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Xpan outings

Back off the shelf

in Hasselblad XPan , Wednesday, February 02, 2022

For about a decade and a half, my Hasselblad XPan was a regular fixture in my life. I rarely went on any significant trip without it. But various things combined to make my use of it tail off. First of all my flirtation with the Linhof 612, which eventually burnt out. Then my use of the Sigma dp0 as a digital alternative. Finally, a few years ago, I decided it was time for revival, and I took it with me to the sun scorched lands of southern Puglia, were it promptly blew a fuse. This was kind of reminiscent of my first XPan tragedy in Svalbard 10 years ago, but at least this time eventually a repair was possible.

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I ran a few desultory test rolls through it when it came back from repair, but after that it pretty much sat on the shelf for 18 months. It seems to have a market value - even to a dealer - north of €7000, which is nuts, but I can’t bring myself to sell it.

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So last weekend, on a whim, I grabbed it along with a couple of rolls of expired Provia 100F, and took it for a couple of outings. The first, to Como lakeside, in the sun, and the second to Andermatt, in the Swiss alps, also in the sun. And I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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The experience of the widescreen optical viewfinder never gets routine, especially now I found an 0.5 diopter correction, and the simplicity of use is remarkably refreshing. I still miss the exposure compensation dial from the XPan I: adjusting it using the LCD screen is an absolute horror. I understand why they made the change, but still, it’s shockingly bad design.

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The results were fine, nothing spectacular, but everything well exposed and in focus. Scanning was a bit of a disaster as the developed film had a very pronounced curve, and I should have waited until I flattened it. Most scans are out of focus, so I’ll have to start again. Silverfast largely behaved itself.

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I’m not sure if this will become a habit. I can shoot “XPan frames” much more efficiently on my X1D, but the experience isn’t the same. On the other hand, the cost of film and developing, the time it takes to scan, is all a bit of a drag. Nevertheless, a well exposed, well composed XPan shot of something interesting looks absolutely spectacular on the light table.

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Stumped

Like! Like! LIKE!!!

in Photography , Wednesday, January 05, 2022

I post photos quite regularly on Flickr, and have been doing so, with the odd gap or two, since 2006. There is an element of curation in this, but frankly the underlying reason is to have some community involvement, and of course to be showered with praise. 

For whatever reason my popularity on Flickr is pretty poor: 471 followers from 15 years of activity is not very impressive (although it’s by far the best “social media statistic” I can claim). This might be explained by my photos not being very good or very interesting. It could also have something to do with my poor engagement - I’m only following 163 other members - although I do try to find time at least once a week to explore other people’s photos and leave comments.

I usually get a few “likes” per photo, sometimes even the odd comment. But some photos disappear without trace, often ones I expected to draw some attention (while a few outliers that are, by my standards, wildly popular, really puzzle me).

So anyway. Last week I slipped out for a quick photo-ramble to a nearby wood. The area I went to is at the bottom of a quite shallow valley. On the way down I noticed a quite striking tree stump covered in iridescent moss, and decided to stop by on the way back up. There certainly seemed to be some photographic potential there.

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I also noticed the small tree in the background with pale, dead leaves, I thought I might be able to make something of that.  So I had a few attempts.

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Actually it wasn’t so easy to line things up in a satisfactory way, but anyway, I felt I had something. I only had a few minutes to spare, needing to get home for an appointment, so maybe I was too rushed.  Eventually, looking at the photos on my computer screen, it seemed to me that one I took facing in the other direction was more successful.

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So I posted that to Flickr. And up until now, it has got the sum total of 0 likes. 40 people have looked at it, and not one was even impressed enough to click the little star. Give me praise! I want praise!!!

Perhaps it needs processing more. Perhaps it really isn’t in the slightest bit interesting, or perhaps I wasn’t able to unlock the potential… ok, I can live with that, but then why is a boring photo I took of a ship so (relatively) crazy popular?  I don’t get it. De gustibus non disputandum est.

 

Hasselblad X1D, one year later

should it stay or should it go?

in Hasselblad , Wednesday, September 22, 2021

It seems like only yesterday that I confessed to the Mother Of All Gear Acquisition Syndrome lapses, my entry into the Hasselblad “X System” (to be precise the second coming of the X System, the title having previously been used for the XPan).

Actually it was more than a year ago, so it seems about time that I return to the confessional and explain how it’s all worked out. I now have an X1DII body and three lenses, a 45mm, 90mm, and most recently a 21mm. However it still feels like I’ve hardly used the camera. So far it has not been on any dedicated photo trips (well, neither have I), and has really only been used locally. I backed out of a trip to East Greenland due to general uncertainties, and a late decision to switch a cut-down Olympus kit for my holiday in Lofoten turned out to be a very good idea. So truly it hasn’t been put much to the test yet, and it certainly hasn’t yet earned its keep.

One thing is for sure, the X1D is a beautifully designed camera. It fits in the hand like a glove, and just like the Olympus E-M1, I can hold it by the grip, dangling it from my fingertips. The physical ergonomics are superb, and the menu and touchscreen interface are a masterclass in good design. The only thing missing for me is tilt/swivel screen. Of course it has been totally eclipsed by the Fuji digital medium format series: Fuji wins out on price, on range, and is very much boosted by the sect-like Fanclub the company has skilfully cultivated. There is very little online community to be found around the Hasselblad system. However, even in Fuji dominated discussions, every now and then comes a guilty admission that maybe the X1D (and 907x) is a little bit special.

I’m no reviewer or pixel peeper, but even I can see that the XCD lenses are absolutely stunning. Certainly the best I’ve ever used. They give a subtle sense of volume to photos, as well as almost infinite but somehow velvety sharpness.  The Olympus Pro lenses are also astonishingly sharp, but with a certain harshness. How much of that is down to the huge difference between the sensors, or to the lens design, I can’t say, but I suspect is is a bit of both.  Of course the XCD lenses are significantly heavier, and there is nothing to touch the flexibility of a lens like the Olympus 12-100 f/4.

Processing the photos is a little awkward: first of all there is a little weirdness with image formats. The camera saves raw files in “3FR” format. Although this format can be read by several applications, including Lightroom, DxO Photolab and Affinity Photo, it cannot directly be read by Hasselblad’s own Phocus. Phocus “imports” 3FR photos and converts them to FFF format. As far as I can tell the significant difference between 3FR and FFF is that Phocus edits are stored inside the FFF file (as opposed to the more common method of using a “sidecar” file). This does actually enable seamless transition between Phocus Mobile for iOS (excellent) and Phocus desktop (quirky). But since FFF files also embed Hasselblad lens corrections, they cannot be processed in DxO Photolab, as this application’s main USP is to apply its own lens corrections.  So it is all very confusing and clumsy. To add to this, Phocus has very, very restricted file import functionality, so very little custom renaming, no pattern-based folder selection, etc.  My solution is to use Phocus to import to a working folder, converting to FFF, then rename and move these FFF files into my standard structure using PhotoSupreme, then repoint Phocus at the relevant folder. It works, but I have to keep my wits about me. I then generally do exposure and some colour edits in Phocus, and finally export to 16bit TIFF, which in turn I may work on in CaptureOne and/or Photoshop. Actually, I find that X1D files generally need very little tweaking, which is a relief.

Note, you can bypass all this nonsense by working with 3FR files directly in Lightroom (or Photoshop), but I’ve stopped actively using Lightroom.

Reading through the few web forums where X1D owners gather (for example hasselbladdigitalforum.com or to a lesser and diminishing extent, getdipi.com), one could build an impression that the system suffers from severe reliability issues. Well, fingers crossed, I haven’t hit any such issues yet, and one does need to consider that satisfied customers rarely complain.  Again, I’m not sure why there is so little web activity around the system, but possibly it attracts photographers rather than camera geeks :-). If the activity on the secondhand market here in Switzerland is anything to go buy, there is an active community.  Secondhand XCD lenses sell fast, and at near retail price - unfortunately!

The X-System coexists well with my Olympus gear, especially as they both have my preferred 4:3 default aspect ratio. Obviously the Olympus kit is comfortable in a much wider range of scenarios, for example lightweight travel, but more importantly longer focal lengths.  The maximum native focal length so far available in the XCD lens range is 230mm, which works out at something like 178mm in full-frame equivalence terms.  Just the Olympus 12-100 gives me 200mm equivalent - and it’s a zoom. There is only one XCD zoom, a very limited 28-60mm equivalent, and it costs 1 arm + 1 leg. Another huge benefit on the Olympus side is of course stabilisation, although to be fair the Hasselblad leaf shutter approach means that hand holding is quite practical at fairly low shutter speeds. Having said all that, much as I enjoy and admire the results from the Olympus cameras, in terms of colour, tonal smoothness, and definition, output from the Hasselblad is quite clearly streets ahead.

Here is a fairly random selection of photos - they are largely all in the “learning the camera” category, as so far sadly I haven’t shot a coherent project with the X System. All photos are pretty much as shot, with minor adjustments in Phocus.

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I have to keep reminding myself that I’m not answerable to anybody but myself for my photography. The Hasselblad X System is insanely expensive for somebody on my income, but then again my peers spend far more money on cars that they buy mainly for enjoyment. And I did mostly fund it by selling off other stuff. I enjoy using the X1D, although I would prefer it if it had a little more flexibility, and I’m also longing for opportunities to really put it through it paces. So, for the foreseeable future, it stays.

 

 

 

Very late to the party

but it seems I didn’t miss much

in Photography , Friday, September 10, 2021

So I finally made it to one of today’s most over-exposed photographic locations, the Lofoten Islands. Very, very late to the party, but then again, most of the party seems to happen in the depths of winter, rather than late August / early September - which, in Lofoten, also apparently counts as winter.

It wasn’t a dedicated photo trip, more a combination of tourism and hiking with a camera thrown in. So I didn’t bring the big guns, just the Olympus E-M1 Mark III, the super-flexible 12-100 f/4 lens and the 7-14 wide angle zoom.  I did also bring the 17mm f/1.2 and the 14-150II, but used neither of these. The vast majority of the shots I took were with the 12-100.

The weather was miserable. Either frequent violent squalls with brief interludes, or unrelenting rain. These combined to create really unpleasant muddy hiking conditions, so the amount of hiking we did was less than planned.

The locals were also miserable. Oh, I get the whole stoic, grim, independent Nordic thing (although it sits uncomfortably with the huge SUVs, huger flat screen TVs, and hot dog convenience food culture which seems to dominate). You get a similar vibe in Iceland, but Norwegians, in particular in Lofoten, have taken it to a whole new level. They’ve also taken schadenfreude from the Germans, turbocharged it and made it entirely their own. The general attitude of disdain and extreme passive aggressiveness towards foreign tourists is not only unpleasant, but really rather sad and pathetic. Basically they want the money from the tourists with the inconvenience of actually having to do something to earn it. Of course, there are exceptions. But the more friendly people inevitably turn out to be foreigners, or from Oslo (which appears to amount to the same thing to the local trolls).

The landscape is impressive, but on a people level, I cannot think of a more unpleasant place I’ve been to.

The photography didn’t work out too well either. Apart from the weather, which really was not inspiring, I never got into much of a groove and ended up with only random snapshots.

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Grim up north

Certainly there is photography to be done in Lofoten, and actually I’m sure there must be some very good stuff I’ve never seen. But so much is dominated by the leaden clichés of winter shots taken from a bridge near Reine, featuring snowy peaks, stormy skies, and the inevitable red “rorbuer” fisherman’s huts, which are of course almost always nothing of the sort in 2021.  Rather they are expensive tourist accommodation, part of a rapidly encroaching Disneyland version of Lofoten which has switched fishing for cod to fishing for tourists, and can’t wait to get started again.

Pah!, basically.

Over the coming weeks or months I may try to salvage some kind of photo set, but right now I’m heading off to Puglia for some heat therapy.

 

 

Photogallery: Provence

...mais oú est Brigitte Bardot? **

in Photography , Thursday, July 15, 2021

My ongoing lack of any significant new photography is having the side effect that I’m able to spend some time revisiting and evaluating my ridiculously large archive.  The latest result from this is a new gallery of photos from Provence (and adjacent regions) taken at various times between 2010 and 2019.

I’ve more or less restricted the selection to towns and villages. With one exception (below) they are devoid of people - this is the result of careful framing and patience, as the reality was quit different.  I’m not sure why I don’t like people… but I do like the photo below, and I remember being very careful with the framing and timing.

Everything is in colour. I know “street photography” is supposed to be in black and white, but I see the world in colour. I’m much more a follower of Harry Gruyaert or Franco Fontana, rather than HCB et al.

** elle est dans le mouton!

 

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