Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Chicago's Central Camera - They Do Film Right

Last weekend, my wife and I visited Chicago together for the first time in many years.  We stayed at the Palmer House Hilton, a most fantastic classy hotel that has been in operation longer than any other hotel in the USA.  While I didn't plan the trip, it just so happened that Central Camera is a block away on Wabash.  Central Camera is equally as qualified for a longevity award as Palmer House.  I last shopped there in 2002, and bought a Tamrac backpack, which I still have.  Since then, I have been able to photograph the front of the store during quick Chicago visits, but it was always on Sundays, so it was closed.  This time, I stopped by on a Friday afternoon and a Saturday morning.  They open at 8:30, which is when I stopped by after breakfast Saturday. The nice thing about getting there early - is to be able chat with the folks behind the counters.
First of all, Central Camera is the photo store that is so archetypical of  the genre. Old-school, with glass cases filled with used gear (and new) that will induce a severe case of GAS.  All kinds of delectable cameras and accessories.  Of course, they have digital gear, too. If they don't have it, you can have them order it.  They have film. Lots of film. I haven't seen that much film in a store -- ever.  They also process film.  Vivian Maier used to buy her film there, too.   I am sure she didn't chat up the folks at the counter, though.
I bought s bunch of Kentmere 400 b&w, and some C-41 film while I was there. I don't NEED any more cameras, and it's a good thing I don't live in Chicago, or they would be getting a lot more of my money.
Speaking of film -- Yes they DO film.
Katherine Greenleaf and Charles Ezaki at the film counter.
I had a good time talking with the folks there, and told them about the Film Photography Podcast.  I hope they listen in.  Stores like Central Camera are few and far between these days, and to walk into the store is to feel like it's a place that is welcoming and also a bit like a piece of history.  Yes, you can buy the latest digi item, but I'll bet that they have a lens hood that will fit that vintage Contaflex in your bag, too.   I know that if I were doing photowalks in Chicago, Central Camera would have to be a stopping point -- or maybe a starting point.   Anyhow, it was fun to shop there and talk photography.  It was just a year ago that I visited another iconic place -- Looking Glass Photo in Berkeley, CA.  Definitely a difference between the two locales, but no difference in their love of film photography.  You have to be passionate and knowledgeable about what you sell, and they have the right folks there.
So, if you are in Chicago, check out Central Camera. It's a destination, and a shrine to all things photographic.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Some Aged Scotch

Several weeks ago I received some 35mm film to test.  My contact at Ultrafine Online sent me a couple of rolls of Scotch ATG 400 C-41 film.  I was of course, intrigued, and there was some speculation that it may be the same film stock as the recently released Lomography F2/400.    From Ultrafine's web site is the description of the Scotch ATG 400 film:

"This is a rare film and this series was unique from back in the day as Scotch was trying to set themselves apart from the field and did some R & D, which mainly resulted in this ATG Series of films, which were originally meant to assist with underexposure and exposure compensation. This has resulted as the film has aged to a nice tone, which has been a favorite among Lomophiles, Holga shooters, and dedicated film shooters, who love have fun, shoot film, and experiment with different types of emulsions."

The ATG 400 film was tested by Popular Photography back in 1993, and came in behind 400-speed films from Kodak, Fuji, Konica and Agfa beating it out.  However, the review by Michael McNamara "400 Revolution" [Pop.Photo. September 1993, pp. 28-37] tested a number of attributes of these films, at a time when 400 ISO C-41 films offered users many choices.  Interestingly, almost all of the results looked best at ISO 200, but in most cases, acceptable results were obtained between ISO 50 and 800. The Scotch film was the lowest-priced emulsion, and was designed to have better rendition in the shadows.
From 9/1993 Popular Photography

Okay, this film has been in Ultrafine's freezers for a while, so I knew that I wasn't going to shoot it at ISO 400. I figured it was worth a try to shoot it at 200 and hope for the best.  I loaded up my Pentax K1000 with the 55mm f/2 lens, and shot the roll on an overcast dreary day inside Matthaei Botanical Gardens. I figured it would offer me plenty of color and I could photograph things I am very familiar with.

I processed the film last night using the Unicolor C-41 kit.  It was fresh, and I had only put 2 rolls through the 1-liter kit since I mixed it up.  Processed as normal.  When I took the film off the reel I thought perhaps it had not even developed as the emulsion side looked brown.  However, after drying, the film has a noticeable blue base, and the emulsion side looked "normal."

Results?  I am thrilled with the results from this film.  It has a soft grainy look that is pleasant.  It makes me wish the weather was warmer and I had a model outdoors.  It would really be interesting to see how it would do for portraits and figures.  I chose well picking ISO 200. 100 may be even better, so I'll try that next time for part of the roll.  Reds looked red, the shadows were not too bad, and while I think the greens are muted, tending a bit blue, it could also be the muted light that day. Full sun would be the next challenge.

Here are some scans from the negatives. Minimal post-processing has been done, and there may be dust spots that I have not cleaned up.

So, I am impressed with the results from this forgotten film. Maybe like whiskey, aging does it good. At $3.95/roll it's cheaper than vintage Scotch. You may want to give this film a try.  I don't think it's the same as the  Lomo F squared/400 film.  The Scotch film is probably close to 20 years old.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

I Got a Sprocket Rocket in My Pocket

Back in February, I purchased a Lomography Sprocket Rocket from my long-time Flickr and IRL friend, Trish.  I don't know why I had not bought one earlier, as they came out in 2012-- but I suppose they looked too much like one of those really cheap, shitty 127 cameras from the 1940s.  However, the similarity ends there.   The Sprocket Rocket takes 35mm and has a frame size of 24x72mm, and if you remove the mask, it also exposes the sprocket area (hence the name).  It's actually a sizable camera, with an all-plastic body and large front housing which contains the 30 mm f/10.8 lens.  The shutter is B and I, and the camera has two focus settings - 0.6-1 meter, and 1 meter to infinity.  The sunny setting is f/16, and cloudy-flash is f/11 (or close to it). There is a tripod socket on the bottom, so those bulb exposures will be a little easier.

My camera was missing the mask that covers the sprocket area, but it makes no difference, as I scan only the 24mm width, anyways.  In use, the camera is quite simple.  When advancing the film, wait for the white dot to show up in a window next to the frame counter.  When you see it, you have advanced the film to the next 24x72mm frame.  To rewind, you simply wind the film back into the cassette - there is no button to release for rewind.  The back snaps off and on fairly securely, but I also use some black electrical tape to make sure there are no accidental openings.

I shot one roll of color, which I have yet to develop, and just developed a roll of b&w Eastman 5222 film that I shot in Dexter and Chelsea, MI.  Some scans are below.  Overall, I am pleased with the results  which are far better than I expected.  The camera fills a niche which is generally an expensive one -- a true panorama 35mm camera. The 24x72mm frame is pretty well exposed, from corner to corner. There is some distortion, but it's part of the Lomography realm.

I guess my original reaction to the camera as a cheaply-built and overpriced Lomography product was wrong.  I don't know of any camera that does what this one does at this size and price.  It's a lot of fun, and I look forward to taking it on a bunch of trips this year.

Monday, March 27, 2017

First Impressions - Lomography's New F2/400 film

When the new F²/400 film from Lomography was announced back in February, I eagerly pounced and bought 10 rolls.  I liked the images that I saw in their advertisements, and still, given the history of the film, I was prepared to be disappointed.  The thing about color films, is no matter what one gets, the resulting developing, scanning and modification can be quite different from person to person. That's because we tend to adjust the colors to what we find most pleasing. My red may not be the red you like, etc.

The history of the film -- from Lomography's site:

"In 2010, we bought the last ever Jumbo Roll of original 400 ASA film from some renowned Italian filmmakers. Then, ever the ones to experiment, we left the film to age like fine wine in oak casks in the Czech Republic. Thankfully, our crazy instincts were rewarded — seven years later, we went back to discover that this fantastic film still produces refined colors with a beautifully unique tone. It’s one-of-a-kind Color Negative with an X-Pro feel, and we’re so excited to share it with you! There’s a only a very limited amount of this film available, so make sure you don’t miss out.

Lomography Tipster: If you would like to experiment different ISO, the Lomography Color Negative F²/400 film gives exciting results also with ISO 200. "

Obviously, if it came from Italy, this is old Ferrania/Solaris film.  I don't recall any experience with that, but hey, I figured that I would still give it a go. The ad colors showed the film as having more of a pastel appearance, with some trending towards blue in the neutral colors.  I loaded two cameras with the film -- my Nikon FM2N, and my Minolta XG-M.  The film in the XG-M was finished first, and I developed it in a fresh Unicolor C-41 kit from the FPP store. About half the roll was shot in New Jersey while at the FPP HQ, and the rest was shot in Ann Arbor and a new state park in Jackson Co., MI.  I rated the film at ISO 400, used Aperture-priority mode, and did not do any exposure compensation for the shots. I used an Epson V700 scanner to scan the negatives.

The film base is a dark orange-red, and the frames looked uniformly overexposed to my eye.  As we know, scanning and post processing can do wonders,    The images did tend to have muted pastel colors, slightly bluish in the neutral colors, and a bit soft.  Not necessarily a bad thing, but I ended up tweaking every image to make them satisfactory to my taste, at least.  While the Lomo site says one can shoot it at 200 for exciting results, I think one should go the other way.  ISO 800 may be where this film really shines.  The roll in my Nikon is about half shot at 400, and I am going to do the rest at 800 and see what I get.  I'll post an uncorrected image from one frame first, and my corrected version after that. The remaining images all reflect my adjustments in Paint Shop Pro, reducing the exposure and in some cases, doing some auto local tone-mapping for a better effect.

unadjusted image - straight scan

adjusted to my liking

and here we go...

Judging by the indoor photos, this film could be easily rated at ISO 800.   I have used that XG-M many times, so I know it's not overexposing due to faulty metering.  My second roll will be additional data, for certain.  
Okay, what do I think so far?  I'm on the fence.  I sort of like it, and the indoor image of Mike Raso is quite good.  I think a little underexposure might be good.    I also need to shoot it with more people as subjects and see how it goes. Of course, if you want a washed-out Lomo look to your images, this film is perfect.  As of this evening, I see that Lomography Color Negative F²/400 is still sold out, so my remaining stock is all I will probably have on hand.  If you have shot some, let me know your opinion, as well!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Point and Shoot Review - Olympus Trip XB40AF

front of the camera
There are so many cameras that turn up for a buck or two at the thrift shop, and while I ignore many of the point and shoots, I'll occasionally buy one.   Last year, I picked up an Olympus Trip XB40AF Quartz Date 35mm camera.  It takes 2 AA cells for power -- the exposure system (however minimal it may be) and the flash need the batteries, and the film advance is also automatic.  Don't let the "Trip" designation trip you up.  White the original Olympus Trip was and still is an amazing point and shoot, the cheap descendants are not really noteworthy.  However, it's my duty to at least give one a try and report on my impressions.

The camera switches on when you slide the lens cover away.  The wide-angle 27mm lens has a maximum aperture of f/6.3, which is hardly a benefit -- so it's pretty much similar to the simple Vivitar PN211 in that regard.  I am not sure how much automation is in the camera -- The flash operates in all conditions, and there is no way to turn it off in daylight.   The shutter speed is 1/100 sec. for everything.  The true-image viewfinder is large and certainly easy to see through. There is a tripod socket. The film chamber reads the film ISO 100-400.   Obviously, when indoors, it would pay to use ISO 400 film for a better flash coverage.  The film is automatically rewound when the end of the roll is reached. I think the camera was introduced in 2000, near the end of the 35mm film point and shoot era, when digitals started to replace that part of the market.
back of the camera.

So, I put in a roll of Svema 125 color C-41 film (my last, as it turns out).  Over the course of a year, I managed to finish the roll.  Mostly I used it while at Film Photography podcast recording sessions, since were are all close together, and the 27mm lens has a pretty wide field of view.

I finished the roll in March, and home-developed in the Unicolor C-41 kit.  The Svema films lies flatter in the scanner than a woodchuck on the expressway.  Here are a few examples from the camera.

So, how did the camera fare?  Considering that it's merely a cheap P&S without any sort of control, it did about as well as any wide-angle single-use camera.  The Trip on the name is a reminder that it's supposed to be used wherever you go.  However, it's not  that the camera is bad, it's just not worthy of the Trip branding.  It's certainly worth a buck, and will give adequate, but not super results - and better than say, a Diana 35mm.   Oh, and no I didn't activate the Quartz Date back.  That's just not needed.