All posts by Kevin Campbell

Farewell A380, we hardly knew you

I’ve flown across the Atlantic for decades in a variety of 747s, and occasionally a 777 or two, but mainly 747s. Thinking that they’d be retired sometime in the not too distant future, we’ve been looking for chances to ride upstairs whenever we could, while we still could.

On our most recent return trip from LHR to ORD we had our first chance to sample to A380, the Airbus Industries answer to the 747. We flew on the upper deck partly because the slightly lower seating density made me think it might be a little quieter.

The overall feel is of a 777 or similar, with no sense at all that’s there’s what amounts to another plane load of people underneath you. The fuselage is pudgy, bulging, and a little bloated looking, but inside it’s all very familiar. The first clue that things were different came on takeoff, which was as quiet, or quieter, as any commercial aircraft I can think of. There’s very little wind noise, and almost no engine noise, it’s almost eerie. Looking out the window across the wing, I suspect that the composite manufacture is responsible for some of this – there are no seams or rivets, gaps, or openings. I have the feeling that A.I. also invested heavily in sound insulation behind the trim panels, but however they achieved it, the level of quiet is impressive.

Our flight was uneventful, and our descent into O’Hare felt steep and fast – perhaps it was? Landing was buttery smooth, with none of the bone jarring drama that I’ve experienced more than once on a 747, including one occasion where the luggage bins flew open and oxygen masks fell from their cubby holes, so great was the impact.

The 747 will always be a more iconic aircraft, in part because it was so bold when introduced over 50 years ago, but as a passenger I’m inclined to take the A380 given the choice.

In praise of small airports

Thanksgiving 2018 – we travel to Tucson, AZ for a week of sunshine in the South West. Flying out of O’Hare is about what you’d expect the weekend before Thanksgiving – busy, mainly with recreational travelers. That means many, many more “service animals” than you’d see on a more typical business travel day.

Upon landing in Tucson the first impression of the airport is that it’s small – the taxi from landing to the gate is short. Upon deplaning the impression continues – is there simply no one else here on a Saturday afternoon? Everywhere seems deserted, the only cluster of activity being around the only operating baggage carousel.

Bags collected we start the walk to the car hire center, which is onsite within the airport grounds. Other than being clean, flat, and nicely decorated, the walk is reminiscent of Aberdeen. We’re quickly introduced to a Ocotillo growing in an outdoor space between the main terminal and the garage.

Hertz Gold customers bypass the (utterly empty) main rental hall and walk through to the parking area, and a dedicated kiosk. We’re the only customers visible anywhere and, as might be expected, we’re quickly walking to find the car, keys in hand. Complimentary bottles of water were welcome, thank you.

We load up the bags, install the GPS, find something not obnoxious on the radio, and prepare to hit the road. It takes a moment for it to sink in – there’s no exit procedure, we’re suddenly just driving on the public road – I can’t remember the last time that happened!

The return journey a week later was much the same, in reverse. Security was quick, uneventful, though the departures area was much busier than when we arrived. Our flight was delayed an hour by winter storms (elsewhere, needless to say) and so we had extra time to sit and read. While busy it wasn’t hectic, and felt relaxed by comparison with O’Hare, on almost any day.

Cause & effect in amateur photography

Glass plates and room sized cameras

In the early part of the 20th Century photographic chemistry was comparatively crude. Emulsions were not very light sensitive, meaning that large surface areas were required in order to expose enough of the material to light – more surface area captures more light. As a consequence photography was largely the province of the well heeled or portrait artists. Equipment was big, expensive, hand made and required lots of time to setup and operate. Look at photographs from the late 1890’s through to 1920 and you’ll see little that is spontaneous or casual; making a picture was an undertaking.

Faster film on a flexible base

A large film media requires a large image circle, which in turn results in a lens that’s sited further away from the film plane – and as a result the whole light box that is the camera must itself be large too. Various techniques were tried to combat this, most common being the bellows unit and folding or collapsing lens mechanism. Although invented in 1885, the flexible, transparent film as we knew it was not widely used until 1910 or so – this was another major step forward in democratizing access to photography, as now a separate, expensive, glass plate was not required for each image.


From the 1920’s to the 1940’s several things changed; film emulsions became more sensitive which lead to the ability to use smaller negatives, and manufacturing techniques scaled up thus reducing unit costs. Across every sphere of human industry manufacturing was automating, and every manner of manufactured item was becoming more economical and accessible.

The advent of 35mm and rangefinders

Everything changed profoundly when Kodak introduced the 135 film canister in 1934 – we’d come to know it as 35mm film. This addressed ease of handling by holding the film stock in a light tight canister, and promised many more exposures per roll, with easier loading, than had ever been possible with 120 roll film. This new, smaller film format opened the door to the rapid expansion of photography and cameras, starting with the rangefinder.

The first Leica rangefinders sold for around $4,500 in 2013 terms, a premium product then and now. By the late 30’s other compact rangefinders were entering the market – the Argus C3 sold for the equivalent of $350 and the Kodak 35RF for $780 (2013) in 1940 when it was introduced. Rangefinders were great for all manner of everyday photography, especially the recently emerged field of photojournalism, travel and family keepsakes. Over the next 20 years the photographic equipment market would blossom, and names from far flung corners of the world would become common place.

War and post-war

Images were captured during World War II that would have been much more challenging in the days of TLRs; a field reporter or infantryman could carry a compact 35mm camera almost anywhere. In the aftermath of their defeat the Japanese needed a way to boost their economy; they need something that required the minimum of raw materials, was cost effective to ship great distances and could then be sold for a premium price. Just as the Swiss before them with watches, for the Japanese manufacturers of the late 1940’s cameras were a boon. Several manufacturers had been producing specialized lenses for X-ray and other applications, and their first in-house cameras stared appearing in the late 1940s.

In a pattern that was to be repeated in several other fields, early Japanese models were heavily influenced by older designs from traditional names, such as Leitz.