An unlikely source for film photography

Check this out: “First Person Shooter” is a new series where Vice gives a couple single-use cameras to a person so they can document their world over the course of a Friday night.  So far they’ve featured an Uber driver, a diner line cook, and a tattoo artist.  I’m someone who pretty loudly proclaims that I’m not defined by how I make a living, so I try not to do the same to other people, but I do still find this fascinating to catch this glimpse into other people’s lives, what their day jobs are like, and how they spend their time after-hours.  I see a lot of potential here for compelling material, and we’ve been treated to three wonderful glimpses already.  Vice might say that they’re “not expecting the shots to look ‘good,'” but really they’re better more times than their not.  Especially the tattoo artist’s take, I see a lot of imagery that I’m immediately drawn to, and I think his background as a visual artist can be seen in his compositions.  I’m also reminded a bit of Ray’s a Laugh by Emmet Gowin, the aesthetic of it all and also just being a glimpse into the reality of a person that couldn’t be (much) more different from myself.

We have picture!

Much to my surprise, all my super 8 footage is usable.  Here are a few screenshots just looking through the (very) big Quicktime file.

In fact, I wonder just what I’ve gotten myself into with these 4K log scans I got.  The above screenshots were much flatter, but I just brought them into Photoshop and added my standard still photography adjustments.  Now while evidently I can do somewhat the same taking video clips into Premiere or After Effects, it’s a steep learning curve for me and hasn’t been going too smoothly.  My only other option at the moment is to use the settings in Final Cut Pro X which are more rudimentary, with unsatisfying results.

I ended up sending my film to Pro8mm in California instead of my local stop, Cinemalab in Denver, which gave me more options than I needed, but also a better price all around.  Still I think that instead of 4K log scans, I’d have been better off with something that included their in-house color correction but I never asked how much that would cost.  I didn’t plan on using Pro8mm, but it turns out that Cinemalab, despite what they say on their website, does not offer super 8 processing.

So what will all this mean?  I suppose the final film won’t look quite as good as it has the potential to, honestly.  But then 20 years from now I can hire a professional to do the work for the re-release and charge you all more money to buy it.


This one goes back to Fall of last year, I forgot I had it (the roll of film predates this post).  Strangely enough I had a dream last night having to do with industrial waste, parking lots, and photography.  And Kodak.

An assignment for my Intro to Archaeology class, my friend and I studied a small parking lot to determine what information we could glean from what people leave behind them (in the form of trash, mostly), just as archaeologists can only learn about ancient peoples by what is left of them after being buried for millennia.  And I took pictures.

It was a good chance for me to try out a new lens (the Mamiya/Sekor 55mm 1.8), as I had just purchased a Mamiya 1000TL the week before at a thrift store.  I’ll try out the camera itself at a later time, but the lens is wonderfully sharp and I had no problem using it on my Spotmatic body.  I tried for a bit of a minimalist aesthetic, and still life subjects aren’t something with which I have a whole lot of experience.  The Mamiya/Sekor lens could focus quite close to my subjects, which was definitely useful for me.

Among the litter we surveyed, there were 7 straws, 2 cups, 4 pop cans, and 13 scraps of paper, but the most plentiful find was a total of 251 cigarette butts, which leads me to the conclusion that smokers are just assholes.


Ha, this made me chuckle…

There is a hierarchy in digital photography, and firmly at the bottom, it seems, are people who take pictures with their tablets.  I get it; too many people don’t really experience concerts, speeches, artist talks, anything that they go to, they miss real life because they’re too busy looking at it behind a screen.  Like the screen on your iPhone, right?  Like the screen on the back of every DSLR, perhaps?

It’s quite entertaining how concerned the author gets over things like the tablet’s battery life, quality of the tablet’s camera compared to a smart phone, and how ridiculous tablet photographers look (a point made several times).  Best quote: “To make matters worse, Apple keeps improving the iPad’s camera. With the new 9.7-inch iPad Pro, the company had the audacity to add a camera flash and 12-megapixel sensor to the tablet…”  The author also jokingly reflects on a dystopian future where lenses are obsolete, but I don’t see that as all that far-fetched.  I can see the end for DSLR technology; it might be closer than one thinks, if the majority of the consumer base moves away from “real” cameras.  It should be mentioned that what the average consumer considers good enough is quite underwhelming, one of the reasons digital photography became popular in the first place.  Convenience will trump quality, so why carry a bulky DSLR and zoom lens around when you can pull a thin tablet out of one’s shoulder bag?  Or a smart phone from one’s pocket. 

The comments are wonderfully entertaining as well, and it seems emotions run high over this subject.  At least there’s one badass on there who still shoots with single-use cameras; that guy is my hero.

I do wonder, with the larger size of the tablet, does that give increased room for larger and better sensors over a smart phone?  Will the tablet actually overtake the smart phone as the user camera of choice for the unwashed masses?  Will people frantically scramble to get extra sensors for their favorite DSLR and mirrorless cameras, will they cry when they give up the ghost after a decade?  Will they shell out huge amounts of money for the few remaining models, or scour thrift stores hoping for something a little nicer than an early ’00s 1MP point-and-shoot?  Will they bemoan the death of photography?

As time marches on and professional digital cameras are abandoned in favor of tablets with lenses on them, I will watch and cackle like a crazy person.  Me and all the others kooks still hung up on our light-sensitive little pieces of plastic…

An old film resurrected by Japan Camera Hunter and AGFA

Pretty awesome.  Initially looking at the headlines, I wondered who made the film, what emulsion he was using, etc, if it was going to be a standard Lomography MO of repackaging expired film under their own brand (though they have started ordering special runs from film manufacturers in the last few years).  Bellamy has an excellent reputation for quality and transparency, and I needn’t have worried.  Even looking right at the film box, it reads quite clearly at the bottom, “Made in Belgium,” which of course means it was made by AGFA-Gevaert.  In fact, he gives plenty of details about the film: evidently the emulsion is a discontinued AGFA traffic surveillance film.  It’s an ASA400 black & white film with near-infrared sensitivity, costs about $8.75 per roll (sold in packs of 10).  Look at the shots on the announcement above, buy some film here.  Having just dropped money on the Cinestill campaign, I don’t have the money to support this at the moment, but I’d encourage everyone reading this to help out if you can.

In other news, I missed the announcement, but Bergger (better known as a paper manufacturer) has brought out a new ASA400 black & white film in large format 4×5, 5×7, and 8×10 quite recently.

All this new film coming out makes me a bit giddy, but I can see the upside and downside of this.  The first thing I wonder about is why we need another 400-speed black & white film, with versions from Kodak, Ilford (and Kentmere), Rollei/AGFA, Foma, plus Bergger already (which I believe is ORWO motion picture film?) so does the JCH film really offer anything new?  At least Bergger is making film in large format sheets, that’s a market that isn’t already saturated.  It seems like we could really use more specialty films, for lack of a better word.  Speed-wise at least, something around 1600, or 25-50.  There aren’t many offerings on the really fast and slow sides of the spectrum.

Sadly, we’re not likely to see many films like that nowadays, because the demand isn’t high enough.  I was getting into film just about the same time that T-Max 3200 and Neopan 1600 were going away, and even today the fastest color film is 800.  I don’t think Kodak or anyone else is investing capital into film technology R&D, so all “new” film from 2010 forward is likely to be emulsions that were discontinued years ago.  It would be awesome in the future to be able to shoot near-grainless native speed 3200-6400 film, what we’re more likely to see is companies digging into their back catalogs, making film photography more like traveling back to the past.  This is what JCH is, and also Ferrania.  I really hope we will see truly new film technology above and beyond Ektar 100 and Portra 400 someday, but for now, I’m happy that at least something new is coming out.

Project part 2 – Advanced Photography

Our assignment for this round was to produce one image ten different ways.  This is my take on that, building on what I did for the last critique.


So I think that critique went as well as the first one, if not better.  I’m really happy that the ones that I wasn’t sure about were still successful; it seemed to me that the entire series could be a bit of a gamble.  I really did try to blend the two pictures together on a case-by-case basis, to achieve a balance where each was visible, but if the class thinks it’s better to pick a number/percentage and stick with it, I can live with that.  This is my first time doing anything like this before, so I wasn’t even sure if I was doing it the right way or not…everything I do in Photoshop is just by feeling my way around, and I’m sure that getting help from someone a bit more knowledgeable couldn’t hurt.

I still get the sense from the class that they still think that what I’m making is something approaching a traditional film which is not the case, so they bring expectations to it, like wanting to see sets, cast, crew, etc.  I suppose maybe I could have picked some pictures that were from what I shot, but those never seemed as interesting, either by itself or in combination, but they are on the contact sheets.  There really isn’t much else there, and pretty much everything I shot with the still camera for the film was also on the contact sheets.  Of course, there was one more roll of film that I finished shooting Friday, but too late to use so it goes into the next critique.

I do think that the class (and the teacher) seem to project their own expectations of my experience onto the pictures, and not that that is a bad thing, but it makes a difference to me about what I can get away with, if I can put it that way.  The whisky picture might seem loaded to some people, but I can’t really say anything that I didn’t already say about in class, and how much of what I can say will take away from the mystique of it?  People find their own meaning.  The internet notice picture was another experiment for me because I thought that even though it isn’t an interesting picture, everyone would immediately relate it to a sense of being overwhelmed.  In actuality, it had nothing to do with me, my roommate takes care of the internet bill, and recently his bank had to issue him a new card/number.  The hardest part for me was that the entire process took about two weeks, which is a long time to go without internet in your apartment, especially when I don’t have a phone: I did all my connecting with the outside world while I was at school.  Somehow, that story doesn’t seem as fulfilling as what the class was projecting onto that particular picture, and if they had known the real story, it wouldn’t have spoken to them as much.

I’m not really sure where I’ll go from here.  Admittedly, I haven’t shot as many waking up or pre-sleep pictures in the last week or so, but I will continue doing them because at the moment I don’t have any better ideas.  I shot a lot in a more condensed time period this weekend which is a departure.  It will be interesting to see just how the project changes with the inclusion of a partner, but I’m going to try to go into that with no expectations.

My precious…

It’s finally happened.  Took a few months, but I finally sunk some major dough on a camera body and lens, and it very nearly eclipses the total amount of money I’ve spent on camera equipment since I started in 2009.

My history with rangefinders:

First of all, the Minolta Hi-matic 9, which wasn’t at all a bad camera, but my copy had a problem with the shutter only firing about 50% of the time.  Then, there was the Petri 2.8 Color-corrected Super, which handling-wise wasn’t too bad, but with an annoying self-timer lever that I wanted to break off…also it was badly infested with fungus.  Interestingly enough, I mentioned the Canon P back then, so I guess I was already on my to wanting a good Canon rangefinder.  I suppose I’ll also mention the Olympus Trip 35 which is a great little AE camera with zone focusing, and one I used quite a lot last semester for photo projects.

On the mirrorless film body food chain, if you start from the bottom, you have the point & shoots (though some, like the Olympus Stylus series are considered quite good), followed by zone-focusing viewfinder cameras like the Trip 35 or XA2, then all manner of fixed-lens true rangefinder cameras from Canon, Minolta, Olympus, Yashica, and others.  These are where the true value lies as there are plenty of great quality cameras out there for bargain prices.  I bought that Hi-matic 9 for $25, the most I’d spent for a camera up to that point, and as recently as December I came across a Yashica Electro 35 also for $25 (sadly I was completely broke at the time and didn’t buy it).  At the top of the food chain, is of course all the Leicas…$5000 new for a body alone, and probably $1200 for a beat up M3 with a lens, more than I can afford, and the gulf between the Leicas and a good fixed-lens Japanese rangefinder has me continuously asking the question, starting at 50 times the price, are you really getting 50 times the camera, 50 times the image quality?  That question is especially relevant in my class right now, because our resident Leica guy sold the lens he had and now owns the exact same lens that I do (it’s in worse condition and he paid more for it).


My local camera store just put out a handful of vintage M39 Leica screw mount lenses, of which I snagged a Leitz 5cm Summarit f/1.5 (you convinced me, Mark).  I then immediately started shopping around for a body.  I’ve been doing my research for a while, and ultimately chose the Canon 7, though I also considered the P and VI-L models.  There are a lot of these coming out of Japan right now so it’s the best time ever to buy one (or two?) of these great old cameras, a body can be had for under $100 if you’re patient.  It’s a great camera, and has all the modern features: integrated rangefinder/viewfinder, thumb winder, swing open door with SLR-style film loading (which Leica will never adopt, it seems), and a selenium light meter (which still works and appears to be accurate).  And it’s a solidly-built hunk of brass, not at all unworthy of carrying a well-made Leitz lens (and that lens is a beast, weighing more than the body).


So I think I’ve found the perfect middle-of-the-road price point for me to get into rangefinders without having pay more than I did for my last car, yet still having the ability to shoot a wide variety of Leica glass (the older and more affordable kind), plus lenses from many different manufacturers if I want them.  There are even modern lenses out there from Cosina/Voigtlander, and this just came out as well.  I’m going to have to save up quite a bit but man, I do so want a brand new Jupiter 3+ kind of badly…


So how is shooting the Canon 7?  Pretty nice.  Despite its reputation of not being as well-made as the Canon P, to me it feels extremely solid.  It has the same style thumb lever as my AE-1 in that it can be moved out from the body a good ways without locking, which can take a bit of getting used to, but aids in rapid winding situations as my thumb fits in between the body and the lever.  The strap lugs seem a bit oddly placed, and from what I’ve read the camera only balances correctly when sporting the f/0.95 dream lens.  The shutter is definitely quieter and smoother than any of my SLR shutters, and I expect sharper handheld shots down to 1/8sec.  The light meter works and appears to be relatively accurate, though I would prefer something that reads through the lens, but for that I’d need a much more modern (and expensive) camera.

Considering that I bought the camera for the purpose of mounting Leitz screw mount lenses, I should be talking more about that lens.  It has a bit of a bad reputation for being really soft wide open, but then again that might be because Leitz had them optimized for f/2.8 (I hear they can be modified).  I’ve seen pictures around here and there, and it seems like the lens has the potential to give just stunning bokeh wide open.  It’s not something I’ve really obsessed about in the past, but I’ve liked what I’ve seen so far, especially for black & white, where the lower contrast does not prove a hindrance.  And being a lens that was made in 1953, it definitely doesn’t have the multicoating, flare resistance, contrast, and look of modern lenses.  For color work, I’m not convinced, but then I’m not doing a lot of color work; that said, a low contrast lens like this could work great taming the wild colors of films like Ektar and Velvia 100, and right now I’m testing that assumption by shooting some Ektar.

But that said, I’m happy with the results I’ve had so far in black & white.  The lens is plenty sharp stopped down, and contrast is good as well.

Edit: OK guys, I’d better own up…mere hours after posting this, it developed a problem with the shutter speed/ASA dial, to the point where it no longer changes shutter speeds now.  I tried taking it to my local camera store, but they don’t have the parts to fix it, so unfortunately I had to contact the seller.  Per the money-back guarantee I would still have had to pay shipping back to Japan, we came to an agreement and I was refunded the price minus shipping costs but kept the camera.  I’m going to donate it to my local camera store as a parts machine.  So much for trying to get a good deal on this one.  Looks like it’s back to the hunt…

Project part 1 – Advanced Photography

First new pictures of the year…I’ve been sitting on them for weeks now.  Here is the beginning of my semester-long personal project.  For the benefit of the readers, I am covering the making of my film, by documenting what I do, and my own mental state while doing it.  I am attempting to communicate apathy, exhaustion, and burnout, and this is a project that was really spurned on by my classmates’ insistence, as well as lack of any better ideas.  Below, I have my thoughts on the class critique.

Immediate impressions: I suppose the critique went well, though it still seems that my classmates still have a better conception of what I’m doing than I do. I think that everyone has a concept of what “a film” is, and that won’t necessarily be what I make, and I wonder if that has an effect on what they expect from the photo project, as well as what the finished film will actually be.  I’m happy to have the direction in the photo project, as without it, I don’t think I’d know what to do, but still, coming into the critique, my conception was that I was taking pictures of myself and my workspace, and I did that twice a day.  Thinking about the conception now that the critique is over, I’ll confess that I probably feel less sure moving ahead.  The critique itself is now little more than a blur, but the points that do stand out are that something about it isn’t necessarily working.  But how big a part is that?  I had several people over the last few weeks tell me how much they were looking forward to seeing what I was doing.  Really?  Because it is just pictures of me.  And the state of my bedroom (that was my standard response).

Now that I’ve had more time to think about it: I feel like the conception for this project belongs to the class as much as to (more than?) myself, and as such, I think the critique was successful, because the class’s response was quite favorable.  I never really thought of myself as making crowd-pleasing work before, and really, I found the reactions to be on the whole, very gratifying.  Thought it’s not something I’d say I ever let influence me in the past, still it’s nice to be loved now and again, and have the validation of my peers.  I suppose I’m doing this work for them even more than for myself.  The way I look at it, I’ve been in my own world with most of my projects, doing my own thing, and if people like it, great! but it wouldn’t bother me if they didn’t.  This time, I actually feel some sort of glimmer of hope, like success and financial independence are within my grasp.  I suppose that there might be a difference in results between art that is made completely independently from art that is made either for hire, or just playing up to your fans.  Pretty much every painter, sculptor, composer, etc would have had a patron before the 1800s, and afterward, there were people like Paganini and Liszt (I’m sure there are plenty of other examples) who definitely played up to their fans.

One of the praises that confuses me the most was the narrow depth of field in pictures of my environment, like socks.  Guys, I’m using 200 speed film that doesn’t push very well, pretty much I’m just trying to keep things steady enough to be clear, and using fast normal lenses wide open is kind of the easiest way to do it, as it’s too much trouble to set up a tripod every morning/evening.  Even then my handheld speeds get down to 1/8sec sometimes, so it’s really a nice surprise for me when they turn out at all.  I guess I have steady hands.

I don’t understand yet how to make the march of time apparent, except to follow suggestions about starting off with a shorter beard.  I suppose my beard is getting a bit long and unmanageable, it might be beneficial to give it a trim, and I’ve been thinking of doing that for my film anyway, but at the end.  I’ll have to see if I can work it in sooner, preferably before the weekend.  I think I’m up for having a long-running sequence of what I’m shooting for the film underneath the 8x10s, but it’s really only half of the film (the rest being super 8 which won’t be sent off for processing until I’ve shot all of it), and what I have right now is just more pictures of me but shot by other people.  In fact, there were some hiccups with that, and half my footage from last week isn’t there, which makes it a bit hard, but I’m sure I could come up with something, as long as it’s just going to be cut-up strips of contact sheets, because I don’t know if I have time/energy for printing more than that.  I don’t see how the blurry pictures of myself communicate exhaustion/burnout more than something where you can actually see my eyes clearly, but whatever, I’ll do it.  Some of the suggestions were things that I’d already been doing, so that gives me less ideas moving forward than I could want, but I’ll try not to let it get me down.

What am I planning for the future?  I just have to keep laying down track, so that means a picture of myself and my workspace (at this time it’s still primarily the bedroom) every morning/evening.  Also, when I’m out working on the film, I’ve taken stills when I can, though recently it’s all been super 8 footage and not always possible to whip out the Pentax or Canon from my backpack when my hands are already full.  However, I do have some shots of me in the school recording studio editing dialog, and I’ll see about taking pictures when I have meetings with Jane or anything else I’m doing.  I have some pictures inside my shooting locations from last week, and that roll of film was developed I think Wednesday, so too late to use for critique.  I just finished off another one this morning, so that’s already two rolls that I’ve shot without the benefit of post-critique redirection and I wonder how usable they’ll be.  I’ll decide by Saturday whether or not to trim the beard.  Besides that, I don’t really know what I should be doing differently as far as my modus operandi, I suppose I can make sure I’m shooting wide open with the selfies (right now it’s f/2.8 at 1/8 to 1/30 depending on how much light I have) to make sure I don’t accidentally get my face in focus.

More news – an appeal

I like what these people have to say about their campaign.  I’ve felt since I heard the news about FP100c that the only thing we should be asking Fuji, is that they sell their equipment off instead of destroying it, and I mentioned that when I signed the petition.  As it looks like these people are behind that petition, I see this as a good sign.  Personally, I don’t think I’ll ever use my Land Camera again even if the film is saved, but there are plenty of people out there who love this film.  Please check out the website, sign the petition.

On the upside, the Cinestill campaign has been doing very well.  So well, that the Indiegogo team have been working with them to extend their deadline, and have passed their first stretch goal, which means that we’ll be getting 800T sheet film, a wonderful proposition if ever I heard one.  As of right now they are at 142% funded.  They have 4 days left to raise $20,000 more to meet their next stretch goal, medium and large format 50D.  I’ve thrown in $90 for a 100′ bulk roll of 35mm 800T.  Personally, it seems to me like that’s the best deal offered, but there are some tantalizing options there, so if you haven’t checked out their campaign yet, please do and support a new medium (and large!) format film type.

Edit: They didn’t quite make it all the way, they fell about $2500 short of their $190,000 goal, which isn’t so bad to my estimation.  The Brothers Wright have said that they plan to bring more Vision 3 emulsions to medium format regardless of their goals being met, so I think eventually it will happen.