The day I got back from Colombia, just after I stumbled out of bed, very jet-lagged, the postman delivered a large box. Inside it was a replacement Plustek Opticfilm 120. Back in October I had discovered that the month-old original was producing a long streak in the infrared channel, contaminating the “iSRD” dust and scratch removal. Plustek tech support identified the cause as dust inside the optics, and said that the scanner needed to be returned for servicing. Unfortunately Plustek do not have formal distribution in Switzerland, so it had to go back to the dealer, under warranty. It took a while, but this wasn’t too noticeable as I was away for over 3 weeks. And eventually I received a completely new scanner, directly from Taiwan.
Apart from this issue, I was satisfied enough with the first copy. But the second seems actually to be better. Looking at film grain, the focussing, which was ok with the old one, is a little better. And the iSRD now works fine, also, so far (touch wood) with no alignment problems (possibly also thanks to improvements in Silverfast v8.2). Multisampling still doesn’t work, due to slight alignment (or possibly blooming) issues. But in any case, I don’t see any improvement in density with slide film. The single sampling DMax seems quite adequate in this case. Possibly it is more effective with negative film - I’ll try again one day.
Anyway, at least this justifies one key argument in favour of the Opticfilm 120 over an old Minolta or Nikon scanner - warranty, dealer and manufacturer support.
I’ve been able to quickly deal with a small backlog of film to scan - editing digital files from Colombia will have to wait.
For now I haven’t got much planned, film photography-wise. My stocks of E100G are almost exhausted. Hopefully they will stretch until the first rolls of Ferrania’s new slide film turn up.
In film circles, Kodak Portra 400 is a very popular choice. Actually there’s not all that many alternatives left these days, but even if there were, I suspect Portra 400 would still have a considerable following. Based on the name, I always assumed that the film was designed for portraiture, and as I’m not really into that, I never really tried it. I think I used a few rolls of Portra 800 many years ago to shoot a flamenco show, and that’s about it. But it also has developed a following in landscape circles, where it seems to be the anti-Velvia option.
As a negative film, Portra lends itself very much to broad daylight photography, unlike most slide film, given soft, luminous, pastel tones. I’ve read advice to overexpose it, so I did so, using it in my Xpan with +1 stop exposure compensation. The fun thing about this film is that it seems almost impossible to burn the highlights. On the other hand, the shadow density is a bit weak.
One drawback of negative film is that it can be very trick to scan. However in this case, using the Silverfasrt Portra “NegaFix” profile worked pretty well straight out of the box. As you can in a previous post, the overall colour compared to an E100G slide film shot is pretty close.
Here are a few examples, shot in and around Dorgali and Oristana in wonderful Sardinia:
This was possibly the first time I’ve really set out to mimic a style. It seemed to work out quite well. However, as enjoyable as it was, it’s not really me. I’d just better remember to reset the exposure compensation on the XPan before I go back to slide film!
Continuing the report on my trials with Kodak Provia 400 in Sardinia, I’ve now got the heavyweight stuff processed, i.e the rolls that went through the XPan. Interestingly, without really planning it, I have two shots taken a few minutes apart of the same scene, one on the last frame of a roll of E100G that was in the camera, and one on Portra 400. Both were taken handheld, so the framing is a little different. And the light changed slightly, it was a little sunnier for the top image.
Both were scanned on the Opticfilm 120, using Silverfast. For the Portra, I used the 400NC Negafix profile. Both images are straight scans, no further processing. Can you tell which is which? (Try just looking at the colour, there are a few other giveaways for the more astute viewer…)
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).
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.
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.
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.
I’m please to announce that a set of my Antarctic XPan panoramas is featured in the latest issue of Landscape Photography Magazine.
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.