Friday, June 27, 2014

Rowland Scherman Affirms Digital Photography

Grandson Leander With Bubbles    DMC-LX5, DxO Optics Pro

The famous Life Magazine photographer Rowland Scherman gave a huge thumbs-up to Digital Photography in this PBS Production about his life and work. Scherman, whose career really took off in the early 1960's makes mention of the new media during the final third portion of the show, when he says "If Ansel Adams were still alive, he would almost certainly be using Digital... maybe 8"x10" Digital..."

Interspersed throughout the program, he is shown in the present day walking around Cape Cod with, of all that there is to choose from, a Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX Series camera! I'm not sure of the exact model - could've been a new LX7, but notably, it wasn't even equipped with the optional Electronic Viewfinder - he was composing with the rear LCD.

At the peak of his career, he was taking iconic photographs of Bob Dylan, JFK, The Beatles, and the March on Washington, using mostly a Nikon Rangefinder (the Contax copy). He emphasized simply how lucky he was to have "been there with a camera" as the biggest factor of his success, also mentioning the fact that in his younger days, he was athletic and nimble, making him very able to move around, jumping over everything so as to get the best shots. He also said several times how he would simply walk right by any security at these events without a Press Pass, because he always carried two cameras, and therefore really looked like he knew what he was doing, and therefore, must've been a professional Photographer, even before he actually became one. When challenged, he simply wouldn't take "no" for an answer. Finally, near the beginning of the show, he mentions the one thing whereby he knew when to press the shutter - but I'm not going to spoil this for you - watch the show!

Although he certainly used good equipment, that's not what made him successful. The most important thing is obviously - you've got to "be there with a camera". This still holds true today. Secondly, if you want to pull pictures off the way he did, you've got to have "stones" instead of necessarily a good camera... all the more important today, because if you take somebody's picture, especially up close and personal these days, it's almost as if you've raped them. People today are far more paranoid about their privacy now than they were in the 1960's. Still, I manage to rip off a few good people pics, and I find the best way to do this is to use an old film camera that looks so silly, nobody would take it seriously, and this way, they'll let their guard down, thinking "well, at least with that camera, he will never put me on the Internet", that is if they're thinking at all. I think the most "dangerous" piece of gear that turns on everybody's paranoia alarm right now has to be the Smartphone Camera!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Sustainable Agriculture

This past weekend, we attended an incredibly interesting demonstration about how to create a sustainable "micro environment" in your back yard, or even on the smallest patch of ground. First, here are some pictures of some of the attendees who were milling about:

Planting a Pear Tree with Hosta and Day Lily

Things like this are one of the benefits of living in a University town - there are lot's of events that are well attended by university people. This was one of the most interesting mini-courses I've ever attended. We were told this course of study could take up to two years, and the demonstration took merely four hours (which seemed long enough to stand around in the cold rain). The last picture, immediately above, is the only one I captioned, because it best shows what the course was really all about. Some call it "Companion Gardening", or "Guild Planting" - there are many other terms that are used, but the intent is to plant your main edible, in this case, the pear tree, and then place supporting plants along with it. The supporting plants are meant to bring needed benefits; in this case, the Hosta and Day Lily will provide mulch around the tree once they die off, and over the years, this mulch will accumulate. This is perhaps one of the easiest examples used. Other things get planted that will take nitrogen from the air and put it into the soil naturally, as another example.

The main point is "observation", and it almost becomes a religious experience with the use of the "single eye", as referred to by Jesus, and as recognized in many other religions. One of the best teachers is a forest - walk through a totally natural forest (not one that has been adulterated by industry or government forestry), and OBSERVE the natural layer of mulch under your feet, especially noting how deep it can get over the years. Then observe one particular type of tree, and take note of everything that's growing around the base of that tree.. Pick up some soil and notice how damp it is -even though it might not have rained for weeks. Forests grow this way by natures laws, with no work or human intervention whatsoever, and yet, when mankind makes any attempt to grow things, we want to "separate" every species in our garden, and then wonder why we're left with constant work afterward, trying to get rid of weeds and insect pests. Then we turn to Monsanto for the easy solution, so we can grow crops in our "apartheid" manner - stuff tat is now so genetically altered, it's killing us.

I came away realizing how important this line of study really is. It ought to be right up there with the study of Law and Medicine, and yet, I'd never heard of it until this event.

I did the above photos in B&W, because I love photographing groups of people this way. I also did some in colour:

Brick Oven

Fire in the Brick Oven

Serving Fresh Bread From the Oven

Garden Tool Shed

Community Garden Beds and Grape Trellis

There is so much we have yet to learn - hopefully this particular science will become a Revolution in Learning. Bye for now!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Fuji Superia 800 Film Review

I will admit to having done very little in the way of film reviews, mainly as I haven't shot enough film photos in my life to have merited it. These days there's getting to be less and less film stock to choose from, which is too bad, because when there was a wide variety of brands and types available, it would be like shooting with a whole new camera, just by changing films. I suppose this was seldom done - good photographers would have a preferred film and stick to it, normally.

Nonetheless, I finally completed a roll of Fuji Superia 800, loaded into my Elan-7 Camera last fall, and fortunately, included a few digital comparison shots with which to spark your interest. And as I've found in the past, comparing film to digital, especially when not using similar lens systems as I've done here is like comparing apples and oranges.

From the outset, I didn't think I'd like the Fuji 800 very much, as I'm not a Fuji fan. Back in the early 80's when I used my Spotmatic camera as a "sketchpad" for my paintings, I would occasionally try a roll of Fuji, but always had a strong preference to Kodak, which in most cases, seems to still hold true today. Being an 800 ISO film, I expected a fair bit of grain, and some times there was lots, and other times very little. A lot depends on the light level, just as it does for noise with digital photography.

I was surprised also to see a whole lot of colour shift toward purple under difficult lighting with the Fuji, just as I'd seen with the Kodak Ultra-400 last year. This could be due to the common link I use for all films - my Epson V500 Scanner, except I don't get anything near purple when I use Kodak Color Plus 200, which gives me just the opposite of purple - lots of amber, and a shift of orange to near-red, but only when used in the Elan-7 camera... otherwise, as in my FED camera, colors with this cheap-o Kodak film come off the scanner perfectly natural. This surely must resonate with passionate film users who love it's unpredictability... and I certainly wasn't expecting what I was seeing here.

The first pair of shots (below) are almost identical in composition, taken at sunset, but the film version is hugely purple in both light and dark reflective regions, although the sky is quite correct. Quite a bit of detail is lost to film grain with the Fuji 800, all of which is preserved even with the small-sensor DMC-LX5 compact digital. The Elan-7 is one of Canon's best film SLR's, and the EF 40 lens is no slouch, so this first pair shows what a great little performer the Lumix DMC-LX5 compact really is! Still, one thing I can say for film is that it is not "sterile" at all, even though this particular film seems faulty in so many other ways. From an artistic, rather than purely technical standpoint, I prefer the colours of the window reflections with the film, and I also feel that the row of pillars rhythmically interacting with the doors and windows is far more eye-catching with the film shot, where with the digital pic, this gets lost in the ho-hum predictability of digital. This particular "rhythm" is my whole reason for taking this picture, and I'm not sure why, but film "got it", but digital "lost it". It may have something to do with the way other details in the film shot get lost in the "purple haze", leaving the rhythmic pillars well emphasized.

Canon EOS Elan7 w. EF40mm f2.8, Fuji Superia 800 Film
Lumix DMC-LX5 Digital Camera, DxO Pro Optics

This next pair is pretty much the same thing, but taken from the opposite direction. Same comments - the film really lost detail in favour of grain (which grain fans would love). This shot isn't nearly as artistically interesting as the first - the "rhythm" of the pillars isn't nearly as tight, and so it fails in both pictures. Again, the digital shot is technically perfect, which again makes the little Lumix premium compact a real champ, and in so many ways the only digital camera you might ever need - it never fails to impress. But the film version of this pair has a certain "atmosphere" of foreboding darkness which I like, again an artistic quality which is the real reason for which "artists use film", even a not so great film like this one.

Perhaps I'm all wrong here - after all, this was sunset, which is often referred to as "deep purple" (think of the old song by that name), but with the digital shots, you'd never really know that, would you?

Canon EOS Elan7 w. EF40mm f2.8, Fuji Superia 800 Film

Lumix DMC-LX5 Digital Camera, DxO Pro Optics

Finally, this pair takes us into a completely different line of quality. Obviously far from being the same composition (I was just shooting what caught my eye this time), I should emphasize that these were both taken under daytime cloudy conditions, which is the photographer's friend - there's no tricky lighting to deal with when it's cloudy, thus eliminating any exposure related problems. This time, the film fared extremely well, with no visible grain, and plenty of detail. It has typical Fuji neutrality, and is a real complement to the Canon EOS system, even for the SLR film based line. I especially love the receding fade to white in the centre, which really emphasizes the space in this picture, and kind of tells a story about what a cemetery is all about - the coming resurrection. The same effect is present in the digital shot too, but not to the same extent. I'm not certain, but this pair might show how important having an optical viewfinder can be for serious photography (and the Elan-7 has the best I've ever owned, even superior to the VF on my EOS 5D DSLR.) The Lumix compact, of course, has no viewfinder - just the rear LCD screen. This time, I prefer everything about the film shot over the digital.

Canon EOS Elan7 w. EF40mm f2.8, Fuji Superia 800 Film

Lumix DMC-LX5 Digital Camera, DxO Pro Optics
Finally, without comment, I'm going to serve up a few more of the pictures taken with the Elan-7 EF-40 and Fuji Superia 800. These were all taken under high noon sunlight at Fort Beausejour, and I think they all show an amazing dynamic range for such conditions (No digital HDR stupidity required!):

Canon EOS Elan7 w. EF40mm f2.8, Fuji Superia 800 Film
Canon EOS Elan7 w. EF40mm f2.8, Fuji Superia 800 Film
Canon EOS Elan7 w. EF40mm f2.8, Fuji Superia 800 Film
Canon EOS Elan7 w. EF40mm f2.8, Fuji Superia 800 Film
Canon EOS Elan7 w. EF40mm f2.8, Fuji Superia 800 Film

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Rocks

There are lots of Tourism opportunities in Atlantic Canada, and one of the most "world famous" attractions is "The Rocks" at Hopewell Cape, Albert County, New Brunswick. Here, you can see the direct effects of what are, as a real fact, the "world's highest tides". Certainly, there are plenty of places on earth with high tides, but this place holds the true record of being the world's highest, and also has an incredibly interesting collection of gigantic rock formations on the beach that are continuously being carved out by this tidal phenomenon.

The huge rocks, with evergreen trees growing on top of them, stand aloft like sky-scrapers, and look dangerously ready to topple over, or in some cases begin a rock-slide. For well over a Century, these have been under observation, and in that time, none have actually toppled over that I'm aware of, but rock-slides are quite frequent, and could happen at any time. The Department of Tourism has made this a gold mine, with a fee of $14 per Adult to enter the site, but they're giving back a lot for this fee in terms of visitor safety, and a great Interpretation Centre, with plenty of staff, including tour guides. Below is a picture of our very worthy and witty Sherpa, Paul:

You can also see one of my friends Joe in the background, trying to start a rock-slide. I highly recommend requesting a Tour Guide in order to get the most from your visit. If you have health issues that would prevent you from taking a long (and steep) hike (there are almost 110 stair-steps to go up and down to the beach), there are tour carts available with which to make the trek too.

Although "The Rocks" is probably one of the most photographed (and painted) places on earth, a camera is an absolute must-have at this site. It doesn't have to be a good one either, and in fact, it can be a treacherous hike with lot's of slippery muck and stones underfoot, so if you want to keep your good camera safe, even though you might suffer a minor fall yourself, leave the good camera at home. It really is the type of attraction where a cheap camera will serve you very well, as you'll be shooting wide-angle, and want plenty of depth most of the time anyway (both of these things means a simple point and shoot will be fine). There's no harm in adding to the billions of photographs already taken here down through the years- just because it's all been done before doesn't mean you can't make a few breath-taking photos of your own! Here's a link to the photos that Kathy and I took during our tour with a group of good friends. And here are a few more for your immediate viewing:

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The "New" Black and White

Open Sky Candid; Smena Symbol, Kodak Color Plus 200, GIMP B&W Conversion
I know I've talked about this before, but I'll say it again - there are many new ways to create a Black and White Photo, and it all has to do with the Digital Workflow. Many still prefer the Darkroom, and my hat sincerely gets tipped to them - these are the real photographers, truly. The rest of us are faking it. I'm not being sarcastic here.

But I've never learned the Darkroom - never been near one. To bring some truth to the matter, those of us who've cut our teeth in the Digital Photography World might think we have the upper hand, but we really don't, especially if we're trying to get our photos into galleries. "He who lives by the sword must die by the sword", and we who live by digital will surely die by digital.

What am I getting at here? Simply this - in Digital Photography, unless you own a Leica Monochrom, we're only seeing the world in colour - we have the so-called advantage of taking nothing but colour photos, and then using our digital workflows to turn them into anything we want, and that includes B&W. Notice the picture above? It's really not a bad B&W, shot with a vintage Lomo-Style film camera - but take note - I did it on colour film. I did not intend to make this a B&W picture when I took it. But somebody with a B&W darkroom, using strictly monochrome film has to see the world strictly as his film sees it - in black and white. If we cannot do that, then we are not B&W shooters. I am not a B&W shooter. Just being able to turn a digital photo into B&W with one click of the mouse (err.. I mean one tap on the touchpad.... geeez!) does not make me a B&W photographer - so I was told by a local Gallery I was trying to get into, and I had to agree.

So now that we've got that out of the way, let's talk about the pictures. Yes - the above is a good B&W, with some pure black  and some pure white, and a good range of tonalities in between. That's important. It's rich and "round", with the tones contributing nicely to shapes, and separation between objects, and it recedes nicely into the background, both in terms of focus and contrast.

But did I have to use a film camera to make this all happen? Let's see.

Panasonic DMC-LX5, GIMP B&W Conversion
(Above^) This too has some total black and total white, and lot's of in-between tones. But looking with a critical eye, aside from the fact that it's much less interesting than my opening photo, it fails at everything else, I think. There's not enough contrast to make the picture elements separate and recede correctly. The land doesn't quite lay flat. This fails in B&W, even though it is pristinely digital.

Panasonic DMC-LX5, GIMP B&W Conversion, GIMP Fake Lomo Effect
(Above^) This is the same photo with one added digital enhancement - in GIMP I clicked on "Filters > Light and Shadow > Lomo..." and clicked on the default settings Now suddenly it works a lot better. Look especially at the fences way back near the barn, and how they stand out more. Look at how everything in the middle ground is now more separated from the background. And finally, notice how the ground lays nice and flat. The truly amazing thing is that I brought about all these "enhancements" by "degrading" the picture with three different kinds of blur, lens distortion, and heavy vignetting!

Some final comments - the opening picture at the top succeeds on it's own... all I had to do was scan the colour film, and then use GIMP's single click "BW Film Simulation". The fact that it is a Lomo style camera using a very inferior grade of colour film put all the inherent richness in the photo from the beginning. As for the barn picture, I got lucky. The GIMP "Lomo faker" took a sterile digital picture and put some life into it. Who-ever wrote the computer code for this one really knows what he or she is doing. So what's really going on here? I'll tell you --- "human vision is far from perfect, but digital cameras are very perfect". Do you find yourself getting bored with your digital photos? That's why - they're too pristine. It's not the way we see. Our human vision likes distortions. Our peripheral vision is darker (vignetted) and blurrier compared with our central vision. Also, in combination with our sense of balance, our three-dimensional human vision perceives the flat ground we're walking on. If digital sampling fails to sort this out, then it has failed to create a scene that we can truly respond to emotionally. "Nice picture", but something isn't there. Often it is colour that helps a digital camera sort this out, but a B&W conversion might take it away. Just for the sake of interest, here's the barn picture in colour -

Panasonic DMC-LX5
Now we can see how the colour itself re-orientates our eyesight to provide plenty of space throughout the picture. Clearly, a simple B&W conversion on it's own is not good for this particular photo. It's truly amazing how all this works! This strongly suggests to me that those of us who are stuck in the digital workflow, even if we're shooting with film cameras, need to stop with all the talk around sharpness and "pixel-peeping" and instead consider more about how human vision actually sees things to create photos that we humanly respond to.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Kodak Color Plus - Two Cameras

2014 Smena Symbol, Kodak Colour plus 200

2013, FED-5 w. Industar-61 Lens, Kodak Color Plus 200
Last year I recall talking about Kodak Color Plus being the worst film ever. This was based on my observation of a very amber color caste when compared with a digital reference, both being made through Canon EOS cameras. Later last summer, I discovered how wonderful this film can be in a completely different camera, the FED-5, after spending a lovely afternoon photographing a tour at Open Sky Farms Co-operative Ltd. Now, a bit less than a year later, I have a fe more bits to add from open Sky, but this time shot through the Smena Symbol camera using the same film, Kodak Color Plus 200.

The results are indeed very interesting, and really demonstrate how important the film- lens combination was "back in the day" before digital. As you can see from the two shots above which are clearly labelled, this film (as all films would) behaves very differently between the FED and the Smena cameras. In theory, the camera body would have little to do with image quality in a film camera, although hopefully somebody out there might point out how erroneous this assumption would be. Certainly, as Russian cameras go, the FED-5 is the more preferable camera, simply because you can  equip it with different lenses. I still only have the one very cheap and inferior Industar 61 Original (50mm) production lens, which has a strange way of contributing uber-detail to the photo, whilst keeping the colors quite muted. With the Smena camera, it has a fixed 40mm Triplet (3 Element) lens which kind of does the opposite - low on sharpness, it is otherwise very rich when it comes to color, and allows the amber caste of the Kodak Color plus film to show through in spades. In both cases, the grain is quite pronounced with these cameras, but was much less so when I used this film in a Canon EOS film camera.

With film photography, the effect any particular lens has on the film in the camera is startling, and I would presume, all important. This is not seen at all with digital photography, in which there can only be one type of sensor in the camera, which also accommodates only one "series" of lenses (or just one single lens in the case of digital compacts.) You also have all digital camera systems striving for perfection, to "deliver perfect photos every time" regardless of camera brand, and the only reason for moving up-scale is to allow a photographer to improve upon perfection.

With the Smena Symbol, I've already seen the results from a very expired "no-name" ISO 200 film, with the results being very different from those produced by fresh Kodak Color plus. The low sharpness / vibrant color nature of the Smena lens really showed up here, but the color caste between the two films was completely different, as one would expect. But the most important thing I wish t point out here is that even using the best Emulation software available, you simply cannot get results anything like this from a digital camera. I happened to have my Panasonic DMC-LX5 in my pocket too...

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5
Smena Symbol, Kodak Color Plus 200

So there you have it - digital perfection compared with low budget (Lomography) film with "the worst film ever". Like I said, you'll never get your digital to look anything like what you get out of an old plastic manual focus Russian film camera. Would you want to? That, of course is totally up to you. I personally prefer the film in this case - it changes things, and certainly creates lots of "character" which you simply don't get with "perfect".

Tomorrow, I'll share some more Open Sky pics from both the Smena and the Panasonic - maybe with a bit of B&W thrown in.