Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Monday, November 30, 2009

Medium format magic

I can't put my finger on it, but there's a look to medium format that's different that 35mm or digital. I'm sure it has to do with the size of the format, but since my experience is limited on the subject I cannot put it into words. All I know is, I like it.

These shots were made with my Super Ricohflex TLR of 1950s vintage, metered with a 1940s GE selenium light meter. Both shots are wide open at f/3.5, hence the vignetting. The film is Arista EDU 100 from Freestyle photo (widely rumored to be Fomapan). It's not my favorite film, but the price is right and I really dig these photos.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Frame 37

I like this one the more I look at it. It's frame 37, and since my Printfile negative sleeves hold only 36 frames, it's just part of a two-frame strip that I store behind the sixth full strip. Just goes to show, you can never have enough film. This one was shot with my Ricoh 35 ZF camera.

Any camera you have that winds manually should yield you 37-40 frames. You get the extra frames at the beginning of the roll, not the end — in fact, the last frame is pretty damn close to the spool (when you're loading in the dark, you need to cut right up against the tape that holds the film on the reel). Load the film carefully, shut the back of the camera, wind one frame, and blast away. What's labeled 36 on the film will be 37, 38, 39...even 40 if you're real lucky.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


I've been doing a lot of scanning this year, and I have found it frustrating that I couldn't add camera, lens, and other shooting info to the resulting jpegs (Lightroom lets you add all kinds of metadata, but no meat-and-potatoes EXIF data). After much digging I discovered Filmtagger, a free program for Mac and Windows that lets you do just that. Cool.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Street scenes

Canon Elan IIe, Arista 400 at 28mm.

A couple of painters were set up in an alley recently. Seemed like a lovely scene, and for some reason I like the way bricks look in B&W.

Canon Elan IIe, Arista 400 at 135mm.

In the one above, I like that the little girl appears to be holding a camera. Good for her! The farmers' market is a great place to snap photos.

I've never done a lot of "street photography," but I am starting to understand the appeal. You look at some pictures a second, third start to see all kinds of new details.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Children's shoes

Canon Elan IIe, Arista 400 film, Canon 28-135mm lens.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Caveat emptor

Buying camera gear can be a dicey proposition if you're not careful. Just realize one thing: retailers do not mark up cameras, bodies, or lenses very much. They make their money selling you memory cards, filters, batteries, straps, etc. So if you see a price on a new camera or lens that's significantly lower than you see it on Amazon, Adorama, or B&H, it's probably a bait-and-switch scam.

Say you buy a camera from one of these shady outfits, like Broadway Photo, Foto Connection, etc. About a day after you place your order, you'll get a "confirmation" phone call. During this call, the belligerent caller will try and "sell" you a whole bunch of items that should already come with your camera, like battery chargers, software, etc. They'll be pushy and mean, and you're probably not getting what you ordered in the mail. When you call them to complain, they basically tell you to piss off.

Most of these scammers have Brooklyn addresses, but they're not what you think — most are actually empty warehouses, shipping centers, or private residences. To his credit, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has begun cracking down on these unsavory business practices, but you still have to be careful.

If you're buying new camera gear, and you have any question about who you're dealing with, check one of these two sites before placing an order:

1. — you can see customer reviews of the stores themselves. Look for comments detailing bait-and-switch tactics.

2. Don Wiss' pictures of Brooklyn Camera Store storefronts. Some results may surprise you.

I have always received outstanding service from these retailers:
1. Crutchfield
2. B&H
3. Adorama
4. Freestyle Photo
5. Collectible Cameras
6. Beach Camera

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Blackrapid does it right

I have to hand it to Blackrapid. I ordered their R-Strap (love it) last October, and when I did I also ordered their replacement swivel hook they call the ConnectR-2. According to them, it was far superior to the swivel connector on the existing R-Strap, only they were still negotiating with manufacturers, etc., and didn't have the replacement available yet. When we have it, we'll ship it to you and charge your card. Incidentally, they offered it up at $0.01 — though with $4.99 shipping. But what's $5 if it'll help protect your valuable gear?

Months passed, and I forgot all about the ConnectR-2. Then an email came from Blackrapid, apologizing for and explaining the delay. And about a month ago, the replacement finally came. It was a vast improvement, as promised — a spring-loaded clasp was replaced with a locking caribiner-style connector that seems quite a bit sturdier than before.

Today brought a surprise in the mail: Blackrapid discovered a small amount of the new connectors had failed, and since they couldn't identify the lot they simply mailed a new one, along with a letter containing instructions on how to swap out the connectors. And since the connectors appear identical, they wrapped a piece of black tape around the new one to avoid confusion.

This is what you get when you deal with a small, homegrown company that cares about what it does: good customer service and support after the sale. And in return I have no problem recommending their products to other photographers — and other photographers notice and ask about this strap pretty often.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Another 35mm roll from the Holga

Again following the excellent instructions at Squarefrog, I shot a roll of 35mm film through the Holga. This time, I loaded Arista Premium 100, since the day I did it was sunny and I figured the Holga's 1/125 (or so) shutter at f/11ish might overexpose every shot at ASA 400. One key difference between this time and last: I taped the hell out of the camera with electrical tape to block light leaks.

Squarefrog also gives you a handy chart showing how many clicks to wind the wheel between shots. Turns out some enterprising nerd figured out exactly how many clicks you need to wind the film as the spool takes on film (and therefore changes size). It works perfectly to give you 24 frames per roll. Sweet!

Yep, that's the General Lee, parked outside Monticello.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

35mm film in a medium format camera

If you shoot 35mm film in a medium format camera, you're using film that's smaller than the image circle cast by the lens. Therefore, every bit of film is exposed, and the sprocket holes show up after processing. The problem is, using the film holder for my Canoscan 8400F scanner is no good, because it blocks the sprocket holes. Where's the fun in that?

I just placed the negative directly on the scanner's glass under the transparency backlight to get these scans. I didn't care if it wasn't perfectly flat on there because I shot it through a Holga to begin with. I've heard of folks flattening it on the platen using a piece of glass, too, to varying degrees of success.

As for modifying a camera to perform this experiment, nothing beats the flexibility of a Holga. Many others have done this before me, and I more or less followed the instructions at Squarefrog. An unused kitchen sponge worked great to keep the 35mm canister in place, and I did opt for the rubber bands on the 120 takeup reel to keep the 35mm film from straying to the edges.

So I have to wonder why anyone would buy a 35mm Holga...just buy the normal one and you get the 35mm version free.

Wind a few less clicks on the film reel, and the frames overlap, giving you a panorama, Holga-style.

I imagine this could work in many medium-format cameras, and I like the effect, so if I get my hands on one I'll be sure to try it.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Push processing

When I ordered my photo chemicals from Freestyle, I threw in a few rolls of their house brand Arista Premium film. It comes in ASA 100 & 400, and I chose 400. Rumor has it the film is really re-branded Tri-X, but I don't have enough experience with film to verify this. The reason to try it out is that it's only $2 a roll, while Tri-X is $3.75 or so.

I do know that people love Tri-X because it's very "pushable," meaning you can underexpose by a couple of stops, then develop it longer to make up the difference. The result? You can shoot your 400 film at ASA 1600. The difference in developing times is about 3-1/2 minutes.

Being new to the film developing game, I had never actually tried this, and I assumed the grain would be plentiful and possibly annoying. Boy was I ever pleasantly surprised!

Good enough for me.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Adventures in Caffenol-C

It's been documented elsewhere, but once I found out about it I just had to try this — developing B&W film in a mixture of instant coffee, vitamin C, and washing soda. How cool is that? Here's what you need:

I used the Photojojo recipe:
12 oz. water
5 t. instant coffee
3-1/2 t. washing soda
1/2 t. vitamin C powder

I divided the water in half and dissolved the washing soda in one part and the coffee & vitamin C in the other. Let it sit until all bubbles were gone, then combined. I put the mixture in the fridge for a few minutes until it read 20° C.

How long to develop was a crapshoot. I've seen starting times on the web anywhere from 12 to 30 minutes. And to top it off I was developing a roll of Arista Premium 400 film I had exposed at ASA 800. I decided upon 30 minutes. I also didn't agitate as much as I would using regular developer. Just didn't seem necessary with such a long developing time.

It's funny how bad this stuff smells — you'd think it would result in pleasant-smelling coffee-tinged negatives, right? Well, to me it smelled like the air you let out of an old tire. Weird!

Anyhow, after 30 minutes I used a Kodak fixer and then washed using the Ilford method. Went to hang up the negatives, and...they looked black! Oh, crap, did they need more time since they were underexposed to begin with?

After holding them up to a light I was relieved to find they had indeed been developed — but a combination of underexposure and a coffee stain made them look different from the other negatives I've developed. The pictures are there, sure as hell.

Problem is, I couldn't scan them. They were too dark, which in most cases would indicate the photos were overexposed — except that in this case, the whole roll was deliberately underexposed by one stop. So I conclude that I let them soak too long...30 minutes was too much time. I'll try again soon, with a shorter soak time (and maybe a slightly higher temperature). Clearly, though, this developer is viable.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Canon 100mm f/2.8 macro

I got a chance to play around with the Canon 100mm f/2.8 macro lens recently, and came to the realization that macro photography is tougher than it looks. With no depth of field at such close distances, it's imperative that you stop down...which in turn slows your shutter speed. A tripod is needed at the very least, and manual focus is advisable. Macro shooters know this, of course, but I'm usually late to any party.

It was the first time I've used "live view" on the 40D. Other than macro, I can't imagine using it again, really. Maybe for a portrait. To me it's a vestigial feature meant for marketing bullet points. Shooting macro on a tripod, however, it did come in handy.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


I'm getting ready for some fun with film. My dad generously lent me his Paterson Super System 4 developing tank and Western Model 100 bulk loader. I've got 7 or 8 rolls of film ready to develop, though I'll probably burn through a new roll to use as a tester since I've never actually developed film before. It seems like it'll be easy, but still...

I ordered the chemicals from Freestyle Photo in Hollywood. I've never ordered from them before, but after poking around on film forums the last couple of weeks I figured I'd check them out. They have a much more extensive collection of B&W film than the big NY stores. I added 5 rolls of Arista 400 B&W film ($1.99 a roll!) just for the hell of it — I really need to settle on one or two films I like, or I'll be developing one roll every time. The Paterson tank can hold 3. A lot of the forum jockeys are convinced that Arista 400 is really re-branded Tri-X. We'll see. If I like it, I'll buy 100 feet of it and fire up the bulk loader.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


Canon's 10-22mm lens is a great option for APS-C cameras. I've got one for a few weeks and am having a great time with it. Naturally, 99% of my shots are at the wide end, like this one.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Film school

I've had a real bug lately to shoot black & white film. I plan to develop it myself & scan it. I've even gone so far as to purchase a vintage film camera and a scanner that can handle transparencies. I'm not abandoning digital, but film is really tugging at me lately. How can this be?

I already spent a lot of my time taking/processing/sharing photographs. I found a way to take a time-consuming hobby and make it even more time-consuming.

Part of the pull of film is the DIY aspect — I love that. Deconstructing the photograph is another thing to love. There's a real sense of satisfaction that comes from taking a decent photograph with a toy Holga camera or a pinhole lens I made out of tinfoil.

My wife & I just had a baby, so I'm taking tons of pictures — but now I'm spreading it around. I keep the AE-1 loaded with ASA 1600 film and leave it upstairs for indoor baby shots. The Ricoh 35 ZF has ASA 400 film in it for casual outdoor snapshots. The Holga stays loaded with ASA 100 film just so it's at the ready. My 40D still does most of the work, but I carry the Ricoh around now as my point-and-shoot.

There's a look and feel to film that cannot be recreated in digital. I can't put my finger on exactly why, but it's true. I'm not saying it's always better, just different.

Is the pull of film becoming a trend? I read Ken Rockwell's site regularly, and he's been on a Leica M7 trip all this year. David duChemin published a post recently on the topic. Is it a strange lunar year or something?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Snow day

Virginia gets very little snow, so when some does come it's quite an event. Last night we got about 5 inches.

Here's Charlotte checking it out:

Later in the day, the sheet of snow starting melting on the metal roof at work:

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

40D at ISO 6400

ISO 6400 is achieved in the 40D by choosing ISO 3200 and -1 EV of exposure compensation, then pushing it a stop during RAW processing. Actually, ISO 3200 in the 40D is really ISO 1600 and -1 EV manipulated in firmware — it's why it says "H" instead of 3200. Anyhow, it worked out okay.

You can see some banding in the shadow areas in the shot above. Shadow areas were rendered poorly using this digital push process. I came away from this experiment believing that black-and-white conversion was the way to go.

The shot above shows banding, too, but it's sorta kinda useable. If you printed it fairly small it wouldn't be as noticeable. And as long as you stay away from the shadows, the 40D does pretty well considering it's being pushed two stops past its limit.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Juggling cameras

Sorry, it's not a funny clip like when Father Carlos Las Vegas de Cordoba shows Navin Johnson underground footage of cat juggling in Mexico (thanks, paranoid losers at NBC Universal for removing the clip from YouTube).

Nope, it's how I shoot my pictures lately. I've had this urge to shoot film recently, and I've been doing so with three cameras: a Holga 120N, Ricoh 35 ZF, and Canon AE-1. And, of course, the Canon 40D still does most of the work. But I carry the Ricoh around with me during the day in case anything interesting reveals itself. And I'll see something that screams "Holga shot" and go out the next day to shoot it. The AE-1 has a roll of ASA 1600 Fujipan B&W film in it now for indoor use.

The cameras tend to collect on my mantle, mostly out of convenience so I can grab whatever camera strikes my fancy (I often grab two). But today has proved to be a tipping point — I scored three EOS lenses to test out over the next month. So now the mantle looks like this:

Even I can't live amongst such clutter. It shall be cleaned up this evening.

I've been testing out various films lately, and I plan to do a post about their pros and cons as I see them sometime in the future — I need to acquire a scanner that can handle transparencies first.

I got the first few B&W rolls developed at Stubblefield's Photo Lab here in Charlottesville. They do great work, and I really thought their scans were great. Then I had a roll of Fuji Superia and Kodak 400CN (the C41 B&W film) developed at CVS 1-hour photo and scanned to a CD. Not so good. It looked like they had Mr. Magoo hammering on the sharpening control in the scanning software. They weren't even email-worthy, but at least I have the negatives. And sorry, Stubblefield's, I'll never stray again.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Ricoh 35 ZF

I got my first roll back that I shot through the Ricoh 35 ZF. Let's just say that sucker's sharp when you guess the focus right.

It's a zone-focus, shutter priority point-and-shoot camera. A distance scale is printed on the 40mm f/2.8 lens, starting at 0.9 meters/3 feet and ending just after 5 meters/15 feet. Since 1 meter is roughly 39", or 3-1/4 feet, the distance scale is an approximation. Landscapes are easy, you just twist the lens to the "mountain" setting. That's helpful, because I live in a mountain town.

In the shot above, I'm probably 3 feet away and have it set on the "torso" setting. Look how sharp it is! That's Tri-X film, probably 1/500 (the maximum) shutter speed, maybe f/11 or so.

Since the lens can open to f/2.8, it's usable indoors under good lighting conditions. Take, for example, the following shot. My daughter's room has a double window off to the right, and it's covered by a set of wooden blinds. You aim the louvers just right and it directs the light where you want it to.

At ISO 400, I'll guess it's 1/30 exposure at f/2.8. My hand is pretty steady, so I feel good about shooting at 1/30 all day long. I'm guessing around f/2.8 here because of the vignetting (which I love, anyway).

I really like this little camera. It's so simple to use. The toughest thing I've encountered so far is remembering to set the distance scale. But if you're thinking just a little, it'll give you razor-sharp images. It also makes almost no noise at all when the shutter clicks — street photographers will have a field day. Get it or any other old camera from Collectible Cameras in Phoenix, AZ — nice folks, great selection.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Point and shoot

I'm always halfheartedly shopping around for a point-and-shoot camera. I never pull the trigger, though, because (a) my wife has a perfectly good one, (b) we have an old one that still works fine, and (c) I want a bunch of features (RAW capture, wide angle, low pixel count, etc.) but don't want to spend any money. It's really more of an exercise in impulse control.

Well, until my recent film shooting bug hit me, anyway. I started looking around at old rangefinders, folding 6x6, and other old cameras, thinking it was a way to get what I wanted in a point-and-shoot: quality images, manual control, low low price. So here's what I got:

The Ricoh 35 ZF is a 1970s point-and-shoot camera that takes ASA 25-800 film. It's extremely easy to use and has a 40mm f/2.8 lens. This one came from Collectible Cameras in Phoenix, AZ. Check them out if you're looking for a used camera of any kind. Their selection is amazing, and they're very nice to deal with.

The little lever to the right of the lens is the self-timer.

The "ZF" stands for "zone focus," I think. You focus this thing by guessing the distance from your subject, and the distances are divided into three zones: torso (1 meter), person with legs (2.5 meters), and mountain (infinity). You just twist the dial to one of those settings and fire away. It does have a distance scale with intermediate values, however, so I'll have to test that out as I go.

Like my Canon AE-1, this is a shutter-priority camera. You choose a shutter speed (1/8, 1/15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500, or bulb) and its light meter determines the aperture. Manual override is also possible (f/2.8-16). The light meter originally ran on a 1.3v mercury battery, but it works fine on a 675-type hearing aid battery (1.4v — we'll see if that affects metering at all).

It has a viewfinder, but it's just a hole on the side of the camera. The lens is visible when you look through it. A needle shows the chosen aperture if you're in automatic mode.

The manual proudly boasts that this camera is "small enough to carry in your pocket." Maybe if you're wearing a jacket or cargo shorts. It's bigger than the Canon G10, and would be best suited to wearing around your neck. This was definitely a no-nonsense tourist's camera in its day.

So why did I bother dusting off my AE-1 and acquire this old, featureless clunker? It's because I want to force myself to think about photography in different ways from time to time. I still shoot 99% of my photos with my 40D. But every now and then I plan to rip through a roll of film on these two cameras, both of which take away most of the features I take for granted when I use a digital body.

In theory, this should get me thinking more about composition and pay off down the road. We shall see!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Dusting off an old friend

Pursuant of my stated goal in my last post, I got out my Canon AE-1 outfit out of the closet yesterday. I have three lenses for it, a 28/2.8 Albinar, Canon 50/1.8 and a Vivitar 80-200/4.5. Here it is with the Albinar mounted.

I haven't used the AE-1 in a while, so I spent a few minutes wondering why I couldn't see the aperture blades on the lenses move when I twisted the aperture rings. I thought they were all stuck, and was feeling a bit bummed out about it, but as it turns out FD-mount lenses don't function until they're screwed on a camera.

The AE-1 is basically a shutter-priority camera. You twist the aperture dial until it locks in the "AE" or "A" position. Then you twist the shutter dial, and the camera chooses the aperture setting. A needle points to the chosen setting, which you see through the viewfinder. Simple as that. No wonder there was an old Saturday Night Live sketch that said "The AE-1 is so easy to use, even Stevie Wonder can use it." Sorry, Stevie.

The first roll is Tri-X 400. I'm 3/4 of the way through it. And to my embarassment, I found myself glancing at the back of the camera after squeezing off a shot.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

One of my goals for 2009

One of my goals as a photographer in 2009 is to shoot an occasional roll of film, and have it developed & scanned. I've got a manual-focus Canon AE-1 and a few FD lenses (my electronic Canon lenses won't work with it) that I'll dust off. But I've also been shopping around for an old camera.

I've started looking at rangefinders because I think they're cool, they're small, and they're easy to operate. They're cheap, too, so long as you stay away from popular brands like Leica. In the past, I stumbled upon the Collectible Cameras site while searching for Pentax screwmount lenses. It's a treasure trove, with anything from the simplest Brownie camera to Hasselblad outfits.

I don't know what most of their cameras are, and luckily I found the Camerapedia, a great resource that has some info on most of the cameras in CC's inventory.

Since I probably won't use it all that often, I'm going to settle for something cheap and working. I don't care at all what it looks like. As long as it works and can run a roll of readily-available film through it, I'm there. I am a believer that forcing yourself to think differently about your craft from time to time yields better results later.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Cold snap

The recent cold snap has hit Virginia, though not in quite the same manner as some other places. Still, it's been cold. I figured the stream nearby would be at least partially iced over. Here's what I found.

I didn't have a tripod with me (or a neutral density filter, for that matter), so I flicked the dial to shutter priority and dialed in a 1/10-second exposure. I know I can hold still enough with the 28-235mm IS lens to get a sharp shot at 1/10 or so.

The 28-235mm IS lens is, I believe, Canon's first IS lens. Or at least their first consumer-grade IS lens. The point it, it's an older design, and the IS is supposedly "primitive" compared to today's models. Whatever the case may be, I find that it works really well for impromptu silky water shots. Panning a bird? Not so much.

Canon must have a warehouse full of those lenses, because they show up as part of a kit on cameras that don't make sense — like my crop-sensor 40D and the newer 50D. That's a field of view of about 45-216mm, not nearly wide enough for a "walk-around" lens. I thought it worked great on the 5D Mark II, though. I really like the lens, and you can find one used for around $300.

Root system, streamside.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Tiny grip

I like these shots, and not just because of the super-cute baby. As much as anything, it's because the blurry parts of the photo are distinguishable, adding some detail to the composition.

Of course, I am a bit biased.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Retouching baby photos

Now I know why people always brought their kids to Sears for their "official" portraits, even though they had working cameras at home: babies have skin worse than teenagers. I was getting some closeups ready for my little girl's blog when I saw it up close and personal.

I don't love spending all kinds of time playing with my photos. But this is my little girl we're talking about — I wouldn't be much of a daddy if I didn't make her look her best, right? I was looking for a quick and easy solution, so I went looking for "portrait" plugins for Photoshop.

I knew anything I found, no matter how fancy, would smooth out skin tones while sacrificing detail. But I was willing to compromise a little detail if it saved me a lot of time. I settled on Portraiture 2 from Imagenomic, which is available as a trial download. It's a pretty complex plugin, and does its job well, I think.

Before applying Portraiture 2 plugin.

After applying Portraiture 2 plugin.

I call the above shot the "Olan Mills effect." It's smooth as a baby's bottom, but missing a lot of detail, like skin texture and wrinkles, little hairs, etc. But on the other hand, it's quick and easy to apply.

The shot below uses filtered daylight from a window blind, and really accentuates the baby's dry skin and acne. I couldn't leave it that way. But I like the way the light and contrast of the shot looked, so I didn't want to just smear away all the imperfections. I chose a more labor-intensive approach, using the healing brush and blur tool.

Before painstakingly removing skin blemishes manually.


t took maybe 10 minutes to get rid of the skin blemishes manually. Not my favorite way to work, but we're talking about precious memories here!