Posts Tagged ‘gear’

Bike Judge

30 June 2009

Dear J-

Spend enough time bicycling and you’ll inevitably start to judge other bicyclists in an attempt to justify how fast/slow or gear-laden you are in comparison.  My bike is a bit of a pig — as a folding bike, it’s not the lightest to begin with, and then I pile on my lunch, two bottles of water, lights, rack, bookbag (with a camera I need to charge the batteries in, sunglasses, calculator, GameBoy — also featuring dead batteries, wallet, keys, iPod, monocular, and phone).  Dragging my fluorescent-jacketed carcass along means that folks pass me regularly and easily, pointing all the while at the funny guy with no fashion sense.

On the other hand, maybe those are just excuses (fat tires, extra load, indifferent maintenance) for me not to work hard at it — although I’m still pretty sure that I haven’t ever passed anyone on the way to or from work, I have kept up on the hills for a moment or two now and then.  I guess everyone has their priorities which justifies their choices in bicycle and gear; either I’m terrifed of being somewhere, unentertained, or I like gadgets (with the latter far more likely).

One thing I can’t abide is indifference to safety; I see people riding on the sidewalk (crossing the street in the crosswalk actually lessens your visibility to folks behind you turning right, especially if there’s cars parked at the curb), or without helmets (I’ve already managed to ruin a shirt sliding on a shoulder after a spectacular wipeout going downhill; my faith in the indifference of SoCal drivers was not shaken), but this morning I saw someone with an aggressive recklessness.  His bike had no lights, and he was wearing black; the stealth ninja look is good, I suppose, if you’re interested in blending in, but for folks driving around with no coffee in their systems — I almost chased him down (that is, if I could) to offer him one of my lights, at least.  I’m not saying I’m a perfect bicyclist, but I’m still cringing at the thought of the stealth rider, apologizing to motorists on behalf of bicyclists.



Wide World

10 June 2009

Dear J-

As the work piles up I keep finding excuses to do other things — finding interesting links out there was something I always thought was the whole purpose of blogs:  a brief comment, a short analysis, and then the link to be shared with the rest of the world.  At different times I seem to pick up different themes; camera gear is an evergreen topic as only an infinite amount of money for the seemingly infinite amount of stuff out there would scratch that itch, but I also find time to look at the work of others.

Part of that has to do with the way they shelve photography books; whether it’s at the bookseller, Dewey Decimal, or Library of Congress, monographs are usually in close proximity to instructions and gear listings, so it’s a natural palate-cleanser to look at various bodies of work.  If you consider that flickr, for instance, regularly increases its collection of photographs by around 2-3000 per minute (that works out to over a billion photographs every year), there’s a ton of photos out there, and most of them are going to end up unremarked and unseen.

A couple of days ago, though, I ran across the World Press Photo of the Year gallery — one photo from all the journalists out there, out of the billions existing gets selected, so it’s a teeny little gallery of approximately fifty shots.  To my untrained eye, they are all stunning in different ways, but I will note that a good portion of them are heart-rending.  We humans are innately visual creatures — I believe it’s our dominant sense — and the photographs allow us to share realities around the world in a universal language.  Petteri has an excellent essay on boring photographs, by the way; it’s one that should be required reading for the next time you’re tempted to dismiss your own work as useless and trite.


Olympean Heights

16 May 2009

Dear J-

The danger of saving money through buying the right thing — though it may be more expensive — the first time, rather than iterating through various cheap ones is you might not know when to stop. Okay, make that you into I and you’ve got the heart of my problem; I tend to believe that I might as well short-circuit the whole thought process of wondering what might be better by getting the top of the line by not having to wonder. And that, of course, saves no one money.

The Olympus lens lineup is divided into three tiers; now that the system’s been out for six years or so, there’s a pretty complete lineup in each tier. The standard grade (lowest) lack weather sealing and fast apertures; the high grade (middle) are pretty well-built and have reasonable, though not constant apertures; and the super-high grade (top) are built to withstand being used as bludgeons, contain zooms with constant apertures, and, oh yeah, cost well over a thousand dollars apiece. For people who don’t make money with their photographs, in fact, the SHG lenses occupy the same position as most Leitz glass: for those who won’t settle or for those who don’t need to. It doesn’t stop me from looking at them, breath fogging the plate glass of the virtual display cases.

The first time I mounted a f=35mm lens for a 135-format camera, I looked in the viewfinder and felt like I was coming home. Granted, I’ve spent twenty-five years looking through glasses with wire frames, so I suppose my field of view is naturally constrained to that little box by now; I waited so long to get that lens — a Nikon 35 f/1.4, modified to AI via a factory replacement aperture ring (trivia here: the minimum f-stop drops from f/22 to f/16 as a result; also, the rare earth elements in some of the glass lenses is slightly radioactive, which has stained them an amber color) — because the f/1.4’s were so much rarer than the f/2 and f/2.8s and I didn’t want to settle — for this I suffered with lenses that didn’t quite fit my vision.

Funny thing is that the Olympus HG glass is by no means settling — in fact, except for the weather-sealing, neither is the standard grade; they’re all pretty strong, optically. And the SHG lenses, with constant apertures, are all pretty shockingly large and heavy (said the fox, as he attempted to reach the grapes: “They must be sour.”); they’re not as portable and hand-friendly. Next time: photographic evidence that I talk a good talk, but can’t possibly follow through*.


* How many lenses do I have in the f=200mm focal length class?

  • Nikkor 180mm f/2.8
  • Micro-Nikkor 200mm f/4
  • Zoom-Nikkor 80-200mm f/4
  • Zoom-Nikkor 100-300mm f/5.6
  • Canon New FD 80-200mm f/4L
  • Canon New FD 100-300mm f/5.6L
  • Tokina SD AT-X 100-300 f/4 (Nikon AI mount)

How many more would I need?

Outside and About

8 June 2008

Dear J-

I’ve inexplicably received a subscription to Outside magazine. I suspect that it may be due to renewing a discount card at the local used video game store and, in response to the list rattled off by the bored-looking clerk (“Uh … there’s Official Playstation Magazine, Official Nintendo Magazine, Official XBox Magazine, …”) I responded that I didn’t need any of those, so clearly, they gave me the magazine targeted towards twentysomething slackers and video game folks. Either that, or I’m mis-representing a nice gift someone got for me.

As magazines go, it’s not bad, but not terribly memorable either: the last magazine I consciously subscribed to was Games, with many fond memories of hours spent poring over the different clever puzzles and game reviews it contained. Well, forty bucks later, I was having flashbacks again, but this time because the magazine was running, in lieu of new content, what they termed “Classic Games Puzzles” — which I recognized from twenty years ago. Plus I started to remember something distinctly less pleasant: I wasn’t very good at the puzzles then, and still wasn’t very good at the puzzles now, preferring (thanks, Mr. Larson!) to stick with what I call whodunits — logic puzzles, which showed up maybe once every quarter in Games. The next time I was at the newsstand, I invested five bucks in a book of logic puzzles and have since concluded that was an excellent buy, having lasted me nearly as long as a full year of Games.

But this is about Outside, a study in contradictions. On one page you have spiritual transcendence: the world is both bigger and smaller than we think it is, its natural wonders overwhelm and awe us; yet on the next, gear reviews aimed mainly at separating fools and money (if I’m spending $2 000 on binoculars, they’d damn well better go out and get the sights for me — while I sleep — download them, and put on a slide show when I get back, Nikon ED glass or not). So I note with some amusement how Marc Peruzzi’s (the resident grump) column (“The Big Idea”) in the July issue decries the ubiquity of surf culture, focussing on the money (selling out) and hypocrisy (how can surfing be so noble if it’s neither risky nor mellow?) of it, like that of any other sport. There are those (in other words, the majority) who feel that the NBA Finals were rigged in a way — Kevin McHale, GM of the Timberwolves, pulling a blockbuster trade of Kevin Garnett to the Celtics (McHale’s former team) and forming them into something formidable, just as Jerry West, formerly of the Lakers, retires just before Memphis sends their best player, Pau Gasol, to the Lakers, who promptly rip back through the playoffs following a few years of aimlessness with Captain Kobe at the helm.

What bothers me more about Peruzzi’s column is not so much the content (or malcontent, if you will), but the sneering attitude behind it. The whole thing faintly reeks of holier-than-thou (it’s a sweet, cloying odor) and of being able to pass judgement because, somewhere, somehow, someone’s decided he’s more hardcore than you, or whomever he criticises. It’s not the facts he cites, which are sufficiently compelling, or the advertisers he skewers, but the personal anecdotes he brings in just make him look like an ass and detracts from the overall tone of the essay. Oh, and note to the editor — putting this at the end of the column:

EDITOR’S NOTE: See page 110 to get styled for summer’s coolest sport. Shakka-gnar, brah!

only serves to prove that either you don’t actually read the content and/or you’ve missed the point.