Hello, New Friend!

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Betta cave 6-27-16

 

An impulse buy as old as Wal-Mart; sad-looking Betta splendens, sitting in a 16 oz. cup (if they’re lucky!).

Most of the time, the homes they end up going to aren’t much better, even if they’re slightly bigger. I know I’ve killed my fair share of them over the years, naively thinking that whatever conditions I could provide had to be infinitely better than that little stale cup. Oh, how wrong I was.

After a bit of fiddling with a 3-gallon jar with a home-made UG (undergravel) filter, which I scrapped due to being unhappy with the final size and accidentally ordering a plant that was much too big for it, I moved up to a proper 10-gallon, and a new DIY filter design.

Airstone Filter Diagram Betta Filter 6-25-16

Betta Tank 2 6-25-16

 

This time I did my research. The water is being kept around a toasty 80F, I have biological filtration without too much water flow, and a (slightly high but stable) PH of about 7.4.

While most of the plants are plastic, there are three varieties of Anubias barteri either planted or mounted in the tank, with plans for more low-light plants in the future.

All in all, he seems pretty happy so far, and I hope I can keep him that way. I think I’m winning over his affection by giving him mosquito larvae. He’s no longer scared of me, but rather, irritated that I bother showing up at all unless I have food. ;)

Betta flared 6-27-16

Ultimaxx/Bower 500mm/1000mm f.8 Telephoto Lens Review

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I bought this lens some time ago because I wanted a telephoto lens on a budget, since photography is something I do only for myself, and brings in no money, precluding me from spending exorbitant amounts on high-quality glass.

I found this for about $90 on Amazon, and it’s as basic as you can get. Now, I’m fairly comfortable using my camera in manual mode, so the lack of an autofocus wasn’t a deterrent.

Telephoto lens

 

The construction of the lens is pretty simple, and despite it’s price, seemingly well-made. As far as I can tell, it’s entirely metal; no plastic to be found. The main lens is 500mm, and comes with a simple 2x converter that’s supposed to push it to 1000mm. Despite the claims that it’s a fixed aperture, it does have a manual aperture ring that can go as small as f.32. With a lens this slow, though, you’d only get a decent shot if your subject was lit by a nearby supernova.

 

I originally got this for lunar photography, but since this lens (maybe just mine) wouldn’t actually focus at infinity, I couldn’t get the moon sharp enough to even attempt a photograph.

It’s also heavy, and obviously very long. On a tripod, it’s nearly impossible to focus properly, as the tiniest movement causes the scene to resemble the bridge of the Enterprise during a Klingon attack. The only way I found of getting a subject in focus was to brace the lens on something solid, like a deck-railing or tree-limb, much like you would a hunting rifle.

This lens is almost useless in anything but bright sunlight. The few evening / dusk shots I took were wiped out by noise, thanks to the high ISO I had to use to compensate for the rather small maximum aperture.

However, even in full sun, without the 2x converter (which makes the images even softer), the sharpest it gets isn’t that sharp at all.

Squirrel 2 6-10-16

Squirrel 1 6-10-16

 

With the 2x converter, it’s even worse:

Northern Flicker Male 6-11-16

Northern Flicker Mating Pair 6-11-16

 

Also, to switch between the two modes, you must unscrew the adapter ring (which one you get depends on your camera brand), screw on, or off, the 2x converter, then replace the adapter. If using a tripod, you will also need to adjust the position of the mount, since it doesn’t retain it’s alignment when switching between 500mm / 1000mm.

The focus ring itself is massive, more like an extension ring on a zoom lens, and turns rather smoothly. The aperture ring, on the other hand, has a tendency to stick and “clunk” into position.

Now, perhaps I just got a lemon. It’s hard to tell without a second, identical lens to compare to, but I guarantee I won’t be getting a second one to test that theory.

There are other budget telephoto lenses on the market, and who knows if they’re any better, but I’ll keep trying, because dropping three grand on a lens that will be used infrequently at best is simply out of the question.

Whatever your reasons for shopping for a cheap telephoto lens, stay away from the Bower, and look into other brands first, unless you want to test your luck and hope you get a better one than I did.

Custom Planter

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A couple weeks ago I decided to use my terrain-making knowledge (such as it is) to create a planter for the annual NASC (North American Sarracenia Conservancy) auction.

 

I began the usual way, this time using some high-density insulation foam I found at Lowes:

tree planter side B Tree planter side A tree planter top empty

 

I cut out the profiles with my hot-wire router table, and did the rest with a simple steak-knife, carving out the large details and pinning the layers (4 in all) in place with toothpicks.

 

Then I looked up some reference images on google and drew a bark pattern on the outside with a sharpie, before taking to it with a steak-knife again to get the finer detail:

tree planter bark 2 tree planter bark 1

 

At this point, I glued the layers together with PVA, cut out a base of 1/4″ plywood, glued on with liquid nails, and sealed the plywood and the hollows with brown silicone caulk. The white texture you see is simply spackle, which I used to fill in any huge gaps or seams left over from the rough carving.

tree planter silicone

 

Then I proceeded to apply the plaster shell, to which I added some PVA (approx. 1/4 the water content) and some paint to tint it so that it wasn’t bright white.

Base Side A Base Top Base Side B

 

After that had cured, it was onto the painting stage, again using my google reference image, to simulate tree-bark. Many layers of undercoats, washes, dry-brushing, and stippling later:

 

tree planter painted side A tree planter painted side B tree planter painted top front

 

At which point I sealed the whole thing with three coats of brush-on Minwax Polycrylic which, even though water-based, is water-proof once fully-cured.

Simple Terrain Build Part 0.5

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I know there was a huge gap between the last part and this one, largely due to an epic mistake on my part, concerning the texturing and detail. I wasn’t thinking ahead, and stupidly finalized my paint job before adding detail, which meant I had to go back and manually blend in the colors. Not an easy task when many of the colors were custom shades to begin with.

So…with a new, similar piece, I’m picking up about halfway through the first part, with the proper way to do things, haha.

Cut the foam, pour the plaster shell, blah, blah…

New Terrain plaster top New Terrain plaster end2

 

Now, after affixing the base, begin adding texture and detail, starting with the largest pieces first:

(If you’re interested to know how I made the tree, I followed this youtube tutorial by The Terrain Tutor. It’s my first try, so don’t string me up for it looking wonky.)

New Terrain tree base New Terrain tree base covered New terrain rockslide close wet New terrain edging wide angle

For large piles of debris and or slopes of sand and rock, the easiest method I’ve found for applying them is to put it down dry and let it pile up, slide, and flow naturally, then use a pipette to drip a mix of watered down PVA glue (Elmer’s white glue-all is what I used) in approximately a 1:3 ratio of glue / water.

The liquid will soak into the sand and rocks, all the way to the bottom, without disturbing the configuration too much. The end result resembles loose debris, but is actually a rock-hard, solid mass.

After the larger areas are the way you want them, move on to texturing the rest of the piece, typically the flatter areas. I used sand for the first layer, after brushing on a generous coating of PVA glue, and lightly sprinkled it. I left some areas free for either bare rock, or a second layer of finely sieved peat-moss, to simulate softer dirt.

New terrain ground texture close

New terrain first texture layer

 

Hopefully you can see why it might be a good idea to do all of this BEFORE you start painting, haha.

Ah well, this is a learning experience for me as well. Until next time, cheers.