Tamron 60B SP 300mm f/2.8 LD IF — a Bargain Pro Telephoto

Well, if you don’t mind shooting with a manual focus lens, that is. And I don’t, cuz that’s how I got started in photography, and I’m still really used to cranking on the ol’ focusing collar. The Tamron 60B compared very well against its Canon and Nikon 300/2.8 contemporaries. If you visit the website, you’ll find the 60B listed there, along with a set of resolution and contrast tests performed by Modern Photography. As the tests show, the lens scores quite high. And as a bonus nowadays, the Tamron 60B can often be found for surprisingly reasonable prices if one is patient or willing to put a bit of work into the lens after buying it. Take this one, for example.

Tamron 60B 300mm f/2.8

I spotted it on eBay and what attracted me to it was its low opening bid: $499.00. It’s more typical finding this lens on eBay in the $700-900 range, often for more, but I don’t think the sellers with high asking prices are having much luck selling their 60Bs at those higher prices. So anyway, this lens had been placed up for a 7-day auction, no Buy-I-Now. So I waited, biding my time. As the days ticked off, nobody bid on it, which I found mildly surprising. I write “mildly” because the seller did an outstanding job of documenting the lens’s defects, most of which was some light fungus on the inside of the front element. It was also missing a few items that would have come with it originally: its case, a 1.4x teleconverter, and a set of rear-mounted filters. It did include the hood and the front cap, plus a Nikon Adaptall-2 mount, the latter of which was actually an option. I didn’t really need the case, I already have a Tamron 1.4x teleconverter, and the filters are mostly just used for B&W photography anyway, so it had all the stuff that mattered to me. But I suspect it was the photos of the fungus that kept other bidders away. Photographers tend to run in the opposite direction when the word “fungus” is mentioned. I wasn’t too concerned, though, because I’ve disassembled lenses before and cleaned fungus out of them, and removing this lens’s front element is a very straightforward procedure. So anyway, the clocked ticked down on the auction and I ended up getting the lens for the opening bid amount.

When the lens arrived, I was pleasantly surprised. The fungus was actually much lighter than I had been anticipating, and the other defects shown in the photos were much more minor in person. Good news all the way around, so I immediately grabbed my EOS DSLR, mounted a Nikon-to-EOS adapter on the lens, and took it outside for some shots.

It’s been stinkin’ hot here in Houston for the past couple of months and I really didn’t feel like dealing with the heat to much of an extent, so I just shot some more pics of the birds that hang around here to eat my dog’s food and drink his water.  Here’s a shot of a grackle perched on a branch in an oak tree in our front yard, followed by a 100% crop of the bird.

Common Grackle

100% crop of above image

The DSLR I used is a 10.1mp APS-C Canon EOS.  So, figuring in the 1.6x crop factor, the effective focal length of the lens was 420mm. Exposure info: ISO 400, 1/250 second, lens set wide open to f/2.8.  I did not use Live View to confirm focus.  Too bright outside.

The Tamron 60B, having internal focusing, is a fast-handling optic, which is very useful. With a bit of practice, a photographer can approach autofocus speed focusing one of these lenses.  That’s because focusing is light and quick, and it’s all because the lens has IF.

This is the second one of these lenses I’ve owned. I bought a very clean used one back in about 1989. It was complete as supplied by Tamron, too. I took it to a number of air shows and auto races, and had a great time with it. Here are a few scans of some slides I took at a couple of air shows during the early 1990s.

Lockheed P-38 Lightning — Fujichrome 100

A rare North American P-51B Mustang — Fujichrome 100

Curtiss P-40 Warhawk

Grumman TBF Avenger — Fujichrome 100

Unfortunately, I sold my old 60B during times having plenty of photo gear but not enough money.  I’m determined to hang onto this one quite a bit tighter this time around.

So, to sum things up, if you don’t mind handling the focusing chores yourself, instead of shelling out $6,000+ for a latest generation AF 300/2.8 wonder, you can pick up one of these that still does a bang-up job.

Possibly the Best Manual Focus 80-200 Ever?

Tamron 80-200mm f/2.8 LD mounted to my Old Canon F-1

You may or may not be aware of this, but there is a growing trend among photographers, who are using older manual focus lenses on their digital cameras.  It isn’t just some flash in the pan sort of thing, either.  In fact, we have prestigious lens makers such as Zeiss making manual focus lenses expressly for DSLRs, and we have upstart companies, such as the Korean lens maker Samyang doing the same.  The surprising thing about the Samyangs is that this company is building top-notch optics for very reasonable prices.  They just don’t happen to be auto-focus.  But we also have more and more people taking looks backward at which optics were great in their day and reasoning that they may be worth a second look — or more.  Which is what leads to the subject of this article: manual focus zooms.  Zooms which haven’t been made in 10, 15, even 20 years or more.  There are many excellent manual focus zooms that were made over the years, and this article will discuss the one in particular that I feel is the best of the lot . . . for the group of 80-200 zooms at least.  Okay, about this comparison, when I wrote 80-200 in the title, I did not mean this literally.  Rather, this is a class of optics, to which I would consider 70-210s and 70-200s and 80-210s and even the old 90-230s to be qualified participants.  Think of this as a general zoom range, and it will probably work best for this topic.

So, moving along.  In order for a lens to be ranked “best of,” what sort of criteria would you judge as being essential?  Surely a lens’s resolution must rank highly on the list, but not just any sort of resolution, but corner-to-corner resolution, eh?  And of course a lens must also be blessed with good contrast.  Faithful color.  Minimal optical aberrations.  Maximum aperture value.  And the fact that we’re discussing a zoom here means that an inevitable challenge will appear: “Your zoom may be sharp, but it isn’t gonna be as sharp as my xxx prime.” (fill in the xxx with whatever focal length you want that fits within the zoom’s range)  So a zoom has to overcome what I call Prime Prejudice as well.  So, this “best of” zoom must also be able to accept the prime challenge and do well against them, despite the fact that, in this discussion we’re comparing zooms to zooms and not zooms to primes.

Beginning in the mid-1980s, a few lens makers started producing fast 80-200 optics — ones with a constant f/2.8 maximum aperture.  It could be argued, I suppose, that Vivitar started it all back in the mid-1970s with their Series 1 70-210 f/3.5 zooms.  After all, f/3.5 is only 1/2 stop away from f/2.8.  Nonetheless, pairing a lens with a top focal length of 200mm or so with a wide open aperture of f/2.8 caused a lot of interest.  Why?  Well, because 200mm f/3.5 lenses had been common for years, but 200mm f/2.8 lenses were uncommon.  In fact there were quite a few lenses that had fast f/2.8 apertures but that didn’t quite reach 200mm.  We had the Zeiss 180mm f/2.8 Sonnar and the Zeiss Jena f/2.8 Sonnar and Leica’s f/2.8 Elmarit and Olympus made a 180mm f/2.8  and the Nikkor 180mm f/2.8, and even Schneider made one for Rollei.  Again, why, you may be wondering?  Well, as it turns out, 180mm is still pretty much okay at f/2.8, chromatic aberration-wise, as is a lens with a longer focal length of 200mm and a maximum aperture of f/3.5, but when you open the design up just that 1/2 stop more or stretch it another 20mm — blammo! Color fringing all over the place.  In fact, I know of only two 200mm f/2.8 lenses that were made prior to this time that did not have special glass or optical formulations: the Canon 200mm f/2.8 and the Soligor 200mm f/2.8.  I’ve never tried the Soligor, but I owned the Canon — the late, internal focusing model, too.  And it had severe chromatic aberration problems.  They were so bad, I really had to be careful how I used it.  But that was back in the days of film, when Photoshop didn’t exist and if you had CA in an image, you were stuck with it.

Fortunately for photographers, the lens designers realized that if they were going to be offering zooms with a 200mm maximum focal length and a maximum aperture of f/2.8, they could not just use regular optical glass in these lenses.  So  the lens makers introduced their optics with special glass or formulations to reduce the chromatic aberration problems.  Of course, having to use special, low-dispersion glass and special optical configurations increases the costs for the lens makers, so they were forced to sell these premium lenses at premium prices.  Apparently, this wasn’t a problem particularly, because by all accounts I’ve seen, these premium lenses sold well, despite their much higher prices.  Compare the Vivitar Series 1 f/3.5 zooms, which sold in the mid-70s for maybe the mid-200s (USD), and routinely on the used market at the time for about $150, and the newer zooms with their special glass, which typically sold for $800 or more.  Street prices.  Interestingly, most of the manufacturers of the super f/2.8 zooms were aftermarket makers.  Sigma had its 70-210 f/2.8 APO, Tokina its 80-200 f/2.8 AT-X SD, and Tamron had its SP 80-200 f/2.8 LD.  The only exception I’m aware of is Nikon, who produced an 80-200 f/2.8 ED.  But this is a relatively rare lens.  I have the feeling that Nikon didn’t sell many.  Considering that theirs sold for about twice what the aftermarket ones sold for, this might have been some of it.  But perhaps not all.  In fact, I’d have to say that all of these f/2.8 super zooms are relatively uncommon.  They appear on the used market only occasionally.

It’s time I got to the point.  Based on articles and tests I’ve read at the time this lens was available new, it is my conviction that the Tamron 80-200mm f/2.8 LD is the best that has ever been made of the manual focus zooms in that range.  I can already hear you Contax guys with your T* 80-200 f/4s saying that my conviction is a load of cow manure.  Maybe even you Nikkor 80-200mm f/4 guys.  And for sure you folks who own the Canon 80-200mm f/4 L.  Now these three lenses I’ve just mentioned are truly outstanding optics that deliver resolution and contrast on par with some of the best primes.  But I really do believe that the Tamron has the edge.  I base my convicition mostly on the lens tests that the much missed Modern Photography magazine used to conduct.  Unlike the mushy IQ bullcrap that Popular Photography magazine replaced it with (PP bought out MP), Modern Photography’s tests gave the reader real numbers that could be compared to other lenses’ real numbers.  And the real number tests for the Tamron 80-200 f/2.8 at 200mm show it to be almost the exact equivalent to Nikon’s superb 180mm f/2.8 ED.  It is, in fact, uncanny how closely the two lenses match each other’s numbers.  At shorter focal lengths, the Tamron’s numbers are even higher.  So because of this, I feel that the burden of proof must lie with those f/4 optics and for their users to prove their superiority.  But there is, for sure, one area in which they cannot compete and that is shooting with the lens wide open at 200mm f/2.8.  For example:
Tamron 80-200mm f/2.8 LD @ 200mm and f/2.8
A 100% crop of the above image
The above photo was taken at a distance of about twelve feet and the camera/lens combo was hand held.  I probably could have done better if it would have been mounted to a tripod, but I believe this is “good enough” to show what the lens is capable of at f/2.8.  Of course, no image sharpening of any kind was done to the above images.  My apologies for not offering more example images at this point, but I’m an outdoor photographer, and we have reached the dog days of summer here in Houston, and it is difficult for me to find much of anything interesting to shoot pictures of at this time of year.  Except maybe for a few neighborhood birds hoping to snag a few morsels of food out of my dog’s food dish and drink from his water bucket.  The odd squirrel or two.  Aw hell, what the hey.  If you don’t mind, I don’t either.
Here’s a common grackle — a bird species indigenous to eastern North America. They are very common around where I live and I’ve been observing them quite a bit. The grackle is a fairly large bird — larger than blackbirds but smaller than crows, and the males are larger than the females. The sexes tend to congregate together. That is, I’ll see gangs of males or females, but seldom do I see them mixed. The males are characterized by a glossy black plumage that can have a greenish-purple tinge, whereas the females have brownish-gray colored bodies with black wings and tails. The males are also characterized by having large, almost out-of-proportion tail feathers. Perhaps the grackle’s most distinguishing characteristic is its call. The grackle’s call can range from a shriek that rises in pitch to a something that sounds like a combination of a high-pitched squawk and a stick snapping in two. Strange.

Common Grackle: Tamron SP 80-200mm f/2.8 LD @ f/2.8

I was about 15 meters away from the bird when I took that shot.  Here is a 100% crop of the image.  Taken with a 10.1 megapixel Canon XS (the megapixel count determines the size of a 100% crop, which is why I mention this).

100% crop of the above image.

So this may not be the most photogenic of subjects, but as you can see this Tamron holds detail exceptionally well.  Here’s another — a white-winged dove.  I like these more than their more common ring-necked cousins because of their blue mascara.  First the uncropped image, then the 100% cropped image.

White-winged dove, Tamron SP 80-200mm f/2.8 LD lens

100% crop of the above image

Incidentally all of the above images were taken with the lens wide open at f/2.8 and at its maximum zoom setting: 200mm. I’m kinda funny that way about lenses, especially zoom lenses. I want to see how well a lens performs at its most demanding setting, and to me its most demanding setting is wide open, and if it’s a zoom, it’s wide open at its longest focal length. This is when it will tend to show softness, chromatic aberrations, and other problems. So if a lens performs well at its most demanding settings, I feel reasonably confident that it won’t let me down if I have to stop it down a bit or bring the zoom in a notch or two. And as you can see, this lens is doing very little in the way of letting me down.

Finally, I would like to mention that this lens is a recent acquisition of mine and that I bought it from KEH (  I’m not getting paid a dime by KEH to mention them here and the only reason why I do so is because I feel that they are an exceptionally good outfit to do business with when one is shopping for used equipment.  This lens arrived in much better condition than their rating system indicated and I was able to obtain it for a great price.  KEH has a very large inventory of used gear and they have become the place I usually check first when I’m in the market for a piece of used gear.  Also, it’s worth noting that, despite their worldwide reputation as a dealer in used photo gear, they sell new stuff too.

CFS at Pappy’s Café: The Quest Continues!

Pappy's Grill on Urbanspoon

Pappy's Chicken Fried Steak with fries substituted instead of mashed, and Texas Toast

Okay, first of all, my apologies for the crappy photo above — it’s the best I could do with my cell-phone’s cheezy camera.  And while the photo might not get your mouth to a-watering, still, it gets the idea across.

What will most likely be my never ending quest for finding the Perfect Chicken Fried Steak  continues.  I revisited one of my favorite haunts a couple days ago: Pappy’s Cafe, a place I that I haven’t been to in a while, and I wanted to refresh my recollections regarding their CFS.  I’m glad I did, too!   It was actually quite a bit better than I remembered.

It is difficult to give an idea of scale in the above image, but let me just say that Pappy’s CFS is a very generous portion, and not shown is the garden salad that was included in the meal’s $8.99 price.  Everything arrived at the table piping hot, and it arrived quite promptly, which is one reason why Pappy’s does such a brisk lunch business.  It’s easy to get in and out and have a good comfort food meal in the process.  Oh — and by the way — you read that right.  $8.99 for a real sit-down meal that includes two sides (doesn’t have to be fries or mashed pototoes and a salad — it can be any of several sides they offer), but best of all, a real sit-down meal that’s really worth sitting down for.

Yes, after having their CFS, I’d rate it right up there with Hickory Hollow’s.  It might not be quite as large, but the taste is memorable.  The batter is crisp but not heavy, the cubed steak is reasonably tender, and the cream gravy has just a detectable hint of bacon in it.  Most likely from some good ol’ bacon fat drippings, I’ll wager.  The fries are fresh cut and crispy, but if you feel like something different, try their black-eyed peas or fried okra. Pappy’s also has a full bar and Happy Hour from 3-7pm Mon-Fri, with drink specials every day of the week.  Pappy’s is an informal, down-home place that will likely become one of your favorite haunts, as it has become one of mine.

Be sure to visit Pappy’s website so you can preview their menu.   Their hours of operation are 11am to 10pm Mon-Sat, 11am-9pm Sunday.  Early birds will likely find a parking space in front (there are only about seven or eight of them), but if you’re heading there when it’s a bit more busy, just park around back and enter through their back entrance.

Canon IIIa Rangefinder Outfit Continues to Grow

Nowadays, lenses and accessories for these old Leica Thread Mount (LTM) Canons are getting pricey.   Unless you’re patient, that is.  Or you fall into good deals.  Both happened to me recently.  I managed to snag a Kyoei Super Acall 135mm f/3.5 off eBay recently — complete with the original box and instructions — for an unexpectedly low price.  And a couple weeks ago, I found a Serenar 100mm f/4 with case and finder in an antique/second hand store for a low enough price that I couldn’t let it sit there.  I owned a copy of the Kyoei 135mm back in the 1980s — bought it along with a Canon IVsb out of a pawn shop for cheap — and back then its reputation was that it was “just okay.”  Heh.  That was the reputation for many of LTM lenses, including the Canon Serenars.  Funny how attitudes change over time.  Nowaday’s the old Kyoei optics have a rather dedicated following, and the Canon Serenars have become highly respected — and highly sought-after — lenses.  So I feel very lucky to have found both of these within the space of a few weeks.

Canon IIIa Rangefinder with 50mm, 100mm, and 135mm lenses

The 135mm is a standard addition to a rangefinder kit.  The 100mm is gravy.  Next on the list is a wide angle.  Probably a 35mm, maybe a 28mm, but boy howdy, talk about pricey!  Looks like I’ll be saving up for one of them for a while.  Fortunately after I’ve bought a wide angle, the outfit will be pretty much complete. As long as I resist going for even wider wide-angles, that is.

I don’t have any example photos from these two new lenses yet.  No excuses.  I just haven’t made the time for photography lately — been busy with other projects.  But I’ll be sure to post some examples once I got ‘em.

Chicken Fried Steak — The Quest

Chicken Fried Steak with chipotle cream gravy as served by the Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill in Austin, Texas

It is not “country-fried steak.”  Those who feel compelled to modify the language to suit their own prejudices just need to get over it.  It’s chicken-fried because it’s fried like chicken. Simple as that.

For years I’ve been on something of a quest.  If I visit a restaurant that has chicken fried steak on their menu, usually I’ll order it.  Even if they’ve succumbed to the newspeak nazis and call it “country fried” steak.  Back when I lived in Southern California, there was a small restaurant in Fullerton my wife and I liked going to called The Hungry Bear.  Their nomenclature was weird and typically revisionist SoCal.  If you ordered a “chicken fried steak,” as I recall, you got chicken. !!!  If  you ordered a “country fried steak,” you got a proper chicken fried steak.  And despite their cognitive dissonance, it was quite good.  The serving was generous, but not overly large the way many places serve it.  Flavor was excellent, however.

The other SoCal restaurant that was a standout — well, it’s actually a chain throughout the West now — was Claim Jumper.  They also insist on calling it “country fried,” but I tended to forgive them because their CFS has to be seen to be believed.  It is huge! Flavor-wise, it was good.  Not excellent, just good.

When I go on road trips, if the place has it, I’ll order it.  I don’t recall any standouts from these times, though, so there are none I can really pass along as recommendations.

I live in Houston now, and there are a number of places around town that come highly recommended.  I’ve tried a few of them.  Here they are in the order of preference:

Hickory Hollow — I’ve visited the location on Heights Blvd.  Mostly a barbecue joint, its CFS is still killer.  They have it in different sizes.  I believe the one I ordered was actually the “medium,” which I ordered with fries.  It was served on a medium-sized pizza pan with the fries, and was probably the biggest CFS I’ve ever had.  And that was the medium size!  But fortunately its size comes in second to its flavor.  Hickory Hollow’s CFS is also the best I’ve had so far.  Excellent flavor.

Jax Grill — (for some reason, WordPress won’t let me do another link in this post so here’s the URL: — Jax Grill has a great menu of American classics and a nice special menu as well.  But their CFS is consistently good and the serving size is generous.  I’d rate it as just a notch below Hickory Hollow’s in flavor, but just.  It is very good.

Pappy’s Cafe — — I like Pappy’s, and I like their menu.  They bill it as “Texas Comfort Food,” and I’d say that’s just about right.  And their CFS fits the bill nicely.  I’d say that Pappy’s is in a dead heat with Jax as far as quality and value.  Very good.

As I mentioned before, there are quite a few other places here in Houston that come highly recommended.  But I haven’t made it to any of them yet.  As I get to them, I’ll review them.  So, check back periodically.  And if you have any CFS favorites, be sure to leave a comment, okay?


Authentic Seafood Gumbo with Louisiana Smoked Sausage

My friends call me lucky because my wife is a trained chef.  I suppose I am.  But when she makes gumbo, I know I am.  Her gumbo is simply the best I’ve ever tasted, and anybody who has had a bowl agrees with me.  But there is no deep, dark, arkane secret involved in making a knock-out gumbo.  What makes it is being faithful to its ingredients.  Now I suppose I need to say here that there are many types of gumbos.  You can have seafood gumbo, which is what the above photo is about, or you can have a sausage gumbo or a chicken gumbo or a pork gumbo, etc.  Gumbo is basically a hearty soup typically served over rice where either a roux is used or gumbo file (ground sassafras leaves) is added, or both.

I feel like writing about seafood gumbo because this is what my wife fixes and I think seafood gumbo is the King of Gumbos.  Done right, seafood gumbo is not a cheap dish.  We usually make a large dutch-kettle-sized pot of it, and in that quantity, the ingredients will cost upwards of $50.  So if you want to make a good seafood gumbo, be prepared to shell out a few bucks.  It is so worth it, though.

Our recipe is an adaptation of Paul Prudhomme’s seafood gumbo with andouille smoked sausage, the recipe for which can be found in his landmark book, Louisiana Kitchen, and out on the internet, if you search for it.  Rather than give  you a rundown on the way my wife makes her gumbo, it makes better sense for you to just go to the source, try Prudhomme’s recipe first, and then do as we have done — adapt it to your own set of preferences.  My wife did a fair amount of experimentation before she finally settled on a recipe we all seem to prefer.   The base is a roux mixed with a  modified mirepoix, called the trinity in Cajun and Creole cooking.  A typical mirepoix is diced onions, carrots and celery, but the trinity is diced onions, bell peppers, and celery.  Added to the base is Prudhomme’s suite of seasonings, and seafood stock.  This is the basic gumbo stock.  She then adds the seafood — crab, shrimp, and oysters (with their liquor) — and the sausage.  Andouille sausage is what’s called for, but we often use a good quality Louisiana smoked sausage, and we feel it works just as well.

A lot of  Paul’s Cajun and Creole recipes, including gumbos, can be found at his website. If you enjoy Cajun and Creole cooking, give his recipes a try.  They’re not hard.  And most aren’t nearly as expensive as seafood gumbo is. Best of all, they are so worth it!

Fun with a Canon IIIa Rangefinder

There’s a certain something about the old Canon rangefinders that just appeals to me.  The French have a term for it: je ne sais quoi. Which literally means ‘I don’t know what’.  Thanks, guys.  That was a big help. Must be the accent that does it.  But whatever it is, it’s enough for me to put up with the camera’s idiosyncrasies to shoot with it.

With all images below, click on the image, then click on it again to see it full size.  Then click on the back button twice to get back to here.

Canon IIIa Rangefinder with 50mm f/1.8 Serenar lens

Years ago, I owned a Canon IVsb, one of the most commonly found Canon rangefinder cameras.  Functionally, it is identical to the IIIa, except the IVsb has a proprietary flash rail on the side, whereas the IIIa came from the factory with no flash sync at all.  The original owner of this camera had flash sync added, however.  Note the oval shaped plate with the two flash sync connectors on the camera body’s right side.  This was an aftermarket addition, and was apparently fairly popular because I’ve seen quite a few rangefinders from back then with this front plate added to them.  So, to me then, this IIIa is actually more useful than my IVsb was.  Because it was difficult to find the original flash attachment for this cameras, and besides it takes bulbs only.  Try finding flash bulbs these days.  Whereas my IIIa’s flash sync includes terminals for both X-sync (strobe-type flashes) and F-sync (focal-plane bulb type flashes).

I bought this camera off eBay back in 2009 and was glad to find it for the price I did.  It was a good deal because it came with the 50mm f/1.8 Serenar.  Sometimes these Serenars will go at auction for the same price as one of the camera bodies will, and since I won the auction for what amounted to the price of a clean body alone, yes, I’d say I got a good deal.

The only problem I found with the camera was that the shutter had pinhole light leaks.  This is actually fairly common for camera shutters this old.  The Canon’s shutter is a rubberized cloth and the rubber has hardened and cracked over the years, which is where the light leaks come from.  A rather simple cure for this problem is to use a product called Plasti-Dip.  It comes in a can or aerosol spray, and also comes in different colors.  I bought a spray can of black, which I felt was most appropriate for a shutter.  To get the Plasti-Dip on the shutter, I selected a small artist’s paint brush with fairly stiff bristles, then sprayed some of the Plasti-Dip onto a paper plate.  Doesn’t require much.  Maybe a 1/2-second burst.  Then I dipped the brush into the wet Plasti-Dip, and gently brushed it onto the shutter curtains.  I waited a few hours after applying it to the first curtain before I wound the shutter on and applied it to the second.  I waited several more hours before I attempted to fire the shutter.  I wanted to make sure it was completely dried.

This worked great.  Before I had eleven pinholes.  After the procedure I had one.  So I gave the shutter another application, and that did the trick.  If you should decide to do this, keep in mind that adding material to the shutter increases the mass of the shutter, and can affect the speed at which it operates.  Thus it’s important that as little material as possible is added to the shutter during this procedure.  Less is truly more in this case.


Recently, I discovered pedestrian access to a creek that  runs close by my house.  So, I figured this might be a good setting to shoot some photos.  It worked out pretty well, actually.

I got to playing around with various filters, trying to get a “look” to a few of my exposures the way I wanted it.  Stumbled across the “Threshold” setting in Paint Shop Pro, and found that I really liked the effect I could get with it.

I probably wouldn’t have done much playing around at all, but my negatives came out very thin this time and all the shots required quite a bit of adjustment to get them to look okay.  Mostly curves, some basic brightness and contrast, but a few were tricky to get to look right.  It was while I was doing all this — basically trying anything that might help — that I ran across the Threshold setting.

One of the things I didn’t have to do was sharpen the images.  The more I use this 50mm f/1.8 Serenar, the more impressed I am by its performance.  Its center sharpness is probably as good as the best normal lenses I’ve used.  I’ve taken some close-ups with this lens and I’ll show some of them in a separate article, which will confirm just how good it is.  Stay tuned!

Digitizing Slides to DVD: Which Way to Go?

If you’re like a lot of folks who used to shoot slides, or perhaps you still do, you probably have a large collection by now. Perhaps you’re worried about emulsion degradation and want to archive them. Perhaps you just want the convenience of having them in digital format so they can be enhanced or transferred more easily. But when it comes to deciding how to deal with all your slides, perhaps you’re somewhat confused as to the best way to proceed. In this case, this article will give you the perspective to make it easier for you to decide what exactly to do.

Before we go any further, it’s probably a good idea for you to make a decision based on the quantity of slides you own. If you own fewer than 1,000 or so, and don’t plan on adding to your collection, then the most cost-effective way to proceed, not just in terms of dollars but also in terms of time spent, most likely will be to send them out to a service and have them scanned to CD or DVD. If you have more than 1,000, or if you would just prefer to do things yourself, then read on. In this discussion, we will concentrate on three technologies that will give you the most bang for the buck: a flat bed scanner, a dedicated film scanner, and a slide duplicator used with a digital SLR camera.

Transferring Your Slides to DVD Using a Flat Bed Scanner

Epson Perfection 4990

Your average flatbed scanner is a device that works essentially the same as the scanning section of a photocopier. An image is placed onto a glass plate and a light and lens passes slowly under the plate in very tiny increments. For relatively recent-technology scanners, these recorded increments, referred to as “pixels” or “dots,” can be anywhere from 2400 per inch to 4800 per inch and even higher. We’ll use the term “pixels per inch” or simply “ppi” for short when we discuss image resolution here, and we’ll want to be using a scanner for our slide scans that has a maximum optical resolution capability of at least 2400 ppi. Some scanners list two resolutions, for example, 4800 x 9600 ppi. It is the smaller of the two numbers we will pay attention to, since that is the limiting value. We will disregard interpolated resolution, since it adds nothing but bloat to an image.

To scan slides, the scanner must also have film scanning capability. The primary difference between a film-capable scanner and one that isn’t is that the film-capable scanner has an additional light in its cover, which is activated when film is scanned. This extra light is necessary because film must be back-lit when scanned. Since the scanner’s lens is inside the scanner body, the light inside the body, being next to the lens, cannot be used to back-light the film. Thus there must be a light in the cover. Most scanners that can scan 35mm film can also scan 35mm slides. But make sure of this before you buy, if you haven’t purchased one yet.

A slide film-capable scanner will come with at least two film holders, one for negatives or unmounted slides, and one for mounted slides. We’ll be using the holder for mounted slides. If you are thinking about buying a used scanner, make sure that the film holders are included in the price. Also it’s a real good idea to test out a used scanner first and make sure the top light comes on before finalizing the deal. Some older scanners use SCSI connectors. Be aware that, unless your computer already has one, you will have to purchase a SCSI adapter card for your computer in order to run a SCSI scanner. Native support for SCSI among modern operating systems is limited, so you will be dependent upon finding a card with the right set of drivers for your OS. For example, Adaptec, one of the most respected names in the SCSI world, shows at their website that their 2930CU adapter card, an excellent all-around performer, has drivers for all recent Microsoft operating systems. Plus the card also comes in a flavor with Apple Macintosh support. Also, if you buy used, visit the scanner’s company website, where you should be able to download an operating manual and the latest software revisions for the scanner to operate in tandem with your PC.

Setting up your scanner

Now it’s time to set up the scanner so it will operate with our computer. Follow the instruction manual for this. There may be a procedure you should follow regarding when to turn on the scanner with respect to installation of the software. With my scanner, for example, the software should be installed first before the scanner is turned on, then the scanner is turned on, then the software is booted. Also the scanner should be synchronized with the image processing software you use via a TWAIN driver. Most decent image processing packages support the TWAIN protocol, which is an applications programming interface (API) that allows communication between imaging devices and software that support it. If your image processing software supports TWAIN (and it should) then when you click on the scanner icon in the software, it will actually boot the scanner’s software. Then after the scan is complete, the image is loaded into your image processing software.

Next, let’s select some slides and get started with the scanning process. For starting out, choose slides that are well exposed and sharply focused. Check that the slides are free of dust. If they have a bit of dust on them, you have two basic methods of cleaning them: you can use a very soft brush and lightly brush the dust off, or you can use “canned air,” which is simply an aerosol can of air used for cleaning lenses, slides and negatives, and can be purchased at camera stores. Sometimes using both works best. You really want to check your slides for dust before scanning them because if you don’t, you can end up spending way too much time in your imaging software getting rid of the scanned dust motes.

Make sure the scanner’s glass is clean. Place the slide carrier on the scanner glass, aligning it with the alignment marks. Then place the slides face down inside the openings in the slide carrier. Close the scanner cover.

Now we need to set up your scanner software for slides. There should be a selection with choices labeled something like “reflective” and “transparency.” Chose transparency. Then there should be another selection for “positive” and “negative.” Chose positive. There should also be a selection you can make regarding scanner resolution. I recommend you select at least 2400 ppi, but I do not recommend that you select a resolution higher than the highest optical resolution of your scanner. For example, my scanner’s maximum optical resolution is 4800 ppi, but it has an interpolated resolution capability of up to 19200. Interpolation is simulated resolution created by the software, and has no use for our purposes. Your software will offer other adjustments as well, but for now, I recommend you leave this to “auto” or just go with what the software recommends. You can explore these capabilities later.

The next step is to do a preview scan. This gives you a basic set of images you can use to determine exactly where and how much of an image you want to scan. Your software may automate the selection process for you, or you may have to manually determine exactly the size of the scanned image. I actually prefer the manual method, but whatever you feel most comfortable with, that’s what you should do. Once you’ve selected the images you want to scan, your software should have some means of your specifying that you want only a single image scanned at a time or multiple images. Go ahead and set it for multiple images, since this is the most efficient use of your time, and select the image areas for more than one slide.

Next, after every thing is set, click on “Scan.” At higher image resolutions this can take a while—perhaps as much as three to four minutes per image. So if you’ve selected several images to be scanned, now is a good time to take a break.

Once the scanning is complete, close the scanner software. You should have one or more images in your imaging software. At this point, there are a great many things you can do to adjust and enhance your images and a discussion of them is well beyond the scope of this article. In fact, we aren’t going to do any of them. Remember, these are archives, and you want to maintain a maximum amount of original information with an archived photo. If you start making changes to the original file and save the changed version as your archive, then the original information is gone. The day may come when you wish you still had the unchanged original, but it won’t be available. You’ll have to scan the slide again. Also, since we want to keep the maximum amount of information, the image format we select becomes important. For our purposes, we will chose a non-“lossy” image format, such as .tif or .png. The .jpg format is quite a bit more compact than the others, but at a cost—.jpg is a “lossy” format, meaning that image information is permanently lost. Not good for an archive.

When you save your slide images, I recommend that you rename them to something that will make sense to you. Instead of going with a default, which often will look something like “IMG_2547.TIF,” for example, try renaming it into something understandable, like “Alex 5th birthday.tif.” At some future date, when you’re combing through your archive looking for a particular image, it will be much easier to find what you want.

At a later date, you can go back and do some post-processing to your images, saving the post-processed files in a separate archive. If you’re like me, you’ll find that, as you do this more and more, you will get better at the process and you’ll find that your early attempts were often too heavy-handed. This is a pretty clear demonstration as to why the originals should be archived unaltered.

When you have finished scanning your slides, the next step is to burn the images to DVD. A standard DVD will hold 4.7 gigabytes of information. A typical high-resolution .png or .tif image file can easily range in size from 20 to 80 megabytes. So doing the math, we’re looking at approximately between 58 and 235 images per DVD. Before you rush out and buy a stack of DVDs, though, ask yourself—how long do you want your archived images to last? Be aware that cheaper DVDs can be problematic when it comes to longevity. I have read numerous reports of DVDs failing two years or less after they were burned. So you’re better off spending a bit more for your archive DVDs. As to which you should buy, I recommend you do a bit of online research. A few favorites will quickly emerge. The inventor of the DVD format was Taiyo Yuden (now JVC), and has long been recognized as the manufacturer of the best DVDs. Taiyo Yuden DVDs have appeared under other brand names also, most commonly Verbatim. There are also DVDs that are designed specifically to be archival, called “gold” DVDs, and which are claimed by their manufacturers to last more than 100 years. Gold DVDs sell for a healthy premium, but if your archive is important to you, the extra expense may be worth it. Also, do not buy DVD-RWs. Because of their composition, they are not really suitable for archival use. In general, DVD+R format is more stable than DVD-R, so if your burner supports +R, this will be the better way to go.

Computer operating systems such as Windows come with the capability to burn DVDs these days, but I would rather use a stand-alone product. There are many to choose from. I use a couple of freeware applications, and they do a fine job. Do an internet search for free DVD-burning software and you should find one that will do what you need.

After you’ve burned your DVD, use a permanent marker, like a Sharpie, to record the DVD’s general contents. Be sure to date it. Store the DVDs upright in plastic cases in cool, dark, dry areas. Follow these guidelines, and they should last you for many years to come.

Using a Dedicated Film Scanner

Plustek 7600i Dedicated Film Scanner

Nowadays you can find a variety of dedicated film scanners in a variety of price ranges. Not too long ago, only high-end film scanners were available and cost thousands of dollars. These days you can find inexpensive consumer models for well under $100. But as is all too often the case, you get what you pay for. The cheap ones do a barely acceptable job. They typically provide claimed resolutions of 2592 x 1680 pixels, equivalent to a 5 megapixel camera. This amounts to 1680 ppi, which is significantly lower than what can be obtained with an average flat-bed scanner. Models exist in price ranges closer to good flatbed scanners, however, and they have much higher claimed image resolutions—typically closer to 2400 ppi, some as high as around 3800 ppi. It is also possible to buy on the used market dedicated film scanners that formerly sold for thousands new but now sell for “only” hundreds. Sometimes these are a good deal, sometimes not. One must closely examine the specifications, make sure the used scanner is complete with all accessories including film holders, and one must also find out how the scanner connects to a computer. Many use the SCSI interface, so keep in mind what I wrote about SCSI above.

Installation of a dedicated scanner is very straight-forward. Most all of the modern ones hook up to a computer using a USB 2.0 cable. Software is typically provided, and even the cheap scanners are TWAIN compliant, which means you can boot the scanner’s software from within your imaging software and transfer the scanned images directly into it. Follow the directions regarding loading slides into the holders and starting up the scanner. Then it’s a matter of getting familiar with the scanner’s software, choosing the images you want to scan, executing the scan process, and then waiting for it to finish.

Once your images have finished being scanned into your imaging software, follow the steps I outlined previously for flatbed scanners, starting at the paragraph above that begins with “Once the scanning is complete, close the scanner software.”

Transferring Slides to DVD Using a Digital Single Lens Reflex Camera and a Slide Duplicator

In recent years, “digital” slide duplicators have become quite popular. The advantages to using one are several if you already own a good digital single lens reflex camera (DSLR). The images are typically quite sharp, well exposed, and the focus is precise if your camera’s autofocus capability is being used. It is also much faster taking duplicates than scanning images. Your typical high-resolution scan may take from two to four minutes. A slide duplicate takes maybe 1/125 second.

Digital slide duplicators are quite ingenious in the way they work, and are also quite reasonably priced. They are “digital” in the sense that they were designed to be used with digital cameras, although there is nothing inherently digital about them. Consisting of a tube with threads on one end and a slide holder on the other with a correcting lens inside the tube, they are designed to screw onto the front of a camera zoom lens, and take advantage of the lens’s zoom capabilities to crop the slide image. The internal lens is typically well corrected and renders a respectably sharp image. There are a couple of caveats to bear in mind, however: you must have a camera lens with the necessary focal length and it must be able to focus down to about 2 feet or so. Obviously, the better quality the camera lens, the better quality your slide duplicates will be.

You’ll want to use a DSLR that has at least 5 megapixels resolution, since this is typically what images are scanned at when you send them out to have it done. The way I see it, if you will be doing the duplicates yourself, you should expect yours to be at least as good as what are commercially available. Your lens must focus down to about two feet, and it must have a focal length that will enable you to take full-frame duplicates. DSLRs use a variety of sensor sizes which affect the way lens focal lengths magnify an image. For an APS-C sized sensor, which is found in many cameras made by most major camera manufacturers, the necessary focal length is about 71mm, whereas for a full-frame sensor, which is the same size as a 35mm image, the necessary focal length is a few millimeters under 50mm. Because of these uncommon focal lengths, zoom lenses work best.

Proper exposure and light balance is critical, as is optimum lens performance. All three factors are closely linked when duplicating slides. There are two basic ways of obtaining proper exposure when shooting slides—using the camera’s meter in a natural light setting, or using a photo strobe or flash. Regardless which method you use, you will want the slides to receive enough light so that the camera’s lens aperture will be working within its “sweet spot,” which for most lenses is between f/5.6 and f/11. You also want to set your DSLR’s ISO value to a low number—ISO 100 at most. This insures that a minimum of image “noise” is transferred to the image.

Shooting your duplicates using natural light is the easiest and cheapest method. All you need is a piece of white poster board and a little cooperation from the sun. If it’s a sunny day, you’ll want to shoot your duplicates between the hours of 10am and 2pm or so. The reason for this is the light balance I mentioned above. Much earlier in the morning or later in the evening and the ambient light color will take on a progressively yellower cast, which will taint the color of your duplicates. Many DSLRs have an auto white balance feature, but it is not always as accurate as it should be, so it’s best not to have to depend on it.

Set your camera’s program setting to Aperture Priority mode and, for now, let’s set the lens aperture value to f/8. Then point your camera with a slide in the duplicator at the white poster board. Don’t worry about the shutter speed. Because the duplicator is mounted directly to the lens, even if the shutter speed is too slow for hand-held photography a little bit of camera shake won’t transfer to the image.

If it happens to be overcast outside, things become even easier. For starters, the time of day is not as critical, since the gray skies tend to absorb the sun’s yellow light that happens earlier and later than mid-day. So all you need to do is set your camera to the same settings as above, point it at the overcast skies and click away. Gray skies are great for shooting slide duplicates. Gray is a perfectly neutral color and will not change the natural color balance of your slides at all.

The advantages of using a photo strobe or flash is that it provides a consistent light source in terms of color balance and brightness. But it can get expensive. Dedicated strobes can easily cost several hundreds of dollars apiece. Plus, if you want to have your camera synchronize itself with the flash so it will provide auto exposure with through-the-lens (TTL) metering while the flash is off the camera, you will need a special off-camera module and cabling, and these items are not cheap either. Not all DSLRs support the TTL metering of off-camera modules, however. Something you need to check into.

The alternative to this is to use a flash that can be set to manual mode and which preferably has variable power settings. Manual flashes are priced much more reasonably than dedicated flashes. You will still need an off-camera adapter and cabling, but an expensive TTL adapter and cabling won’t be required. Using a manual flash, the proper exposure can be determined through trial and error by varying the flash’s power setting or the distance from the flash to the camera if it doesn’t have variable power settings, and using the camera’s review feature to confirm. Once it’s set you shouldn’t need to change it.

To shoot with a photo flash, mount the flash so that it’s pointed directly at the camera. If using a manual flash, measure the distance between the camera and flash and adjust your exposure accordingly. Then lock in these values by locating both the flash and the camera on tripods or stands or what have you, and fire away.

Shooting duplicates with your DSLR is about as difficult as falling off a log, but there are still a few things you should know. First, just about every autofocus zoom lens made has a front element that rotates. So this means that, as your lens autofocuses for each slide, it will rotate the slide, most likely positioning it such that it isn’t perfectly straight in relation to the camera’s image frame. Fortunately, the slide holder rotates, so you can adjust the slide’s position after the lens has focused on the image. Sometimes it takes a few tries before the slide is lined up, even though it looks correct when looking through the viewfinder. This problem occurs because the viewfinder doesn’t provide you with 100% of the actual image frame—it can be as low as 90%. So it’s best to check the image using your camera’s image review feature to confirm alignment.

You will find no doubt that your camera will insist on refocusing with each new image, causing you to have to align each slide. This can get very annoying after a few images, and as a practical matter, it isn’t necessary. Remember, we’re shooting at f/8 to start with, which not only provides the lens’s best performance setting, but which also provides sufficient depth-of-field such that minor focusing variances won’t matter. You can check this for yourself: let your lens autofocus on a slide, check it for focusing accuracy with the camera’s review function, then set the lens to “manual” and shoot another slide without adjusting focus. Then check it’s sharpness, zooming all the way in to maximum magnification. There should be no difference in focusing sharpness between the two images. So, once you have the focusing ring set, as long as you don’t move it, you shouldn’t have to re-focus.

Once you have shot duplicates of your slides, use your camera’s software to load the images onto your computer. Then you can call them up as needed into your image processing software. From this point on, follow the directions given starting with the paragraph that begins with “Once the scanning is complete, close the scanner software.”

Macro Bellows with Slide Copier Attachment

The above rig is the old school route for duplicating slides, and if you have a full-frame DSLR, it’s still the best. It consists of a macro bellows and a macro lens with a slide copier attached to the front. Some slide copiers also come with a roll-film stage, which makes it easier to shoot duplicates of film strips. This setup allows you the ability to take not only 1:1 duplicates but you can crop portions of the slides also, if desired. It bears mentioning that not all current DSLR manufacturers produce bellows for their camera systems, although chances are they did in the past. Let’s take Canon as an example, since their EOS DSLRs are so popular. Canon has not offered a bellows system since they were producing their FD line of manual focus lenses. And the FD mount is incompatible with the EOS mount. It is possible to get an adapter that will allow one to use FD lenses on EOS cameras, but if the adapter does not use a corrective lens, infinity focus is lost. If it does use a corrective lens, the image quality is degraded. So Canon users are kind of stuck. Now, in the case of macro work, such as using bellows for duplicating slides, one will not be as concerned about infinity focus, so such an adapter may not matter. In which case, a Canon user can use the Canon Bellows FL or the later FD Auto Bellows and then a Canon-mount macro lens. But one can also buy an adapter that will allow one to mount another make of lens to an EOS body, such as Nikon, Pentax, Olympus, and others, and with these adapters, infinity focus is retained. If one goes this route, then one can buy a set of bellows to fit one of these cameras along with a macro lens in the same mount. The advantage to the latter route is that the lens can be used for more general-purpose photography on the EOS camera, since infinity focus is retained. Adapting other makes of vintage manual focus lenses to be used on DSLRs is something that is becoming increasingly popular amongst the photographic community. I’m certainly an advocate.

When it comes to a few other makes of cameras, such as Pentax or Nikon, no adapters would be needed to use bellows and macro lenses since these manufacturers have not changed their lens mounts. With others, such as Sony (formerly Minolta), there is no backward compatibility so the adapter route will have to be used.

My own slide duplicating rig is something of a hybrid. I’ve adapted the duplicating tube from a digital slide duplicator to the slide stage off an old duplicator. The tube screws into an old 55mm macro lens, and the macro lens sits in front of a short extension tube. This combination provides me with almost exactly a 1:1 image size for my duplicates. Works great, and it’s fast to use.

Family Get-Togethers are Always Great Reasons to Cook!

Recently, I was combing through some photos of past family events, and ran across several images that I had taken of food we had prepared for the events.  And I thought I’d go ahead and share some of the dishes with whomever might be out there.  Hopefully somebody is . . . hello?

When my extended family gets together, one of the things we enjoy doing is cooking for the event.  We try to keep things informal for these occasions, otherwise things can go spiraling out of control and nobody will be having any fun.  So we typically go for the more simple, down-home fare — comfort food, in other words — and man-o-man does it taste good.  Usually it’s a mixed fare that celebrates the diversity of the members of our family.  My nephew’s fiance was born in Greece, my niece’s boyfriend is Mexican American, and my wife is Chinese.  The family roots are Scots and German, plus we all live in Southeast Texas, with its traditions of barbecue, as well as German, Czech, and Cajun influences.  So it usually makes for some interesting feasts.

Here’s a pic from a recent Easter get-together.  From the foreground to the back we have a Chinese barbecue pork and scallions dish that my wife, Bai Shin, likes to make. Just above it are a dish of pico de gallo and quacamole plus a couple of bowls of red salsa off to the right of it — all Mexican traditions and good for dipping those tortilla chips into.  That little tub of off-white stuff?  Who cares — somebody wimped out and brought some pre-made dip.  Next is a concoction that Bai Shin ran across — those pastry looking things are actually green olives that have a sharp cheddar cheese pastry surrounding them, baked in the oven until crispy.  And finally, filling three large pans and a big bowl, are the traditional Cajun-style crawfish.  They’re boiled with a spicy seasoning, along with potatoes and corn.

Not shown are the pork ribs and country-style sausages being grilled when this picture was taken.  I didn’t get any pics of them, but I did get pics of the barbecue for a July 4th family get-together we also had.

From left to right, we have barbecued chicken, ribs, and brisket.  All cooked using the low-and-slow method with hardwood to add a nice smoke flavor.  The chicken takes about three hours, the ribs about five to six, and the brisket about twelve hours.

Its about 27 degrees outside right now, and I can’t wait for it to warm up enough for me to fire up the smoker.  Maybe by the weekend. :)

Do You Like to Cook More Than You Like to Eat?

I do.  If you’re not into cooking, I know that may sound strange.  But I believe a true chef sees the food he or she produces as works of art, such that the act of consuming it becomes secondary to the act of creating it.  So this category will not just be about food, it will be about what goes into the making of it.  Expect to see some of my own recipes — or some of my wife’s, who is a trained chef.  I’m not formally trained the way she is.  I just learned from my mother, worked in restaurants for years, and I keep a close eye on my wife as she works her magic.  And I’ve spent many hours perfecting my low-and-slow barbecuing methods, which the wife doesn’t even have a clue how to do.  But I’ll do an honest restaurant review on occasion too.  I have a few favorites here in Houston, Texas, which is a city chockablock full of great places to eat.  So here goes.

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