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photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

Dunbloggin

burn notice

in General Rants , Tuesday, May 19, 2020

All my pictures are falling
From the wall where I placed them yesterday
The world is turning
I hope it don’t turn away

Many, many years I started up this blog with the idea of sharing thoughts and ideas with the wider world. Originally it was part photography, part generic, but the generic part withered away over the years. It got bolted on to a pre-existing hand built photo gallery site, itself the descendant of a site which first saw the light of day in the mid 1990s.

Well, it didn’t work. Communication has always largely been one way. Traffic has fluctuated a bit but generally crawls along at about 20 visitors per day, none of whom remain for much more than 1 minute. So either my navigation design is exceptionally bad, or the content is extremely uninteresting.

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Daily visitors since the start of the year. No idea why it peaked on my birthday

Speaking of content, for the blog it roughly splits into posts on travel, a bit of photo geekery, hardware & software review, photo book reviews and ill-advised opinion pieces. The category that vastly dominates in visitor statistics is of course hardware & software reviews (and associated rants, my short frank exchange of views with Ed Hamrick of Vuescan still gets a ridiculous share of hits). The category I prefer, photo book reviews, gets no interest at all.

And speaking of no interest, there is no denying that the stats say that the very least interesting part of the whole website is my photography. In the rankings since January, the highest rated photography page is in position 24, with 38 views. The Photo Diary section, which I put a lot of effort into, has, over 21 entries, received 0 comments. Thanks, fellow photographers! Of course, adopting Disqus might not have been an ideal strategy, but at least it saved me from the filth of spam I had to wade through before.

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The Swiss have the longest attention span. Or maybe they read slower.

I guess I’m a bit of a throwback to the early days of the web, where we had webrings and stuff and people liked to help each other out while riding their unicorns over endless fields of optimism. According to Wouter Brandsma, who I’ve been following on and off for many years, the blogging community is also close to becoming thing of the past. He may well be right.

Nevertheless, I have always had this idea of a community of peers in the back of my mind, so when I’ve promoted other photographers over the years, I’ve not done it with any solid expectation of a returned favour, but with the vague idea of building relationships. But it would have been nice to just sometimes get a mention, to boost my page views a bit, even from people claiming to be friends. Of course many of these are “friends” only when they’re selling something, and their promises are pure vapour. Possibly they consider that linking to me would devalue their brand? [I did have a couple of paragraphs cheerfully ripping into a number of specific individuals here, but finally decided there’s no point. They don’t read my blog and even if they did they’d assume I meant somebody else].

But surely some people have tried to push some of their audience my way? Well, of course. Lots of them. There’s Andrew Molitor, and … er … that’s it. Well, quality trumps quantity. And there are others who have kindly and constructively encouraged me behind the scenes. I won’t name them, as it wasn’t public, it didn’t really arise from this web site, and they generally don’t have much of a web presence. I suppose the web isn’t very topographic.

So, what next? Obviously I’ll need to buy me some new fake friends, but my idea is to shut down this expensive to maintain and time consuming to run website and replace it with some image galleries on some cookie cutter system. Probably Adobe Portfolio, since I already pay for it. I can’t deny that with my current cobbled together site, photos are perhaps not presented in the best light.

Then once that’s done I can shut the world out.

Though my problems are meaningless
That don’t make them go away
I need a crowd of people
But I can’t face them day-to-day

 

1000, out.

Not a bad innings

in General Rants , Tuesday, May 12, 2020

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“detach” - my 1000th, and last photo on Flickr”

Yesterday I was playing around with an interpretation of a photo I took a few months back, which I quite like, and decided to post it on Flickr.  As I was doing so, I noticed it was my 1000th post. So, my statistics since joining in October 2006 are 1000 photos, 606’049 views, 725 “faves” (so it says, but that can’t be right, as 806 photos have at least 1 “fave”), and whatever else.  And I have 456 loyal followers - thanks everybody - which is not bad considering how little I give back.

My all time most popular shot is this, which I honestly think is pretty dull at best - yet it has 16’394 views, 523 “faves” and 29 comments.  Go figure, as our Merkin cousins would say.

Flickr is certainly my most successful venture into social media by far, which isn’t saying much. But I think it’s time to bring it to an end. I don’t get much benefit or enjoyment from it any more. Possibly I never did, although it was a useful safety valve during a period up to about 2010 when I was working under extreme stress in a startup environment.  When getting home to my 1 room apartment, catching up on Flickr was a good way to to switch off and relax.  But that was in its heyday, and possibly mine too. Now I just log in out of a sense of duty.

Photographically I know all too well which buttons to press in Flickr.  Any number of dramatic long exposure waterfalls are pretty much guaranteed to trigger the “Explore” algorithm. And such photos attract a fair amount of traffic (I wouldn’t call most of it “feedback”). So if trawling for likes was my thing, I guess I could do that fairly well. On the other hand photos I care a little more about, such as the one featured here, generally sink without a trace.  That’s ok too, I get it that my tastes are at best qualified as non-mainstream, and more accurately as dubious.  But finally if there is no engagement, there’s no point.

In any case, I’m finding less and less need to share. This might reflect the fact that globally there is less and less appetite to discover.  Everybody is a photographer, everybody wants to be famous, and pretty much a “like” given is done so only in the expectation of two given in return. The number of people selflessly advocating other’s photography is approaching zero.

Flickr won’t miss me (especially as I only recently paid for a 2 year subscription). But hitting 1000 seems like a good cue to bow out.

(Of course I reserve the right to completely change my mind at any time)

 

Why I still miss Aperture

whine, fanboy, whine

in Apple Aperture , Friday, April 17, 2020

It seems weird to be writing about Apple Aperture in 2020, some 5 years since its nominal demise. It does still work on MacOS Mojave, although it seems to make the OS crash if it is left running for too long (several days). I still lament its passing, while acknowledging that the stable door has been open so long that this particular horse has not only bolted into the next hemisphere but has been rendered down for glue.

But there is one feature of Aperture which I still use, and which I’ve never seen before our since its murder by Time “Bean Counter” Cook, and that is the Light Table.

I realise that for the vast majority of camera owners, Light Table is at best puzzling, but more generally a target of scorn. It has little to do with demonstrating that cats photographed with THEIR Superpixelmuncher X100X ProX are better than those of the next DPReview forum rodent.  That’s because it is a feature for photographers, not camera owners. And it’s brilliant.

A Light Table can be added to a Project, and can be used to arrange, lay out and edit (in the true sense of the word) a set of photos contained in that project. And I’ll say it again, it’s brilliant. Under peer pressure to do something useful with my COVID-19 confinement, I’m embarking on a couple of long, long overdue publication projects. One of these is to create a book. The big challenges in book creation are the selection and ordering of photos in a way which is coherent and conducive to the aims of the project.  The other is layout. Aperture’s Light Table can pretty much solve the first, and can help to get started with the second.

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The view above shows Aperture displaying a Light Table, with the pool of photos shown below in a browser strip (when added to the Light Table they gain a red counter icon). On the right I have an iPad acting as a second screen - this shows the photo selected, either on the Light Table, or in the browser strip.  So, simultaneously I have a freeform selection and layout, a means to browse and select photos out of my initial edit, and a full screen view so I can check sharpness or whatever.  When I place or move photos on the Light Table, automatic alignment and placing guides appear, like in InDesign or something. I know of no other application which can do this. Whichever unsung hero came up with this concept, (s)he deserves a mega award.

And it doesn’t end there. You might say that the Light Table seems a little constrained. No problem, drag a photo or photos off of the area in any direction, and the light Table expands to accommodate them.  There may be a limit, but I’ve never encountered it. Of course, you can also have any number of Light Tables you want under a Project, so you could even dedicate one to each spread.  Then again, Aperture also had a superb Book tool, so really you’d just progress from a rough mockup using Light Table to Book.

And there’s more: using the sort-of gadgety (only it isn’t) Loupe, you can examine any part of any photo, at your chosen magnification, in-situ.  And, thanks to Aperture’s unparalleled integration, using the HUD panels, you can pretty much do anything to any photo, also in situ, be it add keywords, check metadata, or even fully edit (in the Photoshop sense) the photo (of course all this worked in Books too).

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The much-maligned but actually very slick Loupe

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The Light Table with adjustment tools HUD

Ok, it took a few versions for Aperture to fully deliver on its lofty ambitions, but once its got there (let’s say v2.5) it was humming.  Everything fit together like a well engineered Swiss watch. Unfortunately, the Apple dumbing-down disease struck a glancing blow to v3, but it was only superficial.

So given all this, why did it ultimately fail? Well, setting aside the fact that such an application just did not fit into Apple’s consumer disposables vision, and indeed probably only ever got approval because of Steve Job’s antipathy towards Adobe, it did suffer in detailed comparison in some areas to the far less ambitious Adobe Lightroom. For example, the pixel peepers and forum rodents could point at minute and adjustable differences in initial rendering - usually of noise at 1’986’543’200 ISO, or sharpness of Your Cat’s whisker at 500% magnification. Also Apple was pretty sluggish at keeping up to date with new camera releases, which Adobe correctly saw as an absolute priority.

What sunk Aperture was essentially Apple corporate culture.  It was overcome by a brilliantly conceived and ruthlessly executed social marketing campaign by Adobe, playing on all of Apple’s corporate weaknesses (obsession with secrecy, no interaction with customers, etc).  Aperture was different to Lightroom, and in many ways.  But Adobe managed to ensure that the competition was judged by one facet only, the pixel-peeping level characteristics of its image adjustment toolset. And actually even here Aperture had some unique and very powerful features (the implementation of the curve tool, for example), but nothing was going to save it against the massed ranks of photo-influencers like Jeff Schewe, Scott Kelby, Michael Reichmann and legions of others.  Apple just could not bring themselves to put the spotlight on others. Or, of course, horror of horrors, release a Windows version. No, people had to buy Macs to use Aperture.

Had Aperture been developed by an independent company, free of the clutches of Jobs, Cook, et al, I’m pretty confident it would have flourished. It was aimed at a market segment which is still not served today - it’s a pity the marketers never realised that.

I’m still happily using the Light Table, and it integrates pretty well with a Lightroom-centered workflow. But I’m on the last version of MacOS where this is possible.

 

Undertow, by Frances Scott

tracing the landscape

in Book Reviews , Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Undertow, by Frances Scott, is one of the most recent publications from Iain Sarjeant’s innovative and energetic Another Place Press. Like all of Another Place’s output, “Undertow” is small, beautifully designed and excellent value for money.

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It’s quite difficult to pin a genre on “Undertow”. The closest I can get to is landscape reportage, but that could make it sound superficial, which most certainly is not. On the surface, Undertow is a travelogue of sorts, recording Frances Scott’s tracing of the coastline of her home, Orkney Mainland, an island off the north coast of Scotland.

The sequence of black and white photographs is complemented by spidery traces of GPS tracks of the various coastal walks which join together to circumnavigate the whole island. Along with some of these come captions joining the factual (time spent) with the highly impressionistic, for example “Forty-eight minutes - Wintry waves, small black cat”.

The photography will not win over the classic Wild & Wonderful Landscape Photographer. It surely isn’t meant to. There are some pure landscape scenes, but they share space with whatever else populates the coastline, be it random junk, disused military installations or fragments of wrecks. Personally in a way I wish the photos were colour, not monochrome, but I can also understand why colour would detract from the overall effect.

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I don’t really have the erudition required to place Frances Scott’s work in artistic context, but two fairly random reference points for me which Undertow stands up well against would be Fay Godwin (especially, and obviously “Islands”), and Marco Paoluzzo (for example “Føroyar”).

In the introduction the author concludes with the thought “By walking these coastlines ... I’ve found a new sense of belonging”, which is a feeling I can identify very strongly with.  Personally, having no real roots, I’ve often found meaning in wandering around areas local to where I work and live, gathering together photos and thoughts, building up a narrative for myself. I’ve also at times started to attempt to put these collections into some form of publication, but I’ve never really achieved anything.

“Undertow” is quite charmingly successful at nailing down such a sense of place.

 

Not a wildlife photographer

but whatever, here’s some penguins

in Photography , Friday, March 27, 2020

Seems that for a lot of photographers the current lockdown has a silver lining, as it provides time to organise, curate, edit and generally sort out photography backlogs. It should be the same for me, but somehow I’m finding it even harder to focus on these activities right now. But I certainly have a backlog. In fact my backlog has backlogs. I’m sure if I just let things drift, I’ll regret it, if and when normality returns, so I’m trying to get stuff done by dividing tasks up into small slices.  In that way, I’m managing to work through the huge pile of photos acquired during the Antarctic leg of my last little jaunt.

First I managed to whittle down some 6000 photos to 1300. It’s a start, but 6000 is way too many for a 2 week period. Then again, I think that most people on the same trip have far, far more, as they pretty much all were shooting continuously, at rates of lots of frames per second, while I pretty much always stuck to single frames.

This is probably to my detriment. After all, I have a camera (Olympus E-M1 MkII if you want to know) which is capable of insane frame rates, so why don’t I use it? There are several reasons for this - one, I really don’t have the mindset of a wildlife photographer, where the downside of having to sift through mountains of near-identical photos has the upside of retrieving one or two real gems. Second, I’m too lazy (or old, or stupid, or all three) to learn how to do it properly. Whatever, I still ended up with 6000 photos.

Actually, I wasn’t really expecting the trip to be quite so heavily oriented towards wildlife photography, although with hindsight I really should have been, and should have prepared for it. So I was thrown into a situation where the priority was wildlife, and lots of it, and that is not within my comfort zone. I discovered that for most people an iceberg was not very interesting if it didn’t have a penguin or a seal on it. I’ve learned that dedicated wildlife photographers have the ability to pre-conceive a particular shot that they want, and are prepared to spend literally hours waiting for it. And for this they need to be fully prepared and to have complete mastery of their equipment. And they need patience.

I don’t have any of this.  If I’m given 3 hours to wander around a location, then my main object will be to see as much of that location as I can. I may pick up some photos along the way, in my usual opportunistic way, and I may even spend some time trying to get a particular shot that I’ve identified on the spot, but any notion of conceiving of what I want to photograph usually comes only with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.  So, I use inappropriate settings, my output is random and generally poor, and I get annoyed with myself. However, at the other extreme, I’ve seen people achieve the single shot they wanted less than 1 hour into a 3 hour shore trip, and at that point fold up and head back to the ship. In my way of thinking, they are missing opportunities, but I guess from a photographic point of view they’re showing discipline, and the net result is that they have pre-curated their shots, and actually have little follow up work to do other than discarding the 95% of frames which they don’t need.  It’s an approach which has some clear attractions.  And, if you look at the work of one of my trip companions, Richard Barrett, you can see it works very well.

And penguins… well, it’s easy to photograph penguins. Actually sometimes it’s hard NOT to photograph penguins. They get in everywhere. It is harder to isolate a single penguin, and even harder to make that into an interesting photograph. I’m not 100% sure why we even try - penguins are above all highly social animals, and seeing them in isolation somehow seems a bit sad. The holy grail, it seems, these days in penguin photography is to try to get that “fog” foreground look, where you get a band of out of focus snow in the lower part of the frame. Finding clean snow around penguins is also hard, as they can’t get toilet paper in Antarctica, and since they nest on exposed rock getting them to pose nicely in snow is hard too. I was actually more interested in getting shots featuring penguins in a wider environment, sometimes even to the point that you don’t first notice the bird. This is also not original. And in any case over time I sucombed to peer pressure and image reviews telling me this wasn’t what I should be doing. Perhaps, more accurately, I just wasn’t doing it very well.

Anyway, with my small batch at a time approach, I’ve made some headway into curation and processing. So here, from that work in progress, is a small sample of the penguin side of my latest attempts at wildlife photography.

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Torres del Paine, by Francisco Espíldora

an individual approach

in Book Reviews , Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Whenever I travel, I keep an eye open for books by local photographers, on the grounds that they will almost certainly be full of photos better than I could ever make. Of course there are always garish anthologies of sub-postcard level stuff which manage the near impossible feat of being full of shots even less adequate than mine, but these I skip over.  I’m more interested in the kind of book generally found tucked away in the corners, not those piled high for undiscerning tourists.  Francisco Espíldora’s book, “Torres del Paine” is very clearly in the former category.

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Francisco Espíldora is an award-winning Chilean wildlife photographer. I believe “Torres del Paine” is his first book, and it’s an impressive start. The classification “wildlife photographer” tends to make one think of highly detailed, close up animal portraiture, which is more about technique than expression. That’s not the case here, indeed it’s drastically not so. “Torres del Paine” is a narrative, taken the reader from pre-dawn to dusk in a wintery setting, through photos taken within the national park boundary.  The initial photos are taken in near darkness, with just recognisable animal silhouettes seen in some of them. Stopping to think about it, from a technical point of view these really are quite remarkable, but more to the point they strongly convey a sense of time and place.

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Moving on, light creeps in, and dawn-lit landscapes are mixed in, some with distant wildlife visible, some not. The colour palette is restrained, none of the exuberant saturation that a lot of wildlife, and indeed landscape photography goes in for. In fits in with a certain idea of “film-like”, provided you associate film more with the kind of subdued feel delivered by Fuji Astia, rather than the screaming psychedelia of Velvia. It’s a very appropriate look.

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Further in, the wildlife does take more of a centre stage role, but still very much within or even concealed by the landscape, as opposed to somehow cut out of it.  The narrative moves towards brighter midday and afternoon light, before finally returning to night.

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Overall the book really feels like something much more than just a collection of photos, which is quite unusual in the genre. Francisco Espíldora clearly has a deep feeling for the land, and a story to tell. From a photographical point of view, his approach has some parallels with that of Vincent Munier, but without the extreme minimalism Munier tends towards (sometimes too much, for my tastes), or the impressionistic approach of Stanley Leroux, while remaining very individual.

I’m hardly an authority on wildlife photography, or indeed any kind of photography (or anything else, to be honest), but my feeling is that Francisco Espíldora is on a path to becoming a leading contemporary wildlife photographer.  I strongly recommend this book, which you can buy directly here, and look forward to seeing more of his work.

 

The Atlas Athlete backpack

recommended by leading penguins

in Product reviews , Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Over the years I’ve written a fair few articles on camera bags. It’s a given that no self-respecting photographer can ever have too many bags. Well, for me the search for the as-close-to-perfect bag seems to be at an end. I’m not claiming that I have found a single bag that suits every occasion, but I have found 3 which pretty much cover everything. Two of these, I’ve had for a while: for casual, city and similar use, the Domke F803. For fully dedicated core photography, the Mindshift Backlight 23L. I’m not going to discuss those here, but rather the final piece of the puzzle, the hybrid trekking/photo Atlas Athlete backpack.

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Introducing my guest reviewer, a big fan of Atlas backpacks.

I’ve been using the Atlas backpack for almost exactly one year. It has come on several major trips (Madeira, Patagonia, Antarctica) and plenty of minor outings. There are a lot of great things about this backpack, but for me the outstanding points are the extreme comfort and the chameleon-like configurability. It is designed first and foremost as a trekking backpack. It has an aluminium frame (removable, just), and an extremely well designed harness and belt. In fact the Atlas Athlete can be ordered in several sizes and with different belt types to best suit your body measurements. And it fits like a glove.

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My guest reviewer checks out the harness

Well, so what, you might say, there are plenty of excellent trekking backpacks out there. And indeed there are, but the Atlas Athlete is also designed from a photographer’s point of view. It’s also true that there are plenty of vendors making similar claims, but where they emphasise all the gimmicks, from “packing modules” through to revolving sections, the photography aspect of the Atlas Athlete has been conceived with the same tight focus on practical usefulness as the bag itself.

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The Atlas Athlete with the camera compartment in expanded configuration. It holds two Olympus E-M1 bodies, one with grip, three Pro lenses, including the 40-150 f2.8 zoom, two teleconverters, and a filter pack.

The camera section is accessed through the back of the pack and is fixed in place. It has the usual velcro attached flexible dividers, which in this case are well, rather than excessively padded. The closest thing the bag has to a gimmick is the push-down/pull-up flap which reduces the size of the camera section, to about two thirds of the full size. Actually this turns out no to be a gimmick at all, but rather to be pretty useful in practice. The configuration you can see above uses the full space. For long walks I usually take a reduced amount of camera gear, so I pull the flap to make more space for other items. Even then, I can easily fit in an Olympus E-M1 body and two Pro lenses. The only slightly negative point I would make is that the compartment is a touch shallow.

Apart from the camera compartment, the Atlas Athlete has plenty of space. One of the main selling points is that it is very expandable. With the compression straps released, it expands out to 30 litres. With them tightened, it shrinks to 5 litres, and a 7 inch profile which easily fits into the overhead locker of a small commuter airliner. Uncompressed, the main space extends down the bottom of the bag, in front of the camera compartment. On the front of the camera compartment there is a concealed laptop holder, which easily accommodates my 13” MacBook Pro.  The top lid has a plethora of pockets which swallow surprising amounts of gadgetry.

You can read more about the features on the Atlas website, but the key factor, for me, is that it is supremely comfortable, even fully loaded.  Hiking long sections of narrow, humid Madeira levadas or the Torres del Paine W trail was absolutely no problem at all with this backpack. And it was equally at home fully loaded with camera gear on treks ashore in Antarctica, or rattling around on the bottom of a zodiac.  Oh, and did I mention hardwearing?

Of course, you can get trendier stuff from Peak Design and their Kickstarter imitators, if you value form over function. I’ve made that mistake so you don’t have to. Bottom line, for a hybrid trekking/photo backpack, you’d be hard pushed to find a better candidate than the Atlas Athlete.  And yes, it does come in a more stealthy colour, but the bright yellow works for me!

Guest Review Comments

Yeah, ok, it’s not the worst, but they could work on the taste a bit. Regurgitated krill would be nice!

 

#21 Impossible Archipelagos

, Monday, March 09, 2020

 

Greenland Landscapes Gallery

some more pretty pictures

in Photography , Wednesday, February 26, 2020

I am absolutely delighted to present my second set of photos from last September’s perambulations in East Greenland, which I have cunningly named “Greenland Landscapes” in order to trick you into thinking you have not, in fact, been presented with an eye-searingly dreadful set of kitsch postcards.

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As the blurb says, this is “a companion set to Greenland Icescapes, also taken in the fjord complex around Illoqqortoormiut, formerly known as Scoresbysund, in East Greenland. Proper landscape photographers hate blue skies and bright sunlight. I prefer to take conditions as they come and work around them without too many preconceived ideas”.

I do actually get irritated by landscape photographers (and especially wildlife photographers) whining on and on that the weather isn’t shite enough and contrast and shadow and bla effing bla.  Normal people (i.e. non-photographers) actually like sunshine and blue sky. So do I. Sure, there’s nothing like making the 27 millionth identical heavily overbaked shot of a dark brooding sky over some godforsaken Scottish beach, but, hey, let’s maybe try something a bit different just once in a while, ok?

(Actually just in case anybody involved is reading, this particular rant was absolutely not triggered by the Greenland crew…  more from the other end of the planet)

Oh and for those who need to know, as pretty much is always the case around here, this set was created using the fine (and very weatherproof) tools designed in Tokyo by The Olympus Corporation.  I’m not being paid to say that but I’m certainly open to offers!

 

Greenland Landscapes

 

Greenland Icescapes Gallery

ice, ice and more ice

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Wednesday, February 05, 2020

Finally I’m starting to break the logjam of my photo backlog: I’ve just published a new gallery of iceberg photos taken in East Greenland in September 2019.

GreenlandIceGallery

Feedback is always welcome, even if it is negative.

 

Greenland Icescapes

 

Antarctica, Round 5

if at first you don’t succeed…

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Tuesday, February 04, 2020

On Saturday I finally got home after leaving King George island, Antarctica on Wednesday afternoon. A long trip even if for the first time it involved flying over the Drake Passage rather than being thrown all over a ship for 3 miserable days.

Hans Hansson in Antarctica

So, this was my fifth visit to Antarctica, and third as a tourist, and this time it was pretty intense. Sharing the small ship Hans Hansson with 9 other passengers, 2 guides and 6 crew is a lot more intimate than a cruise ship or research vessel. And the flexibility of a small ship meant reaching little visited locations, and also visiting more popular spots outside of regular hours. With up to three three to four hour landings per day, over 12 days, what little downtime we had was very welcome. The ship is owned and operated by Quixote Expeditions, and was chartered by Visionary Wild. Both companies showed the highest level of professionalism and dedication to excellence, both before and during the trip, with all staff and crew being very friendly and approachable.

Without really wanting to single anybody out, I have to mention Justin Black, founder of Visionary Wild. Justin is a model of what every phototour leader should aspire to. Apart from, incidentally, being an excellent photographer, he was a fantastic leader, always available to help with anything, keeping everybody safe but unconstrained, and proactively ensuring that everybody was happy. His co-leader, Daisy Gilardini, a photographer with well over 20 Antarctic tours to her name, was equally supportive, and in particular able to lend her expertise to the enthusiastic, if not obsessive wildlife photographers that made up 8/10ths of the clientele.

And those 8/10ths were the only slight problem from my point of view, as I am absolutely not an obsessive wildlife photographer. So I did sometimes get frustrated when the odd iceberg was pronounced totally uninteresting because it didn’t have a bloody penguin nailed to it. Being more a kind of ambient landscape person myself, and also fascinated by the human footprint on Antarctica, I have to say at times I just put the cameras down. This was compounded by the fact that I’m continuing to go through a very dark patch photographically speaking, and I only really got into some sort of groove in the last two days, where we were being forced by strong winds to find some very out of the way locations. Generally if I were to consider only photography as a measure, then for me personally this trip was an abject failure and a massive wasted opportunity (and particularly a very rare close up encounter with a playful leopard seal which I completely failed to capture). Fortunately, I don’t live for photography, and on the upside, it was wonderful to see my very photographically modest partner Luchiana suddenly blossom into a very fine photographer, putting assorted Leica, Nikon and Sony mega-camera owners to shame with her simple travel zoom Canon.  It’s always been latent, but now she has received plaudits she cannot dismiss.

As for the what worked, what didn’t work part… well, my Atlas Athlete backpack was fantastic, being flexible enough for full day mountain treks in Patagonia as well as onshore and Zodiac work in Antarctica. A fully dedicated camera bag might have been slightly better in Antarctica, but it is very marginal, and would have been a nightmare for trekking. I continue to be impressed by Sealskin gloves, even though I suffer from chronically cold hands (but never feet). On the camera side, the Olympus E-M1 Mkii pair gave the usual Jekyll & Hyde performance - working fine all day then suddenly absolutely refusing to focus the moment something ultra interesting came along. This might have been down to the new 2x Teleconverter on the 40-150 lens, but generally this worked very well. As usual the Olympus manages sometimes to get into completely mystifying modes now and then, but possibly this has to do with too many buttons and clumsy gloves. At times I was ready to throw the whole damn lot in the ocean, but mindful of IATO rules in pollution and the fact that I can’t think of any other system which I’d hate a bit less, I didn’t.  Certainly I didn’t envy the laughably huge 400 and 600mm full frame lenses my companions were touting, even if I have to admit they are less heavy than they look. As is the Fuji GFX100 which Justin was using, but that camera lives in a different universe to me.

So here I am with 5800 more photos from Antarctica, mostly crap, and nearly 1000 from Patagonia, and I still haven’t completed my edit of 3000 from Greenland or indeed 1600-odd from Madeira. I think I’ve got enough photos for now.

So, will there be a sixth Antarctic trip? At present I doubt it. The piggy bank is gutted, and anywhere there are other places to see. Even Antarctica is now beginning to suffer from mass tourism, with vast cruise ships lining up through the Neumayer Channel and around Paradise Bay.

But never say never…

 

Doubling down

and moving out

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Saturday, December 28, 2019

The frequency at which I updating this site recently hardly justifies the hosting fees, or indeed all the work I put into upgrading it some months back. This reflects my currently diminished interest in “engaging with the community”, where more and more I’m finding that an audience of 1 is all I need.  There’s nothing world changing or meme generating about my photography, so it would only be counterproductive, and probably depressing, to fish for likes and whatnot.  Although you’re more than welcome to boost my ego on Flickr.

Another brake on my visible creativity is my processing, in both a computing as well as a mental sense, of the too vast haul I brought back from Greenland in September. The problem there is that the overall quality is too high. It was really difficult to cull the stragglers when a very high proportion of the photos was pretty good, even if I say so myself. And to a reasonable extent I avoided repetition and taking “just in case” shots. This is problematic because I don’t have to time to edit thousands of photos, and I already have a significant backlog. On top of that, I’ve been busy planning another imminent trip, once again Deep South to Antarctica, with an Hors d‘Oeuvre of Argentinian and Chilean Patagonia. I’m kind of telling myself that the Patagonia leg will be focused on trekking, with at most a little vacation photography, but we all know where that ends up.

Which brings me finally to the point. My last few, far between posts have pretty much been about gear, and so is this one. After quite a lot of thought and dithering, I have decided to redouble my reliance on micro four thirds gear, and in particular Olympus. There is a significant advantage in polar regions to having two cameras, generally one with a wide angle lens and one with a telephoto, so I have replaced my older E-M1 (which did fine in Greenland) with a second E-M1 Mark II. How do I explain this extravagance? Well, lucky me, I work in a Swiss Bank, so I’m insanely rich, darling (well, really less rich than insane). And considerably more truthfully, the fact that the Mark I and Mark II have different batteries means more weight and bulk to carry, and the slightly different control and menu layouts are annoying.  The new Mark II came with a free grip from Olympus, which is also useful in Antarctica. And both, together with a set of Pro zooms covering a wide focal range, snugly fit into the camera bay of my fabulous Atlas backpack, which is perfect for trekking. So there we have it.

IMG 6237

I expect the Sigma dp0 will come along too, although my objective of keeping weight down to 20kg + 8kg backpack for a 30 day trip is under quite some strain.

Regarding the Olympus stuff, I‘ve mentioned the mushy far distance effect which I dislike a few times. Actually I‘ve looked at raw files from other cameras, including medium format, and seen pretty much the same thing, it just sets in at a greater distance or higher frequency. Probably another aspect of the same root cause is a plasticky look which sets in on surfaces like exposed rock in certain circumstances. Processing software has an effect on both of these behaviours - I find Adobe Lightroom / Camera Raw to be the least bad. Interestingly the Sigma cameras seem to be free of these effects, as does film, so maybe it is a Bayer filter thing, but these systems have their own drawbacks.

Mush

This is what I mean by “mushy”.  This is a 1:1 screenshot, probably further damaged by compression, but maybe it shows what I mean.

Finally, does any of that make an iota of difference between a good photo or a bad photo? Of course not. But it can be annoying.

So, my objective now is to take as few photos as I possibly can, and to try to be aware of and work around the limitations of my gear. Oh, and to put a memory card in.

** I was hoping to fit in a “my favourite shots of the year” before heading off, but I ended up spending the time unpacking and repacking everything again.  I’m a hopeless traveller.

 

Flip Flop

indecision strikes again

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Friday, November 22, 2019

Hello? Anybody still reading this stuff? Not that I’m writing anything…  So, I had a mega post ready to go a few weeks back, with the title “Everything Must Go”, and the content was exactly what the title said. I was putting up for sale all my film cameras (Hasselblad XPan, Linhof 612 and Voigtländer Bessa 667), and getting out of film. My main motivation was (is?) to reduce clutter, both physical and intellectual, and to use only tools which enable a painless workflow, so, in my mind as it was two weeks ago, digital. And to be more precise, Olympus digital - I had decided that my experiment with the Sigma sd H was a failure, but I would hold off a little before putting that on the market as well (the dp0 Quattro is here to stay though). I still had a few rolls of film either out for processing or about to go, evidence of my very half-hearted, token engagement with the medium in 2019.

And then the processed film came back…

B667 2019 09 03

So, a photo of nothing much really, but my oh my, that Portra 400 look is just so luscious. There’s no better way to capture that southern Italian light (Bessa 667).

Xpan 2019 02 14

This was supposed to be a farewell, rattling through half a roll of Ektachrome E100 so that I could take it out of the camera before selling it.  And then I saw the result… oh, and I forgot to put the centre filter back on after cleaning it resale, giving a trendy vignetted look (XPan II).

L612 2019 02

This is the least convincing. Well, the location I’d set out to photograph turned out to be the location a couple had chosen for a romantic picnic, so I was really scraping the bottom of the barrel here. Still, those Fuji 160 Pro greens….  And, unfortunately, the 58mm lens flare (Linhof 612PCII).

So I’m back on the fence. On top of all this, it seems I could be giving up film just at the wrong time (typically), if reports on Kodak ramping up production and Fuji bringing back colour film are accurate.

Actually a secondary motivation was to just maybe raise the funds to buy a Hasselblad X1D Mark II. But then I downloaded some raw files from that camera, opened them up in Lightroom, and to be honest, the only major difference between them and Olympus OM-D files are that they’re bigger. Far off detail still breaks down into exactly the same unattractive mush as for the Olympus (neither film nor Sigma Foveon do this). There might be a touch more dynamic range, and just possible more subtlety in colour gradients, but we’re still not in Kodak Porta territory. Far from it. And the cost, especially of the lenses, is just ridiculous for some amateur dilettante like me. Anyway, we’ll see.

Same goes for film. Right now I don’t have any immediate use for it, but I guess it is probably best to leave that particular bridge unburnt, for now.

 

Too Many Photos…

...far too little time

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Sunday, October 20, 2019

I really did promise myself this time: I’d keep things under control, be disciplined, and bring home a manageable number of photos. I’d only take the shots worth taking, not the maybes, and absolutely not the documentary shots,. I’d only shoot under good light. Etcetera, etcetera. So, what happened ? In 8 days shooting in East Greenland, I managed to bring back 2837 photos. Totally ridiculous. In my defence, the location - the fjord system south of Scoresbysund - is the photographic equivalent of a family-sized box of Sprüngli chocolates. Every location is better than the last one, and the first one is better than the last. And when the weather is cooperative, which to my tastes it was, even if it wasn’t quite Wagnerian enough for some, well there are killer shots in all directions at all times. So, maybe 3000 isn’t too unreasonable. Certainly it is way under the count that some of my companions racked up, but still, for me it is close to unmanageable.  On my first edit I’ve managed to knock it down to 696. I need to get down to at least half of that before I can even consider to start serious processing.  On the other, I think I’m being quite ruthless in my choices, which means that the overall quality is pretty good.

Drm 2019915 EM1S6593

The bulk of my haul was taken using my pair of Olympus E-M1 cameras, a Mk1 and a Mk2. Both performed faultlessly and were perfectly happy to be left outside cold and sometimes wet conditions. When not in use they hung from a peg of the sailboat’s forward mast. Without a doubt they’re tough cameras. The image quality is generally fine too, although I still find that at times distant detail gets a little too mushy. And there’s no getting away from the noise issue: personally, for landscape work I think 1600 ISO is the absolute limit, and you need to get the exposure right. I guess 1 stop more is just about acceptable in exceptional cases, but the shot really needs to be worth it. Low light is not a comfortable place for these cameras. In other situations, say street photography, you might get away with ISO 6400 - maybe. But anyway, most of the time I’m close to the base 200 ISO, and in any case, this is just the part of the deal. On the other side you have very portable, superbly built cameras and absolutely top notch lenses.

Speaking of lenses, being very restricted on weight I was very strict with myself on which to take. The 40-150 f/2.8 was non-negotiable.  The 12-40 f/2.8 is its natural companion, so that came too. And I decided to being the 7-14 f/4 wide angle, even if in the past it has been of more use as a doorstop than a lens. The highly versatile 12-100 f/4 was going to stay at home… until the very last moment, when I wrapped it some clothes and threw it into my duffel bag. So, my Lightroom statistics make interesting reading:

Greenland stats

...over half of my photos were taken using a lens I only packed as an emergency backup, and at the last minute. Actually the 12-100 is widely held to be an exceptional lens, but ever since I dropped mine in Venice and had to have it fixed, I’ve had the impression that it is a bit soft on the left side. But I’ve had it thoroughly checked by Olympus Pro Service and they say it is absolutely fine, so I guess I’d better go and my eyes tested again.

So, next comes the processing, and I have no doubt that I’ll be back down the rabbit hole of which software to use in no time at all. For rating and selecting, I really have nothing to beat Lightroom, and since it synchronises to mobile I can do a certain amount of editing away from home. But for processing, although Lightroom is pretty good, I never can stop wondering if there is something better. Certainly Iridient Developer can extract an ever so slightly better rendition of the Olympus raw files, but it too has its limitations.  No selective editing for a start. Photoshop, of course, can pretty much do anything, if only you can remember how to do it. The new version of Exposure, X5, now has what looks like very comprehensive luminance masking, and this allows highly selective refinements to texture, for example, a long way beyond Lightroom’s masking capabilities. But then again, Lightroom has the new Texture tool which is really nice. And Exposure, at least up to X4, has really dreadful sharpening tools.

So, the sensible thing to do, which I will try my best to stick to this time, is to stay in the Adobe stack, with Lightroom as the main tool, Photoshop for refining my top selection, and in a few cases Iridient to do the raw processing. Even within those boundaries there’s enough scope for dithering to last 100 lifetimes.

This then ties in with another decision I have (nearly) made, which is finally to put an end to my my parallel use of film cameras. I’ve come to realise this is just getting in the way of me creating satisfying photography. I’m not saying that digital is better than film: both can and do produce excellent results, and the choice really should depend on what you want to do. And I’ve come to realise that what I want to do is better served by digital. To quote myself in a previous post, “for me shooting film is mainly about finding something to point the camera at, whereas shooting digital is about wanting the photo”. In other words I’ve got a bunch of film cameras I feel compelled to use, but these days either I cannot or do not want to use them in pursuit of my main photographic objectives. Part of the problem is that the nature of air travel has changed so much these days, making travelling with film cameras, especially big heavy ones, a real pain, and other part is that film really is beginning to get expensive. Digital and Film require two very different workflows, both time consuming, and time is something I never seem to have enough of. I need to rationalise if I’m ever going to get anywhere. So, it is looking pretty likely that my XPan, Linhof 612 and Bessa 667 will be going up for sale soon.

Then finally, maybe, I will concentrate on photography.

Drm 20190914 P0Q0883
 

Greenland Return

if at first you don’t succeed..

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Monday, September 23, 2019

In August 1999 I joined a small group trekking in the general area of Tasilaaq, East Greenland. I travelled there via Iceland, a place that didn’t make a huge impression on me at the time. That changed…  Just over 20 years later, much older and no more wiser, I repeated the experience, more or less, although this time I headed further north, and a small boat provided most of the transport rather than my feet.

Photographically, my first trip was a near write-off. This time I grabbed over 2000 photos, which is at least twice what I’d planned to ration myself to. Whether or not they’re any good, time will tell, but it was fun.  More so than I expected.

Drm 2019912 P9120400

A bit of Greenland through an Olympus E-M1

Most of these 2000 photos were taken with my pair of Olympus E-M1s. Although these were definitely the least impressive cameras on the trip, at least on paper, they, and the three Pro zoom lenses worked perfectly. Most of time they lived outside, hanging from a peg on the forward mast.  Unfortunately I missed one fantastic shot, when I suddenly saw a composition, spun around to grab a camera, and discovered that they weren’t there.  Some kind soul, seeing them drenched in rain and spray, had taken them inside for me… unaware, obviously, that the conditions were not even vaguely a challenge for Olympus weather sealing :-). Oh well, they meant well.

At the last moment before leaving for Greenland I tossed my Sigma dp0 “digital XPan” into my bag. I turned out to be a very good decision. Not only were several companions fascinated by it, therefore giving us something to talk about in the long dark Arctic nights, but it was absolutely in its element.

Drm 20190912 P0Q0863

Another bit of Greenland through the Sigma dp0

Of course there is a strong undercurrent to all of this, which I expressed in my last post. But I guess there is still some worth in remembering what we stand to lose.

 

#20 Nerlerit Inaat

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Saturday, September 21, 2019

 

Adrift

Ctrl-Alt-Del

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Wednesday, September 11, 2019

So here I am, sitting in seat 2F of an Icelandair Boeing 757, on my way to Greenland via Reykjavik, about 20 years and 1 month since I was doing pretty much exactly the same thing. Back then, I had some idea of what I was looking for. In fact it was two things: a life reset following a disastrous relationship breakdown, and a attempt to reconnect with the high latitudes. Photography was not really a part of it, which is just as well as 95% of my film exposures were ruined.

Twenty years later the world has moved on. I’m really not at all sure what my reason for travelling is this time. I’m neither the person of 20 years ago looking for a new direction, or indeed the passionate photographer of 10 or 15 years ago.

Twenty years ago we could sit around and wonder at the first public ruminations on climate change. Indeed these were nothing new to me as up until that point polar climate research had been my career. It was all a bit concerning but somehow a long way off, and anyway, surely “they” would see sense and Do Something. After all, even the Wicked Witch of the East, Margaret Thatcher, recognised that it was a serious issue. Then again, Thatcher was a scientist, and with hindsight, not totally evil. So we all waited. And waited. And here we are. I think that the correct description of our current status is “totally fucked”. Rather than stumbling towards at least some kind of enlightenment, we are hurtling head on to extinction, not only of our own miserable species, but also of the whole amazing biosphere we are part of. Led by imbeciles like Trump, Johnson, Putin, Xi Jinping, Bolsonaro, Salvini and countless others, along with the shady cohort of “advisors” and billionaires who pump in the money to enable them, we are accelerating into a brick wall. It is hard to understand what motivates these people. They’re not all stupid, far from it, and they surely must realise what the real situation is. But they don’t care. Applying Occam’s Razor almost leads to the conclusion that the Legions of Hell are a real thing, and these people are the vanguard. Do they really believe they can eat, drink and breathe money?

The not so slow-motion collapse of the Arctic ecosphere is not highlighted as a last chance alarm bell, as Thatcher surely would have done, but, unbelievably, as a chance for Trump, sodding Putin and Xi to drill yet more oil. Presumeably to throw onto their mate Bolsonaro’s fires.

And yet, here I am, ranting on about this, while travelling in splendid isolation, somewhere over France, in a Boeing 757 spewing out carbon dioxide, so I can take a few photos of what remaining icebergs we might find. By all rights I should not be able to afford this flight. The true cost is far more than I can pay.

I see no reason for optimism. None at all. Sure, there are a lot of good people out there, but there are no good sufficiently empowered leaders. The problems that need to be resolved are immense, and complex on all sorts of levels. The issue of over population needs to be addressed, because this is a root cause. The planet certainly can sustain the current and projected population, but not with the current wealth imbalance.  Us Europeans and North Americans cannot continue to grab 90% of the world’s resources. The misery in much of Asia and Africa, and to some extent South America, need not exist if we had equitable distribution of wealth and resources. Certainly our living standards would need to drop a little (actually not so much) and I would not be sitting on this plane. But is this going to happen, at least peacefully? Not a chance. And that’s before we even start to look at really bring greenhouse gas emissions under control. But hey, even if we solve THAT intractable problem, there’s that little issue we have with plastic pollution. And all the rest of it.

On balance I’m relieved that I don’t have children, and that I was born early enough that I will, probably, escape the worst of this.

And yet, the USA will doubtless re-elect Trump. After all, what alternatives do they have? The numbskull British will obey the Daily Mail and elect Johnson, because Johnson offers the Daily Mail’s billionaire owners, and the billionaire friends, more money. And they’ll come up with some way to bribe the populace with some baubles in exchange for a livable future. They won’t elect Jeremy Corbyn, a thoroughly decent chap with the Achille’s heel of being far, far too honest for today’s politics. Even though Corbyn could save them and navigate a path to a sustainable future. They won’t do that, because they might have to pay a smidgeon more for their beer, and maybe take the bus sometimes rather than the SUV. Of course this is all really Darwin’s law in action, expect it’s in action on us, not on some esoteric concept like the Dodo.

So what am I doing here? If I had a following, or were An Influencer, perhaps I could claim that my matchless photography will open the world’s eyes to these issues. But it won’t. We’ve seen enough photos of Scoresbysund - it is indeed a remarkable place, perhaps we should let it be. No, I’m going for purely selfish reasons. It will be great to meet up again with my friend Daniel Bergmann, although it says something about my ability to form friendships that I have to travel halfway across the Atlantic to do so. And maybe I’ll make some new friends, who knows. But I have no expectations of making any photography of any consequence, and certainly not of alleviating the problems that my very travelling is significantly contributing to.

One hour and twenty minutes out from the slow gentle descent into Keflavik gazing out over the pink tinged clouds shrouding the ocean, it all looks so peaceful and timeless. But when we go down, as we surely will, we’ll doubtless take it with us. All that remains is, for those of us fortunate enough to have the opportunity, to enjoy it while we can. And take some photos.

 

Medium Dilemma

end of the roll?

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Wednesday, August 28, 2019

This time last year I was fully into a major return to film photography.  In fact I hardly made any digital photos for the whole summer. Things like the reintroduction of Ektachrome (albeit late) and the ArsImago LabBox (ditto, very) were galvanising, as was the new (in English at least) dedicated film photography magazine, Fotoklassik.

And now? Well, so far I have just about managed to finish one of my 5 rolls of first batch Ektachrome E100, and I struggled to shoot a total of 4 frames (plus 1 screwup) of 120 film. I’ve just stopped finding film photography, and film cameras, particularly motivating. Instead I now find them clumsy and heavy, and the whole end to end process unwieldy, unreliable and a massive timesink. And although it’s certainly just me, I’m not finding the content of Fotoklassik very enthralling. The LabBox arrived but so far it has just sat in its packaging (actually I did shoot two rolls of the Ars Imago 320 roll film that came with it, to try out developing. The first ended up as a fat roll, the first I have ever had, ever, in my Bessa III. So that’s a great introduction to the world of Ars Imago).

Drm 20190505 P5050555

Film not dead in 2019

What is dawning on me is that by and large for me shooting film is mainly about finding something to point the camera at, whereas shooting digital is about wanting the photo.  There are a few exceptions, in particular when it comes to using the XPan, but to be absolutely honest I think the last time I wasn’t forcing myself to use it was in Antarctica in 2012. I did use it somewhat extensively in Calabria last year, but it was a bit half-hearted. And I can still remember just what a pain it was carting a full XPan kit along with DSLR around Argentina and Antarctica. I can’t see myself doing that again - or maybe I can, that’s the great thing about being indecisive!

There are some glimmers of renewed motivation from my first roll of E100. It does look very good indeed, seems to have slightly wider exposure tolerance than E100G, and the same slightly muted neutral colour balance I like. And I still enjoy using the XPan, which for quite some time was my primary camera. But can I face packing it up and carting it all over the place? With boxes full of film in hand baggage? I’m far from sure. These days it needs to compete as a second system with my Sigma sd H, and honestly, that’s a competition which is most likely to have no winner. The Olympus stuff is much less cumbersome, and at least as if not more competent in most scenarios.

Drm 20190505 P5050554

Film service industry is big business in 2019

Still, I have two imminent trips. The first to Puglia in Southern Italy, and actually for that film really does work, in the shape of Portra 400 in my Bessa 667.  The next is Scoresbysund and nearby fjords in East Greenland. For this the Olympii are already packed: two bodies and three pro zoom lenses = 6kg, which is pretty remarkable. The question is, is this enough (well of course it is) or should I add either the XPan kit, the Sigma sdH, or even a kind of hybrid of the two, the Sigma dp0. This time last year the XPan would have gone in first, and I’d probably even be rationalising about taking the Linhof 612.  Now… I’m inclined to just accept that simple is better. And film, actually, isn’t simple.

Xpan 2019 01 10

XPan / E100 in 2019

 

 

#19 Venice In Colour

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Tuesday, August 06, 2019

 

Way off the reservation

everybody hates me, etc

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Preface: I’m not entirely sure what prompted me to write this diatribe at this particular time. It is just one aspect of a growing dissatisfaction which I have with all this photography culture stuff. And irritation with pretty much everything that crosses my lawn.

A while ago, quite a while in fact, I made a conscious decision to choose photography as a hobby. Apart from the photography in itself, it seemed like a good excuse to get out of the house, and a way to meet interesting people and make new friends. And as the internet exploded it seemed to promise even more. All those websites, fora, photo sharing - a cornucopia of engagement with like-minded people.

Maybe it’s all my own fault, but it didn’t really work out that way. Over time I discovered that the photographic community, by and large, has the highest aggregation of snake oil sales(wo)men, frauds and egomaniacs in the known universe. In fact I’ve realised that I found very few like-minded people, and hardly community at all. Instead it was just a frantic souk milling with people shouting LOOK AT ME! ME! MEEEE!

Pretty much photographic blogging boils down to self-marketing and selling.  Most photography tweeters are plugging their own or their sponsors’ products. The number of people publishing quality material just for the love of it, be it photography itself or writing about photography is near zero. And as far as I can tell, in the increasingly vomit-inducing world of “landscape photography”, if you remove Guy Tal, it is exactly zero. And to be honest, you can probably have too much Guy Tal.

In less constrained themes there are a few beacons of hope. Andrew Molitor’s writings are largely way over my IQ threshold (no, not that IQ, the other one), but he writes very engagingly, and even when I haven’t got the faintest notion what he’s going on about, I enjoy reading him. The chap behind the Leicaphilia site is good too, and I enjoy reading his stuff even if I have very little interest in Leicas as such. And that’s about it - the other engaging writers gave up about 10 years ago. All the other sites in my bookmarks are full of regurgitated nonsense promising to make me such a better photographer if only I’d buy their workshop / course / ebook / presets, or buy that shiny new camera from the company that’s bankrolling their trip to Outer Wazookstan.

Sadly it’s pretty much the same thing at a personal level. I’m running the risk of upsetting a few people here, but frankly I don’t give a damn. Look at yourselves, people. Especially those of you who are my best friends forever when you want something, or when I buy your stuff, and then don’t write or call until that time you’ve got something else to sell. Fine, you’re in business to sell stuff, but just stop with being so fake about it. Only in the Photography World have I encountered this level of mendaciousness, and I’m getting so sick of it that it is getting close to putting me off photography altogether. The only solution I can see is to pull down the shutters and work in complete isolation, which is totally contrary to my initial motivations. I’ve always tended to believe in mutual assistance, but I’ve lost count of the number of photo buddies I’ve promoted, publicised, helped in other ways, only to see them pull the ladder up as soon as I was of no further use in the Quest to be a Master Nature Photographer. Sure, it could just be me - but really, it seems to be only photography as a pursuit that does this to people.

Why does photography drive such behaviour? Why do we accept that anybody with a camera and some ability in self-marketing can call themselves as “educator”? Is just because is it so easy? Does anybody have any theories?

Of course, there are a few exceptions, and I’m going to assume (if you’re reading this) that you know who you are, because if I included you in the above group, I wouldn’t be buying your stuff…

I’ll go and shout at some clouds now.

 

Some photography

well why not?

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Thursday, July 25, 2019

Summerbreeze is blowing through your window
And summerbreeze is blowing through your hair
Something in your eyes that took me by surprise
Don’t tell me that it ain’t there

Emiliana Torrini - Summerbreeze

Well, that’s a totally irrelevant quote. Although nothing is really irrelevant, is it?  There is no shortage of summer around these parts, even if the breeze part could do with some replenishment. So, I realised I don’t really write much about my own photography here these days, even if it is superficially the point of the exercise.

Therefore I would kindly direct you to some recent uploads. One, I’ve refreshed one of my “recent work” galleries here, with some, well, recent stuff.  It includes a significant representation of photos from Madeira, of which I have lots, and I’m still struggling to edit. The levadas of Madeira have capitvated me in a way that little else in quite some time, but getting that fascination across in photography is a puzzle.

In a very, very convoluted way the above quote sort of points to the next set, which is actually a refresh of a gallery I used to have here: Pyramiden, in Svalbard. A couple of weeks ago I was persuaded to do yet another backflip and agree to join a short expedition to East Greenland in September. Which means I needed to dust of some of “Arctic” stuff a bit. Maybe I’ll add some more.

Anyway, do please take a look. It’s free, it won’t hurt, and something may take you by surprise.

Lord it’s hot here.  Too hot to type.

 

Pyramiden

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Wednesday, July 24, 2019

 

Best Cameras For Landscape Photography

it’s not what you think…

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Recently the photonet has thrown up a couple of pieces aiming to list the Best Cameras For Landscape Photography. Both DP Review and Photography Life have pretty much concluded that you must have a very big and expensive digital camera to do landscape photography, and frankly, if you don’t have a $10’000 Fuji GFX100, you might as well give up. I will say that DP Review have rebalanced things a bit with a video demonstrating that you can get excellent results with a basic DSLR, but the general theme, as ever, is that for some vague reason, “landscape” photography demands huge resolution.  Leaving aside the fact that neither list includes any camera I own, which frankly doesn’t bother me, this peer pressure pushing people to buy unnecessarily complex and expensive gear makes me angry.  Gear-oriented discussion of Landscape photography comes with a number of tired, ungrounded clichés, which apart from the ridiculous and ever increasing demand for megapixels, includes equating Landscape with “wide angle”, with ultra high end lenses, and huge backpacks.

Frankly it’s all rubbish. Just a couple of years ago people were salivating over 16 megapixel cameras, and winning awards with photos taking with 35mm film.  Those ancient cameras still work, and if your photos (or indeed my photos) are no good at 16, or even 6, megapixels, they’re not going to be any better at 100. You’re just going to have a lot less money to be able to spend on travelling around to actually enjoy photography.

And speaking of travelling, airline carry-on bag dimensions and weight are constantly decreasing. If you like to have a reasonable selection of focal lengths to chose from, even “full frame” is going to become troublesome.  There’s not much point in having that super mega camera or that super bright telephoto lens if you can’t afford to travel with them.

Of course sometimes the biggest and best is justified, but either because somebody else is paying, or because you’re wealthy.  And even then, the difference in outcome is often not much more than size.  Take Julian Calverly for example: while he does a lot of commercial work with a medium format system - where he actually needs tilt shift lenses - he also produces equally fabulous work using an iPhone.

Far be it for me to lay down the law, but I’m just passing on my experience - I spent too many years in the gear acquisition hamster wheel, and frankly it has bought me very little lasting pleasure. If I look at my favourite photos, there is no correlation whatsoever with the perceived quality of whatever camera I was using. Actually most of the few photos I have which have received external praise, and even generated income, were taken using a 5Mpix camera.  A camera which just happened to have excellent ergonomics.

And that’s the key really - the best camera for your landscape photography is the one you feel the most comfortable with, which will get out of the way and allow you to concentrate on the photography. The so-called “image quality” is close to irrelevant, as pretty much all cameras today are well past good enough.  And what differences there are are far from linear - a $10’000 Fuji GFX does not have image quality 10 times greater than a $800 Fuji X-T30. In fact in many cases you’d have to look very closely to see any difference.

My advice is simple - keep the weight down, and buy something digital with weather sealing. The rest will take care of itself.

 

#18 Trümmelbachfälle

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Friday, June 21, 2019

 

So many photos

and so many more photos

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Wednesday, June 19, 2019

A couple of weeks ago, Kirk Tuck wrote a blog post entitled “What do you do with all the photos you take?”.  It was a very good question. Kirk, it seems - SPOILER ALERT - deletes a significant number of his before they even get on a computer. I probably should do the same, but I don’t. I have got an awfully large number of digital photos, and a whole lot more on processed film. Actually, my Lightroom catalogue, which goes back to 2004, more or less, as of today has 74’702, which I suspect is actually not so many, especially as 50’000 of those are test photos of ducks. But even so I can’t keep up. I continually take new photos, and the projects I have in mind for the previous batch get overwhelmed as I sift through the newer ones, which in turn get overwhelmed by their successors.

I have several projects I’ve actually started, apart from all the ones in my head. One is a fairly straightforward book of Antarctic photography - I’ve even written the text for it. Another is a rather more eccentric concept for a series on Venice.  I’ve got the raw material for this stuff, I’ve got the ideas, but I haven’t got the time, or the ability to focus. And then I had an actually quite well planned and executed harvest of photos of Madeira’s levadas, which I absolutely love, but that’s still sitting on the virtual shelf. I’d get onto that only I have some stuff from the Lauterbrunnen valley from last week which got in the way.  And so it goes. The problem is that I suspect that the part of all this which I most enjoy is taking the photos - well that and shopping for gear. I suppose I have some vague idea of a long enjoyable retirement when I’ll sort it all out - but actually, a retirement spent sitting in front of a computer, waiting for the final shutdown…is maybe not the best idea.

As I was saying, the problem is focus. I also have a lot of material to write about. It’s mostly in my head. I suppose I might manage to publish more frequently if I thought that anybody except me is actually reading this stuff, but pretty much nobody is, so it may just as well stay in my head. I’m not complaining - Kirk Tuck’s Visual Science Lab blog is a whole lot more appealing than mine, and deservedly popular.  Item: he publishes a lot of gorgeous photos of equally gorgeous women. I don’t. Item: he writes extensively about endless buying fabulous camera gear allowing his readers to enjoy vicariously whatever his latest craze is, and to justify to themselves their own spending sprees. I don’t. I sometimes write about gear of very marginal interest to 99.99% of the gear audience, from a very eccentric angle. And always the same gear. Don’t come to me to fix your buyer’s remorse. Item: Kirk runs a successful photography business. I don’t. Item: Kirk has time for (a) at least one hugely interesting photowalk every day, (b) to maintain an extensive fitness program, (c) to write long and interesting blog posts, (d) to run his aforementioned successful business, (e) to have what appears to be a health and happy family life, (f) etc.  Well, I suppose I do too, but actually mostly I procrastinate and read Kirk’s blog.

And I’m forever veering wildly off topic.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll delete all the test photos of ducks from 2005. And publish a set from Trümmelbachfälle. Or maybe I’ll just go out and take some more photos.

Drm 050111 193232

Your time’s up, duck

 

 

Snow what? Snow where?

what’s in a name?

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Thursday, June 13, 2019

I registered the domain name “snowhenge.net” around June 2001. Although I had been running my own website since around 1997, this was supposed to be a step in a more ambitious direction.  The choice of the name “snowhenge” was a bit backwards looking, referring to an incident in the past where my somewhat strange sense of humour had been deployed. I don’t think I intended to be particularly meaningful at the time, although the initial site design had a strong “snowhenge” theme. Rather, it was fairly typical bit of misdirection.

When I walked away from Antarctic research and science in general, somewhat in disgust, I expected that polar regions were firmly in the past. Even though my involvement in research did eventually drag on for a few more years due to unfinished commitments, in my head I’d moved on. Well, more or less. In 1999, having already decided I need a major change of direction, I spent 3 weeks trekking in Eastern Greenland, back when it still had ice. A major motivation for that was wanting to rediscover the unique soft evening light which had enraptured me in the Antarctic. Photographically it was a disaster, as my camera’s exposure meter malfunctioned without me realising it, and my travel zoom lens fell apart. Actually at that point I didn’t have much of a clue what I was doing, and photography was not my main objective. My objective was to find a quiet place to sit on the rocks and gaze at icebergs. It probably still is.

Greenland 02

Greenland, 1999

From then onwards there was little real connection to snow, or polar regions at all on snowhenge.net. I got much more into photography, but this was concentrated on areas adjacent to my my new home in Ticino.  There was a glimmer of a return when I embarked on a bit of an Iceland obsession from 2004 onwards (my first visit in 1999 having for some reason made no impression on me), but still, there was no real direct justification for my web site’s title.

But eventually things turned around. In 2010 I visited Svalbard with a private expedition of 10 people, and then finally in 2013 returned to Antarctic as a tourist, with a somewhat unexpected follow-up in 2016. This, along with beginning to write quite a lot more about the Antarctic, seemed to indicate that I was finally making thematic sense.  But recently I’ve noticed that the home page barely mentions anything polar, and I’m beginning to wonder if maybe it is time for an identity shift. Actually the URL davidmantripp.com points here too, perhaps I should make it the primary name. Then perhaps people will not visit expecting to find a Snowhenge and immediately turn away disappointed.  Or maybe they do that because there’s not much to see anyway…  I’m certainly no Influencer!

I have to confess that I have another Antarctic trip lined up for early next year, something a bit different this time, which will leave me utterly penniless (but maybe also with a new sense of direction). But then again, I’m equally enthralled with other places, most recently Madeira. So I guess snowhenge.net will remain what it seems to have always been, a testimonial to my chronic appetite for digression.

 

Sigma sd quattro H

take it, or leave it ?

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Wednesday, June 05, 2019

A couple of months ago I finally succumbed to the temptation of buying a Sigma sd Quattro H. Ever since the camera was announced, some years ago now, it intrigued me.  As a sometimes delighted, sometimes frustrated owner of the Merrill and Quattro dp fixed-lens series, this new interchangeable lens Foveon sensor mirrorless camera seemed like something I could put to good use.  Of course, it being a Sigma, things are not as simple as they could be. The camera is indeed mirrorless, and fairly compact, but it is designed to take Sigma’s DSLR lenses. This is not totally bad news, as the recent generations of Sigma lenses have been gaining a strong reputation for Zeiss-like levels of optical performance and build quality at a quarter of the price. Unfortunately, they are not a quarter of the weight, or the bulk, and a quarter of Zeiss prices is still a lot of money.

But anyway, here I am, with a sd Quattro H body (let’s shorten that to sd-H from now on), a 35mm f1.4 Art lens, and a 24-70 f2.8 Art lens. The latter is really huge.  And now I need to be convinced all this was a good idea.

IMG 5741

The Sigma sd Quattro H with 24-70 f/2.8 lens next to the Olympus E-M1 with equivalent 12-40 f/2.8

I have used the Quattro dp0 quite extensively, mainly as a “panoramic” camera with the 21:9 ratio. That, together with previous Merrill dp2 & dp3 experience meant that I was not blind to the potential issues. In suitable conditions these cameras can be jaw-droppingly effective, but the range of conditions that can be reliable considered suitable is narrow, to put it mildly.

Although the usual claim by enthusiasts of these Foveon sensor cameras is of remarkable resolution (which they have, but let’s not go overboard), for me the killer feature is (and again, in the right conditions), a film-like delicacy of colour and colour transition. This can justify me packing the dp0 Quattro as special-use secondary camera, but the question is, are the results clear enough to justify the sd-H and 24-70 lens, four times heavier and bulkier?

Before following up on that, let’s just have a quick recap of what the sd-H offers. There’s a full, in-depth review at DPReview, so I’m not going to spend much time on technical stuff here. The body is very well built, and feels like it cost more than it did. It is comfortable to hold, despite its unconventional shape.  The controls are well laid out and easy to reach, although I would prefer the QS Quick Menu button to be in a similar position to that on the dp body. The menu is a paragon of good design - it’s a pity so few people will see it. The back of the camera has a typical Sigma quirk, with two screens side by side. The second, smaller one is used to display shooting parameters. And unlike the dp series, there is an electronic viewfinder, which is quite large and comfortable, but suffers from the difficulty of getting a high rate video stream from the Foveon sensor. Still, it is serviceable. Basically from an ergonomic point of view things are pretty good.  Oh, and there is an option to produce linear DNG output instead of X3F Raw files, which means you can open them directly in Lightroom, etc. Although I’m not sure I’d recommend that. Oh, and the autofocus can only be described as “****** hopeless”.

I have used the sd-H properly now on 4 outings. One to Venice, which didn’t go well, two quick trips to the local Valle Verzasca, and just recently a long weekend in Tuscany. It’s still all a bit inconclusive. I got some nice results in Verzasca, but I was very constrained by the lack of Depth of Field preview. Also the lack of an orientable screen or finder can be very restricting. Basically it’s not a lot fun using the sd-H on a tripod, but generally that is where it works best.

Drm 20181219 SDQH0081

this kind of detailed, softly lit scene is where the Sigma cameras do excel

Drm 20190417 SDQH0212

For my trip to Tuscany I went well prepared. The area is one I know extremely well (I even published a book about it) and there’s absolutely no stress to get the shot, because either I’ve already got it, or I’ll get it next time. I also made a DNG colour profile for the camera, and took along my MacBook Air to be able to do some on the spot verification.

So, I did some handheld shots, and some tripod shots, initially all in DNG, and imported them into Lightroom. I was pretty disappointed. For example, the clichéd shots of Tuscan poppies were just smudges, with reds either overblown to flat areas with no detail or clipped to white. Just like digital cameras 20 years ago.  A shot where the ISO crept up to 800 looked like some Chernobyl aftermath. Some shots were inexplicably soft (the 24-70 lens is stabilised, but it’s no Olympus), which I’d also noticed in Venice. And generally the resolution and sharpness was not impressive at all.

Drm 20190601 SDQH0241

Foveon colour at ISO 800. Ouch.

Oh, and the classic Foveon green flare made a unwelcome appearence.

Sdh green flare

the classic Foveon green flare

But then… when I got home, I opened the same images on my desktop computer, which has a fully calibrated Eizo monitor attached to it, and there a rather different picture emerged (literally!). The overblown reds turned out to actually hold detail. The softness in some cases turned out not to be so soft. Some of the poppy field shots turned out ok. And the photos which I took in X3F format are technically not so catastrophic. So the lesson there is that perhaps my 2011 MacBook Air is not the best tool for evaluating image quality.

Drm 20190601 SDQH0240

Foveon colour at ISO 200. A bit better.

Drm 20190601 SDQH0249

Hardly a portfolio shot, but technically this one worked ok.

Since there was quite a lot of mountain bike touring involved on this trip, I didn’t limit myself to the Sigma. I also took my Olympus E-M5ii, with my old and travel worn 14-42EZ pancake zoom. This, unlike the sd-H, could happily travel in my backpack. Oh, the shots show a somewhat alarming softness on the right bottom corner, but if you don’t look too closely, the combination actually works pretty well.  Of course, putting a “proper” lens on the Olympus narrows the gap quite a lot, making me question the sd-H even more.

When quickly reviewing photos to illustrate this post, I noticed some shots taken in previous years in Tuscany using the dp0. That camera has a smaller sensor than the sd-H (APS-C rather than APS-H), but a fixed precisely matched (and ultra wide) lens. And even as thumbnails, the shots just pop off the screen. I expected the sd-H, with Art lenses, to have the same effect, but so far, it doesn’t. I’m not quite ready to put it on eBay, but as it stands at the moment it could not justify its place in my camera bag on a real trip.  I guess we still need to work on our relationship.

Drm 20190602 SDQH0278

This is beginning to get there.

 

 

#17 Flower Power

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Saturday, May 18, 2019

 

My photos suck

...and I don’t care

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Wednesday, April 10, 2019

From the vast amount of stuff I’ve read about photography, I can really only come to one conclusion: my own photography is basically worthless.  My take away from Landscape Photography pundits is that to have any worth, photos have to have some deep and mystical connection to the natural world. A photo of a tree is not of a tree, it is a representation of the photographer’s relationship with the landscape. Well, in my case, the photo is actually of a tree, and the reason I made it is because for whatever reason I liked the tree. There’s no message in there, there’s no whispered pseudo-religious revelation. There probably isn’t even any “pin sharpness”.

In the past few days I’ve been editing my latest haul of photos of Venice. Some are geometrically interesting, some have nice colours - some have both geometry and colour - and a few have people in them. Almost all are technically more than competent. All are, unfortunately, totally soulless. I’m not going to kid myself, they may look nice in “Lights Out” mode in Lightroom on a black background, but they have zero artistic or cultural value. They do not in any way communicate the emotions I feel when wandering around the outer zones of Cannaregio or the Giudecca. In the cold light of self-analysis, they’re worthless.

As for the technical side, well, actually, I think they’re ok, but perhaps I really don’t know. I’ve read about all this stuff on DPReview and countless blogs, but when I set the slider to 0 I still can’t see this infamous “noise” in the shadows, or all this (lack of) dynamic range. I guess I just don’t have the skill to see it.

I might once have aspired to reaching some sort of higher level of vision or something, but I got stuck at the snapshot stage, and that’s all their is too it.  There are so many other ageing white male engineer-types trying to pretend they have an artistic side by buying camera gear - some of them call themselves Fine Art Photographers, especially if they’re American - that I just got lost in the crowd.

This realisation that I really not any good at any kind of artistic expression has crept up slowly on me, so it isn’t much of a surprise. I’ve known about it for some time. It also impacts on wider things, sometimes in a good way. For example when thinking about places to travel to or go on vacation, these days I don’t start wondering about what gear to take, or how to get “the good light”.  I just go with the flow - I might take some snaps, I might not, but I don’t feel bad about not being that guy wandering the streets with 20kg of camera tech strapped to his back.

At the same time I’m getting more and more weary with all the photography chatter in Twitter and everywhere else. I’m not the only one who can’t take a meaningful photograph, but I seem to be the only one who realises it. Even more, I’m fed up to the back teeth of people who are convince that a totally dull photograph becomes a work of genius because it was shot on film (or even better, expired film).

So, does this mean I’m giving it all up? No, I like taking photos. But I’m not going to keep stressing myself reading all this stuff about how I should “take it to the next level”, “find a a philosophical basis for what I do”, make a rock be “more than a rock” or all the rest of the depressing psychobabble. I’m certainly not going to dive in some kind of ersatz conceptual art.  Vacations will be vacations, not “photo tours”. I’m just going to take (hopefully) pretty pictures of things and juxtapositions that grab my attention or resonate somehow, enjoy the process of doing so, and enjoy looking at them. And I’ll publish a few here on my website too, just in case they give a few fleeting microseconds of pleasure to others.

 

Hardware

well it’s more interesting than photography…

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Wednesday, March 27, 2019

A couple of months ago I had two blog posts playing around in my head, on the twin topics of “Software” and “Hardware”. “Software” got published, and here, belatedly, is “Hardware”.  I know: gear isn’t important, it isn’t interesting and it has nothing to do with Art, or indeed Photography. But, hey, it sure gets clicks.

The idea really is to get this stuff behind me once and for all. To choose a solution on both fronts that I’m comfortable with, and from then on just do the photography stuff. I might still browse through gear reviews and those crazy, crazy forums on the train or wherever, but only at a distance. And actually, on the Software side it seems to be working. I did have a bit of a glitch a month or so back, when my faithful Epson 3800 printer finally decided to throw a hissy fit. I replaced it with an Epson P800, and thanks to my investment in ImagePrint, it just slotted in and was immediately productive. In the past it would have taken me weeks, months even to get to grips with a new printer, but with ImagePrint handling everything it is completely seamless.

So, printing, that’s kind of halfway between hardware and software. The real hardware is the glitzy black boxes covered with dials and knobs with big tubes sticking out the front. Since I got into digital, I’ve been a faithful (or maybe lazy) Olympus user. My current “default” camera is an Olympus E-M5 MkII which I actually bought on impulse at a crazy low ex-demo price as a backup to take to Antarctica.  By the time I returned it had become my main camera, and although the shutter count is still some way short of my near-retired E-M1, I’m sure if I could record how long I’d carried both for, the E-M5 would win easily.

My last major outing with the E-M5 was to Madeira, where I was seriously surprised by the wealth of photographic potential. I had just the E-M5 with the 12-100 lens with me, having taken a fairly casual approach. What I sorely missed was a polariser, but still, the combination generally worked very well.  Where it did fall down is on something I’ve noticed before: distant fine detail, especially in vegetation, has a tendency to turn into an unsightly mush, which is noticeable even at A4 print sizes - well, it is to me, anyway. This impression has been confirmed to me by an acquaintance who is a professional Olympus user, and just has to be considered to be a limitation of the relatively small sensor and low-ish 16Mpix resolution. But it really only strikes in very particular circumstances - for example in urban photography I never notice it.  But anyway, this leaves an itch when it comes to some types of landscape photography.  Other than that, the Olympus m43 system fits me just fine. The lenses are just superb, and the bulk / weight, or lack of both, are very welcome.

But still, I wanted a “high quality” solution.  I’ve been seriously toying with the idea of Medium Format mirrorless, the Hasselblad X1 or Fuji GFX.  I briefly tried out the GFX and felt that it was a very nice camera, even if I prefer the aesthetics of the Hasselblad.  But the prices ... especially of the lenses ... I really cannot justify. If I was a professional, maybe, or even if I was a good enough photographer to do either justice, but I’m neither of these, so no. I’d rather spend the money on a trip to Greenland, but since I don’t actually have that kind of disposable income anyway, that’s not an option either.

But there’s another option lurking, which any readers of my past writings on gear might well see coming: Sigma. I’ve been dithering about this for ages, and typically, the death sentence of the Sigma SA lens mount and associated cameras bought about by Sigma joining an alliance with Leica and Panasonic was just the trigger I needed to grab a Sigma sd H Quattro while I still could. I’ve been a strong fan of Sigma cameras since the DP2 Merrill, and have got some very satisfying results from the ultra wide angle dp0 Quattro. But these are fixed lens cameras and rather specialist. The sd is a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, albeit one compromised (in some senses) by taking Sigma SA mount lenses designed for DSLRs.  The Sigma Art lenses are optically fantastic, on a par with the best Olympus can do, but O.M.G are they huge and heavy.  Initially I got the 35mm f1.4 Art, and supplemented it with the 24-70mm f2.8 Art.  I doubt I’ll be adding to the collection.  Being used to micro Four Thirds (or even non-micro Four Thirds), and indeed Sigma “compacts”, I’d largely forgotten about camera weight. The Sigma sd H itself isn’t heavy, but add a lens to it, and it takes me back to the nightmare days of my Canon T90 with solid lead telephoto lens bolted on the front. It’s going to have to really produce the goods to stay off the shelf.

Although people rave about the resolution of the Sigma Foveon sensor, rightly so, my attraction is more to the crystalline clarity and luminance of the photos it produces.  It’s as close to film as I’ve ever seen from a digital camera - indeed much closer than any other. The colour output has a similar character to Kodak Portra, although unfortunately with a dynamic range more like Fuji Velvia.  But in the right circumstances, both the Merrill and Quattro variants of the sensor really sing.

So there we have it - Olympus m43 for general use, Sigma sd H and dp0 for when I need something a little different. I decided to take the sd H, with the 24-70 lens, along with the E-M5 and 12-100 lens for a short trip to Venice last week, thinking I might dedicate a little bit of time to some side by side testing.  Of course I could do side by side testing in our back garden, but I actually need interesting subjects to motivate me to “test”, and our garden, welcoming as it is, doesn’t really qualify, especially not at this time of year.

It all went wrong. Of course it did. The 24-70 lens arrived at the last moment, so I decided to take advantage of an hour between trains to try it out at Milan Central station, and to review the files on the way to Venice.  Then in Venice I took it out in the late afternoon to just do some more familiarisation shots.  The battery ran out at about 70 shots, probably because it wasn’t fully charged to begin with, but also because the lens has an optical stabiliser, which doubtless sucks up power. No problem, I just reached into my pocket to swap in the spare battery, only to realise that I’d bought the dp0 spare, not the sd, and they’re very different.  And of course I’d brought the dp0 charger as well. So the wonder-camera turned into a temporary very heavy doorstop.

Not haven taken any really challenging shots, or indeed been all that careful, and no comparison shots at all, I don’t have much to base an opinion of the sd H in an urban setting on, but to be frank, what I do see doesn’t really blow me away.  It’s early days yet, but I have a nasty feeling that the perfectly matched fixed lenses of the Sigma dp series play a bigger role than I’d realised.  I did, however, take a few landscape shots in December when I first got the camera, and they were promising. We shall see.

Drm 20190319 SDQH0136

Venice, by Sigma sd H Quattro with Sigma Art 24-70mm f2.8 lens

The kind of embarrassing thing though is that I also had my Ricoh GR II with me, and due to the lack of power for the Sigma, and also an unfortunate accident with the E-M5, it got pressed into service far more than I expected. And not only did I really enjoy using it, but the “image quality” is actually quite breathtaking. Of course I already knew this.  Waaaay back towards the end of the last century it was the original film GR1 which shocked me into realising what a difference a great lens can make, and the descendants of that camera have maintained the tradition of optical excellence. In fact, I’m loathe to say this, but the GR, at least at 28mm, may be every bit as good as the Sigma. Ouch.

Drm 20190321 R0000039

Venice, by Ricoh GR II with Ricoh 18.3mm f2.8 lens

The Olympus E-M5 did its job efficiently and reliably, and I certainly enjoyed using it.  It doesn’t quite have the wow factor of it’s two companions, but it provides a far greater degree of flexibility than either, and remains my no 1 choice.  Unfortunately, on a night time shot, I was carrying it on my Gitzo Traveller tripod, and the assembly holding the ballhead to the centre column fell apart just as I was heading home.  The E-M5 hit the paving stones - well the 12-100 lens did so first - rather abruptly. The mount on the lens was visibly skewed and the lens was unusable. Fortunately there was no other visible damage, and the camera seems fine.  The lens has gone off to Olympus for repair, and I’ve ordered a new centre column from Gitzo through gritted teeth. I do sometimes - ok, often - wonder just how much Gitzo actually really deserve their reputation.

Drm 20190320 EM500080

Venice, by Olympus OM-D E-M5 MkII with Olympus m.Zuiko 12-100mm f4.0 lens

So, that’s the hardware story.  I did cast around a little, I looked at the new Nikons, I even looked at Panasonic, but finally I decided that Olympus backed up with Sigma and Ricoh are a pretty good comfort zone.  Actually, if only Ricoh could expand their philosophy to a somewhat wider range (yes I know about Pentax, but no thanks) I could be very happy with just that. The Sigma sd H may turn out to be a big, heavy mistake. But the dp0 is a gem.

Oh, and about film cameras? Yes, well, they’re all sitting on a shelf, along with a drawer full of film. I haven’t used a film camera since last September, and right now I feel absolutely no urge to do so again.  Things may change, but I may, just possibly, finally be done with film.  Anybody want to buy an XPan ?

 

La Magliasina

going with the flow

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Thursday, March 14, 2019

The Magliasina is a short, scrappy, torrential river which emerges on the slopes of Monte Gradiccioli in the Malcantone region of Ticino, and 15km later drains into Lake Lugano. At its mouth, it marks the boundary between the villages of Caslano, and of Magliaso, where I live, and which gave the name to the river.

Drm 20181010 EM1S5962

For most of its length it is hidden from sight at the foot of a deserted, steep sided narrow valley. There are a few crossing points where bridges have been built to allow paths to join the two sides of the valley, but mainly the river is heard, not seen.  I’ve been exploring it bit by bit for quite some time. I’ve largely moved on from the more easily accessible spots and, based on large scale topographic maps tried to work out where there might be interesting hideaways. Although such spots might sometimes be approached by following deserted, disappearing paths, reaching them almost always involves some serious off-piste traversing.

Drm 20181114 EM540018

Sometimes I strike gold, sometimes not, but more than once I’ve ended up with more of a scramble on my hands than I bargained for. In a few cases I’ve been forced to question my sanity. In some parts the valley side is very steep, and the soil is unstable. It also tends to be covered in vicious undergrowth in summer, and treacherous rotting tree trunks and branches all year round.  If photos were graded by the physical difficulty in taking them, I’d have quite a portfolio by now.

Throttle

In the lower reaches the valley is much broader, but even more strangled by undergrowth. Now and again I come across signs that in earlier times, the area was actually inhabited, partly farmed, and the river was a focal point. Today few people seem to realise it even exists.  Oh, there are rock pools here and there which are clearly the treasured secrets of teenagers looking for a summer hideaway.  And there are a few easily accessed and popular areas such as the Maglio del Malcantone, but largely the river keeps well away from view.

Overflow

It’s become a bit of an obsession, but unlike my other obsessions, it is within walking distance of my front door. So far I’m continuing to make new discoveries, and there are more to be found. For example, the ruins of a 100 year old hydroelectric plant lurk somewhere in the woods. I think I know where, but it’s a stretch I haven’t explored yet. And I haven’t started on the high upstream section.

Drm 20181216 SDQH0032

Probably it isn’t all that sensible to go off exploring like this on my own, but nobody seems interested. Every now and again I am reminded that while Switzerland is a very safe place from a society point of view, nature here can be pretty bloody dangerous. I should probably invest in a rope. And a loud whistle.

Drm 20181128 EM580028

You can see more, if you want, in my Magliasina album on Flickr.

 

#16 Como

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Wednesday, March 06, 2019

 

#15 Levadas

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Monday, February 11, 2019

 

Glacier, by Ragnar Axelsson

ice age

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Wednesday, January 30, 2019

“Glacier” is the title of what must be the magnum opus of Icelandic photographer Ragnar Axelsson, also known as Rax. Previously his published photography has been more orientated towards environmental portraiture and reportage, through acclaimed books such as “Faces of the North” and “Last Days of the Arctic”, but “Glacier” is pure landscape. It isn’t picture postcard landscape though - far from it. Glacier is a vast collection of aerial photography of Iceland’s ice fields.

IMG 5457

For the greater part the photography discards any sense of scale and proportion, and presents a near abstract, otherworldly view. Photographing in black and white further removes any easy connection to reality, and emphasises even further the quite unbelievable forms shaped by the forces on the ice. The net effect is captivating. Far from being a set of exercises in graphic composition, the emotional impact is remarkable, encompassing everything from fascination to - in the case of some of the volcano shots - terror.

In much of his previous work, Rax did not seem to place an undue emphasis on technical quality, at least not to the extent of discarding photos for purely technical reasons, but here, the precision and clarity is impressive, and indeed important. The fact that as far as I know most were taken from a pretty unstable light aircraft makes them all the more impressive.

IMG 5458

That it is aerial photography may put some off, but this is emphatically not some “Iceland viewed from the sky” kitsch. It is more like a distant relative of Edward Burtynsky’s work, and equally affecting.

Obviously I highly recommend losing yourself in “Glacier” for a few hours. It is one of the best photobooks I have ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot. But I am going to leave off with a minor rant:

Clearly there is an environmental message as well as an aesthetic dimension underlying “Glacier”. I have absolutely no problem with that. But then, why deliver the book wrapped up in a pointless plastic wrapper, with a plastic “Glacier” sticker attached to it, both of which need to be ripped off and thrown away ? Yes, it protects the integrity of the (gorgeous) design concept, but in doing so it totally undermines the message. I am so, so fed up of the torrents of plastic running through this and every household every day. I appreciate it isn’t easy to find a solution, but if it was easy, we wouldn’t have such a major problem. Did the idea of recyclable paper outer wrapper occur to the book designer, I wonder ?

 

 

 

Interesting Times

Fame ...AND fortune!

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Thursday, January 10, 2019

Welcome to 2019. I spent the last couple of weeks off the grid - no forums, no Twitter, no Brexit, no Trump. It was wonderful.  On my return I found quite a few surprises, for example the palace revolution at the veteran Luminous Landscape website - see Andrew Molitor’s take on that. Other than some very helpful experts populating the technical forums, the Luminous Landscape hasn’t been very relevant to me for quite some time, but in it’s heyday it was a big influence on me. I followed the site since the very early days, pre-digital boom, and I would be lying if I didn’t acknowledge Michael Reichmann as a major influence on both my photography and my approach.  Some may find that an uncool admission, but it could have been a lot worse.

But the next big surprise was an email from Olympus Europe, telling me that my already forgotten submission to their “snow” competition had actually won.  And netted me a €500 voucher to spend on Olympus gear. Well, I don’t really know what I’m going to do with the voucher, but the praise is very welcome!

I’m also feeling just a little vindicated, because the photograph in question - which I actually took way back in 2006, is reasonably typical of my general approach, and not a blatant attempt to win a competition with some 500px super saturated horror.  To be honest I had no expectation whatsoever of winning.  The technical quality is terrible and the photo was shot using a measly 10 Megapixel Olympus E-3 camera.  Here it is…

Drm 090106 144452

I can only thank the judge, Lukasz Bozycki, for his astounding good taste :-)

Literally ten minutes after the email from Olympus Europe, I got a totally separate email from the publishers of the UK-based Olympus magazine asking to use a photo of mine in an upcoming special issue. Fame AND fortune! The day job must be starting to feel nervous.

Happy New Year.

 

 

 

 

Software

displacement activity I

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Tuesday, December 11, 2018

I’ve recently been going through some kind of phase where I’m reassessing a lot of my work. Initially this was on an aesthetic level, but somewhat inevitably technical considerations started to intervene. First of all, I have been trying to get a little more disciplined in my picture making. Although I like to think that I’m pretty much on top of the basics of using a camera, I have tended to be a little indisciplined in how I apply this knowledge. This then leads to, for example, photos with too much, or too little depth of field, because I was too lazy to think about optimising aperture. It all came about when I started to make prints of some of the recent series of woodland photos I’ve been making. In turn this led me to making a number of “test” prints (to be perfectly honest, I probably don’t make any other kind). And so I noticed that the colour in these prints was actually a bit weird, and so _then_ I just had to re-profile the paper, which more or less fixed the issue, but used up all my supplies. And left me wondering how my previous carefully created profile had “gone bad”. And off we go again.

Untangle II

“Untangle I” - the photo that led me to re-evaluate my printing

Or not - prompted by an article I saw recently, I wondered if maybe it might be a good idea to revisit ImagePrint by Colorbyte Software. I used to use ImagePrint with my Epson 2100 printer, but when this died, and some 8 years ago I splurged on an A2 Epson 3800, I would have had to upgrade my ImagePrint license, and I couldn’t afford it. So I bought a Pantone ColorMunki Photo kit instead, which allowed me to profile any printer paper I wanted. Of course this was not the only option: many paper manufacturer profiles are actually more than close enough, and if they’re not, various service providers can create custom profiles for a given paper and specific printer. But of course I wanted to do it all my own way, and now I think about it, I’ve gone through at least 3 printer profiling setups over the last 15 years or so, none cheap.  And in fact even with dedicated software and hardware, colour science, which this is an application of, is seriously hard and time consuming, apart from being a money drain.

ImagePrint on the other hand does absolutely everything for you. It includes a custom print driver which brings a number of tangible benefits, from more accurate colour to saving paper, and a huge library of expert print colour profiles tuned not only to printer/paper combinations, but also to different lighting conditions. The basic point of ImagePrint is that it offers 100% reliable, plug & play highest quality printing. So you can just forget about all the technical complexities and just enjoy the creative part. This to me is quite enough to justify the fairly high price, but on top of that there are myriad additional features which offer significant advantages in various printing scenarios.  So I renewed my license for the latest version, “ImagePrint Black”, and ever since I’ve been printing a lot more, with no test prints required.

That solved my output problems. Next up was the input. I had been working on a set of photos recently for my 2018 calendar, and revisiting these I noticed that one of them was not quite right. This was a photo of an iceberg, which look fairly spectacular, but after I printed it (see above) I realised it was all a bit too, well, blue. So once again a trip down the rabbit hole of Raw conversion software beckoned. I decided to download a trial of the latest version of Capture One, v11 (now they’re on v12), and opened a few iceberg photos. One of them, not the one that had initially sent me into a spin, really shocked me: Capture One appeared to be showing textures completely missing in the Lightroom interpretation, and better fine detail as well. I cross-checked in Exposure X3, and in Iridient Developer, and the variation across these gave me the clue I needed to narrow the gap - it was simply a case of reducing the exposure, which in Lightroom seems to have a complex relationship with brightness. The much more involved Capture One default processing had, in this case, given better results.  As for the fine detail, well, there, at least with Olympus ORF files, the current iteration of Lightroom cannot match Capture One, or indeed the new Exposure X4. Both extract more real detail, although frankly only us pixel peepers would notice in almost all cases. But this comes with a price with Capture One, as any kind of noise reduction coupled with sharpening gives a horrible plasticky effect in recent ORF files. This is nothing new - I noticed it with v8 and it was just that made me decide to give up fighting and submit to Lightroom for once and for all.

Drm 20161203 PC030310 IridientEdit 3

“float” - the photo that used to be far too blue

However, Capture One has another major card up its sleeve, at least for me: the luminance curve. In Lightroom pretty much any change to contrast, by direct slider or by curve, has a major effect on saturation as well. Apparently this is by design, and it is stubbornly maintained, but personally I hate it. You can compensate by reducing saturation and/or vibrance, but first, this is imprecise, and second, why the hell should one need to? This naturally led me to the realisation that I should just be more disciplined with applying a previous strategy: do the Raw conversion in Iridient Developer, which is far less heavy handed, has not only a luminance curve, but also a chroma curve, and delivers the best detail and sharpness of all, then do the rest in Lightroom. Iridient even includes a Lightroom plug-in to facilitate all of this.

So, after this bit of re-evaluation, I have ended up with a software end to end process (I’m not going to call it a “workflow”, this is fun, not work) which drags the absolute best of my pitiful 16 Mpix sensor camera, and starts to approach the delicacy I’m always aiming for in colour and colour transitions.  Having got those variables out of the way, I can now concentrate on choosing the correct f-stop.

 

Daniel Cox

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Daniel Cox / Natural Exposures

 

#14 Il Molino

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Sunday, December 02, 2018

 

Moving on

moving on up?

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Friday, November 30, 2018

Nearly 8 years ago, I finally gave up on any aspiration to finding an “interesting” job, and settled instead for a stable job which allowed me to continue living where I finally found a place I could and wanted to settle in. And so like many others I surrendered to the gaping maw of Banking IT. It could be worse - a lot worse - but it wasn’t really something I wanted to do when I grew up.

A distinct downside was that it required me to commute a significant distance. A second downside was an office is one of the most dreary, soul-destroying settings you could imagine (well, ok, it’s not Slough), albeit set in the middle of a fairly spectacular pre-alpine valley. To get out of the office I got into the habit of taking a walk at lunchtime, and eventually I started to take a camera with me.  To start off with, I just did “tests” - this, I think, is the first example I published - but eventually I started to see some photographic potential in the area.

For a while I was in a “satellite” office which had a number of advantages, first that being 10 minutes closer to the train station, it cut down my commute just a smidgeon, but the second was that it was also quite close to a path leading up a hill, where I discovered all sorts of wonders. Well, relative to staring at a corporate Windows PC, they were wonders.

Therails

Some photos which might have made it into my idea of a project called “The Rails”

In particular I discovered an abandoned funicular railway, which had been used many years ago in the construction of a hydroelectric plant pipeline, now itself removed and replaced.  The upper part, it turned out, was still very occasionally used to ferry materials up the hillside, but the lower part was completely abandoned, and in some places overgrown or buried. The hillside is also steep and covered in dense undergrowth, but over many lunchtime visits - some a little more extended than usual - I gradually pieced together and documented various parts.  This formed a project, “The Rails”, which, finally, only existed in my mind a few edits on my iPad, but it kept my brain working.

Later, I moved back to the main office. This was much less conveniently located for interesting lunchtime walks, but my route from and to the station did lead me through a fairly dilapidated, partially disused light industrial zone, when led to some interesting compositions. Indeed, there must be some buildings along that route I’ve photographed about 50 times if not more. In different seasons, different weather, different light, with digital cameras, film cameras, different lenses. Any of my colleagues who may have noticed what I was doing must have though I was slightly nuts… apart from the fact they already had plenty of reasons to think that.

But now it has come to an end. This, below, is the last photo from the last day of that walk to the office. There was no conscious intent in my mind to create any kind of symbolism, but it seems that I did do so.

Drm 20181123 R0000038

Up against the buffers: last day in G.

And from today I’m working in the same job but from a new location, which is only 30 minutes away, instead of 90, and while still not the most inspiring location, should give quite a lot of opportunities to explore. And it will give me 2 hours of my life back everyday, so maybe I’ll have a little more time to actual pursue and complete photographic projects. Or perhaps I’ll simply stick to type, and dither even more.

The following is a small selection of photos taken over the past 8 years while walking to or from work, or wandering around a lunchtime.  I’ve got hundreds of them…

Drm 2014 12 17 R0000228
Drm E P5 20160301 P3014050
Drm gr 20150303 0518
Drm 2014 07 10 P7100027
Drm E M5MarkII 20171019 EM590002
Drm 2014 08 04 P8040147
Drm 2014 11 07 R0000006
Drm 20181022 R0000009
Drm dp2m 20131127 1207
Drm 2015 01 19 R0000344

 

Not to be continued…

 

35mm camera clearout

Once they’re gone, they’re yours

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Thursday, November 29, 2018

I’ve decided to trim back on my film camera collection, and I’m offering for sale a “vintage bundle” of 3 compact 35mm cameras, a Ricoh GR1s Date, Olympus XA, and Minx 35ML.

All three are, in my recent experience, in working order, as follows:

Ricoh GR1s
The top place LED has lost a lot of functionality, so some settings are not shown.  However they still work.  The camera switches on fine, the lens extends, auto-focus works, film transport works. However the film transport is a little noisy, and I Dom’t honestly remember if that is normal. Unfortunately Ricoh GR film cameras were never particularly robust or reliable, and what few perfect ones remain fetch crazy prices.  Basically, it still takes photos. I’ve owned the camera since new, and it comes with box, leather pouch and original manual (and original price sticker of £299, which was pretty expensive in those days…)

Minox 35ML
In my opinion this is actually the best of the three, an absolute gem. The camera works fine, the only issue is that the ISO dial on the bottom plate has lost a lot of its paint (actually it seems it was some kind of adhesive film) so you have to guess (a bit) which position is which.  It’s not a big issue.  The meter works fine.  Owned since new, nut unfortunately the box and manual have gone astray.  Bonus - a spare S28 battery is included. Shows an expiry date of 2017 but should still be fine. These are very hard to find.

Olympus XA
Full working order, the rangefinder patch might be a little faded from its new condirion, I’m really not sure, but it is still quite visible. Of the three this is the one which has had the most use recently, for example when trying out the new Ferrania P30 film. Comes with its accessory flash. This one I bought secondhand as a back up a very long time ago.

All three have clean optics and no fungus, etc.  And all three have acquired the odd scuff mark over the years, but nothing dramatic. These are working cameras, not display cabinet queens.

I’m offering all 3 for CHF 120 (or US$ 120, it’s about 1:1 right now) in Switzerland or CHF 150 posted to anywhere in the world, payment via PayPal. Not for sale individually.

To the best of my knowledge the above descriptions are correct, I absolutely don’t want to rip anybody off, but please note, they are offered at-risk, no refund or return.

IMG 5224

IMG 5229

IMG 5225

EM520007

EM520008

EM520009

EM520006

Minox bottom plate

 

 

 

2019 Calendar

shameless commercial break

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Sunday, October 28, 2018

Somehow or the other this year I’ve managed to get my act sufficiently together to produce another calendar. With the help of my better half, who has painstakingly removed all the “arty” shots from my selection, and replaced them with photos that people might actually like, this year’s theme is Antarctica (just like the last one in 2014, but that went down pretty well, so why not).

I have neither the enthusiasm nor the optimism to try to do any kind of commercial deal these days, so sales are on a very limited level via local seasonal fairs and whatever. However I’m also setting aside a few for online sales, so if you are interested please let me know. They are professionally printed on a commercial digital press, not via some online service, and the print quality is pretty good (300gsm semigloss paper). The cost would be €20 + Swiss Post postage costs to be agreed.  Delivery will probably be around early December.

The photography is largely from December 2016, but one is from 2013, and two more from a lot longer ago. From a technical point of view most are Olympus E-M1 or Olympus E-5, with a couple of Sigma dp0 shots, and outliers are Kodachrome 64 via Canon FTb.

Well, it’s neither National Geographic nor Vincent Munier, but it was fun putting it together.

Calendar2019 1

Front cover and first two months

Calendar2019 2

Back cover and last two months

 

Carmencita Film Lab

let someone else do the work

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Saturday, October 27, 2018

I bought my first film scanner sometime in the late 1990s, a Minolta 35mm device. I upgraded to a higher resolution Microtek sometime later, and When I started using the Hasselblad XPan, I really wanted to be able to scan complete frames, so I eventually bought a Minolta medium format model. I used this until it became unreliable and unsupported by current operating systems, and replaced it with the Plustek Opticfilm 120 which I am using today. I started using Silverfast with the Minolta medium format scanner, so I’ve been using it continuously for well over 10 years. So, all in all, I’ve built up a reasonable level of experience, and possibly even expertise, in film scanning.

Apart from a few instances where I got scans for consumer film labs for quick test purposes, I have never outsourced scanning. One reason is the cost - for example, Procine in Switzerland change CHF 7.50 per frame for 120 format film (I guess this makes shooting 617 more economical…) so for a roll of 6x7 this means CHF 75. Add development and we’re practically a CHF 100, per film - scanned to 18Mb JPG (that’s pretty much $100). This is just nuts. In recent years some rather more realistic pricing has emerged from companies such as Richard Photo Lab in the US, and the quality and range of customer service seems pretty good too. However, I’m a little dubious about sending unexposed film to California.  So, when I came across Carmencita Film Lab in Spain offering a similar service, I decided to give them a go. To compare, they charged me €133 including courier delivery for 4 rolls of Portra 400, scanned to (roughly) 120Mb TIFF. It’s still far from cheap, but starting to get reasonable.

Carmencita Film Lab (CFL from now on) offer a range of scanning options. You can choose between Fuji Frontier and Noritsu scanners - I chose the Noritsu, as based on what I’ve read it offers a more neutral rendition with a little less baked-in contrast. I believe most people go with Fuji Frontier for Portra 400, but as long term readers here may have gathered, I’m not “most people”, and if there’s a less popular option, I’ll choose it. CFL also allow you to specify a “look”, but here I had no clue of either what I want or how to describe it (which may be a clue to the underlying reason why I’m not an Award-Winning Photographer). However after this first experiment I may now have a slightly better idea. CFL also recommend that in order to protect the film in transit you pad it with chocolate. I complied with this suggestion.

I accidentally sent my films by economy post, so they took a while to arrive, but once they did, CFL kept me informed of progress, and turnaround was quite fast. A few days later I received a email with a link to download the scans, and a week or so later Fedex delivered the negatives. So, now I can compare CFL scans with my own.

The four films were all shot in Calabria, in Parghelia and Pizzo, late last August. I have already published a selection of the CFL scans as a Photo Diary entry.

Cfl1

In this first screen grab, the CFL version is on the left, and my scan (Plustek 120, Siverfast with Portra 400 Negafix profile) on the right. We can see a fairly significant difference. This can be reduced by adjusting the white balance to be a little cooler, and with a tint shift towards green:

Cfl2

However, the overall colour palette is still quite different. Note the colour of the leftmost door, of the green window frames, and shaded paving stones. These are complex shifts. It is possible to get somewhat closer by playing around with HSL sliders in Lightroom, and certainly in Photoshop, but that isn’t really my intention. Another possibility would be to tune the Portra 400 Negafix profile in Silverfast to a closer match, but that’s getting into rocket science territory.

Another point of comparison is resolution and sharpness. The Plustek scans were done at 5300dpi with no sharpening, and then resampled to 50% in Photoshop. I’m not sure what the nominal resolution of the Noritsu is, but initially it looked a lot better. However, after dialling in some fairly heavy sharpening, the two ended up pretty well matched.

Cfl3

At pixel-peeping levels the Noritsu appears to show a degree of luminosity noise which is not so apparent in the Plustek scans. This may actually be grain exaggerated by heavy sharpening, but in any case, in isn’t obtrusive.

A second example shows a similar behaviour to the first: the CFL scan is considerably warmer, particularly in the shadows. As in the first example, the road and pavement surfaces are much warmer. However, the Silverfast interpretation gives more neutral grays in this area, in fact they are nearly perfectly neutral. Of course, maybe Portra 400 isn’t supposed to be neutral…

Cfl4

Again, it is relatively easy to dial out a large part of the difference with a white balance tweak, but an exact match would be tricky to deliver.

Cfl5

I have to say that I’m pleasantly surprised by the Noritsu scans. They hold up very well against the Plustek/Silverfast combination, which itself comes out quite well against the Hasselblad X5. In fact at a first glance they are better than the Plustek output, but it is clear that the Noritsu process applies some pretty heavy sharpening, which when applied to the Plustek scans evens things out considerably. Nevertheless, from a resolution point of view, I’m not so sure that the extra time required to make my own scans is worthwhile.

The colour is another matter though. Although the CFL scans are very attractive, I’m not entirely sure that they are what I want. Unfortunately, I do not have a grey card shot to compare, or indeed a reference shot on digital. I do have digital shots in Parghelia from the same days, but not really at the same time of day. I can however make some kind of rough comparison based on experience, and that tells me that the Silverfast Portra 400 profile is closer to a neutral white balance digital shot that the Noritsu.

Looking at the following pair, while the Noritsu version (left) is very attractive, my feeling - which is inevitably subjective - is that the Silverfast version on the right is more accurate and closer to what I actually want.

Cfl7

There are two factors at play here: one, the overall colour / white balance, and the second the response curve across the colour spectrum and tonal range. Let’s not forget we’re dealing with actual film here, not emulation, and the differences are due to how two different processes interpret the exposed negative film. There is a kind of “received view” of how Portra 400 is supposed to look, which has emerged over the past 3-4 years, exemplified by Johnny Patience’s published work and writings. CFL’s scans dial right into that look and do an extremely good job of delivering it. However, my reading of this look, which is reinforced by the client work that CFL publish, is that is very much driven by the wedding / portraiture market, where the combination of flattering skin tones and subdued saturation is very appealing.  It can work for other genres as well, but it has to be a conscious decision.

I think I will carry on with this experiment, because potentially it is very liberating. Probably I will ask for cooler shadows, although that might apply only to Portra 400, and the next film I am likely to send will be 160NS.  CFL TIFFs are delivered as 8-bit sRGB, which I fell is a bit restrictive. I would much prefer 16-bit ProPhoto RGB, or at a push, Adobe RGB. But that may be technically impossible.  The fact that the Plustek/Silverfast combination delivers me ProPhoto RGB at 16-bit may actually account for some of the differences, and may indicate that they are more “accurate” - whatever that means when discussion negative film. But certainly what Carmencita Film Lab deliver by default seems to be perfect for their main target market.

 

Antarktis, by Gerry Johansson

the great white beyond

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Wednesday, October 24, 2018

A few weeks ago I made a serious recurrent mistake: I read the regular newsletter sent out by the magnificent Beyond Words photobook retailer. Somehow or the other I ended up discovering “Antarktis”, by Swedish photographer Gerry Johansson, and immediately ordered it.

IMG 5192

I was not familiar with Gerry Johansson’s work. His website follows the standard Serious Artiste template, a minimalist white design devoid of any personality, with small type, a list of works and exhibits, no sense of engagement and of course the de-rigeur obtuse method for navigating image galleries - if indeed you can find the image galleries, they’re well hidden.  This of course opposed to Fine Art Photographer template which was copied from Squarespace and features a blog talking about Gear, along with photos of said Photog taken 20 years ago (I leave it to you to decide which category this website falls into).  Anyway, I’ve got sidetracked again, but this po-faced white websites are really starting to irritate me.

Having said all that, it is worth finding your way through Johansson’s website, because there is some seriously good work there. I have a feeling I’ve read about his “American Winter” book, it looks very tempting.

Back to “Antarktis”: in the foreword, Thorbjörn Andersson says “...his way of blending foreground and background makes the picture both a representative subject and a structure”. Also, the description at Beyond Words states “The series of photos eventuate in an unusual reality relevant perspective, and capture the astonishing non-distance relationship between physicality and nature”.  This isn’t hyperbole, it is absolutely accurate. These days the expectations of photography in Antarctica are of spectacular mountains, icebergs, treating skies, deep blue seas, and of course penguins. Johansson, thanks a grant from the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat, was able to venture into inland Antarctica, which has none of these things.

I’ve had the good fortune also to have travelled in inland Antarctica, and the sense of disorientation from a landscape with no familiar frame of reference, very little colour, and very few mid-tones, is extremely well captured in this photography. Some frames triggered such a sense of recognition of that strange ambience that it actually made me shiver.

IMG 5193

The photography is black and white, taken with a large format 8x10 camera, which in itself cannot have made life easy. One might expect a certain nod in the direction of polar photography pioneers like Ponting, but instead the approach is thoroughly modern. The standout impression is how in using architectural photography practises Johansson has been able to capture the complete loss of perspective which one often suffers from in this territory.

It might all sound very cold, in all senses of the word, but in fact it is far from that. Antarktis tells it as it is, no HDR, no contrast or saturation boost, but rather letting the utter strangeness of Antarctica speak for itself.

IMG 5194

You can buy Antarktis from Beyond Words, with whom I have absolutely no affiliation other than that of a very satisfied (and over-frequent) customer.

 

#13 Parghelia

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Wednesday, October 17, 2018

 

Uncompetitive spirit

although with right incentive…

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Monday, October 08, 2018

I’ve never been one for competition, of any kind. I prefer to do things my own way, to set my own goals, and not bother too much what other people are doing. This is not restricted to photography - I have the same attitude towards all forms of work and play. I certainly compete against myself, for example setting time or difficulty targets for mountain biking, but I really have little interest in fitting in with some set of restricted parameters to compete with others. The fact that I’m a miserable antisocial loner doesn’t help much, mind you. But when it comes to photography, and indeed all arts, I really, really do not get the idea of competing. How can we say that one person’s mode of self-expression is better than someone else’s ? It strikes me as being more harmful than anything else. Of course if you treat photography as a technical endeavour then it can work - prize for the razor-sharpest photo of nothing in particular, prize for the highest resolution brick wall, prize for the most slavish conformance to the Rule Of Thirds. Etcetera.

Which is all a long preamble to say I entered a competition. Not exactly National Geographic, but instead a competition run by my local bricks and mortar camera shop, Foto & Ottico Carpi of Bellizona (of which more below). The competition required a submission of just one photo, of an animal. Any animal. And the first prize is an Olympus E-M1 MkII, so not exactly nothing. Still, despite my having plenty of photos of animals (not that I’m any good at all at wildlife photography), I still dithered up until almost the last moment before sending in my entry.  You may be able to spot it in the screenshot below:

Screen Shot 2018 10 07 at 22 07 51

The quality of the entries to the competition has really taken me aback. This is a competition run by a small, if excellent, shop, in a small provincial town in one of the sleepiest parts of Switzerland, open only to subscribers to the shop’s mailing list. It just goes to show how many really excellent photographers there are, and that despite all the sneering about selfies and camera phones, there is still a very significant section of the public who take photography seriously. Of course, these could all be the shop owner under different pseudonyms :-).

I’m not sure when the winner will be announced, but I am sure it won’t be me.

Footnote:

Foto Carpi is a family business, run by the professional photographer Milo Carpi, located in the Main Street of Bellinzona, Ticino. They are an Olympus Pro dealer, Nikon as well I think, and also stock Sony, Leica, Panasonic, Sigma and a surprisingly good range of accessories. They even sell film. I got my last ever rolls of Ektachrome E100G there. They quite often run open days supported by the importers of their main brands. It’s really encouraging to see such a business managing to survive in these times, but the icing on the cake, and really surprising thing are their prices: I only really look at Olympus prices, so I can’t say for sure that this applies to all brands, but their Olympus prices consistently undercut even the lowest prices from Swiss internet box shifters. And this with personal service and advice, the security of being able to personally bring in any defective or damaged item, and a hotline to Olympus Switzerland. I try to give them as much of my business as I can.  And I often find excuses to stroll past their window display.

 

Photokina Fallout

GAStrology time again

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Wednesday, October 03, 2018

The recent avalanche of new camera announcements (albeit most of them vague promises for 2019) have once again stirred up doubt and Gear Acquisition Syndrome. As a committed and long term user of Micro Four Thirds, and Four Thirds before that, I might be wondering if all this rush towards “full frame” somehow invalidates my photography. It’s a stupid reaction, but not uncommon, and let’s face it, I’m just me against the relentless onslaught of marketing and Internet pseudo-peer pressure. Every telegraph pole out there has a raven perched on it, croaking “Micro Four Thirds is dead, nevermore!”.

I have to confess some of the offerings look tempting. The Nikon Z7 seems pretty nice in theory - I saw one in the flesh yesterday, alongside the Olympus E-M1.2 and Lumix G9 MFT cameras, and the Nikon looks about the same size as the Olympus and actually smaller than the Lumix, despite housing a sensor that’s twice the size. Then again, boy is that Nikon ugly! And not even in a quirky way.

The standard defence of MFT would be that the cameras and especially lenses are smaller and lighter. Well, although there are smaller and lighter variants in the MFT world, honestly if you want reasonably fast, weather sealed lenses, and a rugged body, in many cases you may wonder if the smaller, lighter bit starts to get a bit marginal.

I’m not so bothered, in general, about “image quality”, whatever that means. Generally any modern camera is good enough for everything except very special cases. But nevertheless, recently I have been starting to get frustrated with a certain lack of resolution of high frequency detail in the far distance. Close up, there’s no problem, the Olympus body/lens combinations can deliver all the resolution I’ll ever need. I can understand that MFT might impose too many limitations on, say, outdoor portrait or wedding photographers, but for my mixed urban/landscape stuff, generally it’s not the limiting factor. I rarely need to go over ISO 1600, indeed I’m not that often over 200, and I tend to be scaling for more depth of field, not less.

Anyway, to try to get a handle on the realities of the situation, I decided to make a small series of prints from Olympus files (all 16 Mpix) at the largest size my printer offers, A2. And, frankly, they worked out just fine. They stand up very well to high quality scans from 120 format film, and in some respects to Sigma Foveon files. Honestly, I can’t see me ever needing to print bigger - I have no actual use even for A2. If ever I did, I’m sure I can find professional printers who can go up to A1.

IMG 5179

A2 Prints from Olympus 16Mpix files

IMG 5180

Detail of above A2 Prints

I then started to think about a couple of future trips I have planned, which involve flights with very restricted weight limits. That’s when the apparently marginal weight advantage of MFT starts to kick in. For example, the marvellous 12-100 f/4 lens is practically on a par with any Olympus prime, even the f/1.2 series, and at a push could work as the sole lens for most trips. It weighs 560g, and with Dual IS offers unbelievable stabilisation. There is a 24-120 f/4 Nikon lens that weighs 710g and has less range (yes, I know all about depth of field, but for me this is at best irrelevant, at worst a downside). If we move up to the equally fabulous Olympus 40-150 f/2.8, which weighs 760g, then the closest Nikon I can find is the AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II, which weighs 1.5kg and is significantly more expensive and bigger. It’s at this longer end that the MFT weight advantage really kicks in. And if you’re willing to compromise a bit on aperture, then you can find very good MFT lenses that hardly register on the scales.

Certainly “full frame” sensors have an attraction and certain advantages in noise threshold, dynamic range, and resolution. But frankly, these advantages are often not much different from trivial. I’ll take the possibility of carrying an extra 150mm of focal length reach over a 0.5db increase in dynamic range.

Olympus didn’t announce ANYTHING at Photokina, which was another sign that the sky is falling on them, apparently. Well, it might not be the best news for Olympus, as new product drives sales (I suppose), but it’s fine by me: I’ve pretty much got everything I need - although that 300mm lens is sort of tempting. I don’t even have the latest body, the E-M1.2 - it doesn’t really offer me anything over my E-M5.2 or E-M1.1, and it’s noticeably bulkier. What I would like to see Olympus work on, personally, is a range of optically excellent medium aperture primes, along the lines of Leica Elmarits, and a high-end medium aperture medium zoom, within the 14-35mm range. But then again, the “low end” lenses they already offer in this range are really far from poor.

So, in summary, the grass is actually a perfectly nice hue of green on my side of the fence, and I’m sticking to it. I did vaguely hint at the one Photokina announcement that really did have me clutching my wallet: the L-Mount alliance. The thought of a full frame Sigma Foveon camera interchangeable with Leica and Panasonic bodies, all three taking each other’s lenses is really interesting news. Certainly not a solution for weight-constrained trips, but otherwise, I can see this paired with my Olympus kit as the ultimate solution - for me.

 

#12 Babo Hochhaus

 

#11 Industria B

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Tuesday, September 25, 2018

 

Silverfast open wishlist

do feel free to ignore me

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Thursday, September 20, 2018

Some time ago, I submitted a list of carefully thought out feature requests to the appropriate section in the Silverfast forum. This, being one of the most dysfunctional software product official fora I have ever seen, my post was not uncharacteristically ignored. I am used to Silverfast’s public facing support being as unbelievably incoherent as their software, and indeed direct customer support, is good, that I just accepted that my goodwill as a customer means zero to Silverfast / Lasersoft, and the time that I spent compiling the list equally so.

But anyway, in the hope that just possibly another route might work, I’ve finally decided to post a version here. After all, this is not a list of complaints, but rather observations from a heavy Silverfast user, and features I’d like to see implemented.

I have been using Silverfast constantly for over 15 years, and even if I have some criticisms, I am happy with it, and thankful that it exists to enable me to make faithfull scans of both negatives and slides. I’m a Silverfast fan - just, as the French say, “Qui aime bien châtie bien”.

Feature requests: Most of my suggestions pertain principally to Silverfast HDR, since I always use the seperate scan/process workflow, but some may also relate to Ai. So, here we go.

Sf8screen


Dear Silverfast,

1. Zooming


Please provide a more intuitive zoom mechanism, following general industry practices, e.g. as in Photoshop, and allows a numeric input ? Also, please provide generic 1:1 / HQ buttons outside of the processing tools, for example in the menu bar, so that these can be activated without enabling a processing tool.

The current Zoom tool is not really a zoom tool at all, more a toggle between a zoom level set elsewhere, and full image view. Therefore, the Zoom tool is only activated if the preview is in 1:1 or HQ mode (only achievable if one of the relevant tools such as USM or iSRD has been activated first), or if command-drag has been used to focus on an arbitrary rectangle. Command-Drag allows an arbitrary zoom of any given area (although it seems rather unstable), but the numeric value is known only after the zoom. Also it does not work if 1:1 or HQ is set first. Afterwards, the zoom tool is active, but only 2 settings - “zoom in” =1:1, “zoom out” = “fit in view”. To get to, say, exactly 200% is more or less impossible. Being able to zoom into an image to evaluate (e.g) sharpness is a key part of the editing process, and until Silverfast HDR offers this, it will never offer a complete solution.

2. Frame cropping


I would recommend making the ability to rotate frames a bit more obvious. The purpose of the handles is not well revealed by the closed hand pointer; a rotate icon would be better. Also, a levelling tool would be nice to have, as would be the ability to constrain cropping to a set ratio, or the existing ratio by, e.g., Shift+drag (although then the shift+click shortcut for the colour sampler would have to change)

3. Startup / Utility screen


It really isn’t clear why needs to be shown at startup, in particular in SF HDR. There is no scanner choice required, so why put up this blocking modal dialog ? It should instead be possible to open the ultility screen from the Help Menu, similarly, if I remember correctly, to SF 6. The problem is the current mechanism prevents opening images directly in SF 8. Say, for example, I have my scans organised in an external DAM application, such as Photo Supreme, which allows me to maintain permanent catalogs. From there I can open, e.g., a TIFF in Photoshop in one click, but I cannot open an HDR-TIFF in SF HDR because of this blocking dialog.

Even better would be to be able send a series of images from the external application to the Job Manager. This is not a criticism of VLT. VLT is a good basic management tool and has its place in my workflow, but it cannot create catalogs, and it is not practical for managing 1000s of scans. As far as I know, Lasersoft is not competing in the DAM software market, so what reason could there be to
not play nice with these applications?
So, please could you consider changing how the service dialog is accessed ? It would massively improve usability within a full-system workflow (And maybe not only just in HDR, although in SF-scan it is less of an issue)

4. Multiple frame selection


Multiple frame selection for film scanners. This might sound strange, but here is a use case: to scan panoramic format 35mm frames on Plustek 120, I use the Plustek-recommended method of inserting the 35mm filmstrip holder but telling Silverfast that it is a 6x9 holder. Then I can preview and set a frame on the 24x66 area. However I can load two 24x66 strips in the 35mm holder, so it would be very useful if I could then set two frames in Silverfast, as I would be able to do on a flatbed scanner. Of course, I do know that you can “queue” scans in Silverfast (set the frame, start scan, set another frame, and click scan again, it will process the second when the first has finished), but that is a feature you discover by accident, and it gives no feedback whatsoever.

5. UI stuff


- remove the IT8 button from the vertical tool bar. Since it is more of a configuration task, and in particularly in Silverfast HDR is a very specialist tool indeed, it really doesn’t belong there and is far too easy to click by accident.

- a “percentage” option in the Image Dimensions / Output options would be extremely useful.

Allow the auto-frame tool to redefine an existing frame, rather than wipe out the already set filename.

Add a colour picker (similar to the midPiP tool) to the (excellent) global colour correction tool to enable increased selection accuracy.

A configurable high/low clipping indicator would be nice too. Just about every other application has this.

Specific to VLT



- Make VLT Thumbnails update based on HDR/HDRi saved settings - including rotation.

- Make it possible to start Job Manager when in VLT mode.

- Allow deletion of files from VLT browser



Finally: I’m not here to tell Lasersoft how to run their company. My only wish is that they survive and continue to support the current product portfolio. However, I would observe that they are dramatically missing an opportunity in not fully engaging with the #FilmsNotDead movement. For a start, modernising and opening up the Silverfast forum to become the reference place to visit for expert and user to user advice on film scanning would I believe generate significant benefits for Silverfast. This would also mean opening up user to user discussion of competing products, and to be tolerant of reasonable amounts of criticism, even when it is unfair. Appointing moderators from the community can help, so that Silverfast employees do have to engage directly. This is not a revolutionary idea: it’s 2018, but the Silverfast forum is stuck in a 1998 mindset. I cannot see how getting free feedback and input from paying, engaged customers, channeled through product management could have a downside.

(Postscript: I note that Silverfast is inviting visitors to see them at Photokina. I guess to speak to a rep they'll have to line up for a ticket, get the ticket approved by a booth moderator, wait for a reply, get a ticket to reply to the reply, and so forth. Should be fun.)
 

The Hasselblad XPan - a very long term review

better late than never

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Tuesday, September 11, 2018

I acquired my first Hasselblad XPan in the spring of 2000. So maybe it’s about time to write a few words about it.

Drm 20180818 EM580047

My interest in so-called panoramic photography began in the mid-1990s, when I was professionally involved in the emerging multimedia world. In particular I adopted very early versions of Apple’s QuickTime VR technology to generate immersive walkthroughs of various scenes. As time was generally limited, initially I used an Apple QuickTake 200 camera to generate content (640Kpx images, approximately 30 per set of 4 very expensive lithium AA batteries), then experimented with Polaroid instant slide film. At some point I realised that it could be interesting to unwrap the 360 QTVR files to create widescreen stills. I used these in creating a couple of CD sleeves, which was a sideline of mine at the time, and in personal work. So when the Hasselblad XPan appeared on the scene in late 1998, I was fully primed.

Xpan ir2001 02

2000: Lago di Lugano, infrared.

It was another year or so before I could actually afford it, but by then end of 2000 I had the camera and all three lenses, and took them with me on a 5 week trek around New Zealand - which later turned out to be the spiritual home of the XPan :-).

The same kit travelled with me to Canada and the USA, to Spain, Iceland, Ireland, Greece and Italy, before finally setting off on a tour of Svalbard by yacht in 2010. A couple of days into the trip, when distracted from photography by a storm, I inadvertently left the camera in the inflatable dinghy lashed to the deck. Several hours later it was discovered submerged in a puddle of salt water. And that was game over for XPan number one.

Xpan nz rs10 006

2001: New Zealand

There was no way I was going to be without an XPan though, and I was lucky to find an unused XPan II for a reasonable price, in fact under $1’000 once I traded in my little used Fuji GS670. Fortunately this was before XPan prices passed ‘stupid’ level and reached ‘absurd’. The XPan II carried on where it’s predecessor left off, and has visited Iceland, Norway, Patagonia, Antarctica and various places around Europe. It had a bit of a rest in 2016, where it got a bit eclipsed by my Linhof 612 obsession, but this year it has regained favour.

So, that was a long intro, but it shows that I should be in a position to write a long term user review of both versions of the XPan.

Snhg ref 55

2002: Andalucia

Xpan ch2003 10 01

2003: Switzerland

First though let’s clear up a few things. The camera was fully designed and built by Fujifilm in Japan. For some reason Fuji felt that it was not commercially viable under their name alone, so they sought an international marketing partner. Reportedly it was first offered to Leica, who turned it down: just as well, otherwise the red dot tax would have made it unaffordable. Hasselblad said yes, and turned it into a marketing success. Far fewer people know what a “Fuji TX-1” is than recognise “Hasselblad XPan”. It is said that the lens designs were specified and quality controlled by Hasselblad, but this seems hard to believe. Fuji was, and remains, a top tier lens designer and manufacturer. Hasselblad has never built a lens in-house. In any case, Hasselblad XPans were delivered with quality control certificates from both Fuji and Hasselblad, and all of the system components were stamped “Made in Japan”. Possibly the TX cameras did not come with the esoteric and little used Hasselblad tripod plate. In any case, it was a successful partnership, which was later extended with the H-1 camera and lenses.

Xpan iceland25 04

2004: Iceland

Basic specifications are very well known, but let’s summarise them anyway. The XPan is a coupled rangefinder camera with a large, clear finder with framelines for 45mm and 90mm lenses. The body is made of aluminium with a magnesium skin, which is a bit prone to scuffing and paint flaking (it doesn’t matter). It has a fully electronic metal shutter with controlled speeds from (remarkably) 8 seconds to 1/1000th. Using the bulb setting exposures up to 30 seconds (early XPan I), 270 seconds (later and updated XPan I) or 540 seconds (XPan II) can be made. Note though that since the shutter is electronic, holding it open for long exposures is bad news for the batteries. It has an LCD panel on the back which displays exposure info, and provides access to several settings. On the top plate there is a small LCD panel which shows remaing frames and the mode (panoramic or normal). So far this applies to both version I and version II, but from now on there is some divergence.

Xpan eolie 210509 7

2005: Vulcano

A criticism of the XPan I was that did not show exposure information in the viewfinder. The only display was a set of LEDs showing under- or over-exposure. A particular complaint I had is that it did not show any indication that exposure compensation was set. This was fully addressed in the XPan II, but a high price was paid. Both versions support DX-encoding for setting ISO, but on the XPan I, a lockable dial on the front panel allows this to be over-ridden manually. A dial on the top plate, integrated with the on-off-mode switch, allows up to 2 stops of exposure compensation to be set. The XPan II loses all of this. The front dial disappears altogether, and the top plate loses the exposure compensation dial. It all looks rather bare - all that remains, apart from the exposure dial, is the switch with off, single shot, continuous shot (1 frame per second) and timer positions. The exposure compensation and ISO have to be set using the LCD panel and its very fiddly buttons, and this is really no fun even in good conditions. In the cold it is a nightmare. In exchange, you get a very clear film speed display in the viewfinder. And an extra $1000 or so on used prices. The only other difference is that the XPan II supports a custom electronic cable release, if you can find one. But you can also use a standard threaded mechanical cable, so, whatever.

Toscana06 12

2006: Tuscany

The exposure dial includes the setting for aperture priority. I have always found the upper-biased, center-weighted metering to be very accurate, and therefore aperture priority works well. Note that the metering seems to be biased towards landscape photography with slide film. With negative film it may be a good idea to dial in an extra stop, or to compensate using the ISO setting. The meter reads down to the 4EV, which I’ve always found to be a little restricting - a little more sensitivity would have been nice, especially given the up to 8 sec timed shutter release.

Xpan ticino01 08

2007: Switzerland

Returning to the back panel, there is a recessed button to rewind the film before it reaches the end, and a backlight to illuminate both LCDs. Settings include a rewind mode which leaves the film leader out, which is very useful for those doing their own development, or for changing film mid-roll (if you remember the frame count you can reload it and advance over exposed frames in manual mode with the lens cap on). Note, the very first batch of XPan Is, with long shutter speed restricted to 30 seconds, had an issue with fogging infrared film. The Xpan II was advertised as fixing this issue, but in fact the later batches of XPan Is did not show it either. Personally I only used IR film in the XPan in 2000-2001. I don’t remember getting any good shots, but I never had any issues with fogging.

Ice0803 sunlit mountain2

2008: Iceland

The XPan is very pleasant to handle. It is well balanced with all three lenses, and the shutter button has just the right half/full pressure resistance. The viewfinder is gorgeous and the rangefinder patch easy to see, although as often as not I preset focussing at hyperlocal distances. I’ve always had the impression that the 30mm viewfinder is polarised, but I guess at that angle of view it can’t be. Nevertheless, the world actually looks better through the 30mm viewfinder than in real life! The body viewfinder framelines change with lens, with mode /standard, panoramic), and adjust for parallax. The 30mm viewfinder is fixed, but it has frameline notches to indicate the standard frame size. The XPan II handling is slightly improved by the viewfinder display, but with the already discussed tradeoffs. The lens focus rings are silky smooth and nicely weighted, and the aperture rings are firm and precise. However only full stop steps are possible. Generally the XPan is a real “feel good” camera to use. It can get a bit heavy if you carry it around all day with a full set of lenses, it is solid metal after all, but nothing too dramatic.

Krossfjorden

2010: Svalbard

Many XPan owners have a preference for a particular lens, usually the 45mm or 30mm. I’m more equal opportunities - I find all 3 lenses to be excellent, and of the three I actually prefer the 90mm for landscape use, although I’ll admit that for street it is less adapted. I’ve owned two copies of the 30mm lens, and both have come down with so-called “Schneideritis” even though it is not a Schneider lens. Possibly there is a related Fujinonitis strain. My first one was replaced (somewhat reluctantly) by Hasselblad for this very reason. The replacement soon came down with the same symptoms. However, there is absolutely no impact on the optical behaviour of the lens, and it doesn’t seem too be contagious, so I just ignore it. Another blight to strike the 30mm lens, or rather its viewfinder, is the bubble level drying up. This is annoying, but it seems quite common. I have contacted the French Hasselblad specialists “Les Victor” about a repair, apparently they can fix it at a reasonable price.

Stromboli

2011: Stromboli

One of the first issues to hit XPan users is of course, how to actually deal with the output. In the early days, Hasselblad (I suppose) promoted the format to a network of labs which could print the panoramic format, and supplied sheets of special stickers in the camera box which could be fixed to the film canisters to indicate to the lab that they contained XPan frames. I know I had my first XPan roll lab printed, probably by Jessops pro shop in Oxford Street, London, where I bought it, and probably on the day I bought it. But from then on, pretty much it has been the hybrid route for me: lab developing, home scanning, home printing. I don’t think I’ve ever shot a roll of traditional black and white film in the XPan, only colour negative, colour positive and Scala. Maybe a few rolls of Polaroid instant film too.

Xpan breggia051212 006

2012: Switzerland

To start with, scanning XPan film at home was tricky. Unless you were basically a millionaire, there were no film scanners that could take anything other than standard 35mm frames, and flatbed scanners outside of the unattainable Linotype-Hell or Scitex were hopeless. So initially, using a Microtek 4000 scanner, I painstakingly scanned each frame in two halves, and merged them in Photoshop. Even with a high end Mac, this was tedious. So the barriers to entry were actually pretty high, and the XPan was very much considered a professional’s camera. Gradually things got easier. Just about affordable Medium Format desktop scanners emergec from companies such as Polaroid, Microtek, Nikon and Minolta, several of which specifically handled 35mm panoramic format, and I eventually settled on a Minolta MultiScan Pro which lasted me over 10 years. When after these years of service it started getting troublesome, I finally replaced it with a Plustek Opticfilm 120, which has been efficiently devouring both XPan and medium format film ever since. I thoroughly recommend this scanner, by the way.

Xpan antarctica06 06

2013: Antarctica

It’s been a long journey with this camera, and although the current valuation (based on eBay) sometimes makes be think of selling it and using the proceeds to buy a small island, I’m not done with it yet. After all, I’m still waiting for my rolls of Film Ferrania slide film, not to mention new Ektachrome, to put through it. As an aside, Ektachrome 100G was the film that really made the XPan sing for me. At present I have to use Provia 100F, not a great hardship, but back in the days when there was choice, it wasn’t always the film I reached for.

Xpan sardegna1409 02 09

2014: Sardinia

Xpan norway1506 2 07

2015: Norway

So, should you buy an XPan today? Frankly, at eBay prices, no. It’s not worth it. The camera has crossed the border from “working tool” to “sought-after collectible”. Get a Fuji GSW690 and crop. Or use a digital camera with suitable framing, such as the Sigma dp0 (my candidate for the “digital XPan”). So far, fingers crossed, unlike several other electronic film cameras, the XPan is not displaying any chronic failures that I know of, but they will come, and it will not be repairable. So paying crazy money like $6000 - $7000 for a so-called pristine model on eBay is very unadvisable in my opinion, not to mention well over $1000 for a non-working body. In particular the markup on XPan II bodies is absolutely not justified from any photographic point of view.

If you do find one which is more realistically priced because it isn’t collector-pristine, bear in mind that any XPan body actually used for photography will inevitably acquire scuff marks and paint chips, and this is not an indication of over-heavy use. Although note, the extreme beaters you sometimes see on eBay do surprise me. My camera is not mollycoddled at all, so to get it in the beaten up condition of some I’ve seen must take real dedication. Having said that, I do remember in 2004 seen an XPan belonging to US landscape photographer Steve Kossack practically stripped of paint, so I guess it is feasible.

Xpan variochrome2 06

2017: Switzerland

Up to a few years ago you could still buy good used models with a warranty through reputable second hand dealers, but that supply seems to have dried up. Who is going to trade in their camera to a dealer for maybe $1000 when $3000 on eBay is now considered “cheap”?

Passion

2018: Calabria

The XPan has acquired mythological status. Personally, to a great extent, it defines me as a photographer, but that’s because of circumstances. I happened to be in the right place at the right time, with adequate cash, to get in at the ground floor. But it is only a camera. Today, there are other paths to follow, and plenty of other ways to pursue “widescreen” photography. If you happen to come across an XPan in fair condition with no bits missing for under $2000, then go for it. Otherwise, be sure you know what you’re getting into!

Drm 20180818 EM580048

More of my XPan photography:

More XPan reading:

 

#10 Industria A

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Sunday, September 09, 2018

 

RIP Media Pro (1995-2018)

phased out

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Last week I received a very unwelcome email from Phase One, current owners of the venerable MediaPro DAM application, announcing their decision to discontinue the product.

Mediaprose

This isn’t really a big surprise, but it reflects very badly on Phase One as a company. They took over MediaPro from Microsoft in May 2010. I suppose their idea was to bolt it on the Capture One in some way, so as to have a more complete competitor to Lightroom and Aperture. In the event, some Media Pro concepts and design concepts have made their way in Capture One, but they didn’t need to buy the product for that. I doubt that they recruited any developers along with the acquisition, as the original team was hired by Microsoft when they took it over in 2006, and since almost no further development was done, probably that team dispersed.

It is a massive compliment to the original developers that MediaPro could still be a valid tool, and indeed in many ways a benchmark, after about 15 years of almost total neglect. It had a few pointless corporate make-overs, and the catalogue size limit was raised, but apart from that, zilch, apart from the (usually late) integration of the Capture One rendering engine.  Indeed, on the Mac some menu items are unchanged since pre OS-X days. And yet it is still elegant and very effective.

The problem appears to be that, unsurprisingly, the codebase is now completely obsolete, and will soon stop working at least on new macOS releases.  But this is nothing new: if Phase One had done a little due diligence back in 2o10 they would already have known this. The best case scenario is that they failed to do so, and hence were incompetent. The alternative is that they knew damn well it was heading for a cliff, did nothing, and milked whatever remaining customer base there was for all they could until finally they could pretend no longer.  The last full release, the grandly named Media Pro Second Edition, brought precisely nothing to the table, apart from a standard Phase One inflated price tag.

Their proposal now is that users switch to Capture One, which as a DAM, has far less functionality, and is frankly a joke compared to MediaPro for cataloging.  They are not even offering a discounted, or (gasp) free CaptureOne license as an apology. They are basically saying “thanks for your money, now fuck off”, or some Danish variant thereof.

Well, frankly, that seems to be par for the course for PhaseOne. I will certainly not be a customer of theirs any longer.  Their hardware is obviously out of my league, and their CaptureOne software is actually nothing special, and is ridiculously overpriced. Sadly a lot of people fall for the garish, overblown default look that CaptureOne applies to Raw files, and then get sucked in to its clumsy gasworks of a user interface and terrible catalog performance. Yes, it can all be dialled down, but side by side I’ve never seen anything that Capture One can do that Lightroom cannot do equally well or better.

But in any case, their behaviour with MediaPro shows just how much contempt they have for their non-megabucks spending customers.

I will be migrating to PhotoSupreme from MediaPro.  In many ways it is not as elegant, but it has a lot more functionality, and as far as I can see, the best alternative on macOS.


Iview2000

The iView website, back in 2000. Interesting that it was already available in Danish…

 

Film, digital ... or photography?

Indecisive Dave

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Sunday, August 19, 2018

I’m afraid this is going to be a bit of an unstructured ramble. Basically I’m just taking to myself: because I’m thinking about finally cutting the cord and giving up film. And then again, maybe not. I’ve changed my mind at least three times since I started writing this post.

Drm 20180818 EM580046

Analog or Digital? Coffee, or convenience?

I’ve been using film since I started taking photographs, which was A Very Long Time ago, and although I have fully embraced digital photography, I have always owned film cameras, and at present I own quite a lot. In the last two years or so, in terms of time (and indeed money) invested, I’ve spent much more on film than digital. Could it finally be time to stop?

For me the choice between film and digital is largely emotional. To some extent those emotions are directly related to the end result: for example, the initial impact of a slide frame on a light table is much more visceral than that of a Raw digital file displayed on a computer screen. But otherwise they are mainly secondary things like nostalgia, or an appreciation of fine mechanics. More specifically I’d be sad to give up my Hasselblad XPan, which has been a companion on countless adventures for nearly 20 years, but then again, I’m beginning to feel it is dragging me down.

Film and digital have very different workflows. With film, it mostly happens in the camera, especially when the camera is fully mechanical. There’s plenty to get right which can’t be fixed later, and even when this stuff becomes second nature, it never becomes trivial. You choose your film, you set the exposure, and you’re pretty much committed. With digital, on the other hand, the work tends to start after the capture. There is so much latitude for change that it is dangerously easy to lose sight of any initial intention. Of course the distinction isn’t that clear: with film, the whole clunky process of scanning is a huge time-sink, and with digital, if you’re brave, you can go the JPG route and do everything in-camera.

Film is expensive. The cost of the actual film itself is constantly increasing, as is that of lab processing (I won’t find time in this life to do my own processing - although more on that later). The availability of film stock is still decreasing, especially the kind I like. Of course there are hundreds of minor variations of the same black and white film on the market, but that’s not my thing. Good film scanners are expensive are approaching extinction. And although you can certainly pick up a good used 35mm SLR for not very much, the kind of camera that makes using film worthwhile in 2018 is still actually pretty expensive. And when you buy it it will break down and nobody can fix it.

Of course digital is expensive as well. In fact it can easily become unreachable (although film holds its own if you consider the price of an Hasselblad X5 film scanner). And digital still pushes you towards the upgrade treadmill. And in terms of process, digital proposes the double-edged blade of near-endless processing choice.

It is so easy to get lost in these discussions which superficially appear to be philosophical but basically are just about the old demon gear. That demon which is dedicated to distract and prevent you from actually achieving anything photographically interesting. I’m feeling weighed down with gear, weighed down with choices, endlessly trying things out and testing approaches but never actually defining and realising an artistic objective. On the other hand I’m inspired by my Linhof 612, I’m emotionally connected to my Hasselblad XPan, and I think the frames my Bessa 667 produces are awesome. But then again, when I switch personalities and pick up my Olympus E-M5 I feel pretty happy with that, too.

Although do I? Actually it depends. For the urban landscape stuff I do, I really cannot complain at all. Yes, out of the box Portra 400 from the Bessa 667 is prettier, but, one, I can tweak Olympus files to something quite close enough to Portra, and, two, the Bessa 667 is fine until you want a focal length different to 50mm equivalent. However for classic landscape the Olympus files have some clear limitations. Far field objects tend to turn to mush, and the whole image can have a faintly plasticky field. This impression has actually been confirmed to me by several professional photographers I know who use Olympus. The system has many attractions, but also some drawbacks, and while you can most certainly use it to take excellent landscape photographs, if you have the artistic ability (which I’m not claiming I do), it isn’t perhaps the ideal choice.

I’ve tried to find a workaround to this by supplementing my Olympus with Sigma Foveon cameras, but astonishing as they can be in their ideal environment, that ideal environment is very, very restricted. And the lenses for the sd Quattro cameras are very heavy and bulky, albeit excellent. On the other hand, as objects, Sigma cameras are absolutely beautifully made, and the menu system is also the best I’ve seen.

The thing is, I don’t really have a need for film. I like using it, I like the way it looks, but there nothing enabling for me about film. My main, indeed only reason for persisting with film from around 2003 to 2013 was that I needed it to put in the XPan. But then I started expanding my repertoire a bit. And now I’ve maybe expanded it too much. Experimenting isn’t a bad thing, but there’s a thing line between experimenting and just f***ing around, and I’m afraid I crossed it some time ago.

And then again. My eyes keep getting drawn back again to recent shots I’ve taken with Provia 100F and Pro 160NS, and then, to others taken with the Olympus. And impressive as the Olympus shots are - and frankly, whatever Micro Four Thirds keyboard warrior detractors may say, they are impressive - there is something lacking. Of course, it could be as much down to medium format lenses as the films, but more probably it is a combination of both. Also looking around a bit, personally I find the film-only landscape work of Jake Horn to be a pretty convincing argument, as is my friend Jean Heintz’s view on film.

Then there’s the tempting idea that it is possible to replicate the colour of film in digital. I’ve had reasonable success with things like modified VCSO presets, and Exposure X3, and I’m trying out Mastin Labs’ products, but even if these were fully successful in replicating film, which, frankly, they’re not, quite, they still can’t make a digital Micro Four Thirds camera draw like a 6x7 Medium Format film camera. And to be fair, the reverse also applies, which let’s not forget, was a strong reason why so many scrambled to abandon film the moment that digital became affordable.

Trying to sift some clarity from my ramblings, What I think I’m tangentially approach is a wish for an interchangeable-lens camera that provides significantly more detail than the Olympus, gives me the lucid transparency and smooth, subtle tones of Medium Format Portra or Provia, is not too heavy or bulky, and is, within reason, affordable. It also needs to avoid over-complexity and feature glut - really all I need is aperture, speed, sensitivity and autofocus. I don’t need movies, I don’t need more than 1 frame per second - if not per minute. And then I want it to last forever, and keep me from being distracted by new toys. Until quite recently I really don’t think there was anything on the market that met that description. Now, in the digital world, there are maybe two candidates. Well, possibly only one. In the film world, an outsider might be the Pentax 645, a camera I’ve always admired from a distance, but it is heavy and bulky. If I forego autofocus, I guess there is the Hasselblad V series (again, I’ve often day dreamed about a 503cw), or at a stretch the Mamiya 7. All of these three of course are significantly different formats.

But what I really want is to escape from this endless chasing after gear and get down to doing some photography that really satisfies me. And for that, I really, really need to come down on one side or the other. I’m not actually labouring under any illusions that I will produce anything of any artistic or creative merit - I haven’t done so far, and after 30 years of trying, I doubt that will change - but at least I’d be enjoying myself.


** on film processing: actually, I may well end up dabbling in this. I backed the Ars Imago Film Box on Kickstarter, and unlike most of everything else I’ve backed (FilmLab, Ferrania…) it might actually deliver. There is also the intriguing Filmomat, but it is very expensive, and finally, the people behind the (late, undelivered) Kickstarter Reflex film camera claim they are going to produce an automated home C41/E6 processing lab for $500. I’m afraid I’m very skeptical, but that would shift some parameters…

 

Jake Horn

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Thursday, August 16, 2018

Jake Horn

 

New Favourite Film

green is the colour

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Friday, July 20, 2018

I think I have a new favourite film. I was tipped off about by Alex Burke, in his excellent eBook, Film in a Digital Age. It’s called Fuji Pro 160NS.

I was only very, very vaguely aware of this film. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever used Fuji negative film before, ever. I’m strictly Kodak. I’ve just gone back to check what Alex Burke writes about Pro 160: “as with Portra, it has an incredible dynamic range but I felt it to be a tad more contrasty and colorful”, and “this film is all about the greens. Many people say that the Kodak negative films are more for red hues and the Fuji 160NS is about greens”. From my experience so far I completely agree with both statements. Kodak Ektar certainly likes reds - in fact it makes everything red. And indeed, my first impression was of a less washed out Portra, but without the shrill vibrance of Ektar.

Pro160 vlt

My first roll of Fuji Pro 160NS, freshly scanned

The results look fantastic to me, straight out of the scanner. The two examples below were scanned in Silverfast using the Fuji Pro 160S 6x6 Negafix profile, otherwise totally un-retouched.

B667 2018 03 01
B667 2018 03 10 2

All shot on Voigtländer Bessa III 667.

 

SRDx Photoshop plugin

A short review of Silverfast’s spinoff

SRDx is a Photoshop plug-in promising to be “new standard for
Dust and Scratch Removal”. It is fact derived from the SRDx feature included in the Silverfast scanning application produced by Lasersoft AG. As a plug-in SRDx is being marketed separately through its dedicated website.

Srdx

Silverfast also offers iSRD for scanners which include infrared channel output. This provides an effective way to remove the majority of dust and scratches from scans (although the patching itself is not perfect). But for some film types, in particular black & white negatives and Kodachrome, this doesn’t work. SRDx uses some form of contrast detection coupled with a proprietary algorithm to detect dark or light defects. Back in The Old Days (i.e last century) there were a number of such Dust and Scratch removal plug-ins, in particular one from Polaroid. They didn’t work very well, and neither did (or does) Photoshops’s own filter, which is a very blunt tool. However, Photoshops current manual healing tools are very good, so what can SRDx offer ?

Well, in a word, automation. SRDx is actually fast, flexible and effective. I have a large hoard of Kodachrome slides, and every few years or so I try once again to revive some of them.  Many years ago I stored them very carelessly (I had no idea at the time) and they have been infected by fungus and are often very dusty. Sadly SRDx can’t do a lot about the fungus - although in some cases it has helped - but it can make short work of other imperfections.

Here’s an example. The first image is of a complete Kodachrome scan opened in the SRDx plug-in in Photoshop. It presents a simple, clear User Interface.

Srd full

SRDx automatically detects imperfections, and marks them (by default) in red. It has several tools for manual adjustment, including a brush for marking undetected defects, and iteratively strengthening the effect, an eraser for zapping false detection, a mask tool for adjusting area for consideration. The automatic detection can be fine-tuned using the detection intensity and tile size sliders. Settings can also be saved as presets.  So, it is simple, but quite comprehensive. The view can be switched between Original / Mark / Optimised. An example at 100% is shown below:

Screen Shot 2018 07 20 at 11 56 22
Srd mark

Srd correct

As mentioned, SRDx is also available within Silverfast & Silverfast HDR, but there I find it a lot less useful. Since Silverfast works with by default previews, for SRDx to work you first need to make an “HQ Preview”, which is Silverfast Marketingspeak for a full scan. You then have to wait while it applies all its processing, which for a medium format high resolution scan can take forever. In such a scenario SRDx is an exercise in frustration and essentially useless. It isn’t that much better in Silverfast HDR. On the other hand, in Photoshop, it is very fast. Finally the patching is also better in the plug-in version.

The masking took is useful but it would appear that despite the fact that you can name the mask (in Silverfast you have to), in fact you can only have one mask. Also, for some reason, in the Windows version masking is not included. This would be a major issuer are if I was a Windows user.

In conclusion then: 15 or 20 years ago this would have been a no-brainer. Lasersoft AG have taking SRDx out of its constraining environment in Silverfast and given it a new role. This enables a much faster workflow. If, like me, you have a lot of non-Infrared compatible film to scan and clean, SRDx is a considerable timesaver and recommended. At least the Mac version. At €49 it is reasonably priced, much more so than the initial €99 which was ambitious even by Lasersoft’s standards. For Windows, due to the mask issue, personally I would not recommend it. From time to time Lasersoft offer special pricing - I had an offer last year at €20 which I missed out on. At that price I’d say go for it, on both platforms.

SRDx doesn’t work miracles but it is pretty good - better than I expected in fact - and if you have a need for it, it is worth the price. Unfortunately for Lasersoft, I suspect the market is small, and getting smaller. But I wish them good luck with this initiative.

 

#9 L’Autre Part

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Wednesday, July 18, 2018

 

#8 MicroClimate

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Wednesday, June 20, 2018

 

A catalog for Sigma Files

Just some geeky tech stuff…

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Saturday, June 16, 2018

As a long term user of Sigma fixed-lens cameras (I was going to say “compact” but then glanced at the dp0 Quattro on my desk) one of the most frustrating things is the difficulty with browsing photos on disk. Sigma’s Raw formats are read by very few applications, and although Quattro cameras now support DNG, which makes life easier, this comes with the drawback of not being able to use Sigma Photo Pro (SPP) for raw processing. Many would say that was a plus, but in my opinion, the combined effect of the latest version of Adobe Lightroom’s poor rendering of the DNGs, and the big step forward Sigma have taken with Photo Pro v6.6 sways the balance towards proprietary X3F files. Honestly, if you’re going to go to all the trouble involved in using a Sigma camera, it seems pretty nuts to settle for arguably sub-optimal output.

So, I needed a solution. SPP’s file browser is truly dreadful. It has no facility for marking folders as favourites, it cannot peek inside a folder to see if it has no Sigma Raw files and thus exclude it, it has no standard metadata features, etc etc. It’s a real pain.

There aren’t many alternatives: my standard tool for cataloging outside of Lightroom is MediaPro, which I use for mainly for film scans these days, but in the past I used for everything. I’ve probably been using it in various incarnations for 20 years or more. The last significant update to MediaPro was under its original owner, iView, to version 3. That was in 2004 if I remember correctly. Since then it has been owned by Microsoft, then PhaseOne, and has benefited from almost no functional development. PhaseOne’s last effort, “MediaPro SE” brought only OS compatibility (supposedly) and alignment with CaptureOne.  MediaPro SE still has quaint menu items such as “Backup to CD-ROM”. So, the chances of MediaPro supporting X3F files are in the snowstorm in hell category.

But there is one last chance: iDimager Systems PhotoSupreme (PSU). I’ve been trying to get to grips with PSU for a while. Generally I found it a very frustrating experience. PSU has a bizarre User Interface, at least for one coming to it from an application like MediaPro, or indeed Lightroom. For me Version 3 was also alarmingly unstable - you do not want an application that you invest a lot of effort into to trash it’s database too often - and at times extremely sluggish. But it could read X3F files and extract the embedded JPG. And it had a lot of other promising but infuriating features. Nevertheless MediaPro was still more elegant and intuitive, after all the years of neglect. So I set PSU aside and struggled on with SPP’s browser.

Then came PSU Version 4. I was dubious at first, the upgrade price of some $100 seemed pretty steep, and I wasn’t that optimistic. But eventually I took the plunge, and so far, it’s working out pretty well.  With PSU, I can now import X3F files, catalog them, organise them, smoothly review in anything up to full screen, and compare several files using the Light Table. What’s more, with one click I can send them directly to Sigma Photo Pro. And after I process them in SPP, I can import the TIFs into PSU and bind them with their source X3F into Version Sets (basically what Lightroom calls Stacks, only more like Aperture’s stacks, without Lightroom’s bone-headed limitations). 

Here are a few screenshots to illustrate the various steps:

Photosupreme2a

A selection of X3F thumbnails in PhotoSupreme

Photosupreme3

X3F thumbnails shown in PhotoSupreme’s Light table mode

Photosupreme5

Full size image shown in PhotoSupreme

Photosupreme2b

Sigma Photo Pro in PSU - click to open the selected image in SPP

Photosupreme1

selected image in Sigma Photo Pro

Photosupreme6

Stacked / Versioned X3F and SPP-exported TIFF in PSU

PSU Version 4 also has a reworked UI, which makes it considerably easier to get to grips with its modus operandi. It still has some rough edges though, and the developer (iDimager Systems is a one-man show, as far as I know) would do well to hire a User Experience consultant. Although to be fair probably that would not be commercially realistic. But all in all it works, and it has some very nice features, apart from the powerful Versions concept. For example, it can apply quite impressive approximate renderings to Raw files processed in Lightroom, CaptureOne and DxO PhotoLab. On the downside, it really is very inadequately documented.

But in any case, for me at least it is a really liberating experience to be able to use extensive Digital Asset Management tools on my Sigma X3F Raw files. I very much work with sets of photos, not individual shots, and the editing process (in the traditional sense) is actually more important to me than editing (in the digital photography sense). So PhotoSupreme is well worth the money, and the still fairly steep learning curve.

 

Recent Work - Widescreen

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Wednesday, May 16, 2018

 

#7 Rock Art

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Wednesday, April 18, 2018

 

E4, E6

Checkmate for film?

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Monday, April 16, 2018

The lab which processes my E6 film has just raised their price per roll from CHF 13.50 to CHF 17.50, an increase of nearly 30%. I say “lab”, but really I am pretty certain they now outsource E6 processing, and I suspect there is only one E6 lab still operating in Switzerland. Similar, I suspect that Fujifilm mail-in processing in Switzerland is also outsourced, although it is many years since I used their service.

For several years now I have been using Fotomedia both for buying and processing film. They also sell a wide range of analogue (and digital) photo products, and their range, delivery times, and customer service are distinctly superior to the hipster’s choice, Ars Imago (e.g. a roll of 35mm Provia 100F costs CHF 13.90 at Fotomedia and arrives in 1-2 days. At Ars it costs CHF 18 and will arrive whenever they take enough time off from stroking their beards to get down to the post office). But at least we still have a choice.

And by the way, this puts an XPan frame at CHF 1.50, and a 612 frame at CHF 4.50, using Provia 100F from Fotomedia. Velvia costs more, so it’s just as well that I don’t like it.

Velvia100F

They don't make 'em like that any more... expired 2011.05



My fear is that the first plank to collapse will be E6 processing. Fuji are showing every sign of getting out of film completely, and at present the only E6 slide films on the market are Fuji Provia 100F and Fuji Velvia 50/100. If these are withdrawn, the remaining weak business case for commercial E6 processing vapourises. Only Fuji and Kodak still produce E6 chemistry as far as I know - and I doubt that Fuji would see any business case for carrying on.

The best possible scenario for the new E6 films from Ferrania and Kodak seems to be that they’ll arrive too late to save the day - and that therefore they will be cancelled. New Ektachrome was announced well over a year ago, and since then there has been scant evidence that it is a real project. The Ferrania Kickstarter was fully funded to the tune of some $320’000 in October 2014 and the latest news from them is basically more excuses. Then again if Kodak overestimated the challenge of restarting Ektachrome production, what chance do Ferrania have?

And anyway, who actually wants E6 film? The #FilmsNotDead crowd certainly aren’t interested in anything that produces a recognisable image, and it is difficult to rationally defend against the argument that digital effectively replaced slide film.

So, basically, there are no new serious film cameras, E6 film is on Death Row, and E6 processing is approaching unjustifiable pricing. The only glimmer of hope is that Kodak still has a solid business selling 35mm cinefilm. However unless I'm mistaken there is no E6 reversal cinefilm. Fujifilm is currently keeping side film alive entirely on their own, with Provia, Velvia and some stuff sold under the Agfa brand name. Since Fuji seem hellbent on killing film this Last Stand is more than a little ironic.

FILM Ferrania has recently made a call for investors, and despite all the above, I’m tempted to buy a small stake. But honestly, it doesn’t seem to be a logical move.



 

#6 Veiled

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Friday, April 06, 2018

 

#5 Cementerio de la Recoleta

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Friday, March 16, 2018

 

#4 Boundaries II

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Tuesday, February 20, 2018

 

“Full Frame” from Inland Sea

A quick review…

One of the least interesting parts of the digital image workflow is nevertheless one of the most critical: getting files off of a memory card and storing them safely on disk. The absolute basic step here is safely copying data, which generally is a solved problem. However there is a bit more to it than that: things like renaming files to something meaningful, rather than the cryptic names so beloved of digital camera designers, storing them in a defined structure based on simple attributes such as capture date and also more advanced ones such as camera serial number, adding basic metadata, making safety copies in another location, and automating all of the above are valuable features.

Most imaging applications such as Lightroom or Capture One have some degree of ingest / import functionality, but I’ve always found it to be incomplete in one detail or the other. Also, I prefer to keep this part of the workflow independent from editing and developing.

For many years I’ve used the dedicated applications produced by Marc Rochkind, ImageIngester Pro and later Ingestamatic. These are very powerful and allow an almost endless amount of customisation, supporting all I’ve described above and more. Much more. However they have two drawbacks: the user interfaces are indescribably awful, to the point that it seems intentional. It would be hard to implement such dreadful usability purely out of chance. That can be overcome with time, and the fact that both applications are essentially “set and forget”. And once they are set up, the underlying code proves to be fast and ultra-reliable. The second drawback, however, is a show-stopped: last year, Rochkind, apparently defeated by changes to the MacOS API, announced that he was discontinuing development, and ending support at the end of 2017. Ingestamatic still works, at least under OS X Sierra (I see zero reason to “upgrade” to High Sierra), albeit with a prominent kludge, but it’s a dead parrot.

So, I had to find an alternative, which is easier said than done. Actually I do have a license to one product which does fit the bill, PhotoSupreme, but that is so clunky that firing it up just to import files to disk is too dire to contemplate. Another alternative is Photo Mechanic, but I don’t really need 95% of its functionality, so paying nearly $200 was not attractive. I was getting close to doing do, nevertheless, when I came across a reference somewhere to a product I’d never heard of, Full Frame by Inland Sea.

Superficially, Full Frame follows a similar philosophy to Ingestamatic. It is designed to offer comprehensive photo browsing and importing support, no more, no less. To be honest, it doesn’t quite have the depth of Ingestamatic, but what it does have is presented with far more panache and grace.

Full Frame has a deceptively simple UI. When no source is selected (card, camera or folder) it is basically blank. But as soon as you identify a source, using the left dropdown, it populates the main window with thumbnails. Clicking on Copy will then swiftly copy all files (or just a selected subset) to the destination volume, identified in the right dropdown. That in itself is obviously no big deal, but the usefulness of Full Frame is revealed when you peep behind the scenes.

Fullframe1

Full Frame window showing contents of the SD Card from the Olympus TG-5 Tough which I just received as a gift and was trying out today.

Within Preferences, the Filenames dialog allows pretty much any folder name / file name pattern on the destination volume to be specified. Well, it works for my weird, necessarily convoluted scheme, anyway.

Fullframe2

Metadata Preferences allow a wide range of Exif, IPTC, GPS, XMP and other metadata fields to be applied to imported items. These can also be arranged as custom presets. This appears to be very extensive and powerful, approaching functionality in the far more costly Photo Mechanic. I can’t really evaluate it as frankly it is more the sort of thing that, I imagine, would appeal to event photographers and suchlike. But it looks pretty useful.

A floating “Inspector” window shows an extensive list of properties of the selected image. I guess this might be useful, but so far I haven’t really found a practical use for it.

I’ve been using Full Frame for a month or so now, and it has happily swallowed everything I’ve thrown at it, including indigestion-inducing Sigma DNG files. I have had some occasions where it appears to sit there thinking about life, the universe and everything, before suddenly springing into life and, apparently, copying several GBs in a few seconds. This is quite weird, as it is totally impossible to copy data so fast over USB3. I have a hunch that there is some issue synchronising between the actual ingestion process and the UI updating.

There are some things I’d like to see Full Frame do better. For example, it would be very useful to be able to use certain EXIF fields in the folder / file name template. It would also be very useful to be able to save variants of folder / file name template to be selected at Copy time, or even better, associated with a given camera. It seems from Metadata preferences that code to do something very similar, in both cases, already exists in the app. Oh yes, and one other thing: these import-specific configuration dialogs (Filename, Metadata) should not be in Preferences, but rather have their own menu item / window. In my humble opinion, anyway.

But finally, I’m afraid that apart from extremists like me, there isn’t much of a market for Full Frame. Also, the name doesn’t really describe the functionality, and given that I’d been looking around for something like this, but it took me years to find it, perhaps it needs more targeted marketing. Despite this, and my light criticisms, I thoroughly recommend Full Frame. It costs CHF 29 for full functionality, with alternative restricted or pay-you-go schemes. Compared with Photo Mechanic at $150, it’s a steal.

 

Recent Work - Narrowscreen

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Saturday, February 10, 2018

 

Website refresh

yesterday and today

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Thursday, February 08, 2018

Well this has taken a while. I started working on a redesign of this website around about May 2016. The basic idea has survived, and is pretty much what I’m releasing now, finally, nearly 2 years later. The basic concept was quite straightforward: I wanted to shift the focus a little more towards my photography, to reduce clutter, and to refresh the design a bit. The execution was anything but simple. First of all, I had to sort out the underlying technology, and apply various updates. That broke stuff, in all sorts of ways, mainly badly written code that wouldn’t work anymore. So I had to go through my rats nest of templates and scripts and clean them out. Actually this led to an interim update about a year ago, when I put the cleaned up version of the old design online. Of course there was no outward benefit to this.

screenshot

The home page earlier this week, and the home page today.

But then I could start working on shifting to the new design. I spent ages faffing around with stuff like web fonts, and even on a completely new concept using Koken. I had decided to completely rework the photo gallery part, and in particular revisit the contents from scratch. Just selecting and preparing the photos was an endless task. I had decided to add a new “Photo Diary” section, which is basically a blog with pictures and very few words, but of course I needed content for that too. And tellingly, the actual dates on the first two entries are really from Autumn 2016. I could maybe have stopped there, but no, I then decided to add this “Destinations” concept, which provides another way to discover and explore content. I’m quite pleased with that, in fact.

And so on and so forth. All this wasn’t helped by having very little time to work on this, usually just a few minutes here and there every week, which didn’t help with continuity, or remembering what I was meaning to do next. Finally I’ve arrived at a point where it seems complete and stable enough to throw it out there to sink or swim. There are still a few enhancements I’d like to add, mainly to do with the visibility of visitor feedback. I also need to make some further technical upgrades, but hopefully it will be relatively painless this time.

I don’t think I’ll be putting myself through this again. If I ever do another major upgrade, I’ll use some cookie cutter thing like Squarespace. Following this DIY approach has the benefit of allowing me to present everything exactly in the way I want it, albeit constrained by my abilities, rather than to fit in with some generic concept. And since I’m largely doing this for myself, that still makes sense, but only up until the point where it becomes unsustainable, and that point is quite near.

I’m sure there are bugs, glitches and gotchas all over the place, but I can’t procrastinate forever. Either it works well enough, or it will be time to call it quits. Hopefully the objective of providing a better platform for my photography has been met at least in part. Then it will have all been worth it.

 

#3 Boundaries

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Wednesday, February 07, 2018

 

Iceland wide

 

Tuscany

 

Patagonia

 

Venice

 

Antarctica

 

Aeolian Islands

 

Venetians

 

Switzerland

 

Svalbard

 

Norway

 

Antarctic Wildlife

 

Italy

 

Iceland

 

Whalers Bay

 

Colombia

 

Lost in Venice

 

Classic Venice

 

Antarctic Icescapes

 

Four books

Photography where it belongs

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Wednesday, January 31, 2018

I acquired four new photobooks over the Christmas period - 2 gifts and 2 gifted to myself. I’ve decided to bunch quick reviews of all four together here, because otherwise I’ll never cover all four.

four books

A Beautiful Silence - Steve Gosling

A Beautiful Silence is a collection of photographs taken over 3 weeks by Steve Gosling as part of the staff on a photographic cruise to the South Atlantic and Antarctic Peninsula. It reads much like a visual travel diary, but rises several notches above the average vacation shot collection. More than several, in fact: A Beautiful Silence goes beneath the skin of both the location and the photographer, and presents a deeply personal vision of an area that perhaps we’ve become photographically too accustomed to. The other-worldly beauty and fascination of the environment certainly comes across, but so too does the personal impact on the photographer. The sense of separation from the familiar tangibly comes across in the selection of the photographs, and the interpretation goes way beyond the superficial.

Steve Gosling also has developed a clear personal style, whether in monochrome or colour, favouring strong contrast and uncluttered compositions. I get a feeling that he tends more and more towards a preference for monochrome, and to my tastes his style works better there. In colour he prefers a certain kind of high saturation which although quite different from the usual “all sliders at 11”, burn-your-eyeballs-out style favoured by more populist photographers, it isn’t always to my taste. Nevertheless this doesn’t detract from the overall atmosphere, and anyway, my tastes are not exactly a benchmark.

Technical note: The production of A Beautiful Silence was assisted by Olympus, who get a big credit, and all the photography was made using Olympus cameras. Normally I wouldn’t mention this, but since I use Olympus gear as well it is interesting to be able to compare results. In my polar photography I have seen a tendency for Olympus cameras to produce very harsh noise in the deep, saturated blues found in many iceberg shots. I see hints of the same issue in Steve’s shots. My solution has been to be very, very careful with sharpening and noise reduction in these areas. Still, the overall quality of the finished product does bear clear testimony to the fact that Olympus Micro four Thirds cameras are as significantly beyond sufficiency as any other type these days.

You can order “A Beautiful Silence” directly from Steve, via the contact at his website. No, he doesn’t make it particularly easy :-)

William Neill Photographer - A Retrospective - William Neill

I’m going to risk being burned as a heretic here, but I’ll say up front, I have not been able to engage with this book. This hefty tome presents a retrospective of work by US photographer William Neill over the last 4 decades. It is beautifully printed and presented, like all of TripleKite’s publications, and I even got my name in the credits as I pre-ordered.

There is no doubt that William Neill’s photography is technically flawless. Everything is fantastically controlled, from concept, through execution, to post-production. But the overall impression I get is that this is in fact really his objective: to achieve the perfect photograph. And the problem is, the actual subjects of the photographs seem to be interchangeable and of secondary importance at best.  All of the classic themes of “Fine Art” landscape photography are present and correct, autumnal forests, misty waterfalls, misty forests, macro flora, misty macro flora. There is even a short Antarctic section, drawn from a 5-day trip. Only towards the end does something a little unusual crop up, in a set of semi-abstract, intentional camera movement shots. And everything is flawlessly executed. The full photographic content of the book is actually viewable online.

Perhaps it is the nature of a retrospective, but I don’t get any clear sense of what William Neill is really trying to achieve.  Although, and I emphasise, the photography is exceptional, he appears to mainly travel around to find locations that will best allow him to demonstrate his commendable skills. That’s all well and good, and even ideal for a commercial photography, but it doesn’t inspire me much. Ten or fifteen years ago, I’d have thought differently, but my photographic horizons and education have expanded, and these days I’m looking for something beyond superficial beauty.

I think classic landscape photographers will love this book, though, and they are obviously the target audience. This is made quite clear by the appendix, which carefully lists all of the technical details of the photos. I’m really not sure why photography books, other than educational manuals, do this - really, does it matter that the photography used a Canikony Rocketflash XYZ1000 Mark 36 Turbo with go-faster stripes? Not to me it doesn’t, in fact I find it vaguely degrading. True, the same can be said for Steve Gosling’s book, but that is offset by the fact that it was sponsored by Olympus, who will want their pound of flesh. I’m not sure what the reason is here.

But don’t mind me - you can, and should, order “William Neill Photographer - A Retrospective” from TripleKite Publishing, who are a truly fantastic company with unreal production values (but see postscript below :-( )

Svalbard, An Arcticficial Life - Julia de Cooker

The driving force behind “Svalbard, An Arcticficial Life” is one I can strongly identify with: the desire to capture the strangeness, but also the comfort, of a living space artificially layered over a fundamentally hostile place. Svalbard cannot of itself support human life, or at least not in the form of a modern Western culture. I suppose it could have supported Inuit communities had they ever reached its isolated shores. Nevertheless, there are three thriving outposts, Longyearbyen, Barentsburg and Ny Alesund, and a handful of abandoned settlements (Pyramiden, Ny London). The photography in this book is drawn from inside and around Longyearbyen and Barentsburg.

The incongruous shot of a stretch limo against an Arctic background has already appeared in a number of reviews of this book in international and specialist press, but it is only one of many that could be selected as a highlight. The collection of landscapes, wide and intimate, of portraits, and of interior and exterior scenes of everyday life in Svalbard all combine to perfectly depict the atmosphere of this strange place. The photography itself is crystalline, befitting the subject. This is a book to immerse yourself in. It really strikes a chord with me, which might be a personal thing, but there is some really strong story-telling going on here.

The production quality of the book is excellent. The publisher, Kehrer Verlag, Berlin, has a very interesting and prolific catalog - I have a couple of other books published by them, “Steinholt” by Christopher Taylor, and “Restricted Areas” by Danila Tkachenko, and I’m sure these won’t be the last. There is no technical information on the photography at all (which is fine with me), but based on the general feel and the rather formal poses in the portrait shots, I have a hunch that it could be shot on large format film.

You can order “Svalbard, An Arcticficial Life” direct from Kehrer Verlag or from Beyond Words.

Abruzzo - Michael Kenna

Last but very far from least, Abruzzo by Michael Kenna. There isn’t really much I can add to any conversation about Kenna. There are very, very few photographers who have carved such a distinct, instantly recognisable style. Many have tried to copy it, but a square format, black & white and long exposures are just the ingredients, and the way in which they are blended together is pretty much unique.

Michael Kenna’s style is so fully established that it becomes almost transparent - as far as form is concerned, you know exactly what to expect, and all attention is available for the content. There is a strong element of a direct connection in his photography which I’ve rarely seen - the equipment, the mechanics of making photographs, the burden of making choices, all of which get in the way somehow, here are just invisible. We know exactly what the constraints are going to be, so we can fully absorbed by the image.

The element of direct connection is very present in Abruzzo. Immediately you feel that the photography has a strong emotional connection with the place, and wants to find out what makes it tick. Studies of otherwise banal scenes like beach umbrellas convey identity and character. There is one shot taken from a low perspective on a mountain road which just reeks of warm asphalt and pine trees.

Actually, because of this character in Kenna’s photography, I’m quite selective in buying his books. For example, personally I’ve never been especially interested in Japan, therefore his Japanese work doesn’t really attract me. Probably that doesn’t make a lot of sense. But in any case “Abruzzo” absolutely envelopes me, and I’m sure it is a book I will revisit time and again.

You can order “Abruzzo” from Nazraeli Press.


Beyond Words also stock the last 3 of these books.  Beyond Words is a bricks & mortar and online shop dedicated to photobooks, and very much deserves our support!

POSTSCRIPT - between the time I started writing this and finishing, Triplekite Publishing sadly announced they were ceasing all publication and selling off stock. This is pretty bad news - they haven’t provided any details at all, but I can only assume that financial reasons were a big part of this. Unfortunately these days the photography is all about gear and instant, fleeting validation. People complain about books costing $75 but quite happily pay $200 for a camera strap. These days, as they say, everybody is a photographer. But hardly anybody is interested in photography.

 

MMXVIII

focus, dammit, focus

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Thursday, January 04, 2018

It’s been quite a while since I last wrote anything here. It’s not for the lack of anything to say, or to write about, but as ever, the lack of time. Or perhaps focus. Or motivation. Or all of them.

Recently I realised that in 2017 I achieved several things: I spent far more time shooting film than digital; I shot fewer photos than in any other year since I have a reliable count (around 2004); I shot less memorable photos than any other year, ever.

I spent a huge amount of time futzing about with film. I tried different film types, different cameras, experimented with film scanners, and got a bit caught up in the whole film revival thing. After a while I realised that the one thing that the #FilmsNotDeadBlaBlaBla movement is NOT about is photography. You only need to sample various social media feeds to quickly realise that it is about shiny toys, generally with knobs on. I am totally unconvinced that shooting with film makes anybody a more interesting photographer, per se. And I see no interest or merit in swapping an obsession for up to the minute digital cameras for an addiction to obsolete film cameras.

Seeing posts where people go on about how many cameras they’ve shot with, and how many identical black & white films they’ve used, all whipped along by cynical vendors hoping for a quick buck, just makes me feel nauseous. The actual photography produced is with very few exceptions extremely dull. I’ve ranted about this previously.

Still, if people enjoy playing with old cameras and film, and coaxing decrepit technology into life, great - there’s nothing wrong with it. But for me it is precisely the opposite of what I should be doing.

What I should be doing is finally finishing the website overhaul I’ve been working on, intermittently, for over 18 months. It’s become a total millstone, and probably I will never do it again. It would make much more sense for me to use an off-the-shelf service like Squarespace, and learn to compromise. Instead I’ve landed myself in a situation where I’ve got to completely rewrite code, redesign the layout and navigation, completely revise content, migrate everything to new versions of the underlying software, and finally ... for what?  I no longer have any professional involvement with web or interface design, so there’s zero synergy. It’s all fuelled by an obstinate and misguided desire for full control over my self-expression (for example, I hate photography hosting sites that crop thumbnails - and they all do it).

But it’s about 90% there. So it’s too late to give up now.

What I think I will give up though is film. I haven’t fully decided yet, but I’m very much leaning towards selling off all my film cameras (I have a ridiculous quantity: Linhof 612, Voigtländer Bessa III, Hasselblad XPan, Olympus OM4Ti, Olympus XA, Minox 35ML and Ricoh GR1s).

It’s hard to come up with a rational reason for persevering with film.  First of all, I’m a slide film photographer, not negative. I don’t much like negative film, really. And slide film really met its nemesis with digital. Negative film still has some advantages over digital, at least from my perspective. The main ones are highlight rolloff and exposure latitude. Colour as well to a certain extent, so long as you don’t care too much about accuracy. Certainly Portra 400, or Cinestill 50, in bright light, can look quite wonderful - but I can get a very similar look from digital. Slide film as well has a wonderful midtone density that is not so easy to achieve with digital, but then again it has serious limitations at both ends of the luminosity scale.

And then you’ve got to buy the film, pay for it to be processed, wait for it to come back from the lab, and then scan it. The novelty wore off for me around 1995.

The basic problem is one of two many choices suffocating creativity. I could of course go 100% film, but, well, I’ve been there before, and it is rather limiting. Even more so these days - ten years ago I could buy a roll of Fuji Provia 1600 slide film and get it developed overnight.  Five years ago I could buy a pack of Provia 400X, or Velvia 100F, or Ektachrome 100G and have it beautifully processed by one of several pro labs. Now I’m limited to Provia 100F and one lab with a turnaround time of at least 1 week. I don’t believe Ferrania will ever deliver their slide film, and I’m not that convinced about “new Ektachrome”. The #FilmsNotDead thing is about black & white and weird stuff like double-layer reverse-rolled stocking-elastic base expired pineapple juice emulsions cross processed in holy water. Not slide film.

The Olympus Micro Four Thirds cameras and lenses I have are fantastic, and are vastly more flexible than any film-based solution. They’re not perfect, but they get out of my way.  My only real justification for retaining film remains the one I’ve been repeating for quite some time: I use film because that’s what the XPan needs. I hoped to add the Linhof 612 to that, but so far I haven’t bonded with it.  On the other hand, the Sigma DP0 is a pretty good digital panoramic camera, with a devastatingly good lens, and it’s quite endearing too.

It’s going to be hard to cut the cord, and I haven’t sharpened the knife just yet, but 2017 could well have been the swansong for film, for me.

xpan_cinestill1_14.jpg


Possibly my favourite photo of 2017 - Hasselblad XPan, 45mm, Cinestill 50

 

Made in Italy

In vacanza con la P30

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Monday, November 13, 2017

Let’s get something clear up front: I don’t do black & white. And if I do, it isn’t usually film. And if it’s film, it’s never real black & white, but some C-41 ersatz thing, or something really left-field like Agfa Scala or 35mm Polaroid PolaPan. But basically, although I enjoy black & white as a viewer, as a photographer I just don’t really get it.

So, why did I end up with 5 rolls of Ferrania P30 Alpha? And what did I do with them? Well, the answer to the first question is partly here, and the answer to the second is the topic of this post.

So, although I was quick off the mark ordering my P30 Alpha, it seems I was pretty much at the back of the queue, and I didn’t get my order until mid-August, by which point I’d rather lost interest. But anyway, I decided that an upcoming late summer holiday in Southern Italy would be a very appropriate place to try out this resuscitated Italian classic. Since I was intending on taking no more camera gear than would fit in a Domke F-5, I decided to take my Olympus XA.  It was that or the Minox ML. The Minox has an even better lens, but the XA’s rangefinder was the deciding factor. I’ve promised the Minox my last roll of P30.

I shot two rolls of P30 in Calabria. Here are some of the results.

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Well, as I’ve made clear, I’m not a black & white photographer, but honestly, this stuff could make me change my mind. It positively glows, especially under the light it was presumably designed for. Of course I’m being very naive here: it has been processed by a lab, I’ve scanned it based on instincts built up over many years of colour film scanning, and so most of the variables I haven’t even touched.  But even so, I’m won over.

However… the film is called “P30 Alpha”, the “Alpha” indicating that it is, I suppose, pre-Beta, and therefore not exactly fully sorted.  I suppose that’s what led to a massive scratch along the full roll for one out of my five samples.

drm_p30_sep17_01_26.jpg

The Lab marked this as a “camera scratch”.  I don’t think so. This was the middle roll of three that went through the same camera in quick succession, and the others don’t even have a hint of a scratch. And I’ve put many, many rolls of film through the XA with exactly zero issues so far.

Closing thoughts on Ferrania

About 100 Internet Years ago, FILM Ferrania was launched with a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds in order to rescue and revive the core of the Ferrania film factory. At the same time the objective of launching a new E6 slide film, based on the Ferrania Scotchchrome formula, was announced. Inevitably this shaped people’s expectations, as did the promise of a first batch to be shipped as Kickstarter rewards some 6 months later (the simultaneously announced cine film doesn’t seem to have created quite so much of a stir). Things started to shift, to slide, to wilt a bit in the Italian summer, and the rewards never shipped. Apparently one day they will. Apparently Atlas will one day roll his stone to the top of the mountain.

In the midst of all this, P30 popped up. So we are told, it was a bit of happenstance. I can’t find the original post (frankly, there seems to have been a touch of revisionism on the Ferrania website) but as far as I recall, during some early film coating testing the FILM Ferrania team realised they’d as good as recreated the class Ferrania P30 film. One thing led to another, and they decided to make a limited batch, this P30 Alpha I’ve been trying. And the next step is supposed to be full commercialisation of P30.

Well that’s all well and good, but honestly, the world doesn’t really need another black & white film, although, and this is the catch, it may well need this one, because quite frankly it’s fabulous. It’s all the excuse I need to buy a Leica M6.

So is FILM Ferrania still the team that launched the Kickstarter? Is Nicola Baldini still running things? Is the Colour slide film ever going to emerge, and, given the promise of a resuscitated Ektachrome, do we actually need it?

Perusing the Film Ferrania website, there really isn’t much mention of anything other than P30. All the imagery is monochrome. The sparse communication that leaks out is all about P30. This wasn’t what we signed up for.

I’ve been very closely connected to an Italian startup which linked up with, and eventually got hijacked by, an American “social media” team, as has happened here. In my case it turned out very badly - although it was not at first visible, the fundamental culture clash and deep lack of understanding of each other’s motivations and life/work patterns destroyed the company.  I fear the same thing is happening with FILM Ferrania. I hope I’m wrong.

 

Day of the dead tired

talk, it’s all talk

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Friday, November 03, 2017

All Saint‘s Day, or The Day of the Dead, is a public holiday here, and during a period where various things have conspired to spiral me into a state of ever increasing exhaustion, it came as some relief. I managed to pad it a bit with some downtime the day before, so at least I wasn’t in a state of complete collapse.

In this state of mind I often question just what keeps me doing photography. It doesn’t really accomplish anything substantial, I don’t find much satisfaction in the nagging background gear window shopping addiction that I suffer from, and it doesn’t lead to any substantial social interaction, either real or virtual.

But going through the motions of wandering off somewhere nearby to take a few photos brings the realisation, or reminds me, that it can actually be pretty therapeutic to just spend a few hours contemplating a pile of rocks and trying to adapt their forms to a 4:3 rectangle. It’s rarely successful - something that fills me with satisfaction in situ generally looks awful back home on screen, but that doesn’t really matter.

drm_E-M5MarkII_20171101_EM510050.jpg

...this becomes a pretty spectacular 110m drop waterfall

Wandering around gear forums and blogs, because I‘m too tired to do anything else on the train, I often come across provocative proclamations that Micro Four-Thirds is total rubbish because it has a “tiny” sensor with no “D.o.F” (what “no D.o.F” means in idiot forum speak is that - allegedly - you can’t get 98% of the shot out of focus). I find this remarkable when I’m trying, usually unsuccessfully, to keep all objects in my shot roughly in focus. I don’t really understand people who preach that for “landscapes” (whatever the hell that means) you absolutely must have a zillion megapixels and a full frame sensor. I suppose that correlates with the idea that “landscape” means ultrawide angle views of luridly saturated vistas. Well, that’s not what attracts me, and what I need is a camera with as much depth of field as possible but still good enough optical quality. Which is why I stick with these Olympus thingies.

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...and this would probably have been slightly less dull if I could have inched forward a bit, but then I’d have ended up in the first photo above. Briefly.

Well, of course, that’s when I’m not taking ultrawide landscape shots with my (sort of) zillion megapixel Sigma camera. But consistency has never been my strong point.

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flare enough…

 

Before Film Wasn’t Dead

nor Bela Lugosi for that matter…

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Wednesday, October 18, 2017

While trying to put some sort of order into my jumble of slides and negatives from the past 100 years or so, I noticed a small grey paper envelope tucked away in a corner somewhere. Inside this were three frames that I shot on the margins of Dronning Maud Land, Antarctica, way back in 1992.

These three shots were almost certainly the amongst first medium format photos I ever took. It was during a period of somewhat nerve-wracking waiting around, in gorgeous weather, but with rapidly decreasing temperature - the full story is documented here.

I seem to remember I had almost run out of film at that point. However, one of our little group, a technician attached to the Swedish oceanographic team who’s name I sadly forgotten, gave me a couple of rolls of 120 film (Kodak EPR 6017, which is apparently Kodak Ektachrome Professional 64), and lent me a camera to use them in. The camera was a vintage folding rangefinder, either an Agfa or a Voigtländer - its owner was clearly an early adopter in the FilmsNotDead scene, even before Film wasn’t Not Dead! It was also the first time I’d used a rangefinder, in all probability.

I’ve certainly got 6 or so frames somewhere around, but these three I think I’ve never scanned before. They’ve survived pretty well.

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Whatever the photographic merits of these three may be, I think they tell an interesting story. Together with other film-era photos I have of Antarctica, largely I think I could say that there is a good chance I would not have taken them in this way today. Certainly it has something to do with the cameras, and something to do with film, and possibly quite a lot to do with experience, but the overwhelming factor is quite different.

Back in those days, there was no Flickr, no Facebook, no Twitter, no Instagram, etc. The world wide web had barely got started, and probably the Mosaic browser had just started to support GIF images. This meant that the audience for anybody’s photography, apart from a small select group of professionals, was their immediate family and friends. I was taking these photos to show my mum what the Antarctic was like, and hopefully to impress a few girls (well, I was in my mid-20s). Today, it is extremely difficult to ignore the ever-present need for “Likes”, “Faves” and whatever, as well as conforming to guru-set standards and peer approval. And there is also an almost intolerable (to me) omnipresent feeling of competition.

The middle photo of the three is really the key.  It’s a photo of, quite honestly, nothing. It ignores the rule of thirds. It isn’t going to get approved by anybody, and it would sink with trace on Flickr. Today I probably wouldn’t ever bother with it.

And this is also probably why I have very little interest in the whole Film revival movement, because for me the golden age of photography was that innocent time when all this pressure didn’t exist, when the only way to “share” was to invite a few friends around for a slide show, and when there was genuine interaction between photographers sharing a hobby, not constant competition and fighting for visibility and approval. The fact that the cameras were (arguably) more interesting is just a coincidence. And frankly, at least so far as 35mm colour is concerned, film has no advantage at all over well-informed use of digital. All the various film websites, feeds, communities seem to be doing is to take the whole squabbling mess of internet photography and switch the veneer of digital with that of analog. I’m not sure I see the attraction.

Or maybe I’m just a miserable old git. It has been suggested a few times…

 

 

#2 Castello Valsolda

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Saturday, October 07, 2017

 

Digital’s Not Dead

It’s just been having a bit of a rest

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Thursday, September 28, 2017

I realised the other day that my last 12 posts have been almost exclusively about film photography. Since May, I’ve mentioned digital just once, and that was in the context of comparing with film.  This seems to have started in March, but it really wasn’t intended. I’ve also noticed that by and large, the quality of my photography has dropped significantly. Possibly I have fallen prey to the very same strain of gear obsession that in past posts I have charged the “film community” with. It may also be that I’m not finding much inspiration, and am just repeating myself.

I suppose really I’ve been dedicating quite a lot of time to getting my film photography back up to speed again, and ensuring that all the stuff I need to work works as well as it can. I think I’m almost there on that front. I’ve also been getting familiar with the Linhof 612, which is not that simple. Actually, the Linhof seems to have quite a serious fault which is causing uneven film winding, in some cases resulting frames overlapping. So it looks like its going off to the factory for servicing, which is going to be expensive. The previous owner told me he never had any issues, and I have no reason to disbelieve him. Caveat emptor, I suppose, especially when buying through eBay.

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The above photograph is absolutely digital. It was taken two weeks ago, way off the beaten track in the Aspromonte region of Calabria, right in the south of Italy. Aspromonte, most of which is a national park, is absolutely stunning. It is harsh, arid, with precipitous abandoned villages connected by crumbling, vanishing roads (Europcar would have a fit…), and astonishingly beautiful.  There are few people around, but those few are welcoming, friendly and embarrassingly generous. We had only 2 days there, but I’m certain I’ll be going back.

I suppose Aspromonte would look even more stunning on Portra or Provia. But hauling medium format film cameras down there would be a real struggle. And would it even be worth it? I’m not going to try to pretend: in terms of real resolution, even a 5300dpi scan from medium format film doesn’t beat a 16MPix Olympus file, never mind a Sigma Quattro file. Resolution isn’t everything though, and there remains a clinical precision in digital which I sense rather than see. It don’t like it, but I can live with it.  Just as the lens I took the above shot with, the Olympus 14-150 zoom, is probably optically my worst. The bottom right corner is really soft at wide to medium focal lengths. But it is extremely light, very flexible, and great to travel with. So, like digital, I tolerate it.

So yes, I am quite conflicted about film versus digital, and I suppose I always will be. I wish I could just choose one, but I don’t suppose I ever will. But it does seem that the less I bother about gear in general, the more enjoyable I find photography. Maybe I should turn off the internet.

 

Chromatic abberations

vario, panned

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Monday, September 25, 2017

A few posts ago, I wrote a rather dismissive impression of the new Rollei Variochrom film. Unfortunately, I’d bought 4 rolls of the stuff, so I felt I should do something with it. Having discovered what it actually does, which is to transport one back to the Good Olde Days of wildly inaccurate colour and grain you could eat for breakfast, it occurred to me that the part of the world I’m constrained to wander during the working week might actually benefit from this treatment. Well, it would be hard to make it look more dull than it actually is - although Dog knows I’ve tried over the years.

I’m pretty much at odds with todays retro film community, which seems only interested in the flaws and weaknesses of film. There are certainly people doing fabulous work today with film, for example Bruce Percy, but the film camera hipsters don’t actually seem to be interested in photographing much else than their cameras. 

Oh dear, have I got off track again ? Where was I ? Oh, yes ... Variochrome.

When used forewarned and with intent, I have to admit it can be quite interesting.  I quite like the following sample, although its not really my thing.  In the right context Variochrome is interesting, but I still pretty much stand by my earlier comments.

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The canister light leak I encountered on the first roll repeated itself, by the way, despite my taking special care in loading, unloading and handling the film.

Oh well, only another 2 rolls to go.

 

Using the Flextight X5 scanner

Those grapes up there, they’re sour

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Wednesday, September 20, 2017

This is an addendum to my two previous posts comparing the Plustek OpticFilm 120 to the Hasselblad Flextight X5. The X5 is supposed to be the nirvana of desktop scanners, a dream machine with a nightmare price tag, which provides the benefits of a drum scanner with none of the downsides, such as fluid mounting, even huger cost, and elephant-level proportions.

IMG 4213

X5 workstation at Light & Byte

So, what’s the X5 actually like to use ? Well, overall, it’s pretty nice. The hardware is on a completely different level. It is easy to use and very fast in operation. It scans a 6x12 frame in under a minute. But there are some drawbacks. First of all, the film holders. They’re a little weird, to be honest. The heavy rubber masks remind me of the protective shroud things you have to wear when being X-rayed! And actually they’re not that easy to use. The problem is, you lay the film on a base plate, then lower the flexible mask, which has an aperture corresponding to the frame size. But there are no guides to align the film on the baseplate, so getting it to fit correctly in the aperture is quite fiddly. Maybe with more than two hours’ experience I might realise that there is a better way to do it, but actually I find that the Plustek holders are much easier to load accurately. And them the fixed aperture size is a bit of an issue: although in theory Medium Format film has defined sizes, different cameras have slightly different film gate dimensions. So, my Bessa 667 seems to expose slightly more area in the cross-film direction, and the Linhof 612 is more like a 612.5. Actually the Plustek holders are a bit narrow in the cross-direction too, but they are fully adjustable in length. The X5 holders have no adjustment whatsoever, although I believe Hasselblad will be delighted to sell you a custom holder. Once you’re loaded, though, it’s really smooth: just slide the holder forward between the guides until the magnets latch on, and it disappears into the scanner and does its stuff.
IMG 4214

The 612 holder latched up and ready to roll

Then, there’s the software. Really, I have yet to meet a simple, straightforward and well-designed piece of scanning software, and Flexcolor is no exception. For example, if I select the 6x12 film holder, would it be unreasonable of me to expect the scan size to default to 6x12 ? Obviously it would: it took some time for me to realise that the bloody thing was producing two scans (overlapping, fortunately).  Why it does this for 6x12, but not 24x65, or 6x7, will remain a mystery. Another unattractive thing about Flexcolor is that it only responds to adjustments after you let go of the respective control (slider or whatever). This makes it exceedingly annoying to use. And I still haven’t figured out exactly what it is that makes it show a full resolution rather than horribly pixelated low resolution preview - but then again, Silverfast still hasn’t figured out zooming. Flexcolor includes a fairly limited set of negative profiles, a bit like Silverfast Negafix. However, they are much less extensive, far less adjustable, and too my eyes less accurate than Silverfast, although they do produce very flattering results.
stbeach_x5

X5/Flexcolor interpretation of Kodak Provia 400

stbeach_plustek

Plustek/Silverfast interpretation of Kodak Provia 400

I don’t think either are fully accurate (actually, the Silverfast version suffers from using Multi-Exposure, which doesn’t play nice with Negafix - the marketing material doesn’t tell you that). So, I could do better “out of the box” from the Plustek. Even as it stands, to my subjective eyes the Plustek/Silverfast version looks more like how Provia is supposed to look, The X5/Flexcolor version is almost Velvia, and too neutral. Of course, Silverfast is regularly updated. Flexcolor isn’t.

On the plus side, Flexcolor coupled with the X5 can really pull out clean shadow detail to an extent I’ve never seen before from a film scanner. Of course that is limited by the exposure range of the film, so it is more useful for negatives. But still, the difference is clear.

Generally Flexcolor feels old and fairly clunky, but I suppose that is because it is old. The X1 & X5 scanners are just rebadged Imacon Precision 848 and 949 models, which Hasselblad inherited when they bought / merged with Imacon to get digital back technology. They’ve carried on selling them, but they certainly haven’t tried very hard. I reckon they could drop the price by 50% and quadruple their sales, and still make a decent profit. They’re just not interested. The only update to the hardware is case redesign and a Hasselblad logo. The backplate is still branded “Flextight Precsion”. And the backplate also features a Firewire 400 interface, the one and only port, fully obsolete. At least it isn’t SCSI. The Mac Pro running the X5 at Light & Byte is running Mac OS X Snow Leopard, which must be 8 years old or something.

So, is the X5 worth €25’000 ? No, unless you’ve got a business model which will subsidise it, or you work for a Swiss bank or something. Is the X1 worth €16’000, then ? I don’t think so - it loses the X5’s diffuse light source, it’s slower, and (if this matters to you) it can’t do batch scanning, or, indeed reflective scanning (which I really doubt is a major selling point of the X5, but whatever).  If Hasselblad were showing some sign of continuing development, even if just to add a USB3 interface, and updating Flexcolor, then just maybe it could be considered a long term investment, but I would even be concerned that it will continue to work with current operating systems for much longer.

After all, Hasselblad recently named their new pride and joy camera the “X1D”. Presumably they didn’t even remember they’ve already got an X1 in the catalogue.

 

#1 Galenhütten

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Thursday, September 07, 2017

 

OpticFilm 120 vs. Flextight X5 - Round 2

the plot thickens

{categories limit="1"}in {category_name} {/categories}, Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Last week I published the first part of my Plutek OpticFilm 120 vs Hasselblad Flextight X5 scanner bake-off. The results from scanning XPan frames were surprisingly close, with the X5 subjectively winning by a whisker.

The key word in the above paragraph is “subjectively”. Because film scanning is nothing if not subjective. While preparing this second part, I once again fell down the rabbit hole of comparing output from different scanners, different software, different settings, reproducible bugs, irreproducible bugs, and indifferent customer support.  I learned, or-relearned, a couple of key points about scanning, which can be summed up by saying that magic features - like “multi-exposure” - generally don’t work. It’s better to keep to the basics.

That out of the way, this time around I’m going to look at two Medium Format scans, a Portra 400 negative taken with the Voigtländer Bessa III 667, and a Provia 100F positive taken with the Linhox 612.

First up, the Portra shot. This was taken in a secluded spot in Venice, far from the tourist gyres.  Note, you can click on any of these images to see them in larger size on Flickr.

b667_1_full

Left: Plustek OpticFilm 120 (OF120), right Hasselblad Flextight X5 (X5)

In this case I decided to apply a simple grey balance using the same reference (the letter box in the background, on the right) in Silverfast HDR for the OF120, and in FlexColor for the X5. For the OF120 I used Silverfast’s Negafix Portra 400 profile, for the X5 I used FlexColor’s Portra 400NC. As you can see, they’re pretty close. Preferences are subjective. I could show you a similar frame from my Sigma DP0, and you would see that there are differences, but if I went down that path it would never end.

So, what about detail ? Well, I decided to zoom in on the notice in front of the staircase. Since the OF120 allows a scan a 5300dpi, and the X5 only at 3200dpi, the size at 1:1 is different.

b667_1_privato_original

1:1 zoom - left: Plustek OpticFilm 120 (OF120), right Hasselblad Flextight X5 (X5)

The extra resolution of the OF120 doesn’t really seem to add much, here. But it might be interesting to downsample to 3200dpi to get a better idea.

b667_1_privato_of_downsize

Matched resolution - left: Plustek OpticFilm 120 (OF120), right Hasselblad Flextight X5 (X5)

Well, that’s interesting, isn’t it ? As we saw in the last episode, the X5 is perhaps slightly less noisy, or possibly the diffuse light source is decreasing grain contrast, but in terms of resolution it’s pretty much a dead heat.  The OF120 scan is a little more contrasty, which may give the impression of more detail. On the other hand, it may really be delivering more detail.

So far so good, the Plustek has nothing to be ashamed about.  Let’s move on to the Provia frame. While colour negative film presents substantial challenges in colour representation, it is generally low contrast. Slide film , on the other hand, should present less problems for colour accuracy, but contrast is another matter altogether. Shadow areas can be extremely dense, and detail easily visible on a light table can be completely lost in a scan. Provia isn’t too bad in this respect, but Velvia is very tricky.  It’s just as well that I don’t much care for Velvia.

So, here’s our Provia frame:

provia_of120_x5

Top: Plustek OpticFilm 120 (OF120), bottom: Hasselblad Flextight X5 (X5)

You can immediately see a colour difference. The X5 scan is direct from FlexColor with all settings zeroed, and sharpening off. The OF120 scan has had some magenta removed from the highlights and shadows, and contrast reduced slightly. The FlexColor scan is a remarkably accurate representation of the slide on the light table, to my eyes. The greens especially are more accurate. The OF120 scan seems to be lacking a certain amount of tonal separation in the higher midtones. Still, I’m not sure there’s $23’000’s worth of difference.

So what about detail? Slide film is generally sharper than negative film, so this also could be more challenging.  Note, however, I’m not really very familiar with the Linhof 612 yet, and I have some question if I was using an optimal aperture here.

Provia_of120_x5_stick

Top: Plustek OpticFilm 120 (OF120), bottom: Hasselblad Flextight X5 (X5)

In the above illustration I have downsampled the Plustek scan to 3200dpi. Although contrast and micro-contrast might be playing a part here, I have to - just - give the prize to the X5. Looking at the tree branch, you can see a smidgeon more detail. But let’s face it, unless you make a print the size of a bus, it is totally insignificant.

Note though, if you allow FlexColor to do post-capture sharpening, the gap widens considerably. FlexColor appears to have very good sharpening algorithms, tuned to scan resolution and scan type.  Silverfast’s USM on “automatic” setting is also not so bad. But nowhere as good as the FlexColor / Flextight combination. Still, there are many options for sharpening.

However, there is one area where the X5 nails it. Just as we saw for the XPan slide scans, for shadow detail the X5 wins easily.  In the sample below, I haven’t even touched the shadow depth slider in FlexColor, which can widen the difference still further with significant downside.

provia_shadow_of120_x5

Shadow detail - left: Hasselblad Flextight X5 (X5), right Plustek OpticFilm 120 (OF120)

So, from this point of view, it is difficult to avoid envious glances in the direction of the X5, or at least it’s X1 sibling, which is only astronomically priced rather than absurdly.

But wait.  There’s an elephant in the room, keeping very quiet over there in the corner. Well, a very small elephant.  Take a look at this:

canon_compare_provia

Same slide scanned using the Canoscan 9000F

The above version was scanned on the Canoscan 9000F flatbed scanner using Silverfast Ai Studio, calibrated with the same IT8 slide as the OF120. This is straight from the scanner, with all Silverfast settings flat. The colour accuracy is quite noticeably better than the pre-adjusted OF120 version, and it appears to have more shadow depth.

This is a bit scary. So what about resolution ?

provia_3up_compare

1:1 - top: Canoscan 9000F, middle OpticFilm 120, bottom: Flextight X5 (X5)

Well, the 9000F can’t quite keep up, but at less than 1/100th of the cost of the X5, I guess it does a reasonable job. I only really bought the 9000F some years ago because I needed a document scanner, and remarkably it came bundled with Silverfast HDR: this was easily the cheapest way to acquire that software. So really I haven’t paid that much attention to it. It just sits there and does what it’s told. I am vaguely aware that it has a reputation of being rather under-appreciated, especially compared to Epson flatbeds.  These days you can pick up a 9000F MkII, sadly without Silverfast, for just $200. The film holders are truly horrible, but otherwise, it’s pretty good.

So, what about the OF120 vs X5 ? Well, I think the OF120 delivers quite enough resolution. Colour accuracy is another matter. Of course, one could blame Silverfast, but I have used the latest versio of Vuescan as well and have found similar issues. And the same Silverfast delivers much better results with the Canoscan.  I have made a whole series of Portra 400 scans with various combinations, which I may present as addendum, but in that case getting good colour out of the OF120/Silverfast combination proved quite a challenge.

On balance I think the Of120 put up a pretty good fight against the Flextight X5, but at the same time it is not as superior to the 9000F as it should be.  For scanning 35mm film I’d still go with the higher resolution of the OF120, but for medium format, honestly I’d be tempted to recommend the cheap but excellent Canoscan, or perhaps the more expensive but theoretically superior Epson V850 (which I’m tempted to try). One advantage that a dedicated film scanner should have is delivering better shadow depth and tonal separation for slide film. I’m not convinced that the OpticFilm 120 achieves that.

As a final note, I should point out that I haven’t yet extended testing to black & white film. That brings a completely different set of issues, and may well result in very different conclusions.  I don’t generally have much to do with black & white, but since I have 5 rolls of Ferrania P50 to burn through, I may have something to say on this later.

Finally, if you have any questions, feel free to ask…

 

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