One of highlights of the year arrived last weekend. Having prepared the latex river and the bridges, I was finally able to run the Hatchie Bridge scenario from Caliver Books’ “Hearthland” scenario book! With actual games becoming a rather rare events these days, it was indeed something to savour… at least to begin with.

Historical background and scenario setup

Allright… so this one is a bit of an ‘odd duck’ even on paper and it became even more so during the game. The historical background is as follows. On October 4th 1862, the Confederate Army of Tennessee under general Van Dorn was badly mauled during its failed attempt to take town of Corinth. The day after this failed assault, Southern army was quickly falling back toward their supply center before Federal forces in the area could concentrate and finish them off.  Unfortunately, the retreat path led across Hatchie river with only a couple of useable bridges across it. As Van Dorn’s vanguard units arrived to the bridge he selected for crossing, they bumped into one of Federal columns sent to reinforce garrison of Corinth, under command of general Ord. The intended crossing of southern troops then turned into a delaying action, as Confederates desperatly attempted to hold off Union troops as bulk of their forces escaped southward, toward another crossing point.

The scenario starting point is after initial contact between rebel vanguard units and Ord’s column. This initial encounter didn’t go well for the Southerners. This is reflected in the scenario by the fact that on turn 1, a Confederate brigade enters the table on wrong side of the river, under Retreat orders. It is followed on turn 2 by another brigade under Rout orders. Only on turn 3 do Union troops start to appear on the table.

Before we start the after action report… just so everyone knows who the geniuses are in this encounter – yours truly accepted the challenge of Confederate command, while L. brought with him his blue kepi and led the Federal troops.

The game

In tradition by now well established on this blog, I will let the pictures tell the story with support of shorthand narrative.

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This is the starting situation – Adam’s brigade retreats toward the bridge after encountering Federal troops. Ross’s brigade, on the right side of the river, marches in opposite direction.

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Round 2 – Adam’s brigade is now across the bridge, Moore’s routed rebels enter the table. On the left, pretty much all of artillery available to Van Dorn rushes toward the bridge in hope of stopping the Union troops from crossing long enough to allow him to escape southward.

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Round 3 and 4 – things are taking a turn from bad to worse for Confederates. Once across the bridge, both regiments in Adam’s brigade fail to rally from their Retreat state, promptly turn into routed mob, which subsequently disperses from the field of battle. Their example is followed their comrades in Moore’s brigade, from which I manage to salvage a single regiment of skirmishers.

With half of my infantry units gone before the first shot was fired, my situation turned from serious to desperate. Since there was no chance to make a stand on the river, I decided to delay Union crossing across the bridge with Ross’s tiny brigade while I deployed the artillery respectable distance from the bridge.

L.’s response was as obvious as it was correct. One of his brigades advanced toward the bridge and engaged southerners skulking on the other side of the river. The other brigade took its time in a flanking march threatening my open left flank. Meanwhile, his cavalry, present on both flanks, scouted for a suitable crossing point.

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First shots were exchanged between Ross’s Texans and Federals approaching the bridge. The rebels, obscured by vegetation, did quite well for a short while. But then the weight of Union line became too much. With casualties mouting rapidly, both regimens broke and routed of the field.

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Battlefield arount turn 5 of the game. All Union troops are now on the table.

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Veatch’s brigade engages the rebels making the stand on the opposite river bank.

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The unfortunate collapse of Ross’s brigade was mainly caused by this little squabble. General Cabell refused to follow orders of his commander and deploy his brigade in support of artillery line. It took two rounds for him to ‘receive the message’ and what I presume, a rather heated face-to-face with Maury. As the two gentlemen discussed finer details of the concept of chain of command, Ross’s brigade was left hanging without orders to retreat and was shot to pieces as result.

I must say that I find the “Guns at Gettysburg” restriction of just one change of brigade order per turn somewhat rudiculous. But I will wait some more before tinkering with this aspect of the ruleset.

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Union cavalry on left flank found a crossing point rather quickly. Their joy was however chilled rather abruptly as salvo after salvo from confederate 12-pounders tore into their column, stopping their advance to a screaching halt. As the game progressed, this regiment was reduced to shambles and dispersed – it was one of the few highlights of the evening for confederates.

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Flanking force progresses toward the river.

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By the time this shot is taken, we’re around round 9 in the game. By then L. has gone home and four days have passed. I am now in sole command of both sides and the rest of the game is just a simple learning experience in mechanics of “Guns at Gettysburg” rules set.

By now both Union columns are across the river. Veatch’s brigade used primarily the bridge, although discovery of a fording point to the right of it did help. Once on the other side, 53rd and 25th Indiana regiments deployed into skirmish order, screening the regiments that followed. They suffered horrificly as result, but did manage to shield their comrades from the worst effects of concentrated Confederate artillery fire.

Lauman’s brigade on the right had much more peaceful time getting across the river. Facing only the tiny remainders of rebel infantry, they could take their time crossing the river at yet another conveniently discovered ford and then deploying in line.

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Round 12 – things are looking bad for the rebels on the left…

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…and they aren’t much better on the right neither! Time to pack up the guns and get back to the main army!

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Final event of the game – Lauman’s brigade charges the ‘thin grey line’ in overwhealming numbers… and fails miserably! Composite 41st/53rd Illionis is met by a thunderous salvo from the rebels and stopped in their tracks. 25th Illinois gets in contact with their opponents, but fail to make an impression.

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Situation at the end of round 15. Confederate artillery, having done its job, retreats toward the position of main army. Cabell’s Arkansasians hurl insults at their opponents before following their artillery and leaving the field of battle.

Musings after the battle

Let’s start with the ruleset itself. This was the second time I’ve used “Guns at Gettysburg” and the experience didn’t give me any cause to change my initial positive reaction toward it. It is what it is – relatively simple, traditional IGOUGO ruleset which provides slow but enjoyable game. One thing I liked in particular was how the ruleset handles skirmishers. Unlike “General de Brigade”, its ACW spinoff allows for much more flexibility and deployment alternatives. But despite added complexity, it’s remains very simple and elegant aspect of the game.

One of other “major” ACW additions to the original Napoleonic ruleset – open order deployment for line units – turned out to be a bit of a disapointment. Beside being able to deploy in longer lines, the major effect of this formation is a –1 when shooting and –1 when checking for casualties. Neither of these modifiers do much to affect the outcome in a firefight.

Apparently, artillery plays major role in this scenario and as it turns out, it is deadly! Veatch’s brigade, which faced the Confederate guns, paid terrific price and was reduced by over 30 percent by the time I decided to quit. Mind you, none of rebel batteries were full strength. If they were, I doubt any of Union regiments would get anywhere near Confederate positions.

So what about the scenario itself? Well, I won’t lie, it was a bit of a letdown. Creator of the scenario apparently attempted to re-create the historical situation, but the game mechanics let him (or at least me) down. Once Adam’s and Moore’s brigade evaporated from the table, the course of the game was set and there really isn’t that much any of the players can do to alter it significantly.

Nor does the scenario manage to actually re-create the historical situation! The special rules say that a crossing point can be found at any point of Hatchie when a 6 is rolled. And just to clarify things, the dice can be rolled by any and all units standing by the river. With this allowance in his head, the Union commander doesn’t have to regard the bridge as main crossing point and can allow himself to re-direct any and all units toward any point along the river – after all, a 6 will be rolled sooner or later! In real battle, Ord didn’t have this luxury and tried stubbornly to force the crossing across the bridge. Confederate artillery was apparently set up at a point where it enfiladed the road on the other side of the river and caused severe casualties among Federal units trying to cross the bridge. In real battle, none of them succeeded! Perhaps the biggest “mystery” of this scenario is that such enfilading position is nowhere to be found on the provided map.

Having said all that, if one accepts the “excercise” nature of the engagement, it does present an intellectual challenge to the players. Depending on success rallying the retreating brigades, Confederate commander will have different options for his defensive plans. On the other hand, Union commander may actually have less luck than L. and I did when rolling for fords across the river. I’m pretty sure that, depending on these factors, this particular scenario can play out very differently every time one runs it.

November 12, 2017

C4 Open 2017

Upplagd av Minondas

Yet again, C4 Open modelling exhibition has come and gone. As is my tradition, I took a bunch of photos... and here they are!

Some great builds this year, but the trend of fewer and fewer dioramas with each passing year is unfortunately still 'strong'. OTOH, number of German 'big cats' was definitely lower, instead quite a few Soviet/Russian AFV:s seem to be in vouge! And that's a good thing, a bit tiresome to see 20 Tigers and 15 Panther's year after year.

Apparently Google, in its eternal wisdom, decided that embedding albums created in their own photo storage service on their own blog service is too much hassle. So no more embedded flash movies, my lovlies. Instead, if you want to see the pictures, click on image below – it will lead you to my Google album containg all the goodies. Hope you like the pictures!

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November 04, 2017

Photography for wargamers – Part 2 – Equipment

Upplagd av Minondas

Let’s yet again start with a small clarification. When it comes to photography equimpment, two things become apparent as soon as you start dipping your toe in this particular hobby. First and foremost, if you want something better than the basic stuff for snapshots, the price-tag rises rapidly and steeply. Second, the better equipment really does produce better quality images and gives you more flexibility in regard of what kind of images can be taken… if you take time in finding out how to take advantage of its potential.

That being said, even the most basic of today’s cameras are surprisingly capable, especially if you’re don’t bump too hard into their technical limitations. Under normal lighting conditions (always the most important factor), taking snapshots is, as I already said in previous post, a no-brainer! Personally, I’m neither interested in nor able to spend massive amounts of money on cameras, lenses and periphery equipment and my kit is as basic as it gets.

Before we get any further - as it turns out, this post is quite long and meandering all over the place, but arrives to a pretty basic conclusion. If you’re an experienced photographer or don’t have the patience to read through my rantings, please skip straight to the bottom where you’ll find the only really relevant point I’m hoping to express here.

Cameras in general

If we take a quick look at what’s available on the market, I think the cameras can be split into three groups.

  • Mobile phone cameras – pretty much everyone has a mobile phone these days and they’re all equipped with a camera. Quality of those tiny cameras varies widely, but I must say that I am constantly amazed by the capability of one that is built-in in my (by now ancient) Samsung S4 phone.

    Out of necessity, mobile phone cameras are technically limited. The lens is small and they lack much of manual control available in ‘proper’ cameras. Also, they usually save images in compressed format, which limits post-processing possibilities.

    On the other hand, the automatic controls of mobile phone cameras are these days extremly capable and will usually produce a sharp and vivid image of whatever you’re pointing the camera at. I would advise everyone to spend some time experimenting with their mobile phone camera, you may be very surprised by what can be achieved with it.

    Perhaps the most important advantages of mobile phone cameras are of very basic nature. They’re free, you get one when you buy a mobile phone. Also, this is the one camera that you usually have with you! There is a reason for saying that the best camera you’ll ever have is the one that you have with you. Smile

  • Compact cameras – this type of cameras ranges from simple point-and-shoot affairs to some pretty advanced, professional products with very impressive optics and features. Prices vary accordingly. From wargaming perspective, I’d say that a suitable compact camera should have following features:
    • As good optics as you can afford - there is no coming around the fact is that the better optics, the sharper and better pictures you’ll get ‘out of the box’. On a flipside of the coin, keep in mind following – ‘wargames’ pictures are most often intended for the net. For practical reasons, image files for the net need to be small, with obvious consequences for image quality. So if you intend to use your compact camera primarily for wargames and shots of minis, it doesn’t make much sense to spend a lot of money on top of the line products!
    • Shortest focusing distance – try to get a camera with short ‘shortest focusing distance’. Being able to focus on small objects short distance away from the lens is very practical feature for wargamers!
    • Decent zoom capability – being able to zoom on stuff is always useful, but don’t go overboard. Currently, the craze for maximum zoom capability is the ‘next best thing since sliced bread’, but very high zooms are of limited useability if you can’t stabilize the camera, usually by putting it on a tripode. A zoom of x10 is more than enough under most circumstances.
    • Ability to take RAW images – RAW is digital equivalent to film negative of old times. Shooting in RAW gives you a lot of possibilities to adjust the image in post-processing and this feature is pretty much a must if you’re intending to get a bit more serious about photography in general.
    • Small aperture – heads up(!!!), this one is a bit counter-intuitive, because small aperture is represented by large number in ‘f-stop’-variable. But basically, you want a camera where you can make a very small hole in your shutter. Look for maximum number for your f-stops, bigger is better. For now you’ll need to take my word for it – it is important.
    • High ISO range – being able to push ISO sensitivity of camera sensor reduces exposure times and allows for taking sharp images in crappy lighting conditions. Photographers usually wrinkle their nose at high ISO setting, because it impacts image quality… but once again, if image is intended for Facebook or a blog, sharpness is usually more important factor than some color distortion.
    • Tiltable LED display – I’ve learned this one the hard way. The representation of the image your camera will take is shown in two ways – through a traditional view-finder (not necesserily included in compacts these days) or a LED display. Most photographers will rave about necessity for a traditional view-finder. Personally I’d say that for wargaming purposes a good quality, large LED display is much more useable. And it should be tiltable, because we often want to place the camera in small, constrained places and at wierd angles. Being able to tilt the display and see what image will show is very useful in these situations.
    • Small footprint – once again, constrained places and wierd angles. Small cameras are easier to handle.

  • DSLR cameras – DSLR stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex and DSLR cameras are the ‘big wigs’ among cameras. They consist of a camera body and wide range of exchangeable lenses, often designed for a specific type of photography. DSLR cameras take (at least in theory) best pictures and offer most flexibility for the photographer. They’re also expensive, bulky as hell and have the steepest learning curve if you want to use them to their full potential.

    If you think of picking up a DSLR camera, you actually have two decisions to make. The first consists of the choice of camera house. This is a serious commitment, because camera houses are expensive. More importantly, you bind yourself to a specific brand.

    Your decision should be based on two consideration – what producer and how advanced the camera-house is to be. From technical perspective, I’d say that the considerations are the same as for a compact camera. As for the producer, you have couple to choose from – Canon, Nikon, Sony and Pentax are some of the biggest names on the market. All make excellent products. While prices for different types of camera houses (entry level, enthusiast and professional) are pretty much the same regardless of producer, there can be relevant differences in performance of inner electronics, advanced features and layout of the camera interfaces (buttons and software). This last factor can be of particular importance, so try stuff out at your local dealer before you commit.

    Choice of lenses is as important aspect as the camera house if you decide to pick up a DSLR for your wargaming photography. When you buy a DLSR camera, you’ll usually get a so called stock lens. Let’s put it straight – stock lenses are usually crap and of lowest available quality when it comes to optics quality. They will do to start with, but sooner or later you will probably want to upgrade to something better and more flexible.

    The range of choices when it comes to lenses is mind-boggling, but basically you have two types of lenses for DSLR:
    • prime lenses – these lenses have a preset, non-adjustable focal length, measured in mm. Lenses with short focal lenght are used to take images with wide angle or close-ups. Lenses with long focal lenght are used to take images with ‘small’ angle and at longer distances. Advantages of prime lenses are that since they are simpler to construct (less moving parts and less complex optics) they tend to be cheaper and able to produce really good pictures. The drawback is that since you can’t zoom with a prime lens, you need to place your camera in ‘right’ place och change the physical lens between shots.
    • zoom lenses – these lenses allow you to zoom on the image subject and are therefore much more practical. There are two types of zooms – normal and tele. Normal zooms can vary between 10-20mm and 50-100mm. This gives you good flexibility at distances between below a meter and maybe 10-15 meters. Telezooms are used for long distance photography, but are also very useful if you want to zoom on couple of 6mm minis from 5-6 meters away.

Here’s the thing about lenses – personally I am yet to find optimal choice when it comes to good lens for wargamers. I won’t go into details right now, but there is a couple of very specific and conflicting aspects when it comes to wargaming that make choice of optimal lens a bit of a challenge.

Other equipment

Beside the camera itself, unless we’re talking about mobile phone cameras, I’d consider a good tripode with adjustable mounting head the most useful addition to your photography kit. Tripods come in different sizes. A table tripod like a Joby is very practical for small cameras. Full-size tripode is bulky, but is indispensable if you want to take sharp photos, especially when long exposure times are necessary.

One piece of equipment I’m very divided about are camera flashes. Every camera has one built in. They’re usually crap, for a multitude of reasons. First and foremost, photos taken with built in flash are pretty much always washed-out and flat, because the light ‘floods’ the subject. Second, the range of a built in flash is usually very limited. This means that a couple of meters directly in front of the lens is properly illuminated and the rest of the image is significantly darker. There are ways to control first of these undesireable effects, but you can’t do much about the second. Thus, if I can avoid it, I don’t use built in flashes. This limitation is especially important in my opinion in regard of compact cameras.

On the other hand, I am currently seriously considering getting proper flash light for my Canon DSLR. External flash lights for DSLR are extremly powerful and with long range. They have no problem with properly illuminating a medium sized room. The trick is to learn how to control the light they’re making, so you don’t get these washed out images I mentioned above.

My own stuff

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Here’s what I use these days:

  • Camera in my Samsung S4 mobile phone. Up ‘til now, I’ve mostly used it when I wanted to take a quick snapshot of something close up or didn’t want to fiddle with adjusting the images afterward. However, over last couple of days I’ve done some more in-depth tests with this camera and I must say that I am mightily impressed by its capabilities. I may very well have underestimated its useability up ‘til now!

  • Panasonic Lumix LX-7. I fell in love with this little compact camera as soon as I saw its specifications. At the time, I was under the impression that the most important factor was wide aperture, usually a quite expensive feature in camera optics. This little thing is capable of f1.8 at its shortest focal length (that’s when you take ‘wide’ images) and it blew my mind at the time. These days I’m of the opinion that wide aperture isn’t as important as I have once believed. Nevertheless, I still think this little camera is very useful for wargaming photograpy. It takes sharp images and is capable of focusing at very close ranges. It is however limited by crappy build-in flash, limited zoom (3.5x) and, ironically, limited smallest aperture (f8.0).

  • Canon 1200D DSLR camera. The ‘big gun’ in my arsenal and under right conditions a very capable beast. This model is an ‘entry level’ DSLR camera from Canon, but it’s very good piece of equipment. But it’s not the easiest camera to use and on a bad day I can be quite frustrated by a galore of blurry images it delivers to me after a gaming session. After having it for a couple of years, I am still learning how to use it properly. At times it can be as frustrating as a baby crying its head off for no apparent reason. But, as long as I pay it the time and attention it requires, it is also the most fun camera I’ve ever had.

    My DSLR has usually a cheap Tamron telezoom mounted on it. I’m pretty sure that it is one of root causes of these less than perfect pictures I’m sometimes getting out of this rig. It turned out to be less than optimal choice for wargame photography, but it was cheap and it has a wide zoom capability. It has to do for now.

    My other lens (beside the stock lens that followed with the camera and which I never use) is a Canon 50mm prime lens. This little puppy is as cheap as it gets and delivers shockingly sharp images. It is also totally unuseable for wargaming purposes. Its minimum focus distance is not short enough to allow for useable closeups and it requires too much distance between the camera and the table for good wide angle shots. I love this little lens to bits as long as we’re talking normal photography (portraits and street), but it’s useless for wargames.

Additional comments

One thing that is perhaps worth mentioning are compact system cameras, which is a hybrid between a compact camera and a proper DSLR camera. They’re usually very capable, advanced products with all the features of a DSLR, but in smaller package and sometimes with single, permanently mounted zoom lens. Since I don’t own one, I have no experience of this type of camera. And so, I skipped over it in my post. However, compact system cameras may very well be optimal choice for a wargamer who wants to have some fun and be able do a bit more with his kit.

Another thing that I would like to touch upon are ‘current trends’ in photography equipment. Some ten years ago, the craze was all about megapixels, the more the better. Of course that’s not the case, but it was an easily defineable ‘good, better, best’ factor when marketing a camera. Number of pixels is basically number of dots that can read light and color in a sensor. The ‘gut feeling’ may suggest that more dots equals sharper images and that’s correct assumption… under some very specific and for wargaming purposes irrelevant circumstances. Where ‘megapixels’ or resolution comes into the picture (no pun intended) is when pictures are printed on paper – large size prints do require high image resolution to look good. And by ‘large print’ I mean poster size pictures! For standard prints a 10 megapixel sensor is more than enough. For web photos on a blog or Facebook you can probably use 3 megapixel camera and not see any difference.

Today, the craze is about extreme zoom capability. This in itself can be very useful for wargamer, but keep two things in mind. First of all, pushing zoom lenses to the extreme does come at a price and you pay it with reduction of image quality. Also, the more zoom is used, the more sensitive the camera becomes to vibrations. If you think you can zoom your camera to those 30x while holding it in your hand, you’ll in for a surprise when you see the image you’ve taken. So, if you intend to play with extreme zooms, get a tripode and save yourself a lot of frustration.

Final thoughts

Allright, so that’s the ‘rant’ about equipment, Hopefully I had something useful to tell you, but in the end it all boils down to this single piece of advice I can give to anyone thinking about investing in equipment to take ‘better  pictures’ – advanced and expensive kit doesn’t automatically equal better pictures. Cameras are precision tools and just like any other tool, the more advanced it is, the more expertise and dedication it requires to get most out of it. If you’re ‘just’ interested in taking some snapshots and aren’t interested in investing time and effort in learning about photography, then there is really no point in investing in more advanced gear. Buy stuff that fits your needs, aspirations and your level of interest in photography and don’t expect miracles first time you use that shiny new DSLR. Smile

Bet some of you are thinking “Photography for wargamers, eh? Quite pretentious of you, laddie,  considering the quality of some of the pictures on your blog! Also, hadn’t that done been before?!”.

Well, sure… but it hadn’t been done by me yet and considering how frequency of my wargaming activities have decreased to another low watermark, I do what I have to do to keep this blog alive. Smile

Seriously though… I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a couple of posts about this topic for quite a while. You see, wargaming is what actually got me into photography in the first place and the specific challenges of taking photos of wargames is what shaped my ‘development’ in photography department. Along the way, I’ve made (and keep making) a lot of mistakes, but I’ve also learned a couple of things while having a blast with cameras (most of the time). So, if I can help somebody to avoid some of the pitfalls I’ve encountered and maybe tell something informative about this particular aspect of our hobby, I’ll consider it effort well spent.

Before we continue, couple of usual disclaimers. First and foremost, I am not an expert of any kind, so keep that in mind. I may be mistaken in my definitions, terms or explanations. Second – once we get so far and if I at any time describe some technique – it may work for me, but doesn’t necessarily have to work for you. As always on this blog, YMMV principle is in effect!

Allright, let’s get on with it then. I will approach this subject from an absolute beginner’s perspective, so let’s start off with the basics of photography and digital cameras.

Basic principles

What a photo camera does is really pretty simple – it’s a dark box with a sensor of some kind that catches light and registers it on some type of medium. In old days, it was a film coated with light sensitive chemicals. These days, photography has become digital affair and the light is caught by a light sensitive sensor, transferred into zeros and ones and stored on a memory card.

From a photographer’s perspective, there are two factors that need to be controlled – how much light to allow into the camera and for how long to catch the light. Both these factors are controlled by something called the shutter. Shutter is the “gate”, located either in the camera itself or in the lens, that separates the outside world from the light-sensitive sensor. When you make a photo, this gate opens to a certain degree and for certain amount of time.

Lenses with different apetures

Aperture is the term used for the hole that appears when the shutter is opened. Aperture is the first of thee fundamental factors in digital photography. In the picture above you can see different apertures for a specific lens. The shutter opens in pre-defined incremental steps, called f-stops. The lower the number of the f-stop, the bigger the hole.

The aperture controls one thing – how much light is allowed into the camera to be registered by the sensor. In simplest possible terms, the bigger the hole, the more light is let in. This reduces the time needed for the sensor to register the image. But that’s just the part of the truth; size of aperture affects the image in other ways. We’ll get to it in a while.

Shutter speed is term used to describe the amount of time that the shutter is opened to allow the light into the camera. It’s the second of the factors that you need to decide upon whenever you take a picture. The longer the shutter is opened, the more time you allow for the sensor to register the light. The relation between aperture and shutter speed is simple – the smaller the opening, the more time your sensor will need to register adequate amount of light.

In picture above the f/1.8 opens the shutter wide open. This usually means that you can keep your shutter opened for very short while, usually a miniscule fraction of a second. On the other hand f/11 aperture barely opens the shutter. This makes it necessary to keep it opened for significantly longer time, sometimes several seconds.

ISO is the third and final factor that needs to be controled when taking pictures. Unlike aperture – the size of a hole in your camera – and shutter speed – the time the hole is opened – ISO is a bit more abstract in its nature. Basically, it’s the setting that controls the sensitivity of sensor in your camera to the light. ISO typically starts somewhere around 100 and goes up in predefined increments up to its maximum sensitivity setting. The higher the ISO setting, the more sensitive your camera sensor becomes.

Exposure Triangle

These three factors are directly related to each other. Together they form so called exposure triangle. Put these three together and here’s what you get:

  • Shutter speed – the shorter the shutter speed, the bigger aperture needs to be and/or the more sensitive your ISO settings needs to be. The longer your shutter speed is, the more you can reduce your aperture and reduce ISO sensitivity of your sensor.
  • Aperture – the wider aperture (smaller f-stop number), the shorter time is required for your shutter to be opened and/or your ISO sensitivity needs to be. Small aperture requires for your shutter to be opened for longer time  and/or  your ISO needs to be increased.
  • ISO setting – low ISO setting will increase the amount of time your shutter is opened and/or  for your aperture to be set to ‘bigger hole’.

Zero sum game

Pretty simple, eh? But what does it have to do with anything? Well, consider for a moment the most common problems with photos:

  1. They are either too dark or to bleak.
  2. Photos are blurry.
  3. Only part of the photo is in focus.
  4. There is a lot of strange inaccuracies, like small spots, all over the image.

Problem no. 1 is caused by either too little or too much light hitting your sensor.

Too much light will result an ‘overexposed’ image – the sensor will be overloaded with the light and register either too much light or, even worse, reach to its maximum sensitivity, resulting in homogenous blobs of color without any detail.

The opposite happens when too little light reaches the sensor. That’s caused by too short shutter speed, to small aperture (too high f-stop for selected shutter speed) or too low ISO sensitivity for selected shutter speed/aperture combination.

When a photo is ‘good’, the shutter speed is adjusted to right time for your ‘opened hole’ (aperture) and current setting for light sensitivity for the sensor in the camera.

Problem no. 2 is easier to explain – your shutter time is so long that your hand shakings or vibrations disturb the camera to such degree that its movement is registered in the image. Some folks have a so called ‘steady hand’, personally I seem to have a hand of an alcoholic in the middle of withdrawal. Any shutter speed above 1/250 of a second will result in blurry image if I hold the camera!

To counter this problem, increase the aperture (lower f-stop number) or increase ISO setting.

Problem no. 3 can be caused by your camera focusing on wrong spot. More probably though, your field of depth  is too short. What’s field of depth, you ask? Well, it’s the distance from your initial focus point that remains sharp and in focus. Consider your own eye. When you read, you see clearly the text you focus on and maybe a bit around it. Rest of the page is ‘out of focus’. Depth of field in a camera works the same way. And it’s controlled by your aperture – the bigger the hole (smaller f-stop number), the smaller amount of image will be in perfect focus!

I’ll be talking about field of depth a lot more later on, so ponder the consequences of this behavior for a second and let’s move on.

Finally, problem 4. Daddy of this one is your ISO setting. Basically, the more sensitive your sensor becomes (higher ISO setting) the crappier it becomes at understanding what colors look like.

Conclusion

If we put things together, here’s what you get. Perfect picture is correctly exposed, with sharp focus on stuff we want to take a photo of and with correct reproduction of colors. Easiest way to get a sharp photo is to keep shutter speed as low as possible. But that demands that aperture is wide open and that reduces the distance in which things are sharp and in focus. Quite often, the physical limitations of the camera lens itself can be the limiting factor – its shutter cannot be opened wide enough and we need to accept longer shutter speed than we’d wish for. Of course, we could increase the ISO sensitivity of the sensor. But that may make the photo grainy and (worst case scenario) covered with mis-colored dots.

OK, so let’s keep the ‘hole’ small. This will increase shutter speed, resulting in blury photos. Fine then, let’s push ISO to the maximum settings… oh damn, these mis-colored dots are there again!

So… you now think ‘Is he saying that there is no way to take a good picture?’. Well, kind of… actually, taking a good picture under good lighting conditions can be a no-brainer. But it’s when things aren’t working so great in the lighting department that it can be quite valuable to be able to figure out what causes the problem and maybe figure out a work-around.

But we get there in next installment of this series.

September 28, 2017

Timecast bridges–a Quick snapshot

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I’ve finished bridges for Timecast’s river system and had a bit of fun with the camera.

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Double-dipping in the hobby pool

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Another sidestep into my other hobby. This time it’s a Messerschmitt 210 from Italeri, 1/72 scale (as always). A problem-filled kit, with sligh, but annoying fitting problems which cost a bit additional construction time. Still, once I was finished with it, I was a bit surprised over how much I liked it. Mind you, the real thing apparently gave Göring an ulcer (which, when you think about it, should really count as a positive characteristic!), but it based on lines alone, it’s a really beautiful airplane!

Anyway, here’s a couple of pics of my take on this kit.

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September 21, 2017

1/72 Normandy buildings from Najewitz Modelbau

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Well… this post was supposed to be a short and sweet introduction to buildings from Najewitz Modelbau, but I’m afraid I will kick it of with a rant. Over last couple of years, I’ve bought a grand total of five sets from these guys and was extremly pleased with the stuff I’ve received. Beautiful buildnings, minimal assembly, prompt delivery times. Of course when the packages from them arrived, I admired my new ‘precious’ and then placed them in my ‘stash’. Today however, I’ve came to realization that if my Chain of Command project is to ever lift of ground, I would have to force myself and actually put couple of these buildings together. With a sigh (another terrain project!), I dug up the boxes from Najewitz and picked one of the house at random to work with.

After I have washed the components and took the snapshots, I wanted to take a quick look at Najewitz’s site to check what they called this particular item. Well, the site is still there… but all the stuff they sold is gone. From what I can understand, the firm has switched focus and is now selling files with design plans for 3D printouts of buildings. I won’t lie, I am quite annoyed by this move. I get it that a company is free to do as it pleases when it comes to its activities. But at the same time, making lateral move like this, without much of a warning, is leaving me at least in a bit of a lurch.

On with the ‘first look’ at one of Najewitz 20mm Normandy buildings then, although I’m not sure there is much point in it anymore since it and all of its brethren seems to be no longer available on the market. Anyway… the building I will be working with is actually a set of two buildings – a café and a small garage. They’re made of plastic. The walls are about 5mm thick, while the roof sheets are bit thinner, maybe 3mm. There is minimal flash in some of the windows, but otherwise the casts are very crisp.

Construction should be simple – one just has to put the ‘teeths’ together and ensure that the angle between the walls is 90 degrees. The fit of components is pretty good, but I suspect some filler will be needed to hide the ‘tooth’ outlines at the corners. Roofs may be a bit more tricky and will probably need some sort of reinforcement, as I intend to make them removable.

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Darkest Days of WarWhat do you say about a book that you find pretty much perfect? This seems to be dilemma I am finding myself in right now, as I try to formulate some sort of coherent opinion about Peter Cozzens’ ‘The Darkest Days of the War’. The only thing that keeps popping up in my head is simply ‘This bloody thing is perfect!’.

Of course I realize that this is not a very helpful review and if I’d be hard-pressed to be more precise about the reason why this book made such an impression on me, I’d say ‘balance’. The author strikes absolutely perfect balance between overall picture and detail, between dry facts and personal experience, between commander’s perspective and the horror of combat experienced by individual soldier standing in the line of battle. Military history buffs interested in American Civil War are blessed by the fact that there is a multitude of historians that are also very talented writers, but Peter Cozzens is exceptional all in his own right.

There may be another reason why I cannot help but regard this book as absolutely superb. Just as most historical wargamers, I read a lot of military history literature. Most of the time I regard books in this genre simply as source of information and a learning tool. Very seldom do they manage to touch me on personal level. On this occasion however… there is something in the writing style of Cozzens that on several occasions filled me with immense sense of sorrow and sadness for the men who had to live through the horror of the events author describes. Military history writers often try to present the ‘human aspect’ of armed conflict, but in my case at least it is very seldom that their efforts manage to provoke a reaction. This book is for some unexplainable reason different and it definitely managed to leave a lasting emotional imprint on me.

What about the wargamer’s perspective then? Well, here I can be a bit more precise in my opinion and say… what a shocker… that it’s pretty much perfect and not for one, but for two specific reasons. First of all, the book deals with Iuka and Corinth battles of 1862, which also happen to be the subjects of many scenarios in Caliver Books’ ‘Heartland’ scenario books I’ve used for my games over last couple of years. ‘The Darkest Days of the War’ puts at least two of the scenarios I’ve played into historical content in best imaginable way! Furthermore, this book is a scenario trove all in its own right due to the fact that all three of the main engagements of the campaign are described in exceptional detail. Unit deployment is described all the way down to regimental (and sometimes skirmish screen) level, while the maps could be fetched from a wargaming magazine. The only thing missing is detailed information about manpower of individual regiments, although it can often be extrapolated from the narrative. Last but not least, the Iuka/Corinth campaign as a whole strikes me as extraordinarily suitable for a campaign game and this book provides all the necessary information and data needed for such exercise.

Overall, I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone interested in topic of American Civil War and doubly so to historical wargamers invested in this conflict.

August 19, 2017

Timecast latex rubber rivers

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Since this article is a ‘pure’ review of a commercial product, let’s start with the mandatory declaration of independence – I am in no way associated nor sponsored by Timecast Models. Thus, this review is an expression of my personal opinion as private consumer and wargamer.

Allright, with these rather official preliminaries completed, let’s get on with it.

Couple of years ago I’ve decided to ‘migrate’ my terrain from GHQ-s styrofoam hexagons to ‘conventional’ DIY terrain boards. Major reason for this move was my wish to simplify the setup and keep as much of it (hills, woods, rivers, ditches, hedhes and so on) as removable, flexible stand-alone pieces.

At the same time, Timecast Models released their roads and rivers system, made out of silicone rubber. That in itself wasn’t anything spectacular, many companies make similar terrain pieces. But two things caught my attention in regard of this particular product range. First, Timecast Models made rivers came in four different widths that could be connected together with dedicated ‘connector’ bits into integrated waterway system. Second, Timecast complemented their product with variety of resin bridges and fords. In other words, their product line struck me immediately as a complete and expandable solution for waterways. And that, ladies and gents, isn’t something one can often say when it comes to wargaming terrain.

My first (and so far only) order included enough straight and meandering river sections of smallest width to provide continous river of about 2 meters. I’ve also ordered all available sets of fords, connecting bits and river bends. Samples of what came in the box are shown below.

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As can be seen in the pictures, the rivers and fords are made of brown, flexible rubber-like material. You can easily cut and trim individual pieces with a pair of scissors.

Before painting and flocking, I washed the whole lot in lukewarm water with some dishwasher detergent. Every bit was gently scrubbed with a toothbrush, rinsed in cold water and left to dry. It was probably a bit of an overkill, but better be overly cautious than running into problems later on with some chemical residues left-over from mouldning process messing with the paint.

On with the painting then… I kept things extremly simple here and started with painting the riverbanks with dark-brown acrylic wall paint from Flügger. Water surface was painted with dark-blue acrylic artist’s paint from Amsterdam. I know, I know, not very realistic, but I like my rivers and ponds blue. Next, I tried to add some shine to the water surface with help of blank acrylic varnish, but I can’t say this step had a lot of effect. Finally, I’ve stuck some flock on top of river banks with thinned PVA glue. And that was that.

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Couple of comments about painting process. First and foremost – the paint seems to stick to the rubber material used for these terrain pieces… and stays there! This is more than I can say about my silicon roads from Total Battle Miniatures. Yes, you can peel it of if you scratch it forcefully with fingernail or something sharp, but the paint doesn’t peel of on its own if you bend the ‘bands’. That’s a good thing. Second, the flock I’ve glued on with the PVA will probably rub off with time. But that’s no biggie, I’ll just reflock if I feel it’s necessary. Finally, I feel it’s a good ocassion to repeat the advice I keep hammering on this blog – if you value your money, do not use modelling paints for your terrain pieces. Vallejo, Army Painter, Games Workshop, it doesn’t matter which brand you use, their pricing is insane and wasting their product on terrain pieces will cost you a pretty penny. For large terrain pieces, use artist’s paints that come in huge tubes, or better yet, take a trip to your DIY market and find their paint section. They usually sell half litre sample jars that will last you forever, for price of two GW paint pots and carry color ranges that will make all modelling paint ‘systems’ look puny.

Oh yes, one last thing. I’ve included couple of resin bridges that were suitable for those rivers. I still haven’t painted them, but I think it’s only fair to included couple of snapshots of how they fit together with the rest of  the ‘system’.

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Overall, my initial impression of Timecast’s river system is very positive. They’re made of what seems to be durable, flexible material. Acrylic paint and varnish sticks well on them and they look the part once painted. Addition of dedicated bridges and possibility to integrate different river widths into single ‘system’ is in my opinion a stroke of genius and was the factor that convinced me to go with this product. So, for the moment at least, I can’t but enthusiastically recommend it to anyone in need of simple but effective representation of rivers on wargaming table.

Took me just two months, but they’re now done. Final impression after putting some paints on them? Neeeaaah… my initial impression hadn’t changed that much – they are cheap and they are adequately detailed for a wargaming table. It should be enough and yet, somehow, it isn’t.

Oh well! Judge for yourself, what do you think?

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July 18, 2017

Hedge test piece

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Once again, going where everyone has been before. After watching a couple of tutorials on Youtube, I’ve ordered couple of packs of coconut fibre. Here in Sweden the easiest way (actually the only way, it would seem) to get hold of them is in small packs intended for nest bedding for birds and critters.

OK, you wonder, why should I care? Well, as it turns out, coconut fibre works pretty well as base for hedges of different sizes. And hedges, or to be more specific, boccage hedges is something I will need meters and meters of for my future Chain of Command campaigns.

For this first trial, I just wanted to see how hard it would be to work with the stuff. As it turns out, not hard at all. First, I took a wide lollipop (3cm wide) stick and sawed of the rounded edges. I didn’t bother with painting or flocking it, as it was quick and dirty proof of concept piece. Next, I pinched off a handful of coconut fibre and glued it onto the stick with hot glue. A bit of trimming was necessary to give the lump of fibre appropriately ‘hedgy’ look. Finally, I blasted the thing with spray adheseve and sprinkled the thing with Classic Flock from Noch. Couple of minutes later I repeated the last step, just to give the hedge a bit more ‘bushy’ appearance.

And that’s it, this is the result of this first trial, which by the way took all of 7-8 minutes.

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