Under the Ice Under the River

Yesterday I took a little photography trip down to a favorite creek of mine, but I also made a stop at the Waupaca River, not far from where I grew up.  The Waupaca River is a mid-sized trout stream with a swift current, at least in the portion I was at.  The river was mostly frozen over after several weeks with freezing weather off and on.  The current kept only a small portion of the river free of ice, and luckily this opening was near the shore.  I wanted to take some underwater video and obviously not get wet, so I mounted a GoPro Hero 3+ Black Edition camera to a 12 foot (4 meter) aluminum pole.  The camera was in its standard housing and used a standard pole mount made by GoPro.

The water was clear, but not crystal clear.  There was a lot of debris in the form of leaves and other bits of organic matter flying by in the swift current.  Still, I got some good footage of a scene not often captured on video, a trout stream under the ice.

Posted in Underwater | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Under the Ice Under the River

Watson Duo Battery Charger

Quick 2021 update. After five years of regular use the Watson Duo chargers is still working good and all the below is still accurate.

The Watson Duo LCD Battery Charger is a great device for reducing the clutter of many battery chargers and charging camera batteries away from home.  The charger uses interchangeable and inexpensive plates to swap out different camera batteries.  So far, I have used the charger for my Nikon D750, Nikon P7800 GoPro Hero 3, Sony Dslr, Sony Point and Shoot, and Nikon P6000 cameras.  Each camera type has its own battery charger or cable at the Watson Duo Charger allows me to go from 5 charges to manage to just one.

The ability to charge two batteries simultaneously is nice, but the other features really make this charger shine.  While the charger is not cheap at about $80, the plates are relatively, only about $2 each, so it’s not like Watson got you to buy the charger and then makes you pay ten bucks for each plate.

Continue reading
Posted in Gear | Tagged , | Comments Off on Watson Duo Battery Charger

Toyo 120 Roll Film Back for 4×5 Large Format Cameras

The Utility of 120 Roll Film Holders for Large Format

Few products in photography look as amazing as large format transparency, whether it be 4×5 inches or even larger.  Even large color or black and white negatives bring a sense of satisfaction not equaled in 35mm or digital photography.  The problems plaguing film these days are amplified in the large formats.  The number of emulsions in 4×5 are dwindling, and even larger formats like 8×10 and 11×14 are as rare as platinum and nearly as expensive.
An old standard slide film, Fujichrome Provia 100F (RDP III),  is now running $3.60 per 4×5 inch sheet, and that is before processing, which, if you can find it, can cost you just as much.  Bracketing exposure, which can be a good idea for transparencies and old shutters that may not be quite in tune, will add to the cost per image.  As much as $40 an image with processing is quite possible.  How can hobbyists keep the old large format cameras alive and shooting on a budget?  Roll film adapter backs can reduce the costs of shooting these cameras while at the same time making them easier to use.   By using a roll film holder, the price per exposure before processing now drops to $0.72 for 6×7 cm, $0.90 for 6×9, and $1.80 for 6×12.

Back of the Toyo 45/69 rollfilm holder

Roll Film backs differ in their function.  Most of them clamp onto the back of a large-format camera in place of the ground glass.  Others slide between the ground glass like a regular but thicker sheet film holder.  The most cumbersome and awkward to use are slider backs. These backs replace the 4×5 back and have their own ground glass to focus and compose on.  When it is time to take the photo, the roll film holder slide over to make the exposure.  Slider rollfilm backs are a good option in the studio but a poor choice for fieldwork because of the bulkiness and relative fragility.

Continue reading
Posted in Gear | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on Toyo 120 Roll Film Back for 4×5 Large Format Cameras

Sony Camera LCD Screen Problem

Sony makes some cameras that can capture incredible images if the photographer does their part.   I have had three Sony cameras the a580, a65v slt, a77 and the DSC-HX20V point and shoot, all of which have taken great photos.  However, the a65, a77 and the DSC-HX20V have a design flaw in there LCD screens.  There is a layer of plastic that protects the LCD from damage and reduces glare, and unfortunately this layer comes unglued, forming bubbles and even peeling off at the edges.   This problem not only occurs in those two models, but also in the Sony NEX 5, RX100 and others.

Sony DSC-HX20V LCD screen problem
Sony DSC-HX20V LCD screen forming bubbles, and peeling between layers. Unfortunately this seems to be a common problem in many Sony cameras.

There doesn’t seem to be any user issue causing the separation, although I can imagine it is made worse if the camera is left in a hot car, or in the sun.  I think it might be an issue related to high temperatures, like those encountered in a car on a hot day. Never-the-less this problem shouldn’t occur.  I have read on the internet that Sony won’t fix the cameras for free beyond the factory warranty.  This is hardly surprising for any company, but I would hope that they would have wanted to stay by their product.  If this issue would have happened with a automobile, it probably would have resulted in a recall.

Sony a65 slt screen problem
The same LCD fault is occurring on my Sony a65 slt screen

New screens for some of these camera models can be found on eBay, and from what I understand it is not too difficult to replace.  Some are even peeling off the layer and putting on a cell phone screen protector.  Currently the problem on my two cameras is mostly cosmetic, but I don’t think it will be too long before I will have to repair the LCD screen.  Update: I did repair the screen, but it looks, well like an armature did it.

I have been pleased with the quality of the images my Sony cameras have made, but a number of issues, and long-term use of several Sony cameras is causing me to sour on this camera manufacturer.  I doubt I will be purchasing any more Sony cameras.  Unfortunately I don’t have the money, and do not want to take out a loan, to jump ship and switch platforms at the moment, but if I did, I would.

Posted in Cameras, Gear | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Sony Camera LCD Screen Problem

Nikon SB-50DX and Nikon SB 30 Speedlights

A few  interesting flashes were introduced at the end of the film era, and the tip of the dslr revolution, the SB 50DX and SB 30.  While these flash units are no longer fully compatible with recent dslr’s by Nikon and iTTL, but will work in manual mode.  However, they are still worth considering as slave (I hate that term for a flash) units for those of use who like to use film cameras or early dslrs like the Nikon D100.

SB 50 DX

The Nikon SB 50-DX is a nice flash that I enjoyed using back in the day except for one major flaw.  It used two CR123a batteries that were not always readily available, and expensive.  That isn’t much of an issue today with the availability of CR123a battery chargers from Watson and other manufactures. That out of the way the flash is well made, has power zoom function that runs from 24-50mm and down to 14mm with a flip up diffuser.  The flash tilts up 90 degrees to bounce light, but does not twist.  As is nearly standard on medium to high end speedlights the flash has an auto focus assist light.

Nikon SB 50 Flash

The SB-50 has tow interesting functions uncommon to flash unites.  One is the ability for the flash to tilt downward 18 degrees for macro photography.  While not great for serious macro work, it is a nice feature to have. The other interesting feature is a built in diffuser that covers the pop-up flash.  This can be used with either the camera’s built in flash only, or both the built-in and SB 50.   Using both is very handy to have a softer direct light, and also bouncing the flash off the ceiling or wall.

For full stats see the Nikon SB 50DX instruction manual

Nikon SB 50 Flash
Continue reading
Posted in Flash | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Nikon SB-50DX and Nikon SB 30 Speedlights

Sony Alpha 580 Vertical Grip – Cheap

The Sony a580 is a great dslr camera, but like most cameras it can be made easier to hold with a vertical grip.  A vertical grip usually does at least three things.  It makes the camera easier to hold for those with large hands in any position, and easier to manage in the vertical position for most everybody.   The third advantage is more power by the addition of an extra battery.

Cheap no-name Vertical Grip for Sony a580 and a550

By the time I decided that I wanted/needed a grip for my Sony a580 the grip made by Sony had already been discontinued.  They could still be found with some searching, but the price was well over what I wanted to pay.  I don’t recall the price exactly, but it was half as much as the camera at least.  While looking on eBay I saw a few different no-name, straight from China vertical grips that would work.  I ended up buying one that came with two extra lithium batteries, for less than $90.  I knew what I was getting wouldn’t be as good as an original Sony, but I decided to take a chance and see.
Continue reading

Posted in Gear | Tagged , | Comments Off on Sony Alpha 580 Vertical Grip – Cheap

Watson Rapid Battery Charger For CR123a and CR2

Watson CR123a CR2 battery Charger

Watson Rapid Battery Charger for CR123A and CR2 Lithium Batteries

Compact lithium batteries such as the CR123a and the CR2 contain a great deal of power, and take up less room electronics, allowing the devices to be smaller, and less bulky.  However, they can be expensive and sometimes difficult to locate when traveling.
At least one other manufacturer make rechargeable CR123A and CR2 lithium batteries and chargers.  Recently I purchased a Watson Rapid Charger and some batteries to power and old Nikon Lite Touch Zoom 35-70, an SB-50 and 30, and some wireless shutter releases I have.  I was particularly interested in resurrecting the flashes because they are good, but I never used them much because they were expensive to use.
Published Charging times:

  • CR123A approximately 2.4 hours
  • CR2 battery approximately 1.6 hours

The Watson Rapid Charger comes in two models, one prepackaged with two CR2 batteries, and the other with two CR123a batteries.  As you would expect from a simple device it is easy to use.  You just pop up to two batteries in and plug in the charger.   If the battery is not fully charged a red LED light appears above the battery, when it is fully charged the light turns blue.
The best feature about this Watson charger is that it comes with plugs for the home and the car.  The car charger is not some separate accessory to by.  With the charger for the car it will be easy to keep batteries on trips and while camping.

Watson Rapid Battery Charger Power Supplies.

Watson Rapid Battery Charger Power Supplies.

Posted in Gear | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Watson Rapid Battery Charger For CR123a and CR2

Nikon Lite Touch Zoom

It is an old, and at the time of introduction it was a relatively inexpensive, no frills point and shoot film camera, so why bother reviewing it when the digital photography revolution has long been since one and digital is the entrenched norm?  Well, I believe film still has its place.  It is a useful tool for teaching photography to children, and is becoming something of a living bit of history, much like muzzleloading firearms.  A little point and shoot such as this is a great way to introduce film photography for to the youth of today.

My dad gave me this old camera, and I immediately put in in box and forgot about it until my middle son turned eight.  I thought back to my eighth birthday when I got my first working camera, a Keystone 110 and what fun I had with it.  I thought this 35mm point and shoot would great way to introduce photography and black and white film developing to my son, and have some fun along the way.

I’ll talk about the specifics of this camera, but what applies this Nikon applies to hundreds of inexpensive cameras made in the late 1980’s though the early 2000’s, by dozens of manufactures.  Cameras like these can be had at very low prices on eBay and at rummage sales, and often you can get a whole box of assorted cameras for $20, although these are usually in unknown condition.  This model goes for about $25 in good condition.
Continue reading

Posted in Cameras, Gear | Tagged , | Comments Off on Nikon Lite Touch Zoom

Lake Time Lapse Video


GoPro Hero 3 Setup

Set up for this video. GoPro Hero 3+ Black Edition Mounted on a MeFoto compact tripod. I really like this set up for the lightweight GoPro and the tripod folds up into a very small sizes, yet has a good height.

This time lapse video was taken with a GoPro Hero 3+ camera in its water proof housing for easy mounting on a MeFoto tripod.  .  The video begins at 9:16 am and runs to 11:05 am.  This video then, compresses just under two hours into 45 seconds.  Somewhere I seem to have misplaced the last 20 minutes of footage, which is unfortunate because the clouds were beginning to change.

I set the camera to take a photo every 2 seconds which was overkill.  The 2 second interval was overkill, but it is better to have too many photos than not enough for time lapse videos.  I ended up with 3,264 photos.  I edited them all in Adobe Light Room by applying a graduated filter to the sky to avoid the clouds from being too washed out.   I also did some other minor exposure edits and cropped the photo and straightened the horizon slightly.  One of the problems with the old GoPro cameras is the lack of composition without an LCD back makes it difficult to get straight horizons.  Even with the LCD back it can be hard to see in bright sunlight.
After doing a bulk edit on all the photos in Adobe Light Room I imported the photos into Sony Movie Studio Platinum 13.0 adjusted the time of the video and saved it in ADHV format and uploaded it YouTube where I added a title, annotations and free music from the YouTube library.


The photos were taken on a deep water marsh of Lake Puckaway where I was doing other work.  I set up the camera and did my other task, which was observing some phragmites plantings about a mile away.  This was the main reason I didn’t let the camera run for too long, because it was an even farther distance and out of view of where the camera was.
What would I do Differently?

I don’t think I would have changed much, other than to take a longer series, and it is always nice to have more angles.  I find the wind blowing in the Willows distracting, but if I had turned the camera away from them the video would include the sun and plenty of lens flare.  It would have been better to set up in another locations, but my options were very limited.

Posted in Time Lapse, Video | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Lake Time Lapse Video

The ins and outs of the Cable Release

Cable release with switch setting.

The cable release or shutter release was once a required piece of every serious photographer’s gear.  It is was and is the most important accessory to the tripod to ensure razor-sharp images.   Today cable releases have been largely replaced by electronic versions, phone apps, and built-in timers work for some functions, but for those who enjoy old cameras, they are great tool to have.  The cable release is a simple device.  It has a plunger that pushes a cable down into a hole, in the camera where a trigger for the shutter is located, or pushes an external button or switch.  The purpose of the release is to increase sharpness, and allow for long exposures, and in some cases, increase the distance between the camera and the photographer.  A cable release increases sharpness because it reduces the direct force applied by the shooter to the camera.  This force causes vibration or pushes the camera and causes blur.  This is most noticeable on long exposures.  On very long exposures, it is difficult or impossible to maintain pressure on the shutter release while using the bulb setting with a finger without causing significant blur.

Most cable releases have some method for holding the cable in the shooting position.   This is for when the camera is set at the bulb setting.  This allows for the photographer to take long exposure without having to hold the release, and potentially move the camera.  During very long exposures it prevents fatigue from holding down the plunger, and allows the photographer to leave the camera for exposures that could last many hours.  I used to take star-trail photos by using a cable release in this way and it allowed me to go back to sleep!  I would set an alarm so I could wake up and release the trigger at whatever interval I chose and before the sun came up.  It doesn’t make for a good night’s rest, but can yield some great photos.

Continue reading
Posted in Gear | Tagged , , | Comments Off on The ins and outs of the Cable Release