Film Photography reality Check

Noticed my Horseman VHR system in the corner. Again. It’s the last big film rig that I own. The Horseman VHR is a mini press camera (think press photographers from the 30s and 40s) that has interchangeable lenses and removable backs. It also has a rangefinder and framing window, so it works kind of like a really, really big Leica.

Horseman VHR

Anyway, I’ve got it, three lenses (all set up properly for the system), 5 backs, and seemingly every accessory ever made for it. That includes the custom hard case and another soft case. I originally bought it with the idea of taking it to Yemen. That didn’t happen for a variety of reasons but I’ve had it ever since.

I’ve been meaning to sell it for years. Just haven’t gotten around to it. Looking at it last night I shook my head and realized that I should have sold it years ago. I’m not likely to get much for the system these days. Sigh.

Then a little thought popped into my head. “Why don’t you use it? If you won’t get much money for it, why not? That’s why you bought it in the first place Isaac…”

That had a lot of appeal. I bought the camera system because I really liked it. I loved shooting with film, did it for years. I found a light meter app for the phone and downloaded it for free. Ilford is still going strong making film for the camera. Plus, the lab I liked using is still around and is now doing scanning too. This was starting to look good…

OK, time to get serious. How much would this cost? Added it up and it came to almost $800. Wow. Er, maybe I don’t need the super fancy processing. I’ll do negatives instead of positives. OK, 18 rolls of film (they are done in batches of 6) came up to just over $500.

Five. Hundred. Dollars. Keep in mind that there is no guaranty that I’d get anything I liked, or possibly anything at all. Never mind that this is how we used to do photography. You’d pay lots of money and see if you got anything useful. Digital photography has totally eliminated all of the guesswork, the time, and reduced shooting to a costless activity. Actually considering spending money to take pictures seems a bit crazy these days since the normal thing to do is free.

So I was left wondering what I’d gain by spending the money. It isn’t clear to me what the benefit would be beyond some (expensive) nostalgia. I could imagine the possibility that the negatives could be enlarged more than what my current camera offers but that doesn’t seem like a likely limitation. I don’t have any real complaints about my current camera and lenses. I’m pretty sure whatever I could do with the Horseman I could do digitally. $500 would almost buy me the newer version of the camera I have now or go a long ways towards a really sweet lens. Or something else, anything else.

Yeah, I can’t justify that kind of money on taking pictures. I was happy paying for and shooting film when that was what photography was. I have some ideas of what I’d like to shoot. I’m going to try with the digital camera. I reserve the right to go back to film if I think it’ll help but I think the Horseman is destined for eBay. Eventually. One day…

There’s no perfection in life (cameras)

I had started planning buying my first digital camera a few months back. I had it all figured out. I was going to get a Pentax K-01 and several of the really sweet lenses in their lineup. I love the quality of the lenses, I love the overall look and the feel of them. There’s no question that they are great performers. My main lens was going to be their 35mm macro lens, a stunning lens by any measure. It is a little longer than I would like, but I was willing to deal with that slight inconvenience for the quality. I was then going to eventually round out my collection with the 21mm and the 55mm lenses.

But then a few things happened. First, the K-01 started getting decidedly “meh” reviews. The image quality is great, but the handling and focus performance really disappointed. I’m willing to put up with some inconvenience (says the man who liked shooting 4×5 view cameras and pinhole cameras) but not for $800 I’m not. Pentax has since announced a new SLR camera that seems to take care of the more egregious faults of the K-01. While I was willing to rationalize the size of the K-01 (it is a little smaller than an SLR) getting an SLR would be going against one of the things I wanted in my new camera, a small size. Plus, it’s going to be $900. The lenses have also gone up in price, some by quite a lot. The 21mm and 35mm are around $600 and the 55 is now an eye watering $800. They’re great lenses, it could be argued that they’re still a good value, but they’ve gotten to be a bit more than I was willing to spend, especially if I’m looking at a $900 camera as well.

So what to do? Start again I guess. Here’s what I want in a camera system.

1) A small camera. I want something easy to carry around but it has to have really good image quality, so no all in one compacts for me. I want a good size sensor. Also, no SLRs. I want something noticeably smaller than that.

2) Interchangeable lenses. I’m still a bit of a purist, I like to shoot with prime (non-zoom) lenses. They have some technical advantages but mostly I just like shooting that way.

3) Great lenses. This is where the real “soul” of a camera system is. Great lenses aren’t just sharp, they have their own characters and are pleasing across many different parameters.

4) Must have a good user interface. If you can’t use the camera well, it gets frustrating to use.

5) I have to be able to afford it.

So #1 pretty much ruled out the two big boys in the camera world, Canon and Nikon. No big loss to me really, I’ve never really liked cameras from them and I’ve never fallen in love with any of their lenses. #2 narrowed it down some more. There are several compact interchangeable lens systems out there. #3 and #4 eliminated Sony. They are the heavy hitters in the compact interchangeable camera market. They have great sensors in their cameras. Unfortunately, their lenses are known to be mostly blah and the user interface is terrible. I really wanted to like the Sony NEX system but I could never use those cameras. 

That left me with Olympus, Panasonic, and, surprise, Samsung. Olympus and Panasonic both use the same format and have interchangeable lenses between them. They also have some highly regarded lenses available for their cameras. I think I could use them, they are for the most part well thought out and perform pretty well. My problem is with the sensors they use, they are just a bit too small for me. Yes, I think they would be plenty “sharp” enough for me, but I don’t like the character of the depth of field. In general, the smaller the sensor, the more depth of field you’re going to get. I like a little more flexibility than what the sensor in those will give me.

That leaves Samsung. I never would have thought I’d consider them, but they are looking pretty good. Small camera? Check. Their lenses are actually really good and they’re small. Plus, they actually make the lens I want, a 30mm f2. For whatever reason, that’s a tough one to find. The Pentax 35mm is a great performer, but it is just a little too long at 35mm and it doesn’t let in quite as much light as I’d like. The Samsung lens is half the price, let’s in twice the light, and is very well regarded. As an added bonus, I can easily adapt my Zeiss 50mm f1.4 lens I have kicking around. That’s one less lens to buy, and it’s an amazing one.

Samsung also seems to have the user interface down as well. I really like the control layout, everything I need is easily accessible. Its sensor is larger than the Olympus and Panasonic cameras as well. It also has a crazy resolution, enough that I can easily crop or downsize as I need to. Price? I can get the NX200 with a basic zoom lens for $600. The 30mm lens is $300 and the 20mm lens (also a good performer that is small) is $350. I can get an adaptor for my 50mm Zeiss for around $25. This is looking good.

It’s not perfect of course. Geotagging (embedding the GPS coordinates in each picture) is a bit of a pain unless I want to give up the flash shoe for their GPS. The complexity goes up if I want to geotag the RAW picture file. The NX200 is known for its slow speed writing to the card. The biggest drawback may be Samsung themselves. They aren’t known for their customer service. If something goes wrong, it might be trouble getting some help.

Still, for the cost savings I’m willing to take that gamble. Some might say that investing in the Samsung system is a little risky. I’ve been through so many systems that I’m not worried about it. Plus, it’s not as though it’s a tremendous amount of money (relatively speaking). Truth be told, it’s easy enough to adapt other companies lenses to the camera, I will probably pick up a few of those Pentax lenses I covet as time goes by. It would be easy enough to switch cameras if I ever needed too…

 

So I think I’m going to at least get the camera and basic lens fairly soon. It’ll be good to have a real camera again, and it’ll be even better to be shooting again.

I can’t believe it, a digital camera…

They’ve finally made a digital camera that I think I’d like to use. Usually that would be no big deal, Isaac liking a camera, big surprise. Of course I just recently talked about how digital doesn’t excite me and I’m going to do analog stuff… Of course, the last half of my “analog” photography was going to be digital anyway. There’s still the magic of the alchemy and the making of a physical thing. And of course it feels good doing something low tech. So I think I’ll still do it, I think. The problem isn’t the cost so much, the problem is that the cost involved is on decidedly unsexy things. I need to get a scanner, a light meter, chemicals, and some processing equipment like beakers and tanks. To me, that’s like buying a bunch of socks. Necessary but not something you enjoy spending money on.

Buying a new camera on the other hand… And of course, the camera is just an excuse to buy some lenses. I am still a total lens snob. I love good lenses for the images they create but also as objects themselves. That’s why I could never own any Sigma or Tamron lenses. They might have been fine performers, they felt like junk to me. My Leica lenses, various Zeiss lenses I’ve owned or own, the Pentax lenses I’ve owned, and all of the large format lenses have been joys to use and to hold. That’s one of the reasons this camera has caught my eye.

Front camera

 

It is a bit odd looking, as far as cameras go, but the top plate and back plate are really what caught my eye.

 

Top camera

Camera back

 

(all pictures from Pentax)

I have never liked digital cameras. I have long since appreciated their performance, but the cameras themselves were just awful. Lots of little buttons spread everywhere. On small cameras, important setting hidden inside menus or arranged in weird ways. This one is the first reasonably priced digital camera that appeals to me. Very clean, the important stuff is readily accessible without a lot of gunk clogging up the interface. The conventional wisdom on the camera forums is that this thing is the ugliest camera ever made. That was my first impression as well. But the more I looked at it, the more I realized I was just reacting that way because other cameras don’t look like that, and maybe the yellow version that is being shown had something to do with it as well. The more I looked at it, the more I appreciated how it was designed.

I had previously liked some of the small Sony cameras. They don’t make any lenses I like but you could adapt other companies lenses to them as long as you were willing to give up auto focus, auto exposure and even auto aperture. If I were going to go that route, I would have used the Pentax lenses (21mm, 35mm macro, and 55mm) because they are amazing and they are about 1/3 the cost of the likes of Leica. So when Pentax came out with this camera, things started to fall into place.

I have some other things that need to be taken care of (oh the joys of adulthood…) and it’s still not nice enough outside to go shooting anyway. I’m hoping that by the time spring rolls around I’ll be shooting again…

 

 

 

Photography? (Maybe)

I’ve been following the Facebook page dedicated to former employees of Penn Camera and participating in the nostalgia. People are digging out old pictures and we’re all remembering what it used to be like.

It got me thinking about photography again. I haven’t been shooting much in years. I brought back a smattering of old pictures from mom’s place, mostly stuff I did in school and decided to share some of them on Facebook. Looking at, and holding these things brought back a lot of memories.

Digital photography has never done much for me. I just can’t get excited about it. When I looked at the prints and polaroids I made in school, I remember shooting it, but I also remember making that object. THe process of developing the negatives, cutting them up, making the prints in the darkroom, even matting and framing them are all part of the interest for me. There is a difference between capturing an image and taking a step in making an object. The film I develop was what received the light, and the chemicals I chose determined how that light would look on the film.

I know, it all sounds silly, but it does make a difference. Digital photography to me puts almost all of the emphasis on getting the shot. Yes, there is post processing, but I always feel like I’m doing a spreadsheet or something when I’m manipulating data.

I have been thinking that I should get a “real” digital camera soon. They really are remarkable these days, far far better than when I was selling them. No matter what comes out, I just can’t get excited about the gear, or the process. Certainly not excited enough to spend what it will take to get one of the cameras that interest me.

Then it struck me. All of the most recent pictures that I have a connection to were taken with cameras I still own. My best pictures in Yemen were taken with a Chinese folding camera from the mid sixties and a pinhole camera. Here was my rather radical idea; why not shoot film?

I immediately liked the idea. I figured I’d do a “last hurrah” with the cameras I own. Thought maybe I’d use the B&W slide service I’ve used in the past. The slides you get back from them are just gorgeous. Shooting film in the quantities I have in mind isn’t all that expensive, or at least it wasn’t until I looked at those slides. It would almost $20 a roll in processing, etc. Way too much, no matter how beautiful.

The second thought that struck me was why don’t I develop it myself? Film processing is dead simple, and incredibly cheap. Now we’re talking…

I’ll need to buy a few more things like a light meter, processing equipment, and the chemicals. The big expense will be the scanner. Yes, I could buy a passable digital camera for that kind of money, but I wouldn’t use it. I may have finally grown up, the thought of owning the niftiest camera doesn’t really excite me any more. The few things I have to buy are less expensive enow than they were when I sold them.

Here’s my plan. I am going to primarily shoot with medium format film with small cameras. I’ll develop the film myself and scan it myself. I’m going to try to use a single film type but probably use two different developers. This all sounds really exciting to me now, with any luck I’ll be ready (and still excited) when spring comes around. It’ll be good to flex my creative muscles again.

Oh my Wallet! (Mac app store edition)

The app store for the Mac launched back on the 6th. I took a look at it that day and the next and wondered if it was going to do much. Several days later I did something I probably shouldn’t have done, I went through the app store again, category by category. Ouch! Here’s what I got…

 

Clippy. We’ll start out with an inexpensive app, this one is only 99 cents but it’s brilliant. I don’t know how many times I’ve wanted to copy and paste multiple things, but since the clipboard can only store one item at a time I had to constantly go back and forth between the sources and the destination. Clippy to the rescue!

 

Screen shot 2011-01-17 at 1.42.46 PM.PNG

 

 

Now I can copy as much as I want and have all of the snippets at my disposel at once. Like I said, simple, but awesome. Well worth the 99 cents. It would be perfect if it could do pictures as well, but the text only mode is still a Godsend.

 

This next one is probably at the other end of the value scale. It’s 5 bucks and it’s called insight. What is it? Ummm, I guess you could call it a visualizer. What does it visualize? The workings of your computer. It takes readings of your CPU activity, free memory, memory wired (whatever that is), and memory active and turns them into a moving shape.

Screen shot 2011-01-17 at 2.05.07 PM.PNG

 

You can’t see it in that screenshot, but those colors are constantly moving. It sort of reminds me of the “Bit” character from the original Tron. Yes, this is about as geeky as I hope to ever get, but I like it.

 

IP Scanner is a a free app and it’s a simple one. It essentially shows me who is on my network. Since I’m the gatekeeper to the internet and the other folks in the house are supposed to pay me for it, I want to see who is using it. This is a quick way of checking. And you can’t beat the price.

 

Sketchbook Express is a free app I downloaded on a whim since I don’t have any other drawing apps. This is the baby brother to the Sketchbook pro app and it will most likely do what I need it to do.

 

Now we get to the ouch portion of the post… Years ago, a program called Graphic Convertor was bundled with the mac OS. Maybe 10.2, 10.3? I don’t remember. I do remember that it was useful and easy to use, so I bought a full license. It is a lot cheaper than photoshop, and it could do the stuff I needed it to do. I saw it on the app store and noticed it was version 7.03. I had 4.1 installed, so I went ahead and bought the current version for $35 or so.

Screen shot 2011-01-17 at 2.16.39 PM.PNG

 

 

They have really cleaned up the interface and have put in a ton more functionality, it’s well worth the $35. In particular, I love the smart trim feature. They have also put in a browser and organizer. I haven’t gotten a chance to use it yet, but it looks good.

 

Pixelmator is another graphics program that I had heard of, and had heard good things about. Once again, it has a lot of the functionality that mere mortals need out of photoshop like curves adjustments, layers, etc., but at a fraction of the price. I took a look at the screenshots and the home page and went ahead and bought it even though I had just bought Graphic Convertor.

 

Screen shot 2011-01-17 at 2.24.30 PM.PNG

 

 

I think the UI is more polished in Pixelmator, but what really won me over was the support pages for the program. They have tons of video and text tutorials as well as a thriving forum. I think Graphic Convertor is a little hampered by the fact that they are a German company. There may be more help available in German, but that doesn’t help me much. So which one is better? Well, I did buy both, so I think they’re both pretty good. I may not have bought Graphic Convertor if I already had Pixelmator, but I am glad I have both, even if Pixelmator is in the $35-$40 ranger as well. I’ve used Graphic Convertor for so long that I’m pretty comfortable with it. If you’re a graphics newbie like me, you would probably be better served picking up Pixelmator first and then see if you need the conversion features or the organization features of Graphic Convertor.

 

The last app I downloaded was the current Stuffit Expander. it’s a handy app for expanding compressed files, and it’s free, so it was a no brainer. I downloaded a few more free program to see if i liked them, but I didn’t so I deleted them. No harm, no foul. I’m sure there will be plenty more new apps in the app store as time goes along. I hope I can afford this…

 

I don’t even care if it works…

… I’m in love. I could stare at this all day.

 

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Of course, this looks like it should be amazing. Fuji has always made good lenses and everyone has been waiting for them to make another camera with their amazing sensors. This could be it, this could be the thing that gets me to buy a camera. We’ll see what the price is, I’m hoping it’s south of a grand.

Speaking of going crazy.. (camera stuff)

Remember the camera I was lusting for? that super small Sony one? I just went a little crazier for it. There are a slew of adaptors being made so that various other brands can be used on it! This is huge. I’ve always been a lens geek, and this could allow me to use a bunch of different ones on the same camera. Sure, they make the run of the mill Canon, Nikon, and old Minolta lens adaptors, but I’m far more interested in the Pentax K, Leica M, Contax SLR, and Contax G(!) adaptors. The Contax G lenses in particular are way underpriced right now. It’s a lens geek’s dream….

 

Check out the page to see what I mean. Yeah, it’s in Japanese, but the pictures tell the whole story.

 

 

 

My next camera?

I know, I hardly ever shoot these days, so why am I looking at cameras? Habit I guess, I started looking around for the hell of it and was amazed to see some of the newer cameras out there. It looks like they are actually starting to make the camera that I had wished for back when I was selling them. I wanted a small camera with a 35mm sized sensor in it. In the years since, I have come to appreciate some of the depth of field advantages of a smaller sensor. Plus, the high ISO limitations that used to come along with the smaller sensors has disappeared. The new APS-sized sensors absolutely smoke 35mm in high ISO situations. So I think I could easily use a camera with a sensor smaller than 35mm, but I still want a really small camera. Is this the one for me?

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Yes, it’s a Sony. So what? I predicted long ago that when cameras became electronic gadgets as opposed to mechanical ones that the electronics manufacturers would rise to the occasion. Sure enough, Sony, Samsung, and Panasonic are all making strong pushes in the camera world. The images I’ve seen have been more than good enough, and the video looks fantastic. The key for me is that it’s small, small enough that I don’t mind carrying it around. They have even managed to get around not having a viewfinder by making the screen tilt-able. I would be able to use this like the TLR cameras I used to use. I love waist level finders, and this would work well.

 

Of course, the amount of money that this costs would go a long ways towards a new computer. So for now, this will be one more cool thing (ooh! shiny!) that I’m not going to buy. I’ll probably hold off on buying a new camera until I actually go on another trip. Lord knows when that might be…

"But what does my picture really look like?"

That’s a question I got a lot when I sold photo gear and I’m still getting it now. Last night, a lady was comparing the regular glossy screen to the anti-glare one on the laptops. They do look different but she was distressed because she didn’t know which one was “right.”

*PISH* Give me a color slide any day:-) Seriously, there is something satisfying about making a physical object that actually exists. Making a string of numbers whose appearance varies considerably depending on how it is rendered just doesn’t feel the same. Or maybe I’m just old fashioned.

I do think that the analog still has a place in this world, even if it’s only in the way people think about stuff. Are we hard wired to think in an analog fashion about certain things or is it just the way we were taught?

A great picture

This came from the website of the Yemen Observer, one of the English language newspapers in Yemen.

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Her name is Boushra Almutawakel and she is a photographer in Yemen. Needless to say, a female photographer in Yemen is a rather unusual thing. You can read the article via the link above to read more about her. I want to say a few things about this picture.

There’s no way to know what she meant by it but I find it quite powerful. Many people in the US and Europe see the hijab as a repressive aspect of Arab culture. Of course those people have probably never asked one of those women why they cover up. Part of it is simply dressing appropriately in that culture. A woman here in the US might have a reason to go topless, but she would have to think about it long and hard before she did so. It just isn’t done for the most part.

A more important part of the hijab is its religious importance for those women. By wearing the hijab, they reaffirm what they believe. Here in the US and in Europe, it is also a marker of her faith. Women who wear hijab here know that they are in some senses representing Islam so they better act accordingly. I wish more people that wore a cross would remember that as well.

The hijab is very powerful symbolism when taken in context of faith. Women are quite literally taking refuge under it and by extension Islam. That is why, in my opinion, wearing the American flag as hijab is so powerful. It is not just a religious statement, it is political.

Of course, it is the kind of politics that I like. She is free to do this, the US constitution guarantees her freedom to not only make this statement but to be a Muslim as well. It is everything that makes this nation great.

She may have been making an “in your face” statement to Americans with it. She might have targeted those people that conflate Christianity and being American or it may have been some sort of statement about the so called War on Terror. I have no idea, but that’s one of the great things about art, the artist does their thing and we are left to makes sense of it. What I love about it is going to piss some others off. How an American acts will probably be different than someone living in the middle east. The many different responses that can come from this is what makes it a great work in my opinion.

You go girl!

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