Personal

My life, what I am up to..

When do you start a boat log? When the boat hits the water for the first time? On the first day of it’s first voyage? Why not start earlier, when the decision is made to build it?

Building a boat in Florida when so many can be bought for a song might seem a ludicrous idea. Unless the design is not available commercially or not affordable enough. I would have been content with, say a Flicka 20, great pocket cruiser but hard to find below twenty thousand dollars. Let’s face it, I am not good at saving money and a loan is out of the question, especially for something that can sink. No bank would go for it. My last project, the restoration of a 32ft steel ketch was more than I could chew. I almost succeeded mind you, but when vandals ransacked the boat and stole everything of value from it, even cutting out the bronze ports, it became too much to finish. My heart wasn’t in it anymore.

Dagny needed a facelift...

Dagny needed a facelift…

I have been living in or near Sarasota Florida for twenty years. My forty seventh birthday is coming up. Two years ago I had no doubts about my future. My girlfriend and I were going to get married. Everything was great. We were going to be a happy family with her two children. Then she realized that she was probably going to lose alimony from her ex husband (my suspicion) and worried about her standard of living. Money can be an evil thing. I lost twenty pounds in two months and ended-up in the emergency room. It took me eighteen months to almost fully recover. It was like jumping to a parallel universe, nothing made sense. I would have worked myself to death for us. I would have done anything to make us all happy, and yet it wasn’t enough. I made a grave error in judgment and it almost killed me.

You live your life like everybody else or you do something extraordinary… Though my life has not been ordinary it is time for me to move on. I love Florida and this country and have many great friends here. Things are not like they used to be though. I have thought about moving out West, Idaho maybe, beautiful country in the summer. It is supposed to be the most Libertarian state of the Union. The winters have me worried. I hate it when the temperature gets below sixty. How would I fare well below freezing? The thought of warm sandy beaches, reclining on deck with a glass of Cointreau in one hand and a pipe in the other seems more appealing than shoveling snow. I need to save myself, save my soul. A boat seems to be the best way to do it, before it is too late and I lose that spark in my heart that has driven me to follow the route less taken. It might be a boat building project, but really, it is more of a life raft…

How do I get there from here? With my freelance work hours dwindling down to a trickle it doesn’t seem quite possible. The secret is to start and keep at it. Although I own a set of drawings for another similar 32ft steel ketch like my now defunct Dagny, I know it is too large a project for me to undertake under the present circumstances. Maybe later, in another chapter of my life. I need something smaller. How small can I go? Serge Testa sailed around the world in 1983 aboard Acrohc Australis, a 12ft boat he built himself. I certainly wouldn’t attempt such a stunt but I might be tempted to cross an ocean some day, that would be extraordinary. Pocket cruisers are not inherently unsafe, on the contrary. A small egg-shaped hull can be stronger than a large one. Comfort is another story… I spent countless hours studying boat designs in the 12-20ft range. Finally I reduced my selection to two. The Farthing 15 by McNaughton and the Fafnir by John Welsford. The Fafnir won and I bought a set of plans. Though only 13ft long it allows sleeping fully extended and is built like a tank. The design was originally meant to circumnavigate. It is made of wood, encapsulated in fiberglass and epoxy resin.

Fafnir Side View

Fafnir sailboat side view.

These guys are almost finished with their project: http://purjekas.planet.ee.

Call it a new year resolution, I have to start now. It might take years for me to complete. The only determining factors will be money and my health. Hopefully I will have both. I make no promise to myself other than keep trying and working at it as much as I can.

Last week I went to Laser Repro Graphics downtown and had the drawings scanned and duplicated for my friend Erin who will be digitizing the plans in order to determine how much marine plywood I will need to purchase for the bulkheads. He will create cutting files to minimize waste and speed-up the process. My first step is to build the jig on which the hull will be built. I just found two sixteen feet two-by-fours behind the house, perfect for the building jig. All I need now is resin, a few more two-by-fours and some hardware. When that is ready, I hope before my birthday, I will order the plywood, lay the bottom of the boat on the jig and start on the bulkheads.

Will I ever finish it, I don’t know. What I do know is that what you don’t start, you never complete. If I don’t get run over by a bus or anything else, I see no reason not to succeed. Where I will go then is uncertain. There is ample time to think about it.

It has been three months since my return to photography, film photography to be exact. I already have two Leica bodies (M4-P & IIIc) and one lens (Summitar 50mm f2). I was fortunate to get those three items for very good prices. Still, I need a lens for the M4-P. I can afford only one. 35mm seems to be the best for street photography. I have thought long and hard about which one to get. New leica lenses are out of my financial reach, even the cheaper ones. One used option is the Summicron 40mm. They sell for $600 to $800. 40mm is close enough to the 35mm framelines of the M4-P, which I have read covers more like 38mm.. Then there are the Voightlander lenses, Color Skopar f2.5 and Nokton f1.4. The f1.2 Nokton is just too big.. I do not like the distortion and focus shift of the f1.4. Sure, it’s bright, but I know I will look for it’s imperfections on every image I produce. The Zeiss Biogon f2.8 is my favorite, though not a bright lens. Image quality however is said to be outstanding. The Biogon f2 model is a bit too expensive. I know there are other 35mm lenses out there, but I need to limit my selection. So, it will be the Color Skopar, incidentally the cheapest, or if by some miracle a wad of money falls on my lap, the Biogon f2.8. I can carry both my M4-P and IIIc around with their 35 and 50mm lenses, a good combo. The M4-P will probably see more use, as the Summitar is really for the IIIc and is a bit soft for my tastes. The so called “classic look” for me means old and of dubious optical quality. I like sharp and contrasty glass.

Not having a meter built into the cameras hasn’t bothered me much at all. I use my iPod with an app called “Pocket Light Meter.” I measure the light on the back of my hand stretched in front of me, making sure I am not shading it. It looks like I am taking a photo of my nails! I’ve had friends ask me what the hell I was doing! It looks a little gay but works really well.

I’ve tried a few films, Kodak Tri-X 400, Ilford FP4+ 125 and HP5+ 400. I like them all. The Ilford films dry a bit flatter which makes them easier to scan. I am borrowing an Epson V500 but it isn’t quite good enough. I plan on getting a Plustek, not sure which model. My first negatives came out grossly over-developped. I wasn’t sure if it was my meter or technique but it turns out that I had used 4oz of Kodak HC-110 to make a gallon (dissolution B) when what I wanted was dissolution H, 2oz of concentrate to make a gallon. With the correct 1+63 dissolution H both Kodak Tri-X and ilford HP5+ take eleven minutes to develop at 20°C/68°F when exposed at 400 ISO. I invert the tank twice every minute. FP4+ at 100 ISO takes fifteen minutes.

By the way do not buy the “Arista Classic Plastic Developing Tank.” It leaks.. I always end-up with liquid spilling out from the lid. The Paterson is better. I might also try the Arista stainless model because the plastic spools cause trouble sometimes and I have damaged two films that resisted spooling all the way. I probably should just get the Paterson though. I was using them while developing for the local paper and never had a problem with them. I am curious however about those stainless spools. Anyone reading this has used them?

Processing your own films saves a lot of money but there is still the cost of film. What about buying in bulk? You can actually buy rolls of 100ft of film! A film loader is necessary but should pay for itself fairly quickly. I will get the Arista 35mm Bulk Film Loader Bobinquick Junior. That site has all the film processing gear you will ever need! Film is cheaper at B&H though, a 100ft. roll of HP5+ costs $50. At maybe 20 rolls of 36exp per 100ft. roll, that comes to about $2.50 per roll instead of $4.75. It takes 31 rolls to pay off the Arista loader ($70), 14 rolls for a cheaper loader ($30). The empty cartridges are cheap at about $1, and reusable. You can also use spent cartridges if the leader is still sticking out.

Film photography is my hobby. I used to make a living with it when digital didn’t exist. I don’t plan on being a professional again, but if my skills improve I might want to be ready if an opportunity presents itself, say an assignment overseas for instance. That means digital, and probably a DSLR. Being used to professional cameras that can be banged around and abused (F3 & F4) I wouldn’t go for any less. Problem is, new ones cost a fortune, from $5K to $7K, not to mention lenses. Fortunately there are awesome professional cameras on Ebay that used to cost as much but can be found now for around $500! The best example would be the Nikon D2X or the Canon 1Ds Mk1. I am a Nikon kind of guy.. The D2X actually goes for around $450. It’s built like a tank, pretty much waterproof, shock proof, freeze proof, etc. I don’t think you could break one by accident, short of dropping it from an airplane on concrete. 12mp is quite enough. More than that and files get way too big. Image quality is outstanding. Add a 35mm f2 (52.5mm equivalent) for $330, and you have a professional combo for $800 (including a filter). There is nothing else out there that can beat that.

Speaking about lenses… The best advise I can give to beginners is to avoid zooms, especially “kit zooms.” prime lenses, or fixed-focal lenses are leaps-and-bounds better than zooms. Kit zooms will turn a great camera body into a piece of crap.. Spend more money on a lens than you did on the camera body. I would suggest starting with a 50mm full frame equivalent. What does that mean? Well, some cameras have a smaller sensor than the 36x24mm film size. The D2X for example has a 1.5x crop factor. That means that if you want a 50mm equivalent you would need to buy a 33.3mm lens. 35mm is the closest you will find. Later you can get a 28mm, and maybe a 135mm.. NO ZOOMS! With a zoom you become lazy and composition takes a backstage. You don’t want that. How hard a picture is to take is often directly proportional to it’s quality. Zooms have more elements and more of them need to move for zooming. That creates problems and eats light. Prime lenses are better optically, brighter and cheaper! How do you recognize and amateur from a professional? The amateur uses long skinny lenses, often zooms. The professional uses wide prime lenses that let in a lot of light.

I still want a Fuji X100S for street photography of course, but unfortunately I think the money will go to my dentist.. Sorry B&H.. Tooth problems can cause so many health problems, I need to take care of myself first before thinking of buying more cameras. Even if I get to buy a D2X, X100S and say three Nikon lenses, I can’t imagine needing anything else as a hobbyist, even semi-pro. It’s about the images, not the gear.

This year I also want to start on my new boat construction. Unfortunately the economy has finally caught up with me. I might just have to get that Voightlander 35mm, forget all the rest and make sure I am healthy with no late bills to pay. I have a wide array of marketable skills but no field is being spared, except maybe medical professionals, and I am not even sure about them.. I know my dentist will get my money.. It might be time to learn some new tricks..

I realize I haven’t posted that story yet. Not that it’s very interesting, but informative in a way of telling what not to do.. I made a few mistakes that could have been costly, in money and personal safety. It happened a few months ago…

I had a craving for ice cream that night, rode my bicycle to Walgreens. I didn’t have a lock for my bike but oh well, I was only going to be inside for a couple minutes.. There was a guy near the entrance who was just standing there. A little red flag popped in my mind but I told myself he was just waiting for someone inside the store. Mistake number one: Not listening to my intuition. This is doubly bad because I always advocate doing so when teaching or talking about self-defense. It took me only seconds to grab the ice cream and head for the cashier, from which I could see my bike outside… And the guy jumping on it! I ran out, ice cream in hand without paying! The thief was getting away, not looking back over his shoulder (his big mistake). I could have thrown the ice cream at him but I love ice cream too much to even think about that..

I started running. I hate running, never been good at it and with the metal rod inside my femur, I can’t run for very long before those screws start biting. The thief went around the store, picking up speed. As I thought my expensive bike was lost he turned into a group of apartments right behind the store! I saw him get into a door with my bike. Again, the fool did not look back. I had seen him before on the street, pimping a male prostitute. Now, this is not my neighborhood, but this area is situated between my street and my favorite coffee shop, so I do see a lot of “interesting” characters there on U.S. 41. It is good to keep a mental representation of who is local and what goes on around you.. I would have seen him again soon or later. Interestingly, he was involved in a stabbing of a “customer” a few months later. his male street worker did the stabbing, but he was arrested as an accomplice. So, I wasn’t dealing with a choir boy here.

What I should have done right there was to call 911. Instead, I ran to the apartment. Mistake number two. A side door was open and that male prostitute, the thief’s boyfriend was inside cooking. I did not force my way in but demanded my bicycle in no uncertain terms… He pretended not to know what I was talking about. That’s when things could have taken a different turn. I had two male individuals in the house, with at the very least kitchen knives, and who knows what else.. Had they attacked me I would have had to choose between defending myself and calling the police. I was too out of breath by then to run again. I told the “guy” I was calling the police, which I did. As I was taking with the 911 operator, the thief came out.

He offered to give me back my bike if I hung up the phone! At that point, all I wanted was my bike back. I told the operator I was getting it back and would be leaving the scene. I couldn’t help but insult the thief and told him I better not see him again… Mistake number three. The 911 operator heard that. Had anything happened to him that night, not of my doing, I would nevertheless have been suspected.. Low-lives like him have a knack for getting in trouble. He said “you won’t” and ran away. When I am pissed-off, I do not look friendly..

I went back to the store to pay for the ice cream, which I was still clutching in my now cold hand. What are the lessons I learned?

  1. I should have locked my bike, or upon getting the red flag, left and came back later.
  2. I should have called the police immediately after seeing the thief get inside the apartment.
  3. I should not have accepted the trade and the police would have been there already had I called earlier.
  4. I should have refrained from insulting and semi-threaten the thief with the 911 operator listening.
  5. I should have been better conditioned to run after him, thus not being out of breath had I been forced to defend myself.

When the thief entered the house, there was the time for me to stop, think and catch my breath. I didn’t. I was not in danger right then and the thief couldn’t have left without running into me. I had all the time in the world to formulate a plan. Something I will definitely remember: Don’t rush if it’s not needed, stop and think. I skipped right over the OODA loop, putting myself in danger.

Could I be even dumber than that? You bet. A few days later I was sitting outside the aforementioned coffee shop. My bike this time was locked with a shiny brand new lock. Who shows up for a cup of coffee while his male prostitute boyfriend puts the bread and butter on the table (and maybe elsewhere)? Yep, the bicycle thief! What I should have said then was nothing. Instead I said “Are you going to try to steal that bike again?” He looked at me and blurted something like “You crazy, I didn’t steal your bike, I have a job.” Yeah, you’re a pimp.. I didn’t say that, but I yelled at him to “get the f-ck out of here!” Which he promptly did. I just couldn’t keep my mouth shut. I don’t think I was at a big risk then, but you never know how things turn out until it’s over; really over sometimes.. New lesson learned: Don’t let your emotions run your mouth.

When we end-up in dicey situations, it is often of our own doing. Maybe not because of an immediate bad decision, but sometimes because of one made months, even years earlier. In this case, not buying a lock was my first mistake, I think.. The others followed. Accidents are almost always a succession of mistakes or overlooking successive clues that things aren’t going in the right direction. That’s when the OODA loop works. Learn about it!

CH1

We’ll start with local communications. Failure of land lines and cell phone relays could isolate you from family members and friends you would want on your side in an emergency. After a hurricane a few miles might as well be a few thousand. Something might also happen while you are away from home, if only shopping on the other side of town. I hope you have a bug-out bag in your car to help you get home…

Before diving into the subject, I need to lay out some bases on frequencies and communication modes. It isn’t hard to understand and I will do my best to make it as simple as possible. Take your local radio station for instance.. Let’s say you listen to 102.5 FM. 102.5 is the frequency, in this case 102.5 megahertz, which is 102,500,000 cycles per second. Frequencies are measured in Hertz, meaning cycles per second. Imagine flipping the light switch in your kitchen.. At 102.5MHz you would be flipping it more than a hundred million times per second. Pretty easy concept. As far as units go, we use the Hertz, Kilohertz (x1000 Hertz), Megahertz (x1,000,000 Hertz) and Gigahertz (1,000,000,000 Hertz). You are already familiar with “Gigahertz” if you ever had to shop for a computer…

FM is the modulation mode, which means the way your voice (or data) is coded before sending it by radio waves. I won’t get into details here but just know that there are different modes. You probably listen to AM radio sometimes, which is a different voice mode from FM. AM (amplitude modulation) was invented before FM (frequency modulation) and is of course still in use today by short-wave radio stations because it is more efficient than FM. AM will go further than FM using the same power but doesn’t sound as clear. This is why radio stations prefer FM for music. For local communications you will be using AM or FM, but on different frequencies than your local radio stations.

So, why use different frequencies and which ones are useful to you? For practical matters, we will divide frequencies in two parts: HF or High Frequency, and VHF/UHF or Very High Frequency and Ultra High Frequency. HF, as far as Ham radio is concerned goes from about 1600KHz to 30MHz. UHF goes up to a few Gigahertz. So, your local FM radio station uses VHF which is above 30MHz but below about 400MHz, and your AM station uses HF, around 1MHz. What’s the difference? You see, the problem with radio is that the earth is round but radio waves travel in straight lines… So how do you contact someone who is beyond line-of-sight? If it wasn’t for the ionosphere, we would never have been able to do so before the invention of the communications satellite. There would have been no Titanic survivors! Fortunately radio waves bounce on the ionosphere! Under certain circumstances… They can even bounce on the earth and go all around the world! The ionosphere will bounce radio waves up to around 50MHz, and not very often at that frequency. It depends on solar activity. That’s why you’ll never hear an FM radio station from Japan! But you might hear an AM one on HF if you have a big enough antenna.

For local communications everyone uses VHF and UHF, except for CB radios which use HF on 27MHz. We can use HF for local communications as well as VHF/UHF but we run into another problem, antenna size… The length of any antenna depends on the frequency. You can’t use any antenna size… It is inversely proportional to the frequency used. Antennas are usually half a wavelength. Take 7MHz for instance, which is a popular Ham HF frequency.. The size of a half-wave antenna is around 66ft. A bit long for a handheld radio! Another common Ham band for local communications is the 2 meter band around 146MHz. A half-wave antenna for that frequency is about 3.2ft. Now we can slap that on a walkie-talkie.. You will learn about all that simple math while studying for your Ham Technician license.

Let’s look at the no-license-required options for local comms: You probably already own a pair of FRS handheld radios. You can find them at Walmart for as low as $30. How good are they? Pretty good it turns out, but their range is limited. The manufacturers pretend up to twenty or thirty miles, but that would be floating in space talking to someone on the ground. The earth being round, again, we run into the line-of-sight-problem. Two humans standing up with a radio at head-height will only be able to talk to about six miles… That goes for any radio at that height, FRS or not. Because of their low power and small antennas, actual range is more like two miles maximum. A good way to extend range would be to climb on your roof, but obstructions will reduce the practical range and you’ll never get more than a few miles. FRS (family radio service) radios are more useful to keep in touch while moving as a group in case some members get separated.

An alternative to FRS handhelds are MURS radios. They aren’t much different but since less people know about them you get a little more privacy… Anyone can listen to FRS. Few people use MURS because they cost a bit more. Range is similar to FRS in that they are limited by the same laws of physics.

Personally I don’t have much money to spend on gear so I opted for FRS. If things turn ugly I can give a few to my friends and establish a simple code for operational security. I highly suggest that you do buy as many as you need for each members of you inner circle, plus a couple spares.

Then we have the good old CB radios. They operate in AM on 27MHz. Furthermore, you get forty channels. Since this is HF, it is occasionally possible to communicate over vast distances using a CB (citizen band) radio, although the FCC doesn’t allow you to talk to anyone beyond 250 miles. I don’t think they enforce it… There are very few CB handhelds as most models are for car or home use. Antennas are fairly long, not very practical for something you might want top carry in your pocket. It is however a popular band to listen to, though if you have kids I’d suggest keeping them away from it! CB used to be civil and polite, self policing. Not any more… If you decide to buy a CB I suggest you get one with SSB modes, which we will talk about in our upcoming long distance communications article. See my post about the Galaxy DX-979. Getting a CB means that you will have to learn a bit about antenna tuning and how to measure SWR (standing wave ratio), which is how much power is not radiated by the antenna and could fry your radio turning it into a receiver only.. It is simple but can’t be ignored. Your antenna must be of a precise specific length to transmit with. So, if you buy a CB radio, also buy a SWR meter. More about that in our HF article later.

Ham radio is you best choice for emergency communications. Not only the radios are of better quality and more versatile but you also gain a whole community of knowledgeable individuals ready to help you. The Technician exam is so easy it’s almost laughable. It will only set you back about $15 and your license will be valid for ten years. The FCC assigns you a call sign and that’s the extent of it. You gain access to many frequencies and modes for worldwide communications. The Technician license is mostly for local communications but allows some long-range contacts on some bands.

The most common local Ham band is 2m FM, which covers from 144 to 148MHz. What’s so great about it compared to say, FRS, since again the laws of physics come into play? In one word, repeaters! Ham operators install repeaters on high towers all over the country. You can be pretty sure there is one within range of your house. These repeaters relay your signal over large distances, sometimes up to one or two hundred miles. Not bad for using a small handheld radio. Repeaters might not operate for long after a large scale emergency but at least they will keep you connected until the generators run out of gas.

Another popular band like 2m is the 70cm band from 420 to 450MHz. Most handheld radios offer both band in one device which is what I suggest you get. Prices range from $35 to $600 but you can get a great radio for $150. Ignore expensive digital models because they don’t work any better than the good old FM ones. More private maybe, but that’s about it.

One of my favorite model is the Yaesu FT-270. It is a 2m only model, very rugged and waterproof. You can actually dunk the darn thing in a bucket of water while it’s on and it will keep working! Best thing is, price is around $120. Another cheap option is the Chinese Baofeng UV-5R and UV-5R+ models. They have both 2m and 70cm and can be programmed to include FRS and MURS channels, though you can legally only listen. In an emergency however, you can use any radio on any frequency, so a good option to have. The UV-5R has a big flaw however and that is the external microphone jack. It breaks after you use it a few times, limiting you to use the radio with an external microphone only. I have two and both are broken. One I received already broken and the other one broke within a couple weeks. I now use them with external microphones.. Still a good deal for $50 a pop. If you get one I suggest never plugging in an external microphone and using it as-is. That way it will last a very long time. It’s too bad a great radio like this was built with sub-standard jacks.

UV-5R+ and Yaesu FT-270R

UV-5R+ and Yaesu FT-270R

Get your Ham radio license! Go to the ARRL site to find an exam session and buy a book. Then open a free account on QRZ.com. They have free practice exams online. If you are local to Sarasota, contact me and I will answer any question you might have. If you are hesitating because you fear being put on some list, let me tell you that you are already on a few and a Ham radio license won’t make any difference. There are no good reasons in my opinion not to get one. I would even suggest trying to pass both the Technician and General exams on the same session. It isn’t much harder and will give you access to a flurry of frequencies on HF.

So far we have our few FRS or MURS handhelds, maybe a CB for the house or car, and a couple 2m/70cm Ham HTs (handi-talkies). What else do we need? We need to know what’s going on beyond our town, even beyond our continent! Everyone needs a short-wave receiver. Short-wave is HF. Something like the Tecsun PL-380 for bout $45. Whatever you buy make sure it has a plug for an external antenna. The built-in antennas are way too small to be of any use. You will plug in a long wire, say 60ft. or more to get distant stations. Also make sure the receiver decodes SSB to listen to Ham radio operators. Usually a good short-wave receiver covers all HF Ham bands and everything else in between. Some Ham radio transceivers (transmitter/receiver) allow you to listen in between Ham bands, thus act as a short-wave receiver. If you plan on getting into Ham radio you might just buy one, even before you get your license, if only to listen. Otherwise, do buy a short-wave receiver!

There you have it, all you need for local communications and getting news from distant stations. How are we going to power it all up without electricity? First, make sure all the devices you buy can be powered with AA batteries.. They are everywhere and rechargeable ones can be recharged with a solar panel like the GoalZero Nomad 7, which I use. You can charge four batteries at a time in about four hours. Make sure you buy AA battery adapters for your HTs and have the correct connectors and battery packs for your other devices.

GoalZero Nomad7

GoalZero Nomad7

RM40 with battery pack

RM40 with battery pack

You need to protect your gear against strong magnetic fields generated by lightning or an EMP. I use a cookie tin can with my radios wrapped in plastic as to not touch the sides of the can.. It isn’t grounded but I hope it would work. I tried placing my cell phone inside then calling it, it didn’t ring. I also soldered a piece of wire between the can and the lid to insure a good electrical contact. I sometimes leave a radio outside the box but never leave it plugged-in while not in use.

Questions and comment are welcome. I will be glad to help anyone get into Ham radio. The next article will cover global communications. Stay tuned!

It has been about ten weeks since I bought my first rangefinder, a Leica IIIc built in 1946 and a 1949 Summitar 50mm f2 lens. I was first interested in getting a Nikon F3 which was the tool I used for my newspaper work almost thirty years ago. I actually sold the first one, missed it so much I bought the same model again and later stupidly sold it too. I still miss the F3 and will probably buy a third one some time! So why buy a Leica? I always was intrigued by rangefinders but could never afford one. Now some models are old enough to be affordable on the used market. My IIIc was only $220. I liked the experience so much that I bought an M4-P.

Leica

Leica

Street photography is pretty close to what I used to do for the paper. The exception being that I had a valid reason to photograph people and could explain myself. That gave me the confidence to shoot strangers without having to worry about answering questions about my motives. Now I take photos as an art, or at least I try to.. I must be discreet.. Hence the choice of a rangefinder instead of an SLR like the F3, or worse, one the the huge modern DSLRs. Here are the advantages I find with the rangefinder:

Size: My M4-P is smaller than a single lens reflex and yet it performs as well or better in some areas. The lenses are smaller as well, especially compared to autofocus lenses which contain electronics. A small camera means that people perceive me as an amateur or a tourist. They often think I am taking images of something behind them. Having a small camera pointed at them is not threatening compared to a large DSLR with an imposing zoom. With my Leica I am nearly invisible. I don’t want my subject to pose, which most people do when photographed, even unconsciously. We have been conditioned to smile at the camera since early childhood. For street photography smaller is better.

Chiefland Florida

Chiefland Florida

Silence: Press the shutter button on a Nikon and you get a loud “claclang” from the mirror slapping the bottom of the prism, on top of the shutter noise. Not to mention the motor that may advance the film or just re-arm the shutter in a digital SLR. The Leica shutter sound is a quiet “snik” from the fine tuned components and fabric shutter material. It is very hard to hear even from a few feet away. Most of the time my subjects have no idea I took their picture. I never had anyone turn their head as the shutter went off. Here is an abstract from the Vermont Supreme Court Etiquette for Media:

Not more than one still photographer, utilizing not more than two still cameras with not more than two lenses for each camera and related equipment for print purposes shall be permitted in any court proceeding. Such cameras shall produce no greater sound than a 35mm Leica “M” Series rangefinder camera.

Leicas are well known and appreciated for their quietness. Go photograph some drug dealer on the street behind his back and you’ll understand the necessity for stealth. I avoid being sneaky as much as possible but in some cases you don’t want to be heard.

Focusing: The rangefinder is very easy and fast to focus. There is a rectangle patch in the middle of the viewfinder with a ghost image. It’s like seeing double, literally. As you turn the focus ring on the lens the two images merge. That’s when you are in focus. I much prefer manual focus because you know for sure what you are focusing on. Autofocus systems still get confused sometimes, I don’t.

Framelines: While the IIIc is pretty much a 50mm proposition, my M4-P has framelines for 28, 35, 50, 75, 90 and 135mm lenses. Not only do I see the frameline for the lens I use, but I also can see around the frame. If anything comes into the frame from the side I can see it. This helps composition because I can see what’s outside but near the frame borders in the viewfinder.

Amish Women

Amish Women

Viewfinder in the corner: With the viewfinder in the upper left corner of the camera body my face is not obstructed. People can see who is behind the camera. They can see me smile. They see a human taking a photograph, not just a camera on top of a neck. Subjects react better to a friendly face than to a piece of glass and plastic. The photographer seems less “sneaky.” I think it does make a big difference in how the photographer is perceived.

Slow speeds: Because the rangefinder doesn’t have a mirror there is less vibrations. That means being able to take sharp photos with a lower shutter speed than an SLR. My M4-P is pretty heavy for it’s size, further diminishing vibrations. Since a lot of interesting photo opportunities occur at night, slow speed capabilities is rather important. I would not hesitate to use my 50mm at 1/15th on my Leica.

Of course it’s not all advantages. A rangefinder can’t focus at very close range and will not accept lenses longer than 135mm. It isn’t a good choice for sports or macro but neither is a DSLR for street or candid photography in my opinion. Sometimes what you see in the viewfinder isn’t exactly what you get due to parallax errors. You can’t check your depth of field either since you aren’t looking through the lens.

I mentioned Leica because they popularized the rangefinder and still manufacture both film and digital models. There is just nothing like a Leica when it comes to build quality and awesome lenses. Other brands offer them like Voightlander with their Bessa models, some manual like the R2M. My dream Leica would be the M Monochrom ($8K), a B&W-only digital model, way out of my reach. To anyone starting I would suggest getting a used film model like the M4-P or M6 (with a meter), and if you lack the funds, the aforementioned R2M at $670. Leica lenses are expensive even used but they only increase in value and are a good investment. New, they go from $2K to $11K, but you can find them used on Ebay for a few hundred. Other manufacturers make compatible lenses for much less, like Zeiss and Voightlander, both manufactured by Cosina in Japan and of good quality. The only affordable digital Leica is the M8 (and M8.2) but screens are no longer available, so if you break yours you’re “SOOL.” The Fuji X100S is a good alternative to a digital Leica but not a real rangefinder.

No matter what camera you own, I suggest you take it to the street. Start looking for unusual characters and situations. Learn to frame them correctly. Composition is the most important aspect of street photography. Learn from the best, Cartier-Bresson, Winogrand, Robert Frank, etc. There is a lot to be learned from other’s photographs. Bottom line is, it’s fun! I love the excitement of waiting to develop a film when you suspect a great image might be on it. It also gets you out of the house and walking. I was spending way too much time between my house and favorite coffee shop… Now I travel more to various locales to photograph people. It does improve my mood and my health. I even believe it has improved my work. I carry my M4-P everywhere I go. You never know when you’ll see a great image.