I mentioned that I was testing a new film camera during my first ever University of Texas football game. I shot most of it with the Olympus E-PM2, a small mirrorless digital camera, my workhorse when I want a smaller camera with the flexibility of interchangeable lenses. But you know that I’ve been on a film kick lately.
I recently got a Nikon 35Ti, a high-end compact camera from 1993 with a fixed 35mm f2.8 lens. It was a premium compact which sold for $1000 back in the day, which is equivalent to about $1650 in today’s dollars. I got this slightly worn, titanium clad camera from Adorama for $265. Like the Rollei 35, which I picked up for a song, it’s possible to get very nice film cameras for a fraction of their original prices.
The Nikon 35Ti, unlike the Rollei 35, is a fully automatic camera with a sophisticated Nikon matrix meter and auto focus. It’s easy to shoot and unlike a SLR, it’s very compact though without the capability of changing lenses. It works for me since I love the 35mm focal length. In a way, this 35Ti is like the Fujfilm X100S of its day. They look very different, with the Fuji sporting a faux range finder treatment, but they are fundamentally compact auto focus cameras with a similar fixed focal length.
So why the attraction to film in this age of nearly perfected digital cameras? It’s all about the color and the feel. 35mm film is grainier with less resolution and it doesn’t perform as well in low light. By most modern standards it just doesn’t measure up. However, I’m fascinated by film’s character. I shoot differently too. When each shot costs real money, I’m more discriminating. I don’t necessarily think it makes me a better photographer, but it does impose limits which makes me try harder.
Take this photo, for example. The film and my post processing has really brought out Texas’ burnt orange. I joke that I probably see more fall color in this shot than I’ll ever get in Austin. I used Kodak Portra 400 film and added additional saturation via digital post processing. Portra typically has muted colors that work well for portraits but I find that I can amp up the saturation which satisfies my taste.
Here are two pictures of the same scene. Ignore the differences in framing. The Olympus digital image on the top is at a 28mm equivalent and the film image on the bottom is at 35mm. While I think both photographs are equally colorful, they have a different look and feel. Notice how the orange seems to stand out more in the film photograph — there is a liveliness to it. On the other hand, digital has a sharpness and precision that the film lacks. One isn’t necessary better than the other and one isn’t necessarily more accurate. It’s all a matter of taste.
For me though, I’ve been trying to move away from accuracy in my photographs. That may sound strange but let me explain. I’m not a product photographer, luckily, where accurate color and realistic representation of the subject is paramount. I’m trying to create images that convey a mood or feeling, perhaps in a way that a painting would. Paintings are not judged by how accurate they look, rather they usually try to provoke an emotional response. I know that I have a ways to go, but this is what I want to do.
So is using film a gimmick? Is it like using filters in Instagram to make something look different? Well I certainly hope not but I suppose it’s possible. All I know is that, for now, film evokes a different response for me and I’m hoping that it does so for my visitors. It’s something that I’ll explore for a while and incorporate its effects into my soup of photographic knowledge.
As for the Nikon 35Ti, I’m going to keep it. The first roll gave some strange and inconsistent results and I was afraid that it wasn’t working properly. What you see here is what I shot on my second. The camera is small and easy enough that I can concentrate on framing. It’s not bulky like my Canon Rebel T2. And while shooting everything in manual on the Rollei 35 can be instructional and even fun, in a challenging kind of way, I want something more accessible for my daily film shooter. I’ll let you know how the Nikon 35Ti works out.
In the 23 plus years I’ve lived in Austin, I’ve never been to a University of Texas football game. I got that opportunity this past weekend. My wife graduated from the University but it’s also been 20 years since she’s gone. We both had a great time, thanks to my friend Mark who generously gave us the tickets.
As you can tell, we had excellent seats. My wife remarked, as a student, she was stuck way up there in the nose bleed section. While photographically, a super wide-angle or fisheye would have rendered some interesting compositions from way up there, I was glad to have these seats as a football spectator. I didn’t do much exploring. I was content to take occasional snaps from where we sat.
And as much as I enjoyed the football game, I was equally entertained by the band, the flags and the spectacle that surrounds the game. The precision of the marching band and the pageantry of the flags made for more interesting images, I thought. At least from this level. While I also shot the game, I like the photographs from the pre-game more.
My gear selection, which always involves an interesting set of calculations, centered on being unobtrusive. The UT stadium allows detachable lenses of less than 10 inches. I remember vague, anecdotal comments of people being restricted from bringing “professional” cameras so I purposely went small to fly under any radar. I brought my Olympus E-PM2 with kit lens which looks small and non-threatening enough. I paired that with a small film camera that I recently purchased that I’m in the midst of reviewing. All told it was a humble setup that fit comfortably in my small Domke bag. In retrospect, I wished I also brought my Olympus 40-150mm. The security bag check looked much less imposing than I imagined.
The afternoon was a success though, both for the Texas Longhorns and for my wife and I. Texas beat West Virginia soundly 33 to 16. We had a great time and I got to take snaps of the event. Nothing fancy. I wasn’t shooting on the field and had no illusions of being a sport photographer. All that I was going for was some nice pictures to remember the event. I even pressed my iPhone 5S into service for a decent looking in-phone panorama.
It occurred to me that a compact super zoom would’ve of been an ideal camera. Something small that wouldn’t raise the suspicions of guards on the lookout for wannabe pro photographers. Ironically, with all my different cameras, I don’t own a single super zoom. Nope, I’m not in the market for one either. After shooting for months with a fixed lens 35mm equivalent Fujifilm X100S, the 28mm to 84mm equivalent Olympus setup felt more than enough from my needs.
I went to 6th Street again this year for Halloween. Since it coincided with Formula 1 weekend, it was crazier than usual, which is really saying something. Not only did we have a larger than normal amount of wacky Austinites, we had an international crowd witnessing the spectacle.
No breakthroughs in photographic creativity for me this year. Since I like the “shot on the street” but “studio like feel” I created last year, I applied the same technique. If you want to give this a try, you can read about how I did this here.
Of course, it’s unpredictable who will show up. It’s kind of exciting and disappointing at the same time. I like the costumes I captured last year better but I think my technique has improved somewhat. I basically preset everything manually including the focus, exposure and flash power which makes it very quick. The only frustration? The camera settings occasionally get knocked as I jostle through the crowds. If I do this again, I might use gaffer’s tape to keep the focus and exposures locked in.
So here is the 2014 edition of Halloween Portraits on 6th Street. You can click on the image to see a larger version and hover over with a mouse to see the photo details.
I wasn’t going to the hot air balloon launch last Saturday. I had no desire to wake up at 5 in the morning. But it was 4:30am when I finished processing and writing about the Leica M camera that I shot on 6th Street the night before. What the heck. I took a quick shower and headed towards Mansfield Dam for the 24th Annual Lake Travis Hot Air Balloon Flight.
I was there, in the same place, 3 years ago — that was my first launch. Its gotten a lot more crowded since then. I was concerned when I saw a line of tripods setup at the perimeter. Were they restricting access because of the crowds? Unlike 3 years ago, I didn’t bring a tripod. I was determined to capture the events, “street photography style” with one camera and lens. You guessed it, with the Fuji X100S. In order to do this, I needed to get in close. I didn’t have the luxury of a telephoto lens.
Luckily, as the preparations proceeded, people freely mingled between the balloonists. The defensive line of tripods was self-imposed. I was breaking through to get into the action.
Do you know how they launch these giant vehicles? After everything is hooked up and the material rolled out, they use a stout fan to blow air into the balloon cavity. They hold the mouth open for easy air access.
We’re in Texas, after all.
At a certain point, they turn on the gas burners to fill the balloon with hot air. Since the hot air rises, the balloon begins to float upwards. The reclining basket begins to stand erect. Things get exciting, photographically, when the flames come alive.
They started this process near sunrise so it wasn’t very dark. It would’ve been interesting to capture the glow in the dark.
The balloons take off quickly. This multicolored one was up and away, a lot quicker than expected.
All told there were about a half a dozen that took off that day. A small event compared to the ones in New Mexico but my friend Steven said this one was more accessible. He went to New Mexico to photograph those giant 100+ balloon launchings and he said the traffic was challenging. This small one in Austin was perfect for me. Relatively close to home, I got back by 9am and slept until 1.
From downtown street photography on 6th Street to a balloon launching out in the Hill Country, it was a busy 12 hours of shooting last weekend. Either I’m getting lazier or I’m seeing better but I ended up using one camera and a single 35mm equivalent lens to shoot everything. At least I got to travel light.
I’ve been thinking of making a video for a while. But it’s been an uphill battle — my resistance has been strong. Unlike still photography, where enthusiasts can create professional quality, video is so hard to do well. My perfectionist self made excuses to not even try.
So I’m releasing this video knowing full well it’s far from professional. But I’m happy with the results, for the most part. I think it’s a notch or two above a typical home movie. I guess the important thing is that I’m taking creative risks.
I filmed it using the Nikon J1 that I brought at the beginning of this year. It’s a really fun camera and I’ve taken some great shots with it. Part of the reason I wanted the J1 though was for the video. I noticed that the autofocusing video was very smooth and the saturated colors gave it more of a cinematic feel. But there was a problem. I wanted to shoot at night but the standard kit lens was not bright enough. Sure it did decent low light stills with a slow shutter speed but the video wants a 1/60 second shutter.
So I got myself a new lens. The 1 Nikkor 18.5mm f1.8, which gives a 50mm equivalent view. I was hoping the bigger aperture would capture enough light to film at night. You know that’s my preferred venue, the dark urban streets. The only downside? The 18.5mm doesn’t have image stabilization — I certainly lost the smooth flowing feel of the kit lens. But at least I could shoot at night.
I used Apple’s iMovie, a consumer video editing tool. I’m not ready to tackle the more serious Final Cut Pro application just yet. iMovie had a video stabilization feature that works surprisingly well and happily it took the jitters out of my non-image stabilized footage. The video was shot and posted in Full HD but it looks soft to me. No doubt the Nikon J1 is far behind the class leading Panasonic GH4. But for now, it a small inexpensive camera that fills my video needs.
So here is a video view of East 6th Street that I shot last Saturday. It was a typical night. I’m sure you’ve seem many of my photos from there but the video certainly adds a different dimension. I hope you like it.