Wednesday, December 30 2020

RRS Micro Ball(head)

My only ‘real’ tripod is the little Leica tabletop tripod. Not cheap, but consistently gets great reviews as one of the better table top tripods. The design has barely changed for decades, so one can pick it up relatively cheap used. I bought mine ten years ago, and as I also needed a small ballhead to level the camera, I also bought a little Novoflex ballhead. Leica makes one as well, but it’s also pricey1 and a bit larger. It’s supposed to be a great unit, but for reasons I have forgotten, I didn’t buy it.

Really Right Stuff BC-18 Micro Ballhead

Long story short, the little Novoflex ballhead gave up the ghost earlier in the year, so I had to get a replacement. After a bit of research, I got the Really Right Stuff BC-18 Micro Ball. Really Right Stuff (RRS) also makes a small panning ballhead, the BPC-16, but this page convinced me to go with the BC-18 instead.

This is a very brief review. This ballhead is great. The BC-18 is very easy to adjust and is very steady. Combined with my table top tripod, it’s still compact enough to fit in the front pocket of my smallish camera bag (Think Tank Photo Retrospective 5). Possibly one of the better photographic purchases I’ve made. I should note I’ve never owned a ‘real’ or full-sized ballhead.

Two caveats for its use:

  1. You need a quick release plate. For my digital M, I bought the RRS M10 modular plate with the handgrip. If you want a handgrip (or not), this is a good option. For film Ms, as RRS no longer makes plates for those, I am using the much cheaper Acratech 2048. The Sony is just getting a generic $10 plate from Amazon.
  2. Unlike the BPC-16, the BC-18 comes with a non-removable 1/4"-20 male stud on the bottom. The Leica tripod has the same. I bought a 0.7" inch tall female-female adapter to solve this problem. I am happy to report that this works great.

RRS also makes table top tripod that has the appropriate tapped hole for the BC-18. Someday I might pick it up; it’s probably pretty good as well.

  1. These are also available used for much cheaper as they have been made for decades as well. ↩︎

Sunday, December 27 2020

Zeiss C Sonnar 50mm ZM

About a year and a half ago, I finally broke down and purchased the Zeiss C Sonnar T* 1.5/50mm ZM. I don’t know why. I had been intrigued by it for years, but questioned how much I’d use it when I already had the wonderful Leica Summilux-M 50mm ASPH. I also have a classic Sonnar design in the Nippon Kogaku Nikkor-S 50/1.4 LTM lens, so why spend more money for a remake? Well, the Nikkor is an interesting lens, but the ergonomics of it are funny compared to modern lenses, it flares oddly, and it is decidedly soft wide open. It is a nice lens, but I moved on from it years ago.

Zeiss was running a promotion for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo missions, and given my current employer, how could I resist that? Furthermore, as I had been shooting Sony more than the Leica, the 50 ASPH was not getting used much, and the it appeared to me that the C Sonnar wasn’t too bad on the Sony (unlike the 50 ASPH). So I finally succumbed.

Note: I don’t shoot as much as I should, and when I do, apparently it’s all cats (forgive me).


The lens is good. Nice and compact, good hood, etc. Don’t really like the 1/3 fstop clicks on the aperture ring, but this is a ZM, so that’s what you get. If you’ve shot a ZM lens, nothing new or surprising here.

The most annoying thing about the lens is the 0.9m minimum focus distance. Not a problem 95% of the time, big problem 5% of the time. I’ve been shooting rangefinders for long enough that I’m okay with the normal 0.7m minimum. With a 50mm lens, I’m used to a certain tight framing with a 50mm, and I can’t quite get that with this lens. Of course, on the Sony, I’m spoiled with much short minimum focus distances, but I haven’t really internalized that yet.

murphy sleeping

Focus shift

Focus shift, the thing that scared me away from the lens, and that is a constant topic of discussion, isn’t that bad. It’s there for sure, but find out where your lens is calibrated (mine appears to be f/1.5) and you are good. f/2 isn’t too bad, but then you go off a little bit until f/4–f/5.6. Frankly, my conception of it isn’t fully formed yet because I have been shooting it a lot at f/1.5.

I must admit I’ve not developed any of the few shots on film I’ve taken with it, but I would be surprised if the shift would be that bad or noticeable on a film like Tri-X.

On the Sony, of course, there’s no issue with shift. The same is true if you are using liveview on a Leica.


I like the look of it. At f/1.5, the aberrations in the image give a very nice halo around certain elements right outside the focal plane. In the following photo, you can see the effect if you look closely at the cat whiskers (see the crop). It’s true that this likely wouldn’t be visible if the print or enlargement wasn’t big.

whiskers out of focus

I have been shooting it mostly at f/1.5, but between f/2.8 and f/4, the image cleans up quite a bit and is reasonably sharp. Not sharp sharp, but good enough. Get another lens if you need the resolution. For more candid-type photography, I think it is sharp enough. It is noticeably less sharp wide open than the Summilux ASPH, but nothing that is concerning. It’s also more contrasty wide open. I’m not sure if that is true across all examples of these two lenses, but my Summilux is less contrasty at f/1.4 and on par with the C Sonnar probably around f/2.

I think I’ve noticed it get a little squirrely on the edges on the Sony, possibly due to the different sensor–see the bush above the fence on the right hand side.

hatchet throwing - funny background


I like the lens a lot, and shoot with it more right now that the Summilux ASPH. If I were going on a trip, I’d probably take the Summilux for versatility, but I’d be fine with just this lens if it was my only 50mm. It’s all been said before because this lens has been around for quite some time, but a Planar or Summicron is the better all around lens, unless you know you want this one. Nowadays, I’d probably recommend one of the Voigtlander 50mm lenses as a good value proposition; the new 50/1.5 II looks great1, the prior Nokton Aspherical seems nice, and the upcoming APO is probably going to be fantastic.

How often does one get the chance to buy a classic design like the C Sonnar, with just enough improvements to make you not feel like you are using an antique, but not so much as to ruin the magic?

More photos from this lens can be found on flickr.

  1. It also looks a lot like the C Sonnar. I bet it is going to be a bit like a cleaned up C Sonnar: ‘better’ performance, less character. ↩︎

Tuesday, May 26 2020

macOS catalina and music

I have a lot of music that I’ve ripped myself. Not the massive collection that some people have, but reasonably well organized and tagged music going way back to the initial versions of iTunes1. Right now, I’m at about 1,300 albums and 17,000 songs. I’ve never really had any issues with iTunes, and while I’ve had to do a few workarounds over the years to get my music to where it needed to go, I’ve been perfectly happy with iTunes.

I delayed upgrading my old mac to Catalina because of the iTunes -> Music transition, and was worried I’d have some problems. I finally got a new mac and was forced to upgrade.

First things first, the upgrade went smooth using Migration Assistant, even though:

  • My iTunes library was ‘Tunespanned’ to an external hard drive.
  • I also use iTunes Match (but not the Apple Music streaming service).
  • I use a lot of command line utilities, including mutt for mail, installed from homebrew.
  • I didn’t bother to do anything specific with very ‘controlling’ apps like Adobe Photoshop and Mathematica. Their installers took care of everything.

Smooth sailing…

I started playing music with Music, and noticed my CPU usage was a bit high. No big deal, probably just sorting out some iCloud crap. But it never relented. Looking in Activity Monitor, Music was using quite a bit of CPU even while not playing, but so was AMPArtworkAgent. I learned snooping around online that AMPArtworkAgent is the Apple Music (Player?) Artwork process that matches album art. “OK,” I say to myself, “I’ve got a number of albums with no art, let it sort itself out like people online say to.” Well, it never did. I then fired up and noticed that there were repeated messages, 1000’s and 1000’s of them, all with the form of

AMPArtworkAgent	Failed to find the SourceInfo for UUID:931AD28D-7A8F-403E-A7B7-D860F6E53365 error:Error Domain=NSOSStatusErrorDomain Code=9068 "(null)"
AMPArtworkAgent	RequireAction failure: ("IsLockValid(lock)")

I noticed the UUIDs were repeated a lot. In fact, there were only 21 unique UUIDs across over 100,000 messages in 10 minutes. Maybe it’s just a few songs or albums that were fucked up, and if I could fix them, I’d fix my issues?

The temporary ‘fix’

In the meantime, I exported my library as an XML file, bought a copy of Swinsian, and had it import the XML library every startup. It’s not a bad app, and might serve some people very well. However, since I use iTunes Match (or whatever it is called) to sync my music to my phone, I really am tied to Apple Music for now. But Swinsian is a good app to keep around. Recommended if it fits your needs.

Attempts to remedy

I wasn’t able to find anything on the internet reporting on a similar situation. Apple’s discussion forums were useless. So I tried a couple of things (some by accident) with varying degrees of success.

  1. Created a new library (start up Music while holding down the option key). Added a few tracks (with ‘Sync Library’, ‘Copy files to Music Media folder’, and ‘Keep Music Media folder organized’ turned off, even though I usually have those turned on). Fixed the problem.
  2. Started up Music with my original library in Safe mode (hold done command-option while starting up Music). Fixed the problem, probably because it disables AMPArtworkAgent somehow.
  3. Manually added missing artwork to all the iTunes Match matched albums that did not have artwork already (according to a smart playlist). I figured the songs that had been uploaded to iTunes Match weren’t an issue. I don’t have artwork for some of them as it doesn’t exist, and if Apple can’t even find the album to match to, why would it be searching for art? Doesn’t mean that this wasn’t the problem, but… This did not fix the problem.
  4. Repeated #1 but added all of my music. Fixed the problem.

So where did that leave me? Hope to get to an iTunes/Music engineer on the phone to help me track down the issue? Or do #4 and lose my playlists (not a big deal) and ratings & play counts (big deal). I had a last thought that maybe if I exported my library as an XML file, made a new library, and reimported that XML file, maybe it would save ratings & play counts but still behave as if I imported all the songs from scratch? It was worth a try.


Well, it worked! To the one other person on the internet who is having the same problem, if you ever read this, just export your old library as an XML file, created a new library, and import the XML file.

I then re-enabled ‘Copy files to Music Media folder’ and ‘Keep Music Media folder organized’ with no issues, though the ‘Keep Music organized’ one did have to check every file, so it took a bit. Lastly, I re-enabled ‘Sync Library’ and waited for Cloud Music library to do it’s thing.

After a few hours, the results are good. Music is now usable, I don’t think I lost any songs, etc. Only two negative side effects that I’ve noticed so far:

  • My playlists were duplicated. So I had to delete the duplicates.
  • I lost the “Date Added” data, but I’m not overly concerned about this. Pointless metadata for me. I can always go back to the XML file if I need it as well. I’m not that torn up about this either, as for reasons lost in the mists of time, I’ve reimported most of my music at one time or another.

Very annoying that I had to do this at all Apple, but at least I’m up and running again.

  1. I have replaced many of my originally ripped MP3s, ripped at 192 kbps, with AAC files ripped at 256 kbps, and then finally ALAC files. I still have some of those original MP3s, and it looks like the earliest two files were ripped with SoundJam MP and SoundJam v2.1.1. Not sure if I ripped those or downloaded them in college. The earliest bulk rips I did were with iTunes v1.0, v1.1, and iTunes X v1.1.1. Then, at some point in 2002, I started mass ripping all of my CDs. As I said, many of those songs have been replaced with higher quality rips, but some still exist. ↩︎