Bow speed – when hunches and bias get a reality check

It’s a good thing that out and out speed is not the most important characteristic of a bow in the pursuit of traditional archery. But everyone gets a bit of a thrill out of a fast bow – don’t they?

It’s also the case that perceptions about bow speed are captive to a number of completely subjective factors. Which bow is the current favourite? What is the draw experience like? Why is it that some bows just feel faster than the others?

Spoiler alert – some of these subjective perceptions can be even more wrong than you imagined …

A little while back I bought a relatively inexpensive ballistic chronograph. A ballistic chronograph is a device which measures the speed of projectiles – like bullets out of a gun, arrows from a bow, or even pellets from a paintball gun, by calculating the time interval as the projectile passes over two fixed optical sensors. This one is either ‘new old stock’ that was made in China but not shipped and sold before the Chrony company in Canada went bust, or it’s just a really faithful knock-off. I can’t tell, but it seems to do all the things that a Chrony Beta should do, in the way in which a Chrony Beta would do.

Chrony Beta – ballistic chronograph, front display

So, time for the reality check. Reality checks, plural.

I have two related pairs of bows, about which I have preconceived notions as far as speed goes.

Left to right: Chrony Beta, a sheaf of Goldtip Trad carbon arrows, Szimeiszter Hungarian bow, Szimeiszter Tatar bow, VLBB Tabs stalking quiver
Grozer Biocomposite Assyrian bow (the long one), Grozer Biocomposite Turkish Short bow (the little curly one)
  • Two laminated bows from István Szimeiszter in Hungary – a Tatar #43@29 and a Hungarian #45@29. [#43@28 means 43 pound draw weight measured at 28 inches of draw, etc.] To me the Hungarian seems faster, but István believes that on design principles the Tatar should be faster. Both have a lovely smooth draw, and I only draw to 29” most of the time, but if you’ve long enough arms they’re rated for a 32” maximum draw.
  • Two biocomposite laminated bows from Csaba Grózer, also in Hungary – an Assyrian #45@28 and a Turkish Short #48@28. The Assyrian has a reputation for being very fast, and I have the delusion that I can shoot it at around 195-200 feet per second (fps) with a light enough arrow and draw closer to 30” (it’s maximum recommended draw is 32”). The Turkish feels fast, but at 29” or thereabouts I can also feel that I’m right up against the maximum recommended draw of 30”.

NB: I have not tested the bows to see if the draw weight claimed by the bowyers is accurate. It may not be.

So under controlled, repeated conditions, which Szimeiszter is faster, and is the Grozer Assyrian faster than the other three? Let’s put my preconceptions to the test.

Test conditions:

  • Mild, windless weather conditions, 18-19°C, blue sky.
  • Chrony Beta ballistic chronograph, no light diffusers fitted, mounted on a tripod.
  • Draw each arrow to 29”, thumb release with bronze Bozhur thumb ring.
  • Add 2.5 pounds to the nominal draw weight of the two Grozer bows to allow for drawing them to 29″ like the Szimeiszters.
  • Standard set of 7 x Goldtip Traditional carbon arrows with field points, approximately 440 grains in weight.
    • This equates to:
      • 8.8 grains per pound (gpp) for the Grozer Turkish,
      • 10.2gpp for the Szimeiszter Tatar,
      • 9.8gpp for the Szimeiszter Hungarian, and
      • 9.3gpp for the Grozer Assyrian.

I shot the Szimeiszters on 24/4/2022 and the Grozers on the following day. I used 7 arrow shots as sample data for analysis. I shot more than that in each case, but the numbers stayed in the same range, so I stuck with the first 7 for each bow.

Results:

Szimeiszter Tatar #43@29Szimeiszter Hungarian #45@29Grozer Short Turkish #48@28Grozer Assyrian #45@28
170.9173.2172.5178.1
169.1178.0175.4174.6
164.5169.1174.1179.3
173.3179.5172.0175.5
177.0175.7172.8173.9
165.5169.3174.1177.5
173.3180.1174.2174.8
Raw speed results in feet/second (fps)
Szimeiszter Tatar #43@29Szimeiszter Hungarian #45@29Grozer Short Turkish #48@28Grozer Assyrian #45@28
170.9175.7174.1175.5Median
4.54.61.22.0SD
170.5175.0173.6176.2Mean
Summary data

So the Szimeiszter Hungarian is faster than the Tatar when considering either median or mean. The Grozer Assyrian is faster than the Grozer Turkish by either measure.

The overall fastest of the 4 is the Szimeiszter Hungarian by median value, but it’s the Grozer Assyrian by mean value. The fastest arrow in the whole test was 180.1fps from the Szimeiszter Hungarian. “In my hands” I should add – someone with a longer or better draw form might get a few more fps out of these bows.

Interesting. They are really not that far away from each other as a group, but the order of things is not consistent with where I started. Let the data speak! … and I stand corrected.

The other really interesting feature for me is the much tighter consistency from the Grozer bows. (In a boxplot the centre line across the box is the median value, the whiskers show the highest and lowest values, and the box contains 95% of the values. Smaller box, tighter spread of numbers.)

Boxplot – summary statistics for the 4 bows

I discussed these numbers briefly with an archery buddy. Wayne took it all in his stride and then asked me “How was the draw experience by comparison?”. Good question. Taking these numbers into account – adding to that my recent attention to draw length and consciously getting it back up to 29-29.5” – it’s a very good question. The two Szimeiszters are fabulous to draw – that’s what István is best known for. The Grozer Biocomposite Assyrian is likewise, always a total delight to draw. All 3 are still a bit over a couple of inches away from their maximum recommended draw at my draw length.

On the other hand because I’m coming hard up against the maximum recommended draw length on the Grozer Biocomposite Turkish Short, it feels a bit uncomfortable at the end – it’s not meant to be drawn longish, and I now realise, I really don’t enjoy that sensation. It might be partly to blame for my bout of short drawing!! 😉 Look at the data spread though – that hard stop at the end probably aids in drawing more consistently.

The surprise package overall though is still the Szimeiszter Hungarian. Not made for speed they say, but on some measures it’s the fastest of the 4. Nice.

The unstoppable march of the mobile phone camera

I really am a terrible blogger. At this rate I do about 4 per year, which probably doesn’t really qualify as blogging. Never mind, here’s one …

Although I still shoot film from time to time, I am very much a digital photographer these days, and have been for some years. Even when I do shoot film, I nearly always scan it and treat it much like a digital image thereafter – manipulation with DarkTable on a computer rather than with an analogue enlarger and photo paper in a darkroom.

Nonetheless, I’ve been unshaken in my belief that a purpose built digital camera is still superior to a mobile phone with a camera in it. The realities of the latest generation of mobile phone cameras have testedthat view a bit. However, ii I still believe that cameras and lenses in the shape that we traditionally recognise them are superior to hand phones.

The main reasons that I believe this are to do with:

  • the flexibility that comes with interchangeable lenses, particularly being able to manually focus and change aperture – whether modern CADCAM versions or adapted old film era lenses – is difficult to match in a phone which has embedded, tiny lenses (and yes, these days usually ‘lenses’ rather than ‘a lens’); and
  • ergonomics – unless your mobile phone is mounted in a gimbal or something similar, it’s just not designed to be manipulated in the same way that a well designed camera can be, and often feels too ‘droppable’ in more difficult situations.

My new Pixel 6 Pro mobile phone has 3 lenses – wide, standard and telephoto. The phone chooses when to engage which lens, based on where you land the zoom slider, so occasionally that choice by algorithm is a poor one. Often the software over-processes the image, to that it looks so ridiculously HDR as to be worse than a much older phone camera would do.

This phone also notionally has a 50 megapixel sensor, but in reality you rarely get anywhere near that pixel count because many shot options crop the sensor.

Getting the deft touch that switches from standard to telephoto by using the zoom slider isn’t as easy as you might expect. But like any camera, practice gets you closer to understanding how to either predict what the phone camera will do, or teaches you how to force it to do what you want.

However, once it all comes together, and you get some idea of how to work the controls and coerce the algorithms, the results can be rather impressive. Probably best done by using a 3rd party app on the phone rather than being limited by the standard Google Android Camera offering. Maybe sometimes using the modern phone’s ability to shoot RAW too, if you think there’s going to be an image worth some post-production. This phone shoots RAW in *.DNG format, which is about as universal as *.JPEG out there in photo software land.

The two digital cameras that I most often use are in no way threatened by how good the phone software and hardware is getting. The cameras still win hands down when it comes to the kind of micro control over images that come from fine-scale manual focusing, manual aperture and shutter speed adjustments, and being ergonomically designed to be securely hand held with all of those settings capable of being adjusted without looking away from the viewfinder or back screen. Probably pixel size matters as well, because the 50MP phone sensor versus the 24MP APS-C camera sensors must have quite different pixel dimensions? With some phone apps you can do fly-by-wire manual adjustment of ISO, aperture, shutter speed, etc, but not without turning the phone around to find the controls on the screen.

These days most people are more attuned to being photographed by someone with both hands up in front of their face holding a phone. Using a small camera held to the eye, or at waist level with a flippable screen, is not a very familiar pose, and you can go largely undetected – great for candid shots!

But you tell me, which photo below is from the phone and which from the Fuji X100V camera? Different light on different days, and slightly different composition because of where I stood on each occasion.

Self portrait meets archery kit from Ukraine

The source of most of my archery kit is a group of artisans in Hungary, but there’s a solid subset from Ukraine. Recently I agreed to get the camera out and put a few bits of the Ukrainian kit together in an archery selfie to send to Sarmat.

So here they are …

All the bits and pieces in these images are from the Sarmat company in Ukraine. Bow (Varang Lux, Viking longbow), arrows (bamboo) and quiver (leather back quiver) from Sarmat Archery. Vyshyvanka shirt from Sarmat Crafts.

And yes, I am thumb-shooting the longbow! Being styled as it is on a Viking longbow, it might be historically accurate to draw it either the eastern or western way, in keeping with the diverse cultural contacts and traditions of the Vikings. Either way, as a shelf-less bow, it lends itself well to the longer draw that thumb-shooting allows.

Beautifully made gear at very reasonable prices. Highly recommended!

Accuracy in archery – bow or archer?

As I threatened to do in the previous blog, I did go out to the forest with a handful of bows to test if in switching from one to the other the accuracy varied much.

The video is a bit rough and ready. Wind noise just about obliterates my commentary from time to time, and I forgot to turn auto focus off, so there’s a bit of focus hunting buzz as well.

But the five bows got a run, and it did feel like my technique was pretty even across the board. Looking back I think the Szimeiszter Tatar probably got the best result, and it is a great target shooting bow. But really there wasn’t much between them, despite differences in design, draw weight, etc.

Enjoy it for what it’s worth – a bit of fun. Leave some commentary if you feel so inclined …

“This bow is so accurate” – really?

I’ve often heard product reviewers of traditional archery bows, or enthusiastic new bow owners, exclaim “… this bow is so accurate …“. I’m guilty of the same thing myself. But recently I’ve been mixing up the bows I shoot on a rapid rotation, and it has prompted me to question what appears to be the underlying assumption or suggestion – that some bows are much more accurate than others, for any given archer. Really?

Shooting the Szimeiszter Tatar bow #43@29

I confess, for a little while I’d been thinking that provided the bow and arrows you have in hand are passably well made and matched (to each other and to you), surely they’re all mais ou menos accurate if your shooting technique is solid and consistent. What changes though from one bow to another is that some seem to make being accurate feel easier. In other words, archers are accurate, bows are just tools …

Grozer Biocomposite Short Turkish bow #48@28

I have six different bows in regular use, and I certainly have favourites! But it feels to me that on most occasions if I’m taking care of form when I shoot, and practising a lot, that at least in the 20-40m range I’m about as accurate with any one of those bows. [And before you say “… that just means he’s lousy with all of them …” 🙂 … don’t be cheeky.] It definitely feels easier with some more than others. Some are just easier to shoot, but they are all capable of producing accurate shots in my hands. It might take a couple of ranging shots to adjust if I’m moving from a 47″ Turkish bow to a 71″ Viking longbow (and I thumb shoot both), but it doesn’t take too much adjustment. Though make sure you stand well back, because I do side-down khatra with the longbow too …

Shooting the Vegh Sipahi bow #34@28

That’s how it feels anyhow, but is it true? Sounds like an arbitrary, non-scientific experiment is called for! Six different bows over the same distance with the same arrows. Bow shape varying from Ottoman Sipahi to Assyrian, Tatar to longbow. Poundage from #34 – #48, mostly in the mid 40s. How much will the accuracy vary? And will it be according to my bow bias, or something else?

Planning to set up a test this weekend if the weather is cooperative. Watch this space …

And harking back to an earlier blog post, the presence of a camera sees me short-drawing in both those images above 🙂 https://mikrokosmfotos.art/2021/10/29/making-videos-is-bad-for-my-archery-form/

On the list for evaluation, the following:

Most likely I’ll use some Sarmat 30″ bamboo arrows, or maybe the Kelemen’s pine arrows, or both. Probably either a leather Ottoman thumb ring by Bekir Büyüksındır or a bronze Ottoman ring by Zack Djurica – that’ll depend on the conditions and how inflated my thumb gets …

Making the digital tactile, rev2

A year or so ago (pandemic time – could be either really?) I self-published a small photographic zine of mostly night-time images taken in Kyneton when I lived there. I think I printed about 50 and half are gone.

Now it’s 2021, we’ve had two years of rolling COVID lockdowns, and my computer’s hard drive is groaning under the weight of images captured in or near Castlemaine during that time.

Inspired by something that Sean Tucker said on one of his YouTube homilies, I decided recently to make a ‘fancy zine’ or a ‘little book’ rather than a monograph, with a fairly loose theme around ‘what I saw in that year’.

So here we are. It’s the end of 2021 and the COVID lockdown strictures are being stripped away with rude haste. I think it’s time to look back.

Using the somewhat ostentatious Latin title ‘CASTLEMAINE – DUPLEX ANNUS HORRIBILIS, PARS I – 2020‘, it’s basically part one of the double horrible year. But despite all of the horror of a pandemic, of which I’m in no hurry to trivialise, the landscape stayed beautiful. Occasionally terrible and raw, but always beautiful.

Stay tuned for when it goes on sale! 🙂

Making videos is bad for my archery form!

I enjoy the process of making cinematic looking videos with traditional archery as the focus. Facts of the matter though, for the last 20 months of intermittent COVID lockdowns, the only regularly available archer has been me. Almost inevitably, one of the first things I notice when I watch back video of me shooting a bow, is that I short draw whilst looking slightly sideways at the camera to make sure I’m in picture. In other words, I’m so distracted by simultaneously being a cinematographer and an archer, that something has to give. I’m sure the images could be better, but I know for sure the archery form is suffering.

Left to right: Three Hungarian hand-made laminated traditional bows, inspired by the broad Ottoman Empire historical genre. Végh Sipahi #34@28, Szimeiszter Crimean Tatar #43@29, Grozer Biocomposite Turkish Short #48@28.

So what to do about it?

What I chose to start doing this last week was to go back to basics somewhat (with archery – the movie camera can wait until there are other people to put in front of it, for now).

I started a few days ago with the lowest poundage bow I have that is in the traditional archery type and shape a lot of western archers know as a “horsebow”. That generalisation is inaccurate – these bows can be shot from horseback of course, but also for all the other ground-based situations that any trad bow can be put to – that’s a discussion for another time.

This bow is a laminated Asiatic reflex bow inspired by an Ottoman Sipahi bow from around the 17-18th century. This particular bow is the Végh Sipahi, made in Hungary by Robert Végh, draw weight of 34 pounds at 28 inches. I should be drawing 30 inches at full draw, making the draw weight maybe about 37-38 pounds. The draw experience with this bow is very soft and smooth, so drawing 30″ is a doddle if I’m paying attention. Assuming my draw and release are on song, it can deal with arrows of variable weight and stiffness easily. And despite it’s low draw weight it can propel those arrows accurately out to 60-70 metres with no difficulty at all. It is a complete delight to shoot.

So an evening spent stump shooting in the pines with the Végh Sipahi got my draw length comfortably back to 30″. No problem. Khatra (bow hand movement at release) with this bow is completely natural – side down in my case, and I sometimes employ a little bit of string twist too. Effortless accuracy. It’s a gem.

In case I forget to mention it later – all of this is thumb-shooting. No fingers were harmed in the making of this blog …

Tonight I decided to speed the process up a tiny bit. I took two bows, and shot for about half an hour with each of them.

First I braced the other soft and smooth drawing bow. Also a laminated bow, hand made, bespoke in this case, in Hungary by István Szimeiszter. Check out those beautiful pear wood laminations … but I digress. This bow looks a little similar to the Sipahi shape, but is slightly longer, and the grip/riser bulges towards the archer rather than away. It’s based on a Crimean Tatar bow from around the 18th century, and so also broadly from within the Ottoman universe. This one draws 43 pounds at 29 inches, so if I’m drawing 30″ should be about 45 pounds. Another delightful bow to shoot, but it punches the arrows out with a little more authority than my Végh. Again, being so soft to draw, and concentrating just on archery, full draw is easy. Very accurate with side down khatra and a smidge of string twist. I seem to be back on track.

The last bow in this series of three is very different. It is a modern take on the ancient hi-tech Ottoman composite bow. Traditional composite bows going back centuries are made with a wood core, a layer of horn (buffalo, goat, etc.) on the belly and a backing of sinew. Typically the sinew also has a protective layer of leather. The bow is strongly c-shaped when not strung. Like the other two it has bending limbs, but static tips. Widely known in Asiatic reflex bows by their Arabic name as siyahs (ears), the tips act as levers on the bending section of the limbs, so that the load is felt by the archer as soon as the draw starts, but gets softer and easier to hold towards full draw – thus facilitating the use of very high draw weights in a very short bow, and propelling lightweight arrows at great speed. Spectacular organic high technology developed to a very high level by the Ottomans, from basic designs harking back across the steppes to Mongolia and thereabouts centuries before. The horn and sinew impart compression and stretching tolerances far superior to bows made of wood alone.

Traditional composite Ottoman bow

The third bow is a Grozer Biocomposite Turkish Short bow – 48 pounds at 28 inches – around 51-52 pounds draw weight at 30″. Another made in Hungary, this one by Csaba Grózer. This bow looks much more like a historical composite bow, with its compressed horn plate on the belly and leather backing over a compressed sinew plate. The string nocks on the siyahs are leather lined and reinforced with sinew. The transitions from limb to handle are also sinew reinforced. The Grózer haters will be on my back if I fail to mention that all of these traditional looking materials are reinforced with modern adhesives and fibre. The modern tweaks make the bow much simpler to use and maintain, despite the shooting experience being close to a real composite. Unlike a typical fibreglass modern bow though it is nearly as lightweight as a genuine hornbow.

But did I easily get full draw back on this heavier bow? Yes, of course. It’s made for it, and I was paying proper attention. Easy.

The Grozer Biocomposite Turkish Short is an intoxicating bow to shoot. It’s very fast, very accurate, light to carry, and brutishly handsome. This one is shaping up as my overall favourite bow these days, but stump shooting in a stony area where I live does lead to a few broken arrows because it propels them so fast and flat.

Now I just need to see if I can remain focused!

The pendulum might eventually settle near the middle again – photography and archery

For a while there in 2018-19 I got completely obsessed with putting vintage lenses on the front of a modern digital camera, and everything was fair game to be photographed. At that time my Falco Storm flatbow was getting a lot less attention than it deserved, and consequently I was getting a bit less archery/meditation than I needed.

Enter the COVID-19 pandemic, and as I’ve written about here before, archery was back on the agenda, and I took on a brand new archery project in early 2020. I decided to give eastern thumb-draw traditional archery a try, after shooting the more familiar (in the west) 3 finger draw for decades.

Cutting a long story short, in typical western trad archery (and for a right hander), the arrow goes on the left side of the bow and one uses 3 fingers to draw the string back to a fixed anchor point – often the corner of one’s mouth. For me being a short chap, that meant I was drawing about 26″ (yes, everything in archery is in Imperial units) and never realising the full power of the bow, typically rated for a 28″ draw. Typical modern trad bows (there’s an oxymoron for you) have a shelf cut into the handle area where the arrow rests, and also giving a bit of a sight window. I’d being doing it this way since childhood, and that’s a while ago.

Me drawing the typical western way with 3 fingers, arrow left side on a rest.
Image by @benmaher73

In eastern styles the string is typically drawn with the thumb, and depending on the style and the circumstances it can be drawn back to a similar anchor to the western style around the mouth, or to a point further back such as the ear lobe, or in some West Asian styles back over the shoulder. There is usually not an arrow shelf cut into the bow – one shoots off the hand. And the arrow is on the right hand side of the bow (for a right hander).

Me drawing in the Ottoman Turkish style with my thumb and to my ear lobe.
Image by @nocturnal_archer

So switching automatically gets me from around 26″ draw length to a shade over 29″. For once I get more than the advertised bow power!

After the initial learning process for a completely new way of drawing a completely different kind of bow, it quickly became apparent that this style suits me biomechanically much better. It feels stronger, more powerful and controlled, and on a good day more accurate. So rather than being a flirtation with another style, I shifted over completely, and now I only really thumb shoot.

There are a few other advantages of shooting this way, for me. There’s a lot less paraphernalia, and that appeals to my minimalist tendencies. I no longer need an arm protection bracer on my bow arm, because the string doesn’t get over there during release. The thumb rings (zihgir in Ottoman Turkish) are quite small compared to the gloves and tabs of western trad archers, and also a bit on the attractive bling side in many cases. The bows are small and light, so carrying them around for hours in the field is really easy.

In a kind of cross-pollination exercise, I have recently started thumb shooting a Viking style longbow. Most people these days would shoot it the modern way, with a split finger Mediterranean draw – but Vikings may have used thumb draw, and also possibly so-called Slavic or Sassanid draw. So I’m not really being so radical, but folks still see it as a rather odd. I get most of the technical benefits I mentioned above of thumb versus fingers, for me.

Sarmat Varang Lux longbow – and me thumb shooting it

One thing has not changed though. Archery roving or stump shooting is still my favourite form of archery. Shooting informal, inanimate targets at varying distance and elevation, out in the forest. I do shoot formal targets sometimes though, and even though they are a bit more predictable, it can still be challenging.

For more bite-sized chunks about eastern style archery with Asiatic reflex bows, I do post a lot on Instagram as @flatcap_archery …

And so to close the loop. Archery and archers are really photogenic, and great cinematographic subjects … so cameras are back in hand but without displacing bows and arrows …

So I finally got around to using a Micro Four Thirds camera for something it unarguably excels at … video

I’ve had the right gear sitting here for years now, but there have been myriad other distractions.

I had a Lumix GH3 for years, and people have made feature films with that camera, even without 4K video and other bells/whistles. I upgraded recently to a GH4 – still trailing the pack by half a decade as Lumix will soon launch the GH6, and the GH5/GH5S are rusted-on staples in the videography world.

I also have the trifecta of old Russian lenses that are commonly used for making cinematic-looking video – the Helios 44-2 58mm, the Mir-2 37mm, and the Jupiter-9 85mm.

I’m over the steepest bits of the learning curve with FOSS video editing suites Shotcut and Kdenlive. So what’s next?

Here’s a recent ‘proof of concept’ exercise. Archery is, in my humble opinion, the perfect subject matter for poetic style documentary film-making. Maybe there’s even a niche for archery doco’s that aren’t just blokes with veins popping out of their foreheads while they grunt and haul back on some way over-powered reflex or compound bow?

I’m hoping so.

Start here … just a minute and a bit of your time, with the Helios 44-2 lens showing just how beautifully it can render a forest scene near dusk. Watch it on a phone if you have no choice, but much better – watch it on a nice big computer screen with 4K resolution selected in the YouTube options, or a big tablet/iPad I guess. Check out the earthy colours, the crisp resolution in the narrow band of focus, and the nicely smeared edges and background.

Talk about subject separation …