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!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

All About Results You're Happy With

Zenit 11 - A Camera I Owned In 2008

One of Many Pictures I Took With It

Once every so often I go back through my Flickr Photostream to look for photos that no longer mean much, or to the contrary, the ones that I might want to re-inspire me. In 2008, I had a major surgery that helped correct a health condition that I have to live with called Dystonia. And even though '08 was one year of great suffering that led to getting that surgery with great urgency in September, it's interesting to me that it was also a year of some of my best photographic creativity. For most of the year, I was shooting nothing but 35mm film with Russian cameras, and then after the surgery, feeling so much better, I thought I would switch gears and bought my first DSLR - a Canon Rebel XS, which is now my wife's camera. Now, keep in mind I shoot on the cheap - that is mostly what this Blog is about, and so I sold my Russian cameras, but kept any M42 screw-mount lenses that would work on my new Canon via an adapter, to help finance my new Digital purchase. We're only talking hundreds of dollars here! That's the way I roll, don't forget!

One of the Russian SLR's I was quite happy with was a "brand new" Zenit-11. Yes, brand new, likely New Old Stock (NOS). This is just the kind of camera that scratches me where I itch - totally mechanical operation, no batteries, and, although not at all necessary, this one had a built in Selenium light meter which via a metering scale on top, helped with correctly setting shutter speeds and apertures.  It all worked fabulously.

Back then, and it wasn't that long ago, I was so absolutely keen on film photography, mostly because I was always so pleased with the results I was getting, because up until then, I was only using point and shoot digitals. There was obviously no comparison at that time between full-frame film and the baby-fingernail sized sensors used in those earlier point and shoots. Things have advanced in the past for years with the smaller sensors, but there is still a certain beauty that only film can convey, which I've never been able to replicate with even one of the best APS Format DSLR's.

And so, I am once again going GaGa for film - this time Medium Format is simply blowing me away with it's quality capabilities. Right now, I am not even thinking about digital photography, except for transient jobs. Maybe it's just a phase, but it's what I want to do, simply because I want that certain look - the look that invites the viewer into the picture, as only film can.

Here is my expanded and growing "Film" Set on Flickr for you to enjoy.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Rolling Rollei Review - Tribute

In the aftermath of my Mom's passing, I have much to do, and at the same time, am feeling understandably sad and weakened... so the last thing I ought to be doing is writing camera reviews. Yet, my site stats here are showing that I've gained a committed audience, and so I can offer this brief Post today.

Oh yes - also this is a notice that I am now hosting this site from davemiltonphotography.com, with a big thank you to my oldest son for completely setting this up for me! You might want to change your bookmarks.

I took these pictures of  the demolition of Wesley Memorial United Church in Moncton NB with the Rolleiflex, and I may have a lot more to say about this in days to come, as I regain my emotions and time. This was the church I attended in my childhood, often with my mother and sister, often by myself, and strangely, I still have dreams about walking through it's basement corridors among the Sunday School rooms, from the new part of the complex - the Church Hall, where I attended Boy Scouts, through into the old original structure. I am saddened to see it go!

As for the Rolleiflex camera, well, I'll just say for now that these pictures demonstrate the remarkable light control offered by the camera I had mentioned before, with gentle roll-off of highlights and overexposure. The centre picture in particular was "impossible" due to very harsh late morning sunlight - a lens hood would have been proper here, and yet, this turned into a demonstration of one of the camera's great strengths - one which I will incorporate more into my style as I use this camera.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Ineth Milton - 1927 - 2012

My mother passed away October 31, 2012, following a brief illness.

I've been putting together a slide show of pictures from the files of various family members to be shown at her funeral service, celebrating her very active life. As I went through her own camera, I found some real treasures, which showed how she had such a great eye for a good picture. Mom had no technical knowledge about cameras at all, and had no computer, and I submit this post in her memory simply to show how this really doesn't matter one bit. Yet, in spite of all this I found many pictures that left me asking "how'd she ever do that???"

She belonged to the Centennial Lawn bowling Club of Moncton, NB Canada, and they designated her to be the official photographer at all of their events, big and small. I always enjoyed editing her pictures for the Club Newsletter. Aside from taking photographs, she also enjoyed doing pencil sketching.

Mom, I hope you can take in all the beauty of God's Golden Shore, just as you did here. You will be greatly missed.