Following on from my post from a few days ago, today I received some very unwelcome, and unexpected news in my Inbox. Apparently, the company to which I send film to be developed, and which does an excellent job, Studio 13 in Zürich, is shuttering permanently on December 23rd. This was also the only place that I know of that processes Agfa Scala. Even the (probably) last remaining significant Swiss E6 lab which I know of, fotomedia, which sells Scala, outsourced processing to Studio 13. So I guess that’s it for Scala. And E6 slide film is on the precipice.
Apparently their C-41 lab has been acquired by Tricolor, a company I haven’t heard of, but who’s website is a little intimidating. And it doesn’t mention film development services in any clear detail. And C-41 is not E-6. I don’t know if Chromobyte, in Basel, are still in the development business. They were possibly the best I ever found in Switzerland, but at some point they also started outsourcing to Studio 13, so I decided to cut out the middleman.
I’m not sure why Studio 13 is closing. They offered a very fast, fairly priced and extremely high quality service. I guess there’s no demand for film anymore, but that didn’t appear to be their principal business anyway.
In a strangely coincident way, earlier this week, responding to a price so low it must have been an error, I ordered a Sigma DP0 from Amazon Germany. They honoured the price, and it’s on its way. The DP0, in particular with its aspect ratio setting of 21:9, has been mentioned by several people as the potential ersatz “digital XPan”. That ratio sits halfway between the XPan 65:24 and 2:1 ratios, and the Foveon Quatro sensor should have enough resolution to support the crop.
We shall see. Is the end of film, and film scanning, approaching faster than I thought?
This is a bit of a geeky post, but whatever. I’ve always been attracted to the more marginal aspects of whatever topic I pursue. Probably because the margins are less crowded, and I don’t have to talk to people. Photography is no exception. I’ve never owned a Nikon or Canon DSLR, although my earliest film SLRs were Canons, initially “borrowed” from my father. In the digital world I backed the Olympus horse early on, and have only ever owned Olympus interchangeable lens cameras. These days they’re getting uncomfortably popular, but I found the solution to that by settling on the black sheep PEN E-P5 rather than the much more popular (rightly so) OM-D series. Oh, I can rationalise my choices, no problem.
But my choice of the less popular range of what is still a marginal brand is totally overshadowed by what could really be my favourite cameras ever - and due to a eccentric decision by an eccentric, loss making wing of an eccentric company, it is cameras, plural - the Sigma Merrills. I’ve got two of these fantastic (in every sense of the word) devices, the DP2M and DP3M, with, respectively, equivalent 50mm and 75mm lenses. These cameras are the essence of the best in Japanese culture, but they also exhibit some of the weaknesses of small companies. Sigma is a private company run by enthusiasts for the love of photography and fine optical craftsmanship. They manage to turn a profit, too, and recently some of their lenses have been favourably compared to the best of Zeiss, and under a quarter of the price. The lenses which are bolted on the front of these strange little “Merrill” boxes are exquisite. As, in my opinion, are the boxes.
The Merrill cameras (there are 3, but I don’t own the 28mm DP1) produce absolutely stunning output. The colour, the liquidity, the depth, the detail all remind me of the very best of slide film, only without the ultra narrow dynamic range and total lack of exposure latitude. Unfortunately, they also share the dislike of slide film of anything over 400 ASA (on a good day).
The handling is a mix of excellent and appalling. The excellent part is the electronic and physical control: the buttons, dials and menu work together to produce the smoothest, most intuitive user interface I’ve ever encountered on a camera, or indeed any other device. But then comes the rest: the camera itself is basically a rectangular box with a lens bolted on the front. It’s a very solidly constructed box, but it’s not terribly comfortable to hold. In particular the DP3M feels very unbalanced, with its relatively large, heavy lens. But the worst part is the viewfinder, or rather the lack of one. Sigma do sell optical viewfinders. I have one on the DP2M, and a Voigtlander viewfinder on the DP3M. But both offer approximate framing, and of course no readout or preview of any kind. The focus acquisition light is visible while looking through the viewfinder, but you have no idea what it has locked on to. But anyway, since there are only 9 AF points, all quite closely clustered in the middle of the frame, so actually it doesn’t much matter.
The LCD is ok, quite good actually, but my eyesight, while ok, is no longer good enough at close range to use a screen for focussing without glasses, and since I only use glasses for reading, it gets really, really awkward. Fine on a tripod, of course, but otherwise a total pain. Also, for me accurate framing is important - composition is maybe one thing I’m not too bad at, and for me it’s a very instinctive thing. Getting the framing right in camera is a major contribution to my enjoyment of photography - it’s a subconscious thing, I don’t make a big deal out of it, but when I can’t quite get connected in that way it’s very frustrating. And the Merrills really, really get in my way in that respect.
Which, ultimately, is why they spend a lot of time on the shelf. But when I do decide to take them out, and they get all their many, chaotic ducks in a row, and they don’t decide to produce totally haywire, irrecoverable white balance interpretations, they astonish and delight me every time. When the time finally comes to drop film, they’ll be waiting.
All photos from a wander last weekend around the area of the Lucomagno Pass, Ticino.
It’s pretty damned hot down here in Canton Ticino. For at least two weeks, afternoon temperatures have been well above 35C, and there hasn’t been a whisper of rain. People are getting tired and irritable - other people, that is, I’m always like that anyway. It’s hardly conducive to being out and about with a camera, but anyway, something prompted me to dig out my Sigma DP2 Merrill, and fortune favoured me with this grab shot.
This leads me on to a further note on Mylio. I’ve now decided to become a paying customer, and to try to make Mylio work for me. It isn’t perfectly suited to my needs, but it’s closer than pretty much anything else out there.
Mylio, unsurprisingly, does not support Sigma RAW files. It would be totally unreasonable to expect otherwise. But there is a workaround to this, if you happen to use Iridient Developer as your favoured processor for Sigma X3F files, as I do. Iridient has a neat feature which, when you send it a JPG or a TIFF, allows you to tell it to look for a corresponding RAW file. So, provided I first create JPGs of all my X3F files, which I can batch through Iridient (and it takes quite a while), then Mylio will catalog and display the JPG, and will allow me to send it to Iridient - which then opens the RAW. Problem solved.
Unfortunately, this particular image has a bad case of Sigma green/magenta cast disease, which in extreme cases Iridient can’t handle. So I eventually processed in Sigma Photo Pro instead. And Sigma Photo Pro, which is clearly designed by a part-time high school intern with hostility issues, naturally can’t even open a file directly (you have to use it’s browser) never mind do the JPG-X3F association trick.
Of course, trying to handle Sigma RAW files in Mylio makes me something of an edge case on an edge case, but it is nice that a reasonable workaround exists.
I have now loaded all my RAW, scanned and processed images as far back as 2010 into Mylio, for a total of 40,700 files. It’s coping quite well with this load, so far. In order to ease the process I’ve completely reorganised my file structures, and now have everything under year headings, as opposed to Original/Finished split across different devices as before. Mylio is happier with this, and it also makes it easier to archive. Actually, I think everything except Aperture, which doesn’t care either way, will be happier with this arrangement.
Unfortunately I’ve discovered that Mylio does not support the RAW format for the Olympus E-1 and E-400, which form the bulk go my pre-2010 work. So I’ve had to impose a cutoff, and use MediaPro to catalog my earlier archives.
All this administrative work has been a complete pain, especially coming after I had already spent quite some time first trying to do the same thing for PhotoSupreme, and then for CaptureOne. So I hope I haven’t made a strategic error in going with Mylio. Having finally got a coherent structure in place, with intact key wording, and a revised backup strategy up and running, I really hope I can get back to the actual objective here, enjoying photography.
Just a quick burst of random photography walking to work through Bellinzona, Ticino, one random morning in May. No plan, no preconceived idea, and very little time. Just point, and shoot. It’s probably something I do two or three times a week, and forget about. But for some reason this little set said “publish me”. So here it is.
And for those who like to know, all shot with an Olympus E-P5 with Sigma DN 60mm f2.8 lens.
I’ve very recently discovered RPF, the Real Photographers Forum. A dedicated site for people to discuss photographs in a good natured way, and without hiding behind nicknames. Seems like a good idea to me.
Naturally, being fully committed to the Art Of Photography, the first sub-forum I visited was “Equipment and Media”. And there, I immediately found a very interesting post by a chap named Rob MacKillop about the 21:9 format available on the Sigma DP2 Quattro I’ve previously drooled over. I do recall being intrigued about this feature before, but I’d forgotten about it.
Now, 21:9 isn’t that far removed from the 12:6 format of the Linhof 612 Technorama which I’ve drooled even more over but cannot realistically afford this side of a serious bank heist. But I’m already a card carrying Sigma Foveon fan (literally, Sigma includes a little plastic card in the box in Swizerland), so all in all it looks very tempting. And even vaguely affordable.
So I decided to see what the image aspect looks like:
The photo is a scanned XPan frame, so 2.7:1, not far off the 3:1 format of 617 monster cameras. The green lines represent a 612 frame. And the red, a 21:9 frame. Looks pretty ideal to me…
Of course this is a crop of the Sigma Quattro sensor, and possibly does not match the resolution of a 612 slide or negative scanned in my OpticFilm 120, but I bet it’s not far off. And, of course, I could just as well crop a shot from my DP2 or DP3 Merrill. But I would like a DP1 to complete the set, and framing at the time of the shot is important to the way I photograph. So maybe this would be a good compromise. And the look of a Foveon image on a good day is pretty stunning. Almost like film… Actually, it’s almost like film on a bad day too, although that’s probably not a good thing.
Alternatives still remain: a Fuji GSW690 would crop down nicely, although obviously not a 6x12 resolution, and 6x9 is basically boring old 35mm 3:2. And I’ve got my eye on a Mamiya 7 at at very attractive price on a certain auction site (no, not that one). But can one use a Mamiya 7 without plagiarising Bruce Percy? I doubt it.
So, thank you RPF for nourishing my Gear Acquisition Syndrome. But, for once, in a good way!