Saturday, December 31, 2016

Shooting with the Pentax SV

Between Christmas and New Year 2016, I was able to get out and shoot with a Pentax SV - a camera I was gifted by friends on Boxing Day. I've written about the history of the SV in my last two posts, so I won't go into great detail here. Suffice to say that it is an all-manual, M42 screw-mount, 49(ish) year old camera that was Pentax's top-of-the-line SLR before the Spotmatic introduced in-body camera metering in 1964.

I decided to shoot some black and white film so I could process the results myself (colour takes about two weeks to get back from the lab nowadays). I loaded the Pentax SV with Fomapan 100, and added a roll of Ilford Delta 100 just in case I needed it. Because the camera has no metering system, I also downloaded an exposure meter app for my phone, as well as a photo note-taking app. Fortunately, I also bought my Polaris exposure meter, figuring I would check the hand-held meter against the app and probably just use the app if they were close to each other.

Jessie relaxing. Pentax SV with Super Takumar 55mm f1.8. Fomapan 100 at f1.8 @1/30th sec
Unfortunately, the day after getting the Pentax SV was drizzly and cold (despite it being summer here now), so I was somewhat confined to shooting indoors, with reasonably low light. Now that I have subconscious teenagers, my dog has become my model of choice, and if I get her at the right time, she generally stays fairly still for a photo or two :-)

The low light meant I could open the Takumar 55mm lens wide open to f1.8 (something I miss doing with my current digital Olympus mirrorless gear), and get some barely hand-holdable 1/30th sec shutter speeds. The light is a bit dull and I've missed focus - slightly targeted on the nose rather than the eyes - but I still like the above image of Jess. Especially the gorgeously soft fall-off of depth-of-field that the 55mm f1.8 produces.

Historic Brunner Mine Site. Pentax SV with Super Takumar 55mm f1.8. Ilford Delta 100, f8 @ 1/125th sec
Fortunately, the next day was sunny and bright, and I could get outside to give the camera a proper workout. It was also fortunate that I had decided to bring my hand-held meter with me, because it quickly became apparent that the phone app I had downloaded sucked, and I much preferred using the actual meter. It was so easy to sling it around my neck, lift it up to take a reading, and then let it hang down out of the way again. I had worked like that for many years when I was using medium format cameras, and it just became a natural way to meter. It also helped that I trust the hand-held meter far more than some app on my phone.

Brunner Mine Site Foot Bridge. Pentax SV with Super Takumar 55mm f1.8. Ilford Delta 100, f5.6 @ 1/250th sec.
My wife went to meet a friend for the afternoon, so she dropped my son Josh and I at the Brunner Mine Site, an historic coal mine only 10 minutes from where we live. There are lots of old relics, walks into the surrounding bush, and interesting structures to photograph, especially in black and white.

In use, the Pentax SV is deceptively simple to operate. Figure out your exposure, change the shutter dial and aperture ring on the lens accordingly, compose through the completely unadorned viewfinder, and shoot. That's it really. Couldn't be simpler.

Josh in action. Pentax SV with Super Takumar 55mm f1.8. Ilford Delta 100, f5.6 @ 1/250th sec.
Outside in bright light, the shutter speed limit of 1/1000th meant that I couldn't open up the lens past f4 without the use of some ND filters (which I didn't have), so I confined myself to landscapes and some environmental portraiture.

Also, the SV's viewfinder is a little darkish compared to more modern finders, but with the Super Takumar lens attached and set to 'A', the aperture is always fully open at f1.8. When you trip the shutter it closes to the set aperture on the lens and then opens up to f1.8 again so you can compose the next image. Set the aperture ring to 'M' and the lens will stop-down to your chosen aperture to give you a visual of the depth-of-field available. It may not be a bright viewfinder, but man is it uncluttered. There is nothing, and I mean NOTHING in the viewfinder except the image itself (and a micoprism central dot to aid in focusing). The image really does 'snap' into sharp detail once focus is achieved, although a split prism would still be helpful.

Photographer Josh. Pentax SV with Soligor 200mm f4.5. Ilford Delta 100, f5.6 @ 1/500th sec
In the kit with the SV and Super Takumar 55mm f1.8, I also scored a Soligor 200mm f4.5 lens.  I read a couple of quick reviews that suggested it wasn't the greatest lens in the world, and it certainly isn't quite as well made as the Pentax 55mm (mine has a little barrel wobble to it). But on the plus side; it doesn't have any mold or fungus growth, the glass has no scratches, and it was FREE - so I thought I should at least give it a try :-)

And I'm pretty happy with the results to be honest. I opened up the aperture to f5.6 to eek out a little more sharpness (and even then it's not 'tack' sharp), and made sure that Josh had lots of separation between him and the background before taking his portrait. The background blur has a freaky, circular, spinney vibe that I kinda like, and I certainly think I'll experiment a bit more with this lens.

Fern fronds. Pentax SV with Soligor 200mm f4.5. Ilford Delta 100, f5.6 @ 1/250th
I actually used the Soligor 200mm f4.5 to take my favourite shot of the day. These fern fronds were being highlighted perfectly from the dark background and I knew they'd make a great black and white image. The Soligor 200mm has absolutely nailed the shot, and it's pretty darn sharp exactly where I wanted it to be.

Derelict Coal Wagon. Pentax SV with Super Takumar 55mm f1.8. Ilford Delta 100, f5.6 @ 1/500th sec
Overall I loved shooting with the Pentax SV. It was a lot of fun, and a great way to end the year. I'm definitely going to be putting some more film through it soon, and will be looking out for some more M42 screw-mount lenses to add to the kit.

Just a quick word before I end this post about the above images. I'm happy with them - but you may have noticed that they all look a little 'muddy' - a little too 'dense'. This is my fault. I overcooked them in the developer and was left with very dense negs.

I developed them in Caffenol and for some reason I decided to ignore the suggested 12 minute development time in favour of 15 minutes (don't ask me where I got that number from?). It's a shame, but also not the end of the world. At least I know that the camera is producing an image - shutter speeds look reasonably accurate, and the lenses are giving great results. I'm looking forward to the next batch of film, processed correctly, and am itching to get out and take some more photos.  What a great start to 2017!

Friday, December 30, 2016

More on the Pentax SV

In my last post I discussed the Pentax SV camera kit that I was given at Christmas by my good friends Nancy and Eric Holman. It's now New Year's Eve, and I've used the last few days to get a little more acquainted with my new camera.

The first thing I did (and always do) was to look on-line for a manual. Almost any camera you care to name has the manual available somewhere on-line as a download - and the SV's manual was very easy to find since it was such a popular model. It's also a pretty cool camera manual. For a start it's very nicely designed - which I appreciate. A cut above your standard camera manual design from the 60s and 70s. It also contains a very helpful guide on all the accessories that were available for the SV, and since it was Pentax's 'top' model at the time, there were (are) plenty to choose from. TradeMe (NZ's version of eBay) has a listing for an original Pentax SV manual at the moment, and I'm very tempted to get it.

Any inter-web search on the Pentax SV is also likely to bring up a few images of these four lads. The Beatles were famous Pentax users and there are many images of the fab four holding, and using, their Pentax SV's. That's pretty cool!

I also have a first edition copy of Herbert Keppler's famous book 'The Pentax Way' that I found in a second hand book store a few years back. Published in 1966, it describes the current Asahi Pentax models as; the SV (H3V in the USA), S1A (H1A in the USA) and Spotmatic (or SP).

This makes the SV the last Pentax before the release of the Spotmatic - the future of SLR design that included an exposure metering system built into the camera. Of course that also meant that the Spotmatic required a battery for the meter to function. Since the SV has no in-built meter, it requires no battery (therefore exposure needs to be calculated with an external meter or using the Sunny 16 rule).

Me using the SV. Photo by Joshua Lorimer

After all that research, all that remained was for me to load the camera with some film and take some photos with it!

I'm running pretty low on film stock, but I knew I wanted to put some Black and White through the camera first. Partly because I think that B&W film fits the pedigree of the camera, and also because I wanted to develop the film myself. I decided to use a roll of Fomapan 100 that I have had in the fridge for a while, as well as a roll of Ilford Delta 100.

Because I was going to have to meter manually, I downloaded an exposure meter app for my Samsung - as well as a note-taking app specific to film photography. As can be seen in the photo opposite - taken by my son Josh - I also have an actual light meter (a Polaris hand-held meter - very cheap but very reliable) and decided to take that along as well. I'm very glad I did, because the light meter app on my phone was horrible to use, and I ended up using my trusty hand-held meter exclusively. Wow, using a Pentax SV with a light meter slung around my neck makes me look like a real old-school photographer!

And the results? Well, that would be telling ;-)  And I will - tell all... in the next post.

Monday, December 26, 2016

An unexpected Christmas gift - The Pentax SV

It's Christmas time here in New Zealand (as I write this), and we are relaxing at home, having friends around for meals, and looking forward to a few weeks break.

Nancy and Eric Holman are a couple who we have been friends with since arriving in Greymouth 16 years ago. I worked with Nancy for a few years as part of a team with local professional photographer Stewart Nimmo (I was the graphic designer - Nancy worked in the retail shop). Her husband Eric also worked there part-time, and is a fellow Apple enthusiast and Rugby watcher. They are both retired now and run a church Op-Shop in the community.

They came around on Boxing Day for dinner (to help us eat the left-overs from Christmas) - and this time they came bearing gifts! Someone had dropped off a camera bag at the Op-Shop and they know that I am still shooting some film, so thought I might be interested in the contents of said camera bag.

I'm always keen to add to my film collection, especially when the gear is being offered for free :-)  But there is also a hint of trepidation with any old film camera acquisition, since many of them have been rather neglected over the years and can be in a terrible state of disrepair!

Much to my surprise (and delight), however, Eric pulled out a Pentax SV in very good condition - complete with Super Takumar 55mm f1.8, 2x converter and Soligor 200mm f4.5 lens. A very quick inspection only added to my excitement, since the lenses themselves looked surprisingly clean and mold-free! Bonus.

Later that evening I pulled the gear out and had a decent look. Fortunately it only confirmed my initial thoughts, and I'm now the proud owner of an excellent condition Pentax SV kit. Thanks Nancy & Eric!

There's actually quite a lot of information on the Pentax SV on the internet, since it's something of a cult classic. The last of the Pentax screw mount M42 type cameras before the bayonet mount Spotmatic was released, the Pentax SV was produced from 1962 to 1968. In 1964 the camera was re-designed slightly to accommodate a new Pentax 50mm f1.4 lens. The re-designed cameras are designated with an Orange 'R' engraved on the rewind knob (pre-1964 SVs have a green 'R'). Since mine has an orange 'R', I can date the camera to after 1964. I'd like to think that it's from around 1967 - the year I was born - making the camera at least as old as I am! That's pretty cool.

In terms of features, the list isn't large. It's an all-mechanical (no battery required) camera with shutter speeds from 1 sec to 1/1000th sec plus Bulb. There is absolutely no meter (hence no need for a battery), no viewfinder information (it isn't even split screen to help with focusing), a self-timer placed under the film rewind/ASA wheel, a focal plane cloth shutter and a frame counter - and that's it. It's a 100% manual camera, using M42 screw-mount lenses. Hence its appeal and cult status among film camera enthusiasts.

My copy looks very clean, the shutter cocks smoothly, shutter speeds seem ok - and as already mentioned, the lenses look great - so I'm quietly confident that it will take some decent images. It looks and feels like a reliable, solid, no-nonsense film camera. In short- a classic Pentax. And I am really looking forward to shooting a roll of film through it. I may just have found my Christmas holiday project.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Film Scanning Part Two - Epson V700

Last post we looked at the different options for film scanning and I suggested that the flatbed film scanner was the most versatile option. Not only will they scan documents, but also 35mm, mounted slides, 120mm roll film and even large format negatives up to A4 size!

Like anything worth doing properly, scanning film requires a little patience, a little practice and a lot of time. You can't really just push and button and expect perfect scans first time. Yet having said that, it's also not the black art that some make it out to be. A little trial and error and you'll be making beautiful scans every time.

I use an Epson V700 photo scanner, so that's what I will cover with the settings required for a decent scan. You may use something else - and you may also use different software. But generally the settings will be similar, and the process almost the same no matter what combination you happen to be using. And one final caveat: these are my observations and settings. You may agree, or disagree, with some or all of them. But hopefully they will be at least a start from which you can do your own experimentation. What I can guarantee is that the settings as outlined below give me exceptional scans to work from. Nuff said.

First it should go without saying that the cleaner your workspace the better. Dust is the enemy of negative scanning, so do all you can to avoid it. For me, this generally means wiping down the scanning glass before each use, and blowing any dust from the negative once placed into the film carrier with a blower brush. Some people use compressed air, but I find this to be overkill. Especially if you use software at the scanning stage to get rid of dust spots (which I do).

The initial scanning menu for the Epson V700
In terms of scanning software, I've tried them all. Vuescan is a popular choice with plenty of options, as is Silverfast - both stand-alone products you can purchase for film scanning. Occasionally these will also come bundled with your scanner - although usually in basic, paired-down versions. Having tried them all, I can honestly say that Epson's proprietary software - Epson Scan - is the equal of any of them. Some may disagree - but I keep coming back to Epson Scan for the best results with the least amount of fuss. I presume that Canon's scanning software is also just as good, but I can not vouch for that from experience. Needless to say, I don't think you need to go and spend another $100+ when I'm sure the manufacturer's software is more than up to the task.

So to get to the nuts and bolts with Epson Scan, you need to choose 'Professional Mode'. This will bring up the options box (shown above) so you can tweak your scan. Choose your document type (in most cases it will be 'Film with Film Holder') and then Film Type (color negative, color positive or Black and White). Then, under Image Type, choose 48 bit color if it's a color image, to get the most information you can in the digital file.

Next is Resolution. This is somewhat controversial, as many would argue that the large resolutions that are claimed by these scanners are in reality only software trickery (called interpolation), and that a dpi of around 1200 is really all you need. This may be true. But after my own testing and scanning of hundreds of negatives, in both 35mm and 120 medium format, I have settled on a maximum of 4800 dpi for my scans to get the most detail. The Espon V700 will scan much higher than this, but after 4800 dpi I have found diminishing returns for the file size. At 4800dpi, a scan from a 35mm negative can result in a 100+MB Tiff file, so you really only want to do this level of scanning to the images you really want to archive and print from. Proofs of other images can (and should) be scanned at a smaller resolution (around 300 to 600 dpi).

And lastly, I check the Unsharp Mask, Grain Reduction and Digital ICE boxes. The Unsharp Mask is a matter of personal preference. I know that most would rather sharpen their images for final output in Photoshop - and I'm one of them! I also think that applying Unsharp Mask at the initial scanning stage doesn't hurt either. And the same applies to Grain Reduction and Digital ICE. Some say that Digital ICE can 'muddy' the image, but I haven't found this to be the case. Epson describes Digital ICE technology as;  "a hardware-based dust removal method that is more accurate than the Dust Removal feature. Digital ICE Technology can remove dust or scratch marks without affecting the image composition. However, it takes longer to scan using Digital ICE Technology and also uses more of your system resources."  I concur with this description. At 4800dpi, a 35mm negatives takes around 5 minutes to scan with Digital ICE turned on (although it will initially tell you it will take 10 minutes). I have a fairly powerful computer with 16Gig of Ram, so your times may vary accordingly.

Now all that's left to do is hit the 'Preview' button and the scanner should hum into life and do a quick 'preview' scan. Once the preview appears - probably in the default 'Thumbnail' mode, I change this to 'Normal' so I can make my own selection (thumbnail mode often crops the image in very strange places - especially medium format).

Zoom in on your initial Previewed selection.
Once I've made my selection of the neg I want to scan, I will hit the 'Full' button to do a quick scan of just that negative. This will now appear on its own in the  Preview box. Don't panic! It will probably look horrible?! Very Cyan or Green looking. This has to do with the dyes used within the film emulsion itself. One click of the 'Auto Color' button (the first button in the 'Adjustments' section)and we will fix this. The above scan has had the Auto color adjustment applied and is looking much better. But we can get it looking even better still.

Resulting Histogram after Auto Color applied
If you look at the resulting Histogram after Auto Color has been applied (by clicking on the second button in the 'Adjustments' bar), you'll notice that the highlights and the shadows don't line-up. To get a digital file that includes the full range of information the scanner is capable of producing, we need to help it to 'see' this information by moving the highlight and shadow sliders.

Also notice from the histogram that there is a couple of 'spikes' in the information on the right (highlight) end. Those white spikes are the white areas top and bottom of the preview scan as seen in the image above. They are nothing to be alarmed about, and can largely be ignored. It does, however, mean that you won't want to pull the highlight slider all the way to the right, as this will sque the result.

You will want to move the bottom 'Output' sliders most of the way left and right (the greyscale bar below the input numbers), as this will 'normalise' your highlight and shadow values. You can then tweak the sliders on the histogram itself, and you should see the image visibly changing as you do so.

What you are looking for is not necessarily a perfect final image. In fact, what you are really after is something akin to a digital RAW file - with reasonably flat tones, with subtle contrast. In other words - a file that you can work with in Photoshop that has a full range of highlight and shadow values, and a complete tonal range that will allow you to play around with contrast and brightness.

Resulting image after histogram and output adjustments applied
Something that looks like the image on the right. You can see that the output sliders have been moved almost to the end - for almost (but not quite) maximum shadow and highlight values. And then I have moved the histogram sliders so that it 'looks' right, with detail in both the blacks and the whites. 

It's not 'popping' yet, but it will do once we take this initial scan and apply the rest of the magic in a more powerful editing software like Photoshop.

The final result after pressing 'scan'.
Once you are happy with the preview, the press 'Scan' and wait the 5 to 10 minutes that it takes to scan your large Tiff file (presuming you have TIFF selected as the option for your image). Even if I don't need a large file for my intended output (like the web), I still save a large (uncompressed) Tiff file, and I make my smaller copies from the 'master' tiff file. That way, if I do need a bigger version in the future, I don't have to go back and re-scan the negative again.

As I said earlier, you really only want to go through this process for your 'keeper' images. Making 100+MB Tiff scans of all your images would be fairly soul destroying - not to mention incredibly time consuming!

Final image with 's' curve applied in Photoshop.
So there you have it. My recipe for making decent scans from my negatives on a flatbed scanner like the Espon V700.

If nothing else, look at this as a starting point for your own experimentation when scanning. You may decide 4800dpi is overkill for what you need. Fair enough. Or that Digital Ice isn't really worth using. Up to you. But at least, by going through my process, it may clarify 'some' of the decisions around film scanning on a flatbed, and hopefully help those who are just getting started to make some seriously good scans right off the bat? Happy scanning.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Film Scanning Part One

Last post I wrote about how important it is to scan your own negatives. When you scan yourself, you have complete creative control over the final 'look' of your digital file. And, as we saw in the last post, this can make a huge difference in the final print (or online image).

Some people love scanning their own negatives. Others avoid it like the plague. I actually like it - but I also don't mind a healthy dose of computer work. If you really hate scanning, you could get someone to do it for you. But there goes that creative control again.

Many also find scanning film quite daunting. There's too many buttons and options. What scanner do you choose? What software do you use? It's all a bit too confusing for many analogue shooters, so they just let the lab do it for them. And while some labs do a fairly decent job of scanning, you will end up paying an arm and a leg for the privilege - especially if you want hi-res scans (why wouldn't you?).

In terms of scanning film, there are four options. Three of them require dedicated scanners, while the other is to use a digital camera and macro lens on a copy stand to re-photograph the negative. Many claim excellent results with the digital camera method, but for the purposes of this post I am going to concentrate on the actual scanning options.

Setting up a Drum Scanner
First is drum scanning. Unless you are incredibly wealthy, incredibly serious about film scanning, or simply must have the best quality scan possible, then you probably aren't going to be drum scanning your negatives. As the name suggest, 'drum' scanning involves the film being suspended in an oil solution for better clarity and dust resistance) and attached to a drum that revolves at incredibly high speeds while the scanning takes place. Some specialist labs will drum scan negatives for you, but it won't be cheap.

Dedicated film scanner from Plustek
Second, and much more affordable than drum scanners, are dedicated film scanners. Something like the Nikon Coolscan or Plustek film scanners. These units specialise in scanning 35mm negatives or slides and are used by professional photographers and designers as affordable home solutions that do a fantastic job. They are fairly compact, scan at high resolution, and are a great option if you only shoot 35mm film.

This is also, however, their major drawback. If you also shoot medium format 6x45, 6x6, 6x7 etc, then you won't be able to scan them in these dedicated 35mm film scanners. You also have to be a little careful about the age of the scanner. If you pick up a Nikon Coolscan from the 1990s you will probably have a hard time getting it to talk nicely to your iMac or Windows 10 PC.

Epson's V700 Photo Flatbed scanner
The third and final solution for film scanning is the flatbed scanner. To my mind these are the ideal solution - not only because they can do double duty as both a film and document scanner, but they are also capable of scanning 35mm negatives, mounted slides, medium format and large format negatives!

They are a lot bigger than the dedicated film scanners, so take up more space in the office. But what they lack in compactness, they more than make up for in versatility.

Not all flatbed scanners can scan film. For a flatbed to be able to also act as a film scanner, they tend to have a second scanning light for the film in the lid of the scanner. This makes them quite a bit larger than ordinary flatbed scanners. And quite a bit more expensive too. Top-of-the-line photo flatbeds like the Epson V700 Photo will cost around $1000NZ. They are certainly an investment. Yet as with most things in life, you get what you pay for. And when you consider how much a decent drum scan will cost (upwards of $50 per 6x7 scan), then flatbed scanners pay for themselves fairly quickly.

Top end flatbed film scanners like the Epson V700 or V850 advertise themselves as having 'drum scan quality'. While this may be stretching the truth a tad, the fact is you can get exceptional files using these scanners - with a little effort. In Part Two I will detail how I scan negatives using the Epson V700 Photo flatbed scanner.

Shoot film - scan the negatives - process the digital files. This 'hybrid' workflow is the best of both worlds. And at its heart, is the humble scanner. If you're a film shooter and don't own one, you might want to rectify that real soon. Just saying....

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Why you should scan your negatives

For quite a while I’ve had a love/hate relationship with shooting film. I love the actual process of using and shooting with film. I love the creative choices involved with film; which make/colour palette/speed will I use today? I love being able to buy some seriously great film cameras for a song. I love the fact that you can be involved in the whole process – from woe to go – especially with black and white. I love the way film really does make you slow down and not burn through thousands of frames in a day. And I love the ‘look’ of film achieved naturally, rather than artificially on a computer. So far so good.

Before and After. Print received from lab - and my own scanned negative processed on the right.
What I hate about film (although maybe ‘hate’ is a bit harsh) is a much shorter list. I hate that the cost of film has gone up so much (supply and demand I guess). I hate that there are less and less places to go nowadays to get (colour) film processed. But mostly, I hate (or am at least disappointed with) the way the prints look when they come back from the lab.

Maybe it’s just me? Maybe it’s because ‘expert’ colour printing labs have gone the way of the dodo (or are just far too darn expensive to consider using). Maybe the training for lab technicians isn’t there anymore? Maybe the chemicals and processors aren’t maintained as often as they used to be? But whatever the reason, whenever I get prints back, they are always flat, dull, lifeless and disappointing.

Yes, I know I can ask them to reprint. But seriously, who can be bothered? If my suspicions about technician training is true, would it really make a difference? I live in a fairly small town, with only one lab. And I get the very distinct impression that if it isn’t digital, they aren’t all that interested. If I lived in a major city then I’m sure my options would increase. But once again, at a cost.

I could forego the print and just pay for developing only – and I often do. Sometimes, though, it’s just nice to also have the print in your hand – even if it’s only for proofing purposes. Just never take the lab-rendered print of your negatives as the gospel truth of what you shot. In my experience at least, they are more often than not incredibly disappointing.

Another Before and After. The difference is almost night and day...
 Even as film shooters, we should be embracing the digital age. In the same way that photographers enjoyed developing and printing their own black and white film (and some colour) in the “good old days”, film photographers should adopt digital technology and scan their own negatives for printing.
And just as developing and printing your own black and white film in the darkroom allows you to be involved in the whole analogue process, scanning your own negatives allows you to be involved creatively with the digitising process. All the images on this post show the remarkable improvements made to the image when you scan your own negatives and have creative control. The before and after examples show the disappointing lab print as delivered to me, next to my own ‘processing’ of the scanned negative. The results are almost literally night and day.

Caravan. Canon T70. July 2011

If you’re a film shooter and don’t own a decent film scanner, then you are at the mercy of your lab for scans and prints. Scanning your own negatives gives complete creative control back to you, the creator of the image. As film shooters, isn’t that we want?  

Friday, May 13, 2016

The G.A.S. continues....

Oh dear... I've done it again. Just when I'd decided that two more cameras was enough, a Nikon F90 caught my eye. It was a $1 reserve, was closing soon, and was only up to $12.50NZ. I waited until the last minute, and then put an auto bid of $20.00 on it. It came back straight away to tell me that another auto bid had raised the price to $21 and I was out-bid. I didn't really want to get into a bidding war, so just hit the button to add $1, to take it up to $22NZ. To my surprise I was now the top bid. Surely someone else would chime in and go higher though? Surely?

Nope. I won it for $22.00NZ. A Nikon F90 (body only). For $22.00. Not surprisingly, I'm pretty happy about that.

The Nikon F90 (N90 in the USA). Nice....
I've owned an F90X previously, and really liked using it. It's one of the film cameras I regret selling. But now I have the earlier, straight F90 variant (without the 'X') and I'm planning to keep this one a little longer than I did the F90X.

The F90 is a classic Nikon film camera that offers the best of both worlds - fairly sophisticated technology from the 90s, with a rugged body and great handling. In Aperture priority (which is what I shoot in 99% of the time) I really love the way the aperture is still controlled by the aperture ring on the lens and not a push button or lever. It's an auto-focus whiz bang computerised camera, with some traditional full manual touches thrown in. I'm looking forward to it arriving so I can get to know it again. I have a Nikkor 75-240mm (or something like that) in my camera cupboard somewhere, and I'll use this on the F90 until I can get a fast prime for it. Probably the 50mm f1.8D initially.

Quick Yaschica 230AF update. It arrived, it's in great cosmetic condition, and it works! Yeah! I cleaned it up a little, checked the lens (very clean and clear), viewfinder (amazingly dust free), and film transport unit (all seals are still 100%), and popped in a fresh battery. It sprung to life immediately. In fact it's so pristine, I'd say it's practically never been used. Amazing. For $10NZ!

The Minolta X300s hasn't arrived yet (should be soon), followed by the Nikon F90. Add my Ricoh KR5 Super and that gives me four film cameras. Maybe that's a couple too many? Although they are all quite different.

I think I'll use them all and see how I feel about them after that. They really cost me peanuts, so I may end up keeping them all? Although I would like to get more lenses, and none of them use the same lens mount - so that's a bit of an issue. We shall see...

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Hybrid photography (in a crazy mixed up world)

Last post I wrote about a couple of new acquisitions in the film camera line that I am now waiting to arrive. Having therefore reignited my interest in film photography, I re-read a few of my old posts (just the last few), and decided to do a quick update for anyone who may have read them and been left wondering...

First, I'll introduce a bit of heresy and talk digital. If you did read the last few posts, you'll be left with the impression that I am; a) shooting weddings in both digital and film; and b) using a Canon 1D Mk3 and 50D for digital, and a Canon EOS 30 and EOS 5 with film. None of that is true :-)

If you also happen to follow me on my other blog; then you will know that what I am actually shooting with now is the Olympus OMD EM5 Mk2. I sold the Canon 1D Mk3 and decided to 'downsize' to the micro four thirds mirrorless Olympus - and I'm so glad I did.

It is such an amazing piece of technology - as well as being a brilliant camera. But the other reason I love it so much is because of the sheer 'filmness' of it all. What do I mean by that?

Well firstly - just look at it. Retro is 'cool' in cameras at the moment, no doubt. But I truly think Olympus are the company that are implementing 'retro' the best (followed very closely by Fuji). Not only does the OMD EM5 Mk2 look like an OM film camera of old, but I've got it set up to shoot like one as well and yes, I have shot with OM film cameras.

See the flippy-out lcd screen on the back? I flip that around and fold it into the back of the camera so that it faces inward, not outwards. So no lcd screen on the back of my camera. Everything is composed and controlled via the electronic viewfinder, so I know what I'm getting before I take the shot. No need to 'chimp'.

I also often shoot in jpeg mode, which is a lot like shooting with slide film, in that the latitude isn't as large as it is when shooting RAW files, and setting are 'baked' into the file so you need to get it right in-camera. A lot like shooting film. And this makes you slow down and think of your exposure, composition, white-balance etc... A lot like using film. You can see where I'm going with this.

I once wrote, a long time ago (on this very blog I think?), that what I really wanted was an OM film camera with a digital back on it. Well wadda you know - that's the OMD EM5 Mk2. Almost literally.

So am I a reluctant digital user? No, not really. At least I don't think so. But having grown up with film, having learnt on film, and being someone who still enjoys film, I think I've been waiting a very long time for a system that gives me that experience (or close to it) in a modern - digital - way.

And of course, I can still shoot film. And still do. But with a very different workflow than before. Now, with scanning and computers, film photographers are adopting what is known as a 'hybrid' workflow. Hybrid because it incorporates both analog and digital. The film is the analog capture device - silver on plastic. Grain and not bytes. Then, however, the analog becomes digital when it is scanned into 1s and 0s (bits and bytes) for storage/manipulation/correction/sharing on the computer.

This 'hybrid' workflow is really the best of both worlds. We have the negatives with the film, and the scanned tiff/jpeg files on the computer. And depending on your scanner, these hybrid digital files from film can be as information-rich and detailed as any 'full-frame' digital camera. Scan at high-resolutions and it's not uncommon to get a 50MB (or higher) tiff file as a result.

Samsung S3 Camera Phone
There's really only one fly in the hybrid/film shooters ointment - the ease of shooting digital from the get go. I'll give you an example.

This weekend some friends and I went to chop wood for our local church. I wanted to document the occasion, but very quickly, because I was really there to help collect the wood. I also wanted to have the photos to share the next day.  I took two film cameras with me (an Olympus mju-1 point-and-shoot and the Ricoh KR5 Super), but never touched them the whole day. I ended up taking the photos on my.... phone. Yep, you guessed it. My phone. The point-and-shoot for this generation of photographers. Full disclosure: I hate using them. Absolutely hate it. Would rather shoot with anything else. And the image quality on my admittedly old Samsung S3 is only average at best. But brother, they are convenient! So that's what I used to 'capture' the day.

I could have (and probably should have) used the mju-1 instead. I'm sure it would be just as easy to quickly grab a shot and put it away again. But with the film camera I definitely wouldn't have had the images to show the next day. Horses for courses then I suppose. And it doesn't always have to be one versus the other. What's wrong with enjoying both?

Short answer - nothing.

Friday, May 6, 2016

The return of G.A.S. (sort of)

Last post I mentioned how it had been a while since I had written anything on this blog, but also hinted that it might be about to change. My interest (love) of film is being rekindled, and I will soon have not one, but two new cameras to play/create with and blog about.

I already have a Ricoh KR5 Super with a standard Riconar 55mm f2.2 - a very basic all manual camera that uses the Pentax K-mount. The 55mm isn't the fastest, or perhaps even the sharpest, lens for the K-mount system, so I thought I would look on-line and see if I could pick up a faster fifty, or perhaps a wider 35 or 28. That was my first mistake.

Actually it was really my only mistake. As soon as I start looking at old cameras on auction sites, I'm in grave danger of lusting after at least a dozen of them! And most of them are just so darn cheap! What is a guy to do? Well, if he's this guy, then he's going to bid on some of them - of course :-)

I started off just looking at cameras that had K-mount lenses that would go with the Ricoh. I lost out on a couple of Cosina's, and a Ricoh KR10, and I also thought that some of the Riconar lenses were actually going for too much. So then I weakened and started casting my net a little wider.

Excellent condition Minolta X300s with 35-70mm zoom
The first camera to tempt me into some 'serious' bidding was a very good condition Minolta X300s with Minolta 35-70mm f3.5/4.5 zoom. I've always loved Minolta cameras, and have owned a few film and digital Minolta's in my time (and then a Sony). The X300s was just too good to pass up on, and I won it for the princely sum of $20NZ.

The X300s is a little more 'automatic' than the Ricoh KR5. It's an aperture priority camera (I love aperture priority - it's what I shoot in most of the time), just set the shutter speed to auto and then set the aperture on the lens to whatever you want. The camera will then set an appropriate shutter speed. Easy.

I thought that was going to be the sum of my spending spree, since I don't really have any spare cash at the moment. But then I saw it, a Yashica 230AF for only $10NZ, and I couldn't help myself....

The Yashica (Kyocera) 230AF with 35-70mm f3.5/4.5 AF Zoom
I've never ever shot with a Yashica 35mm camera, although I did own a Yashica-Mat TLR for a while - a beautiful camera. This Yashica 230AF screams 80s computer gadgetry - all plastic and metal with buttons and screens instead of knobs and dials. It was the era of the auto-focus camera (although Minolta got there first with the 7000) and boy does it look the part.

Apparently Yashica only released a few auto-focus 35mm SLR's - with a unique lens mount - so there are just a handful of lenses that will work with these cameras. Given, however, that Yashica had a close partnership with Contax - and therefore with Zeiss, the lenses for these cameras are said to be very good. Even the 'kit' zoom that comes with this camera is reportedly 'better' than similar 35-70mm offerings from Nikon, Canon and Minolta. I'm looking forward to checking that out.

Cover of the Camera Manual
The camera is being sold by an organisation looking to raise funds, and is being sold 'as-is where-is' by people who obviously don't know anything about cameras. There's no battery in it (takes the Lithium CR235), and no guarantee it will work when I put one in, but I figure for $10NZ it's worth the gamble.

There is also the possibility that it won't even work with a fresh battery in it either? Some of my internet reading suggests that it also has an internal battery that last for 10 years, and once that has run down it needs to go in to Yashica for replacement! Yeah, like that's going to happen... not!

So when it arrives, I may, or may not, have a working camera on my hands? I hope it does work, because I'm keen to try the lens out - and maybe find a few more for it as well. And from the user reviews on the web that I've read, it seems to be a quirky camera that most people love using.

I'll let you know how I get on with both new purchases.