Moana and Polynesian Culture

The film has not even been released yet and local commentators are complainingLoudly.

Moana and Maui, the primary characters of the film Moana, credit Disney Studios
Disney’s upcoming feature film Moana features a young Polynesian girl who seeks the help of the demi-god Maui. I have not seen the film, nor has anyone else without inside access to Disney. Yet editorials have already appeared in local papers, and the conversation is already rolling in social media. Like most others all I have seen is a two minute and thirty five second trailer.

I find it somewhat questionable that such accusations can be made without even seeing the film. Editorials written not on the content of the film, but on the author’s perceived version of it based on a two minute trailer. The film simply becomes a convenient vessel into which can be poured all of the author’s pre-conceived grievances. The accusation really have nothing to do with the film, but simply become a screed against whatever they want to rail against.

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Late in the evening when not ready for sleep, but too tired or relaxed for anything else… What to do? Often my answer is to browse through YouTube or Vimeo watching creative short videos. In these days of excellent video from every camera, powerful CGI and desktop editing software that anyone can afford and master, the limit on creativity in video is limitless, or at least limited only by one’s imagination and willingness to put in the substantial effort required to create the video. Thus creative short story videos abound… Many are just bad, a lot are fairly good, and a few a really quite good. The good ones? They not only feature good technical efforts and perhaps good acting, but ask troubling questions, things that make you think.

My favorite genre is usually science fiction. A good science fiction video (or book for that matter) asks uncomfortable questions about where our society is going, what are the implications of societal trends or technological innovations? How will our world change if current trends continue or some new technology disrupts the current order. Some simply critique current problems in an attempt to educate or change our society, the best look beyond to ask “What if?” You know that the video was good when you find yourself thinking about the video days later

One thing I do note is the abundance of post-apocalyptic videos. There are dozens upon dozens of them to be found, they seem to represent the majority of creative sci-fi shorts on YouTube. The causes of the apocalypse are varied and predictable… War, disease, famine or environmental collapse. Indeed the form of the apocalypse is often unimportant to the story. A ruined world, people struggling to survive with only fragments of technology, violence and brutality ruling the lives of the survivors. Often the message can be powerful in a well written and produced video. Sad stories set in the ruins of an almost recognizable world.

What I wonder about is the reason there are so many such videos? Is it that these videos are easy to produce and have such a wide range of possibilities to explore? The sets and costumes are easy, a ruined factory and a few wrecked automobiles often provide an easy backdrop for the action. Ragged clothing from a surplus store, well within the non-existent budget of an aspiring filmmaker or a film school project.

Or is it that there is a sense of pessimism that pervades today’s society, that when creative filmmakers look to the future they see only bleak possibilities?

It is this last thought that haunts me. So many look to the future and no longer see a limitless universe among the stars. Gone is the optimistic vision that formed the basis of shows like Star Trek or Lost in Space. I suspect that endless controversy and dire predictions over issues such as climate change, genetically modified organisms, and endless middle eastern wars has so taken root in our collective consciousness that it becomes very easy to imagine an apocalyptic future.

Vintage Glass

One of the advantages of a mirrorless camera, like the EOS-M, is the very shallow backfocus requirement. The distance from the lens mount to the sensor is quite small, allowing use of just about any series of lenses on the market. All that is needed is the correct adapter, a need that several specialty manufacturers have addressed with products. The result is that the camera is useful in a wide range of photographic experiments and projects.

EOS-M with Canon 24mm f/2.8 FD
The EOS-M with a Canon 24mm f/2.8 FD lens mounted
This includes older lenses from years past such as the Canon manual focus FD system from decades ago. Forgotten by most, these lenses have none of the modern features photographers have come to expect. No autofocus, no image stabilization, just solid optics from an age now past. These old lenses are not obsolete, there are creative uses still available for these classic lenses.

Any sort of zoom lens need not apply, the quality of the older zoom lenses often suffered. Designed without the aid of modern optical design software and without aspheric elements these designs fall short of modern standards.

You can find these classic lenses languishing on shelves in the back of camera stores, in garage sales and on eBay. There is a lot of junk out there, it takes some research to differentiate the good from the bad. A couple quick rules of thumb will sort out most of the junk… Stick to a first rank name in old camera gear; Canon, Nikon, Ziess, Hasselblad, and Leica. The next hint of a hidden gem is the focal ratio. The classic primes were fast, f/2.8 or faster. Still, it is wise to look up the history of the lens before plunking down any cash. The good lenses will be well written about, even in modern times. You will find good references with a quick web search.

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Traveling through Switzerland

One of the first binders of slides I grabbed for digitizing happened to be a trip through Switzerland that I took in 1987 with my family.

I was living in England at the time with the USAF. My parents and brother joined me there. We then crossed the channel from Dover to Calais, changed trains in Paris, taking a high speed train to Lausanne. From there my brother and I bounced around with some Swiss bus and rail passes until we rejoined my parents in Zermatt.

It was a memorable trip, there is so much I can remember from thirty five years ago. Going through these old slides certainly brought back memories!

Slides to Digital Photos

The problem is several thousand color slides stored in containers in a closet. These slides range in date from my earliest forays into photography as a teenager, through years of living in Europe on active duty with the US Air Force, to many years of traveling the desert southwest with a camera. I have carried a camera for my entire adult life, as a result there is a photographic treasure in my old photos.

Slide film awaiting digitizing
Everything taken in the last thirteen years is digital, a record of my life and travels that is very precious to me. Before that the photos seem locked away and inaccessible, as if my life did not exist before 2002, when I bought my first digital camera. I have found my digital photo collection enormously useful, it is indexed, key-worded and instantly accessible. While locating a slide for use is a major effort, find the right box, the right binder, then I have to scan it for use in digital media. Or even remember that the photo exists!

The digital archive is also quite easy to duplicate for safekeeping. A two terabyte hard drive can hold the entire collection. A couple hours to copy and every image is safely stored, preferably at a remote location in case of disaster. There are several copies, one in my office at work, another at my parents house in Portland.

These arguments are obvious, the collection needs to be digitized, but the effort of scanning those slides is enormous. I really need a way to perform this task with a minimum of effort and cost. I have started this project several times over the years, only to be discouraged by the effort needed and quality issues.


Many authoritative sources recommend scanning as the method of conversion and various scanners are recommended, usually the Nikon CoolScan or Plustek units.

Why do so many recommend scanning as the preferred method of digitizing slides? Certainly professional photo lab scanners are the best possible method, offering resolution far in excess of any scanner generally available at any reasonable cost. I suspect that one factor is decisive… Until the latest generations of digital cameras the resolutions of scanners were far higher than cameras could offer. the linear CCD’s used in scanners offered very high resolutions at a very affordable price point.

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Scanning Slides

There are thousands of slides in these boxes.

A wall in Union, Oregon covered with old painted advertisements
Learning photography, shooting my father’s Canon AE-1 around Oregon. Three years of shooting across England and Europe. Wandering the deserts of Arizona and Utah with a camera. A visual history of much of my life trapped in small bits of celluloid and silver.

The old slide scanner has been out of commission for years, a victim of changing technology. The old SCSI interface is not supported on modern computers. I have often considered replacing it, but for whatever reason the idea has been delayed until now.

One of the better slide scanners available is the Plustek 7600i. I stumbled across a listing for rebuilt units on eBay, direct from the manufacturer. $245 with shipping was a great deal, one I could not resist.

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Shooting Film Again

Photography was not always a process of pixels, megabytes, SD cards and Photoshop. Once it was chemicals, paper, darkrooms and something called film. I learned to shoot in another age, when every shot counted, there were only 24 or 36 frames available. When it was a week or at least a few days before you knew if the shot worked.

Marble Grotto
The stream flowing into marble Grotto makes a tempting target for a medium format film camera, photo by Randy Zelick
I still have a few relics of those days, cameras kept for the memories they carry. Traveling through Europe or the Desert Southwest, capturing images on celluloid and silver. Several experiences over the last couple months have served to remind me of those days… Walking into a camera store in Portland, a store that is as much a museum to the era of film, shelves filled with beautiful machines from the past. Watching Randy load roll film into a classic Pentax 6×7 on a glacier in Alaska, hearing the soft click of that mechanical masterpiece. Reading blog posts from a friend on Oahu about his adventures in film.

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Shooting Film

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that one of my fellow voyagers our annual boat trip was an avid photographer. The wilds of Alaska are simply candy for a camera, spectacular photos can be seen in every direction waiting to be captured. As usual I was ready for photographic effort, with no less than four cameras along, not counting the cameras in my phone and iPad. The Canon 60D, EOS-M, a Canon G12 and a GoPro 2 HD comprised a nice array of capability. I was looking forward to the conversations and maybe a chance to learn a little from another photographer.

There was a surprise when I saw the photo gear Randy was unpacking, it looked a little odd.

Randy was shooting… Umm… How do I put this delicately… Randy was shooting film.

Yes, remember that stuff that came in rolls. For those who might not remember, this is how we took photos before digital sensors, megapixels and SD cards became the language of photography.

Randy Zelick
Randy timing an exposure with a medium format Pentax 6×7 camera.
Randy does it in style, a beautiful old Pentax 6×7 medium format SLR camera.

The setup is not compact, a bulky camera requiring a full backpack to carry with the camera, lenses and light meter. It is around fifteen pounds of gear, quite a contrast to the two or three pounds the EOS-M I used for most of my shooting.

The medium format camera presents difficulties on the boat. Taking long exposures is impossible from a moving and rolling platform. Still, he managed some nice shots when the water was calm, as it was when we visited walls of ice in Glacier Bay. Finding solid ground for the tripod required breaking out the launch and going ashore. We created a couple of great opportunities, landing on algae covered rock, we slip and slide to a place where the beauty of Marble Grotto is fully exposed. Another slippery landing, this time caused by glacial mud, allows us to explore the face of Reid Glacier with cameras and tripods at hand.

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Contact at the Kahilu this Sunday

Date: Sunday, March 17
Showtime: 7:00 pm, Free and Open to the Public
Location: Kahilu Theatre

Join us for a wonderful screening of this classic film hosted by Artist Jon Lomberg who will share about how he and Carl Sagan collaborated for 25 years on projects including COSMOS, the Voyager Golden Record, and the film Conact, in production at the time of Sagan’s death in 1996. Lomberg is also developer of the Big Island’s Galaxy Garden.

Beer and wine available for sale at event. Not just any beer either, but Big Island Brewhaus brews!

Contact starring Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey