Jul 282013

Over the last few months I acquired a few more Lensbaby optics, namely the very low fidelity single glass optic and plastic optics.  I also bought some really cheap close up lenses on Ebay.  These modest closeup lenses screw onto the lensbabies and allow one to get very close to a subject.

To date I have not really had a chance to shoot with these new optics.  Last weekend I had some time on my hands, so why not try them out in the backyard?  It could be fun and I could see how these  inexpensive lenses compare to their more expensive brethren.

I know the world needs more flower shots like toilets need new turds, however plants were the most interesting subjects in my backyard.   So why not shoot them?  I grabbed my Olympus OMD EM-5 and Pentax K5 to take the following shots.  A feature of lensbabies is you can swap out the optics between different camera platforms.

The following photo was done with a single lens optic, this means there is only a single piece of glass in the lens barrel.  So, it is soft, full of aberrations, light fringing and blur.  Just what the doctor ordered for creating new effects.  It’s a far cry from clinically sharp and accurate optics that depend on several pieces of glass in the tube to eliminate such flaws.

Ethereal Flower

Ethereal Flower

What I like about using these lensbabies is you can fine tune where the image is in focus and the background dissolves into a creamy blur.  Sure, a similar effect can be created in photoshop.  However the difference between using a lensbaby and a digital filter is the difference between cooking your own dinner and heating up a TV dinner in a microwave.

The Sweet Spot

The Sweet Spot

The El-Cheapo macro filters I bought on Ebay did not  let me down.  They really do outperform their price point of 5 bucks per filter.  It was fun to get in really close and pick the sweet spot and blur the rest.


Stamens and Pistils

In a digital world where photography is fully automatic, instant, accurate and linear, I find it refreshing to slow down and use optics that are fully manual and non-linear.  There is no autofocus, no automatic exposure and one must manually choose the sweet spot to focus.  Moreover, to change apertures one must manually insert magnetic disks into the optic itself.  Using lensbabies is a bit like learning photography all over again and getting back to basics.  The bottom line is lensbabies are just plain fun to use and I’m the kind of person who benefits from slowing down and learning a new craft.

Using a Lensbaby to take a photo of another Lensbaby

Using a Lensbaby to take a photo of another Lensbaby

Jul 182013

For us Canadians, July 1st is a long weekend, namely Canada Day.   Over the last two years, Elaine and I have talked about a trip to my old hometown of Montreal.  In recent months, she has been staying at home due to problems with her arm and shoulder and we put any trips on hold.  Thankfully she felt well enough to head out to Montreal for Canada Day.  For me, it’s a trip down memory lane, for Elaine it was her first chance to experience Montreal.  The forecast was not calling for rain that weekend, which was a gift given the cool, wet summer we experienced during June.  Montreal is a walking city and the last thing we needed was crappy weather.

We booked a modest hotel in the downtown core, close to St. Denis street where all the cool stuff happens over the long weekend, as well as the kickoff of the world famous Montreal Jazz Festival.   All things considered, we were lucky to find a room, let alone at a reasonable price.

En-route to the downtown core, we stopped over in Kirkland, a suburb on the West Island of Montreal.  I wanted to show Elaine my childhood town as well as the old house at 92 Parkridge Rd.  Since 1978, not much as changed, the streets and the homes were still in great condition and the area kept its charms.  I snapped a few photos of the old home.  That tree out front was really quite small when we left, the windows have changed as has the front door, otherwise the house is just as I remembered it.

92 Parkridge Rd, Kirkland

92 Parkridge Rd, Kirkland.  My childhood home

On the first night in the city, we walked all throughout old Montreal, which as as close to seeing a Europe as one can get in a major North American city.  It was wonderful evening and a very long walk indeed.  After our overpriced dinner at Gibby’s Restaurant, we took a cab back to the hotel, it was late and we were too tired to trek back.

Old Montreal at Sunset

Old Montreal at Sunset

On our second day, we set out to locate my Grandparent’s old apartment complex in downtown Montreal.  My father could not remember the exact address, so last winter, my brother and I used google maps and google street to do our best to locate it.  We think we found it at 8750 Avenue de l’Esplanade and I needed to see it again.  From the photo below, I think we nailed it.

Back in the old days, the neighbourhood was predominantly Italian which made it well suited for my Italian Grandmother and her sister who occupied both sides of this flat.  My Grandmother occupied the upper left unit and her sister, the upper left.  Again, little had changed other than new railings and doors.

8750 Avenue de l'Esplanade, Montreal

8750 Avenue de l’Esplanade, Montreal.

There was a park down the street where my brother and I used to play.  In the 1960’s and ’70’s that park was filled with Italian children playing on swings and seesaws and old Italian men playing Bocce ball.  Today, the Italians are long gone, but the Bocce Ball courts remain.   My Grandmother’s old neighbourhood is still a relatively poor area, but now it is a multicultural mosaic of Indians, Arabs, Portuguese and Asians.  I suspect there is very little Bocce Ball played anymore and pudgy Italian kids are few and far between.

Bocce Ball Court

The Old Bocce Ball Court

As many you may remember, the now defunct Montreal Expos baseball team used to play at Jarry Park before they relocated to play out their remaining years at the Stade Olympique.  Jarry Park is an old school outdoor baseball field and I can still remember sitting on those benches watching some games with my Dad.   Around the old ball park, which is now Stade Uniprix, is Jarry Park itself, which has become a sprawling green park right in the heart of Montreal.  Unlike Toronto, Montreal is full of properly maintained large parks which are well used by all manner of people for walking, rollerblading, skateboarding and picnics.

Jarry Park, Montreal

Jarry Park, Montreal

No trip to Montreal is complete without a visit to Schwartz’s Hebrew Delicatessen, which is arguably, the most famous smoked meat deli in the world.  No matter what time of day you go, whether early in the morning or late in the evening, be prepared to stand in line to get in.  Trust me, it’s worth the wait.  I have been there more times than I can count and will always go out of my way to eat there. It was Elaine’s first time eating at Shwartz’s and she was glad she waited.

Schwart'z Deli

Schwartz’s Deli and the perpetual line up

Like most tourists to Montreal, we took in the usual sites such as Oratoire St. Joseph, Notre Dame Cathedral and the waterfront.  Two days is barely enough to scratch the surface and we’ll be back in September.  I love this city, not necessarily because I grew up there, but rather because it is such a vibrant place.  The streets are teeming with interesting people, remarkable street art, beautiful old buildings, world class restaurants, funky bars, cafes, music and more.

St Denis Street at Night

Rue St Denis at Night

Here’s a little drunken video I made of some Dixieland street musicians performing on Rue St Denis.

The gallery below is an amalgamation of the photos taken by Elaine and I.  It was also a good excuse for me to better learn how to use the selective focus effects of the lensbaby optics on my Olympus OMD EM-5.  Elaine took some remarkable photos with her Panasonic G3 and I’m proud of her work.

Jul 042013

On June 15th, Elaine Lamb, her friend Jackie Lee, Johan Cilliers and I went to check out this year’s airshow in Hamilton.

Each year I try to make it out to the Hamilton Airshow which is now on it’s third year strong after a 10 year hiatus.  In my humble opinion, it is the best airshow in Ontario.  They feature more planes and attractions than any other airshow in my area.  This year, I was really excited to see two planes for the first time, namely a rivet for rivet replica of a Messerschmitt Me 262 (worlds first jet fighter) and a Focke-Wulf Fw 190.  It was also a rare occasion to see the world’s only flying De Havilland Mosquito.  The usual fine assortment of planes was on hand and the Canadian Warplanes Heritage’s famous flying Avro Lancaster.  There are only two airworthy Lancasters left in the world and I am glad one of them is right here in Canada.

Messerschmitt Me 262 replica

Messerschmitt Me 262 Replica

Unfortunately, my desire to see the replica Me 262 and Fw 190 airborne was thwarted by the insane Toronto area traffic as well as other unexpected delays.  I was hoping to get a reprieve by taking the 407 toll highway to save some precious time. On any other day this would have been a great idea.  The blasted 407 was closed, yes closed, due to construction.   In a more sane world, there would have been signs posted to indicate as such.  Seems some idiot forgot to disclose this little tidbit of information and thousands of drivers were unexpectedly forced to turn around and drive through Oakville to resume their voyage on the congested QEW highway.  When we arrived, the ME-262 and Fw-190 were nearly done flying and I had all of two minutes to capture some shots and see these legendary planes in flight.

Avro Lancaster

The Canadian Warplane Heritage’s Avro Lancaster

World's only flying de Havilland Mosquito

World’s only flying De Havilland Mosquito

We eventually settled down and enjoyed the rest of the show and then went out to dinner in Hamilton.

The lighting was not the best to take shots, but I did what I could despite having to shoot into the sun on hazy, overcast day.