thinkmore

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Posted in GR1s, GR21, GRD, tools of the trade, what really matters by hemmant jha on August 25, 2009

Dust

As most of you are undoubtedly aware, we prefer film over digital for many reasons, some of which have been presented herehere, and here.

Just the other day, during the photo shoot at the Breuer church [interior, exterior], something happened that adds a bit more fuel to the film / digital debate. Since our cameras of choice are the Ricoh GR21, GR1S and now the GRD, this issue is significant only for compact cameras of the non-removable lens variety. 

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I have used the GR1S for many years in all sorts of environments. It has travelled across many continents, in all seasons, in all means of transportation. It has endured heat, humidity, being jostled [never dropped], being in the passenger seat of cars driven hard. It has been subjected to the indignity of being forcibly X-rayed at airports and being fondled by airport security. The main reason it has travelled with me extensively is its remarkable picture taking ability and its compact profile – when turned off, the lens assembly retracts into the body, making this magnesium bodied machine truly portable. Short of losing portion of the display [which eventually fixed itself] during a period of extreme humidity, this camera has performed flawlessly – a real champ. [1,  2,  3

The GR21 is a bit less portable – less pocketable, actually. The lens assembly does not retract fully and makes it not quite as pocketable as it’s stablemate, but all else is as with the GR1S. Great camera, great performance.

I wish I could be as enthusiastic about the GRD. Certain performance issues aside [purple fringing, slow RAW write times which have since been fixed with the GRD3, noise levels at high ISO settings], this seemed like a worthy digital successor to the GR film series. It feels solid and beautifully put together, offers more manual control than any other compact, is truly pocketable. Here was a digital compact one could live comfortably with, if not love.

Until Thursday, August 13, 2009. Having shot many rolls of BW film that day, I decided to give the GRD a whirl – took some long exposure shots of the interior and many shorter exposure ones of the exterior at St. Francis de Sales Parish Church, Muskegon, MI. At some point while previewing images on the camera, I noticed a dark grey blob in the pictures – always in the same location, regardless of orientation or length of exposure. The images below illustrate the problem [much of the color and the sky tone has been removed in one, the other is untouched]. It seemed not to be a problem with the sensor, since the edges of the blob were smooth and not pixelated, or in any way reminiscent of dead or stuck pixels on LCD displays, for example. The lens seemed clear – waving a finger in front of the lens, I tried to locate the position of any particle that might have attached itself to the lens – nothing there. Could it be something within the lens assembly? Possibly. On the sensor itself, buried within the camera? Possibly.

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So well put together is the GRD that disassembly is best left to those familiar with this camera. While we feel comfortable disassembling [and reassembling to full working status] any electronic device, this one apparently required the peeling back of glued layers in the grip – not something to be done lightly. Ricoh USA suggests using C.R.I.S. camera services for GR servicing. A quick call confirmed that the costs for repair might range from $190 to $270, depending on extent of damage – the high costs [about half the cost of a new GRD2] thanks to the near complete disassembly required to get to the sensor. 

Stimulated by the stiffness of these charges, one scoured the internet for solutions. Remarkably enough, dust on the sensor is a well known problem with the GRD. It seems to be particularly well documented, in part because of the enthusiasts whom this machine is targeted at. These are people who understand photography, people who like good cameras and good stuff and are willing to pay for it, and are willing to live with the accompanying quirks and shortcomings. Dust on sensor, particularly if due to inadequately designed / manufactured lens assembly with none-too-tight tolerances, is not something one ought to have to live with. If the problem is well known and there are enough cases to show a pattern of occurrence, it is something that should be addressed by the manufacturer, free of charge. Additionally, for a company that has earned its [well-deserved] reputation with good tools for photography, a design / manufacturing oversight out to be addressed as quickly and as reasonably as possible.

A letter outlining the problem was composed and sent off to Ricoh, Japan. After all, who better to evaluate the situation than the head office of the organization – the picture below is of their corporate presence in the Ginza area, Tokyo [quite close to this coffee shop – all pictures taken with the GRD]. Sure enough, I did hear back through their US division, asking to take a look at the machine and to see what needed to be done. It is on its way to Ricoh USA.

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What this event illustrates is the primary difference between the film and digital versions of the GR cameras, and any other compact film camera compared to their digital variants. In any film camera, the sensor is easily replaced – in fact, it is replaced with every shot. Should there be any issue with the sensor / film, it can simply be discarded and the camera put right back in use. Should dust get into the system, the machine can be probed quite easily since it is designed to be user accessible and moderately user serviceable. Not so with digital compacts – they’re designed to be sealed and user-proof.

We’re not sure if separating the user [to this degree] from the process of image making is a good thing. Not one out of a thousand readers of this blog knows how a digital camera really works or why digital photography has issues that are not readily addressable by the user. This separation from the process of photography undoubtedly changes the nature of photography itself – when one simply does not know why things work the way they do, how they function internally or what makes them tick, one is not likely to feel empathy for the object – there’s less of a bond, less caring. The object becomes disposable and is treated as such – which is great for business, less so for us. 

The pace of change of technology [and its forms, variants, products] has never been more rapid than it is today [Future Shock, Alvin Toffler]. Clearly, no one person can possibly be expected to have much in-depth understanding of a lot of what is new, technologically speaking. Yet, much of our modern lifestyle is driven by or formed by modern technology and its artifacts. It used to be that the more we knew, the better off we’d be – does this hold true anymore? Could it possibly hold true anymore – one cannot say. With every passing day, there is a greater divide between us and the objects that we use to facilitate our increasingly complex lives, to generate new experiences, to archive our thoughts and ideas, to freeze moments in time.

Proposing solutions that bridge this chasm is beyond the scope of this post, but we will revisit the topic on this blog.

In the interim, we await word from Ricoh.

122

Posted in good design, review, things we like, tools of the trade by hemmant jha on August 22, 2009

It all started with a simple question “What would you recommend as a good starter pen for a 4 year old?”

I posted this on the FountainPenNetwork on April 20, 2009. Within 24 hours, I had some very good advice from members of the forum, as well as pointed suggestions that only an unfit parent would subject a child of four to the pressures of using an unsuitable writing instrument.

As a tool for writing, fountain pens are inherently incredibly versatile – choose favorite ink and color or make a personal blend, adjust the nib to one’s hand, adjust line weight on the fly. Having used fountain pens for years, I can safely say that I have kept hundreds of disposable pens from landfills. There’s no real downside, except the impression a lot of people seem to have about these devices being difficult to use, hence unsuitable for children.

Having shown interest in my fountain pens for months, it seemed natural that my daughter should have a fountain pen of her own. She is four, with good motor skills and an overwhelming preference for all things pink. She has small hands and has also been known to drop things. As such, a regular fountain pen seemed out of the question – too heavy and ungainly to hold, with a tendency to self destruct easily if dropped. The pen also needed to be a good writing / drawing pen with smooth and reliable flow of ink – one could not expect a child to deal with or remedy inconsistent ink flow. We needed something lightweight, something relatively slim, durable, inexpensive, and pink.

This is the story of the pens that made the cut :
Pilot Petit1 Mini Fountain Pen – Baby Pink
Platinum Preppy Fountain Pen – Fine 03 Nib – Pink Ink
Pilot Vpen Disposable Fountain Pen – Fine Nib – Pink
Right off the bat, the Petit was the clear favorite. A combination of size [small enough to be held comfortably by a child], appearance [most toylike] and color [how could a girl of four not like Baby Pink?] made it the one. It writes well and comes with a nicely made toylike bubble for extra cartridges, but is not smooth enough for drawing [to a child of four, who is just learning to write, forming letters on paper is akin to drawing : a collection of arcs and straight lines all converging like so many images – unlike the adult, to whom the formation of letters on paper becomes second nature], which was unfortunate since it has everything else going for it. 
Somewhat surprisingly, the Vpen was a big success visually – clad mostly in metallic grey, it is the least toylike of the bunch, other than the bright pink endcaps. Less surprising was its #1 rating as the best pen for writing and drawing – good flow of ink with a nib that’s not too, too fine, and a generally more forgiving nature than the others – just what the child needed to stay involved. I carry a black Vpen as a reliable backup instrument at all times – this will come as no surprise to those familiar with the pen.
Much as I really wanted to like the Platinum – it is quite attractive with its transparent body and color coded metallic pink nib, it turned out to be the least attractive as a writing instrument. In a pinch, I’m sure it would be preferable to use this rather than a roller pen or a ball point, but that’s faint praise. While the nib felt smooth, the inkflow was spotty and contributed to the overall inconsistent performance. 
These were the criteria the pens had to meet to be included in this post : the pens had to be inexpensive [around $3, or about the same as a good pencil or two], attractive, good writers and somewhat forgiving. There are, of course, other perfectly good pens out there designed especially for children to use, such as the Pelikano Junior and the Lamy ABC, but none are as inexpensive as the three featured in this post.  There are also any number of inexpensive and reasonably sized pens for adults that could also be used by children. Think more, write more – it is a dying art which children should, at the very least, be made aware of. And I can think of no writing instrument that can be experimented with to this degree and made ones own through regular use – try new inks, mix your own, discover the joy of putting pen to paper – have fun!

This is the story of the pens that made the cut :

Pilot Petit1 Mini Fountain Pen – Baby Pink

Platinum Preppy Fountain Pen – Fine 03 Nib – Pink Ink

Pilot Vpen Disposable Fountain Pen – Fine Nib – Pink

In all instances, a M nib would probably have worked better – none of these pens seems to be available in that nib width either in the US or in Japan.

Right out of the bag, the Petit was the clear favorite. A combination of size [small enough to be held comfortably by a child], appearance [most toylike] and color [how could a girl of four not like Baby Pink?] made it the one. It writes well and comes with a nicely made bubble container for extra cartridges. But is not smooth enough for drawing [to a child who is just learning to how to write, forming letters on paper is akin to drawing : a collection of arcs and straight lines all converging like so many images – unlike the adult, to whom the placement of letters on paper becomes second nature], which was unfortunate since it has everything else going for it. 

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Somewhat surprisingly, the Vpen was a big success visually – clad mostly in metallic grey, it is the least toylike of the bunch, other than the swirl pattern and the bright pink endcaps. Less surprising was its #1 rating as the best pen for writing and drawing – good flow of ink with a nib that’s not too, too fine, and a generally more forgiving nature than the others – just what the child needed to stay involved. I carry a black Vpen as a reliable backup instrument at all times – this will come as no surprise to those familiar with the pen.

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Much as I really wanted to like the Platinum – it is quite attractive with its transparent body and color coded metallic pink nib, it turned out to be the least attractive as a writing instrument. In a pinch, I’m sure it would be preferable to use this rather than a roller pen or a ball point, but that’s faint praise. While the nib felt smooth, the inkflow was spotty and contributed to the overall inconsistent performance. 

thinkmore fountain pens kids preppy 2A1web

These were the criteria the pens had to meet to be included in this post : the pens had to be inexpensive [around $3, or about the same as a good pencil or two], attractive, good writers and somewhat forgiving. There are, of course, other perfectly good pens out there designed especially for children to use, such as the Pelikano Junior and the Lamy ABC, but none are as inexpensive as the three featured in this post.  There are also any number of inexpensive and reasonably sized pens for adults that could also be used by children.

All the pens featured in this post are available at Jetpens.com – good stuff, good service.

Think more, Write more – it is a dying art which children should, at the very least, be made aware of. And I can think of no writing instrument that can be experimented with to this degree and made one’s own through regular use – try new inks, mix your own, discover the joy of putting pen to paper – have fun!

121.2

Posted in good design, good people, GR1s, GR21, the world around us by hemmant jha on August 20, 2009

The Dam of God. Part Two.

St. Francis de Sales Parish Church, Muskegon, MI, USA. Marcel Breuer, Architect.

This post accompanies 121.1 which shows photographs of the exterior. These are some views of the interior.

[all BW images in this post shot on Ilford XP2 with Ricoh GR21 and GR1S cameras, color images with Ricoh GRD]

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121.1

Posted in good design, good people, GR1s, GR21, GRD, the world around us by hemmant jha on August 18, 2009

The Dam of God. Part One.

St. Francis de Sales Parish Church, Muskegon, MI, USA. Marcel Breuer, Architect.

As an apparatus of worship, this is clearly a remarkable, remarkable structure. So remarkable, in fact, that I wonder how something like this was able to be built. As with any instrument that serves a purpose, there are usually many ways to work toward the same end result – using different paths and techniques, some simpler, some more complex, some direct and some not quite. For example, it is possible to take excellent pictures with many brands of cameras, but Leica, Hasselblad, Rollei and Pentax are all quite different from each other. Undeniably purposeful machines, each has a particular flavour, a unique methodology, even though the basic principles of photography remain the same – and I believe they impart that flavor, sometimes obvious, sometimes less so, to the images we make with them. 

Similarly, this work of architecture examined purely in terms of materials, construction technology or methodology is fascinating, and it is easy to see how it was built and why certain decisions were made. But what were the other invisible forces at work that had aligned perfectly for it to have been brought into existence in this particular way? There’s scant evidence of design by committee, of obvious cost-cutting measures, of steering by market forces, of branding by consultants. Even to this trained [and quite skillful, by some accounts] architect and designer it is at once awe inspiring and somewhat disorienting. It is designed and tuned for one purpose : as an instrument of worship to a higher power – it is a building that serves that function with confidence and with pride.

A plaque cast into the side of the building displays the year of origin – 1966. Yes, the 60s were a period of incredible growth and wonderful and daring innovation, of invention and reinvention – it was a time of exuberance, for taking chances, for doing new things. That only partially explains how this building came to be. Many of you are undoubtedly familiar with the documentary film : Concert of Wills – about the making of the Getty Center in Los Angeles. The documentary is unique because it focuses on the generally invisible [behind the scenes] processes involved in the creation of a significant work of architecture – I cannot imagine it took anything less than a concert of wills in this instance.

However modern the interpretation, this church retains enough aspects of traditional places of worship – yet is different enough from everything built before it, or since – enough that there must have been quite a bit of persuasive, perhaps divine, arm-twisting somewhere in the process. Similar in approach to the concrete hyperbolic paraboloid constructions of Felix Candela [Church of Our Lady of The Miraculous MedalChapel Lomas De Curenavaca] and Breuer’s own experiments with cast concrete, this building is easily in the same class as Kahn’s Salk Institute or his Yale Art Gallery and Ando’s [diminutive by comparison] Church of the Light

In looking through the images that accompany this article, you will see that there are not many right angles in the entire construction – laying waste to our collective years of experiencing space based on the modern and rigid 90 degree horizontal / vertical system. This awe-inspiring, overwhelming disorientation, this out-of-scale approach is very much in keeping with the classical tradition of places of religious worship. Perhaps the only way to be comfortable in a space like this is to close one’s eyes and find inner peace within?

And after a few minutes of being here, a sense of calm does replace the earlier feelings of awe and disorientation. The quiet, generally monochromatic interior, punctuated by shafts of light from various skylights, is quite a nice place to be. The amount of natural lighting is well proportioned to the space – all the accompanying photographs were shot without the aid of artificial light. 

The firmness of the concrete and its unforgiving nature is offset by the imprint of the natural material used for the formwork – the contribution of natural material clearly and undeniably on display. As opposed to the many structures that dot the area around it for miles that use stick construction – made mostly of wood disguised to look like something else, this one is the opposite. Made of concrete that looks like concrete, it is born of wood, and it shows.

It is at once austere and refined, grand and powerful, massive, dignified, broad-shouldered, comforting.

As part of this series, I will present the thoughts and experiences of the people who use this space, as well as the story of how this project was conceived and brought to completion. 

This is one of those instances where further wordy descriptions would do the building and the artist / architect a disservice – we will let the images speak for themselves. As always, thoughts and comments are welcome. 

[all BW images in this post shot on Ilford XP2 with Ricoh GR21 and GR1S cameras, color images with Ricoh GRD]

These are views of the exterior. This post accompanies 121.4 which also shows photographs of the exterior, and 121.2 / 121.3 with photographs of the interior.

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120

Posted in good design, things we like by hemmant jha on August 15, 2009
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