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photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

Carry On Scanning

still dithering

in Scanning , Sunday, August 31, 2014

Since my last post mourning the apparent demise of my faithful Minolta film scanner, I have tried every kind of arcane trick know to the Internet, and a few more besides, to bring it back to life. It is sometimes possible to get it to revive, but there’s no pattern to it. I managed to extract a full-blown, medium format 16x sampling megascan from it, too, but soon after it relapsed. I have to face facts, I’m wasting far too much precious time on this.

One reason why it has been so much the focus of my attention - apart from a 15 year film archive, which can always benefit from my improving scanning skills - is my current project to refine a set of Antarctic landscape panoramas.  I’m trying to get the colour profile exactly as it should be, which to my way of seeing needs to be delicate, slightly subdued, but still allowing the often astonishing colour to speak.  But not the overblown, digital look that plagues so much photography (Adobe Lightroom default profiles have to take of the blame for this). Of course, photographing on reversal film means that I’ve pretty much defined the look before it gets anywhere near a computer, but there are still opportunities and decisions to be made in the scanning and post-processing stages.  The ideal is to transfer what I see on the light table on the screen, and then to print, but that’s very hard to achieve, especially without a drum scanner. And when I’m engaged in a long stretch of batch scanning, sometimes my initial post-processing attempts are not ideal. For example:

Xpan antarctica06 06 old

I’m not sure what I was thinking of here. The contrast is too strong, and the delicacy of the colours in the ice is lost. I’ve also pushed the sky and sea too much towards neutral.

The revised version is much closer to the Ektachrome, although with less density. In the processing, “less is more” certainly applied. Note, in both cases, reducing down to web sized JPGs is introducing some exaggerated tone transitions, especially in the sky.

Xpan antarctica06 06

Fortunately, using the Silverfast archive workflow I can go back and re-work the post processing without needing to do new scans. Unfortunately, for most of my Antarctic scans I used the Scanhancer to try to eke out the last bit of pixel-peeping quality, and this has not worked out to well. The coupled increase in exposure times seems to have greatly exaggerated shadow noise, possibly due to an ageing scanner CCD, and a few near invisible scratches on the Scanhancer itself have resulted in bands of shadowing on the scans, which was not immediately noticeable, but which are almost impossible to fix.

So going back to the scanner quandary, unless I decide to give up, I have three choices: try to get the Minolta fixed, which seems unlikely, track down a good, working Minolta DSMP or Nikon Coolscan 9000 at a sensible price, or take a chance on a Plustek OpticFilm 120. Although the inter webs are full of whining about the Plustek, two reviewers who actually have some track record have been less negative: Mike Pasini (“we achieved our finest scans of the test images we’ve ever managed. But it wasn’t easy.”), and particularly, Tim Parkin, who is something of a scanner guru (“the OpticFilm is definitely has the potential to be a great scanner and I can only recommend if you have the wherewithall to play around with creating a custom film holder”). Another strong argument is that the OpticFilm is currently in production and support by a company for which scanning is a major business activity. Well, I’m going to dither for a little longer, but I’m leaning towards the OpticFilm. Especially as it supports 6x12 film format and alledgedly could be persuaded to scan 6x17.

 

Sell out!

anything that’s not nailed down…

It’s time for a bit of a clear out here at the Snowhenge World Observation Bunker & Control Center, and before all this stuff goes on eBay, I’m offering it here, as well as on several forums.  Please note, I am not, as the interwebbies put it, “jumping ship”, I’m still an Olympus user (both 4/3 and m4/3), just having a bit of a rationalisation, and hopefully raising the funds for a little device I have my eye on…

Please either email me directly, or in the comments here, if you have any suggestions. I might be open to a certain degree of bargaining. Or not. All prices include an estimated $50 for insured delivery via SwissPost / EMS, which, frankly, is probably cutting my own throat.

So, here we go.

Item 1. Olympus E-5/E-3 mega-set

SOLD
Olympus E-5, 7667 shutter actuations
with:

Olympus E-3, 15339 shutter actuations
HLD-4 Grip / Battery Holder with AA-battery insert and Acratech Arca Swiss-compatible plate
Acratech Arca Swiss-compatible plate for E-5
BCM-5 Charger
4 BLM-5 Batteries
BCM-2 Charger
5 BLM-1 Batteries
RM-CB1 Remote cable
FL-36 Flash
2 8Gb Sandisk CF cards

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I am the original owner of all items. All come with original Olympus packaging. These cameras have been well looked after, but have been used, not kept on a shelf, so they have some light signs of wear. However both are in full working order and the screens have no significant blemishes. The E-3 is missing it’s remote socket cover. All items were bought in Switzerland as official Swiss imports and therefore have manuals in German, French & Italian. English and other language versions are available on Olympus web sites.

Asking price is $975. This includes insured delivery to most of the world.SOLD

Item 2. Olympus E-400 Twin Lens kit

Olympus E-400, 3447 shutter actuations
Olympus magnifying eyepiece
Zuiko ZD 14-42ED lens
Zuiko ZD 40-150ED lens
battery, manuals and accessories.

This is the last Kodak CCD Olympus DSLR, and was only sold in Europe. Due to it’s size it was also described by the press as a “digital OM”, well before the OM-D series was thought up.  It is about the same body size as an OM-D EM-1. The camera is in full working order, but the back screen is a bit scuffed. The original lens cap for the 40-150 left to seek it’s fortune elsewhere some time ago, and is replaced with a generic cap.

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I took this camera out for a nostalgic stroll a while back, and wrote a note on my experiences.

Asking price is $250. This includes insured delivery to most of the world.

Item 3. Olympus Digital Zuiko ZD 7-14mm f4.0 lens

SOLD

This ultra-wide zoom lens for Olympus Four-Thirds cameras (and m43 via adaptor) is of exceptional optical quality. I am the original owner. It is used, but in very good condition, with no blemishes to the glass or body. Complete with original front and back lens caps, soft pouch, and original packaging.

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Asking price is $1050. This includes insured delivery to most of the world.SOLD

Item 4. Olympus Digital Zuiko ZD 150mm f2.0 lens

SOLD

This f2.0 fixed focal telephoto for Olympus Four-Thirds cameras (and m43 via adaptor) is rated by many as one of the finest SLR lenses ever produced. So why am I selling it? Well, despite the fact that it really is fabulous, mainly because the focal length doesn’t really suit me.  I am the original owner, however it was bought direct from Olympus as a refurbished demo item, and does not come in the original box. It is used, but in very good condition, with no blemishes to the glass or body. Complete with original front and back lens caps, lens hood and Olympus semi-rigid carrying case.

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You can see a recent shot from this lens here, in this case used on an mFT Olympus E-P3 camera with manual focus.

Asking price is $1550. This includes insured delivery to most of the world.SOLD

Item 5. Panasonic LEICA DG SUMMILUX 25mm / F1.4 ASPH lens for micro Four Thirds

An excellent, fast portrait lens for the mFT system. Although it is indeed excellent, I don’t use it very much, and therefore I’ve decided to sell it. It is used, but in very good condition, with no blemishes to the glass or body. Complete with original front and back lens caps, hood, pouch, and original packaging.

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Asking price is $350. This includes insured delivery to most of the world.

Item 6. Lomography Belair 612 kit, with Belairgon 114mm lens.

The Belair 612 is a medium format camera which can produced 6x6, 6x9 or 6x12 output. It’s an interesting concept and some people love it, but it doesn’t quite fit in with my aims, so I’m selling it.  The sale includes the Zenit-built Belairgon 114mm glass lens, which I also discussed.  The camera kit and lens are sold in their original packaging with all accessories. Also included are 4 rolls of spare Lomography 120 film.

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I wrote several posts on my experiences of the Belair 612 and Belairgon lens.

Asking price is $250. This includes insured delivery to most of the world.

 

And finally, if anybody in the Olympus community is paying attention, if you re-blog, or twitter, or FB this and let me know, then I will put your name in the hat for an absolutely free Olympus E-System Angle Finder (for E-1, E-300, E-330, E-400 and possibly other bodies - not E-3, E-30 or E-5, anyway they don’t need it).  Interested ? Just spread the word, and leave a link in the comments here.

 

The Failing Scanner Blues

down in the groove

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Woke up this morning
Stumbled out of bed
Tried to make a 48 bit HDR scan
But my scanner would not be led

Tried to fire up Vuescan
Gave Dimage Scan a chance
But even good ol’ Silverfast
Couldn’t make that scanner dance

When halfway through my scan
The thread it seems to lose
Yeah, I’m stuck down here in Memphis*
With the Failing Scanner Blues

* well ok, Lugano, but that’s not very Blues.


Yep, my 13 year old Minolta Dimage Scan MultiPro has started having senior moments.  Part way through a scan, or even a preview, it just gives up and decides it’s done quite enough.  The software’s left in limbo. Vuescan looks round in confusion, Silverfast, naturally, locks up, and Dimage Scan wonders why the hell I’ve woken it up after a 5 year nap.

This isn’t good news. Received knowledge over at the MultiPro Yahoo Group is that it is probably a symptom of a failing Firewire controller, apparently a known ageing issue with these scanners.  And it probably can’t be fixed. Apparently a company in Germany called RTC Solutions can sometimes fix Konica Minolta scanners, but they’re not answering my email. Probably on holiday. Or stuck at the Gotthard Tunnel with most of Germany.

The MultiPro also has a SCSI interface, which apparently is much more robust.  I believe I last used it around 2005, which would have been when my last SCSI-equipped Mac caught fire just after I’d sold it.  One can in theory use a Firewire to SCSI converter, but these went out of production some 4 years ago, and sell on eBay for $Stupid. And of course Apple have killed off Firewire as well, so that’s not much of a long term solution.  Possibly I could find a Firewire PCIe card which might work in my Mac Pro, and which might then hook up to the scanner, but even then, since I have to use an old version of Silverfast running on a semi-retired laptop (version 8 doesn’t support the MultiPro), if all that unlikely chain worked, I’d still lose my Silverfast workflow. Vuescan would work, but well, it’s not really my first choice.

Things are looking grim on the Medium Format film-scanning front (and not much better on 35mm). There were basically 3 good MF film scanners all launched around 2000: The Polaroid 120 (and Microtek clone), the Nikon Coolscan 8000/9000 and the Minolta MultiPro.  There is some debate over which of the Coolscan 9000 and the MultiPro is better, but there’s not a lot in it. They’re both excellent.  However, the Multipro is half the size & weight of the Nikon, and scans XPan format at 4800dpi rather than 4000dpi. For general MF use, however, the Nikon offers 4000dpi over the Minolta’s 3200.  Of course all of these are out of production, and thanks to Sony’s acquisition of Konica Minolta’s photographic activities, even the statutory period for spares and servicing was ignored.

Today, there are actually two MF scanners available new. The Reflecta MF5000 (and several clones with different labels, such as Pacific Imaging), which isn’t terribly exciting, and the Plustek 120, which in theory is interesting, but has received mixed reviews, to put it politely.  In any case, even a glitch-free Plustek 120 would seem to be inferior to the Minolta MultiPro, a 15-year old design! And you can even find new copies of the Nikon Coolscan 9000, if you’ve got more money than sense.

And of course there are the outrageously expensive Hasselblad Flextight X5 & X1. Sadly I have no grandmothers left to sell. And anyway, they’re don’t even have dust removal - and, reportedly, the MultiPro delivers results almost as good.

MultiPros and Coolscans on eBay fetch prices way in excess of their original retail, and who knows how much life they have in them ? I can hardly complain about my Minolta, it has given over a decade of faithful service, which isn’t bad for an electro-optical-mechanical device.

So I’m left looking at a set of unattractive options: try to patch up the Minolta for a while yet; buy a modern but expensive, slow and less performant Plustek scanner; try to find a secondhand replacement Minolta or Nikon which doesn’t require a kidney to raise the funds.  Or rent a Hasselbad X5, 250km away in Zürich, every now and again, for CHF 300 / hour. Or give up on film.


Meanwhile, while I’ve been writing this, the MultiPro has just managed to get from one end of a scan to another without losing the plot, and delivered this:

Xpan antarctica05 10b hdr

Not (quite) dead yet ?

Really clutching at straws, I’ve ordered a new Firewire 400 cable (yes, even these are special order now, abet $0.50 from the USA). If that fixes it, I’ll be on the phone to the Vatican.

 

 

 

But is it art ?

no, probably not

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Saturday, August 16, 2014

Last week, prolific blogger Ming Thein published a piece describing his less than successful attempts to find art gallery representation for his photos. This generated a huge number of comments, remarkably so for a non-gear post, but perhaps driven by a certain sense of schadenfreude that the omnipotent and omniscient Ming had been rebuffed. Well, that’s just human nature, I suppose, but the question “is it (photography) Art” continues to bounce around.

If I really had to make a black or white, proviso-free call, then I’d have to say “no, it isn’t”. But the world doesn’t work like that. In view the answer is closer to “not usually”. I’m not in possession of much art or history of art education, although I’m probably a bit above the average level, so I don’t have much grounding for my opinions on the matter. But this is the internet, so that’s totally irrelevant.

The vast majority of photos, including the vast majority of those which are described by their authors as “fine art” are not art. They’re illustrations, recordings, mementos, with a common theme that they are representing a thing, rather than an idea, or indeed an idea of a thing. Photography is usually an end in itself. People like taking photos, it’s an activity. Perhaps Vermeer liked painting, and didn’t care much about the product, or the fact that it made him a decent living, but we’ll never know. Actually, while remembering that I know nothing of the History of Art, I do wonder when art became “Art”, rather than home decor (John Berger’s classic “Ways Of Seeing” has some key insights into this, if you can get past the rather dated marxist polemic).

In my understanding, the product of Art cannot be decoupled from the process of Art. Both rely on each other to grant validity. This is where movements such as surrealism or cubism arise. Photography with a purpose which can be clearly articulated can be Art, but generally individual photographs, while they might express the vision of the photographer, and be beautiful, inspiring, thought-provoking even, largely remain craft. There’s also the aspect that probably most photographers aspiring to “artist” status really want to get people to buy their stuff to hang on their walls. Popular art, not fine art. Peter Lik, not Ed Burtynsky. Most artist don’t make a lot of money, although Burtynsky might be an exception. Art also seems to need to be curated, which would imply that there is more than one level of interpretation going on, and that the original body of work is strong enough to both attract and survive curation. A semi-random selection of photos, however excellent, isn’t going to get far in such a process.

So on the whole, most of us taking photos day in, day out, of whatever strikes our fancy, are basically dilettante hobbyists, however mean a spin of the focus ring we might make. To start to move towards art photography, I think you need to make some hard decisions. Photograph only what is defined within the expressive framework you’ve decided on. Forget Flickr, forget Facebook, forget blogging, or at least get your assistant to do these for you. Taking random photos, however excellent, doesn’t cut it. Oh, and make sure your photography is monochrome, analog, and blurry. It isn’t essential but it seems to work one hell of a lot better than color, digital and sharp (and hence landscape photography pretty much can’t be art. Ever).

You don’t need to be famous or well-known to be an artist; indeed, most artists are and always will be unknown. But starting off well known and then trying to cross over to artist doesn’t seem to work very well. The art world doesn’t seem to like. Ok, there are exceptions, arguably, like Bryan Adams, but I don’t know of any photo-bloggerati who’s work adorns gallery or museum walls.

And of course there seems to be a basic assumption that if you get your photos shown in an art gallery, then you’re an artist. Well, not necessarily. “Art Gallery” is often a delicate way of saying “Expensive Trinket Shop”, in other words, galleries show what they think will sell. They have too, otherwise they’d go out of business. They’re not museums. And as is often noted, art gallery customers are far more often than not less concerned about the artistic merits of what they’re buying than whether it will clash with the curtains.

So could I describe what I do as art? Absolutely not, although I have a dim notion about what direction I would need to go in to try to make it so.  A small amount of the photography I do is informed by both a strong emotional attachment, and also by knowledge and experience of various dimensions of what I’m trying to express. I’m very, very slowly building up a small body of work which looks at the complex nature of our interaction with the high latitude / polar environment. Precious, pretentious ? Certainly. Something that others have done and are doing far better than me ? No doubt. But it is something which drives me and which I continue to try to present coherently. The rest, well, snapshots, time-fillers and pretty (and not so pretty) pictures. Below are some examples:

Art ?

Isitartcomp

Possibly art, in an appropriate context. These are quite bland shots, really, but they’ve grown on me and together they start to be more expressive.


Not Art ?

Xpan antarctica05 06

This, on the other hand, despite being my most popular photo on Flickr, by far, is just a pretty picture, as my current guiding concept does not include penguins, and it doesn’t really give me more than superficial satisfaction.

But I bet if ever tried to sell any of these, the “penguin” shot would have by far the best chance.

 

Anti-adventure photography

thought for the day

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Following the world of photo blogs, it’s all too easy to be overwhelmed by the constant flux of fantastic images from fabulous places, taken by ultra-cool world traveller photographers wielding priceless gear. Locked into a day to day existence which largely means being sat at a desk all day doing largely pointless things, this can get depressing fast. I’m sure I’m not the only one bemused by the seemingly endless stream of exotic “workshops” being offered at prices that seem to start at unaffordable and head swiftly upwards.  Yes, I’d love to travel the world and take photos (well, I think I would, mostly), but I have neither the money nor the time, or perhaps the drive. But every now and again I can, a little, so when opportunities arise, hopefully I can make the most of them.

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And the best way to make better photos is to make photos often. Not just on vacation. Not just on the odd weekend or day out, but everyday. “But there’s nothing to photograph here”, is a frequent complaint, and certainly one I’ve made. And it’s wrong. There’s always something to photograph. If you can’t find it, you’re not looking.

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My daily routine involves working in an office in a superficially nondescript suburban dormitory village, which had most of the life sucked out of it decades ago. Oh, but thousands of years ago it was a strategic Neolithic settlement. And hundreds of years ago, a refuge from bandit country. Nowadays most of that past is concreted over, though. Oh, and when I get to go out, it’s usually midday, with a harsh, burning sun directly overhead. Hardly an auspicious location for an aspiring landscape photographer. Not much joy for a street portraitist either: the streets are largely deserted of pedestrians.

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So, basically it’s challenging in lots of ways. And yet most days around lunchtime I venture out with a camera, generally sticking with the same body/lens combination for weeks on end. Operating the camera becomes a more and more automatic, tactile process. And sometimes I get photos that, despite the odds, I quite enjoy. They’ll never get many faves on Flickr, and they’d get ignored on 500px. Some scenes I’ve shot many times over, noticing how slight changes in light and time of day can make a big difference.

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Most of these walkabout shots get deleted. But they all help me to hone my compositional skills, and to coax some kind of coherent image from the jumble of the soulless concrete boxes so beloved by many Swiss, from the vestiges of the older village, or the in-between times. Sometimes they quite surprise me. And getting more and more instinctive about composition, especially in uninspiring circumstances, will only help when I have the opportunity to photograph something I care about. And then again, despite myself, through roaming the streets of this unremarkable, dull, unloved, half-deserted village I can’t help but develop a strange attachment to it.

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All these were taken using the 17mm f/1.8 lens on the Olympus E-P5.