Monday, December 31, 2012

Don't Spend Too Much on Film!

My Grandson Silas, Dec. 29, 2012

Everybody loves a portrait of a great looking kid - and I thought I'd include this real eye-catcher on this last day of 2012. Did I use film or digital? I'm not tellin'!

Anyway, New Years Eve has become a day of a few new traditions for me. It's the day when I take  the time to set up next years' photo file system, and create it's mirrored backup. To have it all pre-established makes managing my photo files so much easier than trying to do it on the fly, or worse still, using some ape-shit photo-album software to do it for me.

But that's off-topic. I'm always gushing about how little I spend on film cameras - typically never more than $40. But what does film photography really cost? In 2012, I took almost 2200 photo's in RAW format, and in 2011, it was a little over 2200. This is fairly representative of how many pictures I actually took, because I have RAW switched on most of the time, and unload all RAW files from my camera to my computer without exception. I delete all "non-keepers" from the camera itself before unloading. Let's just round it up to say that my total shooting of all digital plus film is around 2400 shots per year.  Now let's see what that would've cost me if I did it all with film. I find that for 35mm film with 24 shots per roll, it typically costs $12.00 per roll, tax included - that's about $6 to buy the film and $6 to have it processed at Walmart - with no prints and no Photo-CD. All I get is the uncut film negative, which I cut and scan myself. If I were shooting nothing but film, that comes out to 2400 / 24 = 100 rolls of film, at $12 per roll; that's $1200.00 per year! The cost of Medium Format (120 film) is more than double that - it comes to more like $16 for film and processing and there's only 12 shots per roll - if I did all Medium Format, it would be close to $3200 per year. Either way, for that same money I could buy one or two brand new high end digital cameras every year. I'm not including my printing costs here, because that's the same for film as it is for digital.

Well, you might argue, with digital, you waste most of your shots don't you, compared to film where every shot must count? The answer is - with me, I'm not a "see and spray" photographer. I have the same mentality with digital as I do film, with roughly the same ratio of keepers versus losers either way. I learned with a film camera, and so I inherited and use the same habits when shooting digital.

If the decision were purely economic, I certainly wouldn't be using film at all. Obviously, it makes no sense whatsoever. If I were to establish a "budget" for my photography hobby, based on what I would be spending on film in the absence of digital, I could easily justify buying the very best camera available, and maybe more than one, per year. But that's not what I do. Film is but a small part of my creative expression. If I want the film look, because I think film has a beauty of it's own which I can't get with digital, I have a choice of four (soon to be five) film cameras at my disposal. It depends on what I set out to do. If I were to shoot a roll every two weeks, which is more typical of what I'm doing now, that would still be 26 rolls per year, which comes out to just over $300 per year for 35mm, and just over $400 for 120. There's nothing in that price range for digital equipment that I'm interested in owning - I'd rather spend it on the film part of my hobby - make sense?

Now if one of the camera makers came out with a truly great camera for less than $3000 which would somehow satisfy all of my requirements, I would certainly abandon film altogether and buy that camera instead. But that hasn't happened - not quite yet. I'm expecting such a camera to hit the market within the next coming year - it's almost here now, I think.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Winter's Beauty - (and some back to basics)

I've never been a big fan of winter, but for some reason, this winter seems different... more magical or something. It's probably because I don't have to get up in the dark to go to work any more - retirement is just SO GOOD!!

Anyway, I snapped this just outside of Elgin NB yesterday. For those of you who want the specs, here goes -

  • Time of day - right before sunset, whenever that is.
  • Conditions - overcast
  • Camera - EOS 7D with EF 40mm f2.8
  • Aperture Priority Mode
  • ISO - 800
  • Aperture - f2.8
  • Shutter - 1/20 sec
  • Exposure compensation - none
  • Handheld, no stabilization (not available on this lens)
  • Post Processing - GIMP - JPEG (no RAW) increased contrast by +10 (one click)

I say all this for you camera Newbies out there - this is what this Blog is all about - beginner photographers, although I often stray from this. So this is a fairly sharp picture considering I was at ISO800 in low light, with wide open aperture and handheld with only a 1/20 shutter - all marginal conditions. So, as a simple review - Aperture Priority means you set the lens aperture (F-stop) manually and the camera will automatically select the right shutter speed for the best exposure. In this case it was getting dark, so I wanted to force my aperture to be wide open which is f2.8. At ISO 800, it made the shutter quite slow at 1/20 which is very risky for camera shake, but from experience, I know I can easily hand-hold down to 1/15. I could have set ISO at 1600 and my shutter would have gone faster to 1/40 (double ISO and you double the shutter speed if you leave the f-stop at the same value- get it?). The higher up you go with ISO, the more noise (speckle) you get in your pictures - especially in dark subject matter, and I wanted this one to be real clean. As for exposure compensation, this drives your camera to make things lighter or darker with respect to what Exposure Value (EV) the light meter is telling it, but it has to get that "lighter or darker" by sacrificing something else - like ISO or shutter speed. If I was using "Auto-ISO" instead of setting it at 800 and wanted a brighter picture,  the camera probably would've "sacrificed" ISO by bumping it up to 1600 - which I didn't want, so with my ISO fixed at 800, the only other thing it could've done was reduce the shutter speed to 1/10, which would surely have ruined the picture because of blur from my shaky hands. Very few people can hand-hold (no tripod) a camera lower than 1/15 sec.

Now - for those of you with a point and shoot digital - you might ask if this picture could've been taken with your camera in simple, fully automatic mode. I will say yes - it was getting dark, but there was a bit of daylight left. Here's what would have happened -

  • To manage f2.8, you would have had to set your zoom at the widest setting possible, and your picture would be super wide, and actually much more dramatic looking than mine.
  • Your Auto ISO would have gone to 1600, making for a noisy picture, especially as point and shoots have a much smaller sensor and are noisier by nature than DSLR cameras
  • The shutter would have gone to 1/30
  • The flash might've automatically fired, unless you had it "forced off". Actually, flash might have been useful here, because your ISO would have gone lower like maybe down to a much cleaner 400, and the tree limbs in the foreground would have been lit up a bit with the flash - however, the entire background would have gone very dark in this case. You might try two shots in full automatic in this case - one with flash and one without, and if you had done this with a tripod so both pictures were exactly the same, you could have photo-shopped them into a "High Dynamic Range" (HDR) blended picture. With some newer Point 'n' Shoots, HDR is built right into the camera - if you got a new camera for Christmas, check this out - read the manual.

It's nice to shoot with  the 7D, especially now that I've got the micro-focus sorted out. What a difference! Previous to doing the adjustment, it seemed like no part of any of my pictures was really in focus. Most cameras don't have this adjustment, but then, most cameras don't need it. I will say - perhaps this is bulls***, perhaps not, but from what I'm reading on Forums, it seems that for cameras sold with this ability to micro-adjust the focus, you probably need to do it. On one Forum where a perplexed 7D owner was wondering why her pictures were always lifeless, I saw a comment in reply that said something like "the 7D works so much better with Canon's "L" series lenses". The "L" series of course is mega-expensive, and when I see a comment like that, I can't help but think it was entered by a Canon sales rep. Certainly, any Canon SLR will work better with these lenses, but us "folk photographers" can't afford them. The EOS 7D is one fine camera (which I can't really afford either - my greatest folly of 2012 - oh well...), so I expect that it is probably calibrated at the factory in some way "optimized for the L Series". Why wouldn't they? But for the rest of us, if you own a 7D or any other camera with a micro-adjust feature, I strongly recommend that if you're consistently disappointed with your pictures, find out how to make this adjustment and work with it a bit. It's not difficult, unless you really enjoy making things difficult. All I had to do was make one global (all lenses the same) adjustment from "0" to "+8" and if you happen to own a 7D or similar DSLR, give that a try and see if your pictures get better.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

What I Got for Christmas

 A Replacement Spotmatic, Soligor 135mm f3.5, and a Asahi Bellows Unit

The Kind of Thing That Can Be Done With It

I'm very easy to buy for - pretty much anything to do with old camera gear is just fine! So I needed a replacement for my dying Pentax SP II, which is having fast shutter problems, and this was offered to me by a Flickr Friend - a Spotmatic SP 1000 (older model), a Soligor 135mm lens, and a Bellows unit - all for $40. Now I can take pictures of things like the condensation on my windows!

There are incredible bargains out there on film equipment for those so inclined. When you're shopping for film gear, you'll notice that the absolute best prices are on Film SLR cameras that were once very highly regarded - now they're practically giving them away, which is OK by me. Sure, SLR's have their quirks, but at the end of the day, this type of camera still offers the most versatility, with their orientation toward "system cameras". These system capabilities can now be easily crossed over into the world of DSLR's - notice that I took the lower picture of my window pane by using the bellows and 135mm lens on my DSLR via a Pentax M42 to Canon EOS lens adapter. The Bellows unit offers extreme macro capabilities with any Pentax Screw Mount SLR body adapter using any lens 50mm and up. The longer the lens focal length, the farther away you can get from your subject for the same magnification. With all of the adapters that are available, you can pretty much use any lens, bellows, extension tubes, teleconverters or flash on any DSLR or Mirrorless Interchangeable Digital Camera. Try to avoid Ebay - everyone is now hip to this, and the high prices, especially on old lenses reflect this, but if you stick to your local classifieds, you'll find real bargains from people who "go digital" with a digital compact, and haven't looked into the real value of old film equipment. 

But what about film SLR bodies - are they really worth owning? Well, given that a lot of these were the "professional" cameras of their day, you can be confident that the image quality is excellent - arguably better than digital, especially when it comes to exposure range and the way in which negative film handles highlights. So you can often pick up old Pentax, Ricoh, Nikon or other fantastically great SLR's for as little as $10, and the lenses can be interchanged with your Digital SLR. Why wouldn't you? Even if you're primarily a digital shooter, having two or more film cameras make great backups, by keeping them loaded with film, and at the ready with different lenses attached. Instead of using Zoom Lenses all the time, you can keep Prime Lenses on all your cameras, with one for wide angle, one normal and one telephoto. All this can be accomplished for under $100, instead of paying thousands for today's premium lenses and extra camera bodies.

Russian Zorki - 4 Rangefinder Camera

Finally, there is a last vestige of bargain film equipment which I am a real fan of - the Russian made Leica Rangefinder copies. These are still available from Russian Ebay sellers for under $100 with a Leica - mount lens! These take absolutely incredible pictures, they usually work very well and are built to last forever, and I'm really not sure why they are priced so reasonably. The lenses are so good that some genuine German Leica users are using the Russian lenses, which are a fraction of the cost of the real deal.

Digital is the way to go with all of it's advantages, but if you want to have fun with some truly great old gear, film cameras will never disappoint.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Another "Tripey" Comparison

 Olympus Trip 35, Fuji Superia 400

Canon EOS 7D, EF 40mm STM Lens, Hugin Panorama

Canon EOS 7D, Exposure Corrected in RAW, Slightly Altered Crop

Here's another instance when I was at the same location with two cameras, and it's always interesting to make comparisons, isn't it? This time, my Trip 35 ($30 from Ebay) is up against my EOS 7D and the EF 40mm STM "Pancake" lens (total somewhere around $1500 brand new.)

With the Trip 35, I did a simple crop to provide the 6X12 Panorama dimension. With the DSLR, as the EF 40 lens is equivalent to 64mm I had to make a stitch panorama which I cropped to the 6X12 ratio. 

The clouds again captured my interest the most for this scene, and so with the DSLR I underexposed a bit to make sure the clouds came with their full glory. The Trip 35 is a default auto-exposure camera, with no easy manual option, and so it was shot at a normal exposure. I almost am loath to say this, given what I've invested in the Canon DSLR, but I think the little Trip 35 wins the day here. It is remarkably bright, sharp, and carries more exposure range than the 7D. Fortunately I shot this in RAW plus JPEG and so I had a very correctable RAW file, which I worked on, as seen in the third image, and not only did I brighten the image up overall, the clouds became even more spectacular with the correction.

Actually I'm not totally blaming the camera - it's me who is the problem this time. I frequently forget some of the laws of digital, such as "expose to the right", and adjust in post-processing to recapture the highlight detail. Thankfully, there was lots of latitude for correction this time. 

There is more happening here than mere exposure error however. I see this time and time again - SLR cameras, whether film or digital, it doesn't matter, never seem able to capture the "immediacy" of a well matched non-reflex focal system which places the  back of the lens closer to the film surface. This is usually seen in a certain "brick wall effect" in the foreground whereas the non-SLR camera has a far more inviting 3 dimensional foreground that actually lays flat. I've never been able to figure this out, except for the simple fact that with SLR camera, the lens is further from the focal plane, usually by about double, which makes the light from the lens travel twice as far - effectively turning the camera into a long tunnel.

To see what I mean, compare the foregrounds of the first and third image. Doesn't the first picture give the impression that you can walk right into it so much more than the third (or second) one? I've been ranting about this since way back here. I know that one single comparison proves nothing, especially with lenses of such different focal lengths, but collectively, from my own limited experience, and also from looking a thousands of pictures by other people, it appears true to me - the SLR camera has a big design flaw that has never been dealt with. So why did I just buy one not too long ago? It's because I need a magnificent optical viewfinder... it's like I buy a viewfinder that happens to take pictures too. Most premium digital compacts are going the route of eliminating the OVF, leaving us to compose with the rear LCD screen and (maybe) an optional Electronic Viewfinder (EVF). Why is this so difficult? It was accomplished almost a century ago with compact film cameras! In fact, my Trip 35 has an amazing viewfinder. I'm still waiting for the right camera to come along - if the Leica M Digital were $1000 instead of $10,000 that might do it for me.

But we all know that'll never happen!

Trip 35 - Handy Shooting Tips

 Rolleiflex Automat, Fuji Pro 160

Olympus Trip 35, Fuji Superia 400

I just completed another roll of film through the little camera I'm always raving on about - the Olympus Trip 35. At the start of the roll, I was able to shoot some similar scenes against my Rolleiflex Automat TLR, and the above pair is probably the best of the lot. This screams out for comparison. To my eyes, the Medium Format Rolleiflex is far superior, but one would expect that -  it's a far superior camera using a far superior film format. The Rolleiflex picture, is a bit under-exposed as I wanted to be sure I got the detail in the sky perfectly. The Trip 35 is a completely automatic camera, with an extremely limited manual over-ride that would not have worked in this situation. Although the Trip's auto exposure certainly got it right, I prefer the underexposure achieved with the Rollei in this case - that sky is absolutely spectacular.

I'd prefer to concentrate on the merits of the Trip 35, as a great little camera in it's own right. As I've already mentioned, it's "solar powered" (selenium) no battery required metering system is perfect - very reliable so that you can truly take pictures without worrying about getting a generally correct exposure. If you want to underexpose with this camera, it's difficult, but can be done by using slower than ISO 400 film, and tweaking the "ASA" dial up to higher values in third-steps. The aperture can be manually set also, but in doing so, it selects only one shutter speed meant for flash sync - that being 1/30. I was using 400 film on this occasion, which is the camera's upper limit, so the "ASA" tweak wouldn't have worked, and also 1/30 would have been simply too slow on this occasion. The best way around this is to use ISO 200 film, which provides some tweaking room for underexposure.

Olympus Trip 35, Fuji Superia 400

Here's another pic which really shows off the Trip-35 capabilities. It's a fast shooter, so you seldom will miss action shots. This is in spite of the absence of a quick-wind lever, Olympus chose a little plastic wheel on the back of the camera instead, to keep cost as low as possible. It is, nonetheless, a very fast wind that can be done with two thumb strokes. The only thing that might slow you down is that the Trip-35 is a manual focus camera, with click-stop focus positions at 1m, 1.5m, 3m and infinity. Most quick action shooting is done at infinity, due to this being a wide angle lens- keep in mind that wide angle optics are peculiar in their less-than-infinity requirements - which is exactly why they are used on cheap point and shoot cameras.

Here is the shot I was taking just before the woman with the stroller jogged past me:

I had the focus set at 3m for this one, as I felt the grasses were quite close to me. however, as you can see, the focus is a bit off here. Infinity would have worked better, or more ideally, a step in between 3m and infinity would have been perfect. The "step zones" of the Trip 35 don't need to be used - in-between steps will provide finer focusing when needed.

Finally, here's a picture in which I got to within 1 metre of the grasses in the foreground, and used the 1m (closest) Zone setting:

Here the foreground is in perfect focus, and the background is out of focus - but not really enough OOF. Don't expect great "bokeh" from the Trip 35 - this is because the shutter and aperture share the same two blades within the lens. This once again was intended to manufacture the Trip 35 at the lowest possible cost.

Keeping in mind what the Trip 35 was originally intended to be - a very compact, lightweight tourist camera, it has some superb qualities...

  • Excellent fast f2.8 lens
  • rugged build quality
  • leaf shutter
  • very bright viewfinder
  • perfect exposures every time
  • no batteries required, yet it is a fully automatic exposure camera
  • quick film wind in spite of absence of quick-wind lever

... and some real limitations...

  • manual focus
  • focussing is pure guesswork that takes some getting used to
  • 400 ASA film limit
  • manual underexposure is difficult, unless slow film is used

I can see how the Trip 35 has gained such a cult following - as long as you understand it's limits, it is a near perfect and wonderfully simple little camera.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Another Score!

 Mamiya / Sekor SX 200mm f3.5

Rexagon 23mm f3.5

Yesterday, I added a couple of beauties to my Lens Collection. These were actually advertised on the bulletin board of our local supermarket (imagine!). I guess there's no shortage of the '60's vintage m42 (Pentax Thread mount) lenses out there. 

The Mamiya / Sekor 200 is redundant with my Pentax Takumar 200, except the Mamiya is a bit faster, at f3.5, with the Takumar being f4. I seldom use Telephoto lenses - both of these would be 320mm on my Digital SLR, with it's crop factor of 1.6X, but I would love to compare the image quality of these two giants. Expect that real soon. 

The one I am really excited about is the Rexagon 23mm. This is a super wide angle, built much the same as my Mir-20, although considerably more compact. I've been looking forever for something around 24mm, as this would make for an ideal focal length of ~35mm on my "cropper". To be exact, the 23mm equates to 36.8mm. Both of these lenses are in very used condition, although they function perfectly, they need a good cleaning. They are both 100% metal construction - not a hint of plastic anywhere.

My cost was $30 each - hard to beat. Typical current Ebay "Buy It Now" prices are $160 for the Mamiya, and $100 for the Rexagon. In the real world, these will never sell at these prices, but I see it as a good indicator that I didn't overpay. 

The Instagram Flap

This is a quick one - I've got lot's more to talk about today.

I know of a couple of professional photographers who are Instagram users, and I'm sure these guys knew full well the risks involved in using such a service to feature their photographs online, long before the big flap came down from Facebook two days ago. What these, and possibly thousands of other professionals are doing is using Instagram to market their "creativity" to the world, and not their actual photographs. To me, this is a smart move. The photographs they use in doing things this way are not their bread and butter. They are postage stamp sized "Instagrams" which happen to demonstrate their unique style, artistic flair, and sense of fun.

On the other hand, if you're a self-styled pro who is using Instagram to somehow market your bread and butter work - (and I'm not even sure I know how you would even be able to do such a thing) - then you stand to lose, not only through Instagram, but through any popular online photo sharing service, including Flickr.

I'm not one to give advice to pro photographers, as my approach is a lot more copyleft * than it is copyright, but there are basic precautions that everyone who takes the art seriously needs to be aware of:

  1. Know your intentions regarding your work
  2. Find a good way to showcase your creativity without actually giving away your work to big conglomerates like Facebook and Flickr who can (and will) actually steal it from you
  3. Make sure what you're sharing is downsized enough to render it useless
  4. Use Watermarks as an option to protect your work online
  5. Make sure you have your best work made into hardcopy (prints or negatives) and stored in a safe place 

* My definition of Copyleft - "if anyone wants to use one of my rather shitty photographs for any reason, even though I use the public copyright license, by all means fill your boots, but I would appreciate your writing me a quick email to ask my permission - it will almost certainly be granted, unless you are a sex offender".

Friday, December 14, 2012

Micro Adjusting - Absolute Bare Minimum Approach

EF 40mm STM Lens "Front Focusing" (Dec. 13, 2012)

Corrected (Dec. 14, 2012)

For all of the high tech bashing I've been doing lately, in favour of old technology (film), I must say that high tech digital cameras are offering certain undeniable advantages, especially the more expensive models. Yesterday I was on the moan about my new and expensive EOS 7D being slightly out of focus, with all lenses, all the time. I was suspecting a lens to camera micro-focus calibration issue, and happy to say just one day later, it looks promising this diagnosis was correct.

Yesterday, I spent some of my Christmas money on a new lens - the Canon EF 40mm f2.8 STM "Pancake". These are currently on sale pretty much everywhere, and I've been wanting one of these lenses ever since it was announced. So now I have one, and it is my first, and only genuine Canon Prime Lens (meaning, a single focus length of 40mm, non-zoom). All my other Primes are old Pentax, or Russian built M42 screw mounts which I use with an adapter. Then I also have two very old Canon EF Zooms - a 28-105 USM II and a 70-210 f4.

So, late yesterday afternoon I took a short walk with the Pancake to take some test shots. With one shot in particular, I saw a great opportunity to do up this micro-focus test once and for all. I took the top picture being very careful to set my single selectable focus point on the space between the 2nd and 3rd rock. Upon arriving home and carefully looking, I could see that the Auto-Focus actually happened on the face of the first rock. Again, I noticed that all of the other pictures were peculiarly soft, which is consistent with all of the other lenses.  I did some reading on EOS 7D Micro Adjustment, and discovered all kinds of high -precision methods available for doing this - here is a link to one of many. I found all of the methods to be quite overwhelming - I like keeping things real simple, and based on the bare minimum of what I need to know, which are:

  • Is my lens front-focusing or back focusing?
  • Which way do I need to adjust, + or - ?
  • How much do I need to adjust?

OK so it's very obvious from the first picture that my lens is front focusing, and by quite a bit. I reasoned that if this is the case, then  I would need to correct the camera's focal plane "backwards" - away from the camera. I looked up the procedure in my camera's manual, and, for information sake, this is all done through the camera's built-in firmware menu system - there are no screwdrivers required to make this calibration. When you come to the correct menu (read your camera's manual for details), you'll find a little pictogram scale showing that to adjust toward the camera for "back-focusing", you turn the rear dial toward "-" (negative) and for "front-focusing" you turn the dial toward "+" (positive), away from the camera. I started by setting it on a moderate "+8", went out and took the same picture, again being careful to auto-focus on the gap between the 2nd and 3rd rock. And, eureka, this seems to work exactly... got it right the first time! For now, I'm going to assume all my other lenses will benefit from this adjustment in the same way, although everything I read would seem to indicate this would probably not be the case. 

All I really want to do here is to get back the same performance I was enjoying with my old EOS 40D, which by the way did not have this micro-adjust feature - it just worked for all my lenses, with no friggin'. We shall see over time how it works out.

What I've done here is the bare minimum, in keeping with the instructions in the Canon 7D manual -

  • Adjustment is probably unnecessary
  • It works better with prime lenses than it does for Zooms
  • It should be done on the site of an actual photograph, (implying that making this adjustment with all the fancy lab charts is not necessary, and probably not as good)

I would really like to close off on this over the coming weeks, so I expect to be doing a lot more digital, instead of film photography, just to go through most of my lenses to see of my single global adjustment will indeed be good enough in real-world shooting. I'm expecting that it will be.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

I Hate to Say This, But...

EOS 7D with Sigma 17-70, at 23mm, f11, 1/90, ISO 100

... I really don't think I like my EOS 7D. This shot is not one that I'd display with pride... it just shows very well what I'm up against with this camera. If you look at it enlarged on your screen, you'll see that absolutely nothing is in sharp focus. This is typical - I always find myself doing a lot of post-processing on my keeper shots, just to get things looking better (including "unsharp mask"). Maybe it's the lens? Nope - I used this same lens on my EOS 40D, which went bad on me in June of this year (as in $400 repair bad), and that's when I bought the 7D. I got far more consistently good results with the 40D and Sigma combination. Anyway, I've since sold that lens, and now use the older Canon EF 28-105 USM II. Here's a shot with this lens:

EOS 7D with Canon EF 28-105, at 45mm, f11, 1/750, ISO 400

It may be a bit better, but I still cannot find anything in this photo which is fully in focus.

I prefer using old M42 thread mount lenses, and still get the same mediocre results, as seen here: 

EOS 7D with Bushnell 28mm M42 Manual Lens, f5.6 1/1500 ISO 100

This one was at a more open aperture, which of course offers better identification of what is actually in focus compared with out of focus surroundings, but even with this, I still cannot discern the actual focus point within this picture - it all looks soft to me.

The 7D has micro-focus adjusting capability. I did try this by taking a long shot of my guitar, carefully focussing exactly on the 14th fret (where the neck meets the body), using the Sigma lens at f 2.8. The result was that indeed the 14th fret came out in the best focus, but it was still not super-sharp. All that's left for me to do is to print out a focus chart and try doing the micro-adjustment by following the directions on the chart - a much more exacting approach than what I did with my guitar. But still, I would have expected that if the micro-focus is off a bit, then perhaps my 13th or 15th fret would have been sharper, but this was not the case.

I've looked at various forums about this camera, and it seems there are a fair number of users who are complaining about the same thing. Invariably, the people who have "mastered" this camera suggest either checking the micro-focus, or imply in some way that we don't know how to use the camera. I've also seen suggestions that the 7D only works well with Canon's very expensive L-Series lenses.

This is a very well built camera with great capabilities, and I've managed to tweak out a few great pictures with it, but I know I got better results with the 40D, with very little effort. Here's one example:

EOS 40D with Sigma 17-70 at 17mm, f9.5, 1/500, ISO 400

Here I can see the bucket of the machine is in sharp focus, and it gently recedes from there.My point is, in any given photo, there should be something in sharp focus, even if it's the wrong thing. Why is this not the case with my current camera, which some say is the best APS-C sized DSLR available?

Monday, December 10, 2012

Photography's New Aesthetic Part 2

Both photos c. 2012 by Greg Sullivan, Used with permission

No sooner had I entered the topic of Photography perhaps struggling to find a new place in the world's now extremely busy and democratic place of visual art, when an old friend of mine, Greg posted a whole new album of really great work on Facebook. I asked his permission to use some of his recent pictures to continue on this topic. It was difficult for me to choose just a couple, believe me!

I think Greg is evolving his work into some kind of "new classicism". I wouldn't really call it Neo-Classicism, because that's been used before, probably far more than enough. Greg - I do hope you comment here to correct me if need be. I see any kind of "classicism" whether old, new or whatever, as being work that immediately takes one's breath away, and then keeps you looking and going back for more mainly because of it's well trained competency and great execution. As with a classic painting, a classic photo will possess a sense of the artist really knowing his stuff. I don't know how else to state it. It comes right down to how Greg here knows exactly  what he wants to do, and in a very brief moment of time, he is able to pull it off, because he knows what his "brushes and canvas" can do!

In the last post, I was discussing Lomography as something I'm quite drawn to in our new world of democratic photography as "a kind of "Neo-Romanticism"... in which some kind of action, preferably human action is contained in the picture, and the more impromptu and un-posed this aspect of "happening", the better." But Lomography can never be "classicism" - it deliberately ignores classic technique and replaces it with a technique of it's own. And yet, we see that Greg's photos are also alive with action -both of these pictures have an amazing freeze capture of a gull in flight, not to mention the dynamic of waves crashing against a grounded fishing boat.

As for my own work, here's the way I like to describe it - "My aesthetic has always been around light and texture as being all important - not really caring about distracting objects, awkward composition or things like that. For me, 95% of the time conditions are not right for taking pictures, so I don't bother. I wait for clouds, or atmosphere etc. that makes my mundane small town Canada surroundings interesting, and then I choose my weapon and head out to take some pictures". Right now, I'm wanting to expand on this. As I've said before, I've done the same thing many times over, and now I need to find a new way to explore my surroundings. My problem at the moment is that I don't know whether to head towards Lomography, classicism, or something else. For me to move onward, I'm, going to need to study - whether formally or informally I'm not sure of that either. I'm just glad I know people like Greg who can keep me searching in the right direction.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Photography's New Aesthetic

Moncton Canada, Taken With EOS 7D, EF 28-105 USM ii Lens

I often wonder if photography is dying under the weight of it's own success. I see hints of this idea on other Blogs also. With digital cameras having unsurpassed capabilities, and nearly every household in ownership of at least one digital camera of some type, it has gotten to be the most democratic of all pursuits, especially with the social media revolution. 

In the past, the art of the still photo was taken very seriously, because it was set apart in a culture of it's own. To view the work of famous photographers, you had to buy a book, or go to an art gallery. It was completely distinguished from motion pictures and television, which was the realm of the Producer, Director and Cinematographer. In today's age, a video device can be held in your hand, and said devices make no distinction between movies, television shows, still photography, photo journalism, music videos, gaming video, etc. Everybody can now make any of these for themselves, and share it all to the world for free. Video News Networks make as much use of "amateur videos" of a news event as the do of their own working professionals, and the Networks in turn make this video available on all devices - televisions, computers and the latest wireless handheld. We are all saturated with imaging - constantly streaming at us to the point where our lives have become split 50/50 between viewing images and participating in real life. This is not a complaint, but it has me wondering where the art of the still photograph fits into  our modern world, even with hundreds of millions of them now being created and shared every day.

It seems to me that for photography to be enjoyed as it once was, it has to distinguish itself in a very radical way from more common forms of imagery. Photography still possesses the magic of capturing defining moments in time - that will never change. But in order to make people pay attention to the still photograph as a distinct art form, there has to be a whole new aesthetic to it; something that grabs the eyes of the modern viewer and attracts that person who is otherwise consumed with moving images to spend some time with a photograph.

I know that certain purists, even all of the ones I have great respect for, will disagree with me, but one way in which the aesthetics of photography have evolved to this end is in the so called "Lomography" movement. Even though it has been around for two decades, it is still going strong in gaining popularity, because it re-defines the art of photography in a true way. "Lomographers" have creatively discovered a new "secret sauce" which makes people stop and take notice. Basically, it is all about how to be very creative with the use of very cheap cameras, as the ones originally produced by the Lomo brand in Russia. This is pure Lomography, but I'll put forth an opinion that it has spilled over into a more contemporary form via the Smartphone and Instagram.

But aside from having that certain "look" of what a cheap plastic camera produces, which I attempted to fake in the picture above, true Lomography is also made good or bad, true or not true, by the presence or absence of "something happening" in the picture. It is a kind of "Neo-Romanticism" I think, in which some kind of action, preferably human action is contained in the picture, and the more impromptu and un-posed this aspect of "happening", the better. Therefore I am not a Lomographer. You don't need to use film, or a plastic toy camera to be a Lomographer (such a "look"is now easily and effectively faked through digital filtering.) I would say it has to be the "look" combined with "human happening" to make good Lomography. Personally I love looking at this stuff. It's fun, it's free, it describes the world as it is today, and it is one of those things that can only be described as "forever young". With all of this, it is one of perhaps a few important ways in which photography continues to march forward as an art form in its own right.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Film Scanning Basics

Taken With Rollei Automat, Fuji Pro 160, Scanned with Epson v500

It seems like it's been a long time since I've written anything of a technical nature, and with good reason. I have an intention for this blog to emphasize the art of photography over the technical aspects, and for the sake of art, I've deliberately veered into film photography for the past few months. Photography is one of those pursuits, however, in which the distance between the art and the technology is pretty thin, whether you're pursuing it with analogue (film) or digital techniques. In actual fact, as I've never set foot in a darkroom, I'm using both, even with my playing at film. Somebody has coined the term "figital photography" to describe this mixing of analogue and digital - I guess that applies to me fully.

Photography is very technical, as opposed to the art of painting an image. It is all about "formulas" right from the start to finish. Whether you even realize it of not, the "art" of photography is primarily getting intuitively good at applying a series of various analogue and digital formulas related to the optics of your lenses, the speed and aperture capabilities of your camera and film (or sensor), the behavior of your flash versus existing light, color temperature, and then on to the processing tank and it's mix of chemicals, the temperature and timing involved, or if digital, you "process" your images through many strangely named manipulations of your RAW data files into an actual image.

If you're doing "figital" - the hybridization of using a film camera, and digital scans of your film, then at some point, your film slides or negatives must be converted to digital files. In the very beginning, you may want to fully entrust this process to the photo lab who processes your film - they can scan it and create a Photo CD of JPEG files for you to take home and stick in your computer. I don't recommend that you stay with this for very long. Simply do it long enough to decide whether using a film camera is for you or against you. Once you've decided that film is going to be a significant part of your life, then you must take the plunge and buy yourself a film scanner. Why not let the folks at the lab keep n doing it for you? Simple - because they don't know what you want, and once you get a JPEG file on a disk, you are very limited in what you can actually do with it. Having your own scanner, on the other hand, opens up another realm of technical  and artistic possibilities for you, and you can once again creatively shoot film without ever having to use a darkroom, or fiddle with messy chemicals, unless that's your thing. It also keeps your film processing cost very low - when you go to a One hour Photo and ask for "uncut negatives only - no prints, no scans", they typically charge only $5.00 for 35mm and $7.50 for 120 Roll-film.

So - on to the film scanner. I'm not going to be brand specific here, although as you already know, I own an Epson v500 which I bought on sale for $140.00. I cannot comment on other models, whether cheaper or pricier - some scanners cost as much as a high end DSLR, others are less than $50. I am going to assume the following features MUST be available at a bare minimum with the scanner you choose:

  • Some kind of effective dust control
  • ability to produce TIFF files, as well as JPEGS
  • some control over basic picture parameters in the device software (the ability to change Levels, Curves, White Balance, Brightness, Contrast, etc. during the scan - just like you do with digital camera software).
What then is the difference between a film scanner and an ordinary flatbed scanner like the one built onto your 3-in-1 Printer / Copier / Scanner? One word - "precision". A film scanner must be able to faithfully scan a very small image surface that is precise enough to be printable at much larger sizes - even beyond 8X11. Part of this precision comes from the scanner being able to hold your negatives or slides in a very precise position while scanning. The Epson v500 (a flatbed) uses plastic frames and locating tabs to do this. The first thing I want to clear up is how thee scanners specify the measure of this precision. It tends to be rather confusing. Epson advertises it this way - 

"6400 x 9600 dpi optical resolution for extraordinary enlargements from film up to 17" x 22"

Sounds impressive doesn't it? The fact is, if you use this kind of resolution in practice  you'll soon be returning your scanner back to where the sun never shines! This is very misleading, and in actual fact, the biggest resolution you should use for images, even up to 17X22 is only 600 dpi (dots per inch). The reason for this is found here, and here is a summery statement from this same article - 

" if you don’t resample, changing the PPI setting will increase or decrease the print size (it will increase if you drop the PPI, it will decrease if you increase the PPI)"

It sounds counter-intuitive I know, but if you read this article over enough times, it begins to make sense. If you own a digital camera, take a look at the "Properties" (EXIF Data) of one of your images - you'll find most of them are 300 dpi! So why do these scanners boast about these insanely high resolutions? Because numbers sell, and the first thing you'll want to do is scan a photo with the resolution set at this highest possible value - that's what I did, anyway, but it only happened once! I discovered first off that scanning at 9600 took over an hour for one image, and created an insanely large file of several hundred megabits for an 8X11 output. Reducing the scan size to 300 dpi brought the scan time down to a reasonable 3 minutes, and created a typical JPEG file size of around 4.5 MB - very similar to a digital camera.

This insanely large pixel density is built into the scanner for a reason. If you're scanning a slide, and want the output to be the original size (same size as the slide being scanned), then it will only look right when scanned at a higher density, like 4800 or more. With very small sized output, the scan time and file sizes become more reasonable at the high densities.

But the thing is, why would you ever scan a slide to output it's very small original size? I can't think of a reason, maybe you can. At least, be assured your scanner is capable of doing this if you ever need to.

So, the rule of thumb is - for an 8X11, or even an A4 printed output, set the Resolution at 300 dpi for a great looking print, or if you're greedy, use 600 dpi for "extraordinary". Anything beyond that is diminishing returns - unless you have a contract to put one of your pictures on a highway bill-board.

As for the rest of it - if it's a picture you really care about and want to work with, set the scan output to "TIFF" instead of "JPEG". The file size will end up being 8 times bigger, but the scan time will be the same (actually a little less because there is no time being used by the scanner for the JPEG digital compression). TIFF files have many advantages. Most printers will accept them directly, and being uncompressed, they are very close to behaving like a RAW file - they are far more tolerant to changing such things as Exposure Value, Dynamic Range, Gamma, Curves, Levels, Local Contrast and Colour Balance. They can also be used with most of the great Post Processing software like Photoshop, Lightroom, or my personal favorite - Photivo. Once you've worked the picture in 16-bit TIFF format, save that file for printing later, and then use your favorite software to down-convert it to a compressed 8-bit JPEG file for sharing it over a network. On your typical monitor, the TIFF and JPEG will look almost the same, but for printing, TIFF looks far better and also still retains the headroom of a large 16-bit file for further tweaking the print results if reuired.

My Epson software allows you to make most picture adjustments during the scan. I'm only just beginning to experiment with this. Basically, it means setting up your picture using "pre-processsing" instead of "post-processing". I'm still not sure about this - I can see some advantage in that you might stand a greater chance of getting it right, or at least closer to right, in pre-processing, but the disadvantage is that the image preview offered by the software is nowhere near as good as what Photoshop (and the others) gives you to work with on-screen. 

It can be frustrating and time consuming to learn all the ins and outs of scanning, unless you're really into this sort of thing, which I readily confess, I am. Your life-partner might object that you're spending too much time at the computer, especially if he/she cannot see the benefit of film over digital. It's all part of striving for a balanced life I guess.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The (Sometimes) Sad Life of a Photo Blogger

Two Ducks Reflecting

That's what I'm doing today... reflecting. I'm not sure why I'm feeling sad, but that's a Blogger's duty somehow, isn't it... to tell his audience how he's feeling once in awhile? I mean, why not. Actually, as far as the Blog itself is concerned, I'm happy. I've just exceeded over 6000 views here, which is totally surprising to me. I know this is nothing compared with the "Big 3" who's Blogs I read every day - Mike Johnson, Ken Rockwell and Steve Huff, but I do not aspire to ever having the online presence these guys do - I'm just surprised that I get viewed at all, which is a great thing.

These Big 3 all have something in common, although they each take far different approaches to what they do, which is to have the privilege, and very difficult task of trying out all the latest in photo gear. This surely must be a constant pull away from the true art of Photography, into becoming a gear-head, because their audience expects them primarily to give their honest, unbiased view on all the latest cameras, which the camera makers gladly loan to them for review. I would find this exceedingly difficult, and I'm just as happy NOT to have to do this. I really prefer to talk about the pictures, and as far as equipment goes, treat that as the necessary component - the "brushes and palette" if you will, that goes into the making of the pictures. 

But alas, that's not quite what I'm going to do today. Instead I want to just talk a bit about why I'm feeling a little sad. Yesterday, in preparation for today's Post, I created a new Set in Flickr for all of my photos that have gotten 100 or more views. Here it is. A couple of them go all the way back to 2003, but most of them range from 2007 to 2011, with a handful from this past year. Looking at your own old pictures has a funny effect - you always come away feeling that you've seen happier days, that somehow, things were better then. Sometimes it's true, but usually, I realize, that's just an illusion. Things weren't really better - just perhaps a little different. A huge difference for me, of course, is that I'm still feeling a big gap with the recent loss of my mother, one month ago. With all of these older pictures, she was still here, her death was unexpected, and I really do miss her. 

Another thing that really came out from re-visiting these pictures is my life with Dystonia - a Neurological disease with similar symptoms to Parkinson's, although the root cause is very different, therefore these are two distinct diseases. Parkinson's is far more common, and so I often refer to it simply so people might recognize it a little better. Back in September 2008, I had a very radical brain surgery called Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) which is effective for both Parkinson's and Dystonia, although Dystonia enjoys the better long term outcome. I can look at my life in pictures from the point in time of having that surgery - my "Pre-DBS" and "Post-DBS" periods. Before the surgery, especially in the months of '08 just leading up to it, I am amazed that I could take pictures at all! Especially with no Image Stabilization, but I do recall how using my camera was actually therapeutic on most days - the creative act served to steady my tremors, and ease the painful spasms that I otherwise had no control over. After the surgery, which was on the whole about 70% successful in bringing my condition under control (and 70% success means I still have chronic pain every day), photography did not need to play as big a role in controlling my symptoms, so this made a big difference, although I cannot spot a particular change in my style after that period late in '08.

I came out of this little exercise knowing one thing - my style needs to change. What I'm seeing is an obvious repetition - I'm photographing the same things over and over, and it is time for a change. The problem is, I don't know what to change, and this is contributing to the way I feel, I'm sure of that. Usually, when a creative block such as this takes place, it's always good to look at the work of others. My subject matter is my surroundings, and not being much of a traveller, I expect that what I'll need to do is discover a unique new way of photographing the same old thing. 

I really hope it happens.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

New Horizons for Film

Somebody out there is thinking. As it turns out, it's the Chinese. Now on the leading edge of the world's high tech high volume manufacture, it turns out they have retained much in the way of old world craftsmanship too, offering high end products such as audio amplifiers, musical instruments and now really radical film cameras. We might tend to still brush off the Chinese as offering low grade mass produced junk to the rest of the world - (wait - can we call the Apple iPhone junk?) It wasn't too long ago that I had very low regard for Chinese manufactured goods, but now I see I was either thinking out of pure prejudice, or shopping in all the wrong places. So far, my experience is in the recent purchase of two musical instruments, a Tanglewood Parlour Guitar, and an Eastman Mandolin, both hand-crafted in China. Both of these are absolutely exquisite in their craftsmanship, tone and playability, and the best part - they are very affordable. These cannot be products of round the clock production lines and practices such as overworking 14 year old girls - these instruments are way too good, and the care put into their craftsmanship becomes very obvious as soon as you have one in your hands.

It now appears the Chinese have picked up a torch for high-end cameras, hopefully in the same vein as these other products. I'm seeing brands such as Day Yi, Gaoersi and Fotoman emerging with what are really Large Format cameras built to more of a Medium Format spec, resulting in designs inspired by the Fuji G617 of some years ago, but with more of a hand built look to them. What they've done is take a lens specification intended for Large Format and adapted it to a 120 roll film width, resulting in Panoramic 6X12 and 6X17 negative sizes. Not exactly new or ingenious, but the provocative thing comes in the way these designs are executed. As with Large Format cameras, the super quality bit is all attached to the front, with combined lens, aperture and leaf shutter assembly's from Schneider Kreuznach, and after that, what else is there? This trend has even been taken up by the super cheap toy camera Holga outfit, with their model 120Pan at a cost of less than $80. And, as with all things Holga, somebody soon came up with a very meaningful modification. For your further enjoyment Here's another one. It seems too that Lomo is about to launch their own low cost solution - this is the one I'll be holding out for personally.

Panorama photography seems to be all the rage now, with the ability of smartphones and some digital compacts to make a panorama with one sweep, right in the camera, with no stitching required. Cool as this may be, it cannot possibly result in large printable images such as would be the product of these new Large Format Roll-film hybrids. I cannot say this will catch on like wildfire, but I'm certain what we're seeing here is a very strong Niche, and only film could keep it affordable.

Photographers ought never lose touch with the roots of our craft. This seems to me to be a great, highly creative way to reinforce a touch of much needed continued classicism.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Convenience of Film Photography

Taken With Pentax Zoom 90, Fuji Superia ISO 200

As I happened upon this scene just when I was exiting the car to make a quick trip to a local computer dealer, I was so glad to have a real camera with me. One very intense rain shower had just blown through and another was about to begin. What really caught my eye, aside from the brooding sky, was the reflections in the pavement. This was a perfect photographic moment that ended two minutes later as another downpour commenced. My smartphone battery was completely dead, and my 7D DSLR was home, where it usually is. So, thanks to my Pentax Zoom 90 being in the car, I did not miss this amazing shot that was handed to me on a platter. For me, this isn't just any old building either - it is the other part of the recently demolished Wesley Memorial United Church - the Church Hall built in the early 1950's, where I attended Sunday School and Boy Scouts. I had a lot of personal history in this building when growing up - a lot of fond (and perhaps not so fond) memories.

So, do you see what I'm getting at? You always need a camera with you at hand at all times; otherwise, you'll miss! Smartphones are good, but often they're dead, or otherwise engaged in some other activity, and, more importantly, there is no way a smartphone would ever make a photo this good straight out of camera. The micro-camera in a smartphone, as remarkable as they are, is still no match for 35mm full-frame (said to be 25 Mega-pixel equivalent when shooting film).

My advice about a camera you'll always have with you is very simple, and I've repeated it here many times and in many ways. It needs to be pocketable, preferably operable without batteries, or with a very long life Lithium battery (good for 3000 shots). It should also have a premium lens that is fast enough for occasional night shooting without flash. Above all, it needs to be convenient and ready to shoot at a split-second's notice. This altogether rules out every type of camera except for the film viewfinder / rangefinder 35mm compact. 

A photographer needs a small arsenal of cameras really. Aside from the super ready-at-hand convenience mentioned above, a DSLR has it's place when events are pre-planned, and a Medium Format film camera will provide you with the ultimate in image quality for your artistic planned shooting. But nothing yet (except maybe this if you have the money and it doesn't come with a viewfinder) comes close to a 35mm compact film camera for those impromptu shooting moments that often, as if by magical serendipity, present themselves to you. Here are a few more shots to show you what I mean:

Pentax Zoom 90, Fuji Superia ISO 200

Pentax Zoom 90, Fuji Superia ISO 200

 Pentax Zoom 90, Fuji Superia ISO 200
Olympus Trip 35 with Fuji Superia 400

For this last pair, I happened to have both of my film compacts with me. The comparison of the two is entertaining, and when you get right down to it, I think the Trip 35 made the better shot (although I had to rotate and crop it a bit). This is why the Olympus Trip 35 is my favourite film camera of all that I've tried so far. It is also more "pocketable" than the Pentax Zoom 90, does not require a battery, and has a far better viewfinder.

Let there be light - and film!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Straight Out Of Camera (SOOC)

"Cedar Shrub"

"SOOC" is a new acronym that belongs in the brave new world of Digital Photography, meaning Straight Out of Camera", that is, a JPG image that has not been altered in any way in Post-Processing software of any kind. I'm not sure what the point of this is, really, because it bears no strength. I've seen it used almost to prove ones mettle with a digital camera, that one knows how to shoot so well, that they get exactly what they want, without alteration, simply because they know photography so well, that they know exactly what they're going to get, and they know they will be happy with the results, when they press the shutter button. Well, OK. But with my recent return to shooting film, (more like I've put myself on a no-digital diet for awhile, for the purposes of self-teaching), I'm just imagining what pre-digital photography must have been like. "SOOC" would have been de-facto. Sometimes, darkroom manipulation was used by serious photographers who developed their own, but for the most part, when film was processed by the big C-41 machines, then every picture a photographer would make was truly straight out of the camera -  it was the only way.

Now, one thing I have learned from my no-digital diet is this - I have NEVER had a SOOC result from my digital photography I've been happy with - I ALWAYS have applied some software post-processing to my digital keepers - it simply had to be done, and seemed like the norm to me. After all, why does every serious digital photographer buy Photoshop and consider the software to be every bit as important as his/her camera? (I personally use various bits of Open Source software, not Photoshop, but it accomplishes the same thing). But, with a few noticeable exceptions, this is not the case with what I'm doing with film these days, nor was it the case back in 2008 when I was shooting mostly film, before I bought my first DSLR. With film, I'm scanning my negatives at home with an Epson v500 flatbed - hardly the greatest scanner available, but certainly good enough. With this scanner, of course, I am turning my film negatives into JPG files, and having done so, there are some limited adjustments I could make, as I notably pointed out here. But in the vast majority of cases, I am perfectly happy with my results "SOOS" (Straight Out of Scanner).

The above picture of the Cedar Shrub is a perfect example. Shot with my rapidly failing old Pentax Spotmatic at 1/125 sec, with my best lens, the Jupiter-9 at f2, using Fuji Superia 400 ISO film, I am perfectly happy with the v500 output - no improvements needed. This has been the case with most of the shots taken recently with my Pentax Zoom 90, Olympus Trip 35, the Rolleiflex (notable exception - my first real B&W film shots on Ilford FP4 were very disappointing to me, but with some tweaking in GIMP I was able to get them looking OK).

My point is - and this is nothing more than an opinion - that when I  shoot with film, getting the results I want is effortlessly accomplished with the camera itself, but when shooting digital, whether with JPG or RAW output, it doesn't matter, I always find myself having to make some post processing tweaks - even if it's a simple click on the auto-correct icon. In fact, with the latest firmware update for my Canon EOS 7D, there's a lot of post-processing I can do right in the camera itself, thereby making my SOOC results satisfactory (that was a joke, son!).

I may be under a lot of mis-understanding here, I don't know. Maybe I don't really know how to use my digital camera as well as I should. I often use it the same as I do a film camera, with old school "film lenses" and in full manual mode.

We're still learning here, right?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Misbehaving Camera

I've not made it much of a secret - I do not like SLR cameras. A small photoshoot I embarked upon yesterday morning became even smaller because of a malfunctioning SLR film camera - my old Spotmatic which I've owned since the late 1970's was misbehaving... but the trouble is, with this particular camera, you don't know you're in trouble until after you get the film processed.

It was a wonderful frosty sunrise - absolutely perfect for real interesting pictures, so I spontaneously had a wonderful idea - I would get out the old Spotmatic, put my Jupiter 9 lens on it, and shoot an entire roll of film of driveways in my neighbourhood - "Twenty-Four Driveways" I'd call it. Well, I ended up salvaging twelve of the pictures, and after some heavy exposure correction, managed to come up with "One Dozen Driveways" instead.

I knew one thing about the old Spotmaic - the 1/1000 sec shutter speed had given up a long time ago, but having tested all other speeds thoroughly and repeatedly without film, I could see that all other speeds were OK. It turns out this was not the case. I was using ISO 400 film, and the sun was bright, so I shot about half the pictures using 1/500. It turned out that this speed was not working either, perhaps due to the cold morning air. Some of the pictures were shady so I used speeds as low as 1/60 for some of the shots, and it turns out these were the only ones that actually took.

I also suspect that all the other speeds are sluggish also, as the remaining pictures were all overexposed. I had to do a lot of compensation to my scans to get them looking right. I am pretty sure the camera's light meter is working OK, as I initially tested it against the beeCam on my phone just to be sure.

This is an obvious problem with old film cameras - you never know when they're actually functioning as they should. The SLR design compounds this, because the sound of the mirror-slap is louder than the shutter itself. Simpler cameras - the kind I prefer, with leaf shutters, allow you to hear the shutter activating, and unless the speeds are way off, you can be confident that things are OK. One thing is certain - a digital camera will always let you know that each shot went good or it went wrong.

Now back in defense of film - I am pleased with the results of the dozen that actually took. Would I have done better with  my DSLR? Certainly. There would have been no overexposure to correct for, and I would  have RAW files to work with. I could have used the same high quality old prime lenses  - I expect it would have been my Takumar 50 instead of the Jupiter 9, both are spectacular lenses. But would I have gotten the gentle suitableness of my analogue results, and would I have enjoyed the amazing full frame view and micro-prism precision of looking through one of the most amazing lenses ever made? Certainly not.

Can I make a recommendation? If you're thinking of getting into film for whatever reason, you should look at it as a supplement to your digital stuff. I'm sure the die-hard film buffs out there would disagree, unless I explain that by "supplement", I mean you ought to make it as big, or as small a supplement as you wish. It's all good. My strongest recommendation, however is to get into Medium Format. When "film" is mentioned to new photographers who've gone in with digital, I suppose it would be 35mm that comes to mind... I am amazed when I'm out with my Rolleiflex, everybody who stops to chat about it will always ask "can you still get film for it?" This tells me that people who are old enough to want to talk about my Rolleiflex are not in touch with the world of film. Yes, both Fuji and Ilford are still making 120 roll film, and the better camera shops always have some on hand. Medium Format should be your film entry point. Then consider 35mm to be your "convenience" film fallback if anything, and do not make the mistake of buying a 35mm SLR, even though they can be had for next to free. For an introduction to 35mm work, I believe you will get far better looking results with a good Viewfinder Compact. I've proven to myself that the results I get from the Pentax Zoom 90, or the Olympus Trip-35 are far more exciting than what I get from an SLR. Other recommendations are the Contax T, the Rollei 35S, or even the Leica Minilux, as pricey as they might be. You would think that a film SLR ought to give great results, but I've never been satisfied with SLR image quality - and I've tried several. I honestly don't know why, although there are theories about it. All I know is what I see, and I don't particularly care that my Spotmatic has failed me - I have no plans to replace it. I'd much rather save up my money and buy a Medium Format Rangefinder as my ultimate film camera.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Pentax Zoom 90 Sample Images

Today's post is a bit overdue. Last month, I bought a Pentax Zoom 90 for $6.99 at the local Salvation Army Thrift Store. I didn't think it to be a desirable item at the time, being one of those late 80's ugly compact 35mm cameras which at first glance seem to abandon all vestiges of classic camera build quality and looks. But it turns out the more I investigated, the more I realized this isn't just another curvy plastic forgettable camera. Furthermore, the results I got from it, using a roll of Fuji Superia X-Tra 400 made me really sit up and take notice. Here is an album of that first roll of film.

Photography is always a matter of personal taste, so many people may find these to be "ho-hum", as they may fail to satisfy the latest itch in digital photographic tricks, or all the great stuff that can be done with Photoshop, etc. The camera also has obvious limitations - it will never be able to capture a great super-telephoto of a Marsh Hawk on the fly. No, the big point here is these pictures represent exactly the kinds of pictures that I prefer, nothing more, nothing less. My preferences are "simple reality". First, I like a photograph to look like a photograph, and as a painter (OK I admit, it has been decades since I last lifted a brush), I know how to emphasize good composition. I'm not particularly interested in Macro shots of flowers, I absolutely loathe HDR, and if I could learn how to do it well, my biggest aspirations are toward decisive moment street photography. Beyond that, nothing else matters for me. I prefer maximum depth of field, strong but totally natural textures, and bold contrast. I like my colours to stand out, but not to the point of ridiculous. With this Thrift Store purchase, I've gained a photographic tool that gives me exactly what I want in fully Automatic shooting mode, and it gives it in droves!  This Pentax Zoom 90 certainly offers more than it's exterior styling would suggest.

In order to get a full fame (35mm) compact digital camera, well, until very recently, such a beast didn't even exist! But now, for close to $3000.00, you could get the new Sony RX-1. Also for $3000, I could shoot and process 300 rolls of film with my Zoom 90. Am I daring to suggest the resulting photographs would be in any way comparable? Well, yes! Look at my purely effortless point 'n' shoot results and judge for yourself - these are fine looking pictures. In it's day, the Zoom 90 was a very premium compact (in spite of it's but-ugly looks) that cost $400 new, and I've seen it mentioned in some discussion forums that it was popular among photo-journalists. I would expect the RX-1 to also be aimed at the professional market.

Perhaps we should do the totally insane thing and look at the basic specs for comparison:

The Sony RX-1:

Full Frame 35mm Digital
35mm Fixed f2 Zeiss Sonnar T Lens (no zoom)
8 Elements in 7 groups
ISO Range 100- 25600
Macro Focus down to 0.2m
Hot Shoe for external flash

The Pentax Zoom 90:

Full Frame 35mm Film
38mm f3.5 Pentax Biogon (Zeiss design), zooms to 90mm
8 Elements in 7 groups
ISO Range 50-1600, depending on film
Macro Focus down to 0.8m
Built in zooming flash

Certainly, the Sony RX-1 is the more desirable camera, with far more features and shooting capability (except for a lack of Optical Zoom), and of course unmatched digital convenience. But the Pentax Zoom 90 is no slouch when comparing the basic specifications that really matter... all I'm doing here is showing how much money you'd have to spend to get a digital 35mm full frame compact camera, and up until now this is the only one that exists. Naturally, I should point out after shooting (300X24= 7200) pictures, you will come out ahead with the Sony. I personally have just over 22,000 filed photographs on my computer, a total which includes a lot of RAW and JPEG duplicates, and also a lot of film pictures, all going back to the year 2003, so a fair estimate might be that in the past ten years I have taken around 10,000 photos.

One thing to keep in mind in conclusion - you are far better off to invest money into several different cameras, instead of just one or two very expensive ones, like this remarkable little full-frame Sony. The best way to accomplish this is to have a few film cameras in your tool kit, and if you ever see a Zoom 90, it's obvious you can't go wrong - buy it!