Friday, 23 September 2016


Ages ago I had a look at the Peleng 8mm fisheye lens, which comes from Belarus. On a full-frame camera the results are extraordinary, especially if you run the images through software; they become very wide and very tall. On an APS-C camera however the Peleng's effect is more modest, although still striking. Just for fun I carted one off to Sirmione at the southern end of Lake Garda. The lens was stuck on the front of a Fuji S5, with the results run through Photoshop to stretch them out. The results look a bit like Google Street View, but there are no streets.

There was a fad for former Eastern Bloc cameras and lenses at the end of the last century; the Peleng was one of the odder choices, along with the medium format Arsat lens and the half-frame Agat camera. 8mm fisheye lenses project a fully circular image on a full-frame camera, which is an effect that grows old very quickly; it was a lot of money to spend on something you would only use once or twice. Circular fisheyes make a bit more sense on an APS-C camera, and for that reason Samyang of Korea makes a modern, APS-C only 8mm fisheye.

The Fuji S5's extended dynamic range lends itself to fisheye imagery - it's impossible to use graduated darkening filters with a fisheye lens, so unless you want the sky to be blown-out you have to bracket and layer, which is a lot of fuss, or expose for the sky and bring up the shadows with Photoshop, which tends to introduce a lot of noise.

Why only a few images? As an experiment I'm blogging this while on holiday with an ancient ThinkPad X61, instead of waiting to get home. A laptop has a lot more storage space than a tablet and a much nicer keyboard. Seventeen years ago I would be hailed as a pioneering digital nomad, but a lot has changed in seventeen years and nowadays even foreigners and plebs have mobile phones and the internet etc. The novelty has gone.

What about Sirmione? The last time I was here there wasn't as much water, viz the images in this post. I could walk all around it. This time they've added more water and so I had to cut short my circumnavigation. I had an ice cream instead and read some of Robert Massie's Dreadnought whilst drinking. Massie's book is well-written but has masses of padding. It's great to have lots of context, but the chapters about Otto von Bismarck and Friedrich von Holstein are simply overlong - and even though Germany's most infamous warship was named after him, Bismarck himself couldn't give two hoots for Germany's navy, he was an army man.

Compare those chapters with for example the coverage of Lord Charles Beresford, who tussled with Jackie Fisher and was a leading man of the day but is nowadays forgotten. Beresford had no real influence on the course of Britain's Dreadnought programme - or any real influence on naval policy in general - and so the chapters devoted to him are padding as well, but they're shorter and feel much less stodgy. Furthermore the old-fashioned, militarily conservative Beresford's failure to knock out Fisher - a mere Sir - suggests that the Navy had, in the run-up to the Great War, finally succeeded in having itself managed along rational, scientific lines rather than the whims of a few powerful men. This might explain why the "lions led by donkeys" charge leveled at the army was never directed at the Royal Navy. Warships float on science and are made out of money; they are too expensive to entrust to whims.

Sirmione seems to be popular with disabled people - actual disabled people in wheelchairs, not overweight people in electric mobility scooters - which makes sense because it's mostly flat. It would however be difficult to visit by train, as the nearby train station at Desenzano is an awkward uphill walk. Another thing that is awkward is the structure of this post, which begins by talking about fisheye lenses and then turns into a mixture of travel advice, book review, and military philosophy, before ending with a curious paragraph about Sirmione's disabled facilities, followed by a wistful reminiscence of the late Elisabeth Brooks in The Howling - she was pretty - which I haven't written yet (come back later)

This pier was packed with gorgeous Italian women wearing very revealing swimwear (not pictured).