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It’s GAS week!!

in GAS , Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Yep. Gear Acquisition Syndrome is peaking dangerously in the first world. The moths are circling the flickering flame called Photokina, the biannual high temple of photographic consumerism and gear lust. Fur is flying on the internet fora, as photo geeks of all sizes descriptions hurl invective at each other over the champions they are backing from the Houses of Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Fuji, Sony, Ricoh et al. More well-off photo geeks are disdainfully ignoring these champions of Hoi Polloi and are (with dangerous courtesy) debating the merits of Leica, Alpa, PhaseOne, Hasselblad.

It’s kind of entertaining to watch, especially when compared with Work, but after a week of using just a humble little Minox 35ML (and realising that focus and aperture ring markings were meant for eyes less, er, mature than mine), and having lots of fun with it, I can’t really get all that excited about all these latest electronic marketing iterations.  I’ve also just cast off quite a large amount of digital gear, in the biggest sell-off I’ve ever done.

Oh, but I’m not immune to G.A.S.  It’s just in my case it’s getting seriously, but seriously twisted.

T612front k

This, above, is basically a very heavy, very solid metal box to which a lens board is screwed. The lens board features a stone-age Copal shutter and a lovely, but equally stone age Schneider lens.  On top of the box is a film winder, and a film counter - well sort of, actually it’s a dial you have to remember to set for yourself. And perched on top of it is an accessory viewfinder which is of legendary quality. The lens is vertically offset from centre by 8mm (“8mm permanent shift”) which sounds crazy but would make a deal of sense to most dedicated wide-format photographers (I don’t much care for “panoramic”, it doesn’t mean the same thing).  Oh, and you can pull the back off and drop in a roll of 120 film, assuming you can find one. Oh, and one last thing. A price tag that would make fellow Teutons Leica gasp in amazement.

Meet the Linhof Technorama 612PC II, the device of my dreams.

I don’t want one of these just for the sake of it, but rather because the 612 “cinemascope” frame is absolutely natural to me.  I confirmed my hunch about this with my ill-fated experiment with the Belair X 6-12, and recently with the iPhone application 645Pro.  Although I dearly love my XPan, sometimes, often even, it’s too wide. Sure, you can crop, but cropping an XPan frame down to a 2:1 ratio loses a lot of area, and on 35mm film it’s getting borderline for biggish prints. For the same reason, the 617 cameras don’t appeal that much.

I first discovered the existence of the 612 format through New Zealand photographer Andris Apse’s work. There aren’t actually many practitioners of the format to be found. Sure, there are gear geeks on Flickr who’ll pick up anything and run a few rolls of expired C41 film through it, photographing whatever and thing it’s art. But very few people have made the form their own (a recent exception I discovered is Alberto Bregani, whose mountain B&W work is quite gorgeous).

Anyway, there’s no way in this life I’m going to find nearly $10,000 to buy one of these new.  But with my recent gear recycling, I’m dangerously close to having freed up enough cash to get one of the few on offer on eBay (actually, not so long ago I missed an absolute bargain there).

Yes, but. It takes 120 film. The only 120 reversal film still produced is Provia 100F (actually pretty good) and Velvia 100 (not my thing, really). It’s far too heavy to consider taking on my rare but vital polar trips, especially after I swore blind I was going to just take a point-and-shoot after my last trip. It is absurdly expensive. And really, unless I get off my backside and start actually promoting and displaying my photography, it’s total overkill. I’ve got the XPan. I can do stitching (I was a very early adopter of pinheads, back around ‘95). I could buy one of those mega Sony A7r thingies for the SAME MONEY, for heaven’s sake. And yet, finally, it all gets pretty meaningless, taking photos without much sense of direction or purpose.

And film ?? C’mon, digital blows it out of the water, surely ? Well, I’m not so sure. I just happened to dig out an B3 size folio album of prints I made from photos taken in Santorini and Naxos, back in 2002, on Provia 100F using XPan and Canon T90. I haven’t looked at these for ages, and I was really taken aback at the clarity and sense of form in the prints. Although the difference isn’t that huge, actually they look better than prints from digital (well, except from the Sigmas). It doesn’t make a lot of sense, and all the experts will tell me I’m nuts or making things up, but really, the results speak for themselves.

Clearly, I was born 15 years too late. I missed the glory years of wide format film, and maybe trying to get back to it now is tilting at one windmill too many, even for me.  Maybe I should get back to the Photokina frenzy and inoculate myself against this craziness.

Meanwhile, I have actually finally made another decision and acquired some other new gear. More on that soon.  It’s either going to have been a very good or a very bad idea. And it involves film.

Posted in category "GAS" on Tuesday, September 16, 2014 at 09:25 PM

Antarctica - In slow time

in Antarctica , Thursday, December 05, 2013

A while back I made a bit of a mistake. I wrote about Stuart Klipper, and in particular his book, “The Antarctic: From the Circle to the Pole”, here, and I was pretty enthusiastic about it. The problem is I didn’t realise quite how rare it is, and a few days after my post, coincidentally or not, Amazon and all other vendors (for example the excellent Longitude Books) were out of stock.  Bugger.  I did manage to get Amazon.de to take an order, but every now and again they send me a stream of undecipherable Germanic e-commerce babble which I assume means they’d love to take my money but they can’t. 

So I was pretty surprised not to mention happy to discover Amazon UK suggesting that I buy it new from a 3rd party vendor for just £7.22. And it’s just arrived.

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Over the past few days I’d been enjoying Joseph Holko’s Antarctic images, and feeling a little intimidated by them.  They’re dramatic, full of contrast and vivid flashes of colour, and sharp enough to cut through steel. They grab attention. I despair of ever being able to get anywhere near this standard.  But although I don’t in way want to dismiss them, I’m not sure I ever actually remember Antarctica looking like that.  Antarctica looks the way Stuart Klipper photographs it. It’s mysterious, unattainable, incomprehensible in it’s alien vastness. It’s really not the world of highly saturated dramatic icebergs and penguins that we’re getting increasingly subjected to. Stuart Klipper lets Antarctic speak to us, rather than impose his vision on it, and it makes a huge difference. He doesn’t go the uninvolved, dispassionate lengths of the more conceptualist art landscape crowd, there’s still a considerable emotional attachment involved, but you get the impression of a photographer who has taken his time to take a long look before pressing the shutter release.

Of course, Holko will sell, and Klipper probably doesn’t much. And Holko is a photographer, while Klipper has at least one foot in the “artist” camp. These are just observations, Joseph Holko is a fantastic photographer, and I’m just using his work to contrast with Stuart Klipper’s, I’m not being judgemental. But although I certainly don’t claim any artistic merit for myself, I do feel that my own photography is somewhat validated by Klipper’s. Sure, I’ve tried to go for the in-vogue ultra-impact approach myself, but I’m not comfortable with it and I think it shows. Which is probably why in my heart of hearts I prefer my XPan work. Not specifically because of the format, but because it’s on slide film, and there’s very limit scope in pushing that beyond what-you’ve-got-is-what-you-get.

Anyway, I’ve got a book to read tonight.

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Posted in category "Antarctica" on Thursday, December 05, 2013 at 04:57 PM

nothing

in Hasselblad XPan , Wednesday, November 27, 2013

And finally, Patagonia. El fin del mundo. The wide, but wide, open spaces of the Argentinian Patagonian pampas seem to be heaven sent to the panoramic photographer. Every direction has “designed for XPan” stamped in the corner. And yet as soon as you point a camera at it, it slides away, dissolves into nothingness.  It’s the pampas. There’s nothing there. Nothing to see, nothing to photograph, except that it just draws you back, teasing and insisting that you capture it.

xpan-patagonia-1-02

I have several rolls from Patagonia where there isn’t one image worthy of the name out of the 21 precious Kodak Ektachrome frames. And yet at the time, totally immersed in the empty immensity of it all, I was convinced that every shot was a masterpiece.

But how do you photograph emptiness ? This one example, 80km from nowhere in all directions, maybe, more by luck than any skill, hints at something. The texture and direction of the grasses in the foreground mirrors the higher, darker clouds, and the sliver of lake in the distance gives some depth.

I just remember the wind, and the silence. Oh, and the cookies.

Posted in category "Hasselblad XPan" on Wednesday, November 27, 2013 at 10:15 PM

Wide is the new narrow

in Hasselblad XPan , Thursday, August 29, 2013

I’m besides myself with excitement as I announce that snowhenge.net has just had a minor facelift.  A few little twirls here and there, but mainly I’ve rebuilt the photo gallery part to improve the display of photos, and in particular, the XPan panoramic photos which are closest to my heart.

At the same time I’ve updated all the panoramic galleries with higher resolution versions, perfect for pirating. Well, for pirates with low standards, anyway. I’ve also revised the selections for the Iceland and Antarctic galleries, and added a brand new 13 year retrospective set, featuring an ad hoc selection from my archive.

Oh, and it won’t work in antique versions of Internet Explorer anymore. At last.

Snowhenge dot net photography other stuff gallery

I hope you can spend a few minutes exploring these new and revised galleries.  Do let me know what you think.

Posted in category "Hasselblad XPan" on Thursday, August 29, 2013 at 09:02 PM

(Black & White Slide) Film’s Not Dead

in Film , Monday, June 17, 2013

I’ve always been aware of the existence of Agfa Scala film, but never got around to using it. I even had a few rolls, with prepaid processing at Joe’s Basement in Soho, London. Both are now gone. Well, at least that’s what the internet says. Joe’s, certainly, sadly shut up shop quite a while ago, and Agfa-Gevaert discontinued Scala around 2004, I think, shortly before parachuting out of the photography business altogether. There are still a few rolls floating around on eBay or elsewhere with a process by data of 2009. So that’s it … or is it ? Because, strangely, I have in front of me a 5 pack of Agfa Scala 200X, produced, apparently, by AgfaPhoto, in Leverkussen, Germany, and with a quite healthy expiry date of October 2014.

So what’s so special about this film ? Well, first, it is one of the very, very few black & white reversal films (“slide films” to you & me) ever produced. It is nominally rated at ISO 200, but can be used up to 1600 with no problem (although apparently not if it is expired). Second, it produces smooth, crisp photos with a very wide tonal range and a sensitivity that touches on the infrared. Third, and most important, it a niche within a niche on an obscure periphery, and totally and utterly pointless in 2013. And its provenance is a little mysterious. Therefore, irresistible.

I was a little bit nervous about using it - I’m a complete novice when it comes to black & white film, but then on the other hand, it is essentially a slide film, which I’m quite familiar with. Anyway, I loaded the first roll into my XPan, rated it a 400 ISO and just trusted it’s ever reliable meter, and tweaking it up by half a stop, just so that I felt in control. And I wandered around the upper part of Colle di Val d’Elsa in Tuscany and took a few photos. Twenty one, to be precise.

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My first 18 Agfa Scala panoramic shots, including 2 fantastic shots of the inside of a lens cap. Aren’t rangefinders great ?

Scanning Agfa Scala is easy, just so long as you don’t use any kind of infra-red cleaning (like Digital ICE or LIDE). I discovered this to my cost after about 15 time consuming HDR scans.  And HDR scanning (in Silverfast terminology) is also not really necessary in this case.  Also, don’t trust auto focus. Otherwise, no problem. I scanned at 16 bit grayscale - there might be some advantage to 48 bit RGB, but I haven’t had time to experiment. Here are a few examples:

Xpan toscana1305 sl 02
Xpan toscana1305 sl 05
Xpan toscana1305 sl 15
Xpan toscana1305 sl 20
Of course, these are reduced down to 590 pixels wide. The scans are 12500 pixels wide, and the detail is pretty amazing. So, although I’m very, very late to the party, it’s not over yet, and I’m discovering that Scala 200X is fun to use.  What its status or future is, I really don’t know, and neither, it seems, does the internet. Although it carries AgfaPhoto branding, and AgfaPhoto acquire trademark and marketing rights over a range of Agfa Films (see here, although word has it that Agfa CT Precisa 100 is none other than my old friend Fuji Provia 100F in disguise), Scala 200XT is not mentioned on the website.  So, I’m going to buy a few more rolls while I can.  You can too, but only if you email me to ask for the details, I’m not making that mistake again! Processing is still carried out by a number of labs in Europe at least, including Studio 13 in Zürich.
Posted in category "Film" on Monday, June 17, 2013 at 11:11 PM

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