Photographing models part 1. Cameras and settings

This post will be somewhat long, but hopefully useful. I’m trying to cover a lot of things from equipment to settings; I do hope it will be clear and easy to understand regardless. I try to mention the basics and provide links for further reading; this series is meant to be an introduction to key concepts rather than a comprehensive tutorial.

As a disclaimer: this is how it should be done; it does not necessarily mean my own photos are the epitomes of perfection.

Photographing models is essentially studio macro photography. You can do it cheap, even with a reasonably good phone camera, or you can go the whole nine yards, and use a DSLR with a dedicated macro lens -or choose an option in between.

Macro photography is is an incredibly interesting branch of photography, and not just when it comes to plastic. It is essentially the photography of small objects. (Shameless self promotion: I run a blog on macro photos, too.)

Painting and photographing models

There’s also a related issue to mention which is less technical, more philosophical. The camera sees things differently when it comes to macro photography. Tiny irregularities, mistakes stand out incredibly well on a photo- simply because the camera’s point of view is much closer to the model than you eyes’. While you look at the model as if you were looking at it from a distance (one reason for factoring in the scale effect when painting the model), the camera “looks” at it as if you were standing right next to it. The level of detail, the weathering, everything will look different. This can be used to your advantage: you can take photos of the model during the build and check for problems; issues with seams, uneven brushstrokes, etc.. Things that you hardly notice when you look at the model, will stand out like a sore thumb.

It also affects how much weathering you want to do. There’s always a question of how much is too much, but apart from personal taste, it’s worth keeping in mind that your model will look different on a photo than in real life thanks to the above mentioned effect. To put it strongly you can either build for the camera or for the eye. The camera essentially brings the observer close to the model- therefore subtle weathering, which is hardly noticeable when looking at the model with the naked eye, will stand out more, and weathering that you thought looked great and natural on the model when you looked at it, will look over-done.

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(My Churchill Gun Carrier is a good example of it. It does not look anything special with the naked eye; just a green piece of resin. When you look at the photos, it looks pleasingly weathered and dusty. The effects are subtle, but visible.)

Cameras

There are several options to capture the light coming from your model. You can use film cameras (not suggested, but certainly possible), or you can choose from the wide range of digital cameras. In some respect it does not really matter which one you choose (within a range, of course); but it’s important to be aware that DPI does not really matter when choosing an option. Same with megapixels (which is the common unit for smartphone/DSLR resolution). There is more to a camera than just the resolution: the sensor and the optics are the two fundamental things that will determine the quality of the photos.

Smart phone cameras

Smartphones caused a revolution in photography; now everyone and their aunt are taking photos like mad. Newer models of phones are equipped with cameras of remarkable quality; for photos destined to be published on the web these cameras might be just enough. Keep in mind, though: a 12 megapixel phone camera is not going to take better photos than a 9 megapixel DSLR; just the opposite. A phone camera’s sensor is fraction of the size of a decent DSLR’s; the optics is also going to be severely limited by the very small optical parts. A DSLR will have larger sensor, better optics; it will always come out with better quality photos. Same with compact and bridge cameras: optics and sensor size matters. A lot. As I said, for web-only publication it might not matter that much, but the difference is always going to be visible. Sometimes when I can’t be bothered to set everything up, I snap in-progress photos using my phone, but it is a less-than-perfect solution, and it’s quite obvious which photos were taken with my phone and which were taken by the DSLR I use. (If I had space to have a permanent photo corner, I would not be tempted to use the smartphone at all.)

Compact cameras/Bridge cameras

These cameras are perfectly capable of taking good quality photos of models. The sensors are smaller than the DSLR sensors, the optics are usually not that good quality as a £1000+ Nikkor lens’, but the question is: do you really need that good of a lens for this job? (You might, but most of us do not.) For the laymen (meaning: us) these cameras will be perfectly suitable. You can set the most important things yourself: iso/shutter speed/aperture/white balance, and they can shoot RAW. They also normally have a dedicated macro setting (which really is just an aperture/shutter speed setting that was deemed to be “optimal” for macro), and can do most of the jobs you need.

“Real macro” -meaning 1:1 image production- might be out of their league, but you rarely need that large magnification. Bridge cameras (and some compacts) can mount front lenses, which can bring you to this realm, though.

Mirrorless/DSLR

Well, these are the “serious” cameras. Expensive, interchangeable lenses, large sensors. There are different classes within the DSLR world, of course: medium format, full-frame, APS, etc. based on the sensor size. If you decide to invest in a DSLR, you probably should read up on these; for our purposes it’s enough to say that the smaller sensor DSLRs -like the Nikon D3300 I use-, are cheaper and smaller, and are perfectly enough for our purposes. (Not to mention the lenses are cheaper, too.) If you have limited resources it’s better to spend on the objectives than on the camera body. If the glass is good quality it does not matter much if the photo was taken using a D3300 or a D5.

The real advantage of a DSLR is the high quality and the flexibility; you have a lot of options to produce macro photos. (Not all of them are expensive.)

Mirrorless cameras are essentially the same category as the DSLRs. Large, high quality sensors, interchangeable lens, amazing quality. They are smaller and lighter (no bulky prisms and whatnot), but they are considerably more expensive, and you don’t have as wide range of lenses available for them as for the DSLRs.

(Tip for choosing cameras: Pentax cameras in general are very much compatible to all K-mount lenses produced from 1975 onwards… this opens up a very cheap source of high quality glass; the only downside is that most if it will only work in manual mode.)

Camera settings

These settings can be changed in most cameras -even in some of the smartphone models.

Aperture/shutter speed/ISO

exposure

This is the trinity of macro photography (or any photography, really, but they are especially important when it comes to macro). If you want to delve into macro photography, learn the phrase: depth of field. You want as much of it as possible; but the larger your magnification, the smaller it gets… so you need to tweak your photos a bit. (This issue of inverse relationship between magnification and depth of field is exaggerated  even more with microscopy, by the way.) You will need to juggle with the amount of light you have (with closeups it’s smaller than normal), and the the depth of field.

Aperture is simply put the opening between the lens and the sensor. (It works precisely like the pupils in your eyes.) Its size can be adjusted, and this is how you control how much light should hit the sensor. This, obviously, have ramifications: allow too much light in and your photo will be overexposed. Allow too little, and it will be underexposed. It also effects, as we discussed, the depth of field. It goes from a large number (small aperture) to a small (large aperture).

aperture-trio

Shutter speed: as the name implies, it is the amount of time the sensor is exposed to the light. If the aperture is large, the speed will be high, since you need to expose the sensor for a shorter amount of time with more light, and vica versa. If it is too low, you will need something to hold the camera stable- a tripod, ideally.

Playing around with these two settings you can achieve different effects: choosing a large aperture and fast shutter speed allows you to “freeze” motion (for example droplets of a water fountain, the cliche of photography students), or you can make it look “smooth” if you choose a small aperture and longer exposure.

ISO: describes the sensitivity of the sensor. In the film era, you chose films with certain ISOs for certain tasks: ISO100 was perfect for outdoor photos, 200 was normally chosen for darker, indoor photos. With digital cameras you can choose the value at any time. The low ISO setting will give you nice, crisp photos, for the price of lower sensitivity. Higher ISOs give you more sensitivity, but the photos will be grainier, noisier.

Depth of field

If the aperture is wide (small number), the depth of field will be small, but you allow a lot of light to the sensor (and use faster shutter speeds and lower ISO); conversely, if you set the aperture small (large number), you maximise the depth of field -but this means you decrease the amount of light hitting the sensor, so you need to increase the shutter speed, and the ISO (sensitivity) of the sensor. The more you decrease the shutter speed, the more stable you need the camera to be (tripod with a timer is necessary), and the more you increase the ISO, the more noise you introduce to your photos, and they will look grainy… so it’s a balancing act. You want to hit the ideal combination of these three factors. There are good calculators available which can help you choosing the right settings. Normally shooting at aperture f/10-11 in aperture priority mode solves most of the problems, but this is not an absolute rule. At large magnifications apertures f/22 can be used when necessary to increase the depth of field -but this will increase the shutter speed dramatically. (Aperture priority mode means you set the aperture manually, and the camera chooses the shutter speed.) ISO should not go over 400 because the photos become visibly noisy (grainy).

White balance

Most light sources will modify the color of the object they illuminate, unless you are using special studio lights. (Please see this article for a very good explanation.) Incandescent, neon, LED, etc lights all have their own temperatures, that is to say, colors (just think of the sodium lights on the streets; they stain everything yellow; this -to a lesser extent- is true for most other light sources).

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Normally your brain corrects for this, and you will see colors similarly under different sources of illumination regardless of the light source’s color temperature, but these differences will show up on your photos, so you must account for them. The best is to get a “natural light” bulb for your light-source. (If you paint in the evening it’s a good idea to use it in your desk light as well.) The other thing you can do is to set your camera’s white balance.

Most digital cameras you can set the white balance to automatic, which works OK in most cases. If there is some funkiness going on with the colors, you can use a white sheet to set the camera to your own lighting conditions. Your camera will adjust the photos it takes based on the white color you “show” it. (It’s quite important to set it properly in order to reproduce the colors faithfully.) If you shoot in RAW (that is you save your photos in RAW format), you can adjust the white balance later in an appropriate software (Photoshop, for example); however it takes time, so it’s better just to take the photo right.

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1/72 AMX-40 by OKB Grigorov

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This is one of those tanks that definitely has a lot of personality. From absolute obscurity it was launched into the general consciousness* by the online game World of Tanks, which features it as a tier IV light tank. It has a certain notoriety as it is certainly one of the worst tanks in the game, but despite of this it became somewhat of a legend (or a cult, rather) simply due to its quite unique looks. It’s a sort of hipster tank, just like the Churchill Gun Carrier. The WoT community has created several amusing memes around it, and it has its own nickname: “The Duck”. Right now the only mod I run with the game is the “rubber duck” custom paintjob. (See below)

*Well, more accurately, into the general consciousness of a certain gaming community…

The unique look of the tank is the result of its designers taking the idea of sloped armour to its limits. The plans were drawn up in 1940 as a replacement option for the S35 and S40 cavalry tanks, but due to the German invasion these plans did not materialise; no prototypes were ever built. (To be fair it would have probably performed just as bad in real life against panzer IIIs and IVs as it does in-game.) The only contemporary image of this strange-looking tank available online is a drawing. The tank did inspire a lot of online creativity, thought…

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I have been toying around with Blender trying to make a printable model of this tank, but so far my efforts are less than satisfactory. (I’m not giving up, though; if I succeed I will paint it in the Rubber Duck scheme.) Needless to say when I saw that OKB is producing a version of this vehicle I ordered one at once. I quite like this feedback of computer games into the scale model industry; a lot of newer releases (KV-4, AT2, etc.) were clearly inspired by the weirder prototypes, paper panzers popularized by WoT.

The kit comes in a typical OKB box, the parts placed into ziplock bags. The instructions are computer generated and quite simple, but this is a simple model after all. Once you finish the suspension/running gear (I have no idea if they are accurate), you’re essentially finished. It comes with two PE parts, and two transparent resin pieces for the headlights. It lacks the back-mounted machine gun that was planned (that up-pointing gun mounted behind the turret). Other than that it looks very similar to the blueprint, but distinctly different from its in-game representation. (Which is a shame, because the WoT turret with its secondary machine gun turret looks much better in my opinion. It’s absolutely fictional, but looks trump historical accuracy. Well, this is what Blender is for, I guess.)

The model went together without a hitch. The suspension arms fit well, the wheels went on nicely, and the tracks were a breeze to install; that was pretty much the extent of the build, really. Apart from this I had to glue the turret and the gun in place, install the headlights, and add the side-skirts. The building process took about an hour. The only tricky part was to fix the side-skirts onto the curved profile of the tank.

The painting was also pretty easy: I primed the model with the side-skirts off with Vallejo’s German Grey primer, and applied AK’s Chipping Fluid. Once dry, I mixed up the (fictional) blue-gray color from WoT using Tamiya paints, and misted it over the model in several layers. This was followed by some moderate chipping using a wet, stiff brush.

When the model was dry, I used some oil-paint based filters (light brown, blue) to modulate the base color somewhat, and sealed everything with gloss varnish.

Unfortunately there are no decals provided with the model.

After weeks of consideration I decided to test out printing waterslide decals using an inkjet printer. The results were not satisfactory (I used transparent decal paper instead of white, and the colors are very faint), but life is about learning, right? If you want to have faded markings, print decals -that’s my conclusion. The other -bigger problem- is the thickness of the decals; they are just not going onto the surface very well, you can see silvering despite of soaking the whole model in decal softeners, and in general, just being crappy decals. Conclusion? Buy an aftermarket set next time…

The headlights were painted using a chrome pen.

I added the decals, sealed them, and painted on some more scratches and chips. Using Tamiya’s makeup set I added some dust on the lower part of the chassis; and this concludes the painting and weathering phase; the Duck is ready.

Overall the model is nice: well designed, easy to assemble, and unique-looking. The price is moderately high, but affordable; it’s great as a weekend project (or for the true fans of Le’Duck).

MiniArt’s T-60 light tank part 2. -finishing up

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Part 1

I painted and weathered the interior, closed in the hull, and moved onto the turret. As I mentioned I made a bit of an embarrassing mistake with the guns… Otherwise the interior went together fine. What I found, however, is that the assembly of the main gun is somewhat unwieldy. It’s made up of two parts (barrel and the interior part) which are glued to the holding part under the gunshield. Since they are not directly connected it’s very important to make sure they form a straight line. The gun barrel is bored out, which is quite impressive, really. The turret has a pistol port; the metal plug, however has no PE chain that would hold it. It’s somewhat disappointing, but easily remedied if needed.

 

The track assembly is relatively simple; fortunately the links are not very small. The assembly goes as usual with individual tracks: glue them together with liquid glue, wait 20-30 minutes and gently shape them onto the running gear. (Best work in sections as the links do not hold onto each other very well.) It would be really nice if MiniArt provided a jig to form a realistic sag between the return rollers.

 

Painting was easy. I glued the turret in place; I did not want to risk damaging the seat.

The first layer was the Vallejo primer base; I cannot recommend enough this primer. While it’s possible to get away not using any primer, it still provides a better surface for the paint to hold on; and in case of Vallejo, you don’t have to dilute the paint before spraying, so it’s easy to use.

I’ve used a really lightened version of OD green by Tamiya as the base color; this went on in several thin layers. The mud on the sides was applied in a very unorthodox manner. Way before painting I was applying mud to my T-55; I simply applied the leftover mixture of pigments, Mig Ammo neutral wash, plaster and static grass on the sides/bottom of the hull. It was an impulsive decision; I did not want to throw out the leftovers. It was not an unprecedented one, however; I’ve seen mud being pre-applied before painting before (or rather, mud texture, which was then painted in earth colors later on).

I avoided these areas with the primer, and only fogged the green slightly onto it; this actually resulted in a pretty neat muddy effect.

 

 

 

Reviewing the photos I just relized I forgot to add the handle for the commander’s hatch on the turret.

Anyhow, once the green color was on, it did look a bit light and bright; nothing a couple of dark filters did not remedy. I was hoping I would get the right color by the end; I’m actually pleased with the results.

The circular access hatches on the engine deck and other protruding details were painted with light green oil paint straight from the tube; it creates a nice contrast, and once the paint dries (a week…) it can be toned down a bit with filters.

The exhaust port was first painted in the primer color (German grey), then additional layers of different rust colored pigments were added using white spirit. The contrast between lighter and darker colors was toned down with a dark brown wash at the end. The exhaust fumes were simulated using “soot” from Tamiya’s makeup-set.

When I was happy with the final color, I added the decals onto a gloss varnish base, then sealed them with flat varnish.

The next steps were adding tonal variation. I’ve used the dot-method first (brown, yellow, white and green oil paints), then different streaking products from the AK Interactive range.

Finally some dust and rust colors were used from the Tamiya makeup range to blend everything together.

I’ve mixed some light, dust colored pigments with white spirit, and applied little patches onto the horizontal surfaces. Using a clean, wet brush I spread these out and removed the excess to create a little, uneven layer of dust.

I’ve used AK’s oil stains diluted with white spirit on the fuel cap. First I made a more diluted mixture, and applied a couple of larger spills, then using a less diluted mixture I added smaller ones; this gives the impression of several instances of spilled fuel around the cap. (The larger ones obviously being older, and more spread out.)

Finally the tracks and the edges of the tank were treated with a silver pencil to give a little metallic shine to the model.

 

 

I’ve mounted the T-60 next to her bigger cousin the SU-76. I think the next (and final step) in the painting phase will be the application of subtle paint chips to both tanks later on. To be honest the one reason I bought the Su-76 was the cover art: I liked how the original Russian color showed through the German camo around the driver’s hatch…

 

 

 

MiniArt’s T-60 light tank part 1. – The Interior

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The T-60 was born as the replacement of the outdated T-38 series of light tanks. It was designed to be easy and cheap to produce in large numbers, and to be simple to use. The idea was to build up a large number of light tanks armed with a 20mm autocannon which would support the infantry on the battlefield as a sort of cavalry. They were definitely not designed to fight other tanks or serious fortifications; they were supposed to scout, and fight infantry (and perhaps lightly armored vehicles) with their main armament. The production started in 1941 and went into 1942 with about 7000 tanks built; they served until the end of the war. (It was the third most produced armored vehicle in the Soviet Union after the T-34 and Su-76

The tank featured sloped armor, and a two-man crew. The driver was sitting in the hull, and a commander/loader/gunner was in the one-man turret behind the driver. There was no radio provided for the crew. The tank was powered by a GAZ-202 6-cylinder engine which had 76 hp, and allowed the tank to achieve a whopping 27mph top speed. The range was about 270 miles. The main armament was a 20mm TNSh cannon, which was later in the war was upgraded to a 37mm ZIS-19 gun. This upgrade was not pursued since the ammunition for the gun was in a short supply. A later upgrade to the 45mm ZIS-19 tank gun necessitated the complete redesign of the turret; this project was abandoned when the T-70 project was approved as the replacement of the T-60. As an additional claim of fame, this tank was used in the famous flying tank project- attaching glider wings to the vehicle to make it airborne.

The Germans captured and quite a lot of these tanks, but I could not find any information on what they thought of the vehicle. (They mostly used it as a towing tractor/ammo carrier, so this might indicate something.) Tanks captured by the Romanian armed forces were rebuilt into the TACAM T-60 tank destroyer. 

The operational history of the T-60 was not very illustrious but it was crucial in the early days of Barbarossa when the Soviets needed tanks to hold back the German advancement while their industry was relocated further East. It was certainly reliable and could handle difficult terrain well; it was also available in large numbers -something that really counted when other, more superior weapon systems were not yet ready in large numbers. As a stop-gap solution it worked, but it was certainly not a good tank.

One of the reasons I like models with interiors is that you get an idea of what was it like for the crew to work and fight in these vehicles, and in this respect MiniArt’s offering is a very eye-opening one. I have to say based on what I’ve seen of the T-60 during the build of this model, it must have been a singularly unpleasant vehicle to be in. It was tight, cramped, and the engine was in the same compartment as the crew. The driver had a large, hot engine with rotating shafts, fuel and oil pipes all over right next to him, and the position of controls were also pretty un-ergonomical, placed as they were literally behind him. If the turret was facing forward his hatch was obstructed by the gun so leaving quickly was not much of an option, either… All this in a tank that had an armor that could be penetrated with a relatively stern look.

This tank must have been extremely dangerous to operate even in peacetime, but having people shooting at you as well will transform the picture from grim to hellish. All in all, I do not envy the people who had to fight in tanks -any tank, really- during the war, but these little vehicles must have been especially horrid. The Panzer II, it’s most comparable German counterpart, was positively luxurious compared to the T-60 -and it also had a radio.

 

The model is your typical Full Interior MiniArt kit. It has relatively few parts.

Normally MiniArt instructions are very easy to follow; this case I had some issues with them. For one, sometimes you have no idea how the finished article should look like (case to the point: the horn (?) assembly on the frontal glacis. For that particular part you will need to check the painting guide or historical photos.) The other, bigger is that the order of assembly does not always make sense. The most outstanding example would be the mudguards. First you add some of the tools and other details to the mudguards (e.g. holding brackets for the towing cable, but not the cable itself) but then you stop and move on to other parts of the model, leaving assemblies half-finished; later on you return and finish the build.

The other big problem was that sometimes the instructions show an assembly turned over, and then later steps showing it in the right orientation; this, combined with my inattention meant that I made a seriously silly mistake and put the main gun in the wrong position. I guess it’s fitting; as a left handed person now I can claim I have a left handed T-60. The mistake is mine, but the instructions don’t make it easy to avoid. (Interestingly enough my version now gives more clearance for the driver’s hatch to open… I think I might have improved on the design.)

Another mistake I made due to this issue was the installation of the PE bracket for the hand-crank shaft; fortunately this was easy to remedy when I realized the mistake.

 

The build is quite straightforward and -with some issues aside- easy. The suspension is a torsion bar suspension, but unlike in the case of the T-44, T-54, T-55 kits, it’s not functional. It is faster to assemble, but the problem is that the swing arms need to be manually positioned -something this kit shares with the older SU-76 kit. Not a big issue, but it’s not a welcome one.

The interior goes together easily. The engine has really nice detail (I could not find reference on the cables and wires, so I did not add them), and the transmission is really nice, too. I replaced the plastic rod representing the shaft of the hand-crank because it was too delicate, and broke when I removed it from the sprue. I installed the different pipes (fuel, air, etc) after I weathered the interior as they are all over the place, which would make access to certain places more difficult during the painting/weathering process.

 

 

 

I had some difficulties installing the gills into the back of the tank; you are supposed to place them parallel to each other and the back of the tank. The guiding ribs are not very pronounced and don’t hold them very well, so actually inserting the gills into the right ones can be a bit frustrating. (As soon as the glue “melts” the plastic a bit, the gills will freely move out of their ridge.)

The engine service hatch can be posed open, which is very much welcome, since it allows showing off the interior. (Why else build it, right?) The instructions show this as a “movable” option with a hinge; however I find this to be a very optimistic assessment: the hinge is very small, and the fit of the hatch is quite tight.

Well, this was part 1. Part to is coming next. (Duh.)

 

Armory 1/72 VK 72.01 (K) “Fail Lowe”

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When I was told I had a chance to review a model that has not even been issued yet, obviously I said yes; after all it is a rare opportunity to get your grubby hands on something so fresh out of the moulds. An added point of interest is that Armory is mostly known as a producer of high quality resin and PE aftermarket company, and their foray into the plastic scale model world is quite an interesting -and daring- step (with other resin manufacturers following suit lately).

The subject of this kit is a fictional vehicle from the popular online game World of Tanks; it it a German superheavy gift tank given out at Clan Wars, and in general it is regarded as a less-than-effective tank in-game. (Well, it might be an understatement. It’s called the Fail Lowe…) It is possible that it was an actual plan during the war, but it does not really make a difference if we call it a paper panzer or a ‘46 German tank, really. Amusing Hobby issued it in 1/35 scale; now we have a more manageable sized 1/72 version.

Armory seems to be interested in fictional German tanks for their injection moulded kits; this is the second of such vehicles, and share several parts.

The hull has a complex shape, and the surface seems rough in several places; I needed to sand the round part on the back, for example. There are no attachment points of the interlocking armor plates simulated where these plates are normally located, which is a shame (where the frontal armor meets the side armor, for example.)

The PE is top-notch, which is to be expect of Armory; they have a long experience with producing PE conversions  for both armor and aircraft, and full resin/PE models.

 

Assembly

The model is not difficult to build, even without instructions (I used Armory’s Lowe’s instructions, the 3D renders, and the Tanks.gg website during the build). The hull is a conventional assembly of several flat parts; we don’t get a “bathtub” like lower hull. The fit is reasonably good.

I chose to assemble the running gear and the tracks before adding the mudguards.

The running gear’s attachment points are somewhat flimsy and weak; the wheels can detach quite easily after assembly, so be careful. (This seems to be a common issue; I had some problem with the running gear of Modelcollect’s E-100, too.) The idlers are done in an interesting fashion: the individual disks had to be glued on a shared axis. I did have to enlarge the holes on these wheels.

Since I did not have the instructions I was unsure how close the tracks needed to be mounted to the hull; it turns out I mounted them a bit closer than should have, and it meant some trimming and cutting, which is somewhat noticeable. (You won’t have this issue if you use the instructions, but I felt important to confess, since it’s the result of my circumstances and not the model’s fault.)

And this is the part where we come to the less-than-ideal part. The mud guards have small protruding sections sticking out to help with the attachment; these should fit into the corresponding holes placed on the side of the hull. The fact is that they don’t fit; the mudguards are quite thick and chunky, and the holes are not wide enough. This is a recurring issue with the model: several plastic parts are somewhat thick, which suggests a need to refine the plastic injection moulding process Armory uses (or replace the mudguards with PE parts…). Interestingly other parts, such as the tools and towing hooks are very finely moulded.

The top of the hull is a little bit wider than the bottom, which required some sanding to bring them to the same width. The top part is sitting on the top of the sides, which means there is a seam to be filled on the side.

This leads us to the next issue: the need for filling seams. The fit is not as good as to eliminate the need for filler. The seams between the mudguard and hull are quite wide and need to be filled. The triangular parts on the side under the round section also need filling (and they have a sink-mark as well). The turret also needs some trimming and filling to fit properly. The armored mantlet does have a seam on the artwork,so I decided not to touch it. Due to the nature of the moulding process, the muzzle breaks (there are three options to choose from) have also seams to fill, which is a bit more difficult due to the fine details. If you are patient, it’s worth drilling out the holes.

As I said the PE considerably improves the model; the engine deck grilles, etc. are very nice additions. I switched some tools to DML ones as I had those pre-painted; I also put on a 1/35 rolled tarp on the mudguard.

Overall, once I finished with the fitting and filling the build became quite enjoyable. The model looks unique, and once it takes shape, it’s a cool little thing to work on.

Painting

I chose a fictional painting scheme with my fictional tank, and used silly putty to mask the dunkelgelb parts. The Dunkelgelb is a mixture of Mig’s two kind of Dunkelgelb colors (mid and late war). I’m still a bit conflicted on these paints; if you use them right they do spray on nicely, but the fact that they form a cured layer makes them a bit less attractive for me. I’m used to the Tamiya paints, and I really like the fact I can just “mist” them on. I’m not sure I can do that with these paints.

The green was Tamiya dark green lightened with a lot of tan. The triangles were hand painted once the paint was dry. The model received a pin wash of dark brown to bring out the small details. (Looking over the photos I realized I forgot to paint the periscopes… this is something I’ll remedy tonight.)

As usual I applied filters (light brown, in several layers) to lessen the contrast, and added mud to the bottom of the chassis and running gear using pigments mixed with white spirit.

The decals were applied in a haphazard manner. I made up the identification numbers (birthday of my wife, if you really want to know), and put on the charging knight because I quite like the figure. I sealed everything with Testors dulcote.

Several layers of subtle streaking was added using AK’s Winter Streaking Grime. The photos bring out everything incredibly stark; they don’t look as strong by eye. It’s actually a good idea to take photos just to see the mistakes; it’s incredible how much more critical the camera is… (It also exaggerates the weathering effects, so keep that in mind. You can please the eye or you can please the camera; rarely can you do both…)

I used Tamiya’s makeup set on the whole model; it got a nice, uneven coat of dust (dark dust on the lower part, light dust on the upper part), which was followed by Mig’s washable dust on the horizontal surfaces. I did not use the product “straight”: I heavily diluted it with water, and added small patches where I thought dust would accumulate. With a clean, wet brush I could spread these patches, and remove the excess quite nicely. I did not add paint chips to the model; I thought I’d keep it relatively pristine. The edges got the usual treatment with a silver pencil to give a metallic shine to the model, and I declared the tank finished. (Prematurely, as I just realized, since I forgot to paint the periscopes, and lost the radio operator’s machine gun barrel somewhere in the weathering process… Let’s say he removed it for maintenance, and leave it at that.)

 

And that’s it, really. The model is OK; it’s not a high-tech Flyhawk kit, but it’s not bad, either. It’s something you are used to if you work with Eastern European Braille models, with one exception: the basic plastic is greatly improved by the brass barrel and extensive PE. I think it’s pretty impressive that a mostly resin/PE aftermarket company is moving to the injection moulded model market; it’s something OKB and other companies seem to be doing, too. Exciting time for the 1/72 market, that’s for sure.

 

 

1/35 Zvezda Panzer IV (Sd.Kf.z 161/2) ausf H. part 1

2017_06_04_042

I have built Dragon’s offering of the Pnz. IV., so obviously I was curious what Zvezda came up with. They come from two very different philosophies: DML crams in as much detail as they can with PE, individual links, metal barrels, and the whole nine yard in a highly complex, high-tech kit. This comes with a higher price tag and a much higher part count. Zvezda, on the other hand, goes for a more budget option for both time and money with their newer kits. They provide good detail for a much lower part number and much lower price. The build is much faster and simpler; the price you pay for this is a couple of compromises in construction and options. In short: this is a perfect model if you don’t want to spend too much money or too much time on a build, or if you are only getting into “serious” building and don’t want to bother with PE and individual tracks yet. It seems like Zvezda spotted a gap in the present market: good quality, cheap and easy to build models. With the present trend of expensive, highly complex kits, newcomers to the hobby (who are usually young and have no income on their own) are usually left out of the equation; it seems like Zvezda’s offerings might make it easier for them to stay in the hobby.

Zvezda’s offering is a bit strange in one respect: the side skirts have very nicely textured Zimmerit, however the hull lacks it completely. This leaves the model builder with two choices: either apply Zimmerit to the whole of the tank, or buy/fabricate new side-skirts without the coating. I chose to go with the latter as I personally don’t really like the look of Zimmerit. (If you decide to dress the hull up, there are alternatives: PE, resin or even home-made one using putty.)

Overall the model is quite accurate as far as I could determine, with some issues of the drive-wheel. There is little flash on the parts (the only case I found was on the drive wheel), and the detail is quite good. The weld seams are reproduced very well, the lettering on the rubber rims of the road wheels is visible (although not as sharp as on the DML and newer Trumpeter models), and the no-slip surface of the mudguards is very well done. The Zimmerit pattern on the side skirts is reproduced very well; the problem is that now you have to apply Zimmerit to the hull if you plan to use them. Another issue is not specific to the Zvezda model: the side skirts are given as one unit, all the armour plates moulded as one part. If you wish to depict them in a more realistic position, you will have to separate the different plates (shouldn’t be a problem). The thickness is quite out-of-scale, too, but once assembled it should not really be that apparent.

 

Since I have a Tank Workshop interior for the PnzIV ausf H I decided to build it with this kit. I was planning to get a DML offering, but facing another 1000+ part build was just too much. The Tamiya kit is showing its age, so Zvezda it is. (I wanted to avoid the problems of the Tamiya model: rubber tracks, detail, gun barrel- all issues that would require aftermarket products.) Because the interior set is designed for the Tamiya kit sometimes the fit is not the best. The interior set itself is OK, but there are more detailed options out there -Verlinden’s for example. With the current bonanza of full-interior kits, resin sets became somewhat of a last-ditch option.

Since the turret basket and the gun is actually quite nice in the Zvezda kit, I am using the plastic parts instead of the resin; most of the Tank Workshop set goes into the hull instead.

The ammo storage is quite rudimentary: just pieces of rectangular resin. The driver’s and radio operator’s station is quite well detailed; the problem is that the transmission is largely hidden by the model’s upper front plate. None of the front hatches can be opened; I think I might try to cut open the large middle hatch.

The radios’ backs are also featureless; these were placed into a metal rack, which should be visible when you look at the back of the radios. Thought about fabricating something, but then I just skipped this part.

The transmission is actually quite nice; can’t wait to see it painted and weathered.

Well, this is it so far… next step: finishing up the interior, painting and weathering it. Keep tuned in.

1/72 Ostmodels KV-5

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I wrote a review of this model on Armorama; a lot of the introduction is plagiarised from there. The first time I learned about Ostmodels was when I was browsing Henk’s Military Modelling website. The company is based in Australia, and is focusing on a niche of AFVs neglected by other manufacturers. Their models are designed for both the modeler and for the wargaming market. You will find experimental tanks, paper panzers, or tanks manufactured by smaller countries (like the Nimrod AAA tank). It is a very small company, and models are made on orders, so you have to wait if you fancy any of their products, but the wait is definitely worth it. Not to mention it’s nice to know that the model you bought was made for you especially. (And it’s not as if most modellers did not have a couple of boxes in our stash to finish, anyway…)

There is precious little information available about the KV-5. Planning of the tank (Object 225), based on the experience gained with the KV-4, started in 1941. The planned role of the tanks was to act as a break-through tank; this lead to some unusual features in the design. The hull was relatively low (less than a meter high), which meant that the driver and radio operator/machine gunner needed their own separate turrets/compartments to sit in. This also provided the driver a cupola with a good field of view even buttoned up. The three-man turret was very big and spacious, with a turret ring diameter of 180 cm, and contained a 107mm gun. (And judging by the size, possibly a book shelf and a kitchen top.) The whole tank was heavily armored (which was needed for both the intended role, and for the fact that the tank had an enormous silhouette presenting a tempting target), and weighted about 100 tons. Due to the lack of adequate engine to move this much metal, the vehicle had two parallel V-12 engines mounted as a power plant (which accounts for the unusually long chassis). Because the siege of Leningrad necessitated the increased production of heavy tanks of proven design, experimental work was suspended in the Kirov Plant to build the KV-1. Since the Russians did not seem to share the fascination of superheavy tanks with the Germans, focusing on the production of the more practical, lighter, more mobile medium tanks instead, the KV-5 project was eventually cancelled.

The kit is packaged into ziplock bags, which is enough to protect the parts from breaking. It consists of about 120 parts of light polyurethane resin.

The build was actually quite pleasant once I was done with the cleanup. The cleanup is tedious, though. Fire up your favorite DVD or TV show, get a scalpel, and start removing the thin film around the parts.

As with the SU-100Y the painting and weathering was somewhat of a protracted process. When I first worked on this kit I did the basics relatively well, but then I ran out of steam so I declared the model finished, and put it in a display case. From there it was looking at me accusingly for almost three years.

So the first stage I used a grey primer, and the hairspray technique to produce chipping on the following green coat. As usual yellow and brown filters were used to give the tank a bit more interesting look (a single hue green does look boring), and slapped on some brown filters as mud, and that was it.

A couple of months ago I got myself together and took it out of the display case again. I blended a lot more oil colors with the surface; it essentially meant I was “massaging” small amounts of oil paint with a dry brush. Since oil paints are somewhat transparent, the effect is pretty interesting and -more importantly- realistic. (As you can see the overall hue of the tank changed quite a bit.) One very important thing before you do this, though: make sure you put some oil paint onto a cardboard surface for about 30-60 minutes, so the linseed is removed from the paint. This ensures it will dry flat. (You can also buy specialized paints for model builders which do dry flat straight from the tube.)

I used dark brown washes on the pigments representing mud to make their color a bit more realistic and varied; I also added some more using the “add and remove” method and AK’s earth effect product. I added dust (using Mig Ammo’s washable dust product) and some oil stains, again with AK’s product. I used some black washes on the engine deck grilles to bring them out a bit more, and finally declared the tank finished -again.

 

1/35 Meng Renault FT-17 part 3.

2blchok

Please find part one and two here.

Well, the tank is finally done. It took me a long time to build, it was one of those builds which just did not want to get done; even though the model itself is just amazing.

Last steps: mud and dust… again. I have to admit I did the different stages of muddying the tank parallel to the T-55AM; everything written in part 6 applies here, too.

Quote:

The next step was to apply dust. Dust and mud are the two things I’m not really good with, so this part I put off as long as I could. I settled for AK’s dust products, and mixed my own mud.

AK’s dust comes as a suspension; when you apply it, it goes on thick, and the results are not very pleasing. At least this is what I thought at first. As with everything I realized the secret is not adding stuff to the model, but removing it after. I diluted some of the mixture in white spirit, dabbed it onto the tank, waited some time, and then using a wet brush I removed most of the dust, spreading it around, adjusting it. The key is to be patient: you can always repeat the procedure (in fact, you should), if there’s not enough added. Adding less is always  preferable to adding more.

One the dust was dry, I went on mudding up the lower chassis.

What I failed to realize for a long time is that it’s not enough to buy a product called “mud”, and them smear it onto the tank; just as you can’t just cover a tank with a paint labelled “rust”, and expect realistic results. Obviously the results will be sub-optimal; there are really no shortcuts in mud. (I feel this sentence carries some deeper, more profound meaning.) Even if you buy custom-made products you still have to learn how to apply them, and that’s that. And since you need to learn it anyhow, you might as well save some money and make your own mud.

The first layer was simple pigments suspended with water. I dabbed it on, then after it was mostly dry, removed some using a brush. A day later the procedure was repeated with a different color. The key here is layers; just like Shrek, mud has layers, too. Old mud tends to be dryer and lighter; newer deposits tend to be thicker, darker and placed lower. I dabbed the pigment-water mixture all over the lower chassis, the side-skirts, even on the top of the mudguards (in a much more diluted form).

I also splattered some using a loaded brush and a toothpick onto the side-skirts; any splatters that were out of place (on the side of the turret, for example) was removed with a wet brush using downward motions, leaving a very faint streak behind. I’ve also used Vallejo’s mud product on the side-skirts; it produces quite dark splatters which are quite different from how it looks like on the photo on the bottle.

A day or two later I decided to try something I’ve never done: I made thick mud. I used Mig’s Neutral Wash as a base. I got this as part of a set, and frankly I can’t really find any use for it; it’s too grey to be a “normal” wash. If you know how to use it, please let me know.

It did serve as a good medium, though. I mixed in a lot of brown pigments of different shades, some sand and some static grass, and then offering my soul to the gods of model building, I proceeded to apply the mixture to the lower chassis.

The method was the same application/removal as before; with a brush dampened with white spirit I adjusted the amount of mud on the wheels and chassis. I also added some on the mudguards (and sprinkled some on). The results are actually quite spectacular; I did not dare to hope for such a nice effect.

Once the mud dried (I gave it a week), I used my graphite pencil to give some metallic shine to the edges. The exhaust was treated with different rust colored pigments and brown washes.

The last stage was to take care of the remaining small details. I painted and installed the tools; the PE straps were a pain to add. The painting was relatively easy: the metallic parts were treated with the Vallejo primer and then rubbed some steel pigments to make it look like metal. The edges were dry-brushed with AK’s true metal steel paint. The handles were painted with buff, and then using a stiff brush I gently painted some brown oil paints; this made the surface uneven and gave an impression of wood grains. If you take a look at the instructions you’ll see that the hammer should have been installed under a plastic part during the construction. I left it off deliberately to make painting it easier. Installation was simple: I cut the handle in half…

I painted the straps of the tool box, and the construction was essentially finished.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Should you hoard?

This is the age old question about scale modelling: do you really want to buy that new kit coming out even though you already have ten (ha!) others in your closet and five being built?

And the answer is: god knows.

There are genuinely good arguments about buying stuff. One, and most important is that the model might go out of production.

This is an acute problem with limited run resin kits. I did not buy Inside the Armour’s Churchill interior set, and now there’s no chance of getting one. I passed up on the Stalker figure I really liked and took me two years to get one from someone who had it in his stash. I passed up on the Extratech Extrapack 1/72 models (with PE and resin goodies crammed in), and now they are impossible to acquire. I do have two of the initial Tiger I editions by DML (not the Tiger I is initial but the edition) which are frankly legendary, and quite difficult to get. So in that case it was a good call to hoard -and a series of bad ones not to.

However. If you buy models left and right you will run into obsolescence. For sure you will have a bunch of old models in your hands that are surpassed by newer, better editions, and then you will grind your teeth for wasting your money on them. See my example: I do have a liking of interiors, so I collected tanks and aftermarket interior sets over the time. I just finished the Tamiya T-55AM with CMK/Eduard/Miniarm extras (and Trumpeter individual tracks). I’ve spent a lot of time and money on that kit to bring it up to a standard that is still lower than the new MiniArt T-55A kits out there. Same with my King Tiger still to be built: it’s a relatively old DML kit with a resin interior and Lionroar PE set -yet I would be better off with one of the newer King Tiger sets with dedicated interiors (Takom‘s for example). I’ve planned to build all German WWII tanks with interiors, but now that I’m building the Panzer IV, I don’t feel like doing an almost identical tank, the Panzer III with interior – the tank and the resin set will go on Ebay soon. I’ll have the StuGIII and that will be it.

This is a delicate balancing act, and frankly there’s no good answer to this. The question you should ask is: am I really going to build this kit even if there’s a newer version later? Do I have a realistic chance to build it in my lifetime? Will you even be interested in this model in five year’s time?

Personally I have too many kits already: the ones I brought over from the US eight years ago (mostly 1/35 armor and 1/48 airplanes). A lot of it I don’t really care about any more; they will probably go on Ebay real soon – a real investment for sure. (Some I gave to kids of my best friend.) Some I do still feel I will build: the Tristar Flakpanzer I, the Panzer Kpfw. 38(t) Ausf. E/F, the Trumpeter Panzer IV bridgelaying variant, the 1/144 Dora railway gun… and a couple of others. I do have an eye on the Trumpeter Trench digger, and the Mondelcollect T-64, T-72 with full interior; these are kits I absolutely want to buy. But the ones I “just” fancy – other Modelcollect trucks, REVOSYS’ Panzer VI (VK36.01 H) with interior… well, these will probably never be purchased even if I have the money. The sad fact is I don’t want to leave behind a room full of boxes. (And I’m not an old man, so I don’t have excuse for such a grim talk.) I try to curb my impulse buys -which is an especially hypocritical statement now, that I managed to buy a Forgeworld Chaos Warhound Titan for 1/3rd the price on Ebay.

I would be interested in your comments.

Tamiya T-55A and the whole nine yards part 6.

sqjtgxp

This is the last part of the building of the T-55. Just in time for the MiniArt T-55A with full interior to come out, but to be honest I don’t really mind; I’ve been collecting parts for this build for a long time -it does have a sentimental value for me…

Previous entries:

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

As with all builds, I’ve learned a lot from my mistakes; and I finally know what those things sticking out of the back of the turret are. Which is nice.

 

The last time we left off the tank was mostly finished; the filters I wanted to apply were on, pin washes finished, and everything was ready for the weathering. Before I started I added some decals, though. The markings are fictional; I’ve printed out some Hungarian markings and used a number from the MiniArt T-44 set; the only thing that is not fictional about the tank is that the AM version was in service of the Hungarian armed forces. I know purists will be horrified, but I just did not have the energy to do hours of research to find one particular tank to model. (Ironically I have an amazing book on the history of the Hungarian Armoured Forces – two thousand miles from here…)

I also needed to paint a couple of details, such as the canvas cover for the gun mantlet, but mostly the tank was done.

The next step was to apply dust. Dust and mud are the two things I’m not really good with, so this part I put off as long as I could. I settled for AK’s dust products, and mixed my own mud.

AK’s dust comes as a suspension; when you apply it, it goes on thick, and the results are not very pleasing. At least this is what I thought at first. As with everything I realized the secret is not adding stuff to the model, but removing it after. I diluted some of the mixture in white spirit, dabbed it onto the tank, waited some time, and then using a wet brush I removed most of the dust, spreading it around, adjusting it. The key is to be patient: you can always repeat the procedure (in fact, you should), if there’s not enough added. Adding less is always  preferable to adding more.

One the dust was dry, I went on mudding up the lower chassis.

What I failed to realize for a long time is that it’s not enough to buy a product called “mud”, and them smear it onto the tank; just as you can’t just cover a tank with a paint labelled “rust”, and expect realistic results. Obviously the results will be sub-optimal; there are really no shortcuts in mud. (I feel this sentence carries some deeper, more profound meaning.) Even if you buy custom-made products you still have to learn how to apply them, and that’s that. And since you need to learn it anyhow, you might as well save some money and make your own mud.

The first layer was simple pigments suspended with water. I dabbed it on, then after it was mostly dry, removed some using a brush. A day later the procedure was repeated with a different color. The key here is layers; just like Shrek, mud has layers, too. Old mud tends to be dryer and lighter; newer deposits tend to be thicker, darker and placed lower. I dabbed the pigment-water mixture all over the lower chassis, the side-skirts, even on the top of the mudguards (in a much more diluted form).

I also splattered some using a loaded brush and a toothpick onto the side-skirts; any splatters that were out of place (on the side of the turret, for example) was removed with a wet brush using downward motions, leaving a very faint streak behind. I’ve also used Vallejo’s mud product on the side-skirts; it produces quite dark splatters which are quite different from how it looks like on the photo on the bottle.

A day or two later I decided to try something I’ve never done: I made thick mud. I used Mig’s Neutral Wash as a base. I got this as part of a set, and frankly I can’t really find any use for it; it’s too grey to be a “normal” wash. If you know how to use it, please let me know.

It did serve as a good medium, though. I mixed in a lot of brown pigments of different shades, some sand and some static grass, and then offering my soul to the gods of model building, I proceeded to apply the mixture to the lower chassis.

The method was the same application/removal as before; with a brush dampened with white spirit I adjusted the amount of mud on the wheels and chassis. I also added some on the mudguards (and sprinkled some on). The results are actually quite spectacular; I did not dare to hope for such a nice effect.

Once the mud dried (I gave it a week), I used my graphite pencil to give some metallic shine to the edges. I used some black pigments on the side-skirts directly next to the exhaust, and applied some oil stains. Again; I just used AK’s and Vallejo’s products slightly diluted. I made bigger, more dilute patches, and once these dried, added smaller patches on top of them with oil products slightly less diluted.

The external fuel tanks on the back were given some diesel stains. (I admit I did not scratch build the piping that would allow the tank to use these external tanks. I did make the pipes for the smaller external tanks if it’s any consolidation, though.)

That’s pretty much it. I finally have a T-55AM with full(ish) interior. It was a pretty long (and expensive) undertaking. To be honest I can’t recommend anyone doing the same- after all, there will be an all-plastic alternative available by MiniArt soon, with a much better detail than the CMK set. (A subject of a later set of posts…)

 

 

Scale model building – amateur style