Sunday, February 25, 2018

Film photography is far from dead

While most of my recent articles have been posted on Medium, under the Coffee House Writers publication (, I am still intending to write the occasional article here on my own personal blog.

Today I'm going to go against the "grain" of modern photography and focus (pun intended) on film photography. Yes, I know it's 2018 and the vast majority of photographers are shooting digital, but there are a growing number that are returning to film. Maybe not shooting full-time on film, but they are at least including it in their repertoire.

When I started my photography journey, it was with film. Predominantly color negative film, usually the cheapest store brand from the local Jessop's camera store. Which while not expensive, it was a decent ISO100 film. My camera at the time was a Cosina CT1A, which I used mainly with the included Cosinon 50mm lens. This was a time of exploring the world of photography and experimentation to see what I could do. And I would try just about any subject matter; landscape, city/urban, portraits, macro, etc.

I did (briefly) add a Zorki 4K rangefinder to my arsenal. It came "standard" with a 50mm lens and took some good images, if you remembered to first remove the lens cap! Yes, I was guilty of that oversight at times. I can't even remember now why I sold it on but I did.

After some time I acquired another camera, this time a Mamiya DSX1000. A solidly built (tank-like) 35mm SLR with a 55mm f/1.8 lens. With this I continued my "shoot anything and experiment" ethos.

Now i know this is currently a high level overview, as I just want to give a little backstory. Because once 2000 arrived, I left England and moved to the US. And to save space and weight, I actually left my cameras in England! I also, effectively, stopped photography for a few years. Then when I restarted, it was with digital, when I purchased a Nikon D100. Now as this is about film, I'm going to completely skip my digital cameras and photo work.


A few years ago, I once again decided to get back to using film as a break from digital. I'd also been reading about the life and work of Robert Capa at the time. There was no way I was in a postion to get a Contax rangefinder, like the one he used but I could get the next best thing, a Kiev IIa. This is a Russian made camera, directly copied from the original Contax designs. To give a very brief history, Russia got a chunk of Contax after WW2.

The Kiev IIa is a great little rangefinder and the include Jupiter 5cm f/1.2 is a good lens. It's fully manual and no built in metering. I like using it with one exception; the eyepiece for the rangefinder window is so small that, now I'm wearing glasses, it's almost impossible to look through. Of course, I could always take my glasses off to focus and frame, but that means if I need to make any adjustment to a camera setting, the glasses need to go back on or I can't read any of the settings.

A  few years later I added another film camera to my collection; a Holga 120N. This is commonly referred to as a "toy camera" and it shoots on medium format film (120 film) and can use the 6x6 or 6x4.5 formats by dropping a "frame" into the camera. It is a very basic design, with no metering or adjustment of any kind other than its zone focusing and the cloudy/sun slider. It has a 60mm f/1.8 plastic lens that can give good images, but that's not always the intended "look". The camera is known to give a soft focus, often dream-like look to it's images. Then add in the possibility of light leaks and it all sounds like a disaster waiting to happen and a waste of time, effort and film. And you're now missing the point of this camera. It is in the "it's so bad it's good" mindset. It is a fun, don't take it all so serious camera that you don't have to really think about to use. Just set the lens to the desired zone, frame the image in the big optical finder and trip the shutter. Then wait to be surprised as to the final image when you get the film developed.

Toward the end of 2017 I, finally, took a trip back to England and revisited my home town. While there, I found my old Mamiya DSX1000 right where I had left it 17 years previously. And to my bigger surprise, the meter still functioned on the old button battery. How's that for "long life"? I also found I had left some unexposed film in the fridge (yes, my preferred method of storing film). Suffice to say, I made room for all this and brought it all back to the US with me. Now I will have to carry out some tests to see how well the Mamiya performs now, especially after spotting that the light seal around the prism and mirror has disintegrated. Not only did this strip of foam provide a seal to keep light from hitting the film from the eyepiece, it also helped to cushion the mirror as it flipped up to take a photograph.

This journey is now up to date, but not complete. I still have the desire to shoot film and have been looking at what used cameras are on the market (and in my price range). I also needed to find out if there was anywhere local that offers film developing; other than the drugstore option. And that's where I found a nice little bargain in used camera bin; a Nikon N90s. While this may not be an obvious first choice for a camera (an F1, F2, F3 or F4 would be nice to have) it is in pretty good condition, works and above all, was $50! Also, as I shoot Nikon digital cameras, most of my existing gear works with the N90s. I've run a roll of Agfa ISO200 color film through it to see if there are any issues, film is being developed, and it now has a roll of Ilford HP5 Plus in it. I also picked up a compact Sigma 24mm f/2.8 lens (for $45) as I intend to do some night time long exposures and it is a great little fast aperture wide angle lens.

And on that note, with all my experiments with film, one thing that always piqued my interest was reciprocity failure. For those unfamiliar with this term, film is created and rated to be shot within an upper and lower exposure time frame. If you shoot it above/below those limits, unexpected things can occur in the image. That's why very high speed images have a unique look, as too does long exposure images (on film). Both have pushed past the manufacturers expected exposure range and into the "unknown". The most obvious result of this is color shifts, whereby the chemicals in the film have reacted differently than "normal" and as you push the exposure time even further, these shifts can intensify and some almost surreal results can occur.

Will I stop at these film cameras? Nope! I'd love to get a medium format camera (SLR/TLR or range finder) and spend time with the larger negative and the inherent increase in image quality over 35mm. Plus there are always other great, iconic cameras that I'd love to shoot with. 

Thursday, November 23, 2017

New beginnings

I've been in North Carolina for three weeks so far. Not that I've really explored yet, but what I have seen has certainly shown promise for photo subjects and direction.

Not done a lot yet in the way of photography, although I have started dabbling in video a bit more. I did consider picking up a small "action" camera for things like timelapse and pov work, but until my finances recover a little from the move, I'm sticking with trying things out with my little Sony point and shoot. Not like it's a slouch, it can record in 1080P hi-def; it does suffer from the 29 minute clip limitation that all non video cameras suffer. Despite all this, I'm still finding it a valuable introduction to video.

I did break out my DSLR last night though, the first time since moving to NC. Since I've been here I've noticed the night sky is a lot more photogenic than where I was in OK, and last night was particularly attractive. Of course it also highlighted one of my "pet peeves" about photography; how there is still no camera or process that can (accurately) capture what the eye can see. Of course this is also further complicated by the fact that no two individuals will see the same scene exactly the same, as differences in their visual acuity will come into play.

I've not done much with night-time long exposures; not since I played with reciprocity failure of different film stock and how the colors morphed. A lot is due to how digital cameras behave at longer exposure times; instead of color morphing you are more likely to get "noise" in the image. Newer cameras are able to better handle this, but I currently use an aging Nikon D2X, so have to rely on my software to clean up the images.

night sky
This is a fairly good representation of the night sky I saw while walking my dogs; although it's far from what my eyes really saw. The eyes can perceive a lot more subtle colors, shading and transitions than the camera can capture. I would really be interested to know if any camera maker is working towards the capability of the human eyes.

I believe the stars and other celestial objects in the photo are "real" and not digital noise but it's not that easy to tell, so I let my noise reduction algorithms do their best and left it at that. For the technically inclined the details of the photo is, 30secs @ f4, ISO 1600 (H1), Tokina 12-24 @ 12mm.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017


A lot can change in our lives, sometimes the pace is slow and others it is much faster. Whichever pace it takes, the end result is inevitable; change will happen.

In the months since my last post, a lot of changes have either happened or are still in the process of happening. The biggest, and still ongoing change in my life is that I no longer work for the University of Oklahoma. Also within the next couple of weeks, I will no longer be living in Oklahoma. Instead I will be living in North Carolina. So, among other things, this will give me a whole new realm to explore photographically.

Photo wise, I did take a trip to South Dakota a couple of months ago and spent 10 days camping. And wow, this was an eventful trip and not for all the right reasons. Before we got very far into South Dakota, from Nabraska, we ran into a nasty hailstorm. Up to golf-ball size hail and so heavy it was a "whiteout" and we had to pull to the side of the highway. Suffice to say, the truck hood and roof was pretty badly dented; whereas our camping trailer was heavily pockmarked and had a roof vent smashed in (letting in the hail and rain). So the first order of business afer we got to the campsite was find someone to repair the vent to keep any further weather out. If that wasn't enough of a hassle, during the drive there I had noticed some noises coming from the driver's side front wheel; suspecting the wheel bearing being worn. Picked out a local mechanic (close to the campsite) and booked it in for repairs. Then on the day of the repairs and while driving there, the brakes failed and emptied the contents of the fluid reservoir all over the road. Luckily for me the mechanic (Wicked Wrenches in Rapid City, SD) was able to arrange a tow truck to get me to the shop. A couple of days later, and after a new wheel bearing and all new front brakes, I had my truck back and could start to explore the area.

The two main locations we wanted to check out was Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse. Both iconic rock carvings, on vastly different scales; Crazy Horse being the larger carving. It's also not that easy to take images other than the classic views of these locations. Not unless you have time an opportunity to make multiple visits, at different times, in different weather and different seasons. Unfortunately, I didn't really have a lot of flexibility due to losing so much time with truck issues. So I stuck with the "tourist" frame of mind and went for it!

Mount Rushmore was pretty impressive, and the iconic figures quickly pop into view as you approach. And as you enter the main path towards the monument, they stay in your view as it's perfectly straight and centered on the monument.

Once you reach the other end of the path the monument is pretty dominant, although the visitor's center is very informative and well worth a visit, providing the history and backstory to the site.

However, for me the lady performing the "hoop dance" was a captivating sight to watch and was an unexpected bonus; and one I was glad to have a fairly high FPS capability.

Now, using  slower shutter speed could have given a completely different view as blur would be introduced but I chose to stay fairly fast to capture more detail.

Then the next day we visited Crazy Horse. The difference in scale is pretty impressive and I can see why the locals recommend visiting Mt. Rushmore first. And Crazy Horse is all the more impressive in that is is entirely funded by donations and the profits of the on-site shops. Unfortunately you cannot get as close to the monument as you can with Mt. Rushmore (unless you wish to pay for a special tour) so a long lens is an essential to get a close view; or you can switch to a wide angle lens and photograph the scale model of what the finished carving will look like.

Not that you can't get a good view of the monument but I certainly hit the limit of my available zoom range when shooting from the visitor center area.

My personal recommendation is to hop on one of the tour buses that will take you closer, as well as give you some further insight into the history of the area.

And yes, I know I could have zoomed in a lot closer here, but I really like the context of the image and the sense of scale that you can't really convey from a zoomed in shot. Also while here, take the time to explore the visitor complex as there is a lot to see. There is a lot of fascinating indigenous art and crafts as well as earlier work of the sculptor. Among the sights I found this wonderful, life-size Kachina doll.

All in all, south Dakota is a great place to visit. My only regret is that I didn't have more time to explore and to visit these sights ant different times of the day to maximize lighting options. Suffice to say, when the opportunity to revisit comes, I'll be heading back.

And now I need to get back to packing in preparation of our move to North Carolina; I've put it off long enough to get this post put together but really need to get back to it.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Nothing stays the same

While I may have played around with video cameras in the past, I have always been strict that my working camera was photos only. The trend of having cameras that can shoot photos and video struck me as a compromise; where both "sides" were not optimal.

But as time has passed, I am understanding the appeal more and more. There are times when a still image can't convey the scene to it's maximum and being able to quickly switch over to video would be very advantageous.

Now, as regular readers will know, I currently shoot with a rather aged Nikon DSLR. One that does not have video. I do however have a little pocket sized Sony that does have video on it. Which is all well and good but the image quality is not really there for publishing and/printing. It only shoots in JPG and to me, "overcooks" the image processing. Anyway, I would rather have everything in the one body to keep a consistent look and feel. Plus, the lack of switching between cameras means less to carry, which my shoulders would be very appreciative of.

Of course, this will nescesitate upgrading my primary camera. Which is financially out of reach at the moment, but it does give me a chance to decide on what upgrade path to take. I am currently shooting a DX format camera and am wanting to go "full frame" so whichever route I take will eventually mean all new lenses too. So I am also considering switching brands! (shocked face)

Ever since I really got into photography, and reading photo magazines, I dreamt of owning Nikon gear. And for the last 10 years of so I have. Yet today I am not sure if I want to keep on going down that route. Currently there is only one Nikon body I feel would meet my needs; and even it is starting to age, with no signs of a refresh or redesign. That and the fact Nikon no longer seems to be innovating, plus a slew of quality control issues with several bodies makes me feel like looking elsewhere.

Now I can hear some of you saying go Canon. And while they are good cameras, plus currently​ the number 1 brand with professionals, they are also not really innovating. And yes, I did consider switching to Canon but ultimately decided against it.

In fact, my current train of thought is a little more radical. I'm looking at going "mirrorless" and switching to Sony. The a7 II (a7R II or a7 II) bodies from Sony are looking really interesting and with the latest firmware, they have overcome a lot of the initial issues. And with the release of their new a9 body, they are seriously becoming a contender in the professional arena. Also, they are continuing to expand their lens collection; they already have the the three lenses I would be wanting, covering 16mm through 200mm. And on top of that, the overall costs would be pretty similar to what I would be looking at by sticking with Nikon or switching​ to Canon.

There is also one other reason I'm looking at Sony. They have a great app for my phone and tablet that provides full remote control of their cameras. No more having to purchase or carry separate remote controls is a nice prospect. It also means, if I shoot in JPG format, I can transfer images straight out of the camera and post to Instagram. A interesting proposition to traveling light and not having to pull out my laptop to download, edit and then in turn transfer the images to my phone so that I can share them.

Anyway, this is all a "pipedream" at the moment until I can gather the funds to upgrade. Who knows, Nikon may surprise me and tempt me to stay. Only time will tell.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Back to basics

I've been undertaking a lot of introspection lately and revisiting where it all began for me and photography. At times the acquisition of new gear and the pursuit of new styles, techniques and attempts to specialize can distance you from your true, creative spark.

Without belaboring the point, I have been deconstructing my work and working to retrain my creative eye. Examining pattern, color, texture, as well as tone and contrast of black and white images. I'm also not setting any particular genre to what I photograph as I want to not set any artificial restrictions on myself.

Now I know that this is not necessarily going to producing many spectacular images or much to share here or on my website but that's not my intention anyway. This is something that should lead to new work, mainly projects for myself to build my portfolio and website.

The first couple of images in all this came by way of my macro lens. Both were images taken in natural light and utilizing long exposures to achieve the needed depth of field. The first of these is of a maple tree seed where I wanted to capture the texture and subtle coloring.

maple seed

The second image was more for color and shape and to add an extra challenge to the natural light long exposure is that this was a honeysuckle flower outdoors. Took several attempts before the wind was still enough to not affect the image.

honeysuckle flower

And then on a more mundane level, I finally completed setting up SEO on my new website. It was something I kept telling myself I needed to do but kept putting off. Well, I can now report back that it is complete. I even went as far as setting up website analytics so I can see how well it is doing and if I need to fine tune anything.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Changes....complete, or almost.

It's done! My newly created, newly redesigned website is live and hosted by; no more trying to make do with a GoDaddy website.

The differences in building a website with each host is like night and day. While I always struggled to make things look good on GoDaddy, Wix made everything simple and easy to do. They even automatically created a mobile version of my site. Now, admittedly I don't have everything complete; images need captioning, SEO needs setting up, and likely several other different little tweaks will get made; but the main thing is the site is now live and much improved.

One other thing that I am pondering is how best to proceed with this blog. Currently it is still being hosted on Blogger and is "mirrored" on my website via the use of a Blogger app. But the thing is, the app doesn't look that great. If I can't give it a more polished look I may look into setting up my custom domain in the Blogger settings and hosting the blog from my website.

Whatever I choose to do next, I hope you stay tuned and join me as I push forward with my new and improved web presence. I also have plans to offer a storefront to allow the easy purchase of prints. The future is definitely looking better, in many ways.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Change, change, change

I can never make my mind up as to whether change is a good or bad thing. This is not helped any by there seeming to be so many (albeit small) changes I've needed to address lately.

Chief among them is that I have recently overhauled my image editing processes. This has been a somewhat, drawn out process but I'm glad to move on from doing everything in Lightroom. I'd have to say a big contributor to this has been my acquisition of the Nik Collection; and my getting around to fully exploring it. Now instead of making a lot of edits directly in Lightroom, I am using Dfine for noise reduction and Sharpening Pro (output) for final sharpening. These two tools are miles ahead of the adjustments within Lightroom and the resulting images are much improved. And on the subject of Lightroom; it has a weird habit of skewing the colors when importing NEF RAW files from my cameras. Testing out the different Camera Calibration settings certainly pays off and using the Camera Standard setting gives my more vibrant (and red) reds. No more orange tinted reds!

Oh, and while on the subject of the Nik Collection, I have to mention Silver Efex Pro! I am loving the B/W conversions I can do with the software. I've even created my own custom preset so I can quickly replicate the look across any image. In my opinion it is the best B/W convertor available.

The other big change is concerning my online presence, as GoDaddy has completely changed their website building software and "obsoleted" my website. Now I know that I need to redesign and update my website but I do not like their new software, which is clunky and not the most intuitive. Of course, I already have a sore spot where they're concerned and their poor Mac support; hence why this blog is no longer hosted on their domain. So, I'm now looking into alternate hosts and platforms to start fresh and bring my website and blog back together. I'm also no longer considering a free solution as, unsurprisingly, you do get what you pay for.

I can't really talk about image editing and workflow changes without providing some samples, so here are a couple of images from my recent trip to Pikes Peak in Colorado. Regular visitors to my blog will recognize them, as I did post the color image previously; albeit with my "old" image editing workflow settings. Hopefully you can see the changes in the finished image.

train in color

And here 's the same image after running it through Silver Efex Pro and my custom preset.

train in b/w