Category Archives: Photography

I shot Hans Rosling!

With a camera, that is.

Tonight, Joanne, Roman and I got to go see Dr. Hans Rosling   (the brilliant man behind http://www.gapminder.org/ )

Joanne, through her connections at the U (she works in a design-ey environmental-ey thingie on the St. Paul campus, which she loves) was asked to do some crowd shots before and after the talk, and asked me to help.

This actually turned into a game of taking pictures of each other taking pictures of other people.  I caught her taking pictures of some friends, so she repaid me by photosniping me from the balcony.  I was shooting the M9 with a 35mm Summilux, she was shooting my Nikon D7000 with an 18-200VR.  I had the equivalent of a bolt-action target rifle, and she had the AK-47.

Anyway, the talk was wonderful.  Dr. Rosling is an entertaining speaker, even when talking about such moribund topics as cancer, healthcare, death, overpopulation, and the like.  He was so dynamic, vibrant, and full of life that it was energizing just being in the audience.  Plus, I learned a thing or two.  The video of his talk will be posted in a couple of weeks.

In the meantime, have a look at his TED talks:

http://www.ted.com/speakers/hans_rosling.html

Here are the picks from the photos Joanne and I took:

http://jholroyd.com/rosling/

Found Photos, er, found again

I found an estate sale full of cameras quite by accident a few years ago.  They belonged to a man named Gerald Shepardson, who lived in Stillwater and was quite a camera collector and photographer.  I bought some cameras and lenses, and ended up getting a sweet deal on some old film.  The box contained some exposed film as well.

Recently, having finally had the time and motivation (and being too sick with this awful cold/virus/flu thing to go out and fall off my dirt bike on the ice), I set up my darkroom in the new house.  It isn’t perfect, but it’s serviceable.  In need of some film to develop, I scoured the fridge, and looked in the many old cameras I have lying around.  A Canon Rebel 2000 yielded an underexposed role of Pan F plus (50 iso, looks like it was exposed at around 400 iso for most of the roll), and the fridge surrendered a ziploc baggie full of film from the estate sale.  I figured now it was time to figure out what was on all those rolls of exposed film.  I was intrigued because there were 5 rolls of 120 film and a couple of cans of 35mm, so I made the room dark and got to work.

First roll of 120:  Nada.  No film.  Just the paper backing tape rolled around the spool and secured with scotch tape.  Damn.

Second: same.  Damn…and so on.

“Well, let’s see what the 35mm has to offer,” I muttered to myself.  I am talking to inanimate objects and myself more these days.  Talking to yourself is a sign of impending mental collapse, according to the old HHGTG infocom game.   Either that, or I’m really fond of my old tractor.

At this point, I wasn’t very optimistic.  The metal on the cans was pretty rusty, indicating that the film (if there was any) had seen a significant amount of moisture during its life.  The first roll gave up what didn’t even feel like film at first.  It felt a bit like not-very-sticky packing tape, but I managed to get it unrolled and put on the spool and in the can.  Setting it soaking in some 68-degree water, I again flipped the lights off and started to investigate the last can of 35mm.  Nothing.  Empty.

“Oh well,” I thought to myself, “at least there’s one roll of actual film.  I just hope it’s been exposed.”  The writing on the cans was mostly illegible, but one word was obvious: “TEST,” written on the empty can.  I wondered if the test had worked, and whether the other roll would have anything on it at all.  It had sounded pretty crunchy as it was letting go of decades of rolled-upedness .  Doubts aplenty.

After a 10 minute soak, for no real reason other than that it sounded like a good idea at the time (also, I needed an excuse to go make a cup of tea.  I am English, after all.)  I proceeded to mix up a batch of HC110 dilution B (1:31) at 68 degrees eff.  Pouring the developer in, I figured I’d just develop it “a good long time, like 15 minutes or so, with constant agitation.”  Normally, developing film is a pretty scientific process based on the recommendations of the film manufacturer.  Nowadays, the Internet has revolutionized the sharing of information around film, so in many ways the accessibility and ease of home developing has never been higher.  The Massive Dev Chart contains pretty much anything you’d want to know about developing anything with anything, and it now comes in an iPhone app (with a convenient timer and, get this, a display mode that makes your iPhone safe to use in a darkroom without fogging your film.  How cool is that?)  For this, though, I didn’t have much to go by.  I didn’t know what kind of film it was, how it had been exposed, or anything.  I seemed to remember using 8 minutes for my previous experiment with found film, and finding that a bit underdeveloped.  Further research indicated that you should develop longer for older film.  With typical development times being between 4 and 8 minutes, I figured a factor of 2-3 would be a good bet.

So 15 minutes it was, and 15 minutes it took.  Stop, fix, wash, and soon I was looking at a roll of film that could be 20, 30, 40 years old:

I carefully hung it up in my film drying cabinet (actually a zip up clothes hanger closet thingy I got from Wal-Mart) on specially-designed film holders (actually wooden pants hangers also from Wal-Mart), I decided to do some printing.  I hadn’t done prints in 2 years or so, and had given up because I couldn’t hold the very large spiders at bay long enough in the basement to do a good job.  One had actually dropped onto my head while I was developing a print, and that had pretty much ended it for me in that basement.  I don’t squick easy, but that took me past wanting to be down there a whole bunch.  The new house is much nicer than the old in that regard.

Today, I rearranged the office enough to get my scanner hooked up, and scanned the negatives.  Results are mixed- judge for yourself.  Much is unusable, but there’s enough image there to make for a cool effect that says a lot about the ravages of time.  Captured images peek through the areas where time and moisture have conspired to erase them.  Here’s my favorite:

On the whole, I’m happy with how everything turned out.  I got usable images against some pretty steep odds (like not having any film at all.)  I could have wished for something with a little more human interest, or maybe some identifiable cars or something that would help pin down the date the pictures were taken.  About all I can tell is that the roll was shot in winter, and that they had a lot of snow that year.  But they are cool.  Not as Gerald probably originally intended them, but interesting nonetheless.

There are two more rolls of 120 color print film in the fridge.  I think I’ll unroll them in the darkroom to see if they actually contain film.  At this point, I’m not going to hope for much.

Ducati Minneapolis Track Day – photos and video

Here’s the

gallery

Lots of fun was had by all.  There was some great riding being done out there, and it was cool to see people learn their tracks and bikes as the day progressed.  I had a couple of brain-fart moments, though nothing serious.  I even got the back sliding a couple of times, which felt really cool because it was on purpose.  When it’s not on purpose, it’s a pucker-inducer.  When you try to do it and succeed, it’s a thrill.

Gus and Eric did some one-on-one with people, which appeared to really help.  The riders got smoother and more confident as the day progressed.

Ducatis are beautiful machines.  It’s nice being on the track with them- they just please visually and aurally.  I love the old school look of the 998, the newer 999 (a design that has really grown on me) and the newer 1098s and 848s.  My friend Shannon brought his brand new 848, and can be seen scraping knee in a few of the shots.  What an awesome bike.

Want!

Maybe my wife will take a hint from his wife, who got him the bike for his 40th birthday.  How about it, honey?  The kids can get loans for college if they need them… :)

I took some video with the GoPro from aboard my humble SV.  I have found the camera likes the PNY SD cards (Class 4) better than the Class 6 Transcend cards.  Weird.  Whatever works.  Here’s the first video.  I have another that I still have to edit.

Ducati Minneapolis Track Day at DCTC

Yesterday, I got the chance to help out, ride, and take photos at the first track day put on by the new Ducati Minneapolis dealership.   Talk about a day that scratched all of my itches…  This one pretty much nailed it.

What a hoot;  Attendance was pretty light, but there was some beautiful machinery rolling around.  Everybody looked to have a good time, and it was fun to watch the riders gain confidence on the very difficult surface.  This is definitely a track that rewards smoothness and composure.   With 18 or so turns in about a mile, you definitely get a chance to practice your transitions and work on your body positioning.

The track was a little bumpy and needed a lot of sweeping to get it serviceable.  Weather was perfect- temperatures in the 80s and low 90s with low humidity.

Here’s the gallery.

Mark Z proves that farm implements can go around corners.  Note the PTO close to scraping the ground.  After this lap he hitched up the brush hog and mowed the infield.

Here’s a video of my second session.  Went cautiously on this one, took a couple of laps to warm up the tires.  I used the GoPro motorsports hero suction cup mount for this one.  It was a bit wobbly, and loosened up during the session.  I’d like to build a better version that gets the camera up and back.  I’d also like to get the camera in front of the bike and really low.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mzr9Y66IGbw]

Volcanoes and Victorys

This is simply stunning:

Iceland, Eyjafjallajökull – May 1st and 2nd, 2010 from Sean Stiegemeier on Vimeo.

I love a good timelapse.  These are just outstanding.  I particularly like the camera movement during the shot- it must be what a snail feels like.

Today was day 29 of #30daysofbiking, so I celebrated by riding the fixie all 32.3 miles into work to pick up my Vision (our top of the line touring bike.)  I worked on the bike a few years ago (front and rear suspension, along with some other stuff), but I really wanted to get a Cross Country as that was my most recent project.  Turns out they are hard to get, so I popped for the Vision, and I am very happy with it.

The bike has everything (Mine is pretty much a carbon copy of the one in the photo above.)  Heated seats, grips.  4-speaker stereo.  Cruise control.  Electrically adjustable windshield.  HID driving light.   The storage is ample, the seat is comfortable, and the engine is powerful.  You can tweak the aerodynamics to suit your preferences as you ride.  Heck, you can even hook up your Ipod and control it through the control pod on the left handlebar (XM and CB are also available.)  Those badges on the side?  Yeah, they light up.

Mine is going to get a few select improvements- more blacked out bodywork, a cupholder, etc.  Don’t laugh.  One of the significant determinants as to whether I ride my bike or drive the cage is whether I can listen to NPR and drink coffee.  With this bike, I can do both.  Plus, black is cool:

not named sue

Some complain about the space-age look.  I like it- it’s sculpted, and the lines all make sense to me.  I remember seeing the bike take shape in the early stages of the project… it was far out.  The early sketches were not diluted much in the making of the bike.  In fact, the original styling model looks like a running current production bike.  Not many companies can or will do that- the marketplace is littered with products that were diluted by endless rounds of focus groups and surveys.  Not this bike.

I also like that the whole lineup makes sense.  You look at all of the Victory motorcycles in a row, and it’s obvious that they come from the same family, from the same small, passionate team that isn’t afraid to take a risk and do something differently.  It’s plain as day that we stand for innovation, style, and performance.  I know that sounds like marketing drivel, but it’s true.

I’m excited to see where this bike will take me.  The storage and comfort means I should be able to get pretty much anywhere with a great deal of camera gear.  It’s going to be a good summer!

cupcake cannon

High speed photography, view cameras, and cupcake cannons

So I’m in the midst of a dive backwards in time and speed towards a simpler, slower, more calculated approach to capturing images. The roll film cameras just were not slow enough apparently, so I picked up a 1964-era Graflex Crown Graphic press camera at a recent camera show. It doubles as a folding view camera, and has a few movements so I can play around and get my Scheimpflug on.

I’m currently in the middle of cleaning and repairing/restoring some old shutters from Ebay ($50 lens capable of generating 100 megapixel images?  Bargain!), and apart from a nasty habit of losing springs (those little buggers *FLY* across the room, let me tell you), I should be able to get things working this weekend.

Soon I’ll be looking at the ground glass plate and seeing things as they used to be seen, backwards and upside-down (photo flipped for clarity):

In the midst of all of this retrophotogeekery, I come across some amazing high speed videos that must be shared.  I’m not sure what I want more, a high speed camera, or a cupcake cannon:

I just love some of the images they are getting:

Bikes or art?

So this post I came across recently scratches several itches, including bicycles, design, engineering, and photography. The craftsmanship in these machines is simply stunning.

http://www.velocult.com/index.php/blog/post/an_diego_custom_bicycle_show_2010_bike_photos/

I think I’m homing in on why I like bikes and cameras so much as objects: they represent possibilities. You look at a camera, and you can imagine the pictures you might take with it. It might be a crappy camera by some standards (the Holga cult comes to mind) but it may take you to an image that you wouldn’t have captured otherwise, or that you wouldn’t have caught in the same way. Part of the fun is, as you’re headed out to take photos or just go to the grocery store, grabbing a camera that may be well-suited or completely wrong for the situation and just rolling with it. Allowing for the peculiarities of a particular tool is all part of the fun. Sure, I could drag the d300 along everywhere I go, but I’d lose some of the perspective that playing with old cameras gives me.

Bikes can yield similar experiences. The fixed gear is not the ideal mount for many of the little rides I’ve been doing lately, but its limitations throw enough variety into the mix to make every ride different. Hills that would be a simple matter on the road bike turn into real difficulties, particularly with the legs being relatively untrained for cycling over the last few years.

Then I go out on the road bike or shoot with the d300, and I appreciate the improvements that years of development has brought us. Gearshifts are quick and certain. Metering and autofocus work nearly flawlessly. Everything just works. Nice if you need to get there sooner, or have a job to do that requires your pictures come out well.

But something is inevitably lost when technology intercedes. The user is one more level removed from the basic fundamentals of what they are trying to accomplish. The camera looks into it’s database of 10,000 photographic scenarios and decides that it knows better than you do how to adjust exposure. The carbon fiber rails on your saddle isolate you a little more from the road surface. If you never rode or shot without these filters, you may not even realize that they are there, or what they do for you.

I had the chance to experience this a winter or two ago.  I was riding my vintage snowmobile at one of our lunch rallies, then I got a chance to hop onto a 2010 Rush 600.   The difference between the 1980 and the 2010 sled was incredible.   The power, the handling, the comfort.  It was 10 times the sled.  I was staggered.  Progress is really a great thing.

But that new sled retails for $10k.  I got my sled for $500.  If anything goes wrong on the new sled, I have to go to the dealer.  If something goes wrong on the old sled, I get to learn how to fix it (which is all part of the fun.)  Similarly, the fixie, the old mechanical shutter on my Graflex, and the 1970-1975 Honda CB350s I’m eyeing on Craigslist (cafe racer, natch) are all …  well, I won’t say they are easy to work on.  But they are easier to work on than anything newfangled and computerized.  They are more accessible.  Sure, they will go wrong, they will need attention, and they will never work as seamlessly as the modern gear.  But they have a fuckwithableness that pleases me.  I will learn as much from the repairing as I will from the using, and I will get more satisfaction from resurrecting old gear and turning it useful again than simply purchasing the latest digital wondercam, turning it to “Auto” and letting the countless hours of toil from software engineers I will never know take care of all the “hard stuff” for me.

I realize that a lot of this may sound like the school of Masochism that says “hit yourself in the head with a hammer because it feels so good when you stop” and I’ll grant that the assertion may have some merit, but I maintain that there is no substitute for understanding the fundamental principles underlying any worthwhile activity. Furthermore, understanding is much more complete when all the modern conveniences have been stripped away.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go finish whittling my next bicycle seat from oak.

What camera should I get? (Part 1)

Or, a long rant about film cameras that has nothing to do with the title.

No, I’m not soliciting advice.  I really should be thinking about what 5 cameras I should sell, as the shelves are rather full right now.  If forced to do an inventory of the cameras I own, it would be a significant undertaking, and I would not be able to do it from memory. But you really never know when you’re going to want a pre-1975 35mm rangefinder with a 40mm lens and decent portability to document inadvisable moto-adventures ( Canon Canonet GIII QL17, in this case.) Or, say you absolutely need a medium-format rig with interchangeable lenses, no metering, and a cocking mechanism that sounds and feels a lot like a bolt-action rifle… Koni Omega Rapid M to the rescue:

So I suppose I should be more specific… I’m writing about what camera *you* should get. In most cases, the camera you already have is fine.  It just represents a certain state of the art.  At one point in time, it was competitive at a certain price point,  unless it was a Leica or a pro-level SLR, in which case price point was exorbitant and not really part of the equation.  Now, it’s probably not.  That doesn’t mean it’s not still useful, it’s just that you’re probably tired of one or more of its attributes by now.  Newer cameras have been released at a staggering rate in the last 10 years, and each has (usually) been at least an incremental improvement over what came before it.  Except for the Nikon D3000, it is said, but that’s another story for another time.

So, yes, by all means buy a new camera.  I do it frequently.  Well, I mostly buy used, old cameras, but I’m wired that way.  I only buy expensive new cameras when the state of the art has advanced to be a real enough difference for what I do to be worth it.  Thus the progression went:

2000: Canon Rebel EOS 2000 35mm film camera

2003: Canon A-something point-and-shoot

2005: Nikon D70

2008: Nikon D300

In each case the camera offered more convenience, better pictures, or some combination of the two.  I’m currently waiting for the successor to the D700, which will be a full-frame wundercam capable of not only seeing in the dark, but seeing through time and ladies’ clothing.  Hey, I can hope, can’t I?

My brother in law recently gave me his old Sony digital camera rather than throwing it away (Sony DSC-S70, 3.3 MP)  I remember oohing and aahing over it when he got it in 2000 or so.  It was a really nice camera in its day, and he took some great pictures with it.  It probably hasn’t changed in its ability to take good pictures.  The lens looks clean- it’s been well-cared for.  Provided you can get the battery to hold a charge and a memory stick (Sony, wtf were you thinking with a proprietary memory format!?!??  Didn’t you learn from Betamax?), it will take pictures just as well as the day it was new. What’s changed is us, and our expectations.

Using the old Sony, I was suddenly transported back to a time when it was okay for a digital camera to take 5 seconds to wake up.  To make the screen go blank (presumably to save batteries) at odd times.  To take forever to focus and save a picture.   To have a postage-stamp sized screen.  You get the picture, if you’ll forgive the pun.  This was a time when a 512mb card was huge, and 3.3 megapixels was something to crow about.  Cell phones didn’t have cameras, and Flickr, Facebook, and the like didn’t exist.  To author a web page, you had to know HTML, FTP, and a bunch of other arcane things that were not user-friendly.

Cameras have certainly come a long way in the last 10 years, but the thing is, in the whole mad scramble to digital, they got worse before they got better. Contrast the experience with the sony with my recent use of a ~1976 Nikkormat ELW that I inherited through my wife’s family.

The thing I’ve found with the old Nikon is that it works really, really well. It doesn’t do anything you don’t need, and it makes some rather sophisticated things very easy. Mirror lock-up, for instance, is a lever on the side of the body. On my digital cameras, it’s buried in the menus.  There are two modes to worry about:  Aperture Priority and Manual.  They are both accessed on the same dial, which also does a few other things.

The viewfinder is awesome, particularly with the Nikkor Series E 50mm f/1.4 lens I keep on the camera most of the time. It’s bright. It’s easy to tell when you’re in focus, and there aren’t too many things distracting you from seeing your shot. Just a wonderfully simple needle on the left side of the viewfinder, doing double duty as both a shutter speed indicator in Aperture priority mode and as a coupled lightmeter when you are shooting manual.

The camera is quiet and immediate. When you hit that button, sh!t happens… quickly. No racking the focus motor in and out. No blinking little error messages in the viewfinder. It just… goes… click. (Jesus from The Big Lebowski would love it.)

There are some limitations with the camera, though.   Manual focus sucks if things are moving, or if you’re grabbing a quick shot without enough time to compose, focus, think, then shoot. If you have time to focus, then the old Nikon works better.  The shot of the cyclist above was carefully prefocused (I used the line on the road to focus and a higher f-stop to increase depth of field), so yes, it is possible.  But with my D300, I could forget about focusing entirely and let the camera do the thinking for me.

The other thing is cost. Every time you press the shutter, chemistry happens in a film camera. You get one frame closer to having to stop and reload the film. You don’t have 300+ frames before your memory card is full, and you have to pay to see what you shot on a film camera. This can add up, though it takes a lot of film developing before you’ve spent more money than digital. Still, psychologically, the variable costs of film do change your habits. Nobody (at least that I know) burns through half a roll of nearly identical compositions to see which one might turn out right.  My average film cost for C-41 (color) developed and scanned is about 40 cents a shot.  Talk about a few hundred shots, and you’re still talking small money.  Talk about tens of thousands, and you can see digital has a clear advantage.

Henri-Cartier Bresson once said “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” I’m well above that number now (and still creating bad images), but I doubt I’d be even close if I was shooting film.
When you don’t have to worry about a resource, such as film, then you are free to be more creative. Hold the camera out of the car window, hose it around, go nuts. Figure out how to hold it so you get a self-portrait holding your son without messing up the framing… it doesn’t cost anything except hard drive space, and that can be recycled easily. Digital teaches you more about photography in a short amount of time because it’s free.  Just be careful not to upload everything you shoot.

The other thing you get with digital is immediate feedback. You can see the results of your work right then and there, with a histogram overlaid so you can measure if you’re too bright or too dark. This is invaluable for dialing in a complicated flash arrangement, or arranging a still life, or getting the framing just right. Most people don’t take detailed notes when they take a film photograph, so you lose the ability to remember what you did and what you were trying to do by the time you see your prints. With digital, you can envision, execute, and evaluate all in the same minute. That’s a sound recipe for learning.

Film can teach you different lessons, though. I remember when I got back into film and went out shooting. I was almost paralyzed with the feeling that this would Go On My Permanent Record. These negatives would end up in a box, and one day my grandkids would see them. [never mind that more people see my Flickr photos than will ever bother to pull out my negatives for inspection] It just feels as if you are creating something for posterity when you shoot film. As a result, you slow down a little. You slow down a lot more when you are using a manual camera. Focus? Exposure? Did you set the film speed dial correctly the last time you loaded the camera? Did you load it correctly?  Many more things can go wrong because you don’t have a little computer riding herd and keeping you from making mistakes. The more the camera does for you, the less you think about what you are doing, and the more removed from learning about the craft of capturing light you become.  Film slowed me down.  It made me think.  It made me concentrate more on seeing the composition.  I treated each exposure as a more valuable thing than just the arrangement of electrons on a silicon wafer.

Today, I shoot both.  It’s a crapshoot as to which bag I’ll grab when I’m on my way out the door, but I always make sure to have a camera with me, usually within arm’s reach.  You just never know when the perfect opportunity will present itself.  I violated this rule the other day, and missed a great shot.  The camera was in the back of the car because my wife was in the passenger seat.  We were stopped at a red light, there was a beautiful woman sitting on a bench, with an amazingly photogenic Boxer on a leash (dog, not pugilist), who was staring at a little girl eating an ice cream cone on the next bench over.  It was perfect, and I missed it.

The point of this long-winded attempt at explication is this:

A newer camera will probably have more features than an older one.  Whether those features matter is entirely a personal matter.  Be aware that there are many many marketing and product managers employed in the world whose sole source of income is managing to convince large numbers of people that they need more features and more megapixels in their cameras.  (What??  You don’t have face recognition, 18 megapixels, a magnesium alloy body fully weathersealed against nature, and a 25x superzoom?  You’ll never get a decent photo again unless you upgrade now!!!)

A newer camera will probably be capable of better picture quality than an older one (unless you are comparing film to digital, where film usually wins, especially for cameras normal* people can afford)

A newer camera  will usually be capable of shooting at higher ISOs than an older camera.  This makes it possible to pretty much see in the dark, and is one of the primary reasons to upgrade.  Megapixels don’t really matter, but decent image quality at high ISO does.  If you’re typical, you will faced with dodgy light far more often than you will be faced with the need to blow up an image into a poster-sized print.  Most people don’t clue into this until they have had to deal with blurry photos (from slow shutter speeds) or lots of noise from a camera with poor high ISO performance.

But a newer camera won’t make you a better photographer.  It won’t make your subjects more interesting, your framing more aesthetically pleasing, or your timing better.  You will still own the bulk of the responsibility for taking a good photograph.  You’re the one with the eyes and the brain.

*Normal: those not obsessed with cameras and photography.

On bicycles and cameras

Bicycles

I went for a ride on the fixed-gear on Saturday.  It wasn’t a long ride, and I didn’t ride particularly fast.  I figured it would be good to get out for an hour or so and see some of the countryside and work some of the soreness out of my legs from Friday’s soccer and a recent Crossfit workout.  It was.

Riding the fixie pleased me in ways that I’m having trouble identifying or articulating.  Part of it is the aesthetics.  When you look down, there’s no extra stuff.  The drivetrain is incredibly simple.  A simple (cheap) probably mild-steel frame without too many things bolted to it supporting only what is necessary to go down the road.  Flat black everything, some bar tape I had lying around, nitto bullhorn handlebars, and a brooks saddle.  The only concession to style (and visibility) on this bike is the bright yellow wheels, tires, and chain.  I like bright yellow- it’s a happy color.

The feel was nice, too.  Kinesthetically, you feel every degree of gradient, because you’re more connected to the back wheel.  You don’t get to coast, so you experience going down hills differently.  You can’t just store energy from coasting down a big hill and use it to get up the other side, you have to moderate your speed so your legs don’t fly off the pedals.

The sound was probably the best part.  You don’t realize how noisy a normal bicycle is until you go without the freewheel and derailleur.  If you’re pedaling smoothly on a fixie, you don’t hear much.  The chain is nearly silent when it doesn’t have to go through idlers and pulleys and scrape past derailleur cages.  It just goes around in its pleasantly asymmetrical rounded shape and propels you forwards.  The perfect chainline, lack of anything to slap, and constant chain tension make for a very pleasant, quiet ride.

My gearing wasn’t ambitious (42×18), but neither are my lungs or legs.  I muddled through, and managed not to forget to pedal and send myself over the bars.  (I’ve nearly done that before, and it’s not fun.  The urge to pedal-pedal-pedal-coast must be overcome, because the coast bit just doesn’t exist anymore.)  I didn’t wear anything particularly special, save for bike shorts under my normal shorts.  I wanted to be able to wander around Hudson without looking like I just stepped off the set of a superhero movie.

Cameras

While on this ride, I wanted to be able to take some pictures, so I slung a $10.00 messenger bag I picked up at Goodwill on my back and loaded it with cameras.  I was thinking about bringing along my Olympus XA, which is a fun little rangefinder (and also a $10 garage sale find), but I need to get some batteries for it so I can finish off the half-exposed roll of film that’s in it.  Who knows what’s on the already-exposed frames?  Not I.  Instead, I brought my Voigtlander rangefinder along.  Now this is a camera.  It takes Leica M-mount lenses, if you are so inclined.  I’m not… yet.  They are a bit spendy, so I opt for the Voigtlander versions instead (which are made in Japan, not Germany or Canada as the Leica lenses are.)   I brought the 40mm 1.4 and the 12mm, but only shot with the 40.

I had about half a roll of Ilford Delta 400 to finish off.  There were a couple of interesting spots worth shooting, including the main drag in Hudson where a few interesting store signs line up in a particularly pleasing manner, at least to my eye.

Shooting with the rangefinder pleased me in ways similar to riding the bike.   It’s quiet.  It’s solid-feeling.  You have to know what you’re doing… if you forget to set the ISO on the camera, you get under- or over-exposed pictures.  If you leave the lens cap on, you get black pictures.  If you backlight something, you have to figure out how to do the exposure compensation or use AE lock (an unlabeled silver button on the back of the camera that could be for anything.)  If you forget to pedal, it sends you over the bars, in effect.

I spent a couple of very enjoyable hours with these toys.  We’ll see how the pictures turn out, and we’ll see if I get the strength back into these legs to put the 46t chainring on the front again and get some decent miles on the bike.

Travel Blagging

This was a great trip.  I got the chance to ride from LA to the Bay Area on a 2010 Victory Cross Roads.  I didn’t hurry, and stopped whenever I felt the need to take pictures.

The bike was perfect for this ride.  Comfortable after hundreds of miles, yet still enough of a motorcycle to enjoy the twisties.  The cargo capacity made it easy to carry nine days’ worth of gear, plus cameras.

Camera Gear:

  • Nikon D300
  • Sigma 24-70 f/2.8
  • Nikkor 35mm f/1.8
  • Tamron 11-18
  • Olympus E-p1 with 17mm f/2.8 lens (usually around neck)

I didn’t bring any film gear because I was traveling light.  Yes, that’s light.  Nothing is more annoying than not having the right lens.  No underwear, no problem.  No lens, big problem.  I also had to carry my laptop, some tools, a few parts that needed delivering, and the wherewithal to flash various bits of software onto the bikes I was working on (these were production bikes, but they needed to be updated with the latest-latest-latest versions of everything before we could officially call them complete.)

You could hardly tell I was carrying anything.  The air shock at the back made it easy to adjust the ride height so I didn’t scrape in the twisties.  The comparatively light weight (for a cruiser-based tourer capable of carrying such cargo) made even the switchbacks leading into and out of Ojai easy.  It only took a short while before I found my groove and was able to flow nicely through the corners.  It’s no sportbike, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun on a twisty road… as this video shows.

Now who’s up for a ride?