Odessa Close Up

I own a few quality Canon lenses, but 100-400 zoom lens is my favorite. 100-400 is heavy and it needs to be swapped in for something more reasonable often because it only catches a small part of the overall picture. Yes, extreme closeup is a cheesy trick: every object starts looking more significant than it already is when the focus is on it and the background disappears in a soft blur known as “bokeh“. But more often than not I do want to get rid of the clutter and take a closer look at something, to intensely focus on one thing. Sometimes looking at an object zoomed in at 400 you find something new – like a ghostly outline of the old company name hiding behind a new neon sign or a joke left in by the sculptor or notice what is going on on the tops of skyscrapers.

100-400 seems to add a strange, otherworldly glow to things – the glow that I associate with memory.

Here’s a series of closeup photos of my hometown, Odessa. Beware, if you are from there this might cause some serious nostalgia.

The postal boxes were repainted a few times, but are still pretty much the same.

A core sample is the best demonstration for watermelons

But you have to trust the merchant’s sign that the grapes from Tairovo are sweet!sweet!

The dish of my childhood – a tomato salad with tomatoes that taste like tomatoes.

The building in the background is gone, but the old horse chestnut (which is probably a few hundred years old) is still around

Here’s what you do with the leaves of acacia: you rip them off in one motion and hold them tight in your fist. Then you let go in an upward motion and try to catch as many as you can. Then you play age old game of loves me-loves me not with the remaining leaves. Well, at least that what I remember.

Kitteh, as neglected as the city itself voices her complaint.

A pigeon walks around in fallen acacia flowers in front of my hildhood home. I gathered a bunch of these flowers. They still smell like the city that I lost.

These flowers in the park are still the same.

A terrible piece of tile grafitti sprung on a refined and sophisticated building by its new owners is now covered in even cruder grafitti. Soon the slate will be wiped clean. The act of tiled vandalism always amazed me when I saw it as a kid – it was one of the first hints as to what happened in 1919.

The staircase that leads to the sea at 13th Station of the Big Fountain. If you were brave, you could ride it down, but it lead to more sprains, scrapes, ruined pants and mis. injuries than I care to remember. Yet few kids could pass by the opportunity to ride it down.

Seemingly indestructable electrical poles are surprisingly free of ads, but they must have carried more of them than many newspapers.

Pushkin’s fish is still spitting into the fountain basin full of coins left by tourists.

Corn on the cob at the beach is as spectacular as ever

A remnant of a communal flat: after the Soviets kicked out and mostly shot the old tenants, what is known in New York as a “classic 5“, a spacious one family apartment became a 5 family apartment. The communal spirit was not complete though – all 5 bells would have been connected to separate electricity meters.

These sturdy cast iron garbage urns might be pre-revolutionary in origin. They always reminded me of the Pushkin monument and the drinking fountain in the park (which I’ll cover further down).

Mercury from the City Hall building stares blankly

The iron fence of the old synagogue reminds me the fence in front of a church on 5th Avenue.

This is where I would jump off almost every time when visiting the park

Bullheads!

The laurel crown of Odessa’s beloved founder, Armand-Emmanuel de Vignerot du Plessis, Duc de Richelieu, looked like a kangol-style hat to me when I was little. I guess it still does.

Poor old lion dragged from somebody’s pre-revolutionary dacha to “the old Odessa corner”. I sat on this beast many a time for a photo, and so did probably millions of locals and tourists.

They still use homemade brooms – I’m sure these are superior to synthetic-bristled ones. At the very least they must be cheaper.

Wild grapes are in every other courtyard. They are extremely sour when green, but rarely survive into maturity.

This Atlas always amused me because unlike other classical atlases he wore a working man’s belt. He is in a very bad way.

This lion appears on dozens of buildings. I guess it was on sale two centuries ago.

It’s pretty hard to destroy ironwork.

I bet Alexander Pushkin tied his horses to this thing. Or something. It was good for jumping on and off it.

These trashcans were all over the place when I was a kid – I only found one in the back of a courtyard.

I bet this kid with a cournucopia (or just a bouquet) of flowers had a wingwang at some point.

A piece of Soviet sculptural impotence is still memorable to me for some reason. I think it’s supposed to sybolize basketball. Or the last drop of patience or something.

The crown of one of the last remaining cast iron ad pillars

There were a few of these things all over the city. As a kid I was told that these were for sampling gas – I remember trying to smell it at some point.

The entrance to the park – a place to meet after school.

A park bench

When I was crawling around the park as a toddler this fountain used to work. It always reminded me the Pushkin monument – it might have been cast by the same company. I still have memories of my father raising me up so I could take a drink.

Our sadistic gym teacher made us do pull-ups on these bars.

This is another place where no self-respecting child would walk on the ground instead of skipping on the parapet

This lamp has seen better times

Some people say these wells were operational at some point, others say that they were simply ornaments dragged from elsewhere where they were operational. In any case, these are reminders of the time when Odessa’s major source of water was roof-collected rain and the Fountains.

A lamp of the Soviet vintage

A horrible Soviet-era mosaic that is nevertheless burnt into my childhood memory

The soccer stadium lights always made me sad for some reason

Canon Speedlite 580EX II Flash for Canon EOS Digital SLR Cameras

Further development of Canon’s flagship Speedlite has led to the production of the 580 EX II. This is the premier Speedlite for all photographers, including professionals. Newly designed to match with the EOS-1D Mark III in terms of improved dust- and water-resistance, body strength, and the ability to control flash functions and settings from the camera menu (EOS-1D Mark III only). Other features include improved communication reliability through its direct contacts, and recycling time is both 20% shorter than the 580EX and is completely inaudible.

Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Standard Zoom Lens for Canon SLR Cameras

Canon is an industry leader in professional and consumer imaging equipment and information systems. Canon’s extensive product line enables businesses and consumers worldwide to capture, store and distribute visual information. Cannon provides a wide range of accessories that are fully tested and 100% compliant with the corresponding equipment. All accessories are noted for their high reliability and superior quality.Ever experienced one of those days when some of your pictures, shot under available light conditions, were ruined by camera shake and caused a substantial loss of sharpness? Well, kiss goodbye to all those camera-shake pictures via a remedy in the form of the new Canon EF28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS (Image Stabilizer) USM zoom lens. The IS system reduces the possibility of blurred photographs caused by camera shake, enabling handheld photography in comparatively dim light without a flash or tripod.

Canon PowerShot SD1000 7.1MP Digital Elph Camera with 3x Optical Zoom (Silver)

Canon looked to the very first ELPH for inspiration when designing the PowerShot SD1000 Digital ELPH, and came up with a quintessential iteration of the icon: slim, clean-lined and fully flat. Inside, the SD1000 Digital ELPH looks only to the future: 7.1 megapixels, a 3x optical zoom and advanced DIGIC III ensure top-quality images, while focus is fast and sharp and red-eye is automatically corrected. The large and more colorful LCD screen now has a tough, anti-reflective coating that makes it as durable as it is beautiful.

MOAL

One day I was in a hurry, but took a second to take a picture of an interesting camera displayed in a windows of a photo store. The store is somewhere in the vicinity of 14th street, but I haven’t passed by it again.

I really wonder what this is – clearly an early example of a very long lens paired with an early camera. This is probably an old school version of MOAL aka Canon 1200/5.6L USM

Canon vs. Nikon

I often get asked for advice on what digital camera to buy. I’d estimate that I was asked that at least a dozen times in the last couple of years. I’ve been asked by co-workers, friends, family.

I usually explain things this way: there are two classes of cameras — SLR and what used to be called “rangefinder“. SLRs range from bulky and heavy to galaxy sized black hole; from very expensive to small-Manhattan-studio-apartment-down-payment expensive. Rangefinders range from 007-spy-camera-sized to brick-sized; from very cheap to pretty damn expensive. The image quality on both types ranges from crappy to very good.

SLRs have one huge advantage: they look professional. And expensive. Two advantages. Well, actually while we are at it, there is a third advantage, and the only one that matters. Some SLRs come as a part of a camera system. A camera system is a collection of accessories that your camera can take. It includes lenses, flashes, extension rings, adapters, and other various obscure doodads like focusing screens and right angle viewfinders. Repeat with me – it’s not the camera body and the lens it comes with. It’s the System that matters.

When you are buying a non-system camera, you have to make a one piece investment as you won’t be able to upgrade it later. With system SLRs, your investment in lenses, flashes and other accessories is separate and much longer lasting than investment in the body of the camera. More than that, you’ll have a choice of several camera bodies at different price points. But the main thing is, you can have a lens and accessory collection and it will stay with you for many years.

In the olden days there were popular rangefinder systems and even TLR systems. Not anymore. But the main reason for rangefinder popularity still remains: they are smaller and easier to use than SLRs. A picture taken with a well-made rangefinder will be almost indistinguishable from that taken with a well-made SLR with a normal range lens (that is, not a macro or telephoto or something even more exotic). Rangefinders add something to photography that no SLR can add – spontaneity. To be able to whip a camera out of your shirt pocket and take a picture is priceless. 70% of photographic opportunities disappear in the time that it takes to take an SLR out of the bag.

I often try to steer people into buying a nice rangefinder because I know that they’ll take it with them more, take more pictures and enjoy it more. A camera that wants to stay at home is not of much use, unless, of course, like me, you are Ok with dragging a heavy bag with you everywhere.

If it’s the SLR that they want, I explain the choice even simpler. You have to buy into a major camera system, which these days means Canon or Nikon. Once you buy your camera and lenses, you are pretty much stuck with the system, unless you never buy any expensive lenses.

Canon and Nikon systems are pretty equivalent in quality and variety. They are both awesome. Generally Nikon stuff is heavier and sturdier, and also more expensive. Just about anybody finds that appealing. I find the relative heaviness a huge drawback. Picture quality at slow shutter speed is mainly limited by three factors: sensor quality, lens quality and camera shake. So, if you are not using a tripod for every shot, a heavy, although sturdy camera is a huge drawback – it will make your hands shake a lot more than a lighter one. For these two reasons I am, and always was a fan of Canon.

Most of the people I ever advised on purchasing a camera bought Nikons though. More than that, most of my friends and co-workers are Nikon owners already. As a rule of thumb, prosumers that I know like Nikons. In general, among professionals and amateurs, Canon and Nikon are represented equally, as far as I can tell.

I do have one observation that might raise a lot of controversy. I find, in my empirical observations, that Canon owners take and share way more pictures than Nikon owners. Nikons are usually found stashed away at home, while Canons are out there in the world, taking pictures. Since 2000, I took about 25K photos, and a I guess I am a typical Canon user. So is Travis Ruse, one of my favorite photobloggers. So is Tema Lebedev, my favorite travel blogger. What about you, Nikonophiles? Where are your pictures?

Philip Greenspun has a nice technical Canon vs Nikon comparison, as well as a good description of the Canon system, and one of Nikon.

I’ve added a camera-related poll.

A Space Potato Made of Poison

Jeffrey Rowland drew me a custom watercolor of my favorite comic character on the internets for a pen tablet that I was not using. Chump.

“A born warrior, Topato possesses a large, loud vocabulary and fears nothing. He is made of a poison that triggers agonizing death in his opponents. Topato is a licensed attorney.”


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Cokin Starter Filter Kit P with Filter Holder, Hood P, Orange #2, Sepia #5, Diffuser 1 #83, Double Exposure #346, Sunsoft #694.

Canon EOS 5D 12.8 MP Digital SLR Camera (Body Only)

Canon Speedlite 580EX Flash for Canon EOS SLR Cameras

Deadprogrammer Visits Japan or Sakura in Partial Bloom Part II

Part II : Chuck Garabedian sez : “Ya gotta squeeze every penny”

My wife booked our tickets though go-today.com, thriftily opting for the cheapest tickets that do not specify the airline prior to purchase. I was expecting the horrors of Aeroflot, or even worse, flying under the 5-headed eagle flag of Turkmenistan Airlines. On a crop duster or something. But we were pleasantly surprised to become proud holders of All Nippon Airways tickets. And that meant flying on a 747-400 without one of those Pokemon or Hello Kitty paint jobs, but with 4 classes of seats, on demand video monitors in all of them, nice meals and snacks, ultra clean bathrooms, and 20% more bowing.

A flight from JFK to Narita Airport takes about 14 hours non-stop. I found it to be no worse than an extra long day in a cubicle. Except instead of working I read, watched free movies (they had The Incredibles!) ate tasty meals and wondered if one could learn to smile professionally like the Japanese stewardesses. Oh, and I took a nice picture of a circular rainbow. Unfortunately I missed seeing the fish-like Sakhalin Island where my father spent a part of his childhood and my mother earned her college degree. I hope one day I’ll visit it.

Now for some photos (there will be more interesting ones in the next post). Make your own Google maps with Keyhole technology. The whole thing looks like a motherboard, doesn’t it? For some reason Japanese like to paint their towers in red and white.

In stark contrast to the heavily industrial area above, Japan is full of agricultural areas filled with rice paddies that glisten in the sun. I was gonna say like the steel of a samurai’s sword, but did not.

In Narita I came into my first contact with the wonders of Japanese wending machines. My first purchases on the Japanese soil were a $30 Hello Kitty phone card (that was way too much, a $10 one would do, besides they sell them everywhere) and a bottle of a sports drink called “Pocari Sweat”. As it turns out many Japanese products and businesses have strange, but somewhat relevant Engrish names. Overall the vending machines in Japan are way nicer that the ones in the States. I’ll write about them later, but for now I present you with the picture of a small battery of rectangular (or should I say parallelepipedal) sports drink bottles that accumulated on the windowsill of our hotel room.

Go-today.com deal hooked us up with 5 nights in Shinagawa Prince Hotel. It’s a huge complex of a hotel located just next to a major Japan Rail station. Narita express as well as shinkansen trains stop there too. Just like ANA’s jumbo jet, the hotel seems to tailored to serve a number of different classes of customers. There’s the Executive Tower, Main Tower, New Tower and Annex Tower. We got a room in the Annex Tower which is probably like the Fiesta Deck. Still in the good old tradition of the 3rd class on a pre-war cruise ship, the room was tiny, but well designed, clean, and had very nice extras not usually found in American hotels such as yucatas, toothbrushes and razors in the “little shampoo and crap” kit and a washlet in the bathroom.

Japan is one of the last true bastions of smoking, so we could not get a non-smoking room. There was a smell of cigarettes in the air, but fortunately the windows were openable (and with a great view, including a skyscraper with a huge Canon logo) and after a short airing the room was livable. There was no hardwired Ethernet and during my stay I only figured out how to get the key to the wireless network only at the very end (you need to go to the Yahoo! cafe, fill out some paperwork, buy a drink there and ask for the access point password).

Overall it seems that Japanese businesses often treat coach class customers better than American businesses treat their business class and often first class.

Where in the World is Deadprogrammer?

I am in Kyoto, Japan, with my wife, on a vacation of a lifetime. We are spending two more nights in a wonderful ryokan here, and then one more night in Tokyo. There are 4.43 gigabytes of pictures in my Tablet PC, I really hope Windows XP / Acer hardware is not going to eat them before I get them into a more secure location. My Canon EOS 300D broke (the poor thing does not power up at all even though the battery is ok), so I am down to my trusty Canon Powershot G2.

Meanwhile, enjoy this picture of a rainbow as seen from an airplane. Yes, it is circular.

P.S. Right, I forgot that it’s April Fool’s today. But I am actually in Japan, this is not a joke. I wish I’d have though of something witty, but it’s a bit too late now.

Digital Rebel, Limited Deadprogrammer Edition

Even though I am squarely in the EOS camp, I have to note that Nikon usually does not force the indignity of owning a silvery plastic camera on the buyers of lower end models of their slrs. Dear Canon, please fricking stop using that silvery plastic!

A few weeks ago I got so annoyed looking at my Digital Rebel that I took a permanent black marker and made my own “Limited Edition” :

This might not have been the best idea as the resale value of my $800 camera suddenly took a nosedive, but the “paintjob” turned out to be remarkably durable (it only came off around the shutter button and the top a little), but also gave my camera a mean, grungy look that I like a lot.

I think I will buy some Krylon Fusion paint and do a less half-assed jobs. There are people out there who used similar paint to modify old silvery rangefinders.

In other news, reading through boring link blogs and popular link aggregators slowly pays off:
This is hard to believe, but there are Nikon lens to Canon camera adapters. I think I’ll buy one – I do not own any Nikon lenses, but have a lot of friends that own some pretty expensive ones. By the way, this might start a small flame avalanche, but in my experience most of the people that I know who own Nikon SLRs brag about having many very expensive lenses, but for some reason do not take a lot of pictures. Canon owners tend to have few cheapo lenses, but have pictures coming out their wazoo. (by the way, dictionary.com’s explanation of etymology of wazoo is not very convincing).

UV Filters considered harmful. I was never a fan of putting a glorified piece of window glass in front of my lens, but could not figure out why. Now I know. (I think I snagged this link from Kottke).

Making a lens out of an old magnifying glass and free time. This is some fine ducttapemanship.