More practice with the new lightbox

February 11, 2015

I was happy with my results so far, but I wanted to get more practice with the new portable lightbox and set-up for the Amsterdam Meet pictures. It helped to work out some kinks and what to look out for when shooting the photos.

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Amsterdam Meet 2015 photo screen test – Part 3

February 2, 2015

Third time is the charm, I hope. I learned more about my camera settings and tweaked a bit more in photoshop. It’s tough to get a thoroughly white background, while maintaining a natural color tone for the object you’re photographing. This is pretty good, as I’m happy with the results and the photography and photoshop-process is still easy and fast enough to quickly process a couple of hundred photos. Still, I’ll probably keep trying to see if I can improve it further right up until the meet.

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Amsterdam Meet 2015 photo screen test – Part 2

January 22, 2015

I was very happy with the feedback I got on my first batch of ‘screen test photos’. It got me thinking and tinkering to improve the images. Mind you, I still prefer to use natural light, which I use for all my regular photos. However, I need to use artificial light at the Amsterdam Meet, and a set-up that helps me take a few hundred photos that can be quickly processed. I like these a lot better, looks like I’m dialling in to where I want to be…Thanks for watching!

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Amsterdam Meet 2015 photo screen test

January 21, 2015

For the upcoming Amsterdam Meet, where I try to take as many photos of the new Spyderco prototypes as I can, I’ve chosen to try a new set-up for my pictures. Here’s a screen-test of some knives using this new set-up. I like it a lot better than my previous ‘cobbled-together rig’, as it’s easier to transport and set-up. I’ve also found that I can remedy some of the flaws I noticed in my previous photo shoots. What do you think, do you like these pictures? Let me know in the comments. If the overall response is positive I’ll use it at the upcoming Amsterdam Meet. Thank you!

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In case it wasn’t clear already, I am not a professional photographer nor a real hobby photographer. Apart from photographing my kids and wife, and the odd scenery during a vacation trip, I have zero interest in the craft. This is why I use a simple mid-range point-and-shoot camera, and I’ve avoided investing in any type of professional grade equipment.

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However, I do enjoy taking photos of knives. I only sought out tips and tricks to create clear pictures of knives. I’ve always tried to present the knives as plain and real as possible. Although I enjoy the artistry and composition of such industry photographers as Ichiro Nagata, that’s definitely not something I aspire for myself.

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My previous set-up consisted of several cloths stapled to light wooden boards. In addition, I used a three cheap mountable desk lights and four panels of white cardboard to help reflect and diffuse the light. This did give good results. The knives were lit nicely and I was able to pack this rig up in a suitcase to travel to the meet.

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You might not notice it in my previous pictures, but there are a few flaws that have annoyed me. Trust me, once you’ve processed a 100 or so of these pictures, you tend to notice a few things. The cloth was great for providing a neutral background that didn’t cause reflections. However, in close-ups of many smaller knives or details, the cloth pattern would ‘enlarge’ and distract from the knife’s details. Also, the cloth surface is a notorious collector of distracting little hairs and particles. That’s the kind of stuff that can be really annoying in a macro photo. I always had to make sure the surface was clean, and Photoshop helps to erase any remaining offending artifacts. Another problem is that the ‘room’ I had to shoot the photos in, was relatively cramped. I could pull of a few ‘knife-in-hand’ photos, but not much. This was especially tough with bigger knives. Also, this rig was kind of cumbersome to travel with and set-up.

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After a little research I decided to purchase a big (60 x 60 x 60 cm) photo-tent. I’ve found that I need just two lights instead of three to create the proper lighting effect. It took a little research to adjust the camera settings to create proper clear backgrounds in the photos, somewhere between white and grey. I will tinker a bit more to see if I can get the backgrounds whiter, but even now I’m pretty happy with the results.

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With this set-up, it’s much easier to take a lot of photos and they need a lot less time in Photoshop to ‘clean up’. This rig is also way easier to travel with and there’s plenty of room for bigger knives and knife-in-hand photos. I’ve also noticed that with this design, I can even be a bit more artistic in the positioning of the knives.

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Do you like it? Let me know and I’ll use it for the upcoming Amsterdam Meet. Thank you!

PS A little tinkering with the contrast levels, seems to give a better effect in the contrast between the background color and the blade’s color. This is a work in progress, but I found this result interesting:

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A Merry Spyderco Rubicon Christmas!

December 26, 2014

I guess I’ve been a good boy this year, as I found this Peter Carey designed Spyderco Rubicon in my (tactical!) christmas stocking this year! I never expected this at all, so that makes it twice as nice right? The knife is very impressive, kind of like sticking a custom car in your pocket. The full carbon fiber scales are 3d machined to fit the hand and the orange g10 details are extremely cool. Like the PPT, the Rubicon is more like a folder with a titanium integral lock, with some extra scales over it, rather than a typical thin liner lock folder. The Rubicon definitely is thicker than most Spyderco folders, but it is very much like a custom folder, like I noted after handling the production sample earlier this year. The Rubicon is quite the piece to proudly show off when you attack that envelope, carboard box or piece of fruit!

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Thank you Santa!


Ultimate Grail Knife – 22 Years in the Making!

November 30, 2014

Among knife aficionados, you’ll often hear the term ‘grail knife’. This usually refers to a knife the ‘afi’ in question has a hard time to hunt down and that’s number 1 on his wish list. I’ve been careful not to throw the term around too much myself. However, the knife I’m posting here is certainly worthy of the moniker. This fall, I scored a vintage Al Mar model 4009 Commemorative Presidential Bowie knife. I had been pining for this knife since I first got into knives in the early 90s. Now, this very same knife is mine!

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My main EDC and collection interest is Spyderco and I cannot imagine that to change. Before I arrived at the Golden brand, however, I went through all major factory brands and some custom makers. I carried, used and collected a little bit of everything. Al Mar was a brand that appealed to me very early on. Not so much for use, but for the pure enjoyment of collecting. The wood, leather and brass parts, combined with very powerful blade profiles, are still an irresistible combination to me. Later on, I was delighted to learn that Al Mar played an instrumental role in the founding of Spyderco. On a vacation trip to Switzerland around 1992, I visited a knife shop that featured this massive Al Mar bowie knife in its own red velvet lined lacquered box. It was love at first sight, but the price was astronomical.

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Swiss knife shop
During my first trip to Switzerland I was pleasantly surprised. Every town seemed to feature knife shops! As you’d expect, they were all stocked to the ceiling with traditional Swiss army knives. But you’d also find plenty of cool ‘real’ knives. In one of these towns, close to our camping site in the Swiss canton of Graubünden, I found the shop that carried this Al Mar Presidential Bowie. My dad taught some courses there, and we would often combine our family vacation with these courses. This way, I would visit the shop every couple of years and I’d always be heartbroken to see this awesome knife still sitting there. But it was simply too expensive for me.

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Mission
Since my dad passed a few years ago, we still like to occasionally visit the area for family vacations. This year was different as I had a mission. I’d been saving up and this time, I was determined to take the knife home with me. Despite my growing worries about the knife being sold, I was relieved to find the knife still sitting there in a dark corner of the basement-level in the shop! The store had been slowly transforming from a real knife shop into a shop focusing on souvenirs and culinary items. In the basement were some of the last ‘real’ knives. I had to play it cool, as I wanted to negotiate a lower price. I noticed the handle color had faded a bit, there didn’t seem to be a certificate and the wooden case’s lid had warped just a tiny bit. And don’t forget, this knife hadn’t sold for over 20 years. There should be some room for negotiation right?

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Negotiation
It turned out that the Swiss aren’t accustomed to haggling. I had to speak to the manager who wouldn’t be in for a few days. That was OK, after all those years I could wait another day or two. It turned out that the manager worked for the previous owner, who passed away a few years earlier. He was a collector and he loved this knife as well. It was actually the only knife still left in the shop that he had acquired. The conversation didn’t go very easy at first, but once she noticed that I was a real collector things got better and we struck a deal. She finally said that she only agreed to negotiate, because she figured it would be going to a proper home.

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My knife
The knife itself is still in excellent condition. It just needed a little bit of cleaning up (I know I hurt the collector value, but this is MY knife now!). After polishing the brass guard with a mild brass cleaner, I noticed a number in the guard. According to an old Al Mar catalog, this commemorative Bowie was released in a 100 piece run. It turns out that I got number 16! I also cleaned and carefully polished the green pakkawood handle with some renaissance wax. This significantly improved the color fading I noticed earlier. The handle is actually a one-piece design that exposes the tang only on the spine of the handle. The massive blade is about 12 inches long, 2 inches wide and 0.196 inches thick. It certainly held up well all those years. Although it shows no signs of resharpening etc.., the edge was still screaming sharp. The etching is also in excellent condition. I did notice a few imperfections in the blade’s polish from the manufacturer, through my magnifying glass. It doesn’t show up in regular handling and display though.

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Boxes
The lid on the box shows some slight warping, but it is not dinged or scratched. The box is a shiny lacquered wooden affair. I also noticed a few of the nails from the hinges were loose. I carefully fixed that, again, I know this hurts the market value but I still don’t care ;-). The lock came with one key and the mechanism still works well. I added a drop of oil just to be on the safe side. The velvet lining in the box was not cut, torn or worn in any way. There was just a bit of dust that I carefully brushed off. There was no sheath with this knife. A moot point; as I cannot imagine actually carrying this magnificent blade. After a thorough search of the warehouse area, the shop manager even turned up the original blue cardboard box. The knife did not come with any paperwork and I do kind of miss the certificate, which I’ve seen in both a vintage catalog and several eBay auctions.

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Overall
I’m incredibly happy and satisfied that this knife is now in my collection. I visited this knife many times in the 22 years that I knew it existed, and now I was able to take it home with me. I get a little boost of nostalgia every time I look at this beast of a knife. Although the knife was designed to look the part, the construction is old-fashioned Al Mar. the same construction that was put in the famous field knives, was also used to manufacture this beautiful Bowie. The knife handles surprisingly light and the grip is quite ergonomic. I might offer my daughters to use this knife to cut their wedding cakes. I can’t think of any other use that I would risk scratching the finish of this great looking knife. Thank you Al Mar for creating such an awesome design, and of course for helping Sal to produce his first Spyderco knife!


Spyderco Lum Tanto Sprint Home Run

October 1, 2014

This is why I LOVE Spyderco sprint runs. I never got around to snagging the Bob Lum designed fixed blade Tanto when Spyderco produced it many years ago. As is so often the case, I only discovered the beauty of this blade when I couldn’t get one. So when I saw the prototype for this knife laying on the table at the Amsterdam Meet, I certainly took note. A year or so later and I managed to score one.

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I’m very happy with this sprint run version. To me, the burgundy paperstone handle is way prettier than the original black micarta. I will admit that this design isn’t the most practical for my uses, so the Tanto won’t see any real use with me. However, if I were still involved in traditional Japanese martial arts, I would have taken this knife along for demonstrations and such.

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For a collector, sometimes using is not needed to appreciate a knife. The Lum Tanto’s grind lines are very nice and it’s a stunning piece to look at. The workmanship is certainly top notch; from the polish of the blade all the way to the stitching in the sheath. This knife is one of the highlights of my display case, and sometimes that’s more than enough. Well, that and the hunt for the next knife!

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