Safety Razors Are Back (?)

Concept: 4 out of 5
Execution: 4 out of 5
Yeah, but: Did they ever go away? 

The Long Version: Rick Harrison from the reality TV show 'Pawn Stars' has been pushing this model in commercials, which is what first piqued my interest. While my father was missing somewhere in Laos during the 1960s I used to dig around in his belongings fairly often, and playing with his razors was always the most fun--and I looked forward to shaving with them someday. The clamshell doors operated by a twisting knob on the end of the handle? Kid magnet!

Unfortunately my mom started me off with BIC disposables, and by the time I thought about it again dad's razors were gone.

So the design held a definite fascination for me, but not for the rest of the world because cheap plastic razors took over the market and the safety razor disappeared. Then one blade became two, three, etc. My most recent shaving tool had 4 blades, plus a fifth pointed in the other direction for "precise detail work around the edges".
And it vibrated (= Ate batteries).
And the blade cartridges cost about $5 each, but you had to buy at least 4 at a time.
In my opinion, it was a completely out of control situation and I was more than ready for a change--which is when I saw my first TV commercial for the MicroTouch ONE. 
Perfect timing! 

At first I started looking for vintage models at antique stores.
My mental pricepoint was $10, but most that I found went from $15 up and were in poor condition.
Then I tried the upscale shaving store at the mall, but they had sold out completely during the Christmas season and theirs started at $70 and included a brush for mixing and applying your old school shaving soap which I'm pretty sure I don't need.
Very nice pieces by far, but I was trying to save some money not find a new hobby.

Apparently I mentioned all this to my cousin and his wife while they were in town and the wife remembered, because within a week or two she had shipped me a nice new MicroTouch ONE they'd found at their grocery store in the "As Seen On TV" section.

The stand was a little wonky, but it was a quick job to pad the jaws of a small vise and twist it true.
Chrome plated brass, which as I recall is just how they used to be made.
Size and proportions are as before, too.

The instructions scared me a bit, recommending a warm towel to soften the beard and several other tips to avoid cutting yourself, but I guess it was only so much CYA lawyer-speak because it's just like using any other razor. Clean shave, no blood.
(As an aside, 15 blades might give you a closer shave, but after an hour the stubble is already coming back anyway, and super-close shaves invite the possibility of ingrown hairs, which suck).

Mainly I'm attracted by the solid heft of a metal razor, the way it looks and feels like something a real man would own. A cool "guy" device, you know?
Also the fact that it cleans up completely with none of the gunk that ends up stuck between blades 3 and 4 of my old rig. Open it up and rinse.

When you close it up all the way, the blade gets bent into a gentle curve that matches the profile of the doors, so you know these blades are paper thin. Staying sharp so far.

With a dozen double blades included, I should be good for a year at least.
I've already found a local source for replacements at a good price, and you can order them from MicroTouch, too.
At around $20 plus shipping I was employing delay tactics when it came to pulling the trigger on this razor, but I'm also sure that it would've happened sooner rather than later. Now I'm really enjoying what used to be my least favorite morning chore for the first time in my life. It just feels right.

And Rick Harrison is correct when he says in the commercials that you don't need all those extra blades.
Current disposable razors are a huge rip-off, and I'm done with them.

Obviously I like this razor on it's own merits. The nostalgia angle is pure bonus.
Hopefully this isn't just a fad, and more safety razors hit the market. The higher-end ones I've seen were very finely made and impressive, but it would be nice to see more on the lower end of the price scale to help increase familiarity and thus demand.

last updated 1 dec 2013



Concept: 2 out of 5
Execution: 4 out of 5
Yeah, but: April 6 is National Tartan Day.

The Long Version: Scarves are something of an odd idea. Creating a strip of fabric specifically for wrapping it in the gap between ones' collar and chin hardly seems like a functional idea. Despite growing up watching "Dr. Who" episodes that prominently featured scarves, I never saw much point to them. Stylish accessories, perhaps, but more trouble than they're worth.

Being of (fractionally and nominally) Scottish descent, the last time I was in Ottawa I took the opportunity to visit a tartan shop on Robertson street. How could I not? The photo above is of the Robertson Hunting tartan, while the one below is a standard Robertson. So my first scarf purchases as an adult were simply as accessories, without too much regard for function.

Of course that was before I knew that this winter would be one of the coldest in recent memory, and before I knew just how much warmth a scarf would add to my usual winter outfit. I still never took to scarves for all-purpose wear, though, since they are much more difficult to add or remove quickly than the typical toque and gloves. I'll certainly want to keep them handy for next winter, though.

Today, April 6, just happens to be National Tartan Day. The lead photo is the 'Maple Leaf', the official Tartan of Canada.

last updated 1 dec 2013


Nikon D800: Two Years

Concept: 5 out of 5
Execution: 4 out of 5
Yeah, but: "It has 53 teeth still in place."

The Long Version: After two years the Nikon D800/e remains the best camera on the market. It's tough, it's fast, its image quality in good light is unequalled by any camera costing less than three times as much, and it's still among the very best in low light as well. Its viewfinder is superb, the controls are well considered, and as a bonus it works with some excellent lenses and speedlights.

Other cameras solve different problems, or emphasize different priorities. Smaller, lighter, faster, tougher, cheaper: all of them are possible, and sometimes a few of them occur in combination. But anyone who thinks that newer cameras have caught up to its image quality – yes, Sony A7r, I mean you – simply isn't paying attention.

Today is my D800's second birthday. After this much time with my D700 I had its faults precisely identified: obscure bracketing and custom white balance controls, 98% viewfinder, and too low resolution. The D800 fixes all but the awkwardness of setting a custom white balance, but I actually prefer to just shoot a white reference card and then sync everything in post, which is what I do with every other camera I own as well.

Compared to the D700, Nikon has only introduced one new shortcoming with the D800: the hand grip is not as comfortable. Those who have used both will know what I mean, and for everyone else it doesn't really matter. Some day I may try building up the hand grip a bit, but I'll probably never bother. It's really a matter of hand position, and not trying to grip the camera in a fist, which is easy enough when shooting but a bit harder when the camera is held at rest. The MB-D12 helps.

The past two years of marching technology is really only apparent in the D800's LCD and Live View implementation. A contemporary cutting-edge screen would be nice, but mostly I'd like a better magnified view and manual focusing assistance modes. I'll use a Hoodman loupe to shield the LCD when I need to focus precisely outdoors, but even then it isn't always easy to see where critical focus falls. If this could be tweaked within the existing camera I'd take it, but I certainly wouldn't upgrade the camera over it, should the inevitable day come when there's one out there that thinks it can succeed the D800.

There are a lot of really good cameras out there. Nikon has several and Canon makes a few, as do Fuji and Olympus; Panasonic and the former Pentax have one each as well. The market for mirrorless cameras has changed radically since the D800 came out – the X-Pro1 is also two years old – while the SLR world hasn't really changed at all.

Maybe SLRs are dinosaurs, being undercut by the smaller and nimbler 16 megapixel squirrel-like mammals with cropped tails. But it's worth noting that mammals didn't end the dinosaur's reign – it took an asteroid. There's no telling what the future will bring, but in the mean time the D800 will continue to be one of the cameras that rules the earth.

last updated 4 dec 2010

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