The Perfect Black Backdrop

For the most part, I love the hell out of my photo table. Yes, it’s big and unwieldy and attracts bugs in the summer months, but the nice even lighting and the ability to use uplighting make it all worthwhile.

ShootingTable 1

It’s an excellent way to showcase my builds.

But…I do miss the option to shoot on a different backdrop – like black.

Why? Simple. White is rather strong, tonally, and can introduce a form of tonal crush all its own, obscuring subtle tonal variations in a paint finish. With certain tones – particularly grays – it can also make accurate white balance a pain in the ass, and thanks to the white plexiglass not being a pure white, can make certain grays look too blue, or conversely make itself look too red.

Case in point – the Tamiya F-14 I’m currently working my way through. Take this shot…in which the Dark Ghost Gray seems both too blue, and too dark:

After completely resampling the white balance, I took another go at it…and was happier.

But now the white looks…dingy…and the gray is not pulling through nearly all of the tonal variation going on.

But when you put it on black…

At the exact same exposure – the gray looks far, far more tonally correct, and the subtle variations across the surface more apparent.

The problem is finding a good black backdrop

Posterboard works…decently…but it’s small and confines angles. Bigger posterboards are too stiff – and paper products just do not last long in the garage environment (thanks, humidity).

Photo backdrops that are made out of shit like muslin are right out – those are great for portraits, but not great for a photo table, where the grain shows through.

Ideally I’d be able to find something like a nice big piece of clear, flimsy acrylic – but I’ve only ever found those in clear – and attempts to paint them a black that’s opaque never seem to go well.

I thought I’d found an interesting solution with a big sheet of adhesive vinyl…I mean it does take pretty damn good pictures…

But it also ended up creasing like a bastard on the slope of the photo table, leading to very obvious reflective areas and making me question its durability for ongoing use and storage cycles.

black-1

So what say you, readers? Know of a wonderful backdrop material that won’t turn to mush in moderate humidity, that won’t attract every mote of dust and then refuse to let it go? That’s big enough to allow freedom of shot angles (approximately 4 feet by 3 feet would probably work)?

Any ideas? Because I’m running out.

 

Review: Gunze Mr. Airbrush PS-770

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A few years ago, I found a screaming deal on a gently used Iwata CM-B Custom Micron.

Did I need it? Not really. But I’d been hearing Custom Microns talked about in reverent tones and was curious if the hype was real.

Was it ever.

I’m something of an airbrush whore, so I’ve sprayed a lot of different brands and types. And quite frankly, none of them were really any better than my trusty Iwata HP-C Plus. Even the vaunted Harder & Steenbeck Infinity.

The Custom Micron changed that. The atomization, the trigger feel, the relatively broad engagement point that makes it more feasible to spray consistently small – all of them combine to deliver a spraying experience that no other airbrush can match.

It’s so good that I use it for 85-90% of all painting duties.

The thing is, though, Custom Microns are not cheap.

So when I caught wind of this Gunze PS-770, I was immediately intrigued. Many of Guzne’s airbrushes are certainly at the very least kissing cousins of various Iwatas. And the PS-770 appears for all the world like a Gunze take on the Custom Micron CM-C+, with the .18mm needle/nozzle combo from the CM-B.

But instead of $400-500, the PS-770 can be snagged for $200-250.

Is it a Custom Micron in Gunze clothing, or is it too good to be true?

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Well – I had to find out, so I bought one and put it to the test.

Check out the video below to see how it went:

And the Winner Is…

round3fight

2016 is definitely a year of, uh, unexpected elections. Let’s just leave that at that.

The Contributor-Funded Kit Reviews Round 3 vote, it seems, is no exception.

After the Round 1 and 2 votes saw the eventual winners pull into a commanding lead relatively early on, Round 3 was different. The early favorite fell off late, and two other subjects remained neck and neck. Trading places as votes came in.

For a while, it seemed that Kitty Hawk’s upcoming Su-17/22 Fitter would squeak it out. And then HK’s big B-17E/F nosed ahead. And then it went back, and forth.

And then they fucking tied. 106 to 106.

Well. Shit. I hadn’t planned for this.

Jesus take the wheel?

There have been a few suggestions to flipping a coin or other random-selection mechanisms. No. Maybe it’s the way I’m wired, I don’t know, but I’ve never been a fan of turning things over to random chance. Random chance has enough say in our lives as it is.

I’m also not keen on a run-off, because that’s another fucking mail merge to set up, and limiting it to those who voted the first time out would require some Excel formulas that I don’t want to work out on a weekend.

Determining the winner

So what’s going to determine the winner?

Two things.

First, a bastardized bicameralism. The US government divides its legislative branch into two bodies. The House of Representatives is based on proportional representation. States with more people have more representatives. Then there’s the Senate, where every state has two senators, and most of them are assholes.

To determine the winner, I’m going to look not only at the vote total, but the voter total. My main voting system is $1 = 1 vote, but for runoff purposes, a 1 vote per person approach will indicate which subject has a broader base of support.

Second, which one I feel is more in need of a rigorous build review. With both the Fly Hurricane and Kinetic F/A-18C, I feel like there was enormous benefit to covering how the things actually come together. If you’re going to build one, it helps to know where to pay extra attention or drink extra alcohol.

And the winner is…

The winner, on both counts, is the Kitty Hawk Su-17/22 Fitter.

kh-su-17

In terms of the “popular vote”, the Fitter musters 61% of the vote to the B-17’s 39%. Essentially – more people are interested in seeing the Fitter reviewed.

In terms of which is more in need of review, I have to concede, that’s the Fitter as well. For a few reasons.

  • The HK B-17E/F definitely skirts my own “no warmed over variants releases” rule. Given the interest in the subject that a lot of people have (I’m more a B-24J fan…), and the retooling effort HK went through moving from the B-17G, I gave it a pass. But we already know HK’s B-17 is a pretty sweet kit.
  • There are lots of B-17 kits. There are fuck all Su-17 kits. Well, there’s a terrible ancient kit, but you get the idea.
  • The Fitter is a Kitty Hawk kit, and we know what that means.
  • The B-17 is so size prohibitive in 1/32 that it has a limited audience, and that audience is going to buy it or not buy it on factors other than me dropping F-bombs on YouTube. Yeah there’s a Car & Driver-reviews-a-Ferrari quality to it I guess, but I’m not Car & Driver.

So. The Su-17/22 it is.

 

Contributor-Funded Kit Reviews: Round 3 Selection Time!

I know, I know. It’s been a little while since Round 2. There are lots of reasons – like laziness, work, wanting to actually build things – but I also wanted to give a bit of time for new releases to somewhat refresh themselves. And have they ever – Round 3 may prove to be the most difficult vote yet.

Or like Round 1 and Round 2, one or two kits will leave all the others in the dust.

Housekeeping Stuff

What’s the deal with these reviews? Check out the REVIEWS PAGE, MANIFESTO and FAQ is you want to get up to speed.

Starting with Round 2, some changes have been implemented to the voting process. You can read up on them HERE. Basically – if you vote for the kit that ends up winning, some portion of those votes will be “retired”.

Want to contribute to the effort and get on board the Round 3 selection train? Visit the FundRazer link:

FRZR

Okay, okay, enough housekeeping. Let’s get on to the Round 3 contenders.

Round 3 – Fight!

Here are your tributes –

  1. 1/72 Airfix B-17G Flying Fortress
  2. 1/48 Airfix P-40B Tomahawk
  3. 1/48 Hobby Boss Su-27 Flanker
  4. 1/32 HK Models B-17E/F Flying Fortress
  5. 1/48 Kitty Hawk Su-17/22 Fitter
  6. 1/48 Meng P-51D Mustang
  7. 1/32 Special Hobby Yak-3
  8. 1/48 Hobby Boss Su-34 Fullback
  9. 1/35 Takom King Tiger
  10. 1/35 Tamiya M40
  11. 1/48 Zoukei Mura F-4J Phantom II
  12.  1/2700 Zvezda Imperial Star Destroyer

Voting is live now (Friday 11/25/16) – so if you’ve contributed, keep an eye on your inbox! And if you want to have a say, you can contribute HERE.

No.

56215932

It seems to pop up every so often.

Sometimes it carries the bland formality of a form letter. “Dear sir or madam”. Or a concerned older person worried there might have been some kind of accident. Or the morally righteous. Or those who “just don’t think it’s needed, that’s all”, which I always imagine being said in Martin Freeman’s voice for some reason.

I’m talking, of course, about the requests, demands, tut-tuts and head shakes regarding my use of expletives on this blog.

It’s tiresome. So here, once and for all, is my response:

Fuck You

Did you walk out of the theater in disgust when Matt Damon proclaimed “I’m going to have to science the shit out of this”?

Do you basically enjoy no stand up comedy of any kind?

You poor soul.

Fuck You

We have all kinds of actual, real problems facing us in the world. Big fucking problems. Climate change and income inequality and the precarious teetering of the world economy and the rise of far-right strongman nationalist governments around the world.

Oh well, better bitch about a few shits and fucks thrown around on a modeling blog.

Fuck You

Here’s the thing. In the most reductionist terms, I write for a living. And when I write for clients, I get to do super-fun things like adopt their brand voice and refer to their style guide and adhere to their messaging architecture.

I love it. But it can be a bit stifling.

That’s part of why I started this blog several years ago. Yeah, it was mostly my little corner of the internet where I could geek out about models, but it was also a sandbox. A place where I didn’t – and don’t – have to adhere to some other brand voice or editorial style. Where I can play and try things that clients are often too hesitant to go for. Where I can plan how I want, write how I want, and not have to balance an editorial calendar against the editorial calendars of five other divisions and six other agencies.

A place where I can do whatever the fuck I want.

So, in the words of the great Rage Against the Machine,

Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Tamiya’s New Tomcat – Not the Second Coming

1473787041021_tamiya_1_48_grumman_f14a_tomcat_61114_sincerehobby

NOTE: This is not a review per se. There will be no fondling of sprues or the like. Think of this more as an addendum – impressions from mid-way through the actual build. 

Since the first test shots emerged, Tamiya’s new 1/48 F-14A Tomcat has been praised to the heavens. Reviews have been almost universally glowing. And to be sure, it’s a fine kit.

But now that I’m a ways into building one, I’d stop shy of calling it a great kit. Much less the OMG BEST KIT EVAR!!!! adulation that some heap upon it.

I know. There’s just no pleasing some people.

The Hedgehog

In his business books, Jim Collins goes on about the Hedgehog Model. You can read about it here if you want, but the TL;DR version is pretty simple. The hedgehog is really great at one thing – rolling up into a spiky ball that predators don’t like to bite. Businesses, by focusing on that one thing they do really, really well, succeed over the long term.

Tamiya’s hedgehog is fit. They may fuck up here and there on other things, but when you crack into a Tamiya kit you’re pretty much assured of truly wonderful fit (and the engineering that assures that).

Tamiya’s Tomcat is no exception. The engineering – and the fit that follows from it – cannot be disputed. Pieces slot together with authority and precision. There’s no guessing. There’s no hoping. Shit just fits.

And I’m not just talking about the fuselage or the cockpit – it extends to the wing glove pylons and the gear bays and the gear struts and the intake trunks.

From an assembly perspective, Tamiya’s F-14 is great.

But…

Beyond engineering and fit, Tamiya drops several balls with their Tomcat. They’re little things, but taken together they add up to a kit that falls just shy of greatness.

I’m going to address each, as well as offer up a few thoughts on how Tamiya – or the aftermarket – could address them.

The Wings

The Tamiyacat’s wings? They’re solid. Personally I’m fine with this, since unless the F-14 is literally on the catapult or landing, the slats and flaps aren’t splayed out. But it gets under some people’s britches.

Solution: This one is simple, thanks to Tamiya’s excellent spar tabs. Offer a “F-14 Premium Wing” set. Meng already does shit like this with their armor.

boxtop-interior

The Cockpit

Detail in the cockpit is…decent. And honestly, with what Tamiya’s been doing with their last several 1/32 releases, and what AMK and Eduard and Trumpeter and others have been pulling off in 1/48 recently, decent is a letdown. The knobs are clumsy and don’t really match up 100% to the real thing. The stock throttle is just a lump of plastic. The gauges on the instrument panels are tiny in their bezels.

Note: Seats and throttle are aftermarket

I mean…just compare it to Hobby Boss’ A-6E Intruder:

Solution: Despite the spartan nature of Tamiya’s efforts, engineering comes to the rescue here. Every single detail part is an insert that slots into the bare cockpit tub. The firewalls, the side consoles, the sidewalls, everything.

The door is wide open for aftermarket resin to come to the rescue. Now – the way the cockpit and the nose gear bay fit together and locate into the fuselage would be a nightmare to match in resin, but there’s no need for that. Just make new cockpit inserts. That’s probably too clever for Aires, but if Eduard isn’t already working on it, I’ll find a hat and eat it.

The Gear Bays

The gear bays – as with everything else – fit together wonderfully. But they commit the sin of completely ignoring the rat’s nest of plumbing you’ll find looking up an F-14’s skirt.

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modelgrafix-8-finemolds-f14-tomcat-25

Quite the difference, no?

Solution: Honestly, given the way that elements of the gear bays are integral to other parts, full-replacement gear bays will be a shit-ton of work. More work than I’d be willing to put in at least. But the separate pieces could certainly be upgraded, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Eduard try to tackle of some of this via photo etch (shudder).

Version Control

The F-14A went through several production blocks, with small-but-noticeable tweaks throughout. The main ones were different gun vents, the addition of tail stiffeners, ECM antenna bulges under the wing gloves, and the addition of the TCS chin pod. None of these were included in the kit, which is just fucking maddening.

Then again, Hobby Boss’ F-14A doesn’t have a TCS pod, either.

Right now, your only options for upgrades are either stealing shit out of another kit (like the Hobby Boss F-14B for the TCS pod) or buying some less-than-stellar resin from Steel Beach.

Personally, I don’t really give a shit about the gun vents or other smaller details, but the TCS pod is a big one. It’s a large, prominent thing on the F-14, and many earlier-block F-14As were retrofitted with them over time.

tcs_right

Solution: Aftermarket seems to be the way to go here. Wolfpack is generally pretty on top of various block and mid-life update sets, and I’d expect them to have something put together for later F-14As as soon as possible. Until then – I’m stealing my TCS from the Hobby Boss F-14B.

The Fucking Plastic

For some reason, Tamiya decided to abandon their usual gray for a weird, light, creamy gray plastic that gives me PTSD flashbacks to Kinetic’s F-5B and Revell’s 1/32 Bf 109G-6.

Not only does this plastic present a real pain in the ass when it comes to photography and visual definition, it also seems to have trouble curing with Tamiya Extra Thin. I had a similar issue with Tenax on Revell’s 109G-6, and the only reason Tamiya gets away with it is the staggeringly good fit. You don’t have to worry about panels pulling away, so the weird slow curing thing isn’t a huge deal. But still…give me back my normal gray plastic.

Solution: Hope Tamiya gets back to the usual plastic for their next variant. And yes, I acknowledge that this appears to be the same plastic the 1/48 F-16 is molded in. By usual plastic I mean the wonderful, darker gray seen on most of their other kits, including their recent 1/32 releases:

Very Good, Not Quite Great

So there you have it. Tamiya’s put together a very competent F-14 that nevertheless doesn’t quite knock it out of the park. Maybe an infield home run.

Tamiya’s Next 1/32 Subject – New Factors Emerge

ki

It’s always great fun to dig into Tamiya’s release patterns and try to make some predictions about where we might be heading. I’ve written on this topic plenty of times before – most recently HERE – and the general precedents have been holding for some time. Broadly, in TL;DR terms:

  • New 1/32 subjects come in the summer of odd-numbered years. Spitfire in ’09, Mustang in 2011, Corsair in 2013, and Mosquito in 2015. So we’re due for something new this next summer.
  • Variants follow in even-numbered years  – with the exception of the Mosquito, which I’m starting to think won’t see a variant release.
  • Subjects all exist in some fashion in their 1/48 catalog. The only real exception is the Spitfire – and that’s an exception in variants, not in subject.
  • Tamiya’s 1/32 releases have been coming out in the same chronological order as their 1/48 releases, albeit skipping aircraft like the Dewoitine D.520 that would be a long-shot for 1/32 release.
  • Tamiya’s subject choices have been of iconic aircraft with enough detail potential and bulk to justify the $100-plus pricetags.

Based on these precedents, I’ve been predicting that 2017 will give us either a P-47 or Me 262. 

But…recent signs may point to that precedent shifting.

Highway to the…

Earlier this year, Tamiya dropped their first jet since their lauded F-16, a 1/48 Grumman F-14A Tomcat.

The kit has some minor frustrations in terms of detail and limitations on which F-14A production blocks you can build out of the box, but engineering and fit-wise, it’s a simply wonderful kit.

Now…it’s not likely…but it’s within the realm of possibility that they may stray from props for their next 1/32 kit, and drop a new-tool F-14 on us instead.

If you’re not aware, Tamiya has already done a 1/32 Tomcat – but the tool dates to 1980, making it nearly as old as I am. It’s generally regarded as Tamiya’s weakest 1/32 kit.

“But Tamiya never goes back and revisits old subjects” you might say. And that’s largely true, with one exception. Not so many years ago, they released two brand-new 1/48 A6M Zero kits to replace another ancient tooling.

So…it could happen.

Another Wrinkle

While most of the buzz around Tamiya this year has focused on the new Tomcat and 1/24 Acura NSX, they just very recently announced another 1/48 kit, set to release toward the end of the year – a Ki-61 Hien.

Print

Now this is pretty remarkable on its own – I think the last time Tamiya released two new-tool 1/48 kits in the same year might be the P-47 and Me 262 (ironic). But there may be more going on here.

Just look at the CAD renderings. output_011_2output_011

What the fuck is that?

Tamiya typically doesn’t go in for exposing the engines in its 1/48 inline props – I can’t think of a single one honestly – but there you have it, a Ka-40, the Japanese license-built version of the famous German DB 601.

output_010

Why does this matter?

Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe Tamiya’s just stepping up their 1/48 game.

Or maybe they’re twin-tooling and since they’re already doing something in 1/32, may as well put a simplified version in the 1/48 kit.

So…could Tamiya be ramping up a 1/32 Ki-61? Maybe?

Let’s Throw Some Odds

So…the way I see it, there are four distinct possibilities in play for Tamiya’s next 1/32 kit. But what’s the likelihood of any one of them happening? At this point, fuck if I know, but I’ll throw some numbers out anyway:

  • P-47D Razorback – 35%
  • Messerschmitt Me 262 – 20%
  • F-14A Tomcat – 10%
  • Ki-61 Hien – 15%
  • None of the Above – 20%

Bring on May 2017!