Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Some Quick Comparisons

I'm so excited having a new toy to play with...

Been spending the day reading the manual, as that always helps, and setting all the options to what I guess will be the best settings for me; close-ups with maximum resolution and depth of field. And here are some comparisons of old pictures from previous posts versus one very quick and dirty hand held. All are posted at original size, so pretty much WYSIWYG.

Pendraken WW1 British officer, which is cruel enlargement from a group picture. The figure is 11.5mm tall.

MechWarrior battle armour figure, again taken from a group picture, which shows the best quality I could achieve with the Sony using aperture priority and a tripod i.e: F8 multi-second exposure. This figure is 14.5mm tall.

MechWarrior power armour figure that is 12.5mm tall, paint job unfinished, taken as a handheld and blown up from a group picture. Sorry no idea of the F stop etc as I haven't quite got to grips with the information overload from the on screen display. I swear this camera's viewfinder is like looking through an aircraft HUD.

All have had the same amount of post camera tweaking to improve contrast etc. All pictures are shown here at actual size. So I'm well pleased with the results so far. Now all I have got to do is become one with my camera through the process of Zen meditation!

End of an Era: Photographic Meanderings

As is my wont I'm meandering a bit off the general theme of wargaming to talk about photography, as I've just bought a "new" secondhand camera off eBay.  This act has been quite unsettling in some ways, as it marks the end of me using a 35mm SLR (single lens reflex).  Though realistically this is more like the full stop that ends the sentence, one that has been left unfinished since 2002, which was when I last used my Pentax MX in anger.

When I came back into wargaming circa May 2008 I started to take pictures for a modelling thread that I have on the BattleTech Universe Form here: Workbench.  This required me to be able to post digital pictures, and for a time before I had considered buying a scanner and using film etc, but quite frankly the cost in time and effort, as well as money, just wasn't worth it.  I was lucky in that my partner lent me a Sony Cyber-shot DSC-V1 a 5 megapixel camera with four times optical zoom for me to use.

The shift from film to digital was quite interesting, because it turned me from an experienced user into a complete newbie.

Start of extreme photographic geekiness...

Below is a picture of my SLR system that centered around my Pentax MX, which I've owned for many years, having bought it in I think 1981 from new.  Over the intervening years I bought lenses for it and a spare Pentax ME body about twelve years ago.

As you can see above The black MX has a 2.5 FPS auto-winder, which was a big deal in the 1980.  This is actually my second one, as the first fell to bits and I bought a second hand replacement many years later, which has served me well ever since, and still works like new.

To the extreme left is one of the two original lenses I bought back in the day, a Pentax M series 100m F4 macro for taking pictures of models funnily enough.  Mounted on the MX is a Pentax M series F3.5 15mm super wide angle lens that I bought second hand, which I loved for its extreme 114° field of view.  In the middle is a second hand Pentax M*(star) series F4 300m, which again back in the day was the smallest, lightest telephoto lens of its generation.  On the ME (original ME not ME Super) is the other original lens I bought back with the camera, a Pentax M series F2.8 40mm pancake lens, which was the slimmest lens that you could get, and made the Pentax MX feel light weight and compact (for definitions of light and compact that today seem laughable).  Finally, on the far right is a Pentax M series F4 24mm wide angle, again bought second hand.

The reason I emphasize the second hand acquisition is because in their day these lenses were arm and a leg expensive, costing way more than the camera.  Needless to say I used this camera quite a lot over the years, and as my first degree was in photography I have a certain amount of technical competence.

It can also be said that I was a manual everything user, as I never saw the need for automatics and the purchase of the ME was a bit of an aberration given that all of my lenses have the capability of resolving more detail than high street commercially processed film can render, which was driven by the desire to have a cheap point and shoot camera.

End of extreme photographic geekiness...

So, it was a bit of a paradigm shift for me to get my head around the fully featured Sony Cyber-shot DSC-V1.  However, I did get to grips with it and have been taking pictures with it for the last three or so years.  Still haven't used all the features, like for instance the nightshot feature.  Not felt the need, as my main aim was to take pictures of my models, or pictures of full size vehicles etc.

Just for the record the above picture is the first taken with my new camera, which I'll come to in a bit.

This Sony model first came out in 2003 and was pretty dam good for its day.  It has a 1/1.8" (7.2 x 5.3, 8.9mm diagonal) CCD (charge coupled device; the thing that acts like a film in my Pentax) with 5 megapixels, and the lens is a F2.8/F4 zoom that can be stopped down to F8 (stopped down is when you make the aperture of the lens smaller that then gives you a greater depth of field, which is really good when taking pictures of small things).  You've seen the results here on this blog.

However, even with the lens stopped down to F8, using a tripod to compensate for the long exposure times, the fact of the matter is that I've not really been able to get the picture quality I want (namely close-ups of very small 10mm figures) that shows the work I've done in the best possible light.  So I took the plunge and bought a new second hand camera.

Above is my new Panasonic Lumix DMC GF1 that has a micro four thirds CCD (18 x 13.5, 22.9mm diagonal) that shoots at 12 megapixels.  The lens is a 14 to 45 F3.5/5.6 zoom that stops down to F22.  So this camera is big step up from the Sony, as not only does it have more megapixels, it also has a much larger CCD, which means better "quality" too.  Once I've got my head around all of the controls and set up everything to my satisfaction I shall be posting pictures using my new camera in the weeks that follow.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

WW1 Interregnum

It has been a while since I've posted anything about my efforts to put together two WW1 forces so that I can play games set in late 1917 and finishing with the 100 day offensive of 1918. While I'm no where near finished painting anything of note, what I have done is finally finish basing all of the figures for both the Germans and British forces I am building.

Above shows the British company and I'm thinking about about adding another base of three Tommies to all the rifle squads because as they stand each platoon is only 33 men. This would strengthen the platoon to 39 men. As you can see I have six Vickers machine gun teams and a four mortar teams to support this lot when in defence. I'm also making up shock markers using casualties on stretchers, but again I haven't decided how many I will need? Or,  I could use one each with a die next to them to indicate shock points. Any advice would be welcome.

Alternatively, if Pendraken were to do some poses of Tommies firing either prone, kneeling and or standing, then I could add two scouts to each platoon, which would only strengthen them up to 35 men. I'm undecided about this.

The German company organisation is taken straight from the example in TooFat Lardies Through the Mud and the Blood book, and represents a late war company with Stosstrupen attached, which makes them quite formidable and what has caused me to re-evaluate the number of Tommies I have in my British company.

Above is the basic company consisting of three kampfzuge (platoons). Two of the  kampzuge are made up of eleven man einheits gruppe (squads); seven riflemen and one LMG four man team, plus NCO. The third kampzuge is half strength einheits gruppe consisting of of 32 men; two groups of eight riflemen, and two groups of with one LMG with eight men.

To strengthen the German company each kampfzuge will have a stoss gruppe (shock troops), or assault grenade squad attached to stiffen them when attacking. Finally, there are the erganzun zug consisting of sixteen men with four NCOs and the reserves made up of a recce squad and granaten werfer squad. In addition, I've added two flame thrower teams and one 37mm artillery piece that the stoss gruppe could have attached when in assault.

I also have tanks for the British; three MkIVs, three MkVs and three MkI supply tanks, plus eight Whippets for the break through group, and plan to add a cavalry troop/squadron to this as well, but no pictures of them yet as I haven't managed to assemble the models.

Besides WW1 actions I intend to use this force as the basis for a what if continuation war that rolls over in 1919 and beyond that is based on the Germans not counter attacking when the Americans arrived, but rather basing their strategy on defense in depth with mobile quick strike formations. This story could then develop into a breakdown of both sides ability to wage war when the inevitable discontent the lengthening of the war produces leads to uprising and civil war breaking out. This does preclude me going all out and adding H. G. Wells Martians for a War of the Worlds scenario. I have some tripod war machines that would serve quite nicely for this idea.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

1st Republican Guards & 3rd Royal Guards of Mummerset

I'm writing this a couple of days later than planned, because I've allowed myself to be side tracked with stuff; Real Life (TM). One of the things I was musing on, as one does when one is thinking about writing is topics. I have loads of topics to write about, but as most of them involve pictures of stuff I've been painting etc, and I've singularly failed to take said pictures, they will have to wait. Not that every post needs pictures, but the feedback I get is generally along the lines of where's the picture!

Anyway I've been following advice given by Gordon Y in the comments of the previous post, and have primed up and dry brushed some of the vehicles I need for the Mummerset campaign; in particular those that I need for OPFOR and the occasional friendly support stuff.

First up is the OPFOR, in this instance the units for the 1st Republican Guards of President Marx, under the command of General Spencer. All of these are MechWarrior models de-clixed by the removal of their bases. At the back are four missile tanks with the battalion/regimental command truck in the middle. Then there are four wheeled tanks with an anti-aircraft platform in the middle. In front are four APC/armoured cars, and a Morningstar the company command vehicle leads the way. What I plan to do next is clean up the castings before I paint them up properly at my leisure.

What I'm short of for this company are suitable vehicles for transporting the the company of infantry. I had originally planned on using the APC/armoured cars, but to my eyes they only seem large enough to hold a squad, which is very realistic, but it would mean I would have to acquire and paint up another twelve models. I'm lazy and feel painting as few models as possible is a far better thing to do than paint up hordes.

Here are the 3rd Royal Guards under the command of Colonel/General Whales. Again all of these are converted MechWarrior clix models. At the back are are four SM1 self propelled guns that have been converted to troop carriers, and I've also added a small missile launcher to each so that they can provide indirect fire support. These are quite large models and I can fully imagine them carrying a platoon each. Next are four hover tanks, and in front of them are four scout craft. At the front is the company command vehicle.

Originally I wanted all the APC GEVs to be based on the model I'm now using for the company command vehicle, but it is one of the MechWarrior promo models that I was lucky to get hold of, and I haven't seen any since on eBay. The plan had been to to use the models at the back as the basis for missile carriers, rather than troop transports, but needs must as they say.

Finally, HMS Burlington, a resin model from Pendraken miniatures, which I've assembled, but not yet finished. It is a pastiche of a WW2 Flower class corvette, which I intend to detail up with gubbins and gribbly bits to make it more visually stunning, because as it stands it is a bit bland.

So there you have it, a picture of another weeks progress on my workbench. Well not quite as I've done a load of infantry, but have yet to find time to take some photographs of them. Neither have I found the time to take pictures of the completed infantry that I promised to post up here from a couple of blogs back.

However, all things considered not a bad weeks worth of work, even if I feel I could have done more the truth is I've been too tired to concentrate on making and painting things.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Too Little Time, too Much to do

On this TMP thread there is discussion come poll for how many periods one plays? I tend to think of myself as primarily a Sci-Fi wargamer who does some modern era stuff, but when I sat down and listed all the different miniatures I have I found I 'm spreading myself quite thin...

1. BattleTech is probably my first and foremost commitment. Certainly it is one of the few games where I have miniatures that I bought for the game that are over 20 years old. I have a large lead mountain of unpainted figures in spite of my best efforts.

2. MechWarrior follows, there is no argument that I actually have more stuff for this game, but on the other hand this is not saying much given how was easy as it was to buy all pre-paints after the game folded bought off eBay.

3. 15mm SF. Mostly Traveller and Dr. Who Daleks, which again are mostly over 20 years old by now. However, very few unpainted figures.

4. 6mm OGRE/GEV most of these are again old models from the first time around and are again a minimum of 20 years old in most cases. Have a shoebox full of unopened blisters and another box with unpacked models that have been sorted into company's etc waiting paint to be applied.

5. Spaceships, a motley collection of older stuff with a few more modern additions to fill out the fleet. Mostly languishing unloved and unplayed with for some time now. I also have a box of unpainted models to add to my lead mountain.

6. 15mm AK47R. One of new additions since I got back into wargaming again, more unpainted than painted, but that pretty much goes without saying, and is equally true of my unpainted BattleTech miniatures. About half based, while the other half form a small mountain of lead.

7. 10mm WW1 late war Western Front. Another new period brought on by buying Through the Mud and the Blood from TooFat Lardies. Still mostly unpainted, though largely all the figures are based.

8. 10mm Spanish Civil War. Lead mountain awaiting some TLC.

9. 10mm VietNam. Another lead mountain awaiting attention.

Well that is a lot more periods and scales than I would have given myself credit for being involved with. No wonder I don't get any thing finished.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Historical Wargamers Have it Easy

I  know that the title of this piece will cause a bit of controversy, but it is made partly in response to  Neil Shuck and Henry Hyde's podcasts View from the Veranda, where they assert that Sci-Fi & Fantasy don't have to do research for their armies. I inferred from this comment that they think that having to do research somehow makes historical wargaming a more serious activity requiring dedication to achieve the goal of fielding an army, whereas Sci-Fi & Fantasy just require one to buy an  easily digested source book.

Neither of them would appear to be anti Sci-fi & Fantasy, far from it in fact, as there is clearly evidence that Neil is a player an collector of Sci-fi & Fantasy wargame armies, and Henry plays Neil. However, I really want to beg to differ about having to do research makes historical wargaming somehow harder, and or that one has to be more serious about the hobby.

Okay, I will admit that I have a research background, it goes hand-in-hand with my job, and I have to be able to interpret the results of research trials and apply said result in my work. This without doubt gives me more skills when it comes to researching stuff, but given that any person who can read can go to a library, or in this age of the internet search on Google, I can't see that a determined person can't find out all they need to know about any given subject. Whether or not what they find is correct, or not, is of course another matter indeed.

Of course, if a person is not determined to follow their passion then that is another matter. In this case they want the stuff in an easy to digest format, and preferably be able to buy the miniatures and rules to go, which is all well and dandy until you realise that one still has to paint all the stuff you've bought up. And this is the Elephant in the room, which in all fairness to Neil and Henry they do acknowledge and muse upon possible solutions.

The other problem is that miniature wargames can segueway into military modelling. This is epitomised by the fastidiousness over the correct colours for painting uniforms and the details of the uniforms and equipment carried. I always have a wry smile to myself when this topic comes up, because of the old adage that a unit that passes inspection is not ready for combat. and any unit ready for combat will not pass inspection. You only have to look at the field expedient changes and modification to the gear that is worn by serving soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan to see that this is as true to day as it ever was. In my opinion this fastidiousness is driven by the scale/size of the figures that are being played with. I'm with Peter from Baccus in that 6mm is the one true wargames scale.

Actually I'm not completely with Peter, because doctrinally 6mm is not a scale, but rather a very loose definition of the size of a figure that varies depending on assumptions made about the height of a man, and how to measure said height, with complications like variable average heights across the ages.

However, in principle, smaller is better and I would consider 3mm to 10mm, where the average is approximately 6mm as being a good size for miniature toy soldiers, if you want to play anything other than small skirmish wargame. For me the figures need to be as close as possible to the ground scale that one is playing over if one is going to make the most of the benefits of using toy soldiers, rather than having all the downsides that toy soldiers bring to a game when the ground scale is grossly out of proportion.

The topic of ground scale deserves a blog entry in its own right, because what I might consider proportionate others might consider foolish. I'll come to this another time.

Anyway, I've meandered off the topic of research and historical wargaming versus Sci-Fi & Fantasy wargaming, and why I think that neither is easier to do than the other. Quite simply if you are modelling a British WW2 regiment, you chose the one you want to represent, a period where they are deployed and with a little bit of faffing you will be able to get an ORBAT (order of battle) and away you go. Painting the uniforms is then just a matter of finding a paint that matches the colour the uniforms were, and Bob's your Uncle and Charly's your Aunt.

On the the other side of the coin if one is making up an army for a Sci-Fi campaign, and I will use my own Mummerset one as an example, I had to decide what colour were the uniforms would be, how the platoons would be organised, how many men, what sort of infantry would they be, how many platoons to a company, how many company's to a battalion, and how many battalions to a regiment? Admittedly I could just pick figures off the top of my head, but I know that this stuff comes from doctrine. So I had to think what sort of doctrines would the armed forces of Mummerset have? And then I had to think what was the main arm of the army?

All of this actually required a lot of historical knowledge into how armies grow and develop wen reacting to past wars fought and the introduction of new technology. Of course one could by a book on Ork armies, but I'm not playing Games Workshop Warhammer 40K, and I think to label all Sci-Fi & Fantasy wargamers as people who play Games Workshop products rather blinds one to all the other wargamers that are getting on and doing there own things, like for example Gruntz and the Society of Science Fiction & Fantasy Wargamers , not to mention BattleTech of course!

Friday, 5 August 2011

Battletech Interregnum

Like most wargame hobbyists I too fit the stereotype of someone who buys stuff and then doesn't get around to actually doing anything with it, all the time buying new stuff that is shiney, which has caught my attention. I'm currently off work sick, and have as such a lot of time, but very little inclination to do anything, hence the sick part. However, I have dragged myself to the work bench this week and spent sometime texturing bases of trays of infantry figures.

The picture at the top are all the extra figures I need for the Mummerset campaign I'm running. Basically more infantry than I've ever painted for BattleTech. What you can see here are two motorized infantry platoons, followed by two standard foot infantry platoons, and at the rear one platoon of Power Armour and one jump infantry platoons. Oh, the bases to the left are modified MWDA clix flight bases for VTOLs and helicopters.

Texturing infantry bases is not the most interesting task in the world, but suits my limited concentration span, and it is something I can do while listening to a podcast. Not something that I would have thought I would ever find myself doing as I find listening to talking voices on the radio rather distracting, but at the moment as long as it is the right kind of distracting I can listen to a podcast about wargaming.

In particular I've been listening to View from the Veranda and Meeples & Miniatures both are quite fun, though I prefer View from the Veranda more, because the chemistry between Henry Hyde and Neil Shuck just really works. Anyway, those of you who want something to listen to can check these out and make up your own minds.

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