Thursday, June 15, 2017

Lens, Too

The lens I talked about in my last post will be very useful under a lot of circumstances, but there are at least two situation where I'm going to need a longer lens; facial close-ups, and standing in front of my green screen without casting shadows.

So I bought one.

As you might be able to tell, this one is a zoom. I hadn't intended to buy a zoom, but I couldn't find a real bargain in the 60-90mm range I was looking in, and this one was less than $50. It's not a brand I'd heard of before, having been made by Sun Optics. After I had ordered the lens, I looked around for information on it and found that quite a few people are fond of the optics.

When I first got the lens, I couldn't get it to work. It would seat, but not lock into place. Some back and forth with the seller, who was very helpful, led me to think that an extra metal piece on the mount that I haven't seen on any other Nikon lens might be the issue. It was on with only two tiny screws, and when I removed it, the lens mounted perfectly.

And it takes very nice pictures and everything works very smoothly. There's only one remaining problem: it's a heavy piece of glass. So heavy that I worry that it could compromise the camera's mount if I place the camera on a tripod with no additional support. I can't find a collar specifically to fit this lens, so I think I'll be building some kind of tripod mount designed to hold the camera and the lens in concert, which might also serve as an adaptor for my poor-man's SteadiCam home-build.

I'll probably do some hand-held experimenting with the lens before I get to any kind of build, especially with more urgent building projects for my house which have to take precedence. Overall, though, I think that, between the two lenses, I have what I need to start doing the kind of movie shooting that I've been wanting to do for a while.

Now I just need to find the time. Between work and self-imposed book deadlines and a house perpetually under construction, it's going to be a squeeze.

But it will be worth it.

Monday, June 5, 2017


As I mentioned in my last, all-too-long-ago post, I bought a lens for my new Nikon DSLR. It looks like this:

It is a modest lens, of a brand that has never garnered a lot of respect, though at one time Vivitar made quite serviceable low-cost lenses, of which I owned a few. The name has recently been sold off and the brand is not to be trusted, which I can unfortunately attest to from personal experience. But this piece of glass is from an older Vivitar tradition.

When I mount this new acquisition to my modern camera, I get a message at the bottom of the screen that looks like this:

This might seem a very disconcerting, even disheartening message, and probably would be for anyone who's used to shooting with a lot of automation. But to me, those are three beautiful words. They mean that the camera is not communicating with the electronics in the lens. Because, of course, there are no electronics in the lens.

Turning the control to manual solves this problem. The camera will not set the aperture or focus on this lens, because it can't, and it won't meter. But that's actually just the way I want it. With this lens mounted, I can use a thumbwheel to set the shutter speed and (while pressing another button) the ISO. And I can just leave them there, as I would normally do when shooting film, and use the aperture and focus rings to get just the effect I want.

I have not, so far, resurrected my light meter, and may not do so very often, because I can pretty well see the effect on exposure and depth of field using the viewing screen, which is the only viewfinder when shooting video, and shooting video is what this lens is for.

I have already shot a little video with it. I took it down to my green screen and set it up, It's a little on the wide side, and I have to stand closer to the screen than I normally like (I'll be fighting with the lighting to keep shadows off the screen), but this is just a test; I plan to get a longer lens sometime soon, something in the 75-85mm range.

The best part about shooting with this lens is focus. When I shot all of the other green-screen videos that I've made, I had to have a stand-in, not just for framing, but to lock the focus, and it didn't always work. Now I can literally measure the distance from the sensor (approximately—there's not film-plane marker on the camera that I can find; if you don't know what I'm talking about, I understand) to where I knew I was going to stand, then set the focus according to the markings on the focus ring.

That's right, markings. Actual distances that assist is setting the focus even when you can't see the image (or when you can't see it clearly), or when, as in the case of shooting myself in front of the camera, the object you are trying to focus on is just not there.

And the results? Amazing. Sharp and clear, with good color rendition. Not bad for what once was, even in the heyday of Vivitar, a relatively cheap lens.

Time has been a little short, but I expect I'll be back in front of the green screen sometime next week to show off my new acquisition.

Monday, March 13, 2017


It's been a long time since I've had a decent camera, either still or video. But a new part-time job to supplement my writing and voice work has given me the budget to at least enter the world of the digital SLR. Not at the top of the line, but a something I can get some good control over.

The camera is a Nikon D3300, which I bought with two lenses. I haven't had much chance to play around with it, as it's been too cold outside and my schedule has been a little crazy. But I am learning how to use the features and take control of the camera. I've shot a few dozen pictures, most of them garbage, not because the camera isn't good, but because I'm working on doing as much as possible with manual controls.

The camera has a lot of features I'll probably never use, effects modes that I'd just as soon do using GIMP, if at all, and a guided feature that will take more time for picture taking than I plan to spend. The camera will spend most of its time in auto-exposure mode with the autofocus turned off, and maybe a fair bit of time in aperture- or shutter-preferred mode.

Manual mode is something I plan to avail myself of quite a bit, but I won't be using it much for day-to-day shooting, mostly because making the adjustments is a pain in the butt, especially compared to the way I used to do it with my 35mm SLR way back when.

Exposure, after all, is based on three components: sensitivity, shutter speed, and aperture. In days gone by, aperture was a ring on the lens, sensitivity was one dial on the camera (if it had a meter—some of mine didn't and so I used a separate incident meter, which I still have), and shutter speed was another dial.

Focus was a nice big ring on the front of the lens, with some solid mechanical feedback. The focus rings on these two lenses are un-marked, and they turn too easily. It's hard to get used to, but I'm getting better.

However, when I start using the camera for more serious video work, I may invest in a good used lens from an older film camera (many of them are compatible) to make follow-focus and aperture control easier, wresting them from the menus on the screen on the back of the camera.

Call me old fashioned if you must, but it was a lot faster to adjust those things without the menus.

I'm not complaining, though. It's nice to be able to tell the camera what aperture I want, and what shutter speed, even when it tells me the shot is too dark, because, in contrast to the point-and-shoot cameras I've been shooting with for far too many years now, I can tell it to go jump.

Sometimes, no doubt, I will discover that the camera probably was right. But I don't care; eventually I will know how the camera performs in different situations, and I will seize total control, and be able to create imagery on my own terms once again.

I can hardly wait.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Writing In a Winter Wonderland

It's cold outside here in New England; the temperature barely got into the double digits today, and there's snow on the way for the next three days. The house is warm, but the attic, where I do most of my writing, is not. Not so much anyway.

And yet here I am writing, because my outline is coming together, and I'm feeling good about the general flow of the story, and—cold fingers be damned—I am clicking away at my old ergonomic Dell keyboard (even though I write on a Mac) to try to keep that flow going as long as it will before I lose the energy or am forced to go off to bed.

And even that won't stop the writing, for when I am at a point like this, I do a lot of writing in my sleep. Not good writing necessarily (and definitely not good sleep), but writing nevertheless. And despite what it does to my sleep, the dreams will usually propel me into another day when I am champing at the bit to get to the keyboard.

There are usually things in the way. Work, snow, making dinner, more snow, shopping. More snow (I'm not exaggerating; multiple storms this week). It impinges on my keyboard time, but I am writing all the while. It is frustrating, sometimes, to have a great idea for a scene or a plot point or some dialogue and not be able to write it down. At least not without inconveniencing my family (I usually note these things using my phone, but taking a smart phone out when you're shoveling snow in 10-degree weather is a great way to kill the battery).

But the story and the people who populate it continue to fascinate me, and so when I do sit down at the keyboard, the words pour out, and it's slowly forming into a story. When it's done, I hope that you and your kids will find it as exciting as I do.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Outlining Online

I've been working on the outline for my first juvenile mystery, and I decided to give the web-based tool Trello a try. It's not actually designed as an outlining tool; it's a project management system. But I saw a tweet from someone who mentioned using it for outlining novels, and I thought I'd give it a try.

I wouldn't say it's the perfect solution. It's a virtual card-based system and at times the visible portion of the cards seems a bit small for my purposes, but then that's one of the problems with using a system that's not actually made for what you're doing. With a little care in phrasing the first line of any card, I can work around that problem, and Trello has other advantages.

I use a column of cards for the plot points, one to keep track of the things I need to research (yes, research is important in juvenile fiction, too), one to keep track of characters, one to keep my plots and subplots in order, one to keep track of the locations in my fictional town, and another for notes. The last column is labelled "done" which is where I keep research I've finished, plot points I've written prose for, and notes that have made it into the story.

It's a lot to keep track of, and Trello manages to keep it all on one screen on my computer. Maybe when I've done one entire book using it, I might decided I need something specifically designed for the task. But so far, it's working out just fine.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Back At the Mic

2016 wasn't a great year for me. I had health problems, my wife had health problems, and even our cat had health problems. And my father died. So it was very hard amid all of this to juggle too many creative projects. I published a book, and made substantial progress on several songs and stories. I even managed to put a few videos on YouTube, though I've struggled with my voice for a good part of the year.

But I had to let some things slide, and one of them was my gig on Fiverr, offering simple voiceover services.

Well, it's back. With a new video, including samples. So if you, or anyone you know, needs a professional voiceover performance at a very reasonable price, send them my way. My gig is here.

Thank you.