Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Film Rollercoaster

The past few weeks have seen a lot of postings on various forums about Kodak dropping various films, the discontinuation of Kodak's Plus-X, good announcements on new products from Harman-Ilford, and the usual speculation about the role of film in the movie industry. With all these things in mind, maybe it is time to list them and provide some good links and commentary about the roller coaster we have been on the past few months.

The Film Fairy Strikes Again
A shot from a few years ago, with many expired films!

The Good and Bad (you decide)

Kodak's new Portra 400. Fine-grained, superb latitude -- maybe the best C-41 color film ever. Pushing Portra: from the folks at the Film Photography Podcast
Useful reviews:

A new pinhole camera from Harman, with a DIRECT POSITIVE paper from Ilford. I really want to buy some of that 4x5 positive paper as soon as it is in stock. Nice video review here.

Kodak's discontinuation of Plus-X -- a great summation of this by my friend Ross Orr on his blog.

To be honest, Plus-X was never my "favorite," and in medium format, I really think Verichrome Pan is the one film that I miss. However, it did offer a decent medium-speed solution and an "old-style" look. Tmax 100 is a "better" film, and uses less silver, so I can see why Kodak would drop Plus-X. If you want a good Plus-X replacement, try Ilford's FP-4+ (which I always liked better).

If you are interested in how Kodak produces its film -- this book is for you!

Digital Cinema is making inroads that will possibly eviscerate movie film sales in the coming few years. This article has some interesting information. That's on top of the fact that companies that make professional movie cameras are now stopping that... One can argue that there are likely to be a lot of used cameras available for quite a while, but the writing is on the wall for those people.

On a bright note, however, Lomography has introduced a new camera that allows you to produce short movies using conventional 35mm film - the Lomo Kino. I was at first a bit skeptical, but after seeing what some very creative people have done, I think it's a really cool, retro, and creative tool that will attract quite a bit of interest. I have to hand it to Lomography -- they do have the ability to think "different." Maybe they should buy the Kodak film business?

So, you want to try a different B&W film? ORWO sells in the USA: $40 for 100 feet of 35mm is pretty decent. I hope someone gets a roll to test it out and post their results.

Not sure if I care about this -
Kodak is ceasing production of KODAK PROFESSIONAL ELITE Chrome 100 Film by year end 2011. Kodak's dropping of Elitechrome doesn't matter to me. I so rarely have a reason to shoot transparency films anymore, since digital accomplishes tasks that I used to use transparency films for - macrophotography, dragonfly and other insect images, images for work, color landscape work, etc. (and obviously 90% of the former users of slide film have switched). I might use a roll from time to time in my medium-format cameras, or tungsten film to be cross-processed. Given that there are no reliable local E-6 labs, everything has to be mailed out, too. However, if you find yourself shooting transparency film, Kodak recommends suggested replacement is the E100G 135-36 or Elite Chrome 100 Extra Color / EBX 135-36.

Clarification from Kodak
Kodak isn't dropping these films -- they are just changing the packaging and how they are marketed.

T-Max 400 120, will now be sold in "propacks" of five rolls
Tri-X Pan 120 400 films will also be packaged in propacks of five rolls
Kodak's Max 400 rolls of 12 exposures will cease to be offered, with the firm choosing to only market rolls of 24 frames. These rolls will be available to purchase in packs of four in the US, and in singles and packs of three throughout the rest of the world.
BW400cn packs of three rolls will now only be sold in single packs.
Read more from the British Journal of Photography and Unique Photo.

Does any of this mean that you should be concerned with obtaining film for your cameras? No. If you have been buying your 35mm film at Walgreens or some other store, well, I have news for you. Stop that at once and purchase film from a local photography retailer (if you have one), or go online to Freestyle Camera, Adorama, B&H, Ultrafine Online, and a number of other places. Heck, go to Urban Outfitters and buy film repackaged by Lomo. You'll have many choices at these stores, and the opportunity to try some films you may never have even heard of before. What you find in the department or drug store has no bearing on what's really available out there.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Olympus Macro Stand + bellows

Back in early October I picked up an Olympus macro photography stand with the matching bellows for an Olympus OM-series camera. It's quite similar (but better-constructed) than the Minolta macro set-up that I used to own. I rarely use film for macro-photography anymore, but at a price of $25, I could not pass up the Olympus macro stand. As you can see in the photograph, I have it it set up with my OM-1 and a 50mm 3.5 Olympus macro lens. By itself, the lens does 1/2 size (1:2) maximum magnification. With a typical set of extension tubes, one can go a little larger than 1:1 (life size). With a bellows, you can go several times life size, if you want to shoot small objects, or magnify parts of larger subjects. The problem with a bellows and extension tubes, is that the working distance (the distance from the front of the lens to the subject) is very small -- from a few inches to fractions of an inch, depending on the extension. In addition, there is significant light falloff, shallow depth of field (DOF) and movement is magnified. So, the easy way to avoid some of the drawbacks is to use the camera like a microscope, by keeping the assembly locked down to a solid rail as you can see here. Typically, one would use a ringlight or a couple of small flashes near the subject for great DOF at f/16 or f/22 and to avoid camera shake. However, you can also use fiber-optic lights, and other high-intensity LED lights to get proper lighting at these close distances. The other thing to note is that there are two remote-release cables. One is for the lens (to activate the aperture prior to making the exposure, and the other operates the camera shutter. That is typical for bellows, as the lens is not linked to any actuating mechanism on the camera body.

I took a few shots with the OM-1, and here is the side of the thorax of a Canada darner dragonfly. I would imagine that if you had an OM-series adapter for your DSLR or Olympus Pen (digital), it would be a great way to shoot small things. Macrophotography is one of the great things about shooting digital!

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Camera Porn! - 500 Cameras by Todd Gustavson

I was at my local Barnes & Noble bookstore and picked up this book for $15.96 (hardcover!). 500 Cameras is a wonderful book for anyone that loves the history of photography, old cameras, or just likes looking at and reading about beautiful mechanical things. This is Mr. Gustavson's second book on the subject, a sort of pared-down version of his 2009 book "Camera: A History of Photography from Daguerreotype to Digital." All of the cameras featured in 500 Cameras are from the George Eastman House Collection in Rochester, NY, where Mr. Gustavson is a Curator of Technology. While not an exhaustive guide such as McKeowns' Price Guide to Antique and Classic Cameras (2006), this book covers the evolution of cameras and all of the examples are beautifully photographed in color. Some of the cameras from the GEH Collection were formerly owned by famous photographers, are rare examples, or historically significant examples in the evolution and development of photography and technology. I can't think of a better gift for anyone that loves old cameras, and as I state at the top, this is pure camera porn.

If you don't live near a B&N, Amazon also sells this book, for just a bit more. It's a nice addition to my library, and while I don't have the camera collection I once had, this book makes me glad I didn't decide to collect wood view cameras, or Kodak folding cameras. That would be a never-ending quest, and believe me, this book takes up MUCH LESS space than 500 cameras. So, sit back with a copy of this book and enjoy some beautiful camera porn and interesting stories about 500 cameras.

500 Cameras, by Todd Gustavson. 2011. Sterling Signature Books. 480 pp., ISBN: 1402780869.