Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Paradise Snake Bessa

The looks of a camera is perhaps not the most relevant thing in photography, but a pretty camera is nevertheless a pretty camera and an ugly one is just ugly. If all other things stay the same, wouldn't you rather have a pretty one? Like one with real snake skin? Yeah, eh, okay... There is perhaps no great argument to support re-covering a perfectly good camera, but I did it anyway. Here's how.

You start with a camera that has some sort of leather, rubber, vinyl, vulcanite, or plastic covering. Basically something you can easily tear off. Like my Voigtländer Bessa R2A here:

Okay, stop! Before you start tearing the covering off, you had better have some sort of a plan, right? One alternative is the hard route of DIY. Many different materials are available as sheets, or you can even get more creative and use something you already have. The options are pretty much endless. This however takes some time, some skill, and some basic tools. There is also a simpler route. Some companies and individuals offer pre-cut kits for various camera models. One example is cameraleather.com. They have a good reputation and a pretty extensive catalog of materials to choose from. Kits are available for dozens of camera models, mostly classic cameras, though. That's in fact where I got this red paradise snake kit from:

So, when your kit arrives (or when you have your tools and materials ready, should you play ball in the big league), you can proceed to tear the old covering off your camera. That should be pretty easy in most cases. However, you may be left with some glue residue that is harder to remove. You don't necessarily need to remove all of it, as the new covering will stick there anyway. You should however note that any residue that you can feel as a bump on the surface may create a visible bump after you have applied the new covering. A pretty effective way of removing all the glue (at least with the Bessa) is to tap a chunk of the already-removed glue over and over on the surface. Little by little the residue is removed.

Once you have removed the old covering and glue, you can start applying the new covering. For a simple design such as the Bessa, this is pretty straightforward. There are two more difficult points worth mentioning here. The first is making sure you introduce no skewing (meaning all corners of each piece ends up in the correct place). This is easy to get wrong even if you think you have the first two corners in corrects spots, because any error gets larger the farther you apply a piece from its original point of contact. So, make sure that the tops and bottoms line up nicely. This brings us to the second point. The adhesive on the cameraleather.com kits is very aggressive. Don't just remove the carrier sheet and stick the piece on your camera thinking you can easily adjust it after you have it on the camera. That spells trouble, since the pieces really do stick to the camera (that's what they were made for!). Instead, remove the carrier sheet ever so slightly as you progress and you should be okay.

One more tip. The holes for the strap lugs can be tricky. If you have trouble getting the strap lug through the hole, simply cut the piece in the narrow part. I didn't need to do it, but the cut should be pretty much invisible as long as you line up the piece well.

Finally, we are all done. Let me introduce you to my new, old Bessa:

The camera certainly looks different — much nicer in my opinion. Not only has the look of the camera changed, though. The overall feel and handling of the camera has changed a bit as well, because the new covering is quite thin and lacks the molded shapes of the original rubber covering. The camera just feels a bit different, not necessarily any better or worse. In addition, a small thumb rest was removed from the back of the camera. This can be a real issue to some users, and I spent some time thinking about it. Should I remove the thumb rest and risk losing some of the ergonomics or rather keep it? In the end, I decided to try the camera without the original back cover (which I believe could easily be glued back if desired) and felt comfortable with the camera that way. So, I proceeded to apply the snake skin cover on the back as well. Note that the snake skin is mostly for looks and durability. It feels good, but it doesn't provide the greatest grip. If you are looking for the best grip, you need to consider some other material.

My next re-covering project is the Epson R-D1. Check that out later!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

My latest camera — my greatest camera?

I'm about to discuss something completely different, but let me first make a short post about my latest camera purchase. It's the Leica M8, which was officially announced already in 2006. That's a long time ago in the digital camera domain, but there is only so much competition in the digital rangefinder arena that all the Leica offerings continue to be of current interest. And it's a very good camera to boot, perhaps even the best I own and have used. I believe I will be discussing using this camera much more in the future, so if you share an interest in rangefinder cameras you may want to wait and see what my future blog posts have to say about it. For now, here it is pictured with a Voigtländer Color-Skopar 21/4 lens and a Voigtländer accessory viewfinder. The Leica M8 has a crop factor of 1.33, which makes this 28-mm viewfinder ideal for the 21-mm lens. By the way, you should notice a purple colour cast on the front element of the lens. That is due to an infrared cut-off filter that is needed on the Leica M8 to produce accurate colours. This camera certainly has some little quirks.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Experimenting with the Bug

Last time I wrote about getting two soft releases for my rangefinder cameras. I have now run some Bug experiments. This means using the Bug soft release on my Epson R-D1 in my everyday photography. I haven't really done any low-light shooting and therefore haven't faced slow shutter speeds. So, the added stability is still a bit of a mystery. The overall feel of the camera and the control of the point of releasing the shutter is improved, though. That alone is worth the price, should I find there is no other benefit in the end. Well, there actually is at least one other benefit. Shooting with gloves was never this easy! It will be a couple of months before I will consider wearing gloves, but I just had to quickly try on a pair when the idea came to me. Wearing gloves in July obviously isn't too comfortable!

I browsed through some of my photographs looking for ones that show the kind of motion blur I'm trying to fight with the Bug. There were some so-so ones. I think I have culled most of those that don't work with a bit of camera shake thrown in. Here's anyway one shot I came across. Not a good example of anything I have discussed so far really, but a nice shot demonstrating another source of shakiness: a moment that is a bit too fast or otherwise takes you by surprise forcing you to trigger the shutter while in motion.

Woman in Hamburg, 2009 - Epson R-D1, 1/100, ISO 400

This shot doesn't appear too soft at this size, but there is some motion blur in it. I was standing there by the Hamburg Philharmonic Hall Pavilion all by myself, facing the other way. As I turned around to look for a shot, this lady who had just appeared from somewhere without me noticing her was stepping to the horn. I barely had time to check my pre-focus for this shot. As she leant in to listen to the sounds from the horn, I quickly brought the camera to my eye and saw the expression I had anticipated. Preferring the moment over the technical merit of the shot, I took it without steadying my camera. She noticed me only the very moment I had my camera to my eye and made the photograph, which shows through as faint surprise mixed with curiousness in her expression.

Shot at 1/100 this photo is far from a slow shutter speed image where the soft release should help the most. Based on my experience over these couple of days, I think it could however help a bit with shots like these as well. Even if only by making one more confident with one's camera.