Little Canyons

My friend’s album release party.  I seem to be doing more and more of these, and as long as I have access to the school darkroom, it’ll probably be in black & white.

Just as soon as I send my ESII off for repair, I find out that my ES is screwing up on me.  It’s nothing too drastic, just having problems with the mirror sticking, but I haven’t had the opportunity to take it apart and clean it out yet. Thankfully, the exposure is good, but the mirror problem was so annoying that I never got around to shooting the main event.  I don’t know which is worse, being able to shoot a whole event but losing half your shots to wildly varying exposures, or losing half your shots because your mirror is stuck up and you can’t focus, get frustrated, and decide you’d rather enjoy the rest of the show as part of the audience.

As well as that, there are spots on a few of the images.  I was continuing the experiment of pushing Tri-X 2 stops in a D-76 1:1 stand development, which could be part of it, though for some reason, it only affected the first two exposures and the last three.  Strange…

Prepared piano

Fall 2013.  I was working with my composition teacher that day on improvisation and since her piano was already far out of tune, we decided to make it sound even more interesting by altering the sound of the strings with clamps and whatever else we had on hand.

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I pulled out the camera on my phone so I could remember later where I had put the clamps in case I ever wanted to get that sound again, then remembered that I was in a photography class, had my camera with me, and should really be using it more often.  This also became the inspiration for one of my later projects in the class, where I created a series of images of the inside and outside of the piano.

Alternative Processes – A paper negative

What have I been doing apart from trying to get my cyanotype problem figured out?  That does take a while, but the rest of the class has moved on to pinhole cameras and I’m right there with them.  The instructor was kind enough to make up the first batch herself out of small paint cans, so everyone started out just using the same camera and 4×5 paper for negatives (Ilford RC Satin paper, if anyone cares).  It took about a minute to expose this:

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I’ve only done four paper negatives so far and just right outside the darkroom, it seems more convenient to do it close to the chemicals so I can see if what I’m doing works.  We all made pinhole cameras in class too, so I have options.  I made mine out of a body cap to fit my Spotmatic cameras, so that’s been most of my output.

Alternative Processes – Cyanotypes

Cyanotype prints can be made from just about anything, I’m told.  It’s one of those old-time processes that melds very well with today’s digital technology, and all that are needed is two chemicals mixed together coated on something and exposed to the sun, washed in regular water, maybe with a bit of hydrogen peroxide.  Besides contact-printing anything you can think of like with a lumen, it’s very possible to take any digital image, turn it black & white and then print it on a transparency as a negative.  Mine were already black & white Tri-X scans, all I did was to invert them and have my local UPS store print them on transparencies for me, 9in on the long side.

The process works on cloth as well as paper, which is where I got the original idea for my project, as two of my friends just had a baby and I decided to decorate a onesie for their child to wear (image used on left).

Cyanotype1  Cyanotype2

I’ve had a few hiccups on the onesie: I’m on my third try, and my problem right now seems to be prewashing in detergent before coating: the wonderful deep blue color turns a sickly yellow after a regular machine wash, and I don’t know how many washes it can take, it’s possible it could just fade away.  These pictures were originally taken back in November when my friends stopped by to play a show in a local bar.  The original post can be found here.

Scoring Session: The Lady and the Phantom

The Lady and the Phantom is a short film made by the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Communications dept and scored by my friend and classmate, composer Joshua Aldrich.  A live orchestra was contracted to perform the music, and I am told that this is the first full-scale scoring session of its kind in the Colorado Springs area, which is pretty damn cool if you ask me and I’m proud to have been a part of it.  All the players are local musicians and some are current UCCS students.  The orchestra was conducted by UCCS Prof. Sean Hennessy in a room that I’ve had several classes in myself over the last few semesters.

As a fan of film music it was pretty awesome to be able to take pictures in the room while the orchestra was being recorded, and I definitely had the Scoring Sessions site in the back of my head when I was taking pictures.  It’s different from shooting a rock concert, as I can’t just take pictures whenever the hell I feel like: I was very conscious to make noise only when they were rehearsing a cue or other times when not actually recording, though I did get a few shots in right before they started the count.

If the exposure on these seems to vary wildly from one image to the other, it’s because my camera screwed up big-time, and it’s a miracle any of these images turned out at all.  I’d never used the ESII inside before, now I know not to do it again, there must be something seriously wrong with the meter.  I’m preparing to send the ESII to this guy because I’ve read lots of good reviews of his work and his prices seem to be pretty reasonable.

Though not strictly necessary with the light I had, I pushed these rolls of Tri-X 2 stops which allowed me to comfortably use my 135mm lens somewhere around f/4-5.6 and my other lenses at f/8 or so.  I experimented with a stand development this time, using D-76 1:1 for 13.5 minutes.  I don’t know if that hurt me or preserved what shadow detail was left, but it sure didn’t minimize the grain like I’d read, though I suppose getting correct exposures would help!

The F335 has really made this process speedy for me.  The recording session was 9AM-12, I had the film processed, dried, and in my bag by 2:00, and once I got back up the pass, I had everything scanned into my computer by 4:00.  If the exposures weren’t off so much I could have had them posted that day on Facebook, but as it was I wanted to get the most I possibly could out of improperly exposed negatives, which meant using Photoshop back down at school the next day.  Still, all in all, it took just a day to get everything corrected as much as possible and posted online, when before the Pakon it would have taken a week or more.

edit: To come full circle, I’ll plug the soundtrack as well.

The Snow in Black & White

I’ve been busy scanning things.  Well, actually the scanning part is easy, it’s the getting things just perfect afterwards that really chews up time.  Unless someone is in a big hurry, I’ve found so far that with black & white and the F335 it’s best to just take the raw files and do all the corrections myself in Photoshop instead of relying on PSI to do it.  Unless they’re really low contrast images PSI will overcompensate, and while it’s feasible to just turn down the contrast right there, I’d rather get my black & white images just right.  And it takes lots of work.

This is Arista Edu.100/Fomapan 100 which I developed myself in the school darkroom (first roll in a year!) using D-76 1:1 developed for (I think) 9min.  I had already bought my Pakon F335 so I waited until it arrived and this was the first roll through the scanner.  edit: I forgot to add, most of these shots are in my local neighborhood, just took them as I walked along one day.  #4 was taken from the Wal-Mart parking lot.

I shot this roll in the Olympus Trip 35, more from the same roll as this.  I have to say, that little camera is quite handy to have, especially in winter.  It’s simple to use, even with gloves on, and it fits quite nicely in a coat pocket.  This is only my first roll through it, but I could already tell it wouldn’t be the last.  It’s got a sharp lens and I don’t think the Fomapan does it justice, I have a feeling this would be a great camera for landscapes with Ektar 100.  With a 40mm f/2.8 lens I would have thought that it would be exclusively an outdoors camera but reading this post has changed my mind a bit.  I suppose that with the right film, you could get away with just about anything.  Cinestill 800T, anyone?

I don’t know what to think about Fomapan.  Its grain isn’t too bad and it has a classic grain structure, but nothing really stands out to me about it, it’s hard to form an opinion one way or another.  With Kentmere 100, even though its grain is huge for an 100-speed film, I at least think that it has a fantastic character and look to it, and would prefer using it to Fomapan 100 for most things, except maybe landscapes like we have here.  I suppose the price being right, it was a good film to try out, and I do have another roll which I plan on putting through something I’m a bit more familiar with like a Spotmatic, but I don’t think it will become a standby for me.  It is however, quite cheap to buy.  One thing I remember reading (after the fact, unfortunately) is that it really should be pulled somewhere under 100, and also the developing times are too aggressive and if overdeveloped the highlights can bunch up quick.  The chart hanging on our wall said 8-10 minutes in D-76 1:1, I really should have gone for 8 (or less) instead of 9, especially with all the snow and overcast skies, but I suppose I’ll know for next time.

The Pakon F335 scanner

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The scanner saga continues, I have bought another film scanner.  There it sits atop my record collection.  As you can see, I’m a bit pressed for space these days!  What’s really nice is that this above pic of my new scanner was scanned using my new scanner.  That roll and the one from my previous post were the first to go through it.

A year ago I was excited about not having to pay out $5.00 a roll once I got my Minolta, but a combination of dust on the lens (which I still haven’t gotten around to cleaning) and the death of that Windows 98 machine led me back into letting a more professional photo lab do it and when the results are good, they’re good.  I tried using the Epson V600 available at my school, with very underwhelming results.  It seems like I was wasting hours a day trying to get my scans looking the way they should, and the used camera store was getting it right 90% of the time, though 90% isn’t 100%.

In my search for a relatively easy-to-use scanner I came across a few reviews to the Pakon F135+ scanner back in the fall, which was used by many minilabs across America for years.  In fact, that local lab that I’d been going to had one, so I’d already fallen in love with the look. Support these days is nonexistent but there’s a very nice Facebook group to help people out with troubleshooting so I joined that in anticipation, and have been very impressed with the images people have been posting.

There was Company A, that was selling them off on the Bay for $300 so I decided I needed one.  A had a ton of them at one time and offered a 6-month warranty to exchange any unit that did not arrive in good and working condition, so it was too good of deal to pass up.  It being the end of the year I had no money and had to wait until the next round of student loans came through in the middle of January, and I kid you not, 3 days before I got it Company A ran out of scanners.  There was another seller, Company B, out of Florida that had been selling as-is and untested 135s for slightly less than A, and as soon as they knew A had run out they started jacking their prices up.  At one point they were asking almost $1200 for one and they weren’t accepting returns.  Now Company A has more in stock and they ask $750 for them.

While I am a bit miffed at certain sellers taking advantage of a panic to gouge their customers, I suppose they have as much right as anyone else to make a profit, and really, it was the buyers who allowed the prices to go up nearly 400% in the space of a few weeks, by agreeing to pay whatever the asking price was.  I refused to be a part of the rat race, but silently fumed thinking that if only I had had the money together before Christmas.  Anyway, things worked out fine after all, I remembered seeing a dozen of the F335 models selling on a government surplus site that hadn’t sold a month previously (reserve a little too optimistic?) so I bid on a few of those, won two of them, and I paid a hell of a lot less than 135s are going for right now.  I do kind of wish that I had bought more than two, then I could have made some profit myself, but all said and done, with one machine in really nice condition and a backup in the closet, I’m pretty much set for life when it comes to scanning 35mm film.

So, the Pakon: it scans at ~2000dpi so it’s not winning any awards in the resolution specs category, but again, this (the comparison of the dog photo).  I’m just not impressed with the performance of flatbed scanners, or any scanners that are made these days, it seems like scanning technology peaked nearly 10 years ago and then Nikon dropped all film technology, Konica/Minolta went under and was bought by Sony.  Neither Nikon nor Sony seem inclined to make anything that might compete with their digital camera lines.  Back in the “good old days” 5400dpi really did give you just that, these days it seems manufacturers can claim ever-increasing specs with little to back it up but more pixels: nothing is ever any sharper or more detailed.  With an image 3000×2000 or thereabouts that I’ve been getting from my lab, I’ve still been sizing it down to 25% of that size before I post online and that still leaves quite a lot of detail and size (on my 1024×768 CRT monitor at least).  At 3000×2000 I can still print at 8×10 very comfortably and it’s a fine size for digitizing quickly every image.  If I ever wanted to print larger or had something important to show, I’d pay for a better higher-resolution scan somewhere else.

What the Pakon really gives me is my time back.  It scans a whole roll of film in under 3 minutes and if it’s uncut I don’t have to touch it the entire time.  The software was a pain in the ass to set up, true, and only runs on Windows XP machines.  I had to partition the hard drive of my new-old computer before installing the Pakon software, but I just followed the instructions given here and everything went smoothly.  As it is it’ll pay for itself in 120 rolls, but I’ve spoken to friends here and there who would be interested in having some negatives scanned, I’m sure I could make my money back pretty easily by starting a local film scanning service.

I wish I could say to go buy one immediately but this isn’t 2014 anymore.  The price is still nearly triple what it once was, so I wouldn’t recommend that everyone snap one up, but if you’re someone who shoots a lot of 35mm color negative and black & white, and scanning it yourself is getting to be too much, the Pakon F135+ is definitely something you should look into.  Here’s a brief overview on the different models:

F135 max res 1920×1200, 8bits per channel, color negative and black & white (can do 3000×2000 if not using PSI software so I’m told, but you won’t get the automatic color correction, and all my information is 2nd-hand so take it with a grain of salt)
F135+ max res 3000×2000, 8bits per channel, color negative and black & white
F235 max res 3000×2000, 14bits per channel, color negative, color reversal, and black & white, has a halogen light that is prone to failure (all other models use long-lasting LEDs as their light source)
F335 max res 3000×2000, 16bits per channel, color negative, color reversal, and black & white

Of these, only the 135 and 135+ models are readily available, 235s come up every now and then, I’ve only seen the 335 come up once since I started looking so good luck finding one.  And no, I won’t part with mine.  If you’ve come later to the game than even I have, I’m sorry.  The price for a 135+ right now seems to be around the $750 mark, but if people are willing to wait out these high prices they’ll probably fall a bit again.  If you’re still not convinced, there are plenty of other reviews that have cropped up in the last few months:

http://www.dantestella.com/technical/f235plus.html

http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/2014/08/01/kodak-pakon-f-135-plus-film-scanner-review-by-logan-norton/

https://trevor365photo.wordpress.com/2013/12/02/pakon-f135-first-impressions/

http://iftimestoodstill.net/2014/10/13/the-pakon-f135/

https://jcstreetwolf.wordpress.com/2014/12/21/the-kodak-pakon-f135-scanner/

http://baty.net/2015/02/the-kodak-pakon-f-135-plus-scanner/