photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

Venice, monochrome

also appearing on 500px!

in Hasselblad XPan , Sunday, October 21, 2012

This is slightly crazy. A few weeks ago I decided to work on a small set of photos of Venice, converted to black & white using the excellent Nik Silver EFX 2.0. Silver EFX does a pretty good job of turning digital images into emulations of monochrome film photography. So far so good. But then it occurred to me that I was actually transforming scans of positive film into emulations of monochrome negative film, which is not exactly an optimum process, since there’s a good 5 extra stops of exposure range in b&w, and the contrast curve in positive film doesn’t like being stretched too much. Well anyway. I’d probably have been better off loading Agfa Scala in my XPan in the first place. Or even Ektar 100. And apart from that, the originals actually were shot very much with colour in mind. But I quite like the way it all turned out.

Venice monochrome

I’ve decided to publish the set on 500px. I’ve had an account there for a while, but so far I haven’t used it much. What I like about 500px over Flickr is that it lends itself more to publishing sets, or portfolios. Flickr of course allows you to create sets as well, but it really puts an emphasis on individual photos. I can’t say I’ve built up much of a following over the 5 years or so I’ve been on Flickr, so perhaps it’s worth trying another approach. Personally I feel my photos work better in portfolios - in fact I was nudged in this direction a while ago by a professional photographer friend - but photo sharing sites are pretty much all about the latest shot, followed 15 nanoseconds later by the next. Also somehow photos taken recently are granted more worth than ones taken several years, or more, ago. I don’t really know why that is. These photos are nearly 2 years old, but they wouldn’t look substantially different had I taken them yesterday.


I’m not all that happy about 500px deciding that everybody’s photos should be represented by a square preview. That’s them imposing their aesthetic decision over mine. But I suppose everybody else does this too. Otherwise it’s certainly much cleaner and photo-centric than Flickr.

Here’s one that didn’t make the cut. Possibly a little too clichéd.

Xpan 0210venice 004 bw

And there’s another one that didn’t make it to 500px, but ended up on Flickr instead. Well, I wouldn’t want them to feel left out.



Diga di Contra

A couple of snaps

in Film , Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Some XPan shots of and near Diga di Contra in Val Verzasca, Ticino, taken a few months ago one dark wet & gloomy evening. Processed in Silverfast 6 HDR. Probably I could be more creative with gradients and desaturation and whatever, but that’s just not me.  Kodak E100G, f/22 and be there. Diffraction ? What’s that, then ?

Xpan verzasca0412 05
Xpan verzasca0412 07
Xpan verzasca0412 08




The XPan succession dilema

in Film , Thursday, March 29, 2012

Following the announced demise of Ektachrome, and the general, renewed sense of doom hanging over film photograpy, at least on the colour positive side, my thoughts have been turning to possible alternatives to XPan photography.


End of the roll ?

First, I think it’s important to try to define what is unique about this camera, and why it is so addictive to me. A major point is the what-you-see-is-what-you-get viewfinder. It may be stating the obvious, but actually having a panoramic aspect ratio viewfinder is extremely helpful if you, like me, find framing at the time of capture to be important. It’s very subjective, but to me, cropping and reframing after the event is pretty unsatisfactory. It feels like some kind of a failure, and personally one of the great pleasures of photography is succesfully achieving a good composition through the view finder. Of course, seeing potential for cropping, remembering it, and doing it afterwards works for some people, and I’ve got no issue with that. But it seems I’m not wired that way. Or maybe I’m lazy and unimaginative.

Next up has to be image quality. A well framed, exposed, focussed and scanned XPan Ektachrome or Velvia slide is pretty amazing. Ok, it’s quite a challenge to get all those ducks in a perfect row, for me at least, but when it all clicks, well, it really clicks. I’m not going to get into megapixel comparisons, but a 4800 dpi scan from my Minolta film scanner can be printed at sizes greater than my Epson 3800 can manage. The three XPan lenses give corner to corner sharpness from wide open (admittedly f/4 isn’t that wide) onwards, covering the same width as 6x9 film but on 35mm stock. I’m not sure what digital camera can match this, but I imagine it will be expensive.

I’ve already mentioned the lenses. They’re fabulous, and the 30mm is widely acknowledged as a masterpiece of optical engineering. Fuji at their very best, although some claim that the Hasselblad-branded copies have a different coating. Possibly, but I can’t imagine why. Hasselblad never made their own lenses anyway, as far as I know.

The camera is built like a tank and is very reliable, unless you do something very stupid with it. The XPan I, which is far cheaper on the secondhand market, in my opinion has considerably better handling than the XPan II, at least for tripod use. For handheld possibly the II is slightly better. But the II is not worth the absurd prices it goes for, unless you’re a collector. There’s no difference at all to the output.

By the way, if anybody in Switzerland is reading this and wants an XPan II, there’s currently one in the secondhand section at Ganz in Rennweg, Zürich, complete with 45mm lens, boxed and apparently in extremely good condition, for the remarkably low price of CHF 1950.  That’s about half the usual rate!  Even more remarkable since Ganz’s pricing is usually insane in the other direction.

So what about downsides? Well some might consider film itself to fit in that category. Being tied to single, low ISOs is perhaps the most significant thing that digital has liberated us from. Especially considering the XPan’s slow lenses, and the fact that the meter gives up pretty quickly when light levels start dropping. Still, the fact that it has a TTL meter at all is pretty good. No other panoramic camera includes one. The lenses, especially the 30mm and 45mm, would really, really benefit from a shift adaptor. Shift is so important to panoramic photography that the so-desirable Linhof 612 has permanent shift built in to its lenses.

So what I’m looking for, ideally, is a digital camera with viewfinder AND RAW file masking in roughly a 2.5:1 ratio (and 2:1 would be nice as well), corner to corner sharpness, wide angle (16mm equivalent minimum) and availability of wide to ultra-wide tilt shift lenses. And it has to cost roughly the trade-in price for my XPan with all accessories (optimistically $5000). Oh, and it’s got to be able to take a few knocks without complaining.

That rules out all CSCs, Pentax, Sony & Olympus DSLRs, and anything upmarket of a DSLR. So what’s left ? Canon & Nikon, neither of which fill me with enthusiasm. I forgot to mention that I’d prefer to keep things lightweight.  The Fuji X-Pro looks possibly interesting, especially as it shares DNA with the XPan, but it would not have the flexibility of a DSLR.

Xpan iceland2012 5 11

What’s coming down the pipe ?

I did see a Nikon D800 in a shop window the other day…



HDR with film

true grit

in Film , Sunday, September 25, 2011

I took a set of XPan frames of a scene in Iceland back in 2009, with the express purpose of seeing if I could make an HDR composite from them, and get the gritty, high contrast, low saturation “grim up north” look so beloved of brands such as 66 North.

There are 3 exposures, one “normal”, one 1 stop below, one 1 stop above. I decided to try running them through Nik HDR Efex (NHE from now on).  On the first try I fell at the first hurdle. Although NHE has an auto-align feature, it cannot cope with input images with different sizes. Since I had tidied the scans up a bit, they were all slightly different.

Xpan iceland 280409 1b

The 0EV (middle) exposure

So I rescanned all three using exactly the same size, and tried again. Unfortunately, it is absolutely impossible to get three completely independent scans exactly aligned, so alignment was still required. At least now they were the same size. So, back into NHE. The input processing takes something like 15 minutes or more with these large images, but again the results were hopeless. The alignment was completely off.

So I decided to try pre-aligning with Photoshop’s Auto Align. This worked fine, very well in fact. So having nearly perfectly aligned images, I fed them back into NHE. And 15 minutes later, NHE mangled them way out of alignment. Back to the drawing board. I turned off “alignment” in NHE, and gave it another go. This time it worked, or well enough.  In terms of alignment there are still some artifacts at 100% zoom but for smaller viewing sizes it works.

So then it was off to fiddling with the wide range of settings in NHE, and eventually I got something close to what I wanted.

Xpan iceland 280409 1 HDR

The HDR look: Somewhere grim in the Westfjords

However, with film as the input, NHE makes grain explode. I had to do a lot of cleaning up, especially in the sky, and the results are most certainly gritty.

It would probably have been a lot easier to do it with digital, but there is a rather unique look coming out of film here, and have got a process that sort of works, I might try refining it.



an anecdote from the archives

in Hasselblad XPan , Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Hasselblad XPan is not noted for it’s usefulness in wildlife photography, still less in birding. The longest lens is a 90mm f4, which equates roughly to a 50mm in “normal” 35mm terms. Arguably.

So when I was looking for something to scan today (it was raining), I came across a very untypical series of shots I took at Latrabjarg, Iceland, in 2004. That day - or rather night - I was photographing puffins using my Olympus E-1 with 50-200mm lens (that’s 400mm in 35mm terms), when the battery died. And I didn’t have a spare with me, and the spare was about 20km away. Bugger.

So,throwing convention to the wind, and to the amusement of my companions, I switched to the XPan. There can’t be many other places in the world you can get close enough to wildlife, even less birds, to get away with this, but these puffins have no predators on land, and really couldn’t give a damn about some strange animal crawling towards them waving a weird object.  Of course they didn’t really stand still long enough to get many shots - this is shot on ISO 100 Velvia 100F, at f4 I imagine. Maybe 5.6 at a push.

Xpan iceland23 01

But still, it sort of works, and is vastly different from the standard DSLR shots I got once the battery was recharged.

p.s. Afterwards, I discovered that the E-1’s battery has a sort of “rebound” effect. Leave it off for a bit, switch in on again, and you’re good to go for another 50 shots or so. Same goes for the E-400, but not the E-3, which eats batteries like a pig in donut shop.  Anyway, in this case I’m glad I didn’t know, I’d never have even considered this otherwise!

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