INDEX

photoblogography - Just some stuff about photography

Negative Lab Pro

Auf Wiedersehen, Silverfast

in Film , Friday, October 16, 2020

This is a quick review of Negative Lab Pro, a piece of software I’ve been aware of for some time, but only just now got around to trying.

Upfront, the website claims “NEGATIVE LAB PRO brings impossibly good color negative conversions right into your Lightroom workflow”. And it does exactly this. And it’s a really big deal.

I’m a long term user of Silverfast, and have defended it more than once, despite its insistence on ignoring all conventions, and the total deafness of its developers and managers to any kind of feedback or dialog. Despite all this, it’s pretty good. But the workflow is stuck in the 1990s, even if some minor concessions to openness have been added. Sadly for Silverfast, I think that Negative Lab Pro (NLP) is a major nail in the coffin.

NLP provides conversions which are at least as good, provides a totally non-destructive workflow in Lightroom, enabling easy creation of multiple versions of the same source scan, all fully re-editable.  On top of this it taps into Lightroom’s Profile mechanism to enable devastatingly accurate emulations of the rendition of standard scanners such as Fuji Frontier and Noritsu.

Of course, negative conversion is a very subjective thing, but the respective look of basic Frontier and Noritsu output is quite objective.  Generally I do all my own scanning, but some time ago I did have some lab scans done, just to get a reference point. For for now I’ve just take a recent XPan shot as a test.

NLP test

The top version is Silverfast’s Kodak Portra 400 NegaFix profile at default settings.  The lower is NLP at default settings. Again, colour negative conversion is a very subjective thing, but frankly, the NLP version to me looks like what Portra 400 is supposed to look like. The greens are more natural (although the Silverfast version may just possibly be more accurate, the grass was very green), and the NLP sky is complete free of the cyan tinge given by Silverfast, the shadows are better balanced. Game over, basically.

Of course, Silverfast provides a wide range of tools to tune profiles, to make colour adjustments way beyond what Lightroom alone can do, but all of this is destructive, sits within a clunky application framework, requires multiple steps and multiple file generations, and is generally slow.  NLP also has a wide range of adjustment tools, which are easier to understand and much faster to apply, making far more fun to experiment.

I’m sold on NLP. Silverfast will now be restricted, in most cases, to Raw scanning. Of course, by generating a Raw scan, in theory I can still process it through Siverfast HDR, but it gets very fussy if any other application has so much looked at one its DNG files.

There is only one drawback (and it could be major in some cases): NLP cannot remove dust and scratches using the infrared channel.  But on balance I guess I can live with that.

 

The Filmopocene

...they do things differently there

in Film , Wednesday, August 05, 2020

I always thought that my persistence with film photography had nothing to do with nostalgia, or wanting to pursue some retro look. I thought it was just that I liked how some film photographs look, here and now, not in the past. Now that I’ve largely abandoned it, I’ve come to realise that it had everything to do with nostalgia. Only with a bit of a twist.

It was part of a much larger longing, one for that halcyon period which stretched between around 1980 to 2010. That period when you could travel to discover places. Sure, you may have read about them in a similar beaten up (hard)copy of Lonely Planet (1st edition), but it was still discovery. You hadn’t seen your destination a million times on Instagram or Facebook, as a backdrop to impossibly hip and gorgeous couple. You hadn’t seen it featured in twenty thousand over-processed Serious Photographer shots on Flickr or 500px. And you didn’t have to reserve a bed three months in advance on booking.com. Actually, you could just turn up, and find somewhere nice to stay.

So in 2002, we could roll up in Oia, Santorini, and stay for a week in an old vaguely refurbished windmill right at the point of the village. Or travel around the Danube Delta in Romania, hopping on and off old ferries, hitching a ride with local fishermen, sleeping wherever we could find someone with a spare room. A year before, we could travel around New Zealand in peak season with booking anything at all in advance (although that scruffy travel guide did help). We could travel dusty roads in Tuscany, stop wherever we wanted, visit museums in Siena without queuing up, have San Gimignano largely to ourselves, and stock up on Fuji Provia or Kodak Ektachrome pretty much everywhere.

Snhg ref 303

Oia, Santorini, peak sunset, back in the Filmopocene

And that’s the trigger - I associate all of these places with boxes of green or yellow film canisters scattered on a night table or shelf somewhere, their latent images patiently waiting to emerge. That’s the world they belonged in, and that world is well and truly gone. It seems that I sometimes tried to recreate it by grabbing a few boxes of Kodak, but it was a fool’s errand. Indeed, in recent times I’ve often felt that I’m forcing myself to find things to photograph with film cameras, but when there’s something I really want to photograph, I inevitably go for digital. The hassle of carrying those little canisters (or rolls) anywhere significant has now grown exponentially - along with their price - and the magic has gone.

Snhg ref 1331

The Age Of Innocence, and film. Peak Pelican in the Danube Delta, Romania

There does remain one exception for me, which is of course the Hasselblad XPan. That is not so much a film camera, more simply a camera which requires film. Film does not define it. I tried to extend this by adopting the expensive and unwieldy Linhof 612, but I was 20 years too late. If only I’d bought one back when I first heard about in New Zealand all those years ago, then it might well have worked for me. Subconsciously I was treating it as a time machine, not a camera.

This was all with a healthy dose of hindsight. I actually sold off most of my film cameras to free up some cash to go down another rabbit hole. It was only later that it dawned on me what was actually tying me to film photography, tangentially triggered by a few books I’ve been reading recently.  But the world has indeed changed, and there really does not seem to be any going back. My origins as a “photographer” are closely tied to that time of more carefree travel. Trying to cling on to it through the artifice of taking film cameras on trips and vacations is futile and just gets in the way of anything coherent I might do as a photographer.  It was, I think, this which has been stifling my creativity (well, that and chronic laziness). I still long for a way to capture that pastel evening light over Sermilik ice fjord or the Gerlache Strait. The closest I - and several others, in my opinion - have ever come to is with medium format film, and that’s gone for me now. 

But one door closes, and another one opens.

 

Farewell Medium Format

and thanks for all the frames

in Film , Tuesday, July 14, 2020

It’s all change at snowhenge headquarters. I’ve recently divested myself of all medium format film cameras, but also all unessential digital stuff which I have acquired over the years. There is no question that I truly love the look of medium format film, especially Kodak Portra 400, but also Fuji 160NS and Kodak E100. But the problem is that I have never found a medium format camera that really works for me. The Bessa 667 III is a beautiful camera which works extremely well - but it has a 50mm equivalent lens, which has never been my thing.  Then there’s the Linhof 612PC. Maybe if I’d bought it 20 years ago, it would have been different, but my 4 year experiment with hasn’t yielded much. It’s a fascinating device, but it is just too cumbersome to use. A big attraction for me, coming from the XPan, was the 8mm fixed shift lens. But the problem here is that it is a positive shift. I usually need negative shift. No problem, you can turn the camera upside down - it even has a tripod socket on the top plate. But unfortunately you can’t fix the viewfinder to the bottom plate, and accessing the lens controls upside down is a recipe for disaster. In most scenarios I get into, it becomes a very unenjoyable experience. On top of that, despite the huge real estate on the body, Linhof contrived to create a design where no known Arca plate could be fitted (to be fair I don’t think removable plates existed when the camera was designed, but still…).  So I had to use a neolithic screw fitting tripod head.  And finally, unless one is very, very careful, the 612 film winding mechanism has a very nasty habit of overlapping exposures. On top of that, the 58mm lens flares badly. I hope the new owner finds it more amenable than I did - at least I sold it at a fair price.

So that’s it - apart from the Hasselblad XPan, I’m out of film.

This does actually carry on with what I wrote in an earlier post: “what is dawning on me is that by and large for me shooting film is mainly about finding something to point the camera at, whereas shooting digital is about wanting the photo”. I’m more sure than ever that this is the case for me.

But it’s not even just film. I’ve also sold off my Sigma sd-H, with its lead-lined lenses. It can produce great results, but again, it is very cumbersome, and it only works in very specific lighting situations. I never found a niche for it. My idea was that it would extend the scope offered by my Quattro dp0, but in the end it didn’t: it doesn’t offer the portability of dp0, and the Art lenses, while excellent, are not as good as the dp fixed lenses. So the dp0 stays, but the sd-H is gone. So all that remains is a two-body Olympus OM-D setup, with a generous number of lenses. Oh, and the Ricoh GR, which earns its keep.

All this sell-off (which went very well, and very painlessly via ricardo.ch rather than eBay) has generated a quite reasonable pile of cash. I have imposed a rule on myself that by and large I’m spend no new money on camera gear.  New has to be paid for by old. In this case, the cash hasn’t sat around for long, and my latest acquisition, which I’ve been dithering about for years, has just been delivered and is waiting to be opened. It’s by some margin the most I’ve ever spent on camera gear (the record so far is probably the XPan, which with all lenses must have come to around €4000).

But more on that some other time.

 

Flip Flop

indecision strikes again

in Film , Friday, November 22, 2019

Hello? Anybody still reading this stuff? Not that I’m writing anything…  So, I had a mega post ready to go a few weeks back, with the title “Everything Must Go”, and the content was exactly what the title said. I was putting up for sale all my film cameras (Hasselblad XPan, Linhof 612 and Voigtländer Bessa 667), and getting out of film. My main motivation was (is?) to reduce clutter, both physical and intellectual, and to use only tools which enable a painless workflow, so, in my mind as it was two weeks ago, digital. And to be more precise, Olympus digital - I had decided that my experiment with the Sigma sd H was a failure, but I would hold off a little before putting that on the market as well (the dp0 Quattro is here to stay though). I still had a few rolls of film either out for processing or about to go, evidence of my very half-hearted, token engagement with the medium in 2019.

And then the processed film came back…

B667 2019 09 03

So, a photo of nothing much really, but my oh my, that Portra 400 look is just so luscious. There’s no better way to capture that southern Italian light (Bessa 667).

Xpan 2019 02 14

This was supposed to be a farewell, rattling through half a roll of Ektachrome E100 so that I could take it out of the camera before selling it.  And then I saw the result… oh, and I forgot to put the centre filter back on after cleaning it resale, giving a trendy vignetted look (XPan II).

L612 2019 02

This is the least convincing. Well, the location I’d set out to photograph turned out to be the location a couple had chosen for a romantic picnic, so I was really scraping the bottom of the barrel here. Still, those Fuji 160 Pro greens….  And, unfortunately, the 58mm lens flare (Linhof 612PCII).

So I’m back on the fence. On top of all this, it seems I could be giving up film just at the wrong time (typically), if reports on Kodak ramping up production and Fuji bringing back colour film are accurate.

Actually a secondary motivation was to just maybe raise the funds to buy a Hasselblad X1D Mark II. But then I downloaded some raw files from that camera, opened them up in Lightroom, and to be honest, the only major difference between them and Olympus OM-D files are that they’re bigger. Far off detail still breaks down into exactly the same unattractive mush as for the Olympus (neither film nor Sigma Foveon do this). There might be a touch more dynamic range, and just possible more subtlety in colour gradients, but we’re still not in Kodak Porta territory. Far from it. And the cost, especially of the lenses, is just ridiculous for some amateur dilettante like me. Anyway, we’ll see.

Same goes for film. Right now I don’t have any immediate use for it, but I guess it is probably best to leave that particular bridge unburnt, for now.

 

Medium Dilemma

end of the roll?

in Film , Wednesday, August 28, 2019

This time last year I was fully into a major return to film photography.  In fact I hardly made any digital photos for the whole summer. Things like the reintroduction of Ektachrome (albeit late) and the ArsImago LabBox (ditto, very) were galvanising, as was the new (in English at least) dedicated film photography magazine, Fotoklassik.

And now? Well, so far I have just about managed to finish one of my 5 rolls of first batch Ektachrome E100, and I struggled to shoot a total of 4 frames (plus 1 screwup) of 120 film. I’ve just stopped finding film photography, and film cameras, particularly motivating. Instead I now find them clumsy and heavy, and the whole end to end process unwieldy, unreliable and a massive timesink. And although it’s certainly just me, I’m not finding the content of Fotoklassik very enthralling. The LabBox arrived but so far it has just sat in its packaging (actually I did shoot two rolls of the Ars Imago 320 roll film that came with it, to try out developing. The first ended up as a fat roll, the first I have ever had, ever, in my Bessa III. So that’s a great introduction to the world of Ars Imago).

Drm 20190505 P5050555

Film not dead in 2019

What is dawning on me is that by and large for me shooting film is mainly about finding something to point the camera at, whereas shooting digital is about wanting the photo.  There are a few exceptions, in particular when it comes to using the XPan, but to be absolutely honest I think the last time I wasn’t forcing myself to use it was in Antarctica in 2012. I did use it somewhat extensively in Calabria last year, but it was a bit half-hearted. And I can still remember just what a pain it was carting a full XPan kit along with DSLR around Argentina and Antarctica. I can’t see myself doing that again - or maybe I can, that’s the great thing about being indecisive!

There are some glimmers of renewed motivation from my first roll of E100. It does look very good indeed, seems to have slightly wider exposure tolerance than E100G, and the same slightly muted neutral colour balance I like. And I still enjoy using the XPan, which for quite some time was my primary camera. But can I face packing it up and carting it all over the place? With boxes full of film in hand baggage? I’m far from sure. These days it needs to compete as a second system with my Sigma sd H, and honestly, that’s a competition which is most likely to have no winner. The Olympus stuff is much less cumbersome, and at least as if not more competent in most scenarios.

Drm 20190505 P5050554

Film service industry is big business in 2019

Still, I have two imminent trips. The first to Puglia in Southern Italy, and actually for that film really does work, in the shape of Portra 400 in my Bessa 667.  The next is Scoresbysund and nearby fjords in East Greenland. For this the Olympii are already packed: two bodies and three pro zoom lenses = 6kg, which is pretty remarkable. The question is, is this enough (well of course it is) or should I add either the XPan kit, the Sigma sdH, or even a kind of hybrid of the two, the Sigma dp0. This time last year the XPan would have gone in first, and I’d probably even be rationalising about taking the Linhof 612.  Now… I’m inclined to just accept that simple is better. And film, actually, isn’t simple.

Xpan 2019 01 10

XPan / E100 in 2019

 

 
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