Categories
boats

Woodenwidget launch the Fliptail 7

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The Woodenwidget Fliptail folding dinghy. Available in 6 and 7 foot versions.

Looking for a small and light yet competent and stable little dinghy for your yacht? Or a easy to transport craft that you can use to go fishing in? Or amuse the kids during a camping trip? Then look no further. Woodenwidget, already famous for their range of dinghy designs for the spatially challenged have introduced the Fliptail 7 folding dinghy.

The Fliptail 7 really does everything. It weighs only 18 kilos and has built in handles which make it really easy to move. It folds flat in moments ensuring that you can find a place to store it wherever that may be. There are no separate pieces to get lost. All the pieces needed to assemble the dinghy are always attached to it.

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The Fliptail 7 under sail.

It can carry three people and it rows well. The floors are off the bottom of the boat so you never get a wet bottom. If you don’t want to row then you can even fit an outboard motor of up to 3.3 hp. With this engine, the Fliptail can plane at speeds of up to 14 knots! If noise is not your thing then you can easily adapt the Fliptail to a competent little sailing boat with a lift up keel and a free standing mast.

So what’s the catch? You have to build it yourself! But actually that is not so hard as it sounds as one of the great things about Woodenwidget plans is the way that they have been created to lead the builder through the whole process in a step by step manner using just simple measurements. You do not have to have any prior boat building experience at all. All you need is a bit of confidence and the ability to use a jigsaw and a plane.

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The Origami 6, mast and sail on a Fiat 126.

All aspects of boat building, from using and sharpening tools to mixing epoxy glue are discussed in the plans. Every step of the build is illustrated with quality pictures taken during the actual build of a dinghy. Plans cost from just £25 and Woodenwidget will even plant a tree in your behalf for every set of plans sold.

Other designs in the range include the Deckster, a hard dinghy with a removable section which allows it to be stowed at the foot of a mast. The Deckster can be modified to take the revolutionary Hobie Mirage drive to propel it. If you want a super light dinghy, take a look at the Stasha. It’s the World’s lightest nesting dinghy weighing as much as a baby bird! ( A wandering Albatross chick weighs 10 kilos!).

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The Stasha nesting sailing dinghy. The rear section comes off and fits inside the front part for easy stowing. Both sections float independently making the Stasha easy to assemble ashore or on the water.

Maybe you want the simplest folding dinghy? Then the Origami is for you. Made from plywood and PVC cloth, the Origami is well proven and much tougher than it looks. It comes in two sizes, a 6 and an 8 foot version.

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The classic Origami 6 on the plane with a 3.3hp motor. Speeds of up to 14 knots have been registered.

So if you always fancied building your own boat, then maybe now is the time. It’s never been easier.

Please visit www.woodenwidget.com  to learn more. There are also plenty of revealing videos on the site showing the various dinghies sailing, rowing and planing.

Categories
boats Uncategorized

Colorfly C4 review

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Walnut wood back with very intricate engraving. Leica M9, Visoflex III and Elmar 50mm lens.

When I was a kid if you wanted a Hifi sound you had to have a record player. Yet a turntable is not the most the practical of listening devices especially if you live on a yacht! And then there is the care needed with LPs and let’s face it, no matter how careful you are they always get scratched at some point. There are some who say that a few pops and scratches add to realism but I’m not one of them!

The great thing about vinyl is that it sounds wonderful, or it can do if you spend enough money on your equipment. I had a mate who was really into that and we spent many an evening simply sitting in front of his turntable, amp and speakers listening (I mean really listening) to music. The trouble is that not everyone has the space or can justify spending thousands on a decent Hifi system.

If you wanted portability back then you had no choice but to use a cassette. The best cassettes, well recorded and played back on quality equipment sounded pretty good, albeit a bit hissy. I well remember my Sony Walkman Professional which I absolutely loved. I gave it to a friend and he has it to this day and it still works fine. However cassettes are a pain in the arse as they are quite bulky and if you want to fast forward to the next track or god forbid, the other side of the tape it could take ages.

Then CDs came out and everyone went straight out and bought them, even my mate who had spent ten years collecting vinyl. An expensive lark this Hifi. I could never justify the cost of CDs or the space they took up so I stuck with tapes and a substandard sound in my boat.

Now we have DAPs, or Digital audio players to give them their proper title, the best known of course is the Ipod. This was a revelation to me on the boat. Finally I had a way to listen to music of a fairly decent quality without all the associated nonsense of tapes or CDs. Instead of being stuck with a handful of tapes or discs, I could now have unlimited music! I bought a cheap desktop speaker system and converted it to 12 volts and had a stereo that didn’t sound too bad although it could never be described as a Hifi.

The last DAP I had was the Zen creative 30 gig which could play all sorts of files, even video and has worked without issue for about three years now. With the pair of Genelec 8020s I now have it sounded really nice. Visitors to the boat were always amazed at the quality and the bigness of the sound especially as they couldn’t immediately see the speakers tucked away on the shelves.

Recently a few manufacturers have realised that there is a gap in the market for Hifi quality DAPs. There is not a huge selection so it wasn’t hard for me to make a choice. It had to be the Colorfly C4. Some might say it looks ridiculous in wood and brass but to my ‘classic boat’ eyes it fits right in. Nothing looks worse than super modern high tech in a wooden world. That’s not the only reason of course. There is also that old skool sliding volume control. Love that. One of the things I disliked most about the Zen was that if you were navigating the menus you could not adjust the volume but with the Colorfly C4 you can.

But the main reason I bought it was to have the best possible sound in my little boat. The Genelec speakers are fantastic and deserve a decent input. Now they have that. Alright that is enough waffling, no doubt you want to know what the C4 sounds like. Before I tell you though I just want to mention the packaging. Personally, I am not impressed with fancy embossed packaging, all I want is the DAP. I don’t want to pay for something that I am going to have to throw away for lack of space. The packaging however is very nice, with it’s soft velvet tray for the C4. It’s very nicely presented.

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On/off button. Leica M9, Visoflex III and Elmar 50mm lens.

I have to say right away that the C4 is clunky in more ways that one. It is quirky too. If you’re used to the smooth and seamless interfaces that most DAP makers use you may be disappointed in the C4. The C4 is turned on by pressing the centre red button on the rather unusual (I really don’t know how to describe it!) double over lapping square button keypad? Already this is plain daft as it will probably get switched on by accident and flatten the battery when you’re not looking. Then there is no way to lock the keypad either when it is playing which is pretty crappy for a so called portable player especially when the player has no ‘auto off’ settings. You switch it on, it stays on.

When you do switch it on it always opens the music folder and it lists the albums you have uploaded in the order you added them, with no way to change it to a more sensible system. It does put them alphabetically, well sort of but I really think this needs sorting because it’s pathetic. No doubt some will like the chaotic way of looking for an album to listen to, a bit like in the old days when you tried so hard to keep your LPs in order but never could. Maybe some people like this.

Apart from the odd album listing, the actual interface is quite logical, nice to use and fast enough. It’s simple that’s why. There are really no features at all. You can play or repeat tunes and shuffle but only with each album. You cannot shuffle the whole collection. This is another thing that needs to be corrected. How hard could it be? The C4 is easy to use and very logical. I managed to switch it on, charge it up, load music and work my way around without even looking at the instructions once. When I did look at it I had hoped I might find some useful info about using the player but I didn’t. Its nicely printed albeit full of bad grammar and typos.

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Simple but clear screen. It has 5 brightness levels and for the time you want the screen to stay illuminated.  Leica M9, Visoflex III and Elmar 50mm lens.

The screen is lame by modern standards but contains all the info you need. It is very sharp and clean looking. There are no options other than the ability to reduce the brightness and the time the screen stays illuminated. I told you it was basic. It does has a sort of meter that goes up and down. Seems a bit pointless but it is old skool after all. There is a screen protector in place. I left it on rather than risk scratching the screen. The screen seems strong but does flex a bit if you push it in the centre. The rest of the C4 is solid and strong with no rattles. It has a certain ‘weight’ to it.

It’s big too, perhaps just a bit smaller than an old Sony walkman cassette player but the bottom line is that the sound that comes out of this thing is pretty damned impressive. lets talk about that rather than the boring bollocks that you can find everywhere else on the Internet, like how many hours it runs for etc.

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Two headphone sockets. Visible is the micro SD slot that allows the doubling of the memory to 64 gig. Leica M9, Visoflex III and Elmar 50mm lens.

The geezer at JSL Funk who sold it to me said that it needs burning in for 200 hours or so then it will sound as it should. I love that, having to run it in! Makes it seem almost mechanical. It has two output sockets for a 3.5mm and a 1/4” headphone jack. The larger of the two has much more power. I used this one to connect to the Genelec 8020s. At first I was not overly impressed. I found the sound harsh and very bright. The treble almost painful. It’s possible that my ears just needed to adjust to the C4 sound or maybe the burn in process has already started because the sound quickly became far more acceptable.

The C4 is really punchy. I sat between the speakers and whacked up the volume. The Genelecs can produce 106 db of sound at a metre distance which is exactly how far I was away from each one. They are quite astonishing little speakers when you get them placed right with far more bass than they should have with their tiny 4” drivers. I played ‘Supersonic’ by Oasis and was astonished at the delivery. It quite literally blew me away. Loud. Very loud, punchy, bright and powerful with no distortion. If I had blindfolded you and sat you there you would never believe that you were listening to such small speakers.

The Police sounded bloody amazing too. In fact all loud punchy and rocky music sounds brilliant. very compelling. Such a treat to revisit all my old mates again. Drum and bass with deep bass is handled with no effort whatsoever with a depth and control that is really surprising. The C4 has no trouble with acoustic guitar or vocals. So far all I have played are wma files at 128 hz but they sound excellent. I’m told that I should convert a CD to a WAV file and try that, its supposed to be vastly better. Hard to imagine frankly as it sounds just great to me. Even plain old .mp3s sound pretty good.

I tried a comparison with the Zen and realised how much I already liked the C4, the Zen sounded dull and listless next to it. This is just playing .wma files and it’s not yet run in. I’m no expert but I do know quality when I see/hear it. I took the C4 along to a mate’s boat and they have a full BOSE system with satellites and massive sub woofer. Talk about impressive! I had never been that impressed with their system before but with the C4 plugged into it it was really extraordinary, very loud yet without any sign of distortion. Everyone who heard it were really blown away.

As I type this I am listening to Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’. I have listened to this album on and off ever since it came out. I must have heard it hundreds of times yet with the C4 is sounds almost fresh. The more I listen to the C4, the more I like it. It is growing on me. Now I am listening to Funkadelic’s ‘Maggot Brain’. Ow! That really hurts! That guitar! The separation is excellent. Is that blood coming out of my ears? You won’t need a headphone amp with this baby.

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The source and equaliser rocker. Leica M9, Visoflex III and Elmar 50mm lens.

You can change the eq from Normal, through rock, pop, jazz etc but the normal setting sounds the best. It is a shame that you can’t set a custom eq. It seems odd that a top end DAP like this doesn’t have this. There is no balance either. I know they are meant for headphones primarily but I’m sure there are others out there like me who will use a DAP like this as their primary source at home. I mean, why not? Who wants power consuming and big separates when one small box can do the same? Plus there’s the added advantage that it’s portable. Well sort of.

As a boatbuilder who works in wood, what do I think of the C4 in that respect? I love it. American Black Walnut is a fabulous tightly grained dark wood. No doubt they chose it to allow the extremely intricate engraving. I read somewhere that it was carved by hand but whoever claimed that is completely deluded. Maybe they were taken in by some of the rather unconvincing pictures on the Colorfly website where a small carving chisel is placed on the wood of the C4. In the background shavings of wood complete the picture. In fact the curved back edges of the C4 are shaped by hand. That I can believe.

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This little engraving is on the bottom of the case and it’s actual size is just 25mm across. Leica M9, Visoflex III and Elmar 50mm lens.

Personally I would much rather see a sustainable material like wood on a consumer product than plastic. Wood has such a nice feel and is less sweaty in your hands. I don’t know what finish they have used on the wood but on mine it looks a bit thin. I don’t know how it will cope with wear and tear. It comes with a wallet to put it in which I think looks like plastic but is supposed to be leather. Red stitching is nice though. Not that I care, the C4 for me is much more likely to be affixed to the bulkhead in the boat and become a permanent fixture. Mind you in theory if I took the Genelecs and the C4 I would have a very impressive and small Hifi that really could go almost anywhere.

So to sum up the Colorfly C4. A portable Hifi quality DAP. Well, I suppose it is portable, though hardly as portable as most MP3 players and with no keypad lock not very clever really. The interface is simple, logical and easy to use. The screen is basic but clear and bright. I can’t yet comment on battery life but it does take about 6 hours to fully charge I know that. Colorfly will sell you a new battery for about £30 when the time comes. The C4 comes with a gold plated USB cable which is a bit short and overkill really. Why gold plated? It’s only for charging and uploading. Or am I missing something? There is also a mains adapter which you plug the USB cable into. The C4 can be used for playing music while charging. At least they got that right!

It lists albums in the order you copied them to the drive. It has a 32 gig internal memory but can also take up to 32 gig mini SD cards. This might well be the easiest way to use the C4 and get the files in some sort of order that makes sense to you. In order to make the shuffle work it might be an idea to make only large folders depending on genre. At least there is a work around, albeit a clunky one. Still, it’s perfectly in keeping with the character of the C4!

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Gold plated bits all over the place. The C4 can also act as a Digital to Audio converter. Also visible is the reset button. Leica M9, Visoflex III and Elmar 50mm lens.

But all that asides, the Colorfly C4 makes the right noises and the sliding volume is total class. There are some really nice components on the C4. At £500 it’s not for everyone but the sound that comes out is really sweet. It will be interesting to hear how it sounds after a few weeks of use. It’s only been a few hours but already I am loving it and it feels nice listening to music on a player that isn’t an Ipod! I think the fact that throughout this post I have used words such as ‘impressive’, ‘surprising’ and ‘blown away’ say it all really.

If you too want to buy a Colorfly C4 contact the boys at JSL Funk and they will quickly sort you out. Free shipping to most of Europe. They know their product and are efficient and competent. All you could ever hope for really. And no, just to be clear, I am in no way affiliated with JSL or Colorfly merely impressed with them both.

Update: Jan 12

Now that I have had the C4 for a month or two I can comment further. I am pleased to say that the C4 has been as good as gold. It has not crashed once. My last MP3 player used to crash if I pressed the buttons too quickly but you can do what you like to the C4 without any problems.

The buttons need a firm and (by modern standards) fairly long press. Maybe they are set up like this because there is no key pad lock. Sometimes it’s a bit annoying but more a question of getting used to it than a problem.

If the speakers are connected when you switch the C4 on it will make them pop quite violently. Again, more of a quirk than a problem.

The only real issue I have with the C4 is the rather poor battery life. Now that the battery has been charged and discharged a few times it must be performing as well as it is ever likely to yet the best I can manage is a mere 5 hours which is not really enough. The battery gauge is too small to give a decent idea of how much battery life is left.

The sound the C4 puts out continues to impress. It’s not just the superior quality of sound but the sheer grunt that it has. It seems to enliven almost all music.

Categories
boats

How to tie on a fender

 

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Leica M9 21mm Summilux. The fenders I recovered from the water after a good blow. It happens every time and could be so easily avoided if people only used the right knot!

Many people think that the correct way to tie on a fender is to use a clove hitch. It’s true that this is a very easy knot to tie and it looks pretty. It is easily undone for adjusting or removing but this is the very reason why it’s so unsuitable for tying a fender.

The only way you can be sure that your fender will not come undone is to either tie it on with a bowline, which looks awful and is hard to adjust, or use a round turn and two half hitches. This classic knot may not look as elegant as a clove hitch but it has the advantage that it stays done up.

The clove hitch is fine for hanging a fender as decoration but if it needs to work as a fender it will probably come undone. As soon as the fender squeezes up against the boat next door a lot of force is put on it and unless it is tied on properly there is a good chance that repeated actions will loosen the knot and you will lose a fender. Bad for two reasons, one because you have lost a fender and two because your boat is no longer protected!

Last week we had a bit of a blow here in the South of France. In the marina someone measured 82 knots! The carnage afterwards was quite something to see. Many boats sank or were damaged. Sails became unfurled and destroyed themselves and often the boat next door.

Wandering along our pontoon in the morning I found no less than 6 fenders floating free. (see pic above)  My fenders were tied on with round turns and two half hitches. I didn’t lose one fender. Yet after every blow I always find rogue fenders floating about.

The doubters can argue until they are blue in the face, all I know is that no fender has ever been lost that I have tied on with a good old round turn and two half hitches.

Categories
Leica m9 Uncategorized

Lomography and Leica M

If you’re into photography and maybe if you’re not, you must surely have heard of Lomo cameras. Russian made and frankly not of great quality, nevertheless they have a massive worldwide following and one has to admit that photos taken with a Lomo are certainly interesting, sometimes quite magical.

It’s funny, on the one hand you have Lomo, an old design unchanged for decades, then you have the Leica M which has been steadily improved over the years. They can’t really be compared because one costs a few hundred Euros, the other a few thousand. Yet I am going to compare them anyway.

Lomo fans have ten golden rules to follow when taking pictures and without even realising I have been following them too but with my Leicas. Here they are.

1) Take your camera everywhere you go.

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This is a universal rule that applies equally well to any camera. It’s so true that if you don’t have your camera with you, you can’t very well take pictures!

2) Use it day and night.

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With their fast lenses leicas are great for night work.

3) Lomography is not an interference in your life, but part of it.

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I feel this way about my Leica M. I cannot imagine life without it.

4) Shoot from the hip.

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With wide lenses, it’s possible to shoot from the hip. I have done this a lot over the years and it’s often very effective. It’s especially good because no one sees the camera being brought to your face so it’s much more stealthy.

5) Get in close.

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This is a classic Leica approach. If you’re not happy with your work, get closer. I am often in people’s faces with my M. This is something that is much harder to do with SLRs and bigger cameras. It was Robert Capa who said that if you’re not happy with your work you’re not close enough.

6) Don’t think.

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Often I just set by experience the aperture, shutter speed and focus and shoot away without thinking.

7) Be fast.

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With the simple layout of the Leica M, all settings can be preset for most situations so that all you have to do is press the shutter release and capture the moment.

8) You don’t have to know beforehand what you have captured on film. (here is a classic example. I did not mean to put the smiley face in place of the number 8 but for the life of me, I cannot get rid of it!)

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This applies less to a Leica M of course but even with a digital M there is the moment when you see your images on the screen for the first time. Often those Leica lenses add a special something to an image that you could not have imagined.

9) Afterwards either.

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This happens much less with the Leica M as the lenses are better at coping with the kind of situations where the Lomo will create something mad, colourful and arty. Mind you, using a wide angle lens, shooting from a low angle and shooting into the sun, even with a Leica is likely to create crazy shots.

10) Don’t worry about any rules!

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This is my favourite rule. If you want to be a commercial photographer and sell your work, you will probably have to follow rules and convention but if you’re not then you can do what you like. Crooked horizons, cropped legs, lens flare etc are the order of the day!

Categories
boats Leica m9 Uncategorized

Filming using a remote control drone

The sailing regatta at St Tropez in October is always fun. It’s the last one of the season and everyone is looking forward to a well earned break at the end of it. Frankly I don’t know how the crews do it, racing everyday and drinking every night. They do this for 6 months of the year but at St Tropez it gets a bit mental. The atmosphere is excellent and there’s always something going on.

This year, I met the team from airmotion.ch through a friend. They have a remote control drone that enables filming with a new and unique view that often can’t be obtained any other way. The ‘drone’ they use is cutting edge and full of electronics which enable the camera platform to always remain level thanks to a pair of gyros. It can rotate, tip up and down and sway from side to side. Obviously there is also control of the platform remotely as well. 

Naturally I offered my new Fliptail dinghy as a perfect subject to film and they were happy to oblige as they were looking to build up their portfolio with interesting subjects and besides they are young with tons of energy and so we set off with fresh batteries to Port Grimaud, a kind of French Venice with canals and houses with boats moored at the end of the gardens. Amazingly it gets over 1,000,000 visitors every year. What better back drop to film a small sailing boat?

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The boys from airmotion fly the drone from a boat at sea. That takes balls! Note the extremely high tec floatation devices attached to the drone. (water bottles filled with helium for extra lift. Not really, I just made that up!)

The drone has 8 arms and at the end of each is a brushless motor driving wooden blades, with a mix of left and right handed rotation. The whole thing weighs about 5 kilos and can lift almost its own weight in equipment. The very expensive Lithium Polymer batteries need special care as they are liable to exploding or bursting into flames if not respected. They are even charged in a special fireproof box. Everything about the drone is high-tec.

It can fly as high as 3 kilometres! but at this distance you can no longer see it so must rely on its built in GPS to bring it home. It can move forwards at speeds of up to 60 kph. It can stay aloft for as much as 10 minutes on one battery but normally less to ensure a decent safety margin, after all, you don’t want this highly expensive and fairly delicate tool to fall out of the sky. The whole bundle, which includes, cases, chargers, spares, batteries, video screens, computers, cables and connectors represents a hefty investment.

What makes the drone so interesting is where it can go and how easily it can be transported to any location. The obvious uses are for all sorts of aerial photography and also for film making but with different cameras attached could even be used to film buildings with infra red to see what areas need better insulation. It’s uses are only limited by the imagination. The drone isn’t silent, those 8 blades thrashing the air make some noise and moves a surprising amount of air and in fact twice we heard someone say that it was noisy but I’d rather listen to the drone for 5 minutes than a helicopter for 1 minute. It’s really not that loud but can’t be missed, at least at low heights.

A helicopter is all very well but they are hideously expensive, to buy, own and maintain, never mind the huge amounts of fuel they use. If you wanted your posh villa filmed a helicopter could do it, probably with only one pass only and it will be very expensive. The drone has the added advantage that the customer can see the view from the drone and get involved with the end result.

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The drone on display at Port Grimaud. It has red and blue led lights so you can see it easily when flying it at night. Seems strange to see wood on such a technical bit of kit but they cut flesh much less than the plastic ones I’m told.

Airmotion’s drone is a serious and professional bit of kit with a wingspan of over a metre. This gives solidity and stability. Even with the drone flying about all over the place the image remains stable and smooth. There are not many of these drones about and there may not be. The reason is more to do with the skill needed to fly one of these things than the financing required although that is a major consideration.

It costs 1000€ a day to hire the drone which seems expensive until you consider the alternatives and if the alternatives can’t work where you are for any number of reasons, then a drone might be the only realistic way to get the job done. When you consider that you are paying for one pilot and one artistic director/photographer and the use of a very expensive bit of kit it starts to look like very good value indeed.

We had a lot of fun and attracted hundreds of people which leads me on to the main disadvantage of this as a photographic tool which is that people will point, stare and take pictures of it. It never occurs to them that here is a big bit of kit flying at speed with no less than 8 fast rotating blades (they are not called blades for nothing!) and seem to have no fear.

On one trip we did at sea one old man on the foredeck of a French cruising boat dropped his pants and stood there proudly presenting his manhood for us to film. Maybe the novelty will wear off but I doubt it. There is no doubt that airmotion will have a lot of success in the south of France if this week is anything to go by. If you need their services, just get in touch. I am sure they can help you.

Categories
Leica m9

Sensors and the dreaded dust!

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The view through the Visible Dust loupe. Note how the 6 led bulbs focus in the centre.

It’s been a couple of years now since I bought a Leica M9 and it’s taken me that long to finally get good results cleaning my sensor. I don’t expect perfection, after all, the odd spot is easily removed with Lightroom. But this is not the point. The cleaner you can get your sensor, the less time you spend touching up pictures. It’s not too much of a chore if you only have a few pictures but when you start dealing in the hundreds or the thousands, that is another matter. The time you can save is massive.

There are some manufacturers whose cameras offer various ways to keep the sensor clean such as ultrasonic vibrations etc but the M9 has nothing at all. If you don’t change your lenses often you might not ever see much dust but as soon as you take a lens off you are inviting dust into your camera. There is really very little you can do about this. The obvious things are to hold the camera upside down when changing lenses, make sure the caps and the lenses are kept clean. Don’t put a lens in a pocket or the dust that it picks up will find its way into your camera and onto the sensor.

Also it doesn’t help that I am a dusty person. Where we live it is generally dry and dusty. Sometimes it’s windy too and that moves things around. When I first began trying to clean my sensor I tried a system called a Dust-Aid. Many people claim to get good results with this system but I found it to be a complete joke. It put more dust on the sensor than it took off and it had the habit of leaving marks on it too. The Dust-Aid is supplied with some sticky strips. The idea is that you press the wand onto a sticky strip which removes the dust from it so that it is clean when you place it on the sensor. The strips were statically charged and it seemed to me that they were just attracting dust. The company who sold it to me said that I was being incompetent or my environment was too dusty. Or I was.

As I had so little experience cleaning sensors I had to assume that what they said was true. Since then I have discovered a few things. One of them is that despite being a dusty person in a dusty environment I am now able to get my sensor very clean so I now do not believe that it has anything to do with me.

I also believe that if you can clean a sensor without touching it in any way this has to be the best way forward. Why risk damaging such a delicate piece of the camera by touching it if you don’t have to? Obviously you are not cleaning the actual sensor but the low pass glass filter in front of it but it is still delicate and easily damaged.

After the disaster with the Dust-Aid I tried other systems. One of them, the Green Clean system was offered to me by the Leica dealer. This system sucks dust from the surface using a compressed air canister to create a filtered vacuum. The trouble is that it’s just too easy to touch the sensor with the hard plastic end and it also requires that you can see the dust that needs removing. I soon gave up with that but I did sometimes use the compressed air to quickly blow the dust off the sensor or lens and caps when changing lenses. This did help to keep dust down but using compressed air is fraught with potential dangers. Sometimes the can sprays out propellant and that can damage the sensor, or cover it in crap so that you then have to clean it. You cannot fly with compressed air, even in checked in luggage so it’s not really ideal.

After this I tried the swab and chemical route but every swab I tried just left dust or tiny lint particles from the swab on the sensor. What I learned is that some chemicals and cleaning solutions and swabs are better than others. I bought one kit recently in desperation as I couldn’t find any other system where I was and it came with paper swabs and a pen with a brush on one end and a pad on the other. As before I was not able to get the sensor clean and every time I passed with the swab I was aware that I was touching the sensor unnecessarily. All very nerve wracking just before an important photographic commission.

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A 100% crop of the top right hand corner. This picture of the sky is clean. Not a speck of dust in sight. Result. This was after using every tool in the bundle.

At that moment I decided that I was not going to stand for this any more. It is amazing that camera companies do not either recommend or sell a decent sensor cleaning kit for their cameras. It is as if they don’t even know. Maybe it is different for every camera and user? All I know is that it is very hard to get a clean sensor. So after 2 years of experimentation what system do I use now?

Well, one of the first things I can tell you is that it’s a multi stage process. not one system will get  the sensor as clean and dust free as you might want but a combination of them will.

The first thing to do when cleaning your sensor is to take a picture of the sky at f16. Then take a good look at it on the computer at 100%. Look especially in the corners as they seem the hardest to clean and also where dust seems to collect most.

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A 7x magnification and 6 bright angled leds makes this an excellent tool for a good close look at the sensor.

The most important thing, apart from a dry, dust free and windless environment to clean your sensor in is light and a way of magnifying the view so you can really get a good close up view of the sensor. I bought a Briteview light and loupe from Visible Dust

This is essential for getting a good look at the surface of the sensor. It has 6 angled led bulbs which light up the sensor well and evenly and magnifies by x7 which is about right. The lens is clean and sharp. It’s a nice bit of kit, powered by two small batteries (supplied) and it comes in a foam padded plastic box which keeps it clean and dust free. Obviously you don’t want dust falling off the loupe so being able to put it away after every use makes a lot of sense. I can’t really over emphasize the importance of keeping your tools, lenses and caps as clean as possible. You’ll never stop dust 100% but with care you can keep it at a reasonable level!

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Two cleaning products, one water based and the other alcohol. The padded swabs are excellent and practically lint free. The chemicals work well and evaporate quickly leaving no visible drying marks.

If the sensor has drying marks or grease (from the shutter maybe) then you will first need to get this off. You don’t want to smear oils about on the sensor, or worse pick them up and contaminate your brush. I bought two types of cleaning product from Visible Dust. One is a soapy kind which cleans and the other is an alcohol based product that degreases. Both may be needed depending on what kind of dirt you have on your sensor.

For the swabs I bough Visible Dust’s Ultra MDX-100 which are made from lint free fabric. They are superior quality to anything else I have seen or used before. They are slightly padded and are the best I have used.

I started my clean with the V Dust cleaner and a swab. I was impressed with the way the swabs felt and how well they wiped across the surface. The liquid dries quickly on the sensor and leaves no drying marks. This has not been the case with the Eclipse fluid that I was using before. I was less impressed with the plastic packaging Visible Dust use in all their products. I would prefer to see a more biodegradable packaging.

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The Zeeion blower has two filters ensuring no dust gets blown into the camera. Comes with soft tip end to avoid accidental damage and a little carry bag. New internals can be bought when the filters are clogged.

After this, I swabbed with the water based version. Now that the sensor was clean, I could start to see about the dust. The first thing I do is take a look at the sensor to see how much dust there is on it and where it is. Then I hold the camera upside down and use Visible Dust’s Zeeion blower. This is a hand held blower that you squeeze to force air into the camera. It differs from others I have seen as it has two fine filters, one that filters the air being sucked into it and the other which filters the air that you blow into your camera. It is surprisingly good at removing most of the dust but it cannot get it all. Sometimes dust is surprisingly sticky and blowing it just isn’t enough and there is always the risk that you will just dislodge some dust from somewhere else and it will find its way onto the sensor.

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The Arctic Butterfly. Odd name but clever product. The bristles are charged to attract dirt by spinning the brush at high speed.

The final solution is to use the Arctic Butterfly. Don’t be put off by the strange name. This is a clever and obvious tool. It is basically a very fine brush attached to a battery operated handle. The way it works is this. You spin the brush at high speed for 5 to 10 seconds. This does two things, it flings off any dust that was stuck in the bristles and it charges them to attract dust so that when you wipe the brush over the sensor surface dust particles stick to it. (you do not spin the brush on the sensor!)

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The Arctic Butterfly spins the brush at high speed. This dislodges accumulated dust and charges the bristles to attract dust like a magnet. Do not spin the brush on the sensor!

The first time I used it I was not overly impressed with the results but it did remove a lot of dust. The secret, I discovered is to only make one pass after each spin of the brush. If the bristles are charged to attract dust they soon seem to become discharged by the action of touching them on to the sensor. This is the impression that I have. In any case the answer is simple, just spin the brush for ten seconds before you touch the sensor with it. Once you have lifted the brush off the surface it will need to be spun and recharged again. This is easy to do. It has led lights built in but they are not brilliantly placed and the brush obscures their view somewhat. It also comes in a padded plastic storage box.

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The built in leds on the Arctic Butterfly are not brilliantly placed.

The loupe is helpful at this stage. I use the Arctic Butterfly to remove the last few specs of dust that I can see. By starting in the corners and wiping towards the centre you can move or remove any dust easily. Then any dust that was not removed by the brush on that pass can be easily removed from the centre of the sensor.

This must sound like I work for Visible Dust or have something to gain by singing their praises but I promise you that I am just a humble customer with no connections to them in any way. What I have discovered in Visible Dust is a company who sell the best products for DIY sensor cleaning. From my experience they are only company that I have found who offer a complete solution. Every one of their products, from the cleaning products to the swabs to the blower and the arctic butterfly are excellent and WORK and that is all one can ask really.

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Here’s the bundle I bought for cleaning my sensor. Finally a system that works!

Yes it is expensive buying all this gear but it’s needed. It is as necessary to the modern photographer as a computer is. So my advice is don’t skimp on this. Cheaper products just don’t perform as well. You get what you pay for really seems to apply here.

Visible Dust offer various products either separately or as a bundle. I bought the Ultra Sensor Clean Arctic Butterfly 724 Super Bright Bundle It wasn’t cheap but frankly if I’d bought this in the first place my life would have been easier and I would not have wasted so much money on other lesser systems first. Save yourself some time and money and invest in the best. You’ll never regret it.

Categories
boats Uncategorized

See through storage bags

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Here is one of things that once you use it you wonder how you managed before. Imagine, you want an Aspirin but it’s somewhere in the medicine bag but where? With a normal bag, you’d have to open it up and rummage and if that didn’t work then you’d have to tip it up and empty it and have to replace the boxes and tubes so that they go back in. All in all one can waste a lot of time looking for things. With the amazing transparent bag you can immediately see your Aspirins and do not have to take every thing out to get to it.

We have two transparent bags, one for medicines, sun cream etc and the other is for the clothes pegs although it doesn’t really have to be transparent as we would recognise it from it’s colour and shape and location on the boat but in principal if someone wanted a clothes peg I could tell them to look in the cupboard under the sink and they would immediately see which bag had the pegs in.

The medicine bag has a zipped top with a built in handle but this is more difficult to make as you have to sew the zip in a circle. The edges are covered with a binding. Perhaps easier would be to place the zip along the longest side so it would open like a pencil case. The peg bag has a strip of velcro to keep it shut.

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The transparent material used is the same as used for spray hoods and restaurant enclosures. If you are clever you might find that you can get this for free from your local sail maker because often there are pieces on the roll that are not quite perfect and can not be used. They are of little interest to sail makers. Silly really, they could knock up transparent bags like this and sell them!

The binding just makes it look nicer than a rough raw edge of cut transparent material although it adds nothing to the structure of the bags. They can be made in most shapes to suite your needs or the space the bag needs to go into. They don’t have to be round but round is easy to make and usually stows fairly well in a boat. They could even open at both ends.

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The material is tough. These examples are three years old and are showing no signs of falling apart. They are not completely waterproof because of the zip and the seams but aren’t bad. Because the material is fairly stiff these bags tend to hold their shape well and do not collapse.

Of course they are not just ideal on a boat they must surely work well anywhere.

Categories
Uncategorized

Sailrite LSZ-1 Ultrafeed sewing machine long term review

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At 22 kilos the LSZ-1 is no lightweight machine but it compensates by being very compact and by having some very good features. It can sew straight stitch or zigzag. It has a walking foot which ensures excellent feeding of the most demanding materials regardless of thickness. This walking foot also ensures very even stitch length. The way to measure stitch length is to measure a few at a time and then divide. As the LSZ-1 can make 6mm stitches, four in a line will be 24mm. The consistency is amazing.

Normally the LSZ-1 is stored in it’s supplied vinyl covered mdf case but it is much too bulky to actually store anywhere on the boat so I replaced the enormous and frankly cheaply made box with a simple and considerably smaller wooden base. (see below). The machine is stored in a soft case with handles. It’s still a fairly bulky bit of kit to find a home for on a small boat but it lives comfortably in the hanging locker on a shelf quite low down.

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The ‘soft’ case bag we made for the LSZ-1 now looking a bit tatty after 5 years.

The whole machine is made from metal. there is the odd bit of plastic but only for knobs. Looking at the construction one is led to the conclusion that this machine has evolved. Some of the parts have extra reinforcement welded to them, one suspects because over the years parts have failed consistently and have been modified so that it doesn’t happen again. This is a quite crude approach to an engineering problem but we’re not talking rocket science here. What we learn is that Sailrite have been listening to their customers and have been slowly improving the machine.

One reason why the LSZ-1 is so popular and works so well is because Sailrite supply the machine with a couple of DVDs which explain in great detail how to use, adjust and even maintain your machine. Sailrite are one of those rare companies that actually remember on a daily basis that the only reason they exist at all is because of their customers. Consequently, they could not be more helpful nor more efficient. If you have a particular problem that isn’t covered on the DVD you can call Sailrite and if needs be, they will create a video of your particular issue so that you can understand. Obviously, these videos then go up on their site for others to share.

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The wooden support I made for the LSZ-1. It is made from spruce so is very light. The left hand side is completely open to allow access to the bobbin assembly. Takes up considerably less space like this than with the huge and ugly standard base/box.

With the machine so simple, the mechanics so robust and reliable and with Sailrite’s excellent customer service behind it, the LSZ-1 is a very good choice of machine for someone who has out grown the capabilities of a domestic machine. The LSZ-1 is not particularly powerful, or rather it’s 75 watt motor is a bit puny but it has a double belt system which gears down the machine and gives it quite a bit of torque. It can easily sew through Eight layers of Sumbrella fabric. In fact the machine comes with the original test pieces so you can see and admire the amazing quality of the stitches and the incredible thickness of cloth you can sew through. Equally it has no trouble sewing leather, rubber, windows in sprayhoods or almost anything really.

The LSZ-1 is easy to use although it could be easier. For example it would be nice if the thread did not have to be pushed through so many holes. Above the needle there is a hole to put the thread through which could so easily be replaced by a hook removing the need to actually thread it. There is no thread cutter at the back of the machine and I find this a strange and frustrating omission, as to cut the thread you have to use a pair of scissors.

Thread width and length can all be adjusted infinitely and the machine can even sew very fine thread and materials surprisingly well. There are no end to the accessories you can put on the LSZ-1. There is a heavy crank handle that can be fitted so that the machine can be used by hand. It can be left in place and used with the motor to make the machine smoother but it does add more weight. You can buy binding attachments, guides, different feet, lights etc. All in all, there isn’t much that an LSZ-1 can’t deal with given a big enough needle. The LSZ-1 uses 135 x 17 sized needles. They do not have a flat on them and must be carefully positioned in the machine by eye.

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This pic shows the even stitching that the LSZ-1 allows.

Where the LSZ-1 falls down is in the details. The basic machine is solid and made to an adequate standard but the bits that attach to it could be massively improved. The worst thing about the machine is the pedal which looks cheap and nasty and has a rough action. In use the pedal seems to be more on/off than variable. We asked Sailrite for another pedal as ours was so bad. They duly sent us one but it was just as bad. In the end I modified a smoother and better quality pedal from an old Singer machine and now the LSZ-1 is very smooth with a nice controllable speed. That said, a friend has one of the original pedals and it seems to work well enough so I guess we were just unlucky.

When winding bobbins you must disengage the motor and this is done by simply pulling a pin at the crank handle end. The pin in question has a ball bearing in the end which supposedly locks the pin in place in normal sewing mode but it has an alarming tendency to suddenly fly out and fly across the room. This never ceases to shock the user of the machine and amuse onlookers. The system works most of the time and it is indeed simple and maintenance free but could be improved. If one was working on a pontoon and that happened, it’s quite likely that the pin might end up in the sea. Naturally we have a spare for this inevitability!

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The swing-out edge binding tool, just one of many accessories that are available for the LSZ-1.

The LSZ-1 has a few metal covers that can be easily removed with just a couple of screws. The cover for the motor belt at the back is poorly made and flimsy and liable to damage but could easily be dispensed with. No doubt they fit this to comply with safety regulations.

Having sorted out the pedal the LSZ-1 has since been excellent. We’ve had it five years and in that time it has done a lot of hard work. It has had to be adjusted a few times and it is oiled frequently. Once it is set up well it is a tireless machine which sews extremely well mainly due to its walking foot design.

Spare parts are always available and you can buy service kits that contain the most commonly required items. It is available in 110V and 230V versions. There is even a straight stitch only version called the LS-1 but I can’t really see why anyone would buy that when for just $200 more you get the Zig Zag option too.

There is another machine on the market which is almost identical except for a few small details. It’s called the Baracuda and can be bought for about half the price of the Sailrite version. One has to wonder why it is so much cheaper. Maybe it does not have the modified parts within that the LSZ-1 has. Certainly the crank wheel is not the same and has a much smaller diameter. This would make the Baracuda faster but less powerful. It doesn’t seem to come with a case, although it does have a very excellent table extension that attaches to the machine. It does not come with the DVDs or such a comprehensive tool kit but $400 cheaper is a powerful argument.  My guess is that it will be an excellent machine, maybe not quite as good as the LSZ-1 but not far off. If you have one, please tell me what you think of it. Biggest draw back that I can see is that is only available in 110V. Reliable, who make this machine have been around for over 50 years.

Conclusion

Pro: A robust and reliable machine with all metal parts. Compact yet heavy. Excellent video help guides for using and adjustment. Superb company with brilliant customer service. Walking foot makes for extremely consistent stitching. Easy to maintain and repair yourself.

Con: Ugly, poorly made and bulky carry case. Weak metal covers and lame pedal. Lacking some basic features.

Categories
Leica m9 T Shirts

Leica M3 with Summilux 50mm lens T shirt

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After the popularity of the Leica M9 T shirt, it seemed only natural that one should be able to celebrate other classic Leicas too. Here is the first M, the M3.

It is reproduced actual size and with straps added it really looks like you are wearing one around your neck. If you actually are wearing an M3 around your neck then it will look like you have two!

Available only at redbubble

Categories
T Shirts Uncategorized

Nikon SP rangefinder T shirt

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After the popularity of the Leica M9 T shirt, it seemed only natural that one should be able to celebrate some other classic cameras too. Here is the Nikon SP rangefinder camera.

It is reproduced in actual size and with straps added it really looks like you are wearing one around your neck. If you actually are wearing an SP around your neck then it will look like you have two!

Available only at redbubble.