photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

I STILL use film

Stubborn old git

in Film , Sunday, January 26, 2014

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.


Some film, yesterday.

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.


Slide film on the light panel

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.


Lee RF75 polariser on Hasselblad XPan

gearhead stuff

in GAS , Friday, May 17, 2013

This is a quick note which will be of interest to almost nobody, except perhaps the person who asked about it on Flickr, but whatever, I’m in a public service kind of mood.

A while ago I invested in the Lee RF75 filter system, which fits nicely on both my Hasselblad XPan and Olympus micro four thirds lenses.  My source for this kind of equipment is the ever reliable Robert White.

On their website they state:

“The RF75 will take 2 filters as standard and can be adjusted to take a single filter to enable its safe use on the widest angle lenses, like a 30mm on the Hasselblad XPan.”

However, I’ve found to my cost that this is not 100% accurate, at least not when using the RF75 clip-on polariser. Skipping the point that using a polariser on a ultra wide angle lens is not always a good idea - at least not if you’re using it for the basic make-the-sky-prettier application - unfortunately it is not safe on the XPan 30mm lens.

The examples below are straight uncorrected scans direct to JPG.

Evidence, case 1.  The “blue sky” test.

Rf75 1 30mm 2slot

XPan 30mm lens, clip-on polariser, RF75 holder as shipped with two filter slots. Extremely intrusive.

Rf75 1 30mm 1slot

XPan 30mm lens, clip-on polariser, RF75 holder with one filter slot. Still some intrusion, but salvageable (not that you’d want the sky looking like that. This is a TEST!).

Evidence, case 2, Vegetation, reflections test - something you might conceivably want to do even at 30mm.

Rf75 2 30mm 2slot

XPan 30mm lens, clip-on polariser, RF75 holder as shipped with two filter slots. Extremely intrusive.

Rf75 2 30mm 1slot

XPan 30mm lens, clip-on polariser, RF75 holder with one filter slot. Still some intrusion, barely noticeable in this case. Probably you’d get away with it in this kind of scenario

So, in conclusion, the RF75 polariser can be used on the XPan 30mm, but you need to remove all but one filter slot, and be very careful. And take a safety shot without it on.

This is really an extreme case, and is in no way a criticism of either the Lee RF75 (or the similar “7” system) or of the Robert White team. They’re both excellent.

p.s. - there is no issue using the polariser on either the 45mm or 90mm lens, or indeed any Olympus lenses I’ve tried it on. This, I repeat, is an extreme case.


Antarctic panorama portfolio

12 of the best. Well, 12, anyway.

in Antarctica , Tuesday, April 16, 2013

I’ve just added a portfolio of 12 Antarctic panoramas to my photo galleries. The captions will need updating, once I can figure out where the locations really are. But that’s not terribly important. I really can’t say at this point if these area the “best” of the 200 or so candidates, but they’re a representative selection.  It really was that gloomy!

Snowhenge dot net  photography  other stuff

Now I can move on to the rest of the backlog…


What, MORE cameras ?

Lord, won’t you buy me….

in GAS , Monday, March 11, 2013

In the last couple of weeks I’ve been dedicating my “photography time”, what little there is of it, to getting a better understanding of how my Sigma DP2 Merrill camera and its associated software, the much maligned Sigma Photo Pro work. And I’ve got to the point where it’s going pretty well, and I can extract optimal results from the camera. And “optimal” in this case is truly awesome - and for once using “awesome” is justified. So much so, that the idea of buying the new DP3M, with its longer, 75mm equivalent, lens is swirling around my head at each coffee break.

Drm dp2 20130303 0840

coffee, sigma style

Actually, I’m also very tempted by the new compact Fuji X20 as a take-everywhere camera too. But there’s also a strong voice telling me I’ve got too many cameras. Well, what does that actually mean? To me, photography is an important safety valve that lets me blow off creative steam, which if it remained bottled up, would have serious consequences on the rest of my life. It allows me to tolerate, and try to do well at, an otherwise dull and repetitive job (relatively, that is. I consider myself lucky to actually have a well paid job with a prestigious employer, with pleasant, intelligent colleagues, and especially in the part of the world I live in. I do not forget to count my many blessings. But back to whining about toys).

So let’s do a quick camera inventory. I currently own 4 distinct “systems”.

  • Olympus micro Four Thirds: this is basically my general purpose system. I have a Pen E-P3, and 6 lenses, as well as a few older manual focus lenses which can be used via an adapter. This system easiy fits in my small Domke F803 shoulder bag and is ideal for travel, especially when photography is not the dominant objective. The technical quality is certainly good enough.
  • Olympus Four Thirds: this is my “serious” system. I’ve been using it since 2003, and at present I use the E-5 body. The strong point of this system are its fabulous range of lenses. The 12-60 and 50-200 zooms are class leaders, and between them cover 90% of requirements for relatively little weight and bulk. However I also have the speciality 7-14 ultrawide, the macro 50mm, and the telephoto 150mm. The latter pair are possibly two of the sharpest, best performing lenses ever built by any company, and that’s a widely held view. Also the whole system has tank-like build quality, has well proven weatherproofing, and with the E-5’s optimal live view coupled with its swivelling screen, the ability to get into really contorted positions. So this is my workhorse system for dedicated photography trips. But it’s heavy, fairly cumbersome (although considerably less so than an equivalent Canon or Nikon system), and I’m getting less enthusiastic about carrying it around.
  • Hasselblad XPan: this is obviously a specialist system. I’m on my second XPan body, having destroyed the first, and I have the three available lenses. The image quality from this (film) system is excellent. To some extent this is my trademark format, and while I can still buy film for it, I’ll be using it. Actually, this too fits in the Domke F803, provided I don’t take anything else, but fully loaded it is fairly heavy. And if I take this along with the big Olympus, as I tend to do, and a tripod, then I’m well on the wrong side of 10kg.
  • Sigma DP2 Merrill: well, I’ve already made my appreciation for this camera clear. In terms of niche it overlaps with both the Olympus systems, offering significantly better image quality, but considerably less flexibility. I am wondering if it could actually replace my micro Four Thirds system, but there is a lot that the mFT system can do which the Sigma cannot. But in a scenario which suits the Sigma, there’s really no contest.
  • Ricoh GRD4 (RIP): since I’ve mentioned and highly praised this camera before, I should include it, but sadly it is now in the hands of some thieving scumbug in Buenos Aires (and for the record, I do not let that all too common incident - for Buenos Aires - colour my opinion of the average Argentian. They’re wonderful people). This was my everyday, pocket camera. At present the Olympus PEN has taken over that role, but it’s really a bit too big, hence my interest in the Fuji X20.

So, have I got too many cameras? I didn’t mention my antique non-functional Canon A1, my small collection of semi-functional Ricohs, or my so far unused, bought on a whim, Lomography Belair 612. So by any sane measure, absolutely yes. But I would say I’ve got too many when they start getting in the way, when they become an end in themselves. It’s an easy trap to fall into, especially with so many desirable cameras on offer these days, but I don’t think I’ve fallen all the way in yet. Obviously any camera that just sits on the shelf is a waste of time and space, but all the above get regular exercise.

I am thinking about selling the mFT system, but the apparent promise of an Olympus body which is designed for both micro and full Four Thirds lenses is alluring. I’m also thinking of selling the Olympus 150mm lens as frankly using it is a little beyond my skill level. And it ties a lot of money up. And I will sell a spare XPan 45mm lens with all its accessories.

So should I just hit the button and buy a DP3 and X20? What will they actually bring me, apart from a few minutes of retail therapy?

What I really need to do is to at least make an attempt to get my photography to a wider audience. Then maybe I’ll have a little more justification for the shopping. Although I’m reluctant to the point of neurosis to bang my own drum, frankly I feel my photography is at the very least on a par with a lot I see out there, if not better. It’s just not very strident. I need to get into self-promotion mode, nobody’s going to do it for me. But more of that in another post.

In the meantime… should I? Or shouldn’t I?


Venice, monochrome

also appearing on 500px!

in Hasselblad XPan , Sunday, October 21, 2012

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

Venice monochrome

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


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

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

Xpan 0210venice 004 bw

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



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