A Year in Photos

Photography, fiction, and personal essays form my three primary creative outlets. For this blog's first 18 months, I used it primarily for photography. As I've returned to creative writing, I'll use this blog for fiction, too. Sometimes, when reality needs to be discussed more than truth, I write personal essays.

This blog will continue to showcase as many above-average photos as I can muster. Hopefully my written work will be as good or better than the visual. Whichever drew you here -- photographs or fiction, I hope you enjoy both.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Minolta Maxxum 5 (Dynax 5, Alpha Sweet II) Review and Photos

Minolta Maxxum 5 (Dynax 5, Alpha Sweet II) Review and Photos

Minolta Alpha Sweet II | Minolta A 28mm f/2.8 | Fuji Velvia 50

Painter Robert Henri said “Human faces are incentive to great adventure. The picture is the trace of the adventure.” Trace, in this sense, means “a mark, object, or other indication of the existence or passing of something.” The picture, I argue, is the trace of any adventure. The Maxxum 5 is a great companion for that adventure.

Minolta Alpha Sweet II | Minolta A 50mm f/1.4 | Rollei Vario Chrome

Is the Five the best thing to come out of the 1990s at all? Well, not quite, but whether you call it the Five or the Alpha Sweet II; this is the best 90’s entry-to-mid-level camera. Period. End of story. The Five so far out paces the comparable cameras, and some of the better cameras, from the other makers of the time that it’s staggering to me these aren’t widely seen as one of the modern classics. There are some basic features in this camera that other makers’ lacked, like a metal mounting flange, automatic switching to high-speed flash sync with shutter speeds faster than 1/125th (with three specific Minolta flashes), amazing compactness, lightness beyond belief (it weighs only 335 grams), and structural strength that makes the user ask if it can possibly be a plastic 90’s camera. Oh, and I forgot to mention the easy one-handed operation. I’ve never used a camera with the same level of features that this has that can be operated, almost all of the time, with just the right hand.

The Five does have some weaknesses, like the semi-frequent failure in the penta mirror’s silver that causes the reflective system to turn yellow and blue, greatly diminishing the viewfinder quality. But find one with good mirrors, which is most of them, and there’s no noticeable brightness difference in the viewfinder between the Five and cameras with a pentaprism. I’ll let that sink in a moment. Most penta mirror systems are around one stop, some more, dimmer than a pentaprism system. Not the Five.

Minolta Alpha Sweet II | Minolta A 50mm f/1.4 | Fuji Superia 200

The other big weakness is how long the batteries last. Depending on whether you use autofocus and flash, the batteries will last between nine and 45 rolls. The lower end of that assumes autofocus with power-zoom lenses and heavy on-camera flash use. The latter end of that assumes an autofocus prime lens with zero on-camera flash uses. Switch to a manual-focus lens and you can expect more than 45 rolls. Regardless, those are not good numbers. Imagine a modern DSLR maker releasing a camera that could take between 214 and 1,600 photos on a single charge. No one would buy that camera. With my Five, on three occasions, including one hike I was really excited about in Colorado Springs, the batteries died unexpectedly. In the Colorado Springs instance, I had put fresh batteries in the day before. Even when off, these cameras drain batteries because they have an onboard quartz clock, most of them do anyway, and that drains the batteries 24/7. So this camera is as power hungry as a third-world despot.

If you’re a righty, the Five is pretty close to perfect. You can operate all the major functions with just your right hand, including the film back release. And holding it with one hand is easy. I can’t think of a lighter 35mm camera, possibly the Five’s lower-spec siblings the 3 and 4, but the difference is negligible. And for the light weight and penta mirror system does the five feel like a flimsy, chintzy, plastic-body camera? No. That’s left for comparable Pentax, Nikon, and Canon bodies. The Five feels every bit as solid as the Seven. And, if I’m honest, to me, the Five feels better made than the Seven because the camera’s weight is more easily managed by the materials that comprise it. I can find exactly no faults with the Five’s ergonomics and, in fact, I like holding the five more than my beloved Nine in some ways because it’s light enough not to make my hands tired.

Minolta Alpha Sweet II | Minolta A 28mm f/2.8 | ConeStill 800T

The Five is an interesting camera in that, far more than other 90s cameras, the Five came in three trim levels. Oh yes. That’s not a widely known fact. And, to be fair, all were marketed as the Five and insofar as I can tell, the trim level variations had to do solely with manufacture date and destination market.

Let’s take my Five for instance. It’s actually an Alpha Sweet II and it’s black. These were only available in black under the Japanese Alpha badge, and only in Japan. And the Japanese-market bodies, black or silver, were the best. Depending on when your Five was made, it may or may not have had a built-in date function. All the Alphas had the date function. But that’s not why the Alphas are better. They also have a switch to select panorama or standard framing. The panorama mode is a 16X7 ratio – that’s a wider ratio than the standard 16X9 for widescreen televisions, and would letterbox on your computer monitor. But that’s not what makes the Alpha better and, again if I’m honest, I think that panorama mode on 35mm cameras was a huge gimmick and silly.

Minolta Alpha Sweet II | Minolta A 50mm f/1.4 | Eastman Kodak 5222 Double-X

But check this out: Here is why the Alpha is better than the Maxxum and Dynax versions. The Alpha Sweet II has a flip-up plastic light leak cover for the mirror where the Maxxum and Dynax Five bodies have nothing, not even a foam strip. That flip-up bit provides better light sealing around the focusing screen but it is added mechanical complexity. And the baffle does make a difference during long exposures and exposures in full sun. So if you’re a serious Minolta fan looking for a Five, go for the Alpha Sweet II instead. It’s worth the added time to find one and the added shipping cost to import it from Japan just to have this light baffle.

Enough specs. How is this thing to use? It’s a joy. It’s a bit clinical, which is to say it’s more like a Nissan than an Alfa Romeo. It lacks the “heart and soul” that photographers will sometimes say a camera needs. But here’s a secret, “heart and soul” is code for tetchy or poorly designed. The Five is like a close friend who is socially awkward, you know you can rely on them but they probably won’t interact well with strange circumstances. In this case, strange circumstances is my code for batteries that aren’t right off the damn production line.

Minolta ALpha Sweet II | Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 | Fuji Velvia 50

The Five is fun and light and it’s easy to forget it’s around your neck if you have a small lens, like the 50mm f/1.7, on it. With a fast 50 prime, the Five is fantastic shooting experience. It’s just an all-around enjoyable camera that, as long as you have good batteries, won’t let you down. And also, the Five is a great way to get access to Sony Alpha lenses. In addition to a large array of great Minolta lenses, these will take the modern Sony Alpha lenses. It’s very hard to beat that.

What it boils down to is that if you want an enjoyable camera that’s reliable, really well laid out, and easy to use, you can do a lot worse than the Five. For the prices these sell for, it would be very hard to do any better.

Minolta ALpha Sweet II | Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 | Rollei Vario Chrome

Nikon FE2 Review and Sample Photos

Nikon FE2 Review and Sample Photos

Nikon FE2 | Nikkor 55mm f/1.2 | CineStill 800T

The FE2 is a legend. How does one even talk about a legend? In stories around fires? With songs? Talking about a legend, about a camera like the FE2, presents no easy task, even for someone who has written reviews for dozens of cameras. The FE2 transcends words and is an experiential thing. A proper FE2 review would tell you that it is something special, like a 70s charger with a 6.1 liter hemi, that it feels good in the hands like a leather steering wheel under driving gloves, that the interface strikes a near-perfect balance between the control selection and placement like a precision-milled gated shifter plate. The FE2 is a precision machine made for the most demanding users.

In a way, this will be a proper FE2 review. The FE2 is something special, enjoyable, and fantastic. But I also simply am indifferent to it. There are cameras that I look at or think about and I say “I really enjoy using that camera. I cannot wait to use it again.” I’ve had an FE2 for almost three years and used it a couple of dozen times. There’s nothing wrong with it, yet after that first time, I never really got excited about going back to it.

Nikon FE2 | Nikkor 55mm f/1.2 | Fuji Superia 200

For those of you who love this camera, I can’t find any fault in it. It’s either the best or the second-best Nikon manual focus camera. It lacks a few of the professional bells and whistles found in the F3, but it has a faster shutter speed and simpler interface. It lacks the purely mechanical shutter of the FM2, but it has a match-needle meter readout that’s immune to the dead LEDs that the FM2 sometimes experiences. In everything photographic, there exist tradeoffs. A given shutter speed may require an aperture that’s too narrow or too deep, a film may have suitable speed but lack sufficiently fine grain. Photography is a hobby or profession of compromises, and the FE2 makes very few and the compromises it makes are largely unimportant. What that means is that the FE2 is a fantastic mix of elegant interface design and capabilities that will leave few, or no, users wanting for more.

And I don’t want more from this camera. I have no good reason why this camera doesn’t excite me, except that maybe, just maybe, this camera is too perfect, too well designed. It has exactly everything I want and expect in a camera and nothing that I don’t need. And the setup, interface, and use of the FE2 check all the boxes on what I want in an ideal camera. The FE2 is my ideal camera; no other camera ever made is a more perfect match for how I would describe the perfect camera. And when I look at it I feel absolutely nothing.

Nikon FE2 | Nikkor 55mm f/1.2 | Kodak Ektar 100

The FE2 evolved from the earlier FE, one of Nikon’s best-known advanced-user cameras. In its progression from the FE, the FE2 shed the unreliable electronics and metering issues that have become increasingly common in FE bodies. The FE2 is largely devoid of electronic issues. The FE2 has very few of its own issues, bar one, and it’s big. FE2 bodies tend to destroy shutter leaves with enough use. No FE2 that I’ve seen has ever had a problem except with the shutter. And on that point, 75% of the FE2 bodies I’ve handled have needed to have their shutters replaced. With time and use, the leaves jump their guides, jam, and damage the shutter mechanism or get creased or have their edged dented in the process. But look, who among us could do better to design a shutter that moves tissue-thin titanium leafs about one inch in 3.3 milliseconds. What I say next won’t sound that impressive, but that travel speed means that to cover a full inch in in 3.3 milliseconds the leafs have to travel at least 17.2 miles per hour, assuming a steady speed for the whole frame travel. While that speed sounds slow, getting a thin sheet of metal to move that fast tens of thousands of times without buckling or creasing is pretty darn impressive from an engineering perspective.

There’s nothing at all wrong with the FE2. There’s enough right about it to fill a book. I don’t know a single Nikon fan who doesn’t truly love their FE2. It’s a fabulous first camera. It’s a fabulous last camera. It’s a fabulous only camera. It’s a fabulous camera.

Nikon FE2 | Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5 | Ultrafine Red Dragon

Detailed How-to videos:

Link to Video 1:

Link to Video 2:

Friday, November 24, 2017

Nikon FM2 Review

Nikon FM2 Review and Sample Photos

Nikon FM2, Nikon Nikkor-PG 55mm f/1.2, Rollei Vario Chrome

Imagine with me. Mountain wind, moving up through pine forests in a valley thousands of feet below, channeled by a rocky “V”, smelling strongly of that clean smell that only pine trees make. The wind carries the cold of coming winter, the bite of tonight’s coming flurries, and the sting of dried pine needles carried up from the valley by the millions. A dog shakes his head and his chain collar sounds like tap shoes dancing to frantic and uncoordinated music. And there are friends, brothers, there, too, the wind too loud for you to speak.
Images are stories. Photographs tell us about a scene, a place, a thing or an emotion, and most of all they tell us about the photographer and what the photographer values most.

Nikon FM2, Nikon Nikkor 35mm f/2, CineStill 800T

I picked up a road warrior FM2, beat and brassed from tables, drops, and doors. And without hesitation, without issue, it worked for dozens of rolls of film over two years in exceptional cold, heat, humidity, snow, morning dew or frost, dust, at two miles elevation and below sea level, sometimes much of that in the same day. Without question, comment, or hesitation it worked reliably and every time it needed to. It sat in luggage and camera bags, was slid under my car seat, bombed with dog drool, knocked against solid granite, and suffered all manner of insults and neglect that would leave most cameras in pieces.
The FM2 is one of those cameras that people go to when they know their gear will take abuse, but still need to work on demand. And yeah, that’s one of the things this camera does – take hits like a masochistic MMA fighter and keep going in for more.

But beyond this camera’ ruggedness, it has a simple, classic interface, the kind that makes it easy to hold it up to your eye, look at a scene, find in it a story and the things you value, and record it to share with others. This camera put the photographer and the subject as close as laces and shoes because it does not interfere, does not get in the middle. The simple, efficient design results in a user experience where the camera itself melts away, becomes nothing more than a red plus, zero, or minus and a quick blackout in the creative process.

Nikon FM2, Nikon Nikkor-PG 55mm f/1.2, Rollei Color Negative 200

So let me give you five words to describe the FM2. Obsequious. Simple. Unobtrusive. Intuitive. Reliable. That’s a strong list. Nowhere in a description on the FM2 would words like intimidating, difficult, fragile, obnoxious, or complex reside. The FM2 is a photographer’s camera. And what I mean by that is everything I’ve said already – it’s reliable and does not interfere.

Nikon FM2, Nikon Nikkor-PG 55mm f/1.2, Rollei Color Negative 200

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines Genius, in part, saying that it is “great and rare natural ability or skill.” And I would argue that’s a part of it. I like to think of genius as the ability to successfully and with good outcomes connect disparate concepts or thoughts in a creative manner, especially in a previously unconsidered way that is natural and logical once the connection exists. Can a camera be a genius? No, of course not. They’re metal and plastic, batteries and glass. There’s no brain and no thought. Can a camera’s design be genius? Can a camera’s design have a great and rare natural ability to connect a photographer and subject in a way that had previously been unconsidered but that becomes natural and logical once experienced? Yes. Decidedly yes. So does that mean that the FM2’s design is genius?

Nikon FM2, Nikon Nikkor-PG 55mm f/1.2, Rollei Vario Chrome

Imagine with me. A family gathering, warmly lit in the glow of old, tungsten-filament bulbs. Roast turkey hot from the oven, warm and dark brown under tin foil. A kitchen full of sideline cooks, nodding at the steamy, herbed smell of the turkey, chopped bread and celery inside it, giblet gravy slowly bubbling on a back burner, a champagne cork popping in another room. And there, camera, film, a moment, light and color, smell and steam, champagne, reflex and action. So you tell me. Is the FM2’s design genius? I think we would answer that question the same way.

Nikon FM2, Nikon Nikkor 35mm f/2, CineStill 800T

Nikon FM2, Nikon Nikkor 35mm f/2, Kodak Ektar 100

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Negatives in a Trash Can

In December I found a stack of negatives in a trash can. There was a half roll that was the exact-same-boring-shot of a wall. Then a half roll that was mostly ruined by poor developing. And then some other shots. Maybe they belonged in the trash, but here they are.

There was a half roll of this shot. A. Half. Roll.

This is about five stops overexposed.

These two are indicative of the ruined roll -- the negative wasn't loaded in the spiral correctly.

Sign is in focus. They must not have been speeding.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Ocean Wildlife

Two days ago I shared a number of cemetery photos. Well, I also had the opportunity to take a number of nature photos the same day. Here are some of them. Tomorrow we'll finish off the Point Arena blog entries with some foggy hike photos I took the day before these.

The night of the 4th my girlfriend saw this heron hanging out by the lighthouse. The morning of the 5th it was still there, so I grabbed my 400mm lens. 

It's a simply stunning bird and, unfortunately, I missed all the shots of it grabbing fish.

There were also harbor seals. And they noticed me and many looked up at me the first time I pointed the camera at them.

I was stunned and thrilled. Seals, in the wild. This was fantastic and amazing and such a rare thing, right?

Nope. Totally the most common seal around. And they hang out on these rocks all the time. People go there to photograph seals.

That afternoon my girlfriend and I hiked down to bowling ball beach. The bowling ball concretions were all underwater, but the tide had delivered a dead seal to the beach. Three turkey vultures feasted on it when I approached, but two had flown off before I was close enough to take good photos. The third hung around and didn't fly off until I was about thirty feet away.

When he did, he flew low and I managed a few shots in flight. I had an old manual focus Vivitar 135mm lens on my K3 so I didn't expect much of my tracking. But the bird flew in a fairly straight and predictable trajectory, so I managed a few good shots.

Having a camera that takes more than eight shots per second helped a lot.

Eventually it landed on a cliff overhead with three other turkey vultures. The seal had no head, which one of the local shop owners told me was very bad news for surfers.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday -- Ten PHONEtography Apps

Sometimes, I think, people assume that because I use DSLRs and film cameras that I'm necessarily against phonetography. That's no true at all, though I see phonetography as more for fun than for serious and creative photography. But, in an effort to change my views on that, I started researching good and creative phonetography apps on my Galaxy SIII. Here are ten phonetography apps I like.

10- Aviary

Aviary is a fun app and my favorite of the photography apps. It allows some editing (enhancements) to correct lighting and colors. These features are, in my mind, well laid out and pretty good for a phonetography app.

Aviary also features stock filters (effects), image frames (frames), and stamps (stickers). Note that some of the frames and stickers kits cost a couple bucks, so even though the base app is free some of the add-ons add up quickly.

Aviary has tons of features and to keep reciting them would make for a long list. In short, this is probably the best phonetography app out there and is definitely worth the free price tag for the basic features.

9- Otaku Camera

Another free app, this fun app adds manga-type borders to your photos. As an added bonus, the add-on frames, as of this writing, are free. This app is a close second in my mind to Aviary and serves an entirely different market. Were I to remove all my phonetography apps except two, I would keep Otaku as one of them.

8- Cymera

This may be the most expansive app I've used. This has a LOT of features and capabilities for improving photos. As an added bonus, the app doesn't, by default, like some, have garish filters as the default. Cymera is a legitimately useful and usable app.

7- Clone Camera

Clone camera requires that the user take two photos that line up nearly perfectly next to each other. On the plus side, you can put different foreground objects in each. It's a clever idea but a flawed implementation. It seems to work by taking a photo with a small portion of the sensor. Instead, it should take the full photo and then take it again and blend out the things that are the same. If you can master this app, it has a lot of potential for fun.

6- One Man with a Camera

This is a fun app that lets you select the toy camera you'd like the app to imitate. It then takes a photo with a filter that simulates the camera you selected. And it does it well, having seen actual photos from many of the toy cameras that the app imitates. It's free, but you can remove ads for a buck.


$3.99 app as of this writing. There's a free version limited to 3.2 megapixels and with reduced capacity. And ads. Nope; an app maker that releases a limited-capacity free version is not interested in having me as a full-version customer. I uninstalled this one.

4- Multi-lens Camera

This is a nifty action sampler app. It benefits, compared to most action samplers, from having different frame shapes. It's definitely a fun and creative way to get your action sampler phoneography fix. If you're an action sampler fan, this is definitely worth checking out.

3- Smooth Camera

This app advertises that it makes people's faces look smoother. In my experience, everything just looked like it went through Photoshop's pallet brush filter. Also, this app inundates you with full-page ads whenever you change screens and has banners on each page. Ads at startup, at close-down, and at EVERY other opportunity possible. I couldn't make it work and the sheer ad volume was highly off putting. I'd suggest skipping this one.

2- Vintage Camera

This is your standard-outta-the-box take-an-image-and-apply-filters app. It's nothing revolutionary, though I admit I like the interface.

1- Pinhole Camera Calculator

Technically, this doesn't take photos. That said, it's one of the most useful apps for me since I enjoy pinhole photography. If you'd like to make your own pinhole cameras or if you have a kit one and want to use it reliably, this app is a must-have. In addition, the information in it will help you learn more about pinhole photography and analog photography in general. This is a well designed and useful app with a good interface. I will not ever uninstall it.

Other important Phoneography apps:
- Massive Development Chart

- The Photographer's Ephemeris

Sunday, March 2, 2014


This week I'll wrap up my Point Arena images. The other week I had a sunset time-lapse followed by a cloud trails composite image. Those were, obviously, taken at the same time. The other two photos in the second post were also taken on the same day. Well, all the images from Point Arena that I share this week were also taken that same day. In short, it was a good day for photography.

On a whim, I stopped into a cemetery to take photos. At the exact same moment I stopped in, so did another guy. He had in tow two medium-format digital Hasselblads and lenses. In sum, the gear he had in his car was worth more than my entire camera collection. Stands to reason, he was tooling around in a decked-out Carrera. If I'd known being a professional photographer paid that well, I may have made different choices in college.

Anyway, I started with some establishing-type shots to simply get to know the place and get comfortable.

A number of the graves had stone borders or designs. Many also had raised dirt, fresh or not. I liked that. When I die, I want to be buried with bottled water, a flashlight, and a shotgun with lots of ammo. Why? Because when the dead rise from the grave that's zombies. I want to be well hydrated and capable of defending myself.

Many of the newer graves had concrete borders. I supposed that's for visitors.

This statue was next to a pastor's grave.

The pastor may have been a golfer.

Another statue in the cemetery. There were a number of statues, all about 18 inches tall or so. Many of them from different eras and clearly with different intents. This was my favorite of them.

Many of the graves has silk flowers. But some had come loose in time and littered the cemetery. Also, most of them were severely sun-faded, which actually made me sadder than the graves. It meant that no one had been by in a long time to tend to the graves.

This was a particularly sad grave -- a child who died after 57 days.

At one section, a number of children's graves were grouped together. Many had stuffed animals and toys adorning them. The adornments showed a lot of weathering and fading.

I almost didn't take photos of the children's graves as I was debating if it was disrespectful. In the end, I decided to do it because I wouldn't show any respect for the kids' short lives by simply walking past.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Found Photos Friday -- Car Show

A bit of a nonsequitor from the rest of the lot, these images appeared at the end. All were underexposed by four or so stops, which made the digitization and post-work challenging.

My brother had a Hot Wheels that looked exactly like this. I coveted that Hot Wheels more than anything else, until it one day got a chip on the nose.

Pooh Bear. Curious choice.

These last five weeks have had some interesting images and an interesting mix. In March we'll have a bunch of found photos that I picked out of a trash can -- the negatives were mostly unusable, so I can see why whomever took them pitched them, but some returned images.

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