As best we can

“Brigadoon”

At this time I am jealous of Eric L. Woods. His adventures with the Foveon-sensored Sigma cameras are the kind of fun I’d like to have. I could have bought one of the early versions, but e-Bay killed me instead. That fun, like so many other types, has been denied me. C’est la vie.

I read also the many film simulation recipes created by Ritchie Roesch, even though I know I’ll never afford a Fuji X camera. The film-like experience on digital cameras intrigues me, and yes I have made my own ventures into that realm.

If it were up to me, some company would create a digital camera specifically for “film photographers”, and it might even have that Foveon X3 sensor in it. It might be mirror-less so it can adapt classic glass easily. But what it needs mostly is to be simple: inflicting the limitations of film on photographers is a good way for them to really learn photography.

What would it be like? For starters it would have a ‘film selection dial’ that would give you a choice of high, normal, low, and monochrome colour saturation. You don’t really need a thousand different recipes. There would be an ISO dial that could go down to 50 and no higher than 800 or 1600 depending on how large a sensor it has. Beyond those points you gain more noise than EV value so there’s not much point. Besides which, this is ‘film simulation’ and film never really went above those ‘speeds’. To that end colour temperature, I mean white balance, would either be fixed at “daylight” or offer a limited range (i.e. “tungsten” and “flourescent”). Along with the sensitivity there would be built-in gradients for contrast and grain, following the nature of film (higher ISO, greater contrast and grain).

Oh don’t go thinking this is “too limiting” and insisting there be overrides. You can have a jack to connect your smartphone to it to make changes with an app, okay? Wusses. I don’t want to see an LCD display on it at all. No gaze chimping here!

For exposure control we’ll have the PASM dial all right, but no need for anything like “scene selection” or any of that other AI takeover garbage. Learn to use the camera. In ‘M’ it should give you light meter readings not coupled to the control settings. Then we want a shutter speed dial and of course an aperture ring around the lens. EV compensation control would be okay too.

Autofocus? Well I can’t focus at all anymore so I’m inclined to want that, providing it’s good. That gets tricky as we have all seen AF fail either in accuracy or speed. Put a manual lens on and the issue disappears.

What we do not want to see is a lot of extra ‘features’, most of which are just there because they can be not because they enhance the photographic experience.

Ah well it doesn’t matter. Such a camera would be as commercially successful as the Edsel and no company would ever build it because they don’t seem to understand photography, just technology.

As for me … I don’t know. It’s evident my eyesight will not improve and doubtful I will acquire any more equipment or reduce the inventory I’ve got. At the moment any further pictures I may produce will be done with the equipment on hand.

Infrared roses

A little tweaking of the Canon 1Ds set-up for infrared. First, I swapped the 50mm f1.4 Super Takumar for the 35mm f2 because it has not IR ‘hot spot’. Second, I adjusted the exposure a bit which allowed me to get a more accurate white balance shot and thus better final results. Third, I increased the resolution setting to maximum for JPEG as the shots tend to be fuzzy anyhow. Fourth, I experimented with post-processing techniques to get a consistent plan for realizing the results I wanted.

When it comes down to it, you can produce a huge range of unusual colouration from infrared filtering. It’s mainly a matter of what sort of crazy results you want. Knowing when to stop adjusting is at least as much of an issue as knowing what to adjust.

Ranch house
Shed shot
Dramatic view
I don’t usually take pictures of people, but this old guy is interesting.

The last two images are the least processed and the most processed ones. Camera settings: ISO 400, f11, 8 second exposure. Really it could stand another 1/2 stop in initial exposure (using a 720nm filter). Also, the long exposure times mean the balance between aperture and shutter speed (also ISO) are not as even a trade-off as they are with normal photography. There is a lot of experimentation and guesswork involved, no matter how much you shoot.

Frankly a display of many IR shots gets boring quickly; I can’t see the point in doing a whole portfolio of them or limiting yourself to just the one style of photography. But putting one in every once-in-a-while will really liven up a showing and make people stop and wonder.

Experimenting with the Mystery Camera!

This was a nightmare of trying to get things working. To start with, there’s nothing but overcast skies here – and high winds. Then try to use a camera which not only am I unfamiliar with, but clearly some aspects of it don’t work! Like the autofocus, which I am dependent on. Its automatic settings aren’t very good either, and half of these pictures got quite a bit of rework to make them presentable. Half I left as-is. Oh and just to make things more confusing, it was set on ‘RAW’ to begin with which cost a few frames as well. I really hate having to process from RAW!

At this point I won’t tell you what the camera is.

Widest angle.
Maximum telephoto.
Marley the Model.
It was a dark and stormy morning …
Everything about this picture is wrong – except the moodiness.
This one it got right all on its own.

I need better weather and more experimentation before I discuss this device any further. So far it is not terribly impressive.

Toy Camera

Inspired by Ritchie Roesch’s Digital Holga experiment.

Since my Panasonic Lumix ZS60 takes lousy photos anyway, it’s the perfect choice for turning on the “toy camera filter” and giving it a try. The Canon also has this “feature”, but it’s a bit silly to downgrade the quality of its lenses when the Lumix is pretty fuzzy to begin with. The Lumix results are A-okay, and simply a matter of whether or not the style is to your taste.

P1000410
Dreamscape
P1000411
Nebulous Moon
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The tall tree
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Distant flight
P1000420
This one hardly looks affected
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Marley hurries into Spring

Due to the erratic nature of the Lumix’s exposure control, all of these had to be adjusted a bit post-shoot in order to look ‘right’ – although what ‘right’ is under the circumstances can be debated.

So it’s quite the artistic little camera, but it does bring up a point I often try to make: why spend money to get soft images (as in buying certain low-quality lenses) when you can come by them so easily? Getting a good, sharp, realistic picture is the difficult bit. If your camera can achieve that, changing the look ‘downward’ after shooting is easy. The Lumix, alas, does not manage to make good pictures to begin with. It’s like buying a digital Holga – when you hadn’t intended to.

The best laid plans

For some time now I have been lamenting about the lack of an affordable ‘normal’ focal length lens for my Canon APS-C DSLR. They have a 24mm, a 40mm, and a 50mm in the under $200 price range, but a 30mm-35mm choice is missing from the lineup. To get something that works out to ‘normal’ for this camera (crop factor 1.6, making 32mm roughly equivalent to 50mm on a 135 camera) you have to spend a lot of money. The Sigma 30mm seems to be the best choice at $629 +tax.

The question is; would I really use it enough to justify the purchase? In the past I’ve shot a huge number of pictures with normal focal length lenses, so I probably would. But “probably” isn’t “absolutely”.

Fortunately I have a way of testing the hypothesis: a 35mm Super Takumar M42 that adapts easily to the T100. Okay, I’ll put it on and shoot a dozen or so images to see if I’d really use this particular focal length now (I know I shoot mostly in the telephoto range, hence the hesitancy to make the purchase). What I’m looking for is how often the ‘normal’ field of view would suit my purposes.

The downside of this particular lens (aside from the lack of aperture coupling and autofocus) is that the thorium in the glass has turned it yellow. On the left we have Duncan as he appears through the yellow haze, on the right the necessary white balance correction to restore at least semi-accurate colour (yes the snow really does reflect blue).

Unfortunately trying to slog through a foot of snow isn’t easy, which limited my area of picture-taking. This was confounded by the interesting way the low-angle light illuminated the surroundings: my body was unable to wander far, but my mind had no trouble being distracted from the task at hand and going off in its own direction.

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Cropped – which I shouldn’t have done
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Hard to resist shadow patterns
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Oh look – now we’re on the moon
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The sun set

Oh well. Maybe the next time the sun shines around here I’ll remember what I’m trying to do and take uncropped, straightforward shots that will actually have some bearing on evaluating the usefulness of the particular focal length. :p

Of course the arrival of the Lumix camera is also interfering with this test, but mainly it’s weather and shooting opportunities that keep me from completing projects. In fact of four I started some time ago, I only managed to finish one. At least I won’t be running out of things to do.

Failure but fun

film

I recently completed my brief experiment in shooting film. Here are the results:

 

Oh, you don’t see anything? Neither do I, because there is nothing to see. The film was very old and not stored properly, and I didn’t exactly have the right (or fresh) chemicals and equipment to process it with. In short there were too many variables working against me. The results were null.

But it doesn’t matter. I could have gotten the same results after buying a lot of expensive equipment – again (I’ve had it all and done it all in the past). Today it costs the better part of $20 (Ilford FP4 @ $17 +tax is the cheapest I’ve found, most other offers are much worse) just to get a roll of B&W film here, and I don’t miss the chemical experience much. In fact I found I don’t miss it at all. There was the familiar taint of the acrid aroma in the air that brought back memories, as did the time mixing powders and standing around in a pitch black room (because I don’t have a tank to develop in). Nostalgic to be sure, but not what I’d call “fun”. Not any more.

What was fun was using the ol’ Pentax Spotmatic again. Oh I hear people cry out against the weight of modern cameras these days, and I laugh. They would sag under the weight of this machine, never mind something that is really heavy – like a 4×5 Speed Graphic. I found comfort in the sensation of so much mass in my hands. It was just like old times.

Equivalent_Focal_Length_by_Kaleidopsyche

This SLR is solid in a way the digital-only photographer will never know. Everything about its controls says so. There’s nothing small or flimsy or delicate about it; it was a masterpiece of form in its day. Cranking the wind lever, flipping the meter switch on, adjusting sensible (and straightforward) controls, pushing that mechanical release, and hearing the “thwap” of the mirror flipping up, the curtain zipping across the film plane, and the mirror returning. People should experience that: then they’d know what the bad design aspect of even the most expensive of DSLRs is; they don’t have the right ‘feel’.

It made me long for simpler digital devices. My mind reeled with ideas about taking out much of the technology the companies are so proud of having put in. If I were a youngster I’d probably gamble on a start-up to build low-tech digital cameras whose functions more closely resemble a film camera’s operation. Oh they wouldn’t sell in any quantity, but there would be a few artistic photographers who would appreciate the limited designs. Is not Lomography a thing now? They know what it’s about.

So I fantasized about The Black Box Camera Company, producing oddball artisan digital cameras with minimal functions. A small waste-level viewfinder unit with sun hood and a flip-up magnifier. A simple DSLR that isn’t full of options you never use. Even a video camera that was dedicated to video and not some sort of ‘duck trying to be an elephant’ – or vice-versa.

You see, sometimes trying to be all things to all people is the formula for failing to be anything to anyone. As it is now we have people trying to be photographers by adapting themselves to devices which have an overwhelming range of options, most of which never get used. How many times have you read a blog about setting arbitrary limitations on your shooting to force yourself to understand better how it should be? You’ve probably even done it yourself: “I will shoot only in B&W”, “I will use only this fixed focal length lens”, “I will not change the ISO”. Even selecting aperture or shutter preferred automation is a form of this. When there are too many choices, we can’t make any choice. The master control gets set to “Program” (or worse, “Scene”) and the camera makes all the choices for us. What do you learn from that? Where is the artistry in merely pointing and pressing the button? It might have been fine for the original Kodak, but you won’t advance in the fields of photography or art by it.

It doesn’t end there either. The inverse problem is availing yourself of too many choices: some people shoot RAW, bringing on the burden of mandatory post-shoot processing. Some people voluntarily submit themselves to this form of masochistic torture even with their JPEGS. Then they sit in the digital darkroom and fiddle numbers 1 digit at a time seeking unrealistic photographic perfection until their family and friends begin to wonder whatever became of them. (Helpful Household Hint: when adjusting digital parameters, don’t twiddle the controls one number at a time; be bold and do it by major steps, reducing or increasing the effect in ever declining size increments until you get what you’re after.)

Well I’m an old film-trained fool whom no one has to listen to. But I did enjoy working the Pentax again, even if it gave zero pictures in return. I now happily go back to my digital image making, even if I will sometimes be using the old Takumar lenses on the Canon DSLR with the control set on “Manual” and an exposure of “my best guess”. Maybe I’m some kind of hybrid photographer; using modern digital equipment in an ancient analog way.

Or maybe I’m just having fun.

Suppose you want a pinhole camera …

… but all you have is a DSLR?

This may be the goofiest experiment I’ve done yet!

 

IMG_2273

If you want to do this yourself here are some notes about it:

1). After trying various camera colour modes I decided “natural” with the sharpness at maximum looked the best. It does well in B&W too if you want that total “printing paper negative” effect. It doesn’t make much difference if shot at 18MP or less; the clarity just isn’t there.

2). Bright sunshine lets you use 1/60 shutter speed for steadiness @ ISO 1600. Some shots may still be a little under and require tweaking, or you could push the ISO up further.

3). The smaller and rounder you can make the pinhole the sharper the images will be, but they will never be “lens sharp”. You can experiment with aluminium foil but it’s not very sturdy and may flex too much. Brass sheet is ideal, but pretty hard to find. I used a bit of aluminium roof flashing cut to a rough circle painted black and taped over the #1 Pentax extension tube screwed into the EF adapter. A jeweler’s deburring tool would have been nice, but alas …

4). You could use a body cap to make a “direct fit” version of this. Remember that focus is pretty much the same at all distances and moving the pinhole further from the ‘film plane’ gives a telephoto effect.

5). These images will always lack detail, therefor intricate subject matter like branches or hair aren’t going to look like much or even be recognizable. “Blocky” subjects like buildings and vehicles come across better in my opinion. Unless you want undefined blurs.

6). This would no doubt work better with a full-frame sensor, which would be even sillier as well as much more expensive if you haven’t already got the camera.

7). Dust got on the sensor again. This type of experiment would be murder for a mirrorless camera.

Once again not a very practical way to take pictures. But the results are similar to buying one of those el cheapo lenses – and for a lot less money. It is always easier to make pictures “soft” than it is to get them “sharp”, and there’s no need to spend a lot to do it!

Looking back, looking ahead

(A Post For No Particular Reason while it’s snowing.)

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The snow today

Looking back on 2019 there were a lot of things that I could have done without. A certain mess-up by people in another country which necessitated my wife being away longer than intended, for example. A certain mess-up by people in this country which resulted in the sale of our rental house not going through would be another example. In both instances some of the people doing the messing-up were lawyers.

Still, by the end of the year I could have been cheered up by any number of unexpected pleasantries which might have occurred. None of them did, however, so I go into 2020 feeling a bit down. It doesn’t help that one of the first things scheduled for the year is re-doing the rental house sale, and that to be followed immediately by (or perhaps simultaneously with – don’t ask) my wife going back to England to deal with things again. It all sounds too familiar.

Sometimes I dwell on the “shoulda dones” even though there’s no point. Why, for example, did I not ship back my Exakta V in 2018? Well there were a number of reasons including the mind-boggling cost of shipping between countries, the fact I did not have a DSLR to put old lenses on at the time (thinking I’d never play with film again skewed my rationalization of what cameras to keep), and the fact I was way pressed for time to get it all done. Never mind, water under the bridge, can’t do anything about it now. Maybe someday I’ll even stop complaining about it. But don’t hold your breath waiting.

Still, some good in 2019. Took an amazingly large number of pictures, for example. Bought Jojo the Highlander. Watched a lot of good movies. It really doesn’t take much to make me happy. In fact the less going on the happier I am.

So what of 2020 beyond the scheduled events which I already dread? Well there’s continuing work on the cabin to be done so maybe, just maybe we’ll get to spend some time there this Summer? Nah, something will screw that up. Don’t get your hopes up or they’re bound to be dashed on the sharp, jagged rocks of reality.

Obviously there’s more pictures to be taken. It really has become quite the solace for me as it requires little exertion or expense and is simple happiness in images. I even like looking over the same pictures again and again, and not just my own; the various blogs I’ve been reading are enjoyable too and don’t require substantial effort to do so.

I was thinking, if I were to add any equipment this year what would it be? Two items have come to light: one is a 35mm Canon lens for the T100, which at $440+ is still expensive but less than the nearly $800 they want new. (Edit: the lens has already sold. I guess it was a good deal.) Another is the one kind of camera that would add something to my repertoire, a full-frame Canon 5D for $620. Still a lot of money and probably not worth it, but less than those beautiful Fujifilm rangefinder replicas which wouldn’t really be all that different in shooting from what I already have. Timing is everything here, so we’ll just have to wait and see.

And say, when it comes to surprises could they be pleasant ones this year? The novelty of unpleasant ones has worn off and I’m really sick of them.

Now for utterly crazy ideas I’ve come up with the notion of convincing some company to build “digital film”. It sounds absurd at first: a unit the same size and shape as a 35mm film cartridge with a ‘tongue’ sticking out that is the sensor for the film plane. This could be put in any 35mm film camera and produce digital results. Ah but how would you work it? Magic of Blue Tooth and an Android App. We already have wifi connections from the camera for moving pictures to other devices, why not make good use of it? The sensor would have to pick up on the exposure to register a new image, and the adjustments in the App would be only a matter of “film type” settings as focus, aperture, and shutter speed would be camera-dependent. Not for amateurs and probably most pros would not use it as their go-to unit, but the serious artistic photographer would not be likely to leave it on the shelf. Imagine being able to use all those wonderful 35mm film cameras so easily.

Unfortunately my engineering expertise is in the wrong field, not to mention seriously out of date, but if anyone out there wants to take this on – well I’d buy it just to use the Pentax Spotmatic again. Probably the most difficult issue would be protecting the sensor yet keeping the ‘tongue’ thin enough to be practical.

Yeah, I get crazy ideas sometimes.

I also have more experimental photography ideas coming up, and more blog entries to write.

Have fun. I try to.

Two pictures three ways

Once again we are having not-good-for-picture-taking weather, with temperatures so cold the cameras try to reset or shut down completely. Really the best of them are only meant to operate down to -10°C and yesterday it was -18°C. So I’ve been inside thinking about shots and trying some experimental things which may or may not lead to more involved photo shoots. All taken with the Nikon P610.

First we have a picture of the sky where you get to guess which is the original and which were processed:

Next we have the antique inkwell. You get to pick which you like best. They all ‘work’, but I think the original colour version is the best.

Otherwise, I’ve been reading interesting blogs again including one from someone who actually has a new Fujifilm X-Pro3 – and has confirmed my opinion of it: So this happened. Great camera. And a clever bit from Eric L. Woods about being fiscally responsible – and still getting the camera you want (essentially).

Only a couple more posts for the year. Another silly one with silly pictures and a silly one with less silly pictures.

Always have a sense of humour, especially about yourself.