Believe it or not, I’m in the midst of shooting with 4 film cameras. I’ve talked about two of them — the Rollei 35 and the Canon Rebel T2 — both loaded with 36 exposures of Portra 400. I’m playing with two other cameras which are new, in a sense, but I’m not ready to reveal them just yet — I don’t know if they are working properly. Once I develop the film and do the high-res scans, I’ll know for sure.
Shooting slowly and deliberately is something completely new for me. The limited feedback and the per shot cost of film will do that to you. Digital, with its instant and free feedback has made me a frenetic shooter and maybe that’s true for you too. But when you think about it, it’s not just photography. Our modern technologies have a tendency to make us less patient.
Ok, I know I’m going to sound like an old fart but bear with me. When I was growing up I had access to 4 broadcast TV stations. We waited anxiously for movies to be televised years after their theatrical run. And it was an event too. Everyone talked about it the next day. There were no 24 hour cable channels or on demand movies via Netflix. No DVDs or Blu-ray. VCRs became available for $1000 and pre-recorded movies cost upwards of $60 each.
I bought records, sometimes warped even when new, with my hard-earned money to get one or two songs that I really liked. We played and “enjoyed” the entire album because we had no possibility of paying a buck and change for only the songs we liked. The concept of creating our own virtual radio stations via something like Pandora was beyond comprehension. I guess we had top 40 radio where the most popular songs might play a couple of times an hour.
That was my world as a teenager. Waiting a few days or a week to get photographs developed was no big deal. That was the normal pace and we were all patient enough to wait. The concept of one hour photo labs sounded indulgent, even hedonistic. My recent foray into film photography has reminded me of life before internet speed. It’s kind of fun. I don’t remember everything that I shot on my current film cameras. It’ll be like Christmas when I get back my negatives.
I’m not giving up digital, I use it in conjunction with my film experiments. I may be slightly romantic but not impractical. The great thing is, as an amateur, I have the option to wait. I am not pushed by a professional deadline to post photos hours or even minutes after an event.
But all this got me thinking. Even in my most fervent pursuit of efficient digital expediency, I’ve never been an energetic social media guy. I just don’t see the purpose of updating one’s status every minute of the day. And who the heck cares about what I’m thinking about at any given moment. I suppose that’s why I enjoy blogging and long form posts more than instantaneous tweets. Perhaps having a bit more patience, forethought and analysis before we all say something will be good for everyone. Or maybe I’m just an old fart and slowly slipping into becoming a card-carrying Luddite.
Note: I shot the photograph above with a Canon Rebel T2 film camera loaded with Kodak Portra 400 with a 35mm lens and flash, converted to black and white with digital post processing.
There’s a dirty little secret with photography blogs — it’s the equipment reviews that pulls in the views.
You might notice that some of the popular blogs shift more and more to reviews. I’m not immune to these realities either, though I do actively try to resist. I guess it’s human nature to do more of what you are rewarded for. I started thinking of camera reviews because of a post I saw over at mingthein.com, an excellent blog by the way, and one that I follow consistently.
Ming basically writes in his post, A new way to look at reviews, that he is thinking of a palatable way to monetize his camera reviews and by extension his entire blog. Perfectly understandable. And as Ming clearly articulates, it’s a lot of work doing camera reviews and with not much upside, except if lucky, a larger viewership. You see, Mr. Thein is a professional photographer and every minute he spends on his blog is time taken away from other revenue generating opportunities.
It’s a tough world out there, especially for photographers and even successful photo bloggers. It makes sense, if you think about it. Look at the comments on Ming’s post. People acknowledge that he does great reviews but they also seem reluctant to pay for them. It’s certainly hard to fight a growing culture of free. These same forces are killing newspapers and magazines. Heck, this is the same mentality that is killing stock photography as well as the entire recorded music industry. So it’s not shocking, I suppose, that smaller fish down the food chain are also savaged by these strong currents.
So where do I fit in? Well, I’m lucky, I don’t make a living as a photographer or as a blogger. I can continue to do this as long as the sum of the value I derive from this activity outweighs all the negatives — and why I spend so much time on this blog is a topic for another post. But simply stated, it’s a major source of creativity for me, at least for now.
I am unabashedly an amateur photographer, and a passionate one, as you can hopefully tell. While I don’t have the authority of a professional or have 30 years of industry experience on my resume, I think I bring a unique point of view. While a 50-year-old talking about using film seriously for the first time, might sound laughable to the experienced, it’s a genuine experience. One that some of you out there might find interesting.
Am I going to do more camera reviews? Sure, once in a while. But it’s a lot of work and there are unintended negatives. I rather be known for good, even great photography. I fear though, at least from what I can tell from my circle of Austin friends, that I’m merely the blogger that does mirrorless camera reviews. That’s certainly not what I live for and that certainly don’t feed the creative muse. I suspect Ming, in his own professional way, feels the same. Camera reviews, monetized or not, is not the end goal, perhaps with the exception of places like dpreview.com. And how terrible is that? Look, dpreview is a great site and serves a useful purpose but I feel sorry for the folks having to do those camera tests.
Finally, as I’m talking about monetization, I’ll throw in a shameless pitch for my site. I have no plans to add advertising or charge for my reviews but if you find my stories and experiences helpful or entertaining, please considering using my sponsored links. I have that blue box with links to Amazon, B&H Photo and Precision Camera below most of my posts. If you are planning to buy anything from these sites, please click on the relevant link first. You get the same price and I get a small referral fee. You don’t even have to buy camera equipment. Want something from Amazon? Click on my Amazon link first. It’s true that I don’t need to feed my family with this blog, however, your vote with dollars certainly means a lot.
I got back my second roll of film the other day. I wasn’t crazy about the results, at first. I’m in the midst of an experiment with film. One that I started recently with a 45-year-old Rollie 35 and a new box of Kodak Ektar 100. The unexpectedly good results from that camera hurled me into more experimentation.
If you are familiar with my work, you know that I like saturated colors. I use HDR, not to create technicolor clown vomit, but for richly saturated “realistic” images. My exploration of film is for the same end goal — rich colors — though through a different process. I see the colorful portraits from Steve McCurry and I’m mesmerized. I’ve come to find that much of that unique color is through Kodachrome, a film which is no longer manufactured or being developed. In fact, Steve McCurry shot the last roll of Kodachrome which was documented through National Geographic. You can see his images here. And while Mr. McCurry is known for portraits, he also shoots urban landscapes. This is what really interests me.
I’m not trying to replicate a certain style, rather I’m trying to capture a richer, more organic look. For all the love I have for digital photography, I feel that its images look clinical. This may work well in certain cases, but the analog softness also entices.
I shot these photographs with a modern Canon Rebel T2 film camera loaded with Kodak Portra 400. Portra, as the name suggests, is geared more for portraits. To that end, many of pictures on this roll were of people and family snapshots. The Rebel T2 is as easy to use as a modern digital camera, other than not getting a preview on a LCD screen. It takes none of the fiddling and manual setup that is needed for the Rollei 35. On the other hand, this computer controlled plastic tool has none of the charm of an old camera.
Being a portrait film, Portra’s colors are more muted than Ektar 100. I knew that going in but wanted to see what it looks like. My first reaction — disappointment. For a person who likes a lot of color, even more than what Ektar gives, Portra was way too muted. Of course, it also had none of the richness of Kodachrome. My outlook changed when I discovered how to apply the right amount of post-processing to create the look I wanted. It wasn’t perfect for every photo but my results are promising enough that I’m keeping an open mind about this film.
No photographic test would be complete without Lucky. I shot him with a 35mm lens probably wide open at f2. His brownish fur was dull before post processing.
I shot Bethany with a 85mm f2, wide open. Post processing has also transformed these portraits from muted to dynamic. I’m happy her skin tones still look natural, even after greatly increasing saturation. Oh, and her hair, yup it was really that red. Portra seems to live up to its name. Skin tones, at least in good light, appear accurate. All I need is some digital post processing to bring out the film’s full potential.
I created candid portraits on 6th Street of women who work at Bikinis Sports Bar. They were more than happy to help me with my film test. Their skin was more yellowish-brown than I liked but Aperture 3 was able to improve the colors.
Would Portra work for non-portraits? Yes, I think. Especially with post processing. Ektar only comes in ISO 100 which makes night work difficult without a tripod — ISO 400 on Portra makes it easier to hand hold especially with a fast lens. I noticed more motion blur with the SLR at slow shutter speeds. A rangefinder or even the Rollei works better, there’s no mirror slap to add unwanted vibration and movement.
The final tally? All photographs came out and there were no true duds. I suffered motion blur in those dark handheld photos, especially of action on 6th street. It probably makes more sense to shoot night action, such as live music, in digital. Unless I use black and white film, that is, and really push the ISO sensitivity. That might be fun to do in the future.
A few portraits achieved something special — something that I think goes beyond what my digitals have produced. One in particular, of my kids, is a true keeper. If I squint long enough, the color, texture and grain has the feel of Kodachrome, perhaps a bit better. I’m using digital post processing to achieve my look, but that’s okay. I’m not a film purist. I see no problem combining the look and feel of film with the power of digital photography.
More tests to come.
I’ve talked a lot about film lately but I still shoot digital. I haven’t tuned into a luddite just yet.
Two weeks ago, I was on Rainey Street with my friend Mark. I’ve been there before, many times on Thursday as part of Drink and Click. Friday, I found out, was a completely different story. Crowds overwhelm the once quaint and downtrodden residential neighborhood. Most of the tired bungalows are now transformed into hip bars surrounded by towering condos. Yup, It’s Austin’s latest trendy night spot. Unlike 6th Street, with dirty low rent bars surrounded by colorful characters and catering to tourists and college students, Rainey Street street pulls in a higher clientele. At least it seems that way but I fear it’s popularity might inundate this small neighborhood.
We ate an early dinner at NO VA, a stylish and modern restaurant, and talked photography. Mark sported a pair of Leicas, a film one and digital one. I came lightly equipped with a single camera, the Fuji X100S. Our hostess had striking red hair and a pleasant smile and I asked for a portrait. The second floor balcony gave us a unique vantage point over Rainey and I thought Monica’s red hair would contrast very dramatically against the trees. The food was great too. A humble burger was transformed into fancy food and I’m told that they make everything from scratch, including the ketchup.
It’s hard to overestimate the change in this neighborhood. Adding to the 3 or 4 already built condos are several more big developments. This one is going to be the new Kimpton, the Hotel Van Zandt. A couple blocks north, the new Fairmount Hotel, which is said to be a 1000 room 47 story tower. I hope all this development doesn’t crush the feel of this place.
It was already dark when we left NO VA as we strolled through several interesting establishments. On 6th street, I shoot the people as well as the surroundings. Here on Rainey, I’m attracted to the details. Each place has put an emphasis on unique design. I love capturing the environment, especially at night. I’m attracted to the glow of lights, especially the kind that hang like pearl necklaces over patios. You see a lot of this on Rainey and I soaked it up.
First up, Bangers. Completely packed and serenaded by music, this place had a really good feel. It does a good job capturing the romantic image of Austin — wide open spaces, casual dinning and live music. The weather wasn’t bad either. Mid to late September is when the heat usually breaks in Austin. For a short time, with some luck, we get a few weeks of that California-like weather. Some people here wish for this kind of climate all year around. I don’t. Imagine how expensive it’ll be to live here with great year round weather? The prices are going up too much already. I say the heat keeps the weak away (and keeps the prices down, somewhat).
Lucille has a simple but striking design element. A glowing chandelier against a deep red cloth. More than other places on Rainey this place maintains its bungalow roots. Drinking here is like being invited over to an artist friend’s eclectic and humble house. The red centerpiece was enough to attract my camera and the ample windows made for numerous framing opportunities.
This are only a few remaining un-renovated buildings. This one rents out their yard to food trailers. There’s another food court like food trailer park on the other side of the street.
We met up with Mark’s friends celebrating a birthday at the G’Raj Mahal Indian Restaurant (love the name). Nice inexpensive details at this place, put together into a cohesive whole. I’m not sure how it looks during the day, but at night, it works. I ended up taking some people snaps with the built-in flash during the party, which the Fuji X100S does exceptionally well. I don’t often use flash but it comes in handy for sure. Beats taking smart phone photos with their underpowered LEDs and it’s more versatile than expensive cameras with no built-in flashes.
As you might have guessed, there’s a lot of hipsters with thick bushy beards here. I wonder how they make it through the Austin summers? Craft Pride, with 54 local Texas brews, get’s my award for the most full breads per square feet. For me though, what’s more important is that wonderful glow off the black board, warm wood textures and ample opportunity for moody silhouettes. Yes, unlike normal people who judge a brew pub by their beer, I’m more attracted by design, light and shadow. Out back, more glowing lights and a giant food trailer. Coming from New York, I never realized Detroit Pizza is a thing.
Last in this quick and partial tour of Rainey Street is Javelina Bar. I remember shooting here before with a preproduction Olympus OM-D E-M1 during a Drink and Click. That Thursday was particularly hopping with a live band and people dressed up in 1920’s garb for a murder mystery. On this particular Friday, however, it was still rather quiet, no doubt waiting for the onslaught to come later.
As Mark and I left, revelers streamed in from the north. Though Rainey Street is tucked into the out-of-the-way south-east corner of the Central Business District, it has hit the radar in a big way. The entire area is rapidly changing and I predict in the near future that there will be an unbroken chain of night spots all the way from 6th street. With all the hotels nearby as well as the convention center, out of towers will come here in droves. Perhaps the native Austinites will shift to another area. I know 6th Street, east of Interstate 35 has already started the journey of up and coming night spot.
It might sound like downtown Austin is turning into one giant party scene. Not quit, of course, but it’s nice to have a downtown with enough pull to get people from the suburbs as well as other cities to visit.
Rollei 35 and Fujifilm X100S
I’m having fun playing with the Rollei 35, a 45-year-old film camera that I bought recently for $75. To my delight, the darn thing actually works and works quite well too. It’s a total throwback, technology wise, and very different from shooting digital. But how does its image quality compare to modern digital cameras? Well, I just happened to have my Fujifilm X100S with me as I shot the Rollei.
There’s a lot of things I can compare but I’m concentrating on image quality, particularly the colors. Under almost every metric, the X100S is going to be easier and more versatile. Its computer controlled metering, focusing and feedback allows me to shoot most any scene with ease. And as you may know, the X100S is my most used camera since March. But recently, I’ve realized that film has some very nice color properties. So how does film and the X100S compare?
I shot both cameras from the same place back to back. Framing is slightly different since the Fuji is a 35mm equivalent and the Rollei is 40mm. I shot the Fuji with the PRO Neg.Hi film simulation in JPEG and I shot the Rollei with Kodak Ektar 100 film. What you see above are un-tweaked images, either directly from the camera or directly from the film scan.
Now let’s look at the same images after I post process them in Aperture 3. I’m generally increasing saturation and doing simple tweaks such as changing exposure and other settings to get similar colors. What I notice most is the rich wood tones on the bridge. As I increase the saturation on digital, the wood still doesn’t quite match the richness of film, however, the saturation boost has adverse affects on the rest of the image. Notice that the buildings in the background take on a pinkish-yellowish color. I particularly dislike the yellowish-green color that I get on the distant building on the very right.
The Ektar film image does not “ugly out” like the Fuji. The buildings maintain their white color and still has the rich wood tones. Now I freely admit that I might not have the post-processing chops to properly do the sophisticated adjustments. Maybe, if I used another program or a film simulation plug-in, I’ll get better results. But with that said, it goes to show even with simple processing, how easy it is to get good colors with film.
For sharpness and low noise digital wins, hands down. Ektar 100 is a low grain film but still does not match modern digital cameras. But the digital image looks flat to me. In terms of the very subjective feel of the image, I prefer the film version. It seems to have a non-linear quality with more depth and richness. I’m not sure how much of the look is due to the old Carl Zeiss lens on the Rollei. As I experiment more with film on different cameras, I hope to find out.
Ultimately though, I’m not saying film is better. Just different. It’s giving me an effect that I find intriguing. In some ways, It’s like HDR. Even with my comparably light HDR touch, it produces a particular kind of look through increased dynamic range, details and color. I use it as a way to create a different kind of photograph and it works well for certain subjects. Perhaps that will be the case with film. Time will tell.