Friday, June 28, 2019

The Pentax UC-1. If you see one, buy it.

I thought I'd seen all of the compact 35mm cameras made, until I picked up this Pentax UC-1.  I didn't know Pentax  made a camera so small, with such elegance and such a sharp wide-angle lens.  I suppose UC-1 means "Ultra Compact 1." but I could be wrong.  Maybe it means "Utterly Cute" or maybe it stands for "Use Continuously."  I was eager to put a test roll of film through this little beauty, also known as the Espio Mini outside of North America. 

The UC-1 is a clam-shell front camera, much like the Olympus Stylus Epic.  It's really a surprise to me that Pentax produced the UC-1, as it is so different than the typical Pentax P&S cameras that I have seen.  While it compares well with the Olympus Stylus Epic, it's really an even better camera in my opinion.

Strong Points of the UC-1

  1. Compact size and ergonomics - at only 4.2 x 2.3 x 1.4 inches,  and 6 ounces, this camera is truly ultra-compact.  It fits easily in the hand and the controls are easy to see and engage.
  2. Wide-ish lens - the 32 mm f/3.5 lens is deadly sharp.  Certainly wider than a 35 - 38mm seen on many compacts.
  3. ISO Range - DX coded 35 mm cassettes from 25- 3200.  Non-DX cassettes are assigned an ISO of 25.
  4. Focus Range - 1 foot to infinity!
  5. Panoramic Mask Function - not for everyone, but nice in a wide-angle camera.
  6. Power - 1 CR123A 3v cell. 
  7. Shutter Speeds - Programmed AE electric shutter with speed approx. l/400sec. -2 sec, Bulb: l/2 sec.- 5 min., Electromagnetic release  The Infrared remote is an option, but with it you can easily shoot in B mode on a tripod for long exposures.  Up to 5 minutes means you could easily use this camera for night skies.  
  8. Flash Control - Built-in auto flash with red-eye reduction mode, Automatic flash emission in low luminance or a backlight situation, Flash-ON:Daylight-Synchro/Slow-Shutter-Speed Synchro (up to 2 sec.), Flash-OFF:Flash override, Bulb Synchro: l/2 sec.- 5 min.
  9. Auto film loading, winding, and rewinding at end of roll.

Lots of control and information

Weak Points

  1. The LCD on mine is only partly operational.
  2. The chrome finish is attractive, but it does wear off.  
  3. Not a common model, which means prices on eBay are quite high -- over $100 for working cameras, higher for mint, and don't forget to search under Espio Mini! That's a debatable weak point if you are a seller.


Back in December I loaded a roll of Fuji Superia 200 in the camera  and went downtown to shoot the roll.  I forgot about the roll, and it sat with others until a batch went to The Darkroom for developing. 

I have to say that I am impressed with the results.  This is certainly a camera that could be easily carried in a pocket and taken out in a moment's notice to shoot with.  Right now, the camera is packed away for my move to NC, but I will certainly be using it more in the future.  The sharp lens, excellent exposure control, compactness and ergonomics make this camera a real treasure. If UC-1, buy it!

Monday, June 24, 2019

Strange Films from Film Washi - Film F and Film S

shot with Washi S
A few months ago I received two rolls of film to test for the Film Photography Project-- Film Washi's "newest" films - Washi F and Washi S.   Now, you already know that I am someone that likes to play with oddball film stocks, and these two films certainly fit that description.  First, let me acquaint you with them from the information furnished by Film Washi.

Film Washi touts itself as the world's smallest film company.  Based in France, Film Washi first came to our attention with the hand-coated Washi films that were produced on thin Washi paper.  From the Film Washi site:   "Founded in 2013 by Lomig Perrotin in a closet of his Parisian flat, Film Washi grew up while staying a one-man-business. The company’s facilities are now located in Saint-Nazaire, on the western coast of France.

The company’s ethos is based on values of innovation, simplicity and ecology. The adopted processes link it to the Maker and DIY movements: recycling takes an important part in the making of films, and many production tools (including 120 rollers, 135-cartridge loader, or IR glasses) have been made out of recycled parts.

With more than 25.000 films sold since it was created, Film Washi stays a relatively minor player on the analog photography market. It does not try to compete against major film makers, but to complement them instead, offering photographers a different, novel approach to analog photography."

Back to the films...

Both of these film stocks are emulsions originally produced for a far different purpose than conventional pictorial photography. Film Washi describes them as:
shot with Washi S

F- Film F is a special fluorographic x-ray film used for mass lung disease diagnoses. Being coated without anti-halation layer, this unique film offers a high diffusion effect and beautiful grain.  The suggested ISO for this film is 100, and it is an orthochromatic film that is insensitive to red.

S - Film S is used for motion picture sound recording which needs ultra high definition guaranteed by an anti-halation layer between the film base and the emulsion layer.  The film has almost no grain with high contrast, and while it is panchromatic, it is not completely red sensitive, topping out at 620 nm.  The recommended ISO is 50, and because of light piping, you should load the film in dim light and advance a few frames before shooting with it.

Now, for my reviews...

Film S

I shot Film S on May 1, using my Nikon N2000 with a 28mm Nikkor lens. It was an overcast day in Ann Arbor with diffuse lighting.  Many of my photos featured architectural subjects with lots of detail. I figured that if the film was fine-grained and high contrast, I would probably be giving it a good test.  The film was developed by The Darkroom so that they could test their developer with this oddball film.  The film was developed in clip tests, with times set as 6.5 minutes, 7 minutes, and 8.5 minutes.  On the light table, I would say that the longer development time yielded the best overall results.   The Darkroom used Ilfotec DD at 1:4 dilution for their developing.  The Ilfotec DD RS is equivalent to Kodak's T-max RS developer.

I have to say that I am absolutely thrilled with the sharp, contrasty and nearly grainless images from the Film S.  It reminds me of Kodak's Technical pan film, but without having to use a special developer. The architecture subjects were perfect for this film.  The ISO of 50 isn't all that slow, and the shots were all done hand-held.  The film's strengths really showed in the images that are crisp and highly detailed, with really good tonal separation.

Film F

On May 3, I shot the Film F in Chelsea, Michigan, also with the N2000 camera but with with the Lensbaby Velvet 56 lens.  The sky was  bright overcast.  The film was also developed by The Darkroom as before, with times of 7.5 minutes, 8.5 minutes, and 10 minutes.  Based upon the film on the light table, I'd say that all of the times ended up similarly, though the 10 min. time was certainly denser.  I can see that the film certainly has a similar response to sunlight as the Polypan F film that also lacks an anti-halation layer.

marks on top from film clip test

note the flare from the white surfaces, what I call blooming diffusion

Film F is more of an "atmospheric" film -- there is of course, grain, and the blooming diffusion, especially when you have a white subject, is quite noticeable, as well as the low-contrast.  Now, that does not mean it's a bad thing, and if that is the look you wish to go for, by all means give the film a try.  The lack of an antihalation layer means you'll want to make sure that you use shorter exposures, if possible.  Longer exposures will cause more diffused results, but maybe that's not a bad thing if you are going for that look.  I used the Lensbaby Velvet 56 lens, which also may have contributed to the overall look in the results.  I'll bet the film would be an interesting one to use with models.

Finally --

This is the beauty of shooting with film.  There is a film for whatever look you want, and not every film will give you the same result.  My takeaway from using these two films from Film Washi is that Lomig Perrotin should be commended for bring interesting and unique film stocks to market.  I don't expect every film to be to my taste and subject matter, and only you can appreciate what these films can do when you try them.  I certainly adore the Washi S film, and want to try more in the future with other subjects and conditions. 

[Note:  I fixed the developer information on 6/25, as soon as I found out from The Darkroom]

Saturday, June 01, 2019

The Canon AE-1 Program - just shoot!

Even though I am a committed Nikon user, I do enjoy testing and shooting with  other camera systems. About a decade ago, I somehow got on a Canon SLR kick, and shot a number of Canon SLRs from the 1960s-70s - Canon FTb QL, Canon TL, Canon AV-1, Canon EF, Canon AL-1, Canon T70, Canon Pellix, the A-1, and the F-1.  I really liked the A-1, and it was every equivalent of the Nikon FA, but lacking in the simple control system and metering ability of the Nikon.  I never used a Canon AE-1, as popular as they were, but I recently acquired a Canon AE-1 Program.  I have been shooting with it quite a bit in the past month, and I want to share my thoughts on the camera.  This won't be a complete review of the camera's specifications, history, and operation, as they are easily found elsewhere.

First of all, the Canon AE-1 Program (or AE-1P) appeared in 1981, as a successor to the very popular AE-1 that came out in 1976. At the time, few cameras had full automation, or Program mode, which made the AE-1P an improvement over the AE-1, which, like many Canon SLRs, were shutter-priority in the automated mode.  The AE-1P also has manual and shutter-priority too, but I'll bet most users shot in full program mode, with the camera choosing the right shutter speed/aperture setting, allowing you to focus solely on your subject. For frame of reference, the Nikon FE2 came out in 1983, and it replaced the Nikon FE that appeared in 1978. Both of those cameras are Aperture-Priority and Manual mode cameras that are among my favorite manual Nikons. The user still had to select an aperture, and the camera the shutter speed.  The Canon AE-1P basically did away with that user choice thing, because dammit, the metering is VERY good, and in full program mode, I have found every exposure to be what I wanted.

This particular example of the AE-1P is all black, making it look like a sleek and professional camera.  It uses FD lenses, and I shot it with a Canon 50mm f/1.8, Canon 85mm f/1.8, and a Canon 24mm f/2.8 lens, as well as a crazy Sigma 16mm semi-fisheye lens.  When the Canon AE-1P was new, it was selling for around $300 in the US. I bought a Pentax MG around 1983 at a Service merchandise store, and had I chosen a Canon AE-1P instead (or a Nikon FE2), I wonder what directions my photography may have gone.  While the Pentax SLR was a pretty competent beginner SLR, it was aperture priority only, with no real manual control, except at 1/100 sec.  It's obvious to me now that the AE-1P was a game-changing SLR, coming out at a time when competitors were also exploring automation, but not all at the same level of excellence.

Initially, I found that I was overthinking when I shot with this camera.  Without reading the manual,I assumed that the S setting was for Shutter-priority, but then realized it was for the Self-timer.  I was always wondering if it was working properly, of course.  The shutter has just a bit of a wheeze, but seems to work just fine.  I see the aperture reading but not the shutter speed in the readout in the viewfinder, which was initially disconcerting.  After I developed the first roll of b&w film, my fears were laid to rest, and I just composed and shot with the camera in full Program mode.

Viewfinder - The viewfinder of the AE-1P is bright and the center focus area is easily used, with the split image rangefinder surrounded by a microprism rangefinder.  That's a good thing in a camera that has been designed to move the attention to the composition, and not the controls.

Handling - I can't find fault with the camera's ergonomics, as the right-hand grip is well-placed and not too big. The film advance lever is smooth and easy to operate, and the shutter button is well-placed.

Controls - Everything is where it needs to be. However, the S setting on the top deck still wants me to think that it's not for self-timer. Usually, the self-timer is located on the front of an SLR, but of course, Canon likes to confound people by moving things around.  The A-1 also had the same feature with controls around the advance lever.  The stop-down lever on the front is rather awkward in use, and I'll bet few people actually used it. If there is a control that is missing, it would be exposure compensation. 

I can see why this camera was so popular. Put in a roll of 35mm film, select the ISO setting, and start shooting.  Compose and shoot.  While this camera's Nikon equivalent is the tiny Nikon EM, the EM did not have any sort of useful manual mode.  The Canon AE-1P is heftier, and in most aspects, a far better camera.  The Canon AE-1P was made for those that want to shoot images with great results, and I have to say that the camera achieved that.  I am no Canon fanboy -- Canon was awful in flash technology, and could never be consistent with control design and placement, even in the EOS film era. However, with the AE-1 and AE-1P, Canon hit a price point and performance point that was ahead of Nikon's offerings - at least in the consumer market.   In the end, though, Canon's complexity was a problem, and cameras like the AE-1 and AE-1P suffer from the effect of age on electronic components, and squealing shutters.  I believe that Canon should have gone with the well-proven and very reliable Copal-Square vertical metal shutters (used on the Canon EF!) that Nikon used.  It wasn't until the T series that Canon abandoned the horizontal cloth shutters for good.    Overall, the Canon AE-1P is a great SLR, and if you find one that works well, buy it.  It's a great street and travel camera, since all you have to do is focus and press the the shutter button to get the shot.  Is it a good learning tool for a class? No.  A Canon FTb QL is a great camera to learn on.  However, it's a great camera to give a kid to shoot with, as the learning curve is very short.

I hope to shoot more with this body, and with some Ektachrome later on.  I'll be busier than ever in the coming weeks as we prepare for our move to NC, so it may be a while before the AE-1P gets any use. I'll probably not be blogging a whole lot either, but we shall see!