A photographic post with a return to the topic of street photography (which I don’t do). Here I line up all sorts of obstacles for myself by first trying to do street photography, second using a camera which really is at it’s best on a tripod and used slowly, and third, using what was always an unconventional choice of film, and now is just plain flat-out eccentric, Agfa Scala monochrome E6 slide film (or indeed using film at all).
Agfa Scala is nominally rated at ISO200, but is designed to be used from 100 to 1600 depending on circumstances. The canisters are not DX-coded, so you need to set the speed yourself. I ran this roll at ISO800, as the XPan’s 45mm lens is relatively slow at f/4. Note, 45mm on an Xpan corresponds to a horizontal field of view around 28mm for a normal 35mm frame, so you need to get close.
It’s pretty easy to scan in Silverfast, using 16bit greyscale settings and auto-levels.
The results are, well, at best tentative, but it was an interesting experiment.
I don’t know about the rest of the world, but you can still buy the allegedly withdrawn Agfa Scala film from Fotomedia in Switzerland, who will also process it.
Lasersoft are continuing to add new features to Silverfast 8, and one very welcome recent addition was the return of the integrated “Virtual Light Table” file browser (VLT). The VLT was a feature of several incarnations of Silverfast v6, and I assumed that it would not return to v8, but here it is. It’s better integrated, much more user friendly, and so far, 100% stable.
The VLT is included in all versions of Silverfast HDR and HDR Studio from 8.0.1r48 onwards. It’s accessed by clicking the lightbulb in the upper left corner. The view can switch between browser only, split browser / viewer, and viewer only. When the viewer is available, a loupe-type tool provides a localised magnified view of a small part of the image. I wish this feature could be included in the editor mode as well. At present, basic metadata in the form of ratings and labels can be added. To open a file in the editor, it needs to be dragged to the Job Manager icon, and opened from there. This is not 100% intuitive, although it is in harmony with HDR Studio’s multiple file handling mechanisms. It would be nice to also have a more direct way of switching in a future version.
Until now I’ve used PhaseOne Media Pro to manage the workflow from HDR scan, to TIFF output, and to final edit in Photoshop. The VLT offers an alternative and more direct approach, at least to the initial steps. Essentially it occupies the same place in the workflow as Adobe Bridge.
Another recent addition to Silverfast, which in this case sees it adding a feature which rival Vuescan has had for a long time, is enabling DNG output for linear “HDR” and “HDRi” scans. This is an interesting development, and it seems to encourage Adobe Camera RAW, or Lightroom, as an alternative to HDR Studio.
Other recent updates have included the ability to share directly to web services including Facebook, Flickr and Dropbox. This doesn’t really fit into any current workflow of mine, but nevertheless, it’s nice to see Silverfast being continuously maintained and improved.
Now, all I need to add is my standard plea for Version 8 to add support for my Minolta Dimage Scan MultiPro…
Looking through Tiina Itkonen‘s Greenland images I can’t help remembering my one and only visit to Greenland, some 14 years ago. I spent 3 weeks in August 1999 with a small group trekking west and north of Tasiilaq. I had various motives for this trip, one being to be able to get away from daily routine and decide if I wanted to make a big change in my life, another was to try to recapture the memories I had of the Antarctic Peninsula, still another was to purge the memory of a fairly disastrous trip to Venezuela. Oh, and of course to visit Greenland.
On most counts it was a success. I enjoyed the environment, the company, and the welcome we got from the local people. I even enjoyed eating whale meat (seal, not so much). But on a photography level it was a total disaster. Something went badly wrong with my Canon A1, either the exposure meter was defective, or it mis-read in low temperature, or I just screwed up. In any case, most photos were badly over-exposed. And worse, at one of the absolute high points, a trip out into a fjord in a small open boat with an Inuit guide tracking a humpback whale, my Tamron zoom lens fell apart and I was left with a 35mm lens. As far as I recall I just gave and enjoyed the show. But I took a few shots.
I dug out the photos again yesterday, and actually in the age of Instagram they’ve got a certain something about them. Well some of them, at least. In fact there’s a hint of “honour thy mistake as a hidden intention” in some, in retrospect.
Greenland is unfinished business to me. It will probably remain so. Going back seems increasingly unlikely.
Of all the reward and enjoyment that photography can bring, for me there’s still nothing that can quite match seeing a newly developed, well exposed transparency on the light table for the first time. The digital alternative of downloading a file from a card, opening it up in some application, applying basic corrections and pixel-peeping it on a screen is nowhere near to the same league. The colours in slide film just leap out at you, the contrast is already there, there’s a delicate vibrancy and luminance that is practically irreproducible in the digital world. Of course that’s where the fun stops and the pain starts.
The long process of scanning the film, while trying to keep it dust free, of carefully storing it, of checking the archive scan, converting the scan into a viewable and printable version is just starting, while over in digital workflow world you could have munched through 30 files at least. But it’s worth it. There’s no misty eyed nostalgia at work here: to my eyes, a well processed and printed photo scanned from slide film still has a character which digital can’t match. Or at least my digital can’t.
Maybe $50,000’s worth of Hasselblad or PhaseOne gear might change my mind, but that’s not going to happen on my pay grade. It’s purely subjective, of course, and by most if not all technical measurements it makes no sense, but I still find that I get a far higher proportion of keepers from film than I do from digital (interestingly, just after I wrote this, I read a blog post from Ming Thein which makes exactly the same point). And then there’s also the point that there is nothing in the digital world like the Hasselblad XPan, which is now my only regularly used film camera.
But increasingly the end looks to be nigh. Film cameras have their needs, and handling film does too. The obvious risk is that the ever dwindling supply of slide film on the market will shrink to nothing. Just today I discovered 3 rolls of the now defunct Kodak E100G lurking on the back shelf of a shop. They expire this month, but I still grabbed them. Then there’s the scanning part. My Minolta medium format film scanner is still going, after 12 years of constant use, but it’s getting cranky. The only feasible replacement on the market is the $2000 Plustek Opticfilm 120, which may or may not work well for XPan format slides. I have my doubts, and there’s no way to check it short of buying one. Then there’s another vital part of the chain: the light box for reviewing and editing slides, and preparing them for scanning.
I have a high quality Cabin A4 size light panel which I bought about 14 years ago. These days the company doesn’t even exist, and the light tube is not going to last forever. I’m not sure you can still buy anything even vaguely similar. Even more trivial but still vital: residue-free canned compressed air for blowing dust away. Whenever I see a few cans on sale, I buy them ... as today, when I also found those 3 rolls of E100G. Exotica such as electrostatic dust cleaning brushes have quietly vanished from the market over the last 5 to 10 years.
Sooner, probably, rather than later, the weakest link in this chain is going to break. Maybe even the camera itself will pack up. And at that point, photography is going to stop being quite as rewarding.
Many, many years ago I owned a little camera called a Minox ML. At some point it developed some kind of defect. I went to a shop in London to buy a replacement, new, rather than secondhand, to take on a trip to Venezuela. The shop manager persuaded me instead to buy a new-fangled camera called a Ricoh GR, which had just come on the market. I did so, and that Ricoh - the first camera I ever bought new - pretty much introduced me to high quality photography. I must still have had some regard for the Minox though, because at some I did get it fixed. But then it sort of got forgotten. In fact when I tried to find it a few months ago, with no luck, I assumed I must have discarded it or given it away at some point. Until two weeks ago when I found it quietly nestled up in a corner of a cupboard.
Of course the 6V battery was dead, and the battery type is very hard to find. I managed to cobble together a battery using 4 1.5V cells, which seems to work fine. I’ve also now found a couple of PX28 batteries, from the wonderful Foto Moderna in Siena, one of the last real camera shops I know of anywhere in the world.
And the camera works fine. I loaded it up with a test roll of Kodak BW400CN, and soon got into the swing of things. It’s interesting comparing it with the Olympus XA I acquired a few months ago. Both have very good f/2.8 35mm lenses, both have built-in exposure meters, but the XA has a rangefinder while the Minox just has distance scale focussing. Actually, I don’t find that the XA’s rangefinder is that much use, and the Minox’s focus ring is much more practical than the XA’s lever. Same goes for the aperture ring versus the XA’s slider. As for image quality, well I’d need to use the same film in both, but my feeling is they are either pretty much equal, or the Minox is a little sharper. Either way it’s a bit late for a side-by-side test! But I find the Minox more fun. It really is unbelievably compact, and robust … and, hey, “full frame”!
Here’s a couple of shots. You’d never get the dynamic range in the second one on any digital camera I own.
Fooling around with old cameras isn’t going to make my photography any better, but, well, it’s a lot cheaper than fooling around with new cameras!