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Blade Runner, photography and predicting the future

A scene from Blade Runner

“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.

A scene from Blade Runner

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.

LOS ANGELES
NOVEMBER,2019

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.

A scene from Blade Runner

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.

A scene from Blade Runner

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.

A scene from Blade Runner

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.

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Eeyore’s Birthday Party: Sharing images and experiments in analog

Posing with Instax, 2015 Eeyore's Birthday Party - Austin, Texas

Posing with Instax, 2015 Eeyore’s Birthday Party – Austin, Texas

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.

Jordan at Eeyores with Instax - Austin, Texas

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.

Instax Portrait #1 - Austin, Texas

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.

Instax Portrait #2 - Austin, Texas

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”.

Instax Portrait #3 - Austin, Texas

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.

Steampunk Man, Eeyore's Birthday Party - Austin, Texas

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.

Texas Normal, Eeyore's Birthday Party - Austin, Texas

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.

Cross Processed Interaction, Eeyore's Birthday Party - Austin, Texas

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.

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Summer 2015: Two new cameras that have lit up my radar

Leica Q and DxO ONE

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.

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ROT Rally selfies, smartphones and keep it fresh through technology

Blue hour at the Capitol, 2015 ROT Rally Parade - Austin, Texas

Blue hour at the Capitol, 2015 ROT Rally Parade – Austin, Texas

What’s the first thing you do after riding 30 minutes to parade down Congress Avenue at the ROT Rally? Take a selfie of course. Or at least, use that smartphone to shoot the Texas State Capitol during blue hour.

It’s ROT Rally season again. Yes, many thousands of bikers have come to Austin to do what bikers do. I enjoy capturing the tamer aspects, via street photography, downtown. It’s my fifth year and things are about the same, every year. How do I keep it interesting?

Blue hour at the Capitol, 2015 ROT Rally Parade - Austin, Texas
Blue hour at the Capitol, 2015 ROT Rally Parade - Austin, Texas

Over the years, I’ve changed what I shoot. I started with sparkly neon bikes, when amped up with HDR, they look especially nice. It was a deliberate process, encumbered by using a tripod. More recently, I’m on a street photography kick, it’s light weight and fast.

My preferred cameras also change. It keeps things fresh and I get to play with my growing camera collection. Last year, the Fujifilm X100S was the primary with the Pentax K-01 in a small supporting role. This year, no surprise, the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II gets top billing. I shot it with the Olympus 17mm which gives me about the same focal length as last year’s X100S. I also shot a few with the Pentax Q7, in black and white, which I really adore. Finally, I shot film too with a vintage Olympus Pen FT half frame camera.

I’ll do another posting when I finish the roll and eventually get it developed. But for tonight, I feature photos taken with the newest technology in the E-M5 Mark II. Yes, these photos are colorful, a bit gritty and with motion blur. They seem somewhat painterly and for me they capture the feel of the event.

Blue hour at the Capitol, 2015 ROT Rally Parade - Austin, Texas

This newest Olympus has some pretty special technologies. And while technology is always in service to the image and the creative goal, it’s interesting to talk about. These were all shot between 1/4 to 1/20 of a second or slower and are hand-held. Some are in-camera HDRs where the camera shoots 4 images at different shutter speeds, combines them accounting for camera shifts and people movement. The 5 axis, 5 stop image stabilization certainly helps but the sophistication behind this blows my mind. The net effect is that I get to create a different kind of image, in a way not possible before.

Blue hour at the Capitol, 2015 ROT Rally Parade - Austin, Texas

All the latest gadgetry is fine but I use it to explore photography. It’s also the reason I’m shooting film. Distinct technologies, old or new, create a different mix of advantages and disadvantages. New cameras create exposures too easily and I find myself pushing its boundaries. Conversely, exploring film counter balances all the new tech. Manually metering and manually focusing a 50-year-old camera pushes me in other ways. I’m really having fun challenging myself and it keeps things fresh, even if I do go to the same events year after year.

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I took all photographs with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with the Olympus 17mm f1.8 lens.

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Haiku Photo: ROT Rally 2015

The Paramount after the 2015 ROT Rally Parade - Austin, Texas

ROT Rally Parade
Terminus at Paramount
Let the parties start

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