Sunday, April 6, 2014

Enzo Bonafe Burgundy Beauty: An Early Impression.

Who has a mustard seat cushion?  Me.
       I recently purchased a pair of Enzo Bonafe's Burgundy Beauty cap toe Oxfords from Skoaktiebolaget in Stockholm Sweden. skoaktiebolaget.  This was on my personal dime as the 2 people who might read this review, not counting my wife, are hardly leverage to get free shoes to review. Use that to assure you of my impartiality.  Plus, I have no problem sending a crap shoe sailing back to Sweden if need be.  Rest assured, I am on no one's pad here.

       According to Skoaktiebolaget's website these are a custom shoe made especially for them.  I am not sure if that means that the design itself was a collaboration between Skoaktiebolaget and Enzo Bonafe or if perhaps the "custom"  side of the equation was this imprint on the insole of the shoe.

Custom.  Yep.  Why is it in English?

      The shoes were ordered through Skoaktiebolaget's website with the ease that the internet has brought to buying a pair of shoes from Sweden, or anywhere else for that matter.  Being a bit older I still always find this to be a bit exciting. What will they think of next?  The website easily converted currencies and the ordering and shipping process were simple and painless.  Shipping was as quick as can be expected for a pair of shoes to travel across the Atlantic Ocean and two thirds of the USA. 

       I do like the idea that I could afford to spend 5,200 Swedish Kroners.  Sure, the USD conversion is a fraction of that but what I expect to do when someone is gauche enough to ask what my shoes cost I will say "5200," followed by quietly mumbling "Kroners."  It would look like- "5,200 Kroners."

         Currency conversion excess aside, the price of the shoe is completely reasonable for the amount of handwork involved in the shoe's construction.  Allegedly welted by hand, a process that is conducted by a machine in many other far more expensive RTW brands.  A check of Youtube clips shows a serious looking middle aged man cranking away with an awl and thread that looks strong enough to hold hay bales together. (Hard at it!) Clever marketers would expand this to include some sort of emotional music over it and occasional slips into black and white to demonstrate that this guy has been doing this since before color existed.  Kick in the Ye Olde Heritage Brand font for the captions and shit suddenly gets real.

Side view.  You knew that though.

      Construction quality, heritage aside, is quite good.  The leather, calf in this case, seems to be of excellent quality and has been lasted very well.  No wrinkles in the area where the upper meets the welt, brogueing is sharp and even.  The stitching shows no areas of uneven sewing or some sort of jerky application due to haste or an employee's dismay at their lot in life.  Having had a couple pairs of shoes that exhibited proportion issues between left and right, I can say that these remain consistent across the left and right shoes.  The sides and bottom of the sole have been carefully smoothed and dyed with an even coat of black.  There is no unevenness in the stacked leather that makes up the heel, which is capped with a slanted piece of rubber that covers about half of the surface. This keeps you from surfing leather when you step into a tiled bathroom.  Having once ended up under a sink in the john of a bar due to all-leather heels, I can appreciate this feature.

5,200 Kroners buys you the piece of mind that you wont end up under a sink, like me.
       One of the main features that I enjoy about the shoe is the fiddle-back sole.  This usually is accompanied by an extremely tight waist, a la Gaziano & Girling, but in the case of the Bonafe it is a much more subtle proposition.  In my search for this shoe I tried a variety of similar styles and found the extremely narrow waist to be a bit uncomfortable and also a bit faddish.  Combine that with a lengthy chisel toe that lacks only a bit of upward arc to look at home at a rodeo in Sinaloa and I am moving on.  Not that I cant appreciate the style, but that is for young men to combine with the extremely short and tight suit tailoring that is common in the iGent world.  Your results/opinions may vary.  The chisel feature of the Bonafe's toe area is much more mild, and when its my dollars getting sent to Sweden, thats a good thing.


Toe caps.  I like the wheeling on the topside of the sole.
      The burgundy color of the leather was another feature of the shoe that I found to be quite attractive. Having not found a pill that will suppress my disapprobation for shell cordovan like some sort of aid in the cessation of smoking, the field of choices in the hue is narrowed.  The other pitfall is the rendering of color through digital photography and a computers monitor.  Photos give some idea of what the shoes appear to look like but really fall short of displaying the depth and shade of the color.  I enjoy it immensely.  It is not a clownishly bright red, nor is it so dark to appear almost black in any light other than Palm Springs grade sunlight.  The key feature in the color for me was that it was just that little bit more red that more pedestrian quality shoes and the dye showed that a careful process of how to make a shoe appeal to me had been executed.  Color is always subjective, but my process of elimination included samples from the following brands- Gaziano & Girling, St. Crispin, John Lobb (RTW) and Edward Green.

       Also included was a slight amount of black burnishing on the toes that mostly has been rubbed away by my rather aggressive polishing.  Not a big deal to me as I wanted burgundy shoes.  As for the shine, the shoes came polished to a fairly high standard.  Usually I expect a lag, sometimes quite long, between purchase of shoes and reaching an acceptable level of shine.  These were actually quite good.  Certainly  to be improved on over time.  I would consider them to currently be a 6 on a scale of 10 being the best. I see no reason other than my allotment of time to bring them to an overall bright appearance.

The other side.  

       As for fit, the shoes are constructed in the UK standard of sizing.  A consultation of sizing conversion charts led me to a choice that I find acceptable.  The heel counter is snug yet not constrictive   of the rear of my feet.  There is no excessive tightness across instep and the laces close the facing to a nice even line.  I have worn the shoes for several hours on a few occasions, the majority of the time spent on my feet with no unusual foot agony as a result of construction deficiency.  Discussion of fit in a RTW shoe is hazardous at best, since the only way for the truest fit is bespoke.  Everyones feet are different, but in my isolated case the shoes fit acceptably well.  Have other standard lasts had a better fit?  Yes.  Is it a crippling defect in this shoe?  Not at all.  I am fully aware that they are within the acceptable range of fit that will improve with wear as my foot molds the shoe.

Out back.
     The shoes arrived in an unassuming box that included some fairly nice shoe bags.  Shoe trees were not included in the purchase price.  Skoaktiebolaget brand trees were purchased concurrent to the shoes and have proven to be an excellent fit.  They are the trees in the shoes in the photos.  The shoes are currently sold out on Skoaktiebolaget's website but a check today shows that they have been re-ordred and will be back in stock at a later date.  

       While I cant say that these shoes will fit you perfectly and make your hair grow back like some sort of miracle tonic, what I can say is that my impression of them is quite good.  The hand welting is probably the biggest sales asset in a world of 1200 dollar shoes that have one done by a machine.  The color, for me, is fantastic and the standard last for this shoe allows me to walk upright for extended periods of time.  The exclusivity factor, while not on par with bespoke, is appealing in that you wont see your shoes coming and going every time you go out.  Another plus, for me, was the fiddle back without the corseting look of the narrowest of waists.  I like them.  If you get a pair, I hope you like them.  

One for the road.  Thanks for making it this far.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Long Term Ownership: Konica Autoreflex TC

       I find long term ownership of things to be very interesting.   A device, vehicle, article of clothing or whatever it may be, being in constant use for a long period of time is bound to gather both patina and stories.  An exploration of an object of this sort is the focus of this post.  Get it?  Focus?

     The Konica Autoreflex TC was an entry level Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera made by Konica from 1976 to 1982.  The trend in SLR's at the time was miniaturization, as is evident by a perusal of contemporary catalogs.  Nikon's excellent FM series of the same time period would be an example.  These smaller SLR's would appeal to someone wanting to perhaps move away from a compact rangefinder camera to an SLR but retaining the fast handling and easy portability of the rangefinder.  For the most part, these diminutive SLR's used the same lens mount of the larger cameras, allowing the clever photographer to tote a smaller camera with interchange capabilities across the catalog.

                                           Size comparison of the Konica with a full size SLR, in this case a Nikon F2.

     This particular Konica was purchased by my father, in as best as he can remember, 1977.  My father was, is and as long as he continues to draw breath, a thrifty man.  After much reading of reviews and ratings the camera body was purchased via mail order.  Certainly he read of better cameras.  The upper tier bodies of the time were essentially a hub to which all sorts of specialty film backs, lenses, prisms and an array of lenses to suit the needs of astronomers to journalists.  My father also remains to this day entirely unmoved by emotion in the process of making a purchase any larger than a newspaper.  Knowing him the process went like this Super Cheap = Crap.  Super Expensive = Waste.  The rest is sorting out what falls between.  I would guess the Konica was on sale.
     The TC does not run with the fast crowd who interchange their prisms or don a 250 exposure film magazine.  Nor does it contain many of the exotic materials in its construction as those upper echelon bodies.  Konica was going for a price point and hit it.  They had a modest selection of Hexanon lenses which were well respected in their day.  Some like the 50mm 1.7 and the 40mm 1.8 remain in high esteem to this day.  As for materials, the TC makes liberal use of plastic in its construction.  This leads to much consternation to some.  I once had someone describe the TC as "consumer grade" as though he were talking about how he had just stepped on a fresh dog turd.  Most visibly, the entire top plate is plastic.

                               The offending top plate made of, gasp, plastic.  The dust aids in concealing this fact.

     I am sure no sense of longing passed through Dad's mind as he un-boxed his new camera when it arrived in the mail.  What he wanted was a no-nonsense camera for his rather conventional photographic needs.  The needs were being capable of photographing his young family doing the typical things of the era.  Vacations, photographic evidence of 70's bowl haircuts done on his kids by our Mom,  school programs and other opportunities deemed worthy of a few frames.

      The camera offered a degree of sophistication in that it could be set to Automatic Mode, in effect a shutter priority mode where the shutter speed would be set on the top deck dial and the camera would choose the aperture, within the limits of the lens.  Adjustment of the shutter speed would directly correlate to aperture changing as well.  According to my father, the majority of his shots were taken in this mode.  No doubt this made photographing children who were incapable of remaining still by removing that part of the equation from shooting.  All he had to do was throw us the look that said- SIT STILL, adjust the manual focus lens and press the shutter release.

     Where thrift interfered was in the lens choice.  Konica Hexanon lenses, as mentioned earlier, were sharp and wonderful.  But zooms were also the trend of the times and Dad's selection of a third party budget price one was where it started to fall apart.  While adequate, it suffered from a lack of sharpness that was common amongst its type and price point.  The second nail in the coffin of image quality was with where film and processing were obtained.  At the time, slides were a very popular.  No doubt due to slide film (Kodachrome!!!) being about as good as it got for producing an image of high quality and excellent color.  Along with this you also got the Slide Show.  Many times in my youth our family get togethers included setting up the screen and projector and showing images from the latest vacation, wedding or event of any sort.
Awesome sample image.  You don't need a sharp lens when the plaid is that big.

    Instead of one of the several well respected brands, Dad went for a discounted film stock that had a proprietary processing which could only be done by the company that sold you the film.  Thus you bought the film, shot it and then mailed it off to Seattle where substandard processing took its vig out of final image quality.  Also, the archival qualities of the film would be best described, without resorting to saying F**K a few times, dismal  Meanwhile in Rochester, Kodak was up late at night looking for the final .002% improvement in film and processing that would make their images actually become living beings.  Fortunately he also shot a fair amount of standard print film.

    This camera remained my parents go-to photographic tool up until a mid 2000's purchase of a digital camera.  (The digital is awesome in it's own way as something is wrong with the color balance and results in everything having a yellowish green cast, as though we had all been poisoned.)  Thus the Konica was present through the remembered portion of my life.  My Mom, handier with a sewing machine than haircuts, used a pattern for a diaper bag to construct a camera bag that looked suspiciously like a diaper bag out of sturdy cotton in a medium blue.  The camera was kept in the camera/diaper bag on the top shelf of their closet, safe from the curious and clumsy hands of their children.

     It was made abundantly clear that we were not to touch it under any circumstances.  No doubt we would drop it, hit each other with it or smear ice cream across the lens.  This was a serious purchase made by people, who while not being poor, equated mishandling of such a relatively expensive item to be similar to the time my brother and I were caught lighting each other on fire with a Bic we had found.  It was very telling that when I was given the camera a few years ago it was on the top shelf of the closet, in its bag.

     When it was finally given to me the first thing I did was seek out a 40mm 1.8 Hexanon lens.  This took all of about an hour and set me back 40 bucks.  These lenses are plentiful, inexpensive and sharp enough to shave with.  The meter is run by a PX series mercury battery that is no longer sold in the US.  When a replacement type was procured the meter was completely random in its appraisal of light conditions.  Fortunately the other functions of the camera are mechanical so a handheld meter or educated guess at exposure usually land you in quality image territory.

         The body itself shows the wear of regular, yet careful use over the last 38 years.  The baseplate shows significant brassing where the black enamel has worn away.  The leatherette covering the front and back of the camera has shrunk significantly.   It also shows portions of its texturing to be worn smooth from a tight grip preventing it falling on the ground or into the cotton candy covered paws of children.The dreaded plastic top plate shows only minimal scratches and retains its correct shape with zero warpage. A quick estimate of 10 rolls of film with 36 exposures each, per year, over 38 years equals over 13,000 shutter releases with zero maintenance. The film advance is smooth, the shutter speed dial clicks positively into each notch and the shutter speeds seem to correlate to the one indicated on the dial.  The flash hot shoe, PC sync and timer for the auto release all function as they should.

     The image quality given is quite acceptable.  The 40mm lens, while new to the body, does just what it should.  Crisp images with a view slightly wider than a 50mm but by no means a wide angle.  It is a particularly satisfying setup and still sees several rolls of film a year.  I shoot film exclusively, except for blog posts and have a modest stash of other cameras to shoot as well so this is no longer an everyday use camera.  They are worth very little on the current market.  A setup like this would usually set you back less than 100 dollars.  Probably quite a bit less.  Of course it is worth more than that to me but I have to be honest that had it not been historically significant to me I probably would have never given it a thought.   This only makes me wonder what else I may have missed by failing to pay attention to other mid priced jewels like this.  Current images below.

Here is a little addition to the great halls of photographic genius that I have  poignantly titled "Chair On My Porch." 
I thought I should follow that one with "Bike in Front of  Cheap Lanterns From Pier One"

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Baron Fig Confidant Notebook: A First Impression

          The Baron Fig Confidant Notebook

                                   A First Impression

     The Baron Fig is billed as being a quality multi-purpose notebook.  The overall theme of the advertising is that it has been designed with creativity in mind.  I suspect that the paper itself will be non-judgemental if you are to instead list everyone you had ever slept with or attempt to remember all the band logos that were your favorites in the 80's.  Twisted Sister with that stylized TS springs to mind right away.

                                                                            The Insert

    The packaging, which includes a sturdy box that is securely wrapped in plastic to thwart the moisture which does not keep the Postman from his appointed rounds, also included this insert describing the concept of the Baron Fig.  As for the tagline "Designed by people like you", you better hope not.  If I were to design a notebook, Baron Fig would be sending you a box full of junk mail to write on the back of with an ancient souvenir Wisconsin Dells bullet pencil that has an eraser so hard that it measures on the Rockwell Scale as "Musket Ball."  Thankfully I wasn't consulted.

                                                                          The cover.

     On the outside the fabric is both subtle in color and pleasant to the touch.  I appreciate the subtlety part.  It has none of the trappings that attempt to shout "Look, I'm doing SOMETHING with this notebook that you cant possibly convey in some cheap Mead pad."  What is does do is exude thoughtful execution and properly applied cloth.  No wrinkles, no loose strings and I am considering the potential for using an iron-on transfer to make it really mine.  Preferred iron-on includes either a cobra or a van.

                                                 I think it works pretty well with this tie.  A notebook as
                                                        as an accessory tells me I have come a long way since I thought
                                                        an Ace of Spades made a badass pocket square.

     Inside, the paper appears to be of high quality and the binding secure. As advertised, the book is capable of laying flat.  At first when reading about that in the description I pretty much regarded that feature as inconsequential.  In reality, it is quite handy.  As is the yellow woven bookmark.  I tested the paper with a variety of writing tools and had no problems with pencil lead or ink smearing or bleeding through.  The paper did not exhibit any feathering with the ink and felt very smooth whether writing with pencil, ballpoint, or fountain pen.  The writing, though not creative in any way, did not ricochet from the paper and strike me.

                                                               Various writing samples in "childlike scrawl" font

                                                                  Laying flat with yellow bookmark visible.

     My impression of the Baron Fig Confidant is that it is a well thought out, well designed and well executed notebook.  Will this notebook help you to be a better writer or artist?  No.  But perhaps what really matters here is having something that is genuinely nice.  I mean that in the sense of having small yet well thought out items in your life that most people don't consider as being important.  I wont say Affordable Luxury, because that is dumb.  What I will say is that every time you place an item like this in your life, you carefully consider and select an attractive and well made product that when you see it or handle it, it pleases you.  Much the same as a well chosen pen or pair of cuff links, the more you surround yourself with small things that you find pleasant, the more pleasant life may become.  Your results may vary.  Check it out at-                                               

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Eberhard Faber Microtomic 5B: A Review


                        The Eberhard Faber Microtomic 5B

     For the initial installment of Planetary Transmission I thought I would review simplicity in itself- a wooden pencil.  The word "cult" gets stuck on just about anything if it deserves it or not.  Helpful to the cult moniker is something being obscure, foreign, or even better: discontinued and thus not available without the effort that serves as an apprenticeship to proper appreciation.  A qualification that entitles one to not just ownership, but understanding.   

   The world of cult items gets infinitesimally smaller when a search engine can conjure up descriptions, images and no doubt a link to sales. Sales that invoke the talismanic key words- Rare, NOS, (New Old Stock or Never On Sale depending on the circumstances) and attributing ownership of the item to someone famous and incredibly cool.  "Leica IIIF, just like the one used by Cartier-Bresson." 

       Gone are the pre-internet days of the cognoscenti, alone or in small groups, holding up the torch of the Saab Sonnet while some hide their light under a bushel, admiring their Canon Canonet QL17 GIII or Moto Guzzi V7 in a privacy reminiscent of someone contemplating stolen art that only they can admire.  For a few, this is enough.  

     One such item would be the original Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602.  Much loved for its silky smooth lead, either in truth or myth, by composers, literary giants, cartoonists and anyone wanting to tag along with them like the tail of a comet.  It is the tail that gives the comet its size, not the bright lights at its head.  Bright lights like Steinbeck probably let some people know he liked this pencil.  Quincy Jones probably did too.  Myth began to grow and the camp followers and hangers on that formed the tail that stretches far longer than the comet itself, began to link arms.  The word got around and at some point Myth hijacked the Truth plane and tried to fly it to Cuba.  Instead it flew to ebay and Etsy where prices of individual pencils began to rise to Paypal rattling heights.

                                                                   The ferrule that launched a thousand ships.
      The Blackwing 602's rise was assisted, in no small part, by its distinctive appearance.  In a world awash with pedestrian yellow pencils it had an unusual color and most importantly, the eraser and ferrule.  The ferrule was rectangular in shape and retained by a small clip that allowed the eraser to be removed and adjusted to compensate for wear or to suit the preferences of the user.  With this feature it became recognizable at a glance to those in the know.  Even the unaware would potentially notice its unusual attributes and realize this pencil was something different.

                                                           The inner workings exposed.
        Perhaps overlooked in the rush to claim rights to the pencil that was The One, is the Microtomic series.  Originally it was named the Van Dyke, then the Van Dyke Microtomic in a transition period and finally just the Microtomic when it reached this form in 1953.  Shunted to the background like Zoroastrians when the new God arrived, it quietly marched on doing its job in a quiet yet exquisite manner.  Some would have you believe the ratio of graphite and wax in its lead was identical to the 602.  This however is not what is relevant here.  What is apparent upon picking this pencil up and writing with it is that it does not lie in the shadow of the Blackwing, but instead casts its own.

                                                          The business end.  Oddly brought to a point due to operator haste in a 
                                                          Kum 2-hole sharpener.

       The 5B designation indicates the hardness of the lead.  Using the graphite hardness scale, where increasing numbers relates to softer lead,  5B denotes it as being three levels softer than the typical number 2 pencil.  What this means to the end user is a darker line at the price of having to re-sharpen more often to retain the point.

                                                        Microtomic 5B writing sample.  Paper is Field Notes Steno.

     Judgement as far as the Microtomic being the same, worse or better than the Blackwing 602 is entirely subjective.  I have no way to scientifically compare the two, nor do I think it would be necessary to do so. To put words to paper proves the point that this is truly a fine writing instrument. Its lead gives the tactile sensation of writing on ice, while the strong black line it leaves stands boldly against the page.  An anachronism that technology has, for most people, left far behind.  For some, those who appreciate it, it remains as valid as it has ever been.

      The glory of a device like this is not in comparison to its more famous sibling, but on its own merit. Also important is the idea of it continuing to be used in anger to do what it was designed for.  Sketching or writing and perhaps mechanical drawings of a teapot.  Whatever the use, put it to work.