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Flip Flop

indecision strikes again

in Film , 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

in Photography , 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
 

Medium Dilemma

end of the roll?

in Film , 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

 

 

35mm camera clearout

Once they’re gone, they’re yours

in Film , 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

 

 

 

Carmencita Film Lab

let someone else do the work

in Scanning , 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.

 

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