My life, what I am up to..

I finally got to finish the book with the Big-Es coffee shop regulars and sunset at Indian Beach in Sarasota Florida. Film photos were taken with Leicas (M2, M4-P, IIIc) and a Pentax 6×7. Digital shots are from a Fuji X100S and Olympus OM-D E-M5. The project lasted two years.

I will miss Sarasota and my friends dearly, until I come back, soon or later. Everyone seems to come back to Sarasota.

Well, things were not supposed to turn out the way they did, that’s life. I lost my boat in the Bahamas, see the post here. I am glad I succeeded in leaving the dock and crossing the Gulf Stream mind you, I will never forget those few days.

Brainwashing on a national level, is it possible? Oh yes. I see it clearly here in France. I found it much worse than when I left it twenty two years ago. The government has full control over businesses, choking them to death, milking them to their last pennies. I can’t believe they don’t understand why the economy is tanking. There are no jobs available here. People stay on short duration work contracts for years because companies can’t afford to hire anyone long term. Salaries for similar positions are half to three times less than in the United States, with much higher taxes to boot. It is the new bloodless slavery, just sweat and tears. You work seven months out of the year for nothing. You would be a fool to start a business in France. It’s a communist nightmare. They try to reduce unemployment by implementing more rules, more social programs. It’s like trying to extinguish a fire by pouring gasoline on it. It’s cutting the branch you’re sitting on. A government produces nothing, it steals. The producers are the entrepreneurs. They are the real motor of a nation. Alienate them and see your country sink like the Titanic. Yet the passengers are still pretending it isn’t happening and the band is playing music on deck. Imagine a well dressed thug in a dark alley, he asks you politely to give him most of your money, it’s for the poor, and you can see he has a gun in his pocket, but hey, it’s for a good cause, right? After all, you making more money than the other guy is kind of shameful, isn’t it? Never mind how much you worked and sacrificed to get to where you are. I am all for solidarity mind you, I have been the recipient of it and the benefactor at times, but not under the threat of violence. France is now a police state. There are three categories of people here: The producers, and the government that steals from them and gives to the leeches. The beauty of it is convincing the population that they are doing the right thing. I remember a government slogan way back, it was all over the media, “Impossible isn’t French.” Well, now impossible is the French motto. Bureaucracy makes sure of that. There is a law for everything and for anything you like to do there is a form to fill, an authorization to obtain, including for your hobbies. People actually vote for all this, and I saw the same phenomenon starting in the United States. This ship is a goner, don’t let it happen to yours! Your life belongs to you, don’t let someone take it from you and don’t give it all away for nothing. You can help others without losing your freedom, without being a slave. You can be a good person without enslaving others with your vote. Don’t let politicians tell you that the European model is the solution, it’s a lie! Please share.

One year already since I let my domain name expire. I was lucky to get it back. A lot of things changed of course, not all for the best. My health isn’t very good right now. I am not quite sure what is going on, but it isn’t good. I started thinking about my build projects, the Fafnir sailboat and the Hornet gyrocopter. I love building stuff, but let’s face it, it takes an aweful lot of time. So I was browsing the sailboat ads last year, just out of boredom one day, and thought that I might just be able to afford a small boat, one already built that I wouldn’t have to wait three years to sail. Because who knows…

I hate not finishing projects mind you, but sometimes better things come along and you need to let go. I sold the gyro project. The Fafnir jig and keelson are still under my car port, and I have the floor board, a bulkhead, stringers and other pieces of wood which were going to be used in the construction. If anyone is interested, let me know. I might get back to boat building in a few years, but I had to look for a boat I could use now, or at least, soon.

It wasn’t going to be easy because my requirements were pretty specific. The boat had to be able to cross an ocean in relative safety. For me, that meant a somewhat heavy displacement hull, full keel, and double-ender if possible. So I kept on browsing.. I saw a Pacific Seacraft 25 at a good price, but it was in California. I had a Southern Cross 31 surveyed in St. Petersbug, but unfortunately the deck was soaked with water and the cabin had been attacked by a wannabe electrician with a one-inch hole cutter.

Then there was one ad for a Morris Frances 26. I hadn’t heard of that model before, but knew the designer’s reputation, Chuck Paine. And a reputable boat it certainly is. It is said that at least one has circumnavigated. The boat was named “Carol Anne” but had changed names before from “Rachael” and “Fancy.” Now she is “Dagny.” When I saw it the deck had just a coat of grey primer. The inside was fine, except for three small rot spots. The single cylinder Volvo Penta 2001 model ran fine. We took it on a short trial with the owner, the surveyor and my friend Patrick.

Awesome lines! There is no standing headroom, and that is a problem for me being 6’2″ (188cm). Have a look at the inside before I started any work:

Then the deck needed attention. I started by sanding it lightly, with the help of my friend Shane, then applied one coat of epoxy to seal the plywood. Then, my friend Brooke and I applied two coats of Pettit white EasyPoxy paint; the one-part kind. It was also a good time to glue solar panels on deck. I chose Aurinco because they seemed to be getting good reviews and are assembled in the United States. They aren’t cheap but can be walked on. I now have two 26W panels and two 18W. Solar charge controllers are two Genasun 4A models.

The deck once painted was very slippery so I bought some KiwiGrip, which is an awesome product and very easy to apply.

I’ll spare you the minute details of little projects that went into making the boat ready to sail. Let’s just say that I intended to leave for a long cruise in April, and we are now in mid August. It still isn’t finished, but the light is visible at the end of the tunnel. My friend Christine painted the name on the stern last month.

There is still quite a bit of painting to be done on the inside, a few square feet of KiwiGrip to apply, a couple small spots of rot left, and unfortunately the companionway hatch is warping, so that will be another project. The rudder is at my house, being 40% repainted at this time. But really, aside from a few electrical details and finishing touches, it is almost ready.

So, where am I going? Well, the Bahamas for a start, since it is only forty miles from the East Coast. Then South to the Turk and Caicos, then who knows.. The Panama Canal, French Polynesia? I am dreaming here, but let’s just say I will go as far as I feel comfortable and safe at the time.. It might end-up being a few miles from my dock, or around the world, I have no idea. I certainly hope to leave in October at the latest. You can follow the preparations, and hopefully the trip at

Numerous people have helped me work on the boat, given me rides, advise, gear and encouragements. I can’t thank them enough. I must mention, in no special order, Patrick, Ted, Christine, Brooke, Michael, Shane, Ed, Phil, Dave, and I am horrified right now about forgetting anyone. I even had to refuse help at times. You guys don’t even understand how much it means to me. I have been living here for more than twenty one years now, and leaving for an undetermined lenght of time, leaving my best friends behind is going to be very hard. If I get to leave… So many things can go wrong. The last straight line before the finish is always the longest and most treacherous, so I am crossing my fingers…

That’s what most photographers call it, because let’s face it, it is a beast!

Pentax 6x7

Pentax 6×7

That Leica IIIc looks pretty small next to it!

Why would anyone get into medium format film photography in 2014? One word: Quality. The 6x7cm negative beats any digital camera today under $30,000. For $400 to $500! Your garden variety 35mm film negative is roughly equivalent to 16 megapixels. The 6×7 is equivalent, depending on scanning, to 50-80mp! Right… The cheapest contender would be the Pentax 645Z at 51mp for $8500 (body only).

I was recently going through old B&W negatives and stumbled upon a photograph of my brother I took when he was a child, with a Lubitel 166B cheap Russian 6×6 plastic camera. That was more than thirty years ago (I’ve been into photography for a long time!) They are surprisingly good and the 6×6 of course is a large negative. Judge for yourself:

My brother Fabien, 6x6.

My brother Fabien, 6×6.

Keep in mind this is a highly scaled image. The original is much nicer. So, my interest for the medium format was revived. I had my parents ship me the Lubitel, but unfortunately the camera was in bad shape and I decided to throw it away. I remember when I was about 19, learning to fly ultralights, my instructor Gerard Landri used a Pentax 6×7 to take aerial photographs. I really liked the camera so I looked it up. What a monster! The rangefinder forum has a thread about the camera with many awesome images. I decided to look on Ebay… Prices were fairly reasonable. I had to buy a body, prism and lens separately. Since I was already processing film, I only had to buy a steel reel for 6cm wide films. I got the camera at 6pm and was out taking photographs the same night:

Meli in 6x7

Meli in 6×7

Again, this is a highly scaled image. The original is 7874×5917 pixels, so 47mp, scanned with a beat-up Epson V500. It is less in reality with the V500. I can’t wait to get a decent scanner, maybe a used Nikon Coolscan 8000.

You can find great medium format cameras on Ebay for a song. Well, around $200 for something decent like the Rolleicord or Yashica Mat. The Pentax is about $200 to $300 for a body, $80 to $180 for a prism, and you can get a good lens for $150. The quality is astounding. It almost makes me want to get a large format camera, 4×5″, yes, inches! Maybe next year… Medium format seems to be all I need right now. The Pentax has one drawback, that is weight. You need a good strap or the optional wooden grip to carry it for any length of time. Definitely not the camera to take on a long hike, unless photography was the ultimate goal. Probably not the best either for street photography unless you want to scare small children and make people jump in fear at the shutter noise. If anybody lunges at you, you can always use the camera as a bludgeoning tool. I will try street photography with it anyway 😉 The images that come out of this beast are out-of-this-world.

I have read that you can’t really use it handheld… BS! I took photos handheld at 1/60s that are perfectly sharp. Just hold your breath and imagine you’re a military sniper when your press the trigger, uh.. Button.. Smooth is the key.

What is there not to love about this camera but the size and weight? Images are awesome, it’s rugged, simple, fairly affordable, and it sure makes you look badass 😉

I am not giving up film! Film does look better in my opinion. It has a certain charm, an analog feel that digital can only approach with a lot of computer work. It might be a bit similar to listening to vinyls as opposed to compact discs. Theoretically you shouldn’t be able to tell the difference, but it seems that some people can. Our brains are not made for digital perception. So, why am I getting a digital camera? Albeit not any digital camera…

Rangefinder Cameras

Rangefinder Cameras

Image quality? Film can hold far more details than digital images. The problem is how to retrieve that information. These days images invariably end-up on a computer screen. In that regard, digital or film makes no difference as the image on a screen is limited to 72dpi (dots per inch). Expose your photographs blown-up on a gallery wall however and your results may vary depending on a flurry of variables such as your type of film, processing, paper, etc. It is generally said that your classic 35mm film is roughly equivalent to 16mp, though it is comparing apples and oranges. The advantage of digital is that it eliminates the multitude of small accidents that can happen during film processing, like scratches, stains, kinks, etc. You also skip processing and scanning. Though results can be similar, digital wins hands down on convenience.

I recently got back into photography with Leica cameras and love the simplicity and handling of rangefinders. These cameras are small and discreet, unlike the large DSLRs you see today. For street work it is a big plus. I would have loved a digital Leica M-E, but at $5500 it was out of the question. The closest was the Fuji X100S with a fixed 35mm equivalent lens and a 16mp APSC sensor. The combination makes very high quality images. The fixed lens bothers me a bit, but I take most of my photographs with a 35mm lens anyway.. Alternatives were the Fuji X-E2 or X-T1, and the Olympus E-M1. The X100S with his silent leaf shutter won. I love the fact that you can take absolutely silent photographs; so silent in fact that you don’t hear yourself take a photo.

The X100S does cost about the same as my Leica M4-P and it’s Color Skopar lens. Of course I never have to buy film or chemicals. Quality is excellent, though the B&W files lack a bit of contrast, which can be fixed easily in Lightroom (software). I could take hundreds of photographs a day with the Fuji, but my old film habits limit me to a few shots a day, as if I still had to worry about the cost of film processing.

Another advantage is the light weight of the camera. I take it everywhere I go. My Leicas are about the same size but heavier. I would however hesitate to take the Fuji for hiking and camping. It just doesn’t feel as sturdy as the Leicas.

I think my favorite is still the M4-P, but the Fuji allows me to share images much faster. It would be an advantage also if I was ever hired again as a photographer, which is not something I am trying to do, but you never know. Documentary photography is my forte. So I carry two cameras when I can, the X100S and the M4-P. I bought a little Domke F-8 bag that is just large enough for both. I use the M4-P during the day and switch to the X100S when the sun goes down, which is when the Fuji really shines. Film and digital complement each-other nicely. I would not be without a film camera, but I could live without digital. No regrets about the Fuji though, I love the camera. It looks great and takes very high quality images. Fujifilm is definitely the company to watch these days for anyone wanting to buy a digital camera. I highly recommend the X100S or X-E2. For a lower price, see the new X30, rumored to be announced on July 3rd.