the angels) is from ifc.com

I mentioned above his nomination and win of an Academy award for "No Country". Well, it could happen again. I've just read that he's been nominated for best supporting actor for this role. I wouldn't be terribly surprised if he wins this time too.

Update - Tue, 22 Jan 2012 - Well, HELL!!! - Don't recall just where I read of Bardem's nomination, but I've just now seen the Academy Awards list.  He has not been nominated this time.  Dammit!  He shoulda been!.  :(

Sunday, December 09, 2012

"I'll be back."

  ~The Terminator (1984)

I rather doubt that my entrance will be nearly as dramatic as the one it made, when it kept its promise a few minutes later.

It's been almost a solid month since my last post ("Things could be worse!"), which was a "whistling past the graveyard" effort to disguise the fact that, since the election, I've slipped into the blackest depression in memory.

But, there's only so long that one just stay in a hole and cover it over him. This mess will be with us for years now, and I'll just have to live with it.

I'm a bit burnt out over politics now (for some unfathomable reason), although I'll eventually get back to that.

I'm going to try and catch up on some movies (if you look at the "Categories" list in the left column, click on "Movies", and wade through the results, you'll discover my true passion.

I'm also considering a post or two on hank Williams songs. While I've never been married, I've seen plenty of other people's marriages. and while most are good, more than a few can be described perfectly by his songs ...

      "I remember when you were nice and sweet.
      "Things have changed; you'd rather fight than eat!"
        (Middle verse of "Long Gone Daddy".)

See! There's a whole world of things to write about that are far less depressing than politics. I just need to get to it.

A couple of days after I posted "Things ...", I got this email from a former boss of mine whom I'm proud to consider one of my very best friends ...


Some of your posts are really good so don't stop! 

But how did a Texas Hill Country boy, from the heart of German rational liberalism get to where your views are today - don't answer that?

Your friend, Bryan

Well, to answer what he said not to, I got to where my views are today because I learned!

But, as to his advice on posting, who am I to argue with his logic?  The fact is he is simply one of the smartest people I have ever known. 

And he knows it. :-)



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