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.