Just some stuff about photography

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Beyond the pale

in Photography , Monday, October 13, 2014

I’ve been dabbling in infrared for about as long as I’ve being photographing, which is far too long. Originally I was shooting Kodak Highspeed Infrared in manual Canon SLRs. In fact my first shot ever used for commercial purposes was an infrared shot, used as the basis for an illustration. I experimented a bit with colour infrared, but never really took to it. All colour infrared shots remind me of a Van der Graaf Generator LP inner sleeve (Pawn Hearts), and most monochrome infrared shots can’t avoid recalling U2’s “The Unforgettable Fire” (which infamously plagiarised probably the best infrared photographer ever, Simon Marsden).

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somewhere in Suffolk, a very long time ago, Kodak HiSpeed IR , Canon FTb

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somewhere else, still quite a long time ago. Kodak HiSpeed IR , Hasselblad XPan

Early digital cameras turned out to be fantastic for infrared, as they had very weak IR filtering (by accident rather than design, I imagine), and therefore for the first time you could take out the very considerable amount of guesswork involved in exposure and focusing. The Nikon Coolpix 900 was particular good for this. Later, I experimented with IR filtering on the Olympus DSLRs I used. The results were pretty effective, although the average exposure time was around 60 seconds - which could be a creative advantage.

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a field in Tuscany. Olympus E-400, press and pray technique

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a stream in Ticino. Olympus E-3, with the miracle of Live View!

But I always wanted a dedicated infrared digital camera, so several years ago, just after I bought an Olympus E-P3 at a knock-down price, I sent my E-P2 off to Spencer’s Camera & Photo, in Utah, for conversion, along with full pre-payment. On April 11, 2002, they sent me an email saying “Thank you very much for your Infrared Conversion service order.  We have successfully received your order and it is now being processed”. This was the last truthfull communication I got from Mr Spencer.  After many long months of ignored emails, deceitful phone calls, and what I discovered through post-due diligence was a standard pattern of fake progress reports and fabricated shipping bills, I just gave up. I lost the money (which was a very big deal at the time, I’d just bought a house and lost a job, and this was my full “hobby budget” for the year) and the camera. Mr Spencer will hopefully toast a little in whichever section of hell is set aside for him.

Anyway, this year, finally, I felt like trying again. With a reliable recommendation for Advanced Camera Services in England, and a new “donor” camera, the E-P3 having been joined by an E-P5 (again at a knockdown price), it seemed worth the attempt.  This time, there was no pre-payment requested, and although the turnaround time was a lot longer than I expected, and the communication very economic, the camera did turn up, with the IR blocking filter removed, and a new 830nm filter installed. Naturally, right on cue, it started absolutely pissing down in Ticino, and it hasn’t stopped yet. But I have managed to get a few shots.

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second ever shot with the E-P3ir. Roughed-up a bit in SilverEFX

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sunday stroll. Also roughed-up a bit in SilverEFX

It’s a very different experience, shooting with my “new” E-P3-IR. Exposure times are normal, you get full preview, instant feedback. Initially, though, I’m not really feeling the magic. There’s seems to be something missing, it’s all too clean, too clinical, too precise. IR photography was never precise. I’ve tried to come up with an appropriate recipe in SilverEFX 2, and that’s helping a bit. Also, there hasn’t been a lot of inspiration is subject matter so far. But most of all, I’m not really all that excited about IR any more. But let’s see how it goes. What is very interesting is that the converted camera works fine in overcast conditions, which IR film, nor indeed unconverted DSLRs, never did. This opens up several interesting avenues to explore, first treating the camera as a straightforward monochrome digital, and second, applying more drastic filtering. Gosh, even STREET - get that, Olivier ? We shall see.

Posted in category "Photography" on Monday, October 13, 2014 at 10:04 PM

Landscape Photography Magazine

in Hasselblad XPan , Wednesday, October 01, 2014

I’m please to announce that a set of my Antarctic XPan panoramas is featured in the latest issue of Landscape Photography Magazine.

Landscapemagazine

It’s something of a coincidence to hear about this now, as I’ve been revisiting these over the past few days, and making new scans with the Plustek Opticfilm 120. I found that my initial interpretations, from which this set in Landscape Photography is drawn, were a little overwrought and the colour was inconsistent.

It’s always a difficult decision whether to stick exactly to the colours as recorded by (in this case) Ekctachrome, or to rebalance a bit. I’m tending now to stick more closely to the film. You can see the difference between the version as published and my latest interpretation below. The film itself has a slight magenta cast - not sure where that comes from - which I’ve chosen to tone down. But I haven’t tried to go for a “digital” white balance as in my initial attempt.

Xpan antarctic03 14of

 

Posted in category "Hasselblad XPan" on Wednesday, October 01, 2014 at 06:33 PM

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

Negative Time

in Film , Thursday, September 04, 2014

Tomorrow evening we’re off for a long needed week of relaxation, in the very familiar surroundings of Sardinia. My initial thought was not to take any camera at all, because if I do I’ll feel under pressure to use it.  Last year, also in Sardinia, I did get a few interesting shots, but by and large I’d probably have done better just to settle for the beach.

But, well, what I’ve ended up doing is I’ve decided to try something different. I’m getting a little jaded with digital cameras, even though the Olympus E-P5 is very nice, and the Sigma twins are fabulous when they’re having a good hair day, I just don’t feel like dragging all the paraphernalia of chargers and whatever with me.

So I bought some film.

Drm 2014 09 04 P9040335

I’ve never used Portra 400 before, but since sooner or later I’m going to need to move away from reversal film, I decided to give it a try. It gets a pretty good write up from all sorts of people.  Hopefully it will be better than Ektar 100, which is a bit too Velvia for my tastes.

My earliest visits to Sardinia were film-only, so this is a bit of a nostalgia trip. Not decided yet if the XPan is coming along. I might just take the Minox. And maybe the XA, one with Porta, the other with Scala. E100G is reserved for the XPan.

There’s a lot of talk these days about the revival of film, and how film is better and just switching to film turns you into an instant mega-hip star photographer. Well, frankly, that’s utter bollocks. Back in those pre-digital years when everybody used film, was everybody a totally brilliant gifted photographer ? No, they weren’t. Most were crap. A far higher proportion than today were utterly hopeless. The instant feedback and accessibility of digital has had a huge impact of helping many, many people to become brilliant photographers.  Most people who have “rediscovered” or just started using film are producing truly ghastly work, seemingly believing that drastic overexposure will turn any sow’s ear into a silk purse. Of course there are exceptions - many exceptions - but as a trend, it’s all more than a little hollow.

I’ve also just discovered and download a nice little iPhone app made by Kodak - remember them ? Anyway, it’s largely a bit of marketing fluff for Kodak film, but I’m all for that, and it is very pretty. I haven’t found the section on Kodachrome or Ektachrome yet though.  It does include a location finder for approved development labs and film retailers.  In my case, these (both of them) are 250km away, on the other side of the highest mountain range in Europe. No one said shooting film was getting easier.

Kodak

(I can highly recommend Photo Studio 13 by the way. One of the very, very few labs that still process Agfa Scala)

Posted in category "Film" on Thursday, September 04, 2014 at 11:10 PM

streetwide

in Hasselblad XPan , Sunday, July 20, 2014

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.

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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.

Posted in category "Hasselblad XPan" on Sunday, July 20, 2014 at 02:04 PM

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