ACE Model 1/72 FV4005 Stage 2 -part 1.

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This has been one of those vehicles I would never have learned about had it not been for World of Tanks. It looks weird with the giant turret, which immediately makes it attractive. This and the fact that it has recently been buffed in-game made me decide to grind it out (a long commitment, and my first would-be tier X tank). In the meanwhile I’ve got the model to build.

There is not many models available of this vehicle, which is not surprising. British armor has been neglected by companies, and experimental British armor doubly so. Apart from this version, there’s a Cromwell Models resin kit out there, and that’s it as far as I know. It was really good to find a plastic version available -it’s both cheaper and easier to obtain than a limited-run resin model. Since Ace has a line of Centurions, it was not a big investment to make this weird-looking tank destroyer into a model; and good for them (and us) I would say.

The model is by no means perfect, but it’s OK. The detail is soft at places, and the fit is, well, hit-and-miss. The instructions could use some improvement, and the sprues are not always labelled correctly. The model also has rubber-band style tracks, which are less than ideal; I prefer the plastic alternative. On the other hand these issues are not deal-breakers; it is just a warning that it’s not a shake-and-bake model.

The kit does come with some PE, and it considerably improves the model. Once you’re finished it’s not a bad kit when it comes to detail; in fact I am quite happy with it. (I did take a short-cut: because the side skirts hide most of the running gear and the tracks, I was not very careful building them -which considerably improved the building time. Since it’s not visible, no-one has to know, right?) The tow-cables are not very good (the moulding is not perfect), but I’ve decided to use them for the review.

Most of the gaps were easy to fill in with putty. The one in the front, however, is a contentious issue; and this is the one issue I did not like about the kit. I tried to fill it in completely so it would blend the top of the hull and the frontal plate together, but the step between the front glacis and the top was too big. The hatch detail on the top was too close to the edge so I could not trim it to shape it to the front armor. Unfortunately there is still a visible step remaining (which kind of looks intentional, so if you don’t know the type you may think it is a design feature). Now the model is finally done and ready for the paint. The only question remains: which non-historical camo pattern I should pick from the game?

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Modelcollect T-80UE

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In the last couple of years Modelcollect quickly gained a reputation for producing good quality models of Cold War Soviet vehicles -and “1946 Alternate History” type of German panzers. (E-75, weird walking tanks, hypothetical AAA tanks based on the E-100 chassis, the P-1000 Ratte in 1/72 (!), etc.)

I always liked how busy modern(ised) Soviet armor looks; since they are quite small, the exterior is really busy with all the equipment could not be fit inside, and the constant modifications, extra armor and sensor equipment also add to the unique look.

This is my third Modelcollect build; and the first one that does not depict a somewhat esoteric vehicle (meaning: it actually exists).
The build was an easy and quick one. Since there are several versions of the T-80 offered, the model is full of extra parts; I was very happy to see an armored shield for the commander’s hatch included, which I will add to an older T-72 build.

The only issue with the turret is that it’s quite loose in the turret ring; this combined with the heavy metal barrel means you’d better off gluing it into place because it will rotate quite violently when the model is moved. The rubber protector flaps for the turret ring are made of PE, which is very nice: you can fold them a bit to make them look more realistic. (They are best installed after you fixed the turret in place; there is very little clearance between the hull and the edges of these flaps, so you can knock them off easily if you move the turret.)

The lower hull went together fine, since the fit is very good, and the running gear is actually easy to assemble. I chose to add everything -tracks, return rollers, idlers and drive wheels- before painting. This means I will have to be careful to paint the rubber rims and the tracks with a brush, but it also simplifies the assembly. The tracks are very good – the pieces fit together like a dream.

The two mudguards are pretty elaborate pieces of plastic; most of the detail is moulded-on. It’s not readily apparent that the rubber side-skirts are, in fact, made of rubber. They looks like massive armored slabs. The 1/72 Revell T-72 has very well done side-skirts in this respect; and to be fair to Modelcollect, even newer 1/35 scale tank models have these side-skirts moulded straight as if they were made of metal plates.

The PE engine grilles are excellent, and really improve the look of the model; and the PE lamp guards are also pretty impressive. (And, more importantly, easy to assemble.)

The holding brackets for the external fuel tanks are somewhat flimsy (it’s difficult to determine what goes where), but using a little patience and checking a few reference photos it’s not hard to install them correctly. The un-ditching log has a very nice wooden texture.

And that’s it – the building was a breeze. (I was watching documentaries with my wife while building the tank; it took me two evenings altogether- about four hours total.) Right now I’m contemplating the best way to go about painting it, but since it looks really impressive with all that shiny brass, I decided to leave it like this for a while.

DML’s Sd.Kfz. 251/2 Ausf. C mit Wurfrahmen 40 – 3-in-1 kit – finishing at last

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Another ghost from the past. I was really into the 251 series; the angular form of the halftrack looks pretty futuristic and the endless modifications make it a very interesting platform to model. For two or three models; after it does get a bit boring to assemble the same base over and over again. This was one of the reason I’ve switched to 1/72 scale when building these vehicles; the other was that I moved to the UK into a student housing, and had no access to my compressor and airbrush. The results of my formative years in grad school were posted in three posts (first, second, third).

However, this was the very first Sd.Kfz 251 I’ve built. It was still back in Florida, and since I really liked how the Bellowing Cow looked like, I wanted to start with it. There were several vehicles the Wurfrahmen rockets were launched from; the 251 was the most prominent one. (I’ve built two others: a captured French tank and a small tankette.)

Most of the build was finished in Florida; however life interfered with my plans, and I had to pack up and move. The model went into a box, and stayed there for almost a decade. Only lately did I unpack it, brought it to the UK with me, and finally finished it for good.

This DML kit has been an great experience to build. I can wholeheartedly recommend these Dragon kits to anyone. I merely needed to finish the paintwork, attach the rocket launching frames and other small parts, and weather the whole thing; a couple of hours max.

I used silly putty to mask off the dunkelgelb areas, and applied green and brown lightened with the base color in succession; I have to say I’m pretty pleased with the results. I applied streaking, filters and washes as usual, and then went on adding various layers of dust and mud. The interior also received a lot of dust, and I added small pieces of equipment to make it look more lived in. Unfortunately back then I did not add the rifles into the racks, so they remained empty.

And with this I declare this halftrack done. I was itching to finish it for years now, and I can finally put it in a display case; the experience was the polar opposite of what I had with the Sd.Kfz250 Neu I’m also finishing. One more down; two more to go. Time is pressing; apparently another cross-continent move is in the plans in the near future.

Games Workshop Custodian

 

What can I say? I just like the way these guys look; even those ridiculous bolter-lance contraptions which make aiming utterly impossible. (They must be among the most impractical weapons of the grim future ever.) Aaron Dembski Bowden’s books bought the Custodes into life for me, so naturally I wanted to build one; not to mention I really wanted to have Kitten (or Corn Cob as the Emperor likes to call him) on my shelf. The problem is it’s not possible to buy one figure; and I did not want to buy a whole squad. The solution, after checking Ebay for a year, was to buy a whole set and sell the rest a bit cheaper.

Well, that’s about it. Due to the gold paint scheme painting was not very difficult; I quite enjoy using AK Interactive’s wax-based true metal paints. I dry-brushed the figure in several steps over a black primer base, applied to washes and highlights, and then finished with the small details.

Easy-peasy. I’m sure die-hard figure painters will take some serious issues with the model, but it’s mine, and I’m happy with it as an armor-model builder. I would like to hear your opinion, though. Shoot away the comments.

DML 1/35 Sd.Kfz. 250 Neu with Royal Models set part 1

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This is a very, very old build that has been sitting in a box for a long, long time. I feature this model because it represents my limits; not necessarily limits of ability (although those, too), but the limits of what I’m willing to do for a build. The base kit may not be a difficult one, but this is an all-out aftermarket bonanza. Over the years I reflected on this build a lot, and it helped me understand better of what the hobby means to me. I realized I like challenges, but only within a certain limit; as soon as a build becomes work I do not enjoy it any more. This model with all the aftermarket essentially became a job; you are spending an hour or so just to put together the convoy light from individual PE pieces -and the fruit of your effort does not actually look better than the plastic original (if there’s a visible difference at all). Or worse yet, due to the high level of skill needed for assembly, it actually looks worse. So yeah. From now on only builds that are not evolving (or devolving) into a full-time job. (Unless someone is paying for it of course.) So the work has been ongoing for at least a decade now: I continued my predecessor’s efforts, then gave up; I shipped the model to Hungary when I moved to the UK, and there it sat in my mother’s attic until I dug it out to finally finish it two years ago. Here in the UK I’ve finished several 1000+ part models while it was waiting patiently for me to work on it which I did on and off. But mostly off. And now it’s finally close to finishing.

So without further ado, the model.

I bought it on Ebay already started; someone went all-out with the DML 250, and bought all the Royal Models aftermarket sets he could get his hands on- and then sold it for peanuts. It was an ambitious project; a project with appealed to my naive younger self. Trying to build several sets does feel like biting a bit too much: you not only have to coordinate the kits instructions with one aftermarket set, but coordinate it with several sets, with a lot of overlap and variation. Some sets fit a different version of the vehicle, and all three have parts which are duplicated/triplicated; making sense of four sets of instructions is not an easy feat. The fact that Royal Models are not always clear on their instructions do not help matters either.

 

My main issue -aside from the conundrum presented by the several sets of instructions- was the tiny PE parts plaguing the whole build. I started the interior in 2007 back in the US, then shelved the model because I got a bit overwhelmed by the sheer amount of PE. I still do not know how possibly I could hold a 1mm PE part, and apply it to wherever it should be going without gluing my tweezers together and onto the model.

The finishing touches did not go well; not at all. I finished the interior a year ago, and the model went back to the box as I found it difficult to add the PE tool boxes on the sides. A year ago I weathered the interior a bit: added streaks, chips and dirt, finished with the small details, and closed the hull. I realized really quickly that the kit parts are not always inferior to the aftermarket alternative: the radio rack (but not the radios), some of the smaller equipment was kept from the DML set. In retrospect I wish I kept the tool boxes and the fenders, too…

The kit tracks were surprisingly good -they are workable plastic tracks. I have to say this may be an older DML model, but it’s still pretty good when it comes to detail.

Once the hull was closed off, I turned to the toolboxes on the side. I managed to attach them after a brief struggle, but there are some issues with the angles. I suspect some of it is my own incompetence, but some is due to the fact that the Royal models set was designed for the Tamiya model, and it’s the DML version I’m using. Regardless I went through several iterations of filling, sanding and painting; I used both Green Stuff and ordinary putty to do the job, and used the primer to check for irregularities.

Despite of having done the most annoying/disheartening part – filling and sanding- I ran out of steam again. I was only recently spurred on by my feelings of guilt. I have decided not to start new models until I finish off these shelf-queens; so far I’m making good progress. (There’s an Airfix Bentley and a DML 251 to be finished; not to mention several WWII and Warhammer figures.) And here I ran into one of the problems with the instructions: the doors for the tool boxes were to be installed from the inside. Which were not exactly indicated by the instructions: it shows the doors going on from the outside. The problem is I’ve already attached the frame to the hull, so outside the doors went.

I did try to install most of the minuscule little padlocks and all but at the end of the day I did what I could without driving myself crazy. For me a victory will be achieved if I finally can mount this model in its case. Ironically the plastic original has very nice padlocks moulded on them.

The Royal Model set is extremely comprehensive and detailed; the problem is it’s not very user friendly. I especially disliked the fact that the front mudguards are to be built from three different parts instead of folding one into shape; I’m not even lamenting on the fact that you’re supposed to glue the edges together without a small PE flap provided that could have been used for more secure attachment. (OK, I am. I AM lamenting.)

Another few months of rest; and then a new effort to finish this build. I’m quite motivated to finish off everything as I may be moving to a different country; I want to take these models with me mounted in their cases, instead of languishing in a box, half-assembled.

I sorted through the kit parts that I wanted to keep, and installed every single little detail I’ve left out so far. I also decided to stick to the kit’s plastic option whenever I can; particularly when it comes to the antenna mount for the large radio. I did not feel like folding and gluing the elaborate little assembly made out of several tiny PE parts, so I just slapped the three-part plastic one on. It does not look as nice, but at this point I was just happy to call the building phase finished. I also decided to use the kit’s width indicator rod instead of trying to fashion one out of wire as the instructions suggest; I also used the kit lamps and tools. The truism -just because it’s there you don’t need to use it- never rang truer to me than in this kit. I still am left with a ton of PE I have absolutely no idea where they should be going.

Anyhow. I’m done with the building, and this is what matters. Next step: painting the blasted thing.

 

Flyhawk 1/72 M1A2 SEP tank

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The M1A2 SEP (System Enhancement Package) is an updated version of the Abrams featuring depleted uranium reinforced armor, updated ballistic computers, fire control and other systems. This is an upgrade package that can be applied to any M1 variants: several older M1A1 were updated to the M1A2 SEP levels. (A good summary of the vehicle can be found here.

I was quite interested in Flyhawk’s M1A2 SEP model; all their kits I’ve built so far looked like miniaturised 1/35th scale models with regards to detail (and sometimes complexity), so there’s quite a reputation to uphold.

(In short: they do.)

The packing of the model is exceptional: all the sprues placed in the same bag are fixed together with a thin rubber band; and the delicate parts for the turret baskets are wrapped in packing foam to prevent damage.

The PE fret has a circular mask for the wheels; it is a really welcome feature.

The plastic is exceptional quality, all the ejection pin marks are in inconspicuous places, and the sprue gates are very small. There is virtually no flash to clean up. The detail is simply speaking incredible – the best example is the subtle but very realistic anti-slip surface on the turret and hull, or the single-piece gun barrel. The machine guns are pretty amazing, too: the barrels are hollowed out, and the ammunition belt running from the ammunition box is modelled, too. (Something 1/35 scale kits sometimes do not have.)

The instructions are provided in a booklet for the tank, and as a fold-out page for the mine plough. Interestingly the assembly of the mine plough has as many steps as the tank itself (although it’s obviously less complex.) The booklet is very well designed; the English is not very good, but understandable. (Being someone whose English is not perfect either, I should not be throwing stones, though.) The instructions make very good use of colors to help with the assembly process, and also provide several views of the more difficult steps to aid the modeller. Flyhawk also provided tips and some useful pieces of advice, which is very much welcome. The instructions, and the fact that the whole model was designed to be as user friendly as possible, makes for a very pleasant building experience. (The design is excellent: it is very difficult to mistakenly attach something upside down or on the wrong side – even the gun barrel is moulded in a way that it only fits into the mantlet in one way.)

As far as I could determine the model is accurate. The size is spot-on for 1/72, but I’m not really familiar with the M1- people who are better acquainted with the type are more qualified to judge the accuracy of the model.

The lower hull is assembled from four parts: a bottom, two sides and the back. This is somewhat of an old-school approach, but the fit is good, so there is no problem here. The hull already has the swing arms for the road wheels attached; this makes the build simpler, but you won’t be able to position them to conform to an uneven terrain, should you wish to build a diorama. This is going to be made more difficult because of the unique track assembly: the tracks come finished; they are assembled from two halves, but these join longitudinally. It’s very welcome due to the simplicity of assembly, but it limits the modellers options. The running gear assembly is actually quite innovative: you attach the inner row of road wheels to the hull, add the inner halves of the tracks, and then glue the outer set (and the drive wheel) on, and finally add the outer halves of the tracks. Even though the instructions suggest you glue the side-skirts on before you even add the top of the hull to the bottom, they are probably going to be the last things to be installed – well after the painting stage is done. They are provided as single pieces; you cannot open them up. The fit to the hull is OK, but not perfect, though.

The hull has a lot of PE grilles provided, which is great; there are some very fiddly PE parts, though. (The PE casting numbers on the turret are a bit over the top in my opinion. I could just about to manage the cables running to the headlights.) In general, there are a lot of tiny parts -both plastic and PE.

The turret is a pretty straightforward assembly. The hatches can be positioned open should you wish so -although there is no interior provided. The loader’s hatch has a bit too many parts I feel – Flyhawk does have the tendency of giving multi-part sub-assemblies that would shame a 1/35 model. Unfortunately the instructions only detail how to assemble the hatch in a closed position.

The vision blocks need to be tinted (reddish), as the instructions advise. It’s probably a good idea to paint the back of their slots black before inserting the transparent pieces. You get some PE welding numbers for the turret, but seriously? I took a look at them and after a brief, amused chuckle I just left them untouched; I feel these numbers should have been moulded onto the turret. I appreciate the fact that they are individual for each and every turret, but here there was a decision to be made: either satisfy the purists (I think the term “rivet counter” has acquired somewhat of a negative overtones lately), or make the build reasonably simple. I think a generic casting number would have been sufficient; if anyone was unhappy with it, they could have just sand it off, and use the PE alternative. Unfortunately Flyhawk did not mould numbers on the turret sides, and so instead of incorrect detail I ended up with none.

The other, somewhat challenging part to build was the racks/baskets on the back of the turret. These multi-part plastic/PE contraptions were not easy to build at all; some patience will be necessary.

The mine plough is somewhat of a fiddly assembly (OK, it’s an understatement: it is a VERY fiddly assembly). In fact this is probably the weakest point of this model. The instructions are not very clear in some crucial steps; it is hard to decipher what goes where. A drawing of the finished sub-assemblies would have helped out tremendously. The tiny parts are difficult to handle without launching them onto the carpet. The other issue is that the attachment point of the dozer blades is quite flimsy, and you can easily break them off during handling.

Flyhawk provides a very fine piece of chain that you will have to cut into five parts to be attached to the plough. Once you are finished the results are pretty impressive: the plough has movable skids, and the locking arms on the frame can be disengaged, too. I’m not entirely sure of the advantages of a non-static mine-plough. I guess the plough could be made to conform a terrain feature in a diorama, or shown being installed, but I’m not certain this option is worth the effort that comes with building it. I would have preferred to have something simpler to assemble – or have better instructions. Either of these would have been nice.

The overall building was done in three quick sessions -this is not a very difficult or long build. The mine-plough was the most time consuming part of the build the truth be told. The painting steps took a tad bit longer. I’ve applied a German grey primer to the whole of the model, followed up by the desert brown in several thin layers to keep the shading effect of the dark primer. I’ve decided to go with the brown desert scheme with the plough painted green- I really liked the contrast of the two on the box art. (I originally wanted to build it in three-tone NATO colors.) Even though it’s not authentic, I kept the “Captain America” decal from the three-tone option, simply because I liked it better. My model, my rules I guess. I gave a try to the PE mask provided for the wheels, since the outer wheels were not attached to the model yet. (In retrospect I should have just left the inner row off as well; I painted their rubber rims by hand.)

Once the basic colors were on, I installed the tracks and the outer row of roadwheels, installed the skirts, and went on to weathering the model. The lower part of the hull received some light pigment dusting. I added some filters to modify the tones somewhat, and sprayed Future over the model to prepare it for the decals. Once the decals were dried, another layer of Future sealed them on, and provided a good basis for the upcoming wash. I used the wash to create some streaks as well in several layers; I also used a couple of AK Interactive streaking products, too, to give some subtle variation in color. The front ID panels have black corners; since there are no decals provided, and I did not trust my hands with a brush I used a permanent marker to paint them.

After it dried I sprayed a matte coat over the tank. That’s about it – the model was finished.

Overall I have to say the build was a pleasant one, although the sheer number of tiny plastic parts (especially in the plough assembly) was sometimes a testing my patience. The results are spectacular for sure. I’ve built Revell’s M1A2 a couple of years ago, and I have to say it’s difficult to decide between the two kits. (Long-long time ago I’ve built the old 1/35 Trumpeter Abrams. This 1/72 gem easily trumps it -bad pun intended- when it comes to detail.)

The Revell kit has excellent detail for the scale, but Flyhawk easily surprasses it in this regard. You do feel like you have a premium quality model in your hands when you build it. On the other hand the Revell M1A2 is a much simpler build. It boils down to preferences I think: if you don’t want to be bothered with tiny parts and PE, the Revell is a good alternative; if you want to go all-out, there’s the Flyhawk model for you.

Modelcollect 1/72 E-75 German heavy tank with interior

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As an introduction I have to admit that I love models featuring their interior. (The blog is full of these models…) If I can, I buy aftermarket sets to enhance my models, and obviously I was overjoyed by the recent influx of tanks with full interior by several manufacturers. Modelcollect has been on my radar for a long time now, because I do like to build post-war Soviet armor/trucks, and I also like that the 1/72 scale Modelcollect kits usually come with PE and metal barrels, which is really unusual -and amazing-, and more importantly, I like their prices. When I saw that they were working on a series of tanks with interior included, obviously I became very much interested indeed. I kept checking their online shop to see when these tanks become available, and when the E-50 and E-75 finally did, I immediately went and purchased the E-75.

The first thing I received was a sprue of the top of the hull. That was all I got in the cardboard box, and there was no explanation included. This made me worried for a while as you can imagine, but it took me just an email to clear up the situation: Modelcollect sent out replacement sprues for all the E-75 they sold. Exceptional customer service I’d say. (The reason, as far as I could determine, was that the top hull was somewhat damaged in the original sprue – the back of the engine compartment is a thin plastic strip, and it was bent a little in my sample. Other than that I could not find any differences between the original and the replacement.)

The tank itself is a paper panzer: it never got further than the planning phase. It was planned to use a lot of the Tiger II components, and looks remarkably similar to it. I suspect the model’s interior was designed using the Tiger II as a template – after all German tank designs were quite conservative during the war, so it is a safe bet from Modelcollect. The model is packed in a somewhat thin cardboard box; the box art is a technical drawing of the tank against a black background.

The kit comes with several extra parts you will not use during the building phase; an extra lower turret, two E-50 turrets, and a lot of smaller bits. (This seems to be the case with most Modelcollect kits; my spares box has been filling up lately from the leftovers of the three models I’ve bought.) The introduction on the instructions are taken from the wikipedia page of the E-50. (A mistake obviously.)

The instructions are provided as a foldout on high quality, glossy paper. The steps are outlined well and look clear, but during the building phase I ran into a couple of issues, which I will highlight over the course of the review. None of these issues are deal-breaking, but they did cause me some headache; however if you know about them you will have no problems whatsoever during the build. (I guess this is one of the reasons to read reviews.)

The model also comes with a very large set of PE: apart from interior details and a lot (and I mean a lot) of round disks for the bottom of the ammunition, we also get the back and front mudguards as optional PE parts, and the track guards are included as well. A lot of the PE is not used for the build; I’m honestly not sure what they are for. It’s an intriguing enigma. There is also a small fret for the engine deck grilles, periscope covers and lifting hooks. A third tiny PE fret is also included, which is not used at all. (And not included in the sprue layout section of the instructions, either.) Another mystery; if anyone has the answers, please let me know in the forum. There’s a nice-looking crew included if you want to place them inside the tank; the detail is not as fine as some resin offerings’, but they are still pretty good. The plastic is somewhat fragile. The parts are finely cast, but there is some flash (not a lot), and the detail is OK, but not exceptional.

The interior is not too detailed, unfortunately. I know I’m asking for a lot here, so take this criticism with a grain of salt. The basics are in, but there is a lot more that could have been done. The detail from the firewall is missing completely, and the radio-operator’s station has no detail at all. The seats have no moulded-on detail of padding, and the turret is missing a lot of things (fume extractor, electrical boxes, etc.). Obviously this is a 1/72 scale kit, so the expectations need to be adjusted a bit, but I still would have liked to see a more comprehensive interior. If you plan to build the tank with only the hatches open most of it will be invisible, so it may not be an issue for you -but then why not buy the cheaper version with no interior? I built the model as a cutaway, so for me the more detail the model has, the better. My impression is that originally the tank was not planned with an interior, but it was added to it later. The interior sides of the larger parts (hull, turret, etc.) have no markings where the different interior detail should go, and some hatches are moulded shut. A lot of the PE options look like an afterthought, too, and sometimes surgery is necessary before installing them (I’m thinking of the front and back mudguards mostly).


The first step details the addition of extra track links to the turret; I would leave them off until after the painting is done. The teeth are supposed to be replaced using PE replacements; I’ve left them as they were. (The instructions are not clear about removing the plastic teeth, and they are tiny anyway.)

The second step assembles the turret basket (very nice PE plate), and the third finishes off most of the turret interior and the gun. This is where you run into the first issue: the metal barrel should fit onto a small peg on part A6- but there is no hole drilled into the metal. I cut the peg off and tried to glue the barrel to the plastic base as straight as I could; it’s still a bit wonky if I’m honest. Only after painting -when I was putting the leftover bits into the spares box- did I realize that we actually get a proper mantlet that can fit the metal barrel (A9 instead of A8). This is a recurring problem with the instructions- they seem to have been designed for an all-plastic model, which was modified later to include PE, metal barrel and interior. Unfortunately not all the modifications made their way into the instructions; some did, but this particular one, for example, apparently did not. Regardless now you know, so you can use the correct part.


There are two turret bases included, but the instruction does not give the part number, so I have no idea if I used the right one. This is again a tricky issue. The turret ring on the hull does not have the holes for the interlocking pegs normally moulded onto the ring of the turret itself. These are very well known features of almost all tank models: this is how the turret is locked into place. Upon inspection you will find that one of the turret bases has these little pegs, while the other does not. The latter one would go better with this model, but at the end of the day it makes little difference which one you choose to use. Obviously I used the ones that had them as I did not notice these differences during the building phase…

The turret bottom has moulded-on holders for the gun; these are unnecessary, since the gun comes with its own support-and these details are not featured in the instructions, either. (You just have to cut them off.) Where the gun goes exactly is not marked anywhere, unfortunately; I used the location of the holding pegs I cut away to attach the gun.

Step 4 finishes off the turret exterior: hatches, lifting hooks and everything else. Unfortunately the back access hatch cannot be displayed opened; and the loader’s hatch can only be opened about 90 degrees, because the fume extractor housing is in the way.

Step 5 and 6 work on the upper hull and engine deck: you have an option to cut off the moulded-on mudguard, and substitute it with a PE one (tiny PE part alert). There are also PE guards supplied for the whole length of the tank; this is really nice if you want to show them damaged, bent or missing. I would not add them to the hull at this stage, though -wait until you finished the hull and running gear. (There are no markings where exactly should the tools, towing cables, trackguards go.) The engine deck has nice PE grilles.

None of the engine access hatches or the driver’s/radio operator’s hatches can be opened; this is a shame, since you do get an engine compartment and a driver’s compartment. Unless you are building a cutaway these details will be invisible once you finish the build.

Steps 7-10 detail the assembly of the running gear/tracks. The process is quite easy and straightforward. The E series was not planned to use torsion bars; the special spring suspension is nicely replicated. The positions of swing arms, however, are not very obvious. You can move them up or down, hence adjust the road wheels to any terrain, but the “neutral” setting is not very clear.

The kit comes with link-and-length tracks, which is a very good option for this scale. The links are left and right handed; something the instructions do not say or indicate. You should sort the track links first and then start with the assembly. I cut off the connecting pins from them because it was easier to assemble them (they are a bit clunky and don’t fit very well into their grooves). The number of links necessary for the tracks shown on figure 10 is not correct; you will need at least five extra individual links to finish the complete track.

Step 11-12 shows the assembly of the engine compartment. There is some flash on the lower hull which needs to be removed. The basic layout is created by parts H18 and H4; there are no guiding grooves within the lower hull to help you with the placement. (It’s not difficult to find the correct position, but it would still be nice to have them. The engine is quite detailed little thing, and once finished the whole engine compartment looks pretty good. Some larger pipes can be scratchbuilt if you are so inclined; overall, it’s a really good representation of the real thing in this scale. The problem is that none of it will be visible if you close the engine deck, since the access hatches cannot be displayed open.

Step 13-15 details the assembly of the interior. It is somewhat basic, but generally enough in this scale. The radio operator’s station in quite neglected as I mentioned; if you plan to do a cutaway, best use the driver’s side, or work on your scratchbuilding skills. To make painting easier do not yet glue the bottom of the fighting compartment into the hull; I did, and it made painting somewhat difficult.

Step 16 shows the assembly of the ammo racks; depending on how you want to display the tank you may not need to bother with all the PE disks for the ammunition. The place where part J8 should be placed is not marked on the hull.

Step 17-19 show the assembly of the back armor plate of the tank. The detail is pretty good, but I’m not sure the suggested sequence is correct. You have an option of using a PE mudguard; for this you need to remove the moulded-on plastic part. The instructions would have you attach all the small parts to the panel and then remove the plastic mudguards. Performing this surgery first, and then adding the protruding details might be a better way of doing it. I would also glue the panel to the hull before adding the smaller bits; the fit is tight, and it takes some fiddling to slot it in place. (I generally prefer finishing off the large assemblies first, and then add the details to minimize damage later on; this means I’ve installed this part when I was finished with the tub of the hull and before I installed the interior.)

Step 20 is the final assembly. The top of the hull does not fit perfectly to the bottom which necessitated some sanding on the sides of the lower hull to achieve a good fit. As mentioned at step 1, the turret ring on the hull is perfectly circular; there are no notches that would allow the turret to lock onto the hull. This may be annoying to some, but I think it’s actually a good thing: it allows you to display the tank with the turret off, without having to make those notches disappear. It also means that nothing keeps the turret in place if you don’t glue or magnetize it.

 

Once the assembly was done I’ve chosen a hypothetical (and funky looking) camo pattern; I did not like the plain dunkelgelb suggested by the assembly. I tried to make weathering as realistic as possible: as usual I applied some filters to “unify” the colors, and after washes, I painted paint-chips, scratches and rust streaks onto the tank. The streaks were done in several layers in several colors: from blackish to rust, representing dirt, dust and rust streaks. As a final step I dabbed some pigments on the horizontal surfaces to simulate dust.

Overall the detail is good, the subject is great (depending on your preferences, of course), and the interior is a very welcome bonus. What really lets the model down is the instructions; as I pointed it out several times they are not very good at certain steps, and at others they are flat out wrong. This is not a deal-breaker; especially if are aware of the weak areas. The model, as I mentioned, was improved from an all-plastic version. The design of the “base” pieces, the several extra parts, and the somewhat mangled instructions all seem to point to this direction. There is nothing wrong with improving existing models; I just wish the instructions were improved to the same level as the model itself was. It is certainly not a bad model by any measures I have to add; in fact I quite like it, and I’m really looking forward to building the T-80 I have in my stash -and the T-72 with interior still to be issued.

Conclusion

To sum up: what can you use this model for? As I mentioned it a couple of times already, if you just build it out of the box, most of the interior detail will not be visible. In this case you are better off ordering the non-interior version. (This is a very good idea MiniArt seems to be adopting, too: a budget version for most people, and a “premium” version with interior for the more unhallowed model builders.)

The interior version is a very good option if you plan to build a damaged tank, or a tank under repair. For these purposes this model offers an incredible deal, since it is relatively inexpensive, and has enough detail to showcase it with the turret lifted off with a crane. If you want to add more detail, you can use the Tiger II as a guide and either scratchbuild the missing detail, or adopt one of the aftermarket resin interior sets available for the Tiger I. I think Modelcollect could have gone a bit further with detail even if it means an increase of price: after all, there is a cheaper alternative available, and this was always going to be a niche product, so why not go all the way? Regardless if would like to build something special; this is definitely a good model to grab.

Photographing models part 3. – small studios

So now we have the camera chosen, and the lenses sorted out; what else is needed for taking photos of your models?

First,

Studio setting

Getting a dedicated light box is not really expensive any more. You can get a collapsible light box with two/three light sources for less than £30.

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The bare minimum should be two light sources; the white sides of the box diffuse the lights a bit, making the illumination less harsh, softening the shadows. (If you can install it, a third, overhead light source would not be a bad idea, either.) You don’t actually need a box; if you fabricate a diffuser you can put in front of your light sources, it works fine as well.

Background

The background -normally- should be something neutral, which does not take away the attention of the viewer, and which allows for the most visibility of the object in the foreground. Used to use the colored cloths that came with my photo-box: black (not ideal, too dark), blue (OKish, but darker than should be), and red (not ideal, weird). These are admittedly less than ideal solutions, but on occasion they are the better alternative (lightly colored parts show up better against a dark background). The best option I found was to use colored papers from craft stores (but real velvet works well, too -something I will need to spend some money on). You can get them in many different colors: you would ideally need to buy a few that would allow you to choose the most optimal one depending on the model in question. White is an OK choice although the contrast can be too stark. Light grey is a better option; however it always depends on your subject. A white-washed tank, for example, might be better photographed against a bit darker background. (After all, the whole point of the white-wash was to blend the tank into the light background.) Make sure you don’t pick strong colors -again, I say this with the understanding that a lof of my photos were taken using precisely these colors. (As I said before I am an unashamed hypocrite.) If you gently bend the paper you can make the background and foreground blend seamlessly. If you photograph sprues, I found that the cloth background was better than the paper- it eliminated the dark shadows under the sprues.

Lighting

Choosing a light source is also an important as we mentioned it in the first post when we talked about white balance.

Sun

Taking photos under natural light is one option; however you will need to wait for the perfect conditions (slightly overcast sky, soft lights) which is not always an option. You should avoid direct sunshine: it makes the contrast really high between shadows and light areas. (Unless you are photographing spacecraft where a stark contrast is actually quite realistic.) The best times are usually early afternoon, with the sun covered by a reasonably thin cloud cover which diffuses its light.

Artificial light sources

The easiest artificial lighting source is a lamp. Or more, to be exact, as you need more than one light sources to avoid deep shadows and uneven lightning. Normal desk-lights are good enough (if you set the white balance of your camera -see below), but the best option is to use bulbs that mimic the sun’s light (sunlight/natural light bulbs). The setup should be something similar that is used in studios; at least two lights (a so-called “main” and a “fill”), 45 degrees from the subject.

Flash

Most cameras have built-in flashes but these are absolutely useless when it comes to macro photography; they are simply too far from the object, and they are not designed with macro photography in mind. (The camera/lens itself casts a shadow on the object, for one. They also are too strong for close-up work.)

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Another option is to use flashguns separated from your camera (we’re talking about expensive DSLRs with multiple expensive flashguns) similarly set up as the LED lights on the above photo; keep in mind that you definitely will need to use diffusers with them. This solution is not very economical as proper flashguns can cost £100 minimum (each), and you’d need at least three of these. (And they need to be remotely triggered, so you need the shoes holding the flashguns and a remote control, too.) Here’s a pretty good article on studio photography; it applies to scale models as well. (I guess a model is a model…) The flashguns are set up similarly to the lamps we discussed before -for obvious reasons.

If you do a lot of macro photography, you can get a ring-flash that goes around the objective, providing appropriate lighting for the objects photographed, but these things are costly. I mean really costly. There is a cheaper alternative with LED lights -these are not flashguns, but they do provide extra light for your photographs, so they might be a viable option. One good thing they have going for them is that you can see your subject much better, so focusing is easier, since the LEDs are on all the time. They do eat up batteries, though. If you choose to buy one of these units, they will come very handy if you decide to go outside and start photographing insects and other small critters.

A tripod is also a useful thing (and again, an expensive one if you want something that is stable); and if you really want to go all-out a macro focusing rail also comes handy; but with a decent camera set up properly, and some proper light sources, you should be doing fine. It really is just a matter of practice from now on (and time you’re willing to spend with photographing).
 
I hope these posts helped to start with macro photography; I do believe it’s one of the most interesting aspects of photography, so I encourage anyone to experiment with it. In no time you will be trying to take portraits of jumping spiders I bet…

Photographing models part 2. Lenses and other alternatives

In the previous post we discussed the cameras and basic settings; we did not cover anything in great detail, but I hope it was enough to provide some help on what you need to focus on when learning and practising photography. (Again, these posts are more of a “do as I say don’t do as I do”, rather than me talking as an expert.)

So we now have the cameras covered; let’s talk about lenses and other options.

“Macro mode”

This is an option on virtually all cameras, not just DSLRs. What this mode means is simply a preset set of values of aperture/shutter speed/ISO that is deemed to be optimal of getting the best close-up shots using the optics of the camera; that’s it. It does not change anything in the lens itself. For larger models (I mean scale models, not camera models), it is a perfectly usable option. Any kit lens (18-55mm) can normally do closeups that are good enough for a 1/35 tank. But that is where the usefulness ends; for true macro shots it will not suffice. If you want to zoom into smaller details, like a 1/35 (or 1/72) scale face, you will find that you need something extra.

Front Lenses

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These lenses screw onto the front of the lens, like a filter. The good news is that bridge cameras and certain compacts can mount them, too, giving you some extra flexibility that you would expect from a more expensive DSLR setup. (You can find telephoto and wide-angle attachments as well.) These lenses are normally quite cheap, and produce acceptable results. (I took these sunflower photos using a 10X front lens and the D3300 Nikon with the kit lens mounted.) They come in sets, and are stackable to increase magnification; I tend to use them if I can’t be bothered to change the lenses, or if I don’t want to bring a heavy macro around for a hike. (They do affect image quality negatively, but for scale model photos to be published online they are perfectly fine. Amusingly though they do turn your camera short-sighted; you will lose the ability for infinite focus…) The real drawback is that the edges of the photos are not going to be as sharp as the center of the photo – most of the time it’s not noticeable, but if you want to photograph a big, flat thing (stamp collection), you will see the issues with sharpness.

Bellows and extension tubes

These sit between the objective and the body of the camera, lengthening the distance between the sensor and the optical elements. This allows a closer focus than the normal minimum focusing distance of the lens, making the subject larger -essentially turning the lens itself into a macro objective. The tubes are sold in sets allowing the length to be adjusted incrementally, while the bellow -obviously- does the same thing in a gradual fashion; the principle is the same.

There are problems with this solution, though. One problem, the most important one, is that less light reaches the sensor; and in photography light is everything. You always want to maximise the amount of light you have; this is such a big issue in microscopy, for example, that they use immersion oils between the optical elements and the subject to get every little photons possible onto the sensor (or photo-multiplier tube, but this is a different topic altogether).

When photographing scale models you are in complete control of the lightning so the question of light is less severe, but you still want to have as much of it as you can. (This is a more serious issue for other types of macro photography; especially if you are working outside trying to chase down small insects.) The bigger issue is for us that normally neither the extension tubes nor the bellows have any electrical components that can transfer signals from the camera body to the lens, rendering the lens into a full manual one. Again, if you are happy to fiddle with the settings in full manual it’s not such an issue, but it does get old real fast. It’s good to learn to use the camera in full manual, but you really want to simplify taking photos as much as you can. Especially if you decide to expand your vistas and go on photographing wildlife- while a tank model will wait for you to find the appropriate settings, a spider might get bored and go off somewhere else if you can’t get the shot in seconds.

Bellows and tubes costs more than front lenses; and they cost significantly more if they can transfer electronic signals to the lens. I found that these high-end versions actually cost as much as the cheaper, second-hand dedicated macro lenses, even though they do have the severe disadvantage of taking light away from the sensor. Since they seem to cost about the same as a superior solution, I never really bothered with them. There is no shame in buying a second-hand lens. (Just make sure it’s not scratched, there is no dust -or mould- in it, and the motors work properly. My Tamron, unfortunately, only works in manual focusing mode, because the focusing motor does not function.)

Inverted lenses

There is a budget option to turn any lens into a macro objective. This is an interesting solution, but not very practical in my opinion. (Again: let’s simplify things as best as we can.)

Dedicated macro objective

Well, this is the real deal. A lens that produces closeups, and can also be used as a portrait objective. True macros have a reproduction ratio of 1:1- meaning that a 20 mm long object will be 20 mm long on the sensor. (Here’s a good tutorial on macros that is worth reading.) Several companies put the word “macro” on their objectives without them being “true” macros only giving you a 1:2 magnification. These are decent enough objectives but not true macros (but they may perfectly suit your needs nevertheless). True macro or not, objectives are -obviously- not cheap (my dream objective costs about 300 GBP and it’s not even expensive as lenses go), but they produce the best results. (Here’s a good guide on choosing one.) I use a 90mm Tamron objective; it can be very useful in wildlife photography as well. The 90mm focal length allow you to be suitably far from your subject, so bees and other critters don’t feel like you’re invading their personal space. (Which is a mutually advantageous thing, believe me, especially when we’re talking about bees.) The quality is simply incredible.

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Macro objectives are not the perfect solution for all, though; with larger models you will find that you can’t fit everything into the frame, and the depth of field will be an issue, too. Be prepared to use a combination of lenses: sometimes a kit objective with a small aperture and a tripod will be enough. When you need to focus on the small details, you will need to break out the front lenses or the macro objective.

If the constant discussion about it was not enough to hammer this point home, using higher magnifications you will notice that your depth of field reduces significantly. (Now you learned something you can use with portrait photos as well: set the aperture large, and you will blur the background of your subject by deliberately by decreasing the depth of field. This will focus the attention on your subject efficiently.) However for us, it is a bad thing since only a small portion of your model will be in focus. If you work with microscopes this problem will be even greater; take a look at this micrograph I took of some human cells back in the days when I was working in as a researcher: at 63X magnification even a wafer-thin edge of a coverslip is not in complete focus.

You can go around the problem by simply taking a photo from further away in the largest possible resolution and then crop the photo (this is how digital “zoom” works, by the way). This is a perfectly valid solution; you may even use a telephoto lens to zoom onto you model. Telephoto lenses compress the perspective which will be visible on the photo, but the entire model may fit into their depth of field, which is a definite plus.

You can also decrease the aperture (and use a tripod to steady the camera) to increase the depth of field as much as possible, or, if you absolutely must have the largest possible depth of field, you can do some image stacking. It’s possible to do manually in Photoshop, but there are programs freely available. (I probably should make a short post about this.)

So here are some examples of the same model using different methods (tried to do overall shots and closeup shots as well).  Everything else remains the same; the camera needed to be re-positioned as the focal point changes with different setups.

Depth of field (wide aperture vs small aperture)

Mobile phone camera (Huawei P10 light)

D3300 kit lens (18-55mm) zoomed in

D3300 kit lens (18-55mm)+ 4X front lens

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D3300 kit lens (18-55mm)+ 10x front lens

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D3300 kit lens (18-55mm)+ 2x, 4x, 6x, 10x front lens stacked

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D3300 telephoto lens (55-200mm)  – I had to stand about 2 meters from the tank…

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D3300 Tamron 90mm macro lens

Overall it can be safely summarised that if you don’t want to zoom into the model, even a phone camera does reasonably well; however you do need a bit more serious equipment if you are interested in showing off small details. Even though the detail and quality is significantly better when using a dedicated macro objective, for the purpose of scale models it’s a definite overkill; the extra quality you get comes for a very steep price.

The next -and last post- will be about lighting and basic studio settings… keep tuned in.

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. I’ll try to list all the viable options so you can make a decision easier. 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.) Things that you learn by taking photos of your placid and immobile models will enable you to take some pretty cool photos of the less than placid and definitely not immobile wildlife living in your backyard.

 

Painting and photographing models

There’s also a related issue to mention which is less technical, and 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 from hand-length 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 is true to a lesser degree 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, and I snap in-progress photos using my phone. This 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.) That said, the photos taken by phone cameras are not horrible at all.

Compact cameras and 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 objective’s, 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: you and I) these cameras will be perfectly suitable. You can set the most important things yourself: ISO/shutter speed/aperture/white balance, and they can also shoot RAW. (Most photographers shoot in RAW format, because even though these images are gargantuan in size they offer the best option for post processing; they also do not lose information like JPEGs do. I use RAW for almost all my photos, except when I photograph scale models… JPEG is perfectly suitable for web-publishing.) These cameras 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.

Bridge cameras, as the name suggests, are a transition between compact and DSLR. They give you almost as much flexibility and almost as good quality as DSLRs, but they are smaller and easier to use. They normally have one monstrous zoom lens that can give you a wide-field photo as well as a 300X telephoto option (for which you’d need to spend at least a grand in DSLR lenses to achieve), and can take front lenses (discussed in the next post) to give you even more flexibility. To be perfectly honest I’m jealous of the 300X zoom on the Fuji bridge camera my wife has; my paltry 200mm telephoto cannot hold a candle to its sheer magnification. (However the image quality is vastly superior.) When I took a photo of the last supermoon with my fancy D3300 (OK, it’s not fancy as far as DSLRs go, but it is fancy as far as this comparison goes), 200mm lens and a tripod, and then switched to the 300X zoom held in hand, it was infinitely easier to take a great-looking photo of the moon using the Fuji. I managed to shoot a great photo without fiddling with the settings – whereas it took me several tries to find an aperture setting where the bright moon did not oversaturate the photo on the Nikon. I honestly can say that a bridge camera is perfectly good for most amateur photographers like myself; I just had a DSLR fetish I needed to satisfy.

“Real macro” -meaning 1:1 image production- might be out of the league of these cameras, but you rarely need magnification that large. As mentioned 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 pieces of equipment, 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 (and most) purposes. (Not to mention the lenses are cheaper, too.) Don’t forget, bigger is not always better; you actually have to carry that camera around, so you need to consider your needs real carefully before you blow your money on medium format body.

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 -see in the next post. (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. I do often wish I had a mirrorless when sightseeing and doing touristy things.

(Tip for choosing cameras: Pentax cameras in general are very much compatible to all K-mount lenses produced from 1975 onward… 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 here’s the catch: 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, obviously.) Photographing small subjects you will need learn 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 essentially 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 if you don’t adjust the shutter speed and ISO. It also effects, as we discussed, the depth of field: if the aperture is small, it will allow very little light in, requiring longer exposure, but the depth of field will be larger; if the aperture is small, it will allow more light in, with a shorter exposure, but the depth of field will be small. 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 change the value at any time. The low ISO setting will give you nice, crisp photos, for the price of lower sensitivity, so you will need more light for those photos. Higher ISOs give you more sensitivity, but the photos will be grainier, noisier.

Depth of field

As we discussed, 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 and a timer may be 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, especially when taking photos of small objects. 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 gives you the best compromise (relatively large depth of field, and you can still hold the camera in hand), 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), but then again; it may be the price you pay in macro photography.

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, too.)

incand-3500-5500-color-temp-comparison

Normally your brain corrects for this effect, and you will see colors similarly under different sources of illumination regardless of the light source’s color temperature. However 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-sources. (If you paint miniatures in the evening it’s a good idea to use it in your desk light as well… it can be really disappointing to see your previous night’s work in the daylight.) The other thing you can do to account for the different sources of illumination is to set your camera’s white balance.

Most digital cameras you can set the white balance to automatic, which works well in most cases. If there is some funkiness going on with the colors (for example you have a couple of different types of light sources that confuses the camera), 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 and effort, so it’s always better just to take the photo right at the getgo.

Scale model building – amateur style