Icon of Austin Music
It’s going to a quieter than usual 4th of July — there’s no 360 Bridge fireworks this year. The Austin Country Club, who puts on the show, is holding off due to construction. I’m having a relaxing weekend shooting a mellow, old but satisfying digital camera.
A year ago, I experimented with an ancient Olympus E-1, the first purposefully build DSLR with a 5MP CCD sensor. I love it for the rich colors, especially the reds. That camera started me down a path of exploring color, which eventually got me shooting film.
Some people say CCD sensors are more film-like, especially compared to the now dominant CMOS technology. After experimenting with film, I disagree, however there’s no question CCDs look different from CMOS. They seem less clinical though they still have the clean look of digital. I like CCD, but found the resolution of the 5MP E-1 limiting.
Cue the Olympus E-300 with a 8MP CCD, in a prosumer body. This was Olympus’ second DSLR, released about a year after the E-1, in 2004. The colors look similar but with an extra 3MP of resolution, which should be enough for decent 13″ x 19″ prints. I recently added this ancient digital tech to my collection for a mere $50.
Have a great 4th of July.
“Did you get your precious photos?”
That’s what Roy asked Leon. Look past the futuristic wizardry and you’ll see that photography has a significant role in this cult classic. That’s what I noticed when I recently watched the fully remastered Blu-ray version of Blade Runner.
Back in 1982, when released to theaters, I was in high school. I was mesmerized by the flying cars, the glittering city and the technology. But it wasn’t the near-human replicants, the video phones or gravity defying vehicles that were the most memorable. For me, it was the futuristic voice assisted computer that analyzed photographs in the movie’s pivotal scene.
Understand that our current technology has far exceeded Deckard’s computer. With simple flicks of the mouse replacing cumbersome voice commands, all of us photographers do sophisticated image processing that would blow the minds of the fictitious characters in Blade Runner. Oh yeah and if we wanted to issue voice commands, we can do that too, via Siri. In fact, our portable smart phones are all that Deckard would have needed.
We’re a mere 4 years from when the movie is supposed to take place. What other technology “predictions” haven’t worked out as planned? The biggest is flying cars, though honestly even back in 1982, I never thought that would happen. Genetically engineered animals and humans, probably not for at least 20 more years? Off world colonies? Other than the Moon and Mars, that may never happen.
But when it comes to computer technology, the movie was quite conservative. We already established that a PC with Photoshop or even a smartphone will blow away Deckard’s computer. Video calls? We can do that from our cell phones too. Yup, the movie has sorely under predicted the power of the hand-held computer.
And our ubiquitous hand-held devices have other story line implications. We no longer print our photographs but carry them electronically. Blade Runner’s entire representation of photography no longer fits our modern world. The movie was set 37 years in the future from when it was released. If we re-made Blade Runner today, set for Los Angeles in 2052, much of the story will need to change.
Scaling up our current technology, I suppose in 37 years, all the surveillance will automatically identify and track any perpetrators. The power of images and photography scaled up to an infinite and scary degree. Blade Runner’s quaint notion of printed paper photographs is as far-fetched as flying cars. But don’t get me wrong. Blade Runner is one of my favorite movies. I thoroughly enjoyed re-watching this classic.
The movie opened to mixed reviews but most of my high school buddies and I loved it. Only a few didn’t. Wikipedia has an extensive entry and indicates that the movie has stood the test of time. Several noteworthy groups have included Blade Runner in their greatest movie lists.
Remember Eeyore’s Birthday Party from a month a half ago? Sure, I shot the newest Olympus digital as the primary, but I also brought two other mystery cameras. Film cameras. So today topic? My experiments in analog during that event.
I’ve been playing with film ever since the end of last year. While I haven’t blogged about it much, I’ve continued to shoot analog and with different kinds of cameras. At Eeyore’s, I tried two new things. Instant film and cross processing film. I got mix results and learned some lessons. Film is different and can be more difficult, especially if you are used to the immediate feedback of digital.
Why shoot Instant film? The biggest reason is being able to share tangible, physical images with others. I did that at Eeyore’s and both Jordan and Ash loved it, as you can see in the first image. I shot several, I kept a few and gave them both their own copy. Hopefully, they’ll cherish it as an Eeyore’s momento. Over time these prints turn rigid like laminated paper and its physicality somehow makes it more precious than a digital photo. And, of course, each print is one of a kind.
As a photographer, there’s another reason to shoot instant. It’s challenging. Making exposures in digital is easy. Even standard negative film isn’t bad. But using these primitive, plastic cameras with low dynamic range film is another story. I’m using the Fujifilm Instax 210, which only has the most primitive controls.
Focus is by estimating distance. There is auto-exposure but not aways reliable and the film doesn’t have much latitude. Finally, you have to manually guess parallax, when framing close subjects. Since each shot is “one of a kind”, you won’t be able to post process the image either, before “printing”.
All this makes for an unpredictable experience, which I guess, is part of the fun. And for me, it’s particularly tough. You see, by nature, I tend to be empirical and process oriented. I like to find ways to create high quality, reliable and reproducible results. That seems like the antithesis to the instant photography movement. No doubt, with practice, I’ll get better but this is my attempt to embrace uncertainty. If digital is about precise, easily reproducible results, this is the opposite.
Under the guise of more unpredictable experimentation, I also took my first stab a cross processing film. Today, In color film, there are two popular types of chemistry, one for negatives and one for slides. You “cross process” when you use the “wrong” chemistry for the type of film you have. In my case, I shot Velvia 100 slide film and had it processed in C-41 chemicals, meant for negative film.
The result? You get strange color shifts, increased noise and more contrast. I shot these on a late 1960s Olympus Pen FT half frame camera. It shoots 72 images per roll, and makes perfectly nice pictures when processed with the right chemistry. It’s a great camera to experiment with since I get double the number of exposures per roll. I manually focus and manually meter with this fully mechanical camera. Yup, it’s a completely different world from digital.
Truth be told, I’m not satisfied with the effect I got. Through, I later found out that the cross processing color shift varies quite a bit with the type of film used — Velvia 100 tends to shift towards the reds. I want to play with more greens and blues.
I learn something different from every camera I use, probably because each camera has its own set of limitations. Film has changed the ways I look at a scene. I’m more aware of light levels, dynamic range and distance. All things that I rarely considered when shooting digital.
Of course the sophisticated computers in digital cameras only help with exposure and focus, which are the mechanical parts of photography. Creating a great image, now that’s an entirely different set of concerns.
I own a lot of cameras. Both digital and more recently, film. I have enough cameras that any reasonable or even unreasonable person will ever need. So it takes a special device to pique my interest these days. In the recent flurry of announcements, there’s actually two cameras that have hit my radar.
No, it’s not the Sony A7R II or the Sony RX100 IV or RX10 II. I’m sure those are solid updates to already favorably rated cameras. I’m looking for something different. Something that will both challenge me and give me different shooting experiences. That’s why I’ve started dabbling in film — shooting old, cumbersome but wonderfully tactile antiques. It can be difficult but fun.
Last week, Leica announced the Q, an entirely new camera with a fixed 28mm f1.7 lens coupled to a full frame 24MP sensor. It’s expensive, of course — It’s a Leica. But once I got over the $4,250 “shock”, the camera started to look interesting. Why? It’s compact, full frame and with classic controls. I already have my favorite 35mm focal length covered but not so for the slightly wider 28. For cities and architecture, 35mm works but it’s not nearly as interesting as 28mm, which is wide but not uncomfortably so.
There aren’t many 28mm equivalent compacts, the Nikon Coolpix A and Ricoh GR come to mind. Both are crop sensors. The Coolpix A is a dog and the GR is slowish (but faster than the Coolpix A) and point and shoot like. Neither really interested me. With my recent dive into old film cameras, I’ve come to appreciate the classic controls and with options for manual distance focusing. The Leica Q has all of this. From what I’ve read, it has the all the requisite controls, exquisite build, super sharp lens but, surprisingly, fast autofocus and even image stabilization. It’s like they took the classic Leica stuff people like and finally updated the technology for the 21st century. It’s not funky like the Leica T and it’s not technologically behind like the Leica M.
I won’t be getting the Q anytime soon. Not unless I win the lottery, and I won’t since I don’t play the lottery. Perhaps in a number of years, on the used market, the Q will fall to a more palatable price.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, there’s the DxO ONE, announced today. This thing is very intriguing and for a wholly different reason from the Leica. Imagine a small high performance 1 inch sensor mated with a super compact 32mm f1.8 prime lens. It has a lighting connecter that couples with an Apple iPhone. It’s the best implementation of a smartphone / camera hybrid I’ve seen. Unlike the bigger and cumbersome Sony QX lens camera, which uses Wifi for communications, the ONE uses a fast hardware connection. Unlike the Leica, which I like for its tactile, classic controls, I like the DxO for its complete re-imagining of a modern camera. It’s highly connected, modern and thinks way outside the box. At $599, it’s more tempting. But I’ll need to find out more before considering it seriously.
What do these two camera have in common? They both have large aperture prime lenses between 28mm and 35mm, which are my preferred focal lengths. They both offer the promise of a new shooting experience, different from any camera in my vast and growing collection. Finally, they offer, in theory, great image quality in a compact size.
The benefit or curse of having so many cameras is that, more than ever, I look for unique devices that fill a niche rather than worry about going for a more general “safe” choice. The Leica and DxO have certainly gotten my attention in this vast and noisy world of photography.