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Thursday, 18 August 2016


Etch-a-Sketch and Ektachrome are similar.

Buying a Chinese flash trigger can make for some interesting reading. Also once bought a water pump adorned with the warning "Do not connect seriously."

Two years ago, a man found more than 40 rolls of exposed but undeveloped film. Each roll was marked with date, location and subject matter. He excitedly brought the film to a lab, thinking that he may have discovered the next Vivian Maier. But he was crestfallen when the lab technician said to him, "I'm sorry, sir, but nobody processes Kodachrome anymore." I guess we'll never know.

Amusing and understandable. I think it's true to say that when a publication – even a top-tier name – commissions a good writer on a subject that readers know extremely well, it's easy to spot the misunderstandings in the resulting piece. The New Yorker and its famous fact checkers might be the exception.

About identifying sources: if you quote a publicly accessible online article, it's impossible to obscure its source. The original article was the top hit for my first attempt at a Google search but you're not saying anything demeaning or malicious so I don't think it's a problem.

Also: half-speed TOP holds its own.

To be fair, it's only slightly mangled. This could be an editor's fault. Kodachrome was expensive to print! Most people did just get slides made! Often by sending it to Kodak!

The vast majority of people (predominantly geeky males) posting on high-end audio or photography forums don't what they are talking about, either.

I once wrote an article on a high-end audio forum using a robust statistical technique called Design of Experiments (aka DOE) to optimize the integration of a subwoofer into my stereo system. The key to a DOE is you have to have hard data to build the model, and mine was statistically significant with a very low p-value.

One the of commenters, who clearly did not know what he talking about, thought my DOE model to be "a hypothetical demonstration and mental masturbation." A Six Sigma Black Belt, who happened to be doing DOEs for his tonearm cartridge setup (way cool), jumped in and said, "No, you don't know WTF you're talking about, this approach only works with actual, hard data, and this is a really nice model Stephen has created". The guy still didn't get it.

An audio friend characterized this exchange nicely: "this guy just doesn't understand he brought a knife to an intellectual gunfight". Pretty much summed it up.

The well-spoken, thoughtful, and informative posts by folks here, by contrast, is what makes TOP so special.

Copy and paste the first 15 words or so into Google and the source will be revealed.

I'm reminded of an article I found on someone's website years ago, which "explains" depth-of-field and bokeh, at least as it relates to those screw-in close-up lenses:
"As you know, light consists of photons, which bounce around just like billiard balls, and just like billiard balls, as photons travel they lose energy. In fact, this is what we call the "inverse square law" of light fall-off. (Nobody quite remembers how it got that name, but it probably had to do with an obsolete camera that used a mirror instead of a lens, and took square pictures. And because of the mirror, the image was upside-down in the viewfinder). This law means that each time the photon doubles the distance it has traveled, it loses a measurable quantum of energy. And the screw-in "close-up filters" are sensitive to these quantum levels, and only let through photons fully-charged with energy. That's why they let you take sharp photographs of flowers and insects, while the lower-powered photons from the background turn into a kind of fuzz."

As for "their English being as good as mine"...
Back when I was in college, I bought a cheap, light-weight, made-in-China tent for backpacking. It was a bear to assemble--many sections of poles, all of differing lengths and curvatures. So I consulted the instructions, and found the section on "How to Achieve Erection." Finally stopped laughing long enough to get that bugger ready for use.

(By the way, that tent was finally destroyed during a December-to-January camping trip where we were subjected to high winds, thunderstorms, lightning, and even falling trees! 1980-1981: the winter of our discount tent!)

Leica regularly performs the Teutonic equivalent of your Japanese camera company example. They commission stories from Engish speaking afficionados, translate them into German to ensure that they convey the right spirit, then publish English versions of their German versions, which they translate back themselves without consulting the original author.

The famous Japlish, now surpassed in volume if nothing else by Chinlish.

Of course, we should never mention Engdarin (the Chinese version, but here are as many versions as here are languages other than English) which in its most basic form is your monolingual English speaker shouting louder in the belief that this will make what they are saying intelligible to speakers of any other language.

In Lygon Street, Carlton (Mebourne, Australia), which used to be dominated by Italian speaking immigrants (to the benefit of our gustatory circumstances) there is still a shop with a signin the window which reads: "We speak fluent broken English".

I write instructions for a living, usually for technologies that I barely know, so I can see how this mixup happened. In my case, I always get the material reviewed by the subject matter expert, but that's a business thing. This is an article in an arts magazine, so it has less rigorous standards I supposed.

I've written a comment in the article that attempts to correct the error.(I'm like that; when I see a mistake I try to correct it.) The comment hasn't appeared yet. I have no idea how long it takes to moderate comments there (and this is an article from 2012.)


1 But you did precisely identify the writer by quoting enough text to immediately find the source :)

2 Not sure why so coy about the photographers name since you have featured his story & "rediscovered" work (that the piece discusses) in the past on TOP?

3 Was the "error" really so egregious? (Although just adding "only" after "he" in "...he had slides made..." would make sense.)


Well, two other points. The next paragraph has another whopper, where the writer attributes the ability to make beautiful modern prints from the old Kodachrome transparencies to computer technology (so far so good) in the form of high quality laser printing...erm, no. That would be photo-quality inkjet printing. However, when the writer stops pretending to know anything about photographic media or curation and begins directly to discuss the aesthetics of the work, things get better and he makes some good observations.

OK, "winter of our discount tent" might be the funniest thing I've heard in at least a year.

I think working in photo-processing labs affords the greatest opportunities for hearing photo-related hilariousness.

I had a guy that demanded "doubles" from his slide film. I figured, 'oh, print two copies of everything.' Nope. 'oh, duplicate the slides.'
Nope. 'oh, you shot two frames of each subject.'
Nope. "I want DOUBLES. Two slides of every frame I shot." This was at DeLaCruz Photo Imaging, East Greenbush, NY, in 2002. (r.i.p. the lab, not the town.

Sad to say I lost a wonderful glossy booklet printed by Toyo extolling their very fine cameras.
Clearly whoever translated it from Japanese had a tenuous grasp of English at best.
My favorite bit was a boldface heading saying "Points of Brilliant". I actually love "Points of Brilliant" and have been trying to figure out how to use it ever since.

Without additional info, I'm giving the author a break. Many folks didn't have their chromes mounted in slide mounts because they intended to print them, which is significantly easier and better to do without the slide mounts. And it was (is) better and safer (and often required) to show an editor the images on a light table with the roll film (or LF sheets) in archival storage pages versus individually on the light table in the mounts. FWIW.

Your last paragraph reminds me of an event from my own life.

Back in the 1970s I had a female colleague at work who was Japanese but had come to the US in her teens and was very fluent in English. She was working to set up a sideline business translating between Japanese and English - mostly technical material from Japanese to English.

On one occasion she was trying to get a commission to do translations of manuals for a major Japanese manufacturer of copy machines. She asked me to do an editorial review of the existing English version of the service manual for one of their copiers, which had been translated into English by a professor of English at Tokyo University. (I am an aerospace engineer with a lot of familiarity with the issues that can occur in technical manuals - which is why she asked me to review the manual as part of her sales effort.)

I did an objective markup of the manual with a red pencil, which left it looking like it had been hemorrhaging blood. That would have been enough by itself, but what really shocked the company executives was when I pointed out that (due to differences in language structure), in the English version a very prominent warning about disconnecting power to the high-voltage section of the copier before doing certain work appeared on the page AFTER the text that told the tech to do the work itself.

My favourite from the packaging of a Japanese kitchen knife back in the '80s: "Keep out of children."

"...the brochure writer had received perfect grades in his English classes in school and was therefore just as good at writing English as a native English speaker."

Unfortunately, that sort of mentality still exists. In the early 90s, I worked for a small company in western Japan that produced industrial machinery. One of the brochures they produced was just barely comprehensible, but they were proud of the many "testes" when manufacturing the machines. They never corrected it, because I don't think they considered it important.

Don't post this if I'm way off base, but ...

that story about the dozens of cartridges of Kodachrome and no one processing special K anymore:
Kodachrome was a black and white film; the dyes were introduced during the extremely complex processing cycle. So, you could not get a color slide from that old film, but you probably *could* process it in B/W chemistry, so all would not be lost. Don't know about the contrast you would get, but the grain would have been tiny. Any thoughts?

When somebody writes with 'authority' on a subject that I know is complete nonsense, I always wonder what else is nonsense in his writing?
The best way to check a travel guide or website is to look at what they say about your hometown, or another place you know very well. If that is outdated and wrong one cannot expect much more from the other locations.

If anyone wants American translated into English, send me an e-mail!

Close enough for all intense purposes, perhaps?


Back in the days of film I was commissioned by a well known UK company (who had better remain nameless) for a PR shoot where the commissioner was very insistent that I provide transparencies. She then ordered a large number of prints for press distribution and received a suitably large bill to match, as prints from transparencies always were dearer than prints from negatives. Needless to say I didn't hear from them again!

Marty, where ya been!


"Discount Tent" from the Red Green show 1981, and I'm sure in the public forum before that, at least here in the colder climes.

My problem with modern second and third party photo commentary, like the Kodachrome statement, is I read an increasing amount of errors like that from people who are adamant about how "in-the-know" they are, especially from post digital change-over photography writers. Believe me, most of them really comment on how they "thought it was", not on how it actually was; this being an example.

No one that actually knew anything about professional and commercial photography, pre-digital, would have made the mistake of not knowing that the vastly primary need of commercial reproduction was transparency, not prints.

You might make the assumption, tho, which was big in my youth, and in my backward town, that if you said you were a professional photographer, it must mean you did weddings, which would mean the need for prints.

I guess what I'm trying to say here (and I actually see this at work every day), is when did we become a society where a tiny bit of knowledge made us think we knew everything?

Having recently been engaged in buying new photo gear, I've spent a lot of time online, reading reviews and blogs by users. Many of these photo blogs are truly territory "where it's immediately obvious that the writer doesn't know what he's talking about". Present company excepted, of course.

There is an apocryphal story of an instruction manual for a Japanese product that includes a rather unfortunate translation of the word "screw."

Same thing happens when photographers write about computer technology, unfortunately. I don't think I could stand to read yet one more photographer advising on the right approach to backing up your files, using 2 RAID systems and cloud backup for their 20 TB of data. People who don't know the difference between backup and fault tolerance shouldn't give advice on the subject. Unfortunately, their writing makes it obvious that they don't know the difference.

I was a technical writer in Silicon Valley for 35+ years, and worked with various overseas groups on different projects.

Sometimes input from U.S. groups was as broken/amusing as anything from any of our asian suppliers.

Disambiguating these things could be pretty challenging some days.

"...the brochure writer had received perfect grades in his English classes in school and was therefore just as good at writing English as a native English speaker."

Long ago and far away I worked in the development team for a major graphic software product. We had just released a new English version, both US and International localizations, and were polishing the German version when one of our designers, who had previous graphics work experience in Germany, noticed that two of the CMYK colors had be translated into common color names. Magenta was translated to something similar to the English for lavender or purple in the text for print separations, while the German printing industry use "magenta". No amount of argument from the design and testing teams to make management correct the error as they felt their highly paid localization sub-contractor must be right. A few weeks later, after a very negative magazine review, they were having all copies pulled from the distribution chain and new CDs printed along with distributing a patch for those already sold. Good grades and high pay don't mean you understand the technical issues.

I have a Chinese born neighbor who graduated from Peking University [apparently the top Chinese university] with a degree in Spanish. She has complained about the difficulty in communicating with the Spanish speaking gardeners she hired. -??-

I recall a biography of Walker Evans that I read years ago (I can't remember the title or author) in which the famous portrait of Ellie Mae Burroughs was described as being made in the harsh glare of direct sunlight, or words to that effect. Even a cursory look shows it was likely made in open shade.

I blame the editor.
The writer probably wrote something like "he only had slides made, which more or less denied him access to galleries. and the editor removed the word only because some editors hate "only" and perhaps added "made" for readability.

My apartment in Brooklyn happens to be on the site of the of the battle of brooklyn https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Long_Island#Vechte-Cortelyou_House, the largest battle with 20,000 British and Hessian troups, and deadliest battle of the revolutionary war which is relatively unknown on account of the Americans loosing.
I once wrote about it and mentioned that it was the "first battle fought by the American army in the revolutionary war" (because it was the first battle after the declaration of independance ) and the editor changed that to the "first battle of the revolutionary war" and of course everyone thought I was an idiot. because everybody knows that the war started in Massachusetts.

As for fact checkers, a few years ago I made a comment here on TOP which turned into an international news story. The New York Times reporter interviewed me about it for a couple hours, and the fact checker talked to me for at least three more hours. The article got all the facts right but the chronology and causality were muddled. The word "before" should have been "after" for example which created some problems for me.

The thing is, fact checkers check facts. They don't read the text of the article and ask if it is true.

I'm told that it went from a full page to a 2/3 page at the last minute and it reads like that. The annoying thing is that a lot of writers treat the Times like a primary resource, so the errors propagate.

Carl Weese said
"The next paragraph has another whopper, where the writer attributes the ability to make beautiful modern prints from the old Kodachrome transparencies to computer technology (so far so good) in the form of high quality laser printing...erm, no. That would be photo-quality inkjet printing."

I respectively disagree.

Durst Lambda Jet and Océ LightJet printers are the kind of high quality laser printing they are talking about.
the Océ LightJet printer came out in 1995 and cost $195,000.00 for an 11x14 printer. Within two years there were LightJet printers in labs that could print up to 50x100 inches. Anytime you see a 50" print on Fuji crystal Archive, it probably came out of a LightJet.

Those ubiquitous Fuji Frontier minilabs that are produce lhe only C-prints that most people ever see are laser printers as well. All current C-print paper from Fuji and Kodak is primarily optimized for laser printing.

LightJet prints still have an edge in quality on inkjet prints.

And after a little googling I see that the photographer in question does indeed make "archival pigment prints"

Still, LightJet c-prints were for years the gold standard in the fine art world.

FWIW Edgar Praus in Rochester will process Kodachrome as B&W positives. http://www.4photolab.com

One of the early Fuji X100 firmware upgrades featured the new option of 'rocking' the command wheel, as they put it in the feature list. Puzzling. It rocked before the upgrade, and after of course. It was a very useful feature they added: you could now 'lock' the command wheel.

It seems neither you not the readers that wrote comment so far have thought of a major question arising from your text. It's been puzzling me for ages: You read about something you know well in a major newspaper or other respectable media and find out they get it all wrong. It gets me to wonder if that also happens when they report about something that I ignore. After all, if they get the matters about which I am knowledgeable wrong, why wouldn't they be mistaken about everything else?

[A fair point. Con: I can report something that every editor knows, which is the "gotcha" letter/comment which asserts the latter-writer's superiority by making just that claim...I know better than you on this one issue, so how can I trust anything else you say? Pro: years ago, just after I lived through my first Winter Carnival at Dartmouth, a dorm-mate was called by a TIME magazine writer. My classmate thought he was being pranked, so he fed the reporter some made-up information. That week, both TIME and NEWSWEEK had articles about Winter Carnival. The TIME article quoted my friend's lies, and the NEWSWEEK article was much better reported and more accurate based on personal experience. So I subscribed to NEWSWEEK ever after. That could just as easily have been a mistake--one article isn't probative, statistically--but at least it compared routine reporting to my direct experience. --Mike]

Printing Kodachrome, not printing Kodakchrome, yada, yada...I can tell you this:

Most all interneg material for making color negs from transparencies was balanced for Ektachrome, and the results from Kodachrome were pretty terrible. All labs had a secret filter pack they would use for Kodachrome internegs, but if the result was "good", it was barely good. There were, of course, Cibachrome proponents, but all I ever saw out of Kodachrome on Cibachrome, was marginal as well.

Until the advent of drum scanning and pigment printing: that was the first time I ever saw Kodachrome originals printed into huge prints that had that Kodachrome look and feel! Saw the depression era stuff at the Library of Congress and couldn't stop looking at it!

I guess that's why the statement was particularly funny for me: it's not just that Kodachrome was a transparency film, and this writer didn't understand the nature of it; it's that prints from Kodachrome at all back in the day were so lousy and non-standard, that no pro would have even made the mistake of shooting it even if they wanted to go interneg and get prints!

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