Olli Thomson

Tag: Review

Yashica MG-1

Last year while exploring the new to me world of 1970s rangefinders I regularly came across enthusiastic endorsements of the Yashica Electro 35 in its various iterations. That general enthusiasm was reflected in the prices of these cameras which sold for considerably more that I wanted to pay. While browsing Used Photo Pro one day I came across a Yashica MG-1. It looked like an Electro 35 and even had the distinctive Electro badge but it did not carry the Electro name. It was also in my price range at, as I recall, $22.

Songs of Lao

Since visiting Laos a couple of years ago I’ve been on the lookout for a good photobook of the country but the few that I had discovered were mostly aimed at tourists looking for pictures of the country’s best known sites. It was only a couple of months ago that I came across Songs of Lao from Nazraeli Press. The book was published in 2016 but for some reason I had never seen it until recently.

Songs of Lao was published in association with Friends Without a Border, a children’s medical charity founded by Japanese photographer Kenro Izu. Izu set up the charity after witnessing the suffering of children during photographic trips to Angkor in Cambodia in the mid 1990’s. Working with the wider photographic community and beyond Izu’s organisation was able to open the Angkor Hospital for Children in Siem Reap in 1999. As well as providing an extensive range of medical services the hospital also worked with local health care providers to improve the overall standard of both administration and care in the region.

Losing an Enemy

At a time when one of President Obama’s genuine achievements is under threat from the current occupant of the White House, Trita Parsi’s book Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy tells the story of the long and complex process that led to the nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1.

There’s a lot in here I didn’t previously know, like the role of the Omanis in facilitating direct negotiations between the US and Iran where the real progress was made. While I knew that one of the greatest obstacles to the deal was Netanyahu (and his Congressional cheerleaders, both Democrat and Republican) I did not know that Netanyahu’s rhetoric of Iran as an existential threat to Israel has its origins not on the Israeli right but on the left, with Rabin and Peres. The role of John Kerry, while a more sceptical Clinton was Secretary of State, in getting the process established before becoming Secretary of State himself was also new to me.


Part travel book, part ancient history, part early Christian history, part biblical criticism, part historical theology – there’s a lot to this book by Tom Bissell, one time Peace Corps volunteer, now a journalist and travel writer. Bissell sets out to visit the alleged tombs of the twelve apostles, which leads him into his discussions of early Christianity.

His reading of the Bible reflects a fairly mainstream historical-critical approach with a tendency towards the slightly more sceptical Bart Ehrman line, and a fondness for Raymond Brown’s Johannine community. But he has read, and grasped, an impressive amount of material, not only on the New Testament, but also the early church. He’s also at pains to avoid the wilder shores of speculative reconstructions of early Christianity.

Bissell speaks favourably of his youthful Christianity as an altar boy in the Roman Catholic church, a faith that he later lost. Yet he retains an interest in Christianity, hence this book. Well worth reading.

America in Laos

When I was in Laos in 2016 I visited the UXO Lao Visitor Centre in Luang Prabang. There are only two rooms but, despite the small size, it’s a sobering place to visit. During the bombing campaign in Laos the US dropped an estimated 2.5 million tons of explosives – more than the US dropped on Japan and Germany combined during WW2. Among the weapons used were cluster munitions which dispersed 260 million bomblets across the country. An estimated 30% of these failed to explode – that’s 75 million of them. Today, more than forty years after the bombing ceased, people, including many who weren’t even born at the time, continue to suffer as a consequence. Despite the best efforts of de-mining groups large areas of the country are still contaminated with unexploded ordnance.

Joshua Kurlantzick’s book, A Great Place to Have a War: America in Laos and the Birth of a Military C.I.A., tells the story of how the CIA launched and ran ‘Operation Momentum’, the anti-communist war in Laos of which the bombing was part. It’s a fascinating book, not least because a number of the key people in the conflict who were interviewed by Kurlantzick had died by the time the book was published earlier this year, so the book is in a sense their final word. While Kurlantzick occasionally relates the history of this conflict to other more contemporary events he doesn’t over stress this. Not that he needs to; any thoughtful person can make the connections.

New Website

The Front Page

My website has moved around over time. Years back – I can’t remember when – I set up my first site using Smugmug. Smugmug had some nice templates and lots of options for customisation. The very active user group at Digital Grin was also a great resource for tips and ideas. The one thing Smugmug lacked was an integrated blogging platform. At first I blogged elsewhere with links back and forward and tried to match the website template as best I could, but it was hardly an ideal solution and I began to look elsewhere.

Testing Testing

I’m generally not inclined to test my cameras since I’m happy to go on the word of those who do this kind of thing for a living. A couple of days ago, though, taking a late night walk to get a little air I brought my X-T2 with me and took a few shots at various ISO settings to see how things looked. Generally speaking things looked very well. I didn’t go beyond ISO 6400 but the shots I took at that setting looked good to me and I would have no qualms about shooting at this sensitivity. Both of the images below were shot at ISO 6400 and are jpegs from lightly edited RAW files but no noise reduction has been applied. Click on the images for a larger version.

Buda’s Wagon

Growing up in Belfast in the 1970’s car bombs were an integral part of the soundtrack of my youth, so Mike Davis’ book, Buda’s Wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb was, as they say, a must read. The Buda in question was Mario Buda, an Italian-American, and his wagon was a horse drawn carriage packed with explosives and shrapnel which he left at the corner of Wall Street in New York on 18 September 1920. Thirty eight people died and hundreds more were injured in the cause of anarchism.

Davis defines car bombs as ‘delivery systems to create deadly explosions in public spaces’, excluding the use of booby traps on vehicles designed to kill the occupant, and traces their development and spread in the years since Buda’s wagon. It’s a fascinating read. Davis covers a lot of ground without getting bogged down in too much detail and brings to light the use of these devices in a host of conflicts across the world and down through the decades. As well as tracing their use by non-state actors Davis also looks at the way in which agents of the state – usually intelligence agencies with the US, Pakistan and Russia to the fore – have become adept at making use of car bombs to further their own goals.

The Revenge of Analog

A couple of years ago I had a job interview. As part of the process I had to read a couple of documents and summarise the key data. The interviewer’s assistant sat me down in front of a computer and pointed me to the files containing the information. Then he walked away. I called him back.

“Could I get some paper?”


“Yes. Paper. For making notes.”

Oh. Eh. Yeah. Sure.”

He pulled some pages out of a nearby printer and gave them to me.

I assumed from his response that I was the only candidate with, what appeared to be for him, such an odd request. He was young, though, so perhaps the idea of writing things down on paper with a pen seemed strange.

The Minolta 24mm…

…or, to give it its full designation, the Minolta MD W.Rokkor-X 24mm 1:2.8.

This is an SR mount lens. The SR mount was introduced with Minolta’s first SLR, the SR-2, in 1958. (There was an SR-1, but it was released after the SR-2). All manual focus Minolta SLRs used the SR mount, but when Minolta switched to autofocus cameras the company developed a new mount. This mount, known as the Alpha mount, is still in use on Sony’s DSLRs. The MD designation identifies this as a lens specifically designed to work with the Minolta XD camera, introduced in 1977. The XD offered both aperture priority and shutter priority semi automatic exposure modes and required the use of XD lenses to make use of the shutter priority option. While earlier generations of SR lenses could be used on the XD in manual or aperture priority mode, they would not work properly on shutter speed mode.

The W indicates that this is a wide angle lens. With a handful of exceptions all Rokkor lenses between 17mm and 35mm had the W.Rokkor designation. Those over 100mm were known as Tele Rokkors, while zooms, obviously enough, were Zoom Rokkors.


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