The Days of Film and Pixels

I’ve been a hobby photographer for at least 55 years. Forty of those years were with film and fifteen with digital and maybe 4 years of overlap. I have made images with paper backed roll film, 35mm slide and print film, various and sundry electronic sensors. I’ve used box cameras, rangefinders, single-lens reflex, compact digital with fixed zooms, bridge cameras, DSLRs, travel zooms. I have learned a great deal. And much of it doesn’t apply anymore.

So what conclusions can I draw from my days of film and pixels? Well…

  • I probably lived through the golden age of film. This would have been in the late 1990s and early part of the 21st century. I know many Kodachrome devotees would say the golden age was earlier, but they didn’t have the good equipment. In 2002 when I got my Nikon F80 system both Kodak and Fuji made great films in slide and print format. They were getting faster and had better dynamic range, And my consumer grade F80 featured easy film loading, auto-wind, automatic focus, program mode, and superb flash performance. It was compatible with a huge range of excellent optics. And the whole film industry would go pear-shaped within five years.
  • When I started with digital equipment it was not as good as film for vacation or serious photography, but it is now. In fact, it’s better. On a 2006 cruise holiday, I took along a film body, 4 lenses and 24 rolls of film. I had to carry this heavy pack everywhere off the ship, worry whether I had enough film with me. I had to sweat whether the X-ray machines at the airport would fog my film. Then I had to get prints and scans of all my 473 images when I came back. And I didn’t know until a week after that whether I had anything worthwhile. By 2018, I was carrying a Lumix travel zoom the size of a deck of cards. I had more range, more low light capability, optical stabilization and way more image capacity with no film to worry about. I backed up the photos every day on my laptop and enjoyed them on the spot.
  • The giants of film technology might become the dinosaurs of digital. 20 years ago most people buying a new camera system were choosing between Nikon and Canon. But the big boys stumbled. Canon dominates the professional DSLR market today and Nikon is well respected. But they both misjudged the mirrorless market – which is on track to take over from DSLRs. Sony and Panasonic are the major players here. Panasonic is also the leader in compact travel zoom cameras – another growth segment.
  • Are we now in the twilight of the digital camera golden age? Maybe. A lot of younger shooters don’t want a separate camera at all – the one in their smartphone takes perfectly adequate images for texts and posting on social media. In fact, the smartphone does it easier, faster and more reliably. The smartphone has sounded the death knell of the simpler, cheaper compact digital camera. On my last trip I was one of the few people walking ’round with any sort of camera – and mine was lightweight and designed for vacation photography. The folks with DSLR kits were nowhere to be found.
  • And what of my personal digital future? Well, my DSLR is small and lightweight enough for use on family occasions and short trips. I don’t see the need to change it for a mirrorless system. I have a decent enough compact travel zoom, although I probably could use one with a bit better and larger sensor. But if I don’t get one I can live with it. The biggest photographic change for me is my own improved optics thanks to cataract surgery. I can see so much better to take pics that any camera gives now much better results.

The days of film are over. The days of pixels carry on.

Rites of Passage

I’ve written about this before – how for 50 years Labor Day marked some rite of passage in my life. Whether it was going back to school or university myself, Maria returning to her teacher’s job, Sarah going back to elementary school, secondary school or university – Labor Day indicated that change was here once more.

Now it’s less of a milestone – although the grandchildren are ready to go back, that’s more of a parental than a grandpa issue.

Now Labor Day marks the time of cooler weather (hopefully) and less crowded venues. It’s time for memories such as the one above from Labor Day 1982. And the fact that it’s been 22 years (!) since we took Sarah up to Guelph for her freshman orientation.

This year Maria’s sister Patricia will not be returning to school – she’s retired, and soon will be on her way to a Hawaiian holiday. She’s still sending kids off to uni though – her youngest just enrolled at McMaster. Rites of passage.


I first met Tom Abraham 50 years ago when I worked as a summer student (lab assistant) in General Foods Research Cobourg. I had the privilege to work closely with him for five more years as my food technology career got underway. Tom had a vital role in the transformation of a rookie chemist into a decent food scientist. Maybe *the* vital role.

Tom made his reputation at GF with the development and maintenance of Canadian Orange Tang – a different (and better product) and package than the jar-based US Tang.

However, he had an equally vital role as leader of the GF Research Taste Panel and custodian of the lab’s flavor library. Tom was quick to see my talent as a taster, my interest in learning more, and my insight into how important that was for a food scientist. I was soon invited to be trained in the GF Flavor and Texture Profile Method. This technical way of tasting was originally developed by consultants Arthur D Little and refined and improved by the scientists at General Foods Laboratories in Tarrytown NY. Once trained and tested I was invited to join the Taste Panel. We did everything from profiling new products to evaluating the competition.

A major role we had was to evaluate new flavors proposed to us by the flavor companies serving our market. Tom had us evaluate these products blind and give a rating. The highest ranked samples were placed in the flavor library, so if I needed say a peach flavor I could choose from the best. Tom being Tom he occasionally put in a zinger to keep us on our toes – like Naringin replacers.

Tom was funny. He had a devastating sense of humor and took no prisoners when it came to ego or status. Most people in the lab ended up with a nickname which wasn’t always flattering – Kiwi, Polish, Animal, Part Time, John Eskritti, Willard, Hairlip (he had a mustache.) Tom himself was The King – he loved Elvis. I had a couple of nicknames myself. First I was The Meddler because I got into civic politics on behalf of the Cobourg library. Later on, when I started going out with Maria I became Luigi.

Tom was a devoted family man to his wife Laura and their three sons. Maria was always impressed by how handsome these young men were. One of my best memories was being invited for dinner at Laura and Tom’s new place just outside Cobourg and later watching one of the Canada-Russia Super Series hockey games. A quick Google Search shows that to be September 24, 1972.

Later on, when I worked in the flavor industry I called on Tom as a client and I was pleased to discover he had just as good a reputation for fairness and impartiality outside the company as he did inside it. We never used our friendship for any commercial advantage – always treated each other with respect and decency. My firm didn’t get all the business but I never felt that we were dealt with unfairly.

In the early 1990s we lost contact after General Foods was sold and they closed the Cobourg Research lab. The last time I talked in depth with Tom was after he accepted a position in Tarrytown. I understand his kids stayed in Canada and pursued professional careers here. Tom and Laura ended up in Florida after he retired.

It was a pleasure for me to discover Tom’s son Stephen on Facebook earlier this year and through him to reconnect with Laura. Her first message. “So nice to hear from you again Ray – or should I say Luigi.” Some things never changed with Tom.

Tom and Laura were in Canada recently to attend their son Scott’s wedding. They returned safely to Florida. So it was shocking and saddening to hear yesterday that Tom has passed away.

RIP my old friend. This is one colleague who will never forget you.



Wait..Wait..She’s Eight?

The second decade of the 21st Century belongs to Veronica, born this day in 2010. It’s as significant in her life as the 1950s were to her grandparents and the 1980s to her parents.

As the decade winds down, Veronica leaves behind her baby years and her baby teeth (#8 lost yesterday) and embarks on the journey to the fine young woman she is destined to be. In grandpa’s biased opinion she is already a wonderfully kind and sweet girl – always looking out for the welfare of an older brother and younger sister, and making sure life is right and just for all – well, as much as she can as an eight-year-old.

She is also the McLean family’s cat whisperer. She looks after a crusty old tuxedo kitty at home and through patience and kindness has earned the undying love and trust of an uber-cautious ginger tabby at our place. He misses her when she goes home after a visit.

This week marks the annual Veronica International Birthday Festival – which started last Saturday with a birthday party, had a family get-together yesterday and ends today with a trip to a water park. I suppose when you turn 8 you deserve no less.

Happy birthday sweet girl – and it is Grandpa’s hope that we can have our very special friendship for many years to come.


Thirteen Years On

The way we were. 13 years ago today we moved into our new home in Almonte. The day before we closed the door on our 26 years in Georgetown – in the rain, with a few tears. After an overnight stay in Peterborough, we arrived.

Here’s how things look now.

We have been here the second longest length of time we’ve lived anywhere – long enough to get another gas grill and a new roof. We’ve known family sadness and joy. Our grandkids were born and are growing up not too far away. We’ve grown old.

But all in all, we’ve loved it here. The town is beautiful and historic. The air is clear, the skies are dark and filled with stars at night. We are close enough to an airport (or two) if we want to fly away and not too far from the US border if we choose to visit there. Maria is close to her mother’s place in Kingston. I am close to my Eastern Ontario roots.

There’s not much in the way of suburbia here – if you get out of town, you have the leafy countryside to deal with in every direction. It still delights me to have to do this. There are times when I still cannot believe how lucky we are to have our sunset years in a place with real honest to God sunsets.

Thirteen years on – and still going. Sometimes you just have to be grateful for blessings received.


Get ‘Er Done

Of all the annoying things about home ownership, nothing is worse than water leaks. I suppose a leak in the basement outweighs a leaky roof but I don’t want either one.

This is the 4th new roof we’ve had to put on (counting a new one on a new house) and honestly we never even came close to the so-called lifespan of the shingles. The best we did was 17 years in our home in Georgetown. So much for warranty coverage.

So after close to 14 years, here we go again. The original roof on the new house was put on in the winter, some of the adhesive strips were never taken off the 3 tab shingles. So generally the adhesion was poor. We had shingles torn off on a windy day in 2011, and a couple of times after that we had a roofer come by to stick down flapping tabs. As well the venting was inadequate, so summer heat started to curl the shingles on the south side of the house.

I suppose we could have waited another year but would you want a leaking roof in February? I thought not.

So – on a couple of sunny days near the summer solstice – we started over with the help of Elite Home Exteriors. The first step was to strip off the old shingles.

All the waste went into this handy trailer.

A big delivery truck brought our new materials.

Everything went up to the roof with a crane attached to the truck. Pretty slick.

Starting at the back – off with the old, on with the new.

By the end of day one, the back was pretty well completed.

Still had the front to finish. No rain in the forecast, fortunately.

By the afternoon of day two, all was well. New underlayment, new flashing, new vents, new shingles. Hopefully, we’ll be good to go for a while. Thanks again to Andrew and his crew for a nice clean job.


Yesterday’s Treasure – Today’s Kitsch

Maria and I are not antique hounds but – like most early boomers – we have collected some family knick-knacks over our married life. We’ve had more than 45 years to do it, so it adds up.

Some of the things we’ve collected include:

  • “Good” china. We have Royal Worcester Evesham – a popular choice since the early 1960s. Our stuff is mostly the older design – not microwave safe and with a less modern shape for the cups. Royal Worcester is still available so maybe this should be considered just a collectible.
  • Silverware, or in our case the cheaper silverplate. We collected a set of Birks Regency flatware back in the 1970s. Birks does not sell this anymore so I guess it might qualify as an antique.
  • Hummell figurines we got for Sarah when she was a child.
  • Royal Doulton figurines. We have a few but never went overboard. We have a cabinet to make them cat proof.
  • Wall art from mostly Ontario-based artists like Trisha Romance and Walter Campbell.
  • A nice collection of Gibson teapots. Gibson was a major UK teapot manufacturer back in the day but have been out of business for 40 years. Does anybody use a teapot today?
  • Paragon cups and saucers. We have an eclectic set of these in various shapes and sizes ranging from the 1910s to the 1950s. Paragon is also long out of business and the records are gone. However, they always had a Royal Warrant so you can approximately date any piece. They make a nice addition to a tea party Sarah has every year for the kids in Veronica’s “Little Flower” group.

Add to this a few pieces of early 20th-century furniture and you have quite a stash of stuff I guess. In past generations, this would have added up to some valuable antiques at best or treasured family heirlooms at least. Not so much today though.

It seems that most Millennials and late Gen Xers do not appreciate or want the collectibles their parents and grandparents had at home. Many are late to leave the nest, have smaller spaces to furnish or prefer to go to Ikea or Crate and Barrel. For younger people, it is more about travel and flexibility than having stuff. I get this. If a Millennial collects things from the past, it might be an antique transistor radio or even an Atari video game. Horses for courses I suppose.

This lack of interest in collecting our past “stuff” has sure made a difference for antique dealers and estate managers though. Maria sees a lot of rather nice crockery and flatware just be given away to the thrift store. Bricks and mortar antique stores suffer from fewer customers and their prospective ones are buying on eBay.

I suppose you shouldn’t worry too much about what happens to your possessions in the long run. Maybe the key is to enjoy them and not just store them away. I have a few antique watches that belonged to my grandfathers, a historic family quilt, some other keepsakes from past generations – and I hope these continue to be family treasures.

If the rest ends up as kitsch in a thrift store – well at least we enjoyed collecting it, and maybe someone else will be able to use it. I am not optimistic though, and I’m glad I didn’t buy any of it as an investment.

Yesterday’s treasure, today’s kitsch. Hopefully, it’s not tomorrow’s trash. Rather depressing to grow old.


A Lifetime Ago

50 years ago – when Lyndon Johnson was President, Lester B. Pearson was Prime Minister, an unpopular war was raging in South East Asia, political assassinations rocked American society, riots broke out in Chicago and Detroit, LSD was the new miracle drug, the Boomers were going to change the world – I got my first real, interesting, relevant and good paying summer job in a small, serene southern Ontario town.

I had gotten lucky a few months before in having an interview with Keith Torrie – General Foods Lab Manager – at a Queen’s job recruiting fair. Now I was a lab assistant in GF Research for the summer. As usual, I needed the money to finish my degree, and this time I got paid better and didn’t have to shovel concrete for a change.

I worked with two food tech veterans and they taught me a lot – they had to. Edith was a veteran industrial home economist, and I learned food preparation and simple cookery from her. Elwood was in his late 50s, had graduated in the same discipline and from the same university as I hoped to do. He had developed Ovaltine back in the day and also was the expert at GF in Shake ‘n Bake – plus being the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet – totally unselfish and willing to share his knowledge. What a pair!

I did a lot of Elwood’s bench work – first on a dumb project to make Shake ‘n Bake for hot dogs – and then after I gained his trust Elwood had me do the pilot plant trials and full-scale introduction for Shake ‘n Bake Italian – something that is still around today. Pretty neat.

I was hooked. I came back as a graduate to work in the lab a year later, spent 35 years at it, still think it was the best career I could ever have had. A lifetime ago, a world away – but the memories, oh the memories!

Kit Lens

When I got my Nikon D5500 a few years ago I included a  kit in the purchase that gave me two VR lenses (18-55) and 55-200) for an excellent price (about $400 Canadian.) There are some reviewers on the Interweb that might fault me for my choice here; the so-called “kit” lenses get slagged for lower build quality and optics compared to the more expensive “prosumer” zooms Nikon makes for its DX model cameras.

I guess I am a bit of a non-critical photographer because if I can get a photo such as the one above with a $150 kit lens I am happy.

Here’s one with the 55-200 telephoto taken last year. I was satisfied with this one as well.

In 35 years, I have owned 3 Nikon SLR camera systems. My early 80s FE featured a “cheap” Nikon series E 50mm lens that served me well. My 2002 era F80 came with a low-end 28-80mm plastic Nikon zoom that took great photos.

Here’s an example of the 28-80 lens at work. It’s a scan from film, but you get the idea.

The D5500 is one of Nikon’s lightest and most compact DSLRs – I got it for that very reason. Even a camera that doesn’t get a lot of travel time should be lightweight as far as I am concerned.

Why would I buy a smaller lightweight camera body and then pair it up with a lens that is 3X as heavy and 4X as costly as the simple kit? It’s not as if the Nikkor kit lenses are real junk. They may be plasticky and less robust but hey..the optics are pretty good. Good enough for me at least.

Since then I’ve added a light and cheap Nikkor ultra wide angle (10-20mm) lens to my kit and I’m happy with all three. They are not great in low light (I need a flash there) but for general purposes, they do the job.

I’d be tempted to take this setup on car trips – but for air travel..Nah. A travel zoom that goes in my pocket is better than a body and three lens bag. At least it is at my age.

Mighty Mississippi

One of the best things about living is Almonte is the Mississippi River that flows through downtown. No, not that Mississippi – this one is the minor Canadian version.

A couple of weeks ago the river was roaring with the spring run-off. Now the upper falls are trickling as the new membrane weir from the small powerhouse holds back the flow for the generators.

Still quiet at the Barley Mow pub as well – but it’ll pick up later today as folks look for a cool spot to have a brew.

Water flows past the mini-dam at the Thoburn Mill and gleams in the morning sunlight.

The new small powerhouse will be busy churning out some megawatts for the A/C units in town.

Further down the river, things are pretty calm after the spring flood.

Up at the main falls, not much going on now as the big power plant sucks the river dry – but you can see what went on a couple of weeks ago.

Most of the river flow is headed down the penstocks to the turbines – the rest is just show business for the tourists.

Downtown it’s a quiet morning by the Naismith statue – the real busy season begins in July with all the festivals and antique shopping.

Things get a bit out of control with wide angle lens and some crazy angles in this perspective view of the old Victorian post office – now a trendy Italian restaurant.

Back at the river, I admired this 1930s bench which incorporates an old millstone with a sculpture by R. Tait McKenzie. I enjoyed my tour of Almonte’s riverscape and I hope you did as well.



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