Thursday, May 21, 2015

Instamatic 500

 The Instamatic system was a huge hit for Kodak.  Most of the Instamatic cameras were simple and inexpensive-Other than simpler film loading not much different than previous cameras, with a simple meniscus lens and single or two speed shutter.  

At the time Kodak's European division had separate management and very often produced much higher quality cameras--like this Instamatic 500 made from 1963-67.   Unlike ordinary Instamatics, this was zone-focus metered manual with a 4 element lens and full control of shutter and aperture.

Metering was via a Gossen Selenium cell--Gossen was known for separate handheld light meters.  This had the meter pointer visible in the viewfinder.  

Viewfinder showing frame lines and meter reading underexposed.   Film speed is set via notches on the cartridge.

Properly exposed meter indication. Oddly for a selenium meter this one is still functional after 50 years, although I have not verified accuracy.

 Very simple and elegant design.  Metal case with leatherette covering.  Film wind is underneath the camera, flash connector under lens.  Button is to lock the lens in either extended or collapsed position.

Lens collapses for storage--this also locks the shutter.   Uncluttered top with only hot shoe and shutter button.

Like most paper-backed film, the counter is numbers on the paper.

Zone (guess) focusing is a handicap, especially with a lens this fast--wide open apertures were probably best left for distant subjects.  However, zone focusing is still considerably better than no focusing.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Fotron Camera

The Fotron camera was sold in the 60's door to door at absurdly high prices--from $150 to $500  This was roughly the price range of complete name brand Japanese SLRs at the time, and quite a bit more than auto exposure rangefinders with far better quality, and almost as easy to use.  Marketed towards women, "especially the 99 out of 100 wives who refuse to fuss with their husband's cameras" (a quote from a Fotron ad)

The Fotron is astonishingly large, especially considering the features and quality--Basically similar to a 126 Instamatic (although introduced several years before the first Instamatic) with the addition of electronic strobe flash and electric winding.

Like the Instamatics, film is paper-backed unperforated 35mm in a cassette--the Fotron uses Kodak's 828 roll film inserted in a proprietary cartridge rather than 126 Instamatic. Film was returned to Fotron for processing, and it is evident that the cartridge was meant for multiple uses.  The cartridge comes apart with a single (proprietary) screw into a threaded metal insert.

Rather than  a film door, the cartridge snaps into the back of the camera.  When you snap it in it automatically winds to the first picture.

Operation of the Fotron is odd--Separate "indoor" and "outdoor" power buttons, then 3 separate shutter buttons marked Near, Medium and Far.  You were instructed to push the appropriate power button, wait until the light in front of the lens flashed 5 times, then aim and push one of the shutter buttons.  Bright sun at medium range was not recommended.  When the camera is off, a flag blocks most of the viewfinder, a tunnel with plain plastic covers at each end, no optical elements. To preserve battery life you were asked to turn the camera off between shots.  Charge time was 18 hours for a single roll of film, up to 72 hours.

Internally, the camera is also unusual.  Power is by a large 500mfd capacitor (roughly the size of a 4 oz juice can) at a relatively high voltage.  I didn't measure it, but it was enough to give a significant tingle when I accidentally touched it. Mine is still working, although operating the camera it sounds abnormally slow and weak--I don't know if that is dried lubrication or weak power.  A series of cams and levers operate the camera from a single motor on the opposite side from the capacitor.

The lens is no bigger than an instamatic, appears to be a cheap 2 element with a plain clear cover on the front camera housing.   Single speed rotary shutter,  2 position swing away aperture plate.

Aperture and focus are controlled by the combination of shutter and indoor/outdoor control, with no compensation for actual lighting.

Far, the lens does not move.  Aperture plate is in for outdoor, out for indoor.
Medium, the lens moves forward a bit, aperture out.
Close, lens moves forward more than medium, aperture plate stays in lens.

No shutter speed control, no exposure meter, no automatic exposure--what appears to be a metering panel around the lens covers a pair of neon lamps that indicate the flash is ready. According to what I've read, the flash always fired.   Eventually there was a class action lawsuit saying that the camera was vastly overpriced, with an actual value around $40.  Compared to cameras of the era that's probably about accurate, with most of that price for the flash.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Depth of field

Depth of field control is one of the most important ways that DSLR and other large sensor cameras are better than point and shoots or camera phones.  Depth of field is affected by the distance from the subject, the size of the sensor (or film) the aperture of the lens and the focal length.  Smaller sensors have more depth of field.

These pictures were all taken under the same conditions except aperture--Pentax Kx with 50mm prime lens at various F stops.   The buds were near the minimum focus distance--if the subject is farther away the background will not be as blurred at a given aperture.

 f1.8.  Normal DSLR zoom lenses do not have an aperture this wide/fast.   Virtually no background details visible.   (click any picture to embiggen)

f3.5.  The widest aperture available on most short zoom lenses, (although many change to 5.6 at 50mm)  Beginning to make out the buds farther back.

An example of distance affecting depth of field, this is also same camera and lens at f:3.5--but since it is focused farther away the background is much clearer. 

f:7--Buds are almost there, beginning to see the bushes farther back. 

f:13  seeing individual branches on the bushes in back

f:22, the minimum aperture most cameras have.  Buds farther back now show some details.

It is unfortunate that modern cameras don't have a good method of showing depth of field.   In the 70's, a manual focus version of the 1.8 50mm used here would have been the standard kit lens.  Zoom lenses are quite a bit slower, and therefore dimmer--the kit zooms for my camera are typical, letting in 1/4 to 1/8 the light compared to the 50mm.  To counter that the viewfinders have been modified to brighter ones that makes everything appear to be more in focus than it will be on the final picture.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Time Warner Cable bait and switch?

I want to see about upgrading my Internet speed.  I log on to my account, see this:

...which brings me to this:

$10 per month sounds reasonable, so I go on.

A few minutes later, I get this in email:
...of course, "we are experiencing higher than usual call volume...". Eventually after 2 different people I find that the reason they need additional information is to see if I'm OK with $20 more per month instead of $10.  "We have to take Turbo off to add Extreme, that's $10, but then we have to add it back on, then... "I found you a better package"  "But it's still $20 more, right?"  "Yes"

I'm logged on to my account, the system sees what my services are and how much my bill is...but can't figure out that I can't actually get that rate.  Riiiight.    I'm sure their lawyers have insured that they aren't quite technically legally engaging in bait and switch...but I've got a different opinion.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Update on sous-vide

When I ordered my sous-vide circulator, I thought I'd probably use it occasionally, but I was worried I wouldn't use it often enough to justify the cost.  Since then, I don't think I've cooked normal meat any other way.  (Normal meaning minimally processed, not including things like bacon, ham or hot dogs)

One of the huge advantages is repeatability--Either Wife or I can cook medium rare beef reliably every time.  We switched from 135 to 134 degrees F--that small tweak made an improvement, but that amount of difference wouldn't be repeatable with traditional methods.  It turns out that 133 is too rare.  Another advantage is that you can get the tenderizing effect of a long cook time while keeping medium rare--London Broil is a cheap cut, but is tender and tastes fantastic sous vide for 6 hours or so.   I like it better than Sirloin--more flavor and as tender.

We often cook in bulk, running a beer cooler full of meat that needs to cook at the same temperature, then cooling in an ice water bath, and freezing most of it still vacuum sealed.   This means that for a later meal instead of a 4 hour (or 36 hour) cook, we just put it in the sous-vide bath long enough to warm back up, usually about an hour.   I've started marking the cook temperature on the package so whoever is cooking knows how hot to reheat.   I still have to look up temperatures other than beef.  I'm keeping a notebook of times and temperatures.

Even hamburgers benefit--did a batch of burgers at 140 for 2 hours.  Next batch will be at 138, but the burgers were very good--not as good as the best charcoal grilled, but well above average for indoor burgers.  I'm guessing that over a blazing hot charcoal fire for a minute or two would make them excellent.    Burgers from loose ground beef need to get a large dimple in the center, otherwise you wind up with meatballs. Pre-formed frozen patties don't go spherical, but they weren't improved over fried, tasted too processed, possibly cooked too long.  (I may try making my own frozen patties to see if they go spherical)

And while sous vide takes a little more planning, the time the cook has to spend watching, stirring, flipping, etc is a lot less.  Fill the pot, set the circulator, drop the bags in and come back for dinner, a minute or two searing.  No defrosting necessary for most foods.  Cleanup is easier too, no baked on goo.

Using a torch for searing is easier than a pan, and for some foods can be more even.  I started with a hardware store propane torch, but I got the wrong model--its nozzle was mostly upright, and tipping the torch enough to reach the food made the flame sputter out.  Others have reported nozzles at right angles to the tank work well.  I bought an Iwatani butane culinary torch, that works very well, and I've wound up using it for other foods, like crisping leftover pizza or toasting cheese.

When I bought cans of butane fuel, Amazon's "people who bought this also bought" list lead me to butane hash oil equipment.  Apparently some people soak marijuana  in liquid butane, throw the marijuana out, then cook the butane away and smoke what's left...if nothing catches fire.

Having hours between "barely long enough" and "cooked too long" is great--get everything else ready, the meat won't overcook or sit out getting cold if your timing is off on side dishes.  One downside is that meat needs to be served immediately after searing, since even with a sear the outer 'well done' extra hot layer isn't thick enough to keep the rest warm very long.   I got some cast aluminum platters at a restaurant supply place, that helps.

Not everything has been completely successful.  I've tried smoking meat to start, and sous vide to finish--texture is great, but the smoke flavor changes in a way I don't like. Apparently some of the smoke migrates through the bag, there's a smoky smell in the water.   Chicken can be overcooked, it turns mushy and grainy.  Chicken also has different ideal temperatures for light and dark meat, a minor inconvenience.  Medium rare chuck roast cooked for 24 hours is tender...but the combination of strong beefy "pot roast" flavor is odd with the medium rare texture.