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.

“Filmulation”

It’s World Photography Day! What better day for an old fool who doesn’t know anything about anything (me) to palaver on about some of which he does not know?

Or something.

Anyway, today’s pictures are a result of using a digital camera as though it were a film camera. It’s easy with the right equipment. Now for some people the “right equipment” is a Fujifilm X camera which has some pre-set film simulations as well as a host of programming capacity to vary all sorts of settings. Lots of fun, for lots of money.

For me the fun comes from getting film-like results without spending a lot of money or experimenting endlessly with settings. Part of the charm of film is the slightly unpredictable results, and I have achieved that using some sub-par equipment and a little know-how. Or maybe no-how.

The camera is the always dirty Pentax K100D Super. It has the advantage of a CCD sensor which produces better colour tonal range than the CMOS sensors (in my opinion as well as that of several others). Plus the limited 6MP size is something of a bonus here as it is not crazy-sharp. The lens is the very sharp Pentax Super Takumar 35mm f2, whose glass is stained yellow due to the thorium content. This is an all-manual set-up too; no auto exposure or focus.

Settings are the same as with Mini Manual Manual, save the added adjustment of fixing the white balance at daylight. I think leaving off that step is one reason why so many film simulations don’t have that random variation that film gives us. Remember film has fixed sensitivity and colour temperature. On a digital camera these are two more variables. So we set it like film and shoot it like film: ISO 200 (lowest possible on this camera) and Daylight colour balance. Here’s what we get:

Marley on the beach. This looks exactly like a typical colour print from the 1960s.
The yellowing of the lens does show up in the images and needs to be compensated for in the final processing. But here we see the side effect of it enhancing cloud contrast just like a K2 filter would.
The cabin. Rich, saturated colour.
In the woods. My eyesight got me in trouble here on exposure, but not so much that I wasn’t able to ‘save’ it.
This could be the beach at Wakiki.
“You can’t control natural light.” Unless you learn how.

I was going to do some more shots in the same manner only using the T100 as the camera, but I haven’t got to it yet. It’s been a busy and tiring week, and that as of Tuesday.

Meanwhile my redesigned Master Plan continues to take shape and unfold. Slowly.

The bright, elusive Kodachrome we love

We all know what Paul Simon wrote about this legendary film; it sold well for decades in a few different incarnations because people liked the pictures they got with it. It had good contrast, wide tonal range, and rich colours. In fact it wasn’t terribly realistic, but reality doesn’t always look that great anyway. Daily life is often improved by having a more rosy outlook.

In my search to find a way to approximate the Kodachrome I remember (and you may remember it differently) I read a few others’ efforts on simulating it digitally. Along the way it was even pointed out to me that Fujifilm makes cameras with the ‘film selector’ I so often complain about not having. I looked it up, and although true the nearest equivalent from Fuji cost literally twice what my Canon did. Seems like a lot to spend for a feature that could easily be built in to less expensive machines. (Yes there are other differences between the two cameras, but they don’t make that much difference to me.)

In the end I knew what I was looking for in results compared to the T100’s standard output, and made quite a few tries at getting them. It helps knowing the film should be finer grain with wide, rich colour tones and good contrast; you can make more than one change at a time and evaluate them as you search for that ‘ideal’ formula. The paradox of the experiment was that lowering the effective ISO to 25 (perhaps the most famous iteration of Kodachrome) using an ND4 filter turned out to be just about the last step. It was simply easier to try the many other required variations at ‘full’ ISO 100.

Among the many changes I tried were external filters to adjust colour temperature and tone, internal camera settings, and post-shoot processing. Most of this proved to be undesirable results and a lot of extra effort. One of the most accurate results I got came from reprocessing a pseudo-Ektachrome image. That’s really a bit silly, considering it had to be processed to give that look to begin with. All the efforts gave clues to what worked and what didn’t, and eventually I got it down to just a few changes to get the results straight out of the camera.

One thing that had to be changed when using the ND4 is resetting the white balance to “custom” using a white card shot through the filter. On other film simulations I have not done this because the filter is there to alter the colour tone on purpose. Despite claims, your typical ND4 (gray) filter does alter tone, and it leaves whites looking like a dingy ‘before’ ad for laundry detergent.

The main changes were to the ‘picture’ setting on the Canon. “User Defined 1” became a modified version of “Standard”: sharpness +1, contrast +3, saturation +2, colour tone -2. The only other alteration was adjusting the exposure step to ½ stop increments, which is more typical of film photography anyway. I found -⅓ was not enough and -⅔ to be too much. Exposure -½ stop was just the right amount to give me the results I was looking for with no post-shoot processing. You can argue with the results if you like, but to me they look as I remember Kodachrome looking.

On the whole I like the results well enough to save that setting as a standard to go back to. Also, if I reset the white balance and leave off the ND4 filter I’ve got Kodacolor equivalent.