All posts tagged economy

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 just stumbled on an excellent article in the New York Times, “Time to Reboot America.” The author couldn’t have said it better: “Landing at Kennedy Airport from Hong Kong was, as I’ve argued before, like going from the Jetsons to the Flintstones.” I didn’t have that impression landing in Philadephia sixteen years ago from Charles De Gaulle for my first time in the United States. However, I should have known America was in trouble when I saw my first American household appliances! Twenty years ago, my mother’s washing machine had a microprocessor in it. My credit card had an embedded chip; technology which took ten years to cross the Atlantic. I still need to tell my washing machine how much laundry is in it, and turn and old style knob to turn it on. Then, when the washing is finished, I must take the laundry, stuff it in a no less obsolescent dryer, and turn another 1960s style mechanical knob. Energy efficient? I doubt it.

My first American car was a Ford 1978 LTD. It was great, confortable, the AC worked, and I paid only $750 for it. It had a few little quirks, but all in all, it worked. The fuel consumption was appaling, but why care? Gas was less than a dollar a gallon, almost four times less than in France. We thought gas reserves would last forever, we still do.

Today, I still can’t take a high speed train (look 3:25 to 3:55) from Sarasota to Tampa or Orlando. I must drive on I4 to get to the East coast. I you have driven on I4, you understand.. No amount of money could get me to commute daily from Tampa to Orlando via I4.

The list goes on and on. I do have another list, with all the good things about America; it is longer than the bad one, that’s why I’m still here, for now. We have NASA, a top of the line computer industry, the Internet, medical research as good as in Europe, Universities like MIT. Then, why do I feel like I live in 1975 sometimes? We don’t produce much here anymore, everything is service based. Most of the stuff I owed says “Made in China” or Japan, Taiwan, etc. When I think of American products, I think “rugged,” “old fashion,” “reliable” (except for cars).. Certainly not “high-tech.”

America needs to look East, not at it’s own navel. I am affraid Obama will plunge us into a socialist/protectionist era that will be the last nail in the coffin. At least we might not spend billions in unecessary wars abroad. This is not the time however to close our borders to commerce. We need to produce so that my next cell phone says “Made In USA.” We will be in competition with Europe and Asia, whether we like it or not. We should be the ones selling them goods. American high schools produce students who are two years behind Europeans. When I went to college in Florida, to perfect my English, I thought it was a joke. The college level math was the same as when I was 12. Yes, I agree, time to Reboot America.

School reforms: We need to be more demanding on both students and schools. Schools should be held accountable for their results. The “everyone wins, you’re doing great” bullshit needs to stop. If you suck, someone has to tell you, so that you can correct your attitude. When I was in school, no student would ever dare to talk back to a teacher. Today, teachers get assaulted in class! Why? Simple: No consequences. Being suspended is not a punishment, it’s a gift. Parents don’t care anymore. When you’re 15, you don’t care about your future, you care about right now, maybe tomorrow. There should be immediate consequences to lazyness. Also, why do kids still have to learn how many ounces are in a pound, and a flurry of other stupid measurements when there is a metric system? Want to know how many litres are in a 3x3x3 meter tank? Simple: 3x3x3=27 x 1000 = 27000 litres. And guess what, it weights 27000Kg, 27 metric tons. I don’t need to spend fiften minutes on the problem, I can do it in my head in 5 seconds. Australia went metric in 1970. If they can do it, why not America? NASA uses metric, otherwise we’d probably never go back to the moon in our lifetimes.. As to schools teaching stupid theories like creationism, don’t even get me started on that…

Free markets: Why Ron Paul wasn’t elected is beyond my comprehension. Here is a politician who understands exactly what this country needs, and he doesn’t even make it to the last round. We need businesses, and we need them to be successful. Here is where Europe failed and America can prevail. Europeans have this funny idea that a business has social obligations beyond not causing harm to people. That’s not the purpose of a business. In France, money is seen as somewhat dirty. The European attitude is that the government and businesses must take care of the people who have the right to be fed, clothed, and pampered, given what they need. They just shot themselves in the foot, just not the same foot we shot ourselves in. Businesses are the life blood of the country. Nobody else can produce wealth, except maybe the Federal Reserve when they print money, which compounds the problem. Wee need to compete with Europe and Asia on the same footing, not with artificial tariffs to level the field in our favor. Opening the markets might hurt us for a while, but long term, it is our only salvation.

No bailouts: If a company fails, they ought to go out of business. Taking taxpayer’s money to save a business is stealing, clear and simple. Since when does a Republican government use socialist tactics to redistribute wealth? I think they do it because they want a quick fix, a patch that will hold for a bit before cracking wide open, but that will make them look godd right now, until retirement with a bit of luck..

Better news: American news on television is a dog and pony show. How can a nation be aware of it’s lagging behind if it doesn’t look at the countries that are a decade ahead of them technologically. I once had a flat tire on my old Ford near Alachua County Florida. A pickup truck stopped and a guy offered me help (after yelling to his wife “Get back in the fucking truck!”). Anyway, I guess he was nice to me. Hearing my accent he asked “Where you from?” I said “France.” “What state is that?” he replied. “It’s overseas..” “Ah” he said, “do you have power over there?” I’m not making this up! That’s an extreme of course, and I couldn’t resist mentioning the story. We never hear most of what goes on in the world here on TV, except when it affects us directly, and immediately. Did you know that France launches satellites in orbit for cheaper than NASA, and I think more often with it’s Arianne rocket? Stop watching “Desperate Housewives” go to BBC, and even then, I’m not sure their US programs are the same the rest of the world sees.. I have access to about 300 channels, but I can’t hardly ever find an interesting show. Get your news from foreign agencies on the web.

Promote reading books: In 1982, 60% of young adults engaged in literary reading, while in 2002, only 43% do*. I don’t have recent numbers, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it went down even more. Understanding other cultures and philosophy by reading could probably save us a lot of grief with our foreign policies. Even our politicians sometimes lack basic knowledge of geography and foreign ideology. When was the last time you bought a book or went to the library?

Maybe next time we can also talk about getting rid of the Federal Reserve…

I have heard about the demise of America for decades, never paid too much attention to those predictions. The signs were there, it’s easy to see them now in retrospect. How low it will go is hard to tell, the depression is here. We just don’t want to see it. We refuse to imagine the consequences, and we don’t want to see the solutions. Americans need to get educated and take their heads out of the sand. The United States was a great nation, not so long ago. We have great minds, visionaries, we can do it again.

* US Census 2002.