A rapidly vanishing America

As I write this I’m staying in a vacation rental in Fountain, CO, on an old 1915 farmstead that is a holdout in what seems like ever-faster-paced life all around it.  Across the street the suburbs keep encroaching on what used to be arable farmland.  Now it’s just fodder for the land developers and the constant flood of people from California.

It kind of reminds me of this article that I read recently, with changing tastes and demands just contributing to ever-more waste and unsustainability in the name of “morals.”  We’ve known since the time of Malthus that there would be a breaking point but when will that be?  What I want to do more than anything is get away from all the crowds, the influx of the unwashed masses, live somewhere unspoiled by Man.  The problem is, I would be just the tip of a new spearhead and then slowly yet another landscape would be ruined eventually.

Out with the old, Pt.II

I’ve had this vintage Lowepro bag for nearly a decade now, it was a gift from a family at church, along with their Minolta X-700; I got more use out of the bag.  While it was with them it made a trip to India and God knows where else; certainly it saw a lot of use with me over the years.  I really loved how well-made the bag was, and started buying other vintage Lowepro bags when I could find them for a reasonable price.  I originally thought this particular bag had been used as an impromptu diaper bag at some point as it did rather tend to smell like a used diaper, but as I acquired more bags and encountered others at thrift stores, I smelled it a lot; it must just be something in the materials.  I also dropped this bag in a pile of horse shit once, but that’s another story (and honestly there isn’t much to tell, but it happened during this outdoor Katy Graves concert).  Anyway, the zipper stopped zipping and that was the last straw for me.  So here’s my new Domke Viewfinder Series photojournalist bag alongside for comparison:

It’s not quite the same but at least Domke still manufactures in America, something the brand formerly known as the Colorado-based Lowe Alpine Systems can’t claim anymore.  I loved the aesthetics of old Lowepro so much that I found a duffel bag with a lot of the same characteristics, from BAD Bags: hand-sewn seams, 1000D Cordura nylon, seatbelt webbing, Fastex fasteners, and YKK zippers (supposedly the best).  But in my case the zipper was the weak link:

YKK Zippers, you’re trying my patience…my jacket that I’ve worn for years is starting to misbehave now too!  I’ve used my new Domke bag for the last 6 months and have been quite happy with it, though I wonder if its being open to the elements will allow more dust than with the old Lowepro.  Of course, the alternative is a lot more zippers…

This is me also trying out the 55mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor lens that I bought last Summer.

Is the F6 the last film Nikon?

Since 2014 I’ve seen a few unique film emulsions be discontinued, but I’m sad to see news that this time a film camera has been discontinued.  I remember seeing that news back in October, but reading Johnny Martyr’s thoughts has made me want to comment on this myself.

First of all I agree with a lot of what Martyr says; if we can’t be bothered to buy new and support the companies still making cameras, etc. new, then we can’t expect those said companies to still make them after a while.  I’ve had plenty of arguments over the last few months with people who would never consider buying a new camera (and these are wannabe pros), whether for still photography or motion and honestly these people are thinking poor, and not thinking professionally.  If I were making a living from all that then I wouldn’t be trying to get all my equipment dirt-cheap and using it until it breaks, I’d want something reliable and if that costs more, then I’d consider it a work investment.  That would make having the F6 worth having, I think, because it would last a long time, would come with a warranty, and would still be serviced by Nikon for years to come.

Even more than the F6, the new camera I really wanted was the Kodak Super 8 camera probably made by Logmar, that has still not gotten past the prototype stage.  I’ve heard a few references to it this year, evidently Spike Lee’s COVID music video was shot with it, but Kodak lent him a few prototypes for that.  Of course talking online to people about that camera is an exercise in futility, because how dare I suggest they invest $2000 in a brand-new camera instead of spending $50 on the ‘bay for an untested pile of junk.  I suppose that the last time I talked about the camera I wasn’t too thrilled with the price either but the more I think about it the more it doesn’t seem like too much if it’s well-designed, reliable, and will last a good long time.

But while I mourn for the passing of the last film SLR, I can’t bring myself to mourn for the Nikon F6, mainly because I never really wanted one.  Evidently Canon was making the EOS-1v until just a few years ago, and no one really noted that being discontinued, but then knowing that the two last SLRs date to the turn of the millennium and were the kind of fully-automated high-tech gizmos that I’ve been avoiding most of the last decade has a lot to do with my ambivalence.  Leica’s high-tech pinnacle, the M7, was introduced and discontinued about the same time.

It should also be noted however that Leica introduced something of a throwback around the same time, the M-A which is totally free of all electronics (and also still makes the M-P which has an integrated light meter).  Personally, I see this as Leica listening to what consumers actually want, and that is a solid, reliable mechanical camera (and evidently demand for film bodies is exceeding supply).  While I agree with a lot of Johnny Martyr’s sentiments, I think that if Nikon went the route of reintroducing a non-battery-dependent mechanical camera, there would probably be a lot of people interested in buying one brand new!  I know I would be one of them.  I’ve tried researching just what the Nikon FM3a cost when it was sold new, evidently in 2001 when it was first released around $800 ($1200 in 2020 dollars), but possibly it was only going for $600 by 2006 ($800 in 2020 dollars).  To buy a NOS FM3a today would cost $1200-1500 but there are people doing it.  So if there are people willing to pay that much for a camera that hasn’t been made in 15 years, are there enough people that would be willing to buy one brand new from Nikon if they brought it back?  For $1500-1800 (maybe a little bit more)?

Because that’s what I want to see happen: I want Nikon to replace the $2600 F6 with a reintroduction of the FM3a (at $1800) and I think they could find a customer base willing to buy them.  Heck I think that even if the camera cost as much as the F6 did there would still be lots of people interested, that is half the price of a Leica body.  And also I mentioned it before but considering the 50th anniversary of the F2 is next year, what a brilliant time to think about bringing that camera back!  Nikon did after all make limited edition reproductions of the S3 in 2000 and the SP in 2005; they could do it again.  (Also Nikon, if you’re reading this, make film scanners again too!)

But if the F6 is all there is and now Nikon will be all-digital going forward, there are still lots of things we can buy brand new, from minor accessories to manual focus lenses.  I bought a few accessories myself nearly a year ago.  And I think my New Year’s Resolution will be to buy at least one brand new AI-s Nikkor lens.  Because this very well might be a case of “Use it or lose it.”  Of course the other possibility is that Nikon had a stock of brand new accessories, lenses, bodies, etc, and really stopped making all that stuff many years ago, and we’re just now getting down to the last of the stock.  In that case Martyr’s original article might have helped the F6 end just that much sooner by increasing interest and demand…

Milestone reached: 400 followers

According to WordPress at least, which is keeping track of these things.  I was looking back through my followers list because I’m sure a lot of those followers are fake…the thing is, if they are I didn’t pay for them!  But there are some strange fake-sounding websites following me (and apologies if you are one of those, I appreciate it, it’s just bizarre).  A few recent followers have already deleted their profiles.  One girl has followed me with at least 4 different profiles; I can’t judge as I follow myself from my music website.  So thank you, everyone.  And I don’t know about all the people that used to blog and don’t anymore: so many dead links or abandoned sites.  Do these people really count as followers?  It’s not like I get 400 likes every time I post something, it’s more like 5-10 most of the time, but thank you to those people who at least let me know they read it!

Also thank you to Chuck the Writer for linking to my latest post every Saturday without fail.  I don’t know who you are and we’ve never communicated but I appreciate you!  Knowing that Chuck will want something new to link to keeps me making at least one post a week and I’ll tell you all that without his silent acceptance things here would probably a bit more haphazard.  Thanks to Jim Grey who likes my stuff too and whatever he might think is pretty influential.  We’ve had some great conversations online and I’d like to think that you’re a friend, even if we’ve never met.

So let’s get truthful for a moment: I don’t make this blog for any of you.  I make it for myself.  And that’s the only way I know how to do it.  I make it because after I took Intro to Photography I felt the need to share my output beyond my immediate circle of friends on Facebook.  I feel a lot of the time like I’m in a vacuum and I’m just speaking to myself; I suppose that’s the way I want it but at the same time I couldn’t say that I don’t crave acceptance.  But thanks to all those out there who read even if they never comment or like, thanks for checking out my little corner here.  I recently conversed with someone on a Facebook group who had heard of my blog and liked my writing style.  Granted we have the same interests but I’m still happy it’s reaching people.

So keep reading and I’ll keep musing.  I do think that eventually I will run out of steam and I wouldn’t say that The Resurrected Camera has an infinite lifespan, but I don’t plan on erasing all that I’ve built here.  I hope that after my current photo project is wrapped up that I can take everything in a new direction but no promises that I will be nearly as prolific.

Scanning 4×5 Large Format Film

…using the Epson Expression 10000XL in the Visual Resource Center at UCCS.  The Epson software took a few minutes to set up but I suppose that it’s nice that once everything is calibrated I just hit the scan button and go off to do something else for about 20-30 minutes.  Or once a few images are done I’ve started working on those in Photoshop and backing everything up while I wait.  Also I’m writing this post (though as you read it it’s months later).

What do I think of the Epson Expression?  It’s as big a piece of crap as the V600 but at least it does 4×5 film.  It’s the only scanner on campus that can do large format.  Thanks to this site I found out that I could only do 2400dpi scans, but considering how long it takes to do those I don’t think I’d have the patience to let it do longer.  One thing I noticed, is that you must keep track of this:

(7 min. my ass…)
If the scanner isn’t making noise for a while, click that to get the damn thing working again; it’s like the scanner went out for a smoke break and needs to be kicked back into the building to do some work.

I’ve been printing some of these in the darkroom as well, but now that I have digital access to all my negatives I can see things I would have earlier, like where the dust has been caked in, just how bad my developing technique was starting out, how many times I missed focus (I think I should be using a loupe), things like that.  And the successes are quite successful, here’s an example:

Cowboy weaponry at the ready.  Kodak T-Max 400 pulled 1 stop.  

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Developing 4×5 large format film

…is a pain in the ass.  Mostly because it’s like starting all over again after I’ve been shooting 35mm film for a decade.  There are so many new things that I’m learning and while my results have gotten better with time I don’t know everything yet.  For instance while most of my images look pretty good these days there is always the odd sheet that’s just off, like this one:

I suspect that this film holder is a bit light-leaky but besides that I don’t know what’s up with it.  I developed 10 sheets in one batch and it’s the 2 sheets I shot on top of Pike’s Peak that look pretty fugly.

The Yankee Agitank is an old model bought used but B&H is selling these brand-new.  I confess I only used it once and it was such a hassle plus the results left much to be desired.  It was the first time I developed large format film so there were plenty of variables to take into account, still I don’t think I will use this tank again.  Here’s a failure below, but there weren’t many successes:

The Rink-Roselieve tank works reasonably well but there are always a few problems either due to me loading a sheet or two of film incorrectly, or some other problem that I haven’t identified yet.  I found that it does help to pre-wash the film beforehand, but even then there will be a random spot on a sheet that doesn’t develop, like below at the bottom of the picture:

Besides spots like that on the edge of a frame I’m pretty happy with the images, though I wonder if one side of the image is getting more development time than the other, just looking at a lot of my images (in this case the left-hand side).

The Stearman Press SP-445 (a Colorado company!) gives pretty much perfect results but is a pain in the ass to get sealed.  For one thing the O-ring doesn’t seem to keep the lid closed so I used a piece of tape to keep the top lid from falling off.  That is a minor inconvenience compared to the drain and vent hole lids, whose twist-off caps are so hard to work with my (I suppose) arthritic hands that I need to use a few wet paper towels for grip and it takes me 60-90 seconds to get the caps off to switch chemistry.  This time needs to be taken into account when timing the development especially, and hopefully agitating for the first time a full minute after adding the developer won’t harm the images much.  It only holds 4 sheets of film at a time and takes ~450ml chemistry which is nice, because I don’t necessarily want to shoot 10-12 sheets of film the same way, that’s locking me into quite a lot.  The Stearman’s smaller capacity allows me to be able to switch films quicker, push/pull more often depending on my needs, and despite my griping the results have never been less than stellar.  Here’s from my first attempt:

The only thing I haven’t tried yet (and I was looking at buying last semester) is the 6-sheet Mod54 holder that fits inside Paterson universal tanks.  I think I would like it, but sadly the months of January and February are ones where there is no extra money for buying anything, and those ended up being the last I was able to use the darkroom.  I’m hoping my instructor will let me in for the Spring semester but of course we just don’t know right now.

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What’s in the future for Ferrania?

I’ve always tried to be upbeat and positive regarding Ferrania in the past, and certainly this year must certainly have been hard on them. I suppose some will read the announcement and accuse them of abandoning their original promises (well, the phrase “Our Kickstarter campaign must evolve into something new…” probably sets off some alarm bells) and honestly I don’t know what Ferrania is ultimately saying myself.  They throw out a hint at color film (note: they never use the word reversal) down the road but wisely have not committed to anything; in the past laying out projected timelines hasn’t worked well for them.

I just hope that they actually are working on color reversal film and that it will be happening soon.  I like the P30 but it’s no substitute; I’ve hoarded my 5 Alpha rolls for years now but it’s my plan to shoot up the rest of it this year and buy some of the fresh regular production rolls.  Here’s a compilation of what I was shooting back in January and February:

It’s good stuff, but very slow for what I do so I don’t anticipate using it much.  On the other hand, if they had made just another ASA400 film I’d complain about that too (I have in the past).  Actually I’d love to see P30 slit as super 8 or at least 16mm: considering how fine-grained it is it would look lovely in small-gauge.  I hope Ferrania thinks about some of the underrepresented markets out there, like Double 8, Double Super 8, especially in 100ft rolls there.  Hopefully P30 will work with reversal chemicals but it can of course be scanned too, and even just selling long-length cans of super 8 film (not loaded in cartridges) would be great for those who load their own cartridges, like those shooting single-8 cameras.

But I am still eagerly awaiting some Ferrania Chrome 100 and it does get frustrating sometimes when all I hear about from Ferrania is updates on P30.  That said, I hope readers can tell which side of the fence I fall on here.  I want only the best for Ferrania and hope they are tremendously successful.

Photographers: know your rights

With the craziness in the past week and a half this is a good reminder why we have Constitutional limits set on governments.  Hold them accountable.  For people on the ground or thinking about it here are some valuable reminders, courtesy of the ACLU:

https://www.aclu.org/issues/free-speech/photographers-rights

https://www.aclu.org/issues/free-speech/photographers-rights/filming-and-photographing-police

https://www.aclu.org/video/protesters-and-photographers-know-your-rights

My Intro to Photo instructor always used to carry a printout of those in his pocket to hand to police whenever he was harassed, and I think it’s a pretty good idea.  While I was on the ACLU’s site I also saw this article which seemed timely and relevant:

https://www.aclu.org/blog/free-speech/photographers-rights/suppression-photographers-during-civil-rights-movement

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Will I ever find the perfect compact camera?

I’ve written previously about my love for the Olympus Trip 35, though unfortunately the shutter seized on me and I haven’t sent it in for a CLA yet (though at least it can be repaired…I’m looking at you, Contax).  Instead of spending a cool hundred bucks on repairing a camera that cost me about $8, I went back to my roots, shooting cheap-as-shit cameras I’ve happened to snap up at my local thrift store.  Another rule for me: I wanted to only buy cameras I knew I could make a profit from later on.

First was the Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80 ($4) which has an annoying design flaw in a circular light leak.  It also has all the other failings of its ilk, including iffy autofocus, a flash that needs to be turned off every time one activates the camera, slow zoom, zoom at all with the accompanying drop in lens quality.  I also bought a few more zoom models at the same time but decided it wasn’t worth it to burn a roll of film in one.  Oh, some more downsides: the CR123 battery cost me about $12 and there’s no manual ASA setting or exposure adjustment.

I then lucked into an Olympus Infinity Stylus ($5) with its 35mm f/3.5 prime lens.  Sure, I’d prefer the Epic with is faster f/2.8 aperture but I’ll take what I can find at a bargain price.  And there are a few nice improvements over the Zoom 80 version.  For starters, the prime lens makes this camera truly compact.  The ’90s rounded styling make it easy to fit into a pocket though it’s light enough (read: plasticky) to fit around my neck where it hung all of Fall 2019.  Having shot the Zoom 80 I already knew many of the failings though this one has at least a couple more: the fiddly shutter release that occasionally doesn’t fire, as well as a truly horrendous shutter lag.  The camera doesn’t shoot until the lens is fully extended and it makes a rather loud mechanical whir in doing it.  I lost quite a few shots due to this little problem.  And the lens flares at the drop of a hat.  It’s a camera I found useful for my photo project but it’s something that I will never be able to love unreservedly.

The newest acquisition is a Canon AF35M II ($4) and I’ve got to say I’m happy with just how manual this automatic camera is!  I suppose being older had a bit to do with it, but the design philosophy is so much closer to being something that I approve.  For starters, the flash needs to be engaged to work, something I don’t ever imagine using.  But thank God I’m not having to push another button every time I turn on the damn thing.  Another plus is its manual ASA setting from 50-1000, a wide range to handle not only different films but exposure adjustments for things like backlighting, snow, etc.  And it has an AE lock mode as well, though admittedly it’s slow, requires both hands, and makes one depress the shutter release twice. The shutter is responsive though, and there’s no ambiguity surrounding pushing that shutter release.  It shoots quickly and though battery-dependent, it’s the most ubiquitous battery of all, the humble AA.

The Canon AF35M II is the antithesis of the Olympus in nearly every way which is simultaneously its greatest asset and worst flaw.  For starters, it takes not one AA battery but two, which not only increases its weight but also its size by a considerable margin.  And most glaring of all, the motor drive makes a horrible and loud noise that would wake the dead.  If you want to draw attention to yourself during a quiet meeting, this is definitely the camera for the job.  But for now this camera works well for me and ensures that when I drive it’s easy to keep a camera at the ready.

And now that I’ve deconstructed all these cameras and their failings it’s time to bring it back to the Olympus Trip 35, a camera that has caused me many a failed photo due to its lack of automation.  Its zone focusing system can be a bit tricky at full aperture, and while it has two shutter speeds, the slower one at 1/40 second is nearly always preferred.  I find that I have to be very careful shooting it because if I’m too fast the shot will be blurry.  Giving the camera to a stranger to get a picture of me has almost never turned out a good result.

One thing that I’ve discovered along the way is that the longer time went on the more camera design would go toward making cameras so simple even an idiot can figure it out.  Well actually, I already knew this.  But we’ve come a long way from the days of Grandpa shooting Kodachrome slides with an all-manual camera (something which took a bit of skill).  The more they try to make something foolproof, the more I tend to say “Don’t overestimate the fool.”  So customers “demanded” simpler cameras that would give them the ability to expose pictures like a pro and this has led to the average photographer being a complete idiot.  Take away their iPhone and make them think for any length of time to see that it just keeps going downhill still today.

So the end result: the Olympus cameras went on the ‘bay and I made quite a lot of money off them.  I’m keeping the Canon for the moment, as it seems to be less annoying than the others, plus it’s not worth as much.

Trying to dispel the perception of Super 8 as the “crappy” format

Recently I’ve seen some new Super 8 films come out that are by some pretty prominent artists, like Spike Lee’s quarantine music video and Katy Perry’s pregnant music video.  And I look at their footage and I’m not that impressed by what I see there: pixelated footage, colors that make me cringe occasionally, nothing in focus, just on the whole not too fond of this style yet these videos are probably going to end up with millions of views (edit: since my first draft the Katy Perry video has become the most successful super 8 music video ever).  And that is what people are going to think of when they think “Super 8,” which also makes me cringe.

But then again whenever the format has been used in movies in the past it is with this mentality, and when movies have been put out on DVD, blu-ray, etc, it is I think in every case scanned with 35mm elements, however many generations removed from the original negatives/positives.  With the technology having improved so much in the last few years digitally scanning super 8 can look better than ever but it’s almost never used to its full potential.  I was reading an article recently from Criterion where the head of the restoration went to painstaking lengths to make the crappy ca.1999 digital video footage look as good as possible instead of just scanning the 35mm film-out, the way they would have done if it were a super 8-originated footage.  I just hope that in the future small-format film will get the same kind of loving treatment from Criterion and others that 20-year-old digital files currently enjoy.

Until then try to get the best out of the format, don’t settle for crap with the reason that “it’s just super 8,” see what the format can really do: it’ll surprise you!  edit: Now that’s more like it: Spitzbergen: Guardian of the Arctic (trailer)