Just some stuff about photography


Old Ways

in Film , Saturday, July 09, 2011

Today was SWISS HARLEY DAYS (well one of them) in downtown Lugano. Yay. I don’t like Harleys, mainly because of the obnoxious and totally unpleasant noise they make. But I had to go downtown anyway - ironically to go the chemist to try to find something to stop me making obnoxious and totally unpleasant noises while I sleep - so I didn’t have much choice but to grin & bear it. And the streets were crawling with Harleys, Harley Guys, Harley Chicks, and people selling pretty much anything with Harley branding.

Great opportunity for street shooting, no ?

Well yeah, but I don’t do street shooting.

So just for a complete change, since I decided to do some street shooting, of Harleys, why not throw in another spanner and dig out my long-retired Canon A1, put a roll of slightly out of date Ektar 100 in it, and bolt my rediscovered 50mm f1.2L on the front ? And so I set off.

Canon a1

Terrible iPhone photo…but rather gorgeous, isn’t it ?

I took me a little while to get into the groove, but I soon got back into it. Frames 14, 15 & 16 have some great shots featuring bits of a bikini-clad biker chick posing for all and sundry on a very impressive Harley. Unlike the slobbering mob focusing on her more obvious attributes, I went for close up, f1.2 gorgeous-detail. Frame 15 features a close up of the tattoo on her ankle against some detailing of the bike’s chrome. Awesome.  Frame 17 is a KILLER. I got a large Harley dude with a patch saying “great legs, what time do they open ?” on his leather jacket, with the patch in the foreground, and her legs, which did indeed match said criteria, in the background, lying on the Harley. WHOA! I’m motoring here.

Well, of course I would have been if the camera had been switched on.

It’s simple, shooting with film, isn’t it ? Just set the aperture, set the speed, focus and click. Bingo. Well yeah. If, that is, you remembered to turn the thing on. Unlike my digital wonderboxes, or indeed my XPan, the A1’s shutter will fire with the camera - and hence the meter - switched off. I’m not sure why. There’s no control over shutter speed, or is there ? Can’t remember.  I’m not sure why I didn’t realise there was no meter display, either. So, after frame 18, I switched it on.

Oh well. Back to the hot chick, who is starting to look a little concerned at this weirdo with the antique camera.  The rest of the roll was sort of ok, but really not as inspired. What the hell, I’ll rewind it and take it the last surviving 1-hour shop.

Oops. Seems I didn’t quite remember how to load a roll of film into an A1.  Oh well. Again.

So I went home and did a bunch of chores, for example lying on the couch thinking about what part of the gardening to do.

And later I went back into town with two more rolls of Ektar, the first properly loaded, camera switched on, Av mode, ready to rock.  The hot girl was looking a bit frazzled by now (it was a hot day) but was still game and so was I, but the bikes and been moved around and the geometry wasn’t there any more. Nevermind, I still took a few shots, and then wandered off to take some details of bikes, and some more street shots, including a nice candid of two pseudo-Angels. At least I hope they were pseudo.

And then I came home. And I decided to write this post. And I took the photo above. And while fooling around with the A1, I noticed that the aperture on the 50mm seemed to be stuck wide open, as it was when I first tried to put it on my E-P2.  Oh well once more. At least a good number of shots were at f1.2, so I guess something will have worked.

But in any case, it was really, really fun using this camera again. I felt, I dunno, somehow sleek and graceful (ha!) compared to all these people lumbering around with huge DSLRs, constantly chimping, photographing from 2 miles across the street with zoom fully extended.

Film is fun. Even when it doesn’t work. Oh, and Harleys are ok, too.

Posted in category "Film" on Saturday, July 09, 2011 at 08:32 PM

New Medium Format film scanner

in Film , Thursday, June 30, 2011

For those of us still in the Stone Age of film, and slide film at that, there’s a lot to worry about. Dwindling film supplies and variety, processing labs dropping like flies, and especially that day when the film scanner goes bleeeeeep-kerTHUNK. And then it’s Game Over, unless of course you’re willing to sell your soul to Hasselblad for a Flextight. The last (and first, really) wave of affordable, high quality medium format scanners from Nikon, Minolta, Polaroid and Microtek are fast approaching Lights Out. But remarkably, a potential saviour has arisen in the shape of Germany’s Reflecta. Although they’re probably not well known outside of Central Europe, Reflecta is a company with a long history. Typically they’ve made various low to mid-range accessories and devices, including slide projectors (I believe some Leica slide projectors were rebadged Reflectas) and cheap and cheerful 35mm film scanners. However, as the mid to semi-pro market collapsed, Reflecta has been cautiously and quietly edging upwards, acquiring a credibility-enhancing partnership with Silverfast on the way, as well as some encouraging reviews. Although the fact that they have practically no credible competiton must help. And now, well they’ve taken the major step of announcing their first medium format scanner.

And note, unlike any of it’s comparable predecessors it goes up to 6x12. It doesn’t appear to have a dedicated 35mm panoramic holder, but I guess one can be cobbled together.

On paper the specifications look modest. A DMax of 3.6 (I wonder how many people remember what that means) and an optical resolution of 3200dpi. Probably enough, and actually probably closer to the truth than claims of 4800dpi and similar, but not terribly exciting for the marketing men. But then it doesn’t need to be. It has no competition whatsoever, if you discount worn out overpriced eBay fodder.

From pre-release photos it appears to have a mechanism and construction similar to the Microtek / Polaroid 120 scanner, with a moving holder and fixed sensor, which is a pity. Moving sensor systems generally provide a much better platform for multisampling.

It is due to be available in July, but so far no pricing has been announced. I would expect something in the range of €1000, but I suppose it could be higher.

And will it be any good? Well, we’ll have to wait and see. But with the alternative being Nothing, I suppose the bar’s not set too high.

Posted in category "Film" on Thursday, June 30, 2011 at 07:41 PM

Ethical quandry

in Film , Saturday, May 21, 2011

I recently spent some time on the Eolian Islands, out of season, avoiding the (extreme) heat and the tourists. While I was there I visited one of my favourite locations, the main crater of Vulcano, a couple of times.

I was to find that since my last visit, the crater floor had been adorned by some “urban art” in the form of stones spelling out various declarations.

Vulcano crater scan

Straight from the scanner: the crater floor

I don’t really want to start a rant about this. Some people will find it unacceptable, to the point of wanting the perpetrators skinned alive (and they’ll likely as not have British or German passports), others will just take it as part of the scenery, others will find it amusing. The question is, should I include it in my photograph ? Certainly the last I time I visited, it wasn’t there, or at least if it was I didn’t notice, so it wasn’t in my pre-conceived photo either.

Vulcano crater scan zoom

Not quite what I had in mind

So should I edit it out ? It’s not a very challenging task in Photoshop CS3. Possibly even less so in CS5. But is it “cheating” or “wrong” ? It is after all a fairly major part of the scene, and there’s a very long tradition of graffiti in the Mediterranean area. Pompeii, for example, has plenty. So in fact it could be considered to augment the interest.

To start off with, I didn’t think too much of it. I’d decided right from the outset that first I was going to edit it out, and second, most probably, it was going to be converted to black and white. Like this:

Xpan vulcano11 2 07

What I had in mind

Apart from any ethical issues, am I actually playing it safe and traditional here, and churning out yet another boring, bland photo with nothing to say for itself ? Justified, worthwhile edit - or lost opportunity ?

I’m really not so sure…



Posted in category "Film" on Saturday, May 21, 2011 at 05:23 PM

Wet mount scanning: postscript

in Film , Thursday, March 03, 2011

Just a quick update on my experience to date with the ScanScience kit.  I’ve now tried scanning negative film (35mm Kodak Ektar 100), and the benefits are much clearer, although mainly due to the fluid mount keeping the film flat.


Here, the top scan is using the standard filmstrip holder, and the bottom one is using a fluid mount.  These 100% screen shots are from the edge of the film: the scans were manually focussed at the centre of the strip, and there the difference is minimal.

The colour differences are not significant - I didn’t take much notice of this during the scan, and just let Silverfast do its thing. You can’t see it here, but the fluid mount scan has slightly more detail and micro contrast. Nothing overwhelming though.

So the conclusion is in this case that it is well worth the trouble - but the advantages over a carefully prepared dry glass holder, for 35mm film, remain small.

Posted in category "Film" on Thursday, March 03, 2011 at 10:53 PM

Wet mount scanning

in Film , Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Back in October, a blog post by Ctein on The Online Photographer first alerted me to existence of 3rd party fluid mounting kits for many scanners.  Specifically, he mentioned ScanScience‘s kits, based on their Lumina fluid.

I was intrigued enough to check this out, and eventually ordered a kit usable on my Minolta Dimage Scan MultiPro from ScanScience. Since they are in Canada, and the fluid cannot be carried by air, it takes quite a while to arrive, and it’s also better to order a reasonably generous supply.  So there’s quite an element of flying blind here, but my feeling was, well Ctein knows what he’s talking about, what the hell.

Anyway, it arrived a few days ago, and I started playing around with it. Precision scanning is both fiddly and something of a black art. My initial impression of fluid mounting is that it certainly increases fiddlyness, and also adds several more ways in which you can screw up a scan ... or indeed a scanner, in the worst case scenario.

My initial attempts were not too successful, and I had to dismantle a 6x9 glassless holder to fit the fluid mount assembly as recommended. But after a few tries I started to get the hang of it. The main challenges are getting the right amount of fluid onto the various surfaces, and avoiding dust and dirt contamination.

The basic idea with fluid mounting is to keep the film flat, and to avoid optical path degradation which arises from various factors in dry scanning - I won’t repeat the explanations here, you can find them at ScanScience and various other resources.

The following images show the best result I’ve obtained so far. Comparing a couple of sections of a 4800dpi XPan scan of Ektachrome E100G, wet mounted and dry mounted, shows some advantage, at 100% magnification, for wet mounting.



At the top you can see the wet mount version on the left, dry mount on the right [CORRECTED!]. Colour differences are down to slightly different settings in Silverfast HDR - ignore these. The images have suffered a little in JPG compression, but looking at the rightmost telegraph post, and the background forest, you can see a touch more resolution. But it’s not exactly jaw-dropping.

The next example is a bit more convincing:


Here, the lower scan is wet mounted.  Certainly there is a touch more resolution here. Or maybe I focussed better… who knows ?

ScanScience claim a number of things, including:

- Better edge to edge sharpness: hmm. Probably, but with the “sandwich” mounting technique I’ve evolved over the years, and the relatively deep depth of field of the Minolta, I’m not - so far - seeing any benefit.

- Better contrast and detail: as shown above, yes, but we’re splitting hairs, to be honest.

- Extended dynamic range and saturation: Nope. Well, not for E6 slide film, at least. The Minolta covers the range of E100G and other low(er) contrast films quite happily, and has no issue at all with higher contrast.  However, this benefit may apply more to negative colour and black & white. I’ve yet to try this.

Hides dust & scratches: no. Absolutely not. If anything it makes things worse due to more places for dust to get in, and if dust gets into a fluid layer, it’s pretty much game over, time to remount.

So, in summary, I’m seeing minor improvements which don’t really appear to justify the cost and time.  But it’s not quite as simple as that. First of all, one thing is clear: to get any benefit at all, the image has be well exposed and sharp. Secondly, it seems that the benefits are more towards negative and larger formats.

There’s actually a lot of discussion out there on the interwebs about wet mount scanning, and by & large I’d say the overall impression is of mixed results. In particular, this discussion thread confirms my findings. Pity I didn’t do a bit more research…

At the moment I would tend more to reserving it only for “top picks”, but it’s early days yet.


Posted in category "Film" on Wednesday, February 16, 2011 at 01:38 PM

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