May 062016
 

Film Friday: Paris ‘Les Halles’ in 1962′

By Dierk Topp

Hi Steve and Brandon,  in 1962 I made my first trip to Paris. At that time I used an Edixa Reflex with Kodak TRI X for my photographs.  I visited ‘Les Halles’, at that time an incredible market in the center of Paris. This market does not exist any more, Paris built a new one.

Here are four images from that visit. I never saw something like this before.

Edixa Reflex, Kodak TRI X

Edixa Reflex, Kodak TRI X

Edixa Reflex, Kodak TRI X

Edixa Reflex, Kodak TRI X

Edixa Reflex, Kodak TRI X

Edixa Reflex, Kodak TRI X

Edixa Reflex, Kodak TRI X

Edixa Reflex, Kodak TRI X

And just for fun the last image is the very first image, that I ever made. I made it with the Agfa Box of my mother during vacation with my school class in 1955 on Perutz film. To be honest, it is ma second photograph, the first one on this roll is just to bad

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hörnum 1955

 

my images are here at flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dierktopp/

Digitized with Sony A6000 with enlarging lens on a bellows and Nissin Di700A TTL flash. Works perfect!

Apr 162016
 

Friday Film on a Saturday – Leica M5 and Tri-X

by Matt Forsbacka

Hello,

You run a fun web site – your enthusiasm for photography is infectious. I recently visited Tokyo and Yokohama with my M5 and vintage 35mm Summilux during the iconic sakura season. All of the attached pix are Tri-X pushed to 1600 (developed and scanned by the folks at The Darkroom – thedarkroom.com). I really enjoyed shooting film as an added dimension to my digital picture taking.

All post processing was done in Apple Photos, and I found the scanned files to be pretty forgiving for my amateur photographer purposes. Film or digital? I say both.

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All the best,

Matt

Feb 102016
 
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A Return to Film from the Leica Monochrom

by James Suojanen

Hey Steve!

I began making photographs in the 1960’s using a 35mm rangefinder and developing my own black and white film. I also made contact prints and did some enlargements. But I fell away from photography through college, professional training, career and early family life; no time, no money. And color photography eluded me. But when digital became affordable with the Nikon D70, I began again. Initially I went the SLR route, but as I got older I disliked the size and weight so I ended up back with rangefinders, eventually acquiring a Leica Monochrom to complete the return to my roots; or so I thought.

Using the Monochrom with just about any decent lens produced unbelievably sharp images.

This image was made using a 60+ year old 50mm Summarit during the Memorial Day Parade in my town (Summarit yellow filter, handheld) – Leica Monochrom

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I made this image I made at the Military Cemetery in Bourne, Massachusetts. Normally the graves can have NO decoration. But the father of a posthumous Medal of Honor soldier buried there won the right to have flags placed at every grave site for the Veterans Day and Memorial Day weekends. An amazing event in which hundreds of volunteers appear, place the flags and then remove them. (Monochrom with a 21mm SEM on a tripod with a yellow filter) – Leica Monochrom

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On a trip to my old stomping grounds in the South, I made this pic with the Monochrom and a 35mm Summilux FLE (UV filter).

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I like all of these images. The prints have a medium-format acuity to them. But I just found/find them a bit sterile; they lack(ed) a certain “je ne sais pas” for me. So when I saw an announcement of a Leica Akademie workshop on film photography coincident with a trip to LA, I decided I’d take a second look at film. What I like about workshops is not only the focused time devoted to learning and practicing, but also the people the people I meet. I wasn’t disappointed by the cast of characters who assembled. And I was given 2 36-exposure rolls of Ilford XP2 for a sojourn through Chinatown and environs. Great fun, great instructor and a real adventure! Film DOES make you slow down and think about the images you’re making.

XP2 is a Black & White ISO 400 negative film developed using the C-41 process for color films. The images shown here were commercially scanned at the time of development with a 3,000 x 2,000 pixel resolution. All images were made with my Leica M7 and Voigtlander 35mm Color Skopar, except for Bruce Lee – 90mm macro elmar. I used a yellow filter for about half of them. I post-processed in Lightroom and Nik. I think the color processing gives the files a good bit of latitude for digital post-procesing. The grain is very fine and uniform. For those do-it-yourselfers, I imagine that Kodak TMax would give similar results.

Peculiar – an open but very hostile gate.

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Church in Hispanic neighborhood next to Chinatown

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Building next to the Church. As I unloaded the second roll at the end of the day, I realized I had not rewound before I opened the camera. Steve can’t publish what I said at that moment, but I quickly closed the camera back up and hoped for the best. This bit of serendipity occurs with film and can make for some interesting images. The light from the sprocket holes provides celestial framing for this otherwise boring composition.

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My favorite image of the day. Simple story within a complex image – maybe a metaphor for most of us seeking to find a path through the complicated thing we call life.

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Statue of Bruce Lee. The sprocket light made a spotlight for his face. I had a very difficult time framing since I wanted to get his hand in-between the lanterns, like he was balancing them. I had to account for the lens/viewfinder parallax while I held the camera upside down.

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A bench. The Voigtlander lens renders very nicely on film. It’s as sharp as a 35mm Summicron (had one a while back) with very nice bokeh. Small and light, I find it’s short focus throw terrific for street photography. I spent about $350 for the screw mount lens and adapter. It also looks great on both my M7 and my Leica IIIf.

For me, I saw these images and knew I was home again – at least for B&W. They just breath more that the Monochrom pictures. I don’t really know what it is. Certainly a lens will interact with a 20µ thick film emulsion differently than a 1µ micro prism at the top of a photocell in a digital sensor. It may also reflect an analog vs digital tonal range. Perhaps some/most of you reading this (thank you for taking the time to read this piece and look at the photographs), will think me deluded. That’s okay. Art is art, and a wise man once said, “There are as many paths to God as there are people on the Earth”. I’ll paraphrase him by saying that each of us has our own path (i.e. camera, lenses, etc.) to making THE PICTURE which we all seek.

Cheers and blessings,
JNSuojanen

P.S. Given the rapid depreciation of digital cameras, I don’t think there is any significant cost between film and digital for most of us amateurs (except if you shoot action stuff). My Leica IIIf is 60+ years old and works perfectly (I can’t say the same about myself).

Jan 222016
 

Film Friday: Portraits of Nepal on Hasselblad 500cm

by fiftyasa

Dear Brandon and Steve,

Once again thanks for keeping up the good work with your website!

I just came back from a trip to Nepal and would like to share some film shots taken with a Hasselblad 500cm, Planar 2.8/80 and TriX400 or TMAX100 (last 2 images).

As you might recall, Nepal was heavily hit by a terrible earthquake last year. The signs are still visible with several temples and buildings destroyed. In addition to the earthquake devastation, the country is now suffering from a border blockade (explained for example here) which leaves the population with shortage of fuel, gas and medicines.

In spite of this, Nepal remains a wonderful country and a photography paradise! Nepal needs today more than ever that tourists return to visit its amazing valleys, mountains and villages and enjoy the hospitality of its people. My strong recommendation is to go without hesitation! If you are a travel photographer, this country is a gem!

Most of the images below are taken in remote villages off the beaten tracks where accommodation is home-stay based: you will stay with a hosting family, eating with them and sleeping in their houses. This is an amazing experience that no hotel in the world can give you.

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The rest of the images are visible here: https://fiftyasa.wordpress.com/portfolio/portraits-of-nepal-on-film/

If you also want to see digital images of the trip same (taken with a Leica M9), you are welcome to visit my website here: https://fiftyasa.wordpress.com/portfolio/nepalunknown/

Negatives are digitalized with a Sony A7 mounted on a copy-stand with an Apo-Rodagon D1x (a merge of 2 shots gives you 36 MPixel resolution per frame).

Sep 302015
 

A Hot Summer in Rome

by Massimiliano Tiberi

Dear Steve how are you!

I am here in Rome waiting for the autumn looking back at what I shot this summer and I would like to share with you all my roll of film done with the Leica M2 and a great Tri-X. So refreshing to shot with a so simple camera.

Rome in August can be very hot and the city is a bit empty and lonely but so interesting because something that is hidden became more visible. The people in Rome are so incredibly surrounded by masterpieces that sometimes you forget the living ones to focus on what was done by the ancient inhabitant of this city.

Something of the beauty of this city is fading away so do not miss the chance to visit soon.

more if you like there : http://blog.massimilianotiberi.com/rome-in-an-empty-summer/

I wish you can enjoy :-)

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Apr 152015
 

West Coast Monochrom

by Phillipp Wortmann

These are photographs taken along the California West Coast during a trip in march 2015. The route was roughly LA – San Clemente – Joshua Tree – Morro Bay – Big Sur – Santa Cruz – Point Reyes – San Francisco.
As I like to keep it simple I brought only my M6, 35 Summicron IV and a bunch of Kodak TriX film. It doesn’t matter if it’s cameras, lenses or film – if I bring more than one I can never decide what to use so limiting myself in that way actually gives me a lot more peace of mind.

For the past year or so I have been almost exclusively shooting 35mm color film but for this trip I wanted to give the black and white another go. This decision was actually made a couple of weeks prior to the trip when I went through my archive and rediscovered some of my older black and white film photos. You can check my little user report on that HERE.

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Another reason for going with black and white was that I had already been to do southwestern US the year before where I shot all Kodak Portra 160. So to avoid ending up with very similar photos from two different trips using Kodak TriX 400 made sense. If you like you can see the color shots from last year here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/derphilipppp/sets/72157648794789646/

So overall the trip was a blast and although I didn’t shoot as much as I had hoped/planned/anticipated I’m really happy with some of the shots I got. I will probably need to find a darkroom to do some prints soon.

The entire album can be viewed here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/derphilipppp/sets/72157651692347201/

You can also see more of my photos here: lifeon35.tumblr.com and instagram.com/derphilipppp/

Best regards and thanks for the opportunity to showcase my work!

Philipp

Apr 072015
 

Back to Film

by Jay

Hi Steve!

First I want to say thank you for all the great work. Your site has been part of my daily inspiration for some time now so I thought it would only be right to make a small photographic contribution. My name is Jay Lynn and I got my start in photography as a junior in high school back in 1985.

My school had a school newspaper and if you were selected to be on the paper’s staff you got out of school three hours early everyday to sell ads to local businesses and follow-up leads on local interest stories. That was too good an opportunity for me to pass up but I had one problem. The paper had plenty of stand out writers and my writing skills were average at best. Just as I was about to resign myself to not making the staff, the faculty coordinator asked me if I had any experience with photography. I did not but I knew that my father had an old Pentax ME Super along with a few lenses that had been sitting in a bag in our basement for years. I had never so much as picked it up but I sure wasn’t about to blow my chance to get out school early.

What followed was a steep learning curve but I got the hang of it and when I got my first good roll of film back from the lab I was hooked. I went on to “upgrade” to a Nikon FG and eventually began developing my own film. My passion continued unabated throughout college until I joined the Marine Corps and became a Marine officer. After the events of 9/11 and the subsequent invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, I just could not justify making time for photography amidst the constant training and combat deployments. Of course there were so many moments that I experienced during those deployments that would have been amazing photographs but for obvious reasons I could not even allow myself to think about that. In those environments you have to be 100% focused on the job at hand. Still, the passion never died and every time I had a photojournalist embedded with my unit I did find some time to talk photography and admire their gear and their photos.

Leica M6 with 90mm f/2.8 Elmarit M and Kodak Porta 400

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In 2011 I was assigned to the Marine Forces headquarters in the Pacific, which is located in Hawaii on the island of Oahu. For the first time in over 10 years I picked up a camera again. So much had changed with the progression of digital photography since I had last enjoyed photography but so much remained timeless. I bought a Nikon D5100 and a few lenses to get back in the game. Within six months I sold the D5100 and purchased a D7000. Ergonomically the D7000 just worked better for me and I got a lot of mileage out of that camera. Being in Hawaii affords me an opportunity travel throughout Asia and to photograph a lot of amazing landscapes. In 2013 I jumped at the chance to purchase a D600 for use with wide FX lenses and that has been my primary digital body ever since.

I love digital photography and about half of my work is digital. But as much as I enjoy the convenience of digital I really began to miss the tactile aspects of film photography and the deliberate nature associated with the process of shooting a role of film. The other thing that had changed since I took my break from photography was that all the film cameras and older lenses that I had lusted after in high school and college were now readily available for next to nothing on online auction sites or even for free in some instances. So I bought them all! Well, practically all of them. And I do love them but I noticed that I was spending more and more time shooting the old manual cameras like the FM2 or the F2 versus the more modern film cameras like the Nikon F5 or F6. I have a Mamiya 6 rangefinder that I travel with a lot and I really began to appreciate the process of using a manual focus rangefinder over the more automated cameras. You know where this is going, right? Yup, you guessed it.

Leica M4 with Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 C Biogon T* ZM and Kodak TriX 400

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In October of this past year my wife and I took a three-week backpacking trip through Vietnam. I used that trip and the need to travel lightly to justify buying two Leica film cameras, an M6 that I used primarily for color film and an M4 loaded with Kodak TriX 400. With the addition of the wonderful Zeiss 35 f/2.8 ZM and a Leica 90 f/2.8 Elmarit M, I was set. I knew that I wanted to take portraits, landscapes, and street photography while in Vietnam. I carried only the two Leicas and the Mamiya 6 for the duration of the trip and I have absolutely no regrets. This was a huge step for me because I am usually the guy who brings along the proverbial kitchen sink “just in case”.

Mamiya 6 with G 75mm f/3.5 and Kodak Portra

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Traveling with light gear that I could carry in a small, inconspicuous sling bag was such a liberating experience and I am so happy with the results. I really do believe the adage that the unobtrusive nature of the Lecias allows for more candid shots because your subject is not intimidated by a giant camera and lens combo. I also love the all manual approach that the Leica rangefinders require.

It makes me think more about what I am doing and it also makes me feel like I am more involved in the decision-making cycle that occurs before the press of the shutter button. I especially enjoy the M4 which I do not use with a meter. I practiced estimating exposure for weeks before the trip and got comfortable enough determining exposure that I never regretted not having a meter when using the M4. I am attaching just a small sample of the nearly 1000 images I made during the trip. One from each camera. Of note, I have more “keepers” from this trip than I have ever had since I began shooting film again. I have to believe that the process of using all manual film cameras has something to do with this and that this translates to digital photography as well and will ultimately make me a more discerning photographer. Enjoy the photos and keep up the great work.

Jay

Feb 242015
 

My Canon A1 and Good Old Film!

By Philipp Wortmann

Hi Brandon,

Today I’d like to share a couple of slightly random Black and White Film photos that I dug up on my hard drive. I think a hard drive is just a horrible place for photos to live so I figured your website might be a better place for them ;). When I first started shooting film I shot almost 100% black and white, which was awesome because it was just an entirely different approach from my dslr back than.

These days I mostly shoot color films but looking back at these images really made me want to go back to black and white, which I will probably do for my next trip along the California coast in march – already stocked up on Tri-X!

Most of these images were shot on Agfa APX 100 black and white film with a Canon A1 between 2013 and 2014.

If you’d like to check out some of my more colorful photos you can do so here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/derphilipppp/ or http://lifeon35.tumblr.com/ or for the more mobile and digital folks here http://instagram.com/derphilipppp/.

Thank you and best regards,

Philipp

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Feb 202015
 

Friday Film: Making a Case for the Voigtlander Bessa

By Michael McFaul

Hi Steve!

Wanted to share a post on my views of this wonderful little camera.

With the purchase of the Bessa in early summer of last year, I’ve had several months to put it through its paces. It has gone through about 4 dozen rolls of film, family trips, two different lenses, the occasional groans of angst and the multiple feelings of joy. Yet, I still love this camera.

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My positive experiences with the Bessa has led me to purchase of the Voigtlander 21mm f/4 and a soon to be purchased 75mm f/2.5. One main positive is the camera’s heft. It is just a solid, dense camera; coming in at a clean 1lb. And yet if one were to look at stock photos of the Bessa on camera sites, it would come across as cheap and plastic-y via the stock image. Not at all. The body is solid metal with the film spool, shutter button and advance crank being the only items that are plastic. I think. Nonetheless, outside of the occasional battery change, this camera will last you for many years.

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Another positive is the camera’s ergonomics, it just fits into the palm, thumb, and fingers of my hand. The raised rubber grip on the back of the camera works comfortably with the palm of my hand, allowing the thumb to rest against the grip. Initially, the placement of the strap lugs were of an annoyance, yet after several uses, you realize the importance of its location; for it allows you to place your index finger on the trigger, with the lugs between your index and remaining three fingers, allowing them to wrap nicely around the camera’s body. However, the positioning of the lugs slightly below the top plate of the camera means it faces slightly skyward when hung from the straps around your neck.

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I will say that the camera’s 1:1 finder ratio really is fantastic. It’s bright, big and clear. Yet when it comes to shooting with 40mm lens, I tend to wear contacts. The 40 frame lines within the finder are inconveniently tucked into the upper corners of the viewfinder. And if your strictly a glasses wearer, you’ll have a difficult time framing your image for you’ll find yourself having to poke your eye up/down, left/right to get correct composition. Non glasses wearers, no problem. But I will say that tucked within the 40 lines is a 90 as well, and it really acts as a helpful composing tool; it’s perfectly centered with the 40. Additionally, if you’re primarily a 50mm shooter with a stock pile of Leica, Zeiss, Jupiter, Canon or Voigtlander lenses, this camera is for you. I can’t recommend it enough. You’ll be given the 50 frame lines, nice and clean with no 75 or 90 squeezed within it. And whether you wear glasses or not, you’ll be able to see the 50 lines through the viewfinder. Plus it’s obviously much larger than 0.72/0.85 finders from Leica. Just for this reason alone, I’m considering the sale of my 40/1.4 to help fund the purchase of a Zeiss 50/1.5 Sonnar. I want that ‘classic’ Zeiss ‘3D’ pop! :)

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Anyhow, if there’s one thing that’s still taking some getting used to, it’s the camera’s metering. I’ll admit a lot of it is user error, too. Upon further research, I’m learning that it’s a rangefinder thing as well. Previously I shot a lot in AE mode and felt I was getting 7 to 8 frames per 36 roll over exposed. Lately, to the benefit of me and learning, I’ve mainly been shooting in manual. Even then, as a predominantly b&w shooter, I’m learning to meter for the grey/mid tones within the scene and I’m having a lot more success.

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Some of the photos enclosed are from Ilford HP5 pushed to 800 and Tri-X at box speed. I believe every image was done with a B+W yellow/orange filter, too…which I highly recommend. It helps cut through haze, sharpen the image, give a bit more contrast, darken the sky, and lighten the skin tone for portraits. Plus, it acts as a ND filter with a 2 stop exposure comp…especially helpful with any Leica film M and their 1/1000th top speed. Which by the way, is another positive of the Bessa, it’s 1/2000th top shutter speed. I have developed a few rolls in the past myself with Ilford DD-X, but I own a terrible scanner (along with a general knack for being impatient) and have an overall distrust of pharmacy photo departments. All these shots were developed and scanned through a company called Indie Film Lab. It’s pricey, but for special occasions, it’s worth it. There is also a lab called Little Film Lab that’ll scan your already developed negatives on their high-end scanners at a reasonable price, which is where I send my developed b&w rolls.

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For those that enjoy shooting at a 50mm focal length, along with a collection of 50mm lenses and enjoy shooting film…I’d certainly give this camera consideration. For others that have never really forayed into film and looking to experience a rangefinder…I’d give this camera consideration. If anything else, this camera has temporarily shutdown my GAS and constant research for new cameras. The Oly EM5 is somewhat collecting dust on the shelf (love this camera and its color output), but it’s not going to be replaced anytime soon with the EM5 Mark II.

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That’s the short and sweet of it.

Cheers!

-Michael

Sep 172014
 

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The Fuji Monochrom

By James Conley

A major impediment most new photographers face is that color is the default mode of expression. Not only are we inundated by color images in every possible medium, but digital cameras presume color as the chosen palette. The tragic fact of these defaults is that it interferes with the development of seeing subjects and places emphasis on the impossible task of trying to capture a color reality which makes little natural sense in two dimensions. The result is a great deal of frustration when the captured image doesn’t match the experience of color.

Few cameras are available that address this problem. The Leica Monochrom is one of few. The Monochrom only records in black and white, and only displays its menus and previews in black and white. It’s the gold standard for capturing black and white—after film. However, the Monochrom body alone costs about $8k. That’s a lot of money to get rid of color. There are cheaper ways.

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The cheapest way to shoot black and white, of course, is to switch to film. Using a film rangefinder is one of the fastest routes to improving the composition and content of images, and you don’t even need a darkroom if you shoot Ilford’s excellent XP2 C-41 process film.

But I’m unable to buy into a Leica Monochrom. The next best thing is the Fuji X100s. The X100s contains all the elements needed to work strictly in black and white. To wit:

• A rangefinder, with an electronic viewfinder which can be set to display only in black and white.
• A fixed lens with a 35mm field of view.
• Small and light.
• Silent. (More silent than my Leica M6.)
• Monochrome JPEG modes with yellow and red filters.

All the images in this post are JPEGs shot on the X100s.

Learning to see in black and white is the process of evaluating the luminance of an object instead of its color. Simplistically, luminance is how much light is reflected from an object. People are often surprised when converting a color image to black and white because a bright color often has more or less luminance than expected and doesn’t appear as one would expect. Through the practice of reviewing the monochrome images you make, you’ll develop your luminance sense and start to better anticipate how a tone will translate into black and white.

A way to speed up that process is by using a monochrome viewfinder. When set to capture monochrome JPEGs, the Fuji X100s will switch its LCD back and EVF displays to black and white. This makes evaluating the scene much easier, and will helps to quickly adapt and recognize luminance values.

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Photographers are blessed with a nearly infinite variety of camera bodies and lenses, which can be shuffled into various combinations to address very specific needs. Photographers are likewise cursed with all those options. Options are choices, and choices are decisions. Having to make decisions is an active process in the consciousness, and it leads to a lot of distraction from the subject. In discussing the thought process behind a “decisive moment,” Henri Cartier-Bresson said:

It’s a question of concentration. Concentrate, think, watch, look and, ah, like this, you are ready. But you never know the culminative point of something. So you’re shooting. You say, “Yes. Yes. Maybe. Yes.” But you shouldn’t overshoot. It’s like overeating, overdrinking. You have to eat, you have to drink. But over is too much.

Making choices about lenses is just as distracting as making choices about color. One lens is enough, and your body can be the zoom. Having to move within space and time to frame your subject makes for far better pictures than standing in one place and letting a variety of lenses do the work of seeing for you.

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The X100s’s f/2 Fujinon lens would be fantastic on any camera. Fuji has a storied history in making high-end lenses for a variety of camera makers, and Fuji glass is world-class. The X100s can use autofocus, or a very smooth manual focus. It also has an excellent macro mode.

Having a small camera means you’ll have it with you, which is the most important ingredient in making any photograph. The smaller and lighter a camera is, the more likely it will be with you. The X100s is smaller and lighter than my Leica M6.

Other than opera or a royal wedding, the best way to do things in life tend to be subtle. That’s especially true for photographers, who are dependent upon other people living their lives so that an image may be made. Unless you’re shooting in a studio, pay respect to your subject by being unobtrusive. Being silent is part of that respect, and an X100s shutter is quieter than my M6.

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Photography is about capturing a moment and then capturing the next . . . and the next . . . and the next. Spending time tweaking and playing with images is decidedly not photography—modifying an image is working with software. The goal of any tool should be to do work so you don’t have to. As my dad always advises about using a saw, “Don’t push so hard. Let the saw do the cutting.” If your camera is making you spend more time post-processing than you do taking pictures, it’s either not a good tool, or you’re pushing too hard. Since we can’t get Adobe to make decent software, however, we can use the tool better by putting the work back into the camera and let it produce quality JPEGs that we merely need to review. This not only speeds up the process of selecting good images, but it also lets you learn the capabilities of the camera just the way you would learn about the qualities of a particular film. This is vital knowledge that helps you see better when you’re out taking pictures, meaning you get better results, which sets up a lovely, positive feedback loop.

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With Fuji already announcing new X-Series cameras, ifyou don’t already have an X100s, you should be able to pick one up for a good price.

Once you get it, go to Shooting Menu 1 and select Film Simulation B with a yellow filter. (Red is another option, and will result in more contrast. Start with yellow.) Scroll down to Shooting Menu 2, and change Highlight Tone to +1, and Shadow Tone to +1. This will give you a decent starting place for your JPEG’s. They should require minimal development work after you import them into a computer. (**You can set the camera to shoot both RAW and JPEG files. This is a good crutch to get you comfortable with the idea of shooting only in monochrome. However, you’ll quickly discover that the Fuji’s JPEGS are very high quality and the RAW files are just a crutch.)

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Use the EVF. It will display in black and white and get you started on seeing the world that way. (Later, you’ll be able to take advantage of the X100s’s rangefinder.)

As you’re taking pictures, keep your thumb on the Exposure Compensation dial and ride it like you stole it. You’re shooting JPEGs, so work at getting the final product the way you want while you’re shooting.

With a few camera setting tweaks, you’re off to a better world in black and white! You’ll now:

• See luminance instead of color
• See shapes, forms, and shadows
• Cut down on development
• Spend more time working on your ideas and making stories

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The purpose of taking a photograph is to capture an image which conveys your impression of an event and tells the story. The purpose is decidedly not about tweaking, playing, collaging, and otherwise twisting the image into something unnatural. So, if you want to become a better photographer, you have to practice seeing what matters. Seeing what matters happens easiest with a rangefinder shooting monochrome images. Long live the X100s. (At least until those Leica Monochrom prices come down!)

website: fjamesconley.com
twitter: @Philatawgrapher

May 302014
 

Zeiss love

By Brendan Gara

Good to see the site going from strength to strength. It’s been nearly a year since you published my report of my travels in South East Asia with my M6 and Fuji X100 (www.stevehuffphoto.com/2013/05/29/three-months-in-south-east-asia-with-a-leica-m6-and-the-fuji-x100-by-brendan-gara/). Since then I’ve been mostly shooting with my M6 and the Zeiss ZM 50mm C Sonnar T 1.5 lens.

I’ve always loved 50mm as a lens, probably because when I first started shooting the 50mm was the “standard lens” and the field of view just feels right on the M6. The sonnar is a fantastic lens; it can be crisp, sharp and contrasty when stopped down or soft, subtle and dreamy when shot wide open.

I’ve used it a lot in the studio where I love combining the softness to create intimate daylight portraits such as Rebecca reclining and portraits of Ariel. It is equally at home however, stopped down and shot in full sunlight outside as my normal lens. I have been shooting a series about the British seaside for a couple of years now, and the birds, dog and beach shots are from this series. The water lilies were shot at the National Botanic Gardens in Carmarthenshire, Wales.

The black and white photos were shot on Tri-X exposed at 250 iso and developed either in HC-110 or D76, and the colour photographs were shot on Portra 400 (also exposed at 250 iso).

Thanks Brendan

My blog: http://brendangaraphotography.wordpress.com

My flickr page: www.flickr.com/photos/brendangara

Surf Beach

Rebecca Reclining

Rhossili Dog

Rhossili Martin

Lily

Jonathan and friend

Ilfracombe gulls

Ariel 1

Ariel 2

Ariel 3

Feb 182014
 

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A Year in “M” Monochrom

By Ashwin Rao

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Hello, my friends, the time has come to reflect upon a year seen primarily in black and white (and many, many shades of gray, which really is life, now, isn’t it ?) through the eye of Leica’s amazing Leica M Monochrom. I have previously written about my experiences with the “MM” after 6 months of use, and following journeys with the camera in Paris, Italy, New York City, and the Palouse. In this world of constant camera turnover, where every M9 is replaced by an M240, with Sony and Olympus seemingly staking their claims to fame in the digital camera world in place of Canon and Nikon, and with Fuji surprising and delighting us with every turn, the MM is now a venerable camera that remains unique as the only current mass-produced camera with a black and white sensor. The camera’s sensor, stripped of any ability to see in color, rid of the capacity to block moire, ends up being a photon eater, proving and incredible tool for capturing light in its many presentations.

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While it has not yet been around long enough to be deemed “legendary”, the MM is already ascending that ladder, and for those whom have had the privilege of using it, you’ll see that glimmer in their eyes of the prize that rests in their hands. So come along with me for my ride, should you choose, in words and images, of this camera that is destined for legend.

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Over the past year plus, I have taken over 15,000 shots with the Leica MM. I can truly and honestly say that the camera has delivered me the most joy of any camera that I have owned. The camera’s incredible CCD sensor that seems capable of coaxing the very best out of nearly any lens that you could put on it. In particular, the sensor seems to play particularly well with older rangefinder lenses, which in some cases were designed and coated for black and white photography. It provides a rich modern look with today’s aspherical glass, almost providing “shockingly real” views of the world, which I have yet to see from any camera. For me, the look of the MM with most modern glass is almost surreal, and I have thus primarily stuck with using older, “cheap” rangefinder lenses with the camera to great satisfaction. What’s interesting to me, and what I have heard increasingly from users of the camera, is that the camera’s sensor itself seems capable of coaxing something special out of these lenses, even when the M9 and M240 may not be able to coax the same look, clarity, or detail.

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Seeing in Monochrome

First and foremost, the Leica MM is a tool for image capture, as is really any other camera that the photographer may use. However, the sensor’s capacities and limitations have forced me to change my creative perspective. As I began my journey with the MM, I had to accept the challenge of only “seeing” the world around me in black and white. Color was no longer an option, and could not be used as a crutch or a tool ton lean upon. Having converted many of my M9 images to black and white, I initially did not see an issue with the process of only seeing in black and white, but after using the M monochrome a few times, I suddenly realized at what I had given up. Shooting in color offers its own creative possibilities and limitations, and when I suddenly forced out of this option, I found myself jarred. I decided to re-calibrate and try my best to see the world around me in black and white, before I even composed or took the shot. In a sense, I began to focus on light and dark, highlight and shadow, essentially in luminosity. I began to “ignore color” to the best of my abilities and focus instead on the remaining elements of any scene that I wished to capture Over a few months, what first was a challenge soon became inspiration and motivation. I was starting to see the world in monochrome. Just as switching from the AF-10FPS SLR’s to rangefinders is freeing to many photographers who are stuck in a rut, shooting with the M Monochrom re-invigorated me to explore the world around me in new ways. I called it “Going back to finishing school.”

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Monochrom magic?

There is just something about the MM’s sensor that seems magical to me. I know that this may come off as overly dramatic, but for me and for others out there with whom I have discussed the camera, it is true. The images that I have been able to capture seem to defy my own meager skills as a photographer. Lenses that were forgotten or passed aside on the M8 and M9 suddenly took center stage in the manner of how they interacted with the MM’s sensor. Let me say a few more words about this (The following is entirely theoretical, so feel free to disregard)

I have said in many instances that the MM seems to play particularly well with older lenses. Many vintage lenses from Leitz, Canon, and Nippon Kogaku were designed and used in an area of black and white photography, where color options were rare, limited, or non-existent. Thus, such lenses utilized coatings and design that was suited to capturing monochrome images, or so I have gathered. Whereas some of these older lenses’ coatings provide poor color reproduction on digital cameras, they seem to offer subtleties in tonal capture that modern lenses of aspherical design, aimed at gathering maximal contrast and detail across the frame, seem to miss. I have noted than many modern aspherical designs seem to limit the M Monochrom’s abilities to capture shadow detail, in particular, while older lenses, which tend to capture much lower macrocontrast, save these shadows, and instances, highlights as well.

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Second, I suspect that some of the MM’s magic in interacting with old lenses actually may have come from within. When I consider photographers that have inspired me, I have tended to prefer the “look” of the works of the early Magnum photographers, Sebastio Salgado, and others who shot in an era where my “vintage” lenses was their modern options. In a sense, I learned to prefer a way of seeing in black and white in the manner that was reflective of their gear…i.e. older lenses.

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Third, the MM’s sensor seems to be unique in being able to hold incredible detail with post-processing. This seems to be due to the dynamic range that MM images seem to possess in the mid tones. The MM has been roundly criticized for its tendency to clip highlights, and this is absolutely a reasonable criticism. What is often not discussed, however, is the incredible detail and flexibility of tone that preserved in the midtones captured by the camera, as well as the shadow detail that the camera preserves. When I first used the MM, I was enamored by the near infinite shades of gray captured within the RAW file, and as a result, my initial images with the camera tended to look generally grey. Over time, I found myself exploring these greys more and more, and using Adobe LR and other post processing tools to extract the contrast and detail that I desired from this more “boring” grey. One can push and pull the images in any number of ways, and MM files will not fall part, especially those captured at ISO 3200 or less. When used in “decent light”, the camera does just fine at ISO’s as high as 5000, capturing fine detail and suppressing noise appropriately (not really like film, though, but still pleasing).

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Finally, there may also be something to the M Monochrom’s naked sensor that coaxes the most out of vintage lenses. Lenses such as the Canon 50 mm f/1.8 LTM, which seem soft and washed out on color rangefinders, simply sparkle on the MM, both in detail and tonal rendition. I was surprised in particular, by the amount of detail and resolution that some lenses, over 50 years old, are capable of capturing when paired to the MM. I theorize that the lack of the low pass filter and Bayer array allows for optimal capture of unfiltered detail. No blur or image loss is imparted upon the captured image, as light does not have to pass through any barriers.

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The journey from new to old

So here I am, a year later, a year older and hopefully a year wiser, and my journey with the MM continues. The MM continues to be my favorite camera and my preferred way to see the world around me. My aspherical lenses continue to be relegated to my M9, while the MM continues to be mated to classic rangefinder lenses. I feel that for me, what was a casual experiment with vintage lenses has turned into a serious enterprise in how I prefer to see the world around me. It mates the rangefinder experience with a unique way of seeing the world around me and brings me closer to my own idols in the photographic world.

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Onward and Upward

The journey continues, and I hope to report back to you as I gain even more experience with this wonderful camera. Obviously, I can no longer wow you with reports of impressive specs, more megapixels, and quieter shutters. I hope to bring you more images, as my explorations with the camera, its files, and my use of processing, continues. These are exciting times for many of us, as photographers. Gear these days is so excellent that it’s really up to you to choose what tool suits you best. For some of you, it may be the camera phone that is always on your person. For others, it’s the latest greatest offering, with ever improving dynamic range, color reproduction, detail capture, and camera performance. For some, it’ll be the increasing capacity of cameras to deliver images and an experience that can be instantaneously shared. For me, it’s the simplicity of a camera that’s not capable of any of this, not even capable of seeing in color, that will continue to inspire and challenge me to grow my photography in new directions and to new summits. All the best to you all in your own journeys, and I’ll be sure to check in again soon!

Yours truly,

Ashwin Rao

February, 2014

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Feb 102013
 

Afghanistan with a Leica MP & Film

By Daniel Zvereff

Afghanistan was truly an unforgettable adventure. This was partially because I never intended to visit there. I was originally bound for Turkmenistan and, at the last minute, was denied entry. Thus throwing me into a sort of tangent undertaking through Afghanistan’s incredible scenic north and then encountering the inspiring people of Kabul’s outskirts.

All photographs were taken with a Summicron 35 ASPH, and the Voigtlander 15mm 4.5 on either TRI-X or Across 100 film.

For more please visit my website at www.zvereff.com

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1scissorboy

boy4

breadboy

gatekeeper

kabul-ollie

kabulman

men

tired

Nov 272012
 

 

I Shoot Digital Film by Ofri Wolfus

Hi Steve, how’s everything doing? The other day, while scanning some negatives, it suddenly hit me. I was shooting Digital Film. I immediately thought this might be of interest to your readers, and so decided to write this article. It’s a bit technical but I think understanding these things can really improve one’s work.

In the rest of this article I’d like to discuss what Digital Film is (other than a term I made up :) ), and how anyone can take advantage of it. However, in order to truly understand the idea let’s first understand how digital photography works.

From the moment we press the shutter button of our digital camera, to the point we have a finished photograph, the following three steps usually take place:

1. The sensor inside the camera captures the light hitting it, producing a bunch of digital data.

2. The camera’s firmware then creates a JPEG and/or RAW files. It usually does some processing on the data generated in the first step along the way.

3. We take the image files our camera produced to our computer, and then we apply further modifications to the image until we have a finished file.

Now lets zoom in a bit, and understand what happens in each of the above steps. Firstly, I bet a lot of people are unaware of it but our fancy digital sensors are actually *analog*. Yes, you’re reading this right. The part which converts light to electricity, the thing of which actual pixels are made of and where the magic really happens, is actually an analog device ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charge-coupled_device ). Once light hits this analog device it generates electric voltage, which is an analog signal. This analog signal is then passed through an analog amplifier which then effectively boosts the ISO and adds noise. Finally, the signal is fed to a digitizer and then, and only then, our photo becomes digital. Another little known fact is that a digital sensor has a single sensitivity to light. Increasing the ISO in the camera simply increases the amount of analog signal amplification, but the sensor’s sensitivity to light remains unchanged.

At this point lets stop for a second and look back at what we have. Surprisingly, this mechanism is extremely similar to how we work with film. First, we expose the film to light. Then we develop the film, at which point we can push process it, effectively increasing its ISO and adding “noise”. Finally we pick our scanner and digitize the analog data captured on the film. Have you ever noticed this similarity before? :)

Anyhow, lets continue with our process. Once we got the digitized data from our sensor, our camera starts to process this data. First, it applies some noise reduction in order to compensate for the noise generated by the analog amplifier (higher ISO). Then two things can happen – either the camera applies further processing and creates a JPEG, or it leaves the data as is and saves a RAW file. Conceptually however, creating a JPEG is just letting the camera automatically perform the tasks we’d be manually performing on the RAW file, so let’s assume our camera is set to produce RAWs. Again, this resembles the scanning process very much. We can set our scanner to produce RAW files or JPEGs.

Finally, we have our RAW files in our computer. Usually, we’ll apply the following processing in any particular order: color balancing, sharpening, further noise reduction, any kind of color manipulation (saturation, contrast, etc) and so on. Obviously, we’ll do this kind of processing to any type of RAW file, regardless of its origin – be it a digital camera or film.

Now ladies and gentlemen, you know what Digital Film is. It’s both a workflow and a state of mind. You’ve probably been doing it yourself already but perhaps didn’t fully realize the potential, so lets explore it a bit further. When working with digital cameras there are certain techniques that are common. We may also apply them to Digital Film in order to produce really interesting results. Before that however, I’d like to point out two key differences between the “pure” digital workflow and the digital film workflow.

First of all, when film is your origin you actually have the analog data at hand. The equivalent in a digital camera would be to record the electric voltage generated by the sensor to some intermediate media, and postpone its digitization to a later point. Obviously, separating the digitization stage leaves the maximum theoretical resolution fixed, but the actual sampled resolution highly depends on your digitizer (scanner). Conceptually, imagine you had a digital camera that produced huge RAW files. They were so huge that your computer was unable to open them as is. Instead, in order to be able work with them, it automatically scaled them down. If you had a better computer it could scale them down less, and let you work with a file that’s closer to the original. At the time of this writing, this is the state of film scanners (digitizers). They’re not advanced enough to fully extract the details in all film formats.

The second key difference is color. Every digital sensor has its own unique color signature. It’s the way the sensor converts light to a color image. Film however, has a much stronger signature, and each film type has a different one. Conceptually, it’s as if the digital sensor could apply saturation, contrast, color balance, etc before the analog amplifier that increases the ISO. If we had that, each digital camera would produce a very different look, much like different film stocks have completely different looks.

Finally, let’s see how we can exploit this difference in color rendition for our use. For many digital shooters, myself included, pressing the shutter is when we set the framing, composition and exposure. We then have a rough idea of what the final image should look like but we postpone all color modification to RAW processing. Taking this state of mind and applying it to film is simply fascinating. First of all, in my experience, RAW files from scanned film have much more latitude to work with. Second, we get to work with very interesting base colors. When opening RAW files from a digital camera one usually gets dull and flat colors. With film RAWs however, the film’s unique look is already baked in. Saturation, contrast and color balance are already “in the pixels”.

Another neat idea is to think of film RAWs as digital without NR and sharpening applied. Some tools have magical noise reduction abilities and are able to almost completely remove the grain of low ISO films. This then produces files that look digital in their cleanness, but retain the unique film look. Neat Image is one such tool. With low ISO films that have very fine grain, and high enough resolution scans it’s able to completely remove the grain without affecting the sharpness. That said, since grain size is fixed but scan resolution is not, different scan resolutions require different noise reduction techniques.

The last technique I found about lately, and became hooked, is to add film filters such as Alien Skin Exposure and Nik Color/Silver Efex to the scanned film. These can combine with the unique rendering of the emulsion and turn out spectacular colors that I’m unable to get in any other way. Converting color scans to B/W using some B/W “film” filter also produces a very unique look.

Pretty much any digital workflow can be adapted to film this way if you take a moment to understand where it fits in the different processing stages. However, there’s one thing you need to be aware of. Excessively modifying film RAWs will kill the unique film look. You’ll easily end up with a file that looks like it’s “completely digital”. Obviously this isn’t a bad thing, just something to keep in mind. Basically, like with any other effect, don’t overdo it :)

In conclusion, my personal belief is that neither film nor digital is better. To my eyes they are quite similar in the technical concept, but greatly vary in execution. Each medium has its own strengths and weaknesses. They are, in fact, completing each other if you get your workflow right and are not afraid of exploring new things.

Some Examples

So far I processed less than 10 rolls using the ideas described above, but here’s my flickr set with the shots I like so far http://www.flickr.com/photos/ofriwolfus/sets/72157632100772083 On each shot I tried to explain the methods I used for processing, though I’m quite new to film and its processing in general. This is turning into a really fun way of shooting for me, and I hope for others too.

Kodak Ektar 100 scanned with Plustek OpticFilm 7600i. Simply reduced any noise/grain with Neat Image, balanced color in Photoshop and applied unsharp mask. I tried to make it as clean as digital but retain the Ektar look.

Me and my GF, shot on Kodak T-Max 3200 and scanned with Plustek OpticFilm 7600i. Tint added with Alien Skin Exposure, contrast was adjusted a bit in Photoshop from the RAW scan.

Shot on Fuji Provia 400x pushed to 1600. Scanned with Plustek OpticFilm 7600i, but this time I used the proper color space for the file. It was then passed through Neat Image to clean up the grain, then further processed in Photoshop for color balance, sharpening and some curves.

Cheers,

Ofri

Aug 032012
 

Tri-X: The Real Deal by John Shingleton

I cracked a wry smile as I read Anand Asar’s post -“How to get that film look“( 30th July) and the torrent of not always polite comments which followed. I felt for Anand but found myself asking “But why try to digitally emulate film when you can still have the real thing”?

Regular readers of Steve’s blog may have read my story of my personal photographic journey back in February HERE. In this I set out my philosophy of minimizing my camera gear and travelling light .

Since writing that post my photographic journey has taken an unexpected turn .For some time I had felt that I was taking too many photos and I was in danger of becoming a “snapper” as opposed to a photographer .The tipping point came whilst I was travelling in Europe a couple of months ago . Everywhere I travelled there were hordes of tourists touting big DSLRs and they were just “snapping”, often unthinkingly raising their cameras to their eyes and shooting away without making any effort to compose the photo yet alone think about or even observe what they were taking .I could see myself going the same way. To avoid this horrible fate I decided that I needed to get back to my photographic roots and to embrace “slow”photography in the form of film or analogue photography. I had done the Leica thing for over 40 years so there was no point in going there again. Ever since I had been interested in photography (52 years ) I have lusted after a Hasselblad (Blad) medium format SLR although in the last 10 years I had forgotten about this enthusiasm in my rush to embrace digital. For those not familiar with iconic camera brands Hasselblad was the king of cameras before the digital era and was embraced by both top line professional photographers and wealthy collectors. The Apollo astronauts took Blads to the moon with them–I understand that they even left one there –probably to save weight on the flight back to earth.

Spurred on by a friend in the UK I looked at the prices of ‘Blads and was really surprised by how affordable they have become . To cut the story short I picked up a beautiful vintage Hasselblad outfit/camera body/magazine and three lenses for $1000. Now the Hasselblad is a beautiful piece of kit with superb precision,  Swedish engineering made of steel, aluminium and glass with not a piece of plastic in sight and just handling it is a tactile experience. Not something you can say about many digital cameras apart from the Leica M9.

At this point I can almost hear the gear heads saying “is this guy crazy”? $1000 for a vintage clockwork film camera? For that money I could buy a super new Panikocany XZS 100-DM with 24mp ,auto focus faster than the speed of light, 128 very confusing menus , loads of little buttons , a touch screen but no viewfinder.”That would be totally missing the point.

This wonderful device called a Hasselblad has already given me enormous pleasure and I have only shot four 120 films -48 exposures so far. It is certainly slow and difficult to use . Even loading the film is a slow, tricky operation and the viewfinder is very dim and reversed which can be very confusing. If I tried using it after a few beers I would probably fall over. But setting the camera up, taking the photos ( it makes a wonderful noise as the mirror flips and the two shutters fire) and then waiting for the film to be processed to see the results is a completely different experience to digital photography. Yes, black and white film photos have a totally unique look and I have really embraced the black arts and purchased a developing tank and chemicals so I process the films as well. I did have all this gear once but gave it away thinking that I would never use it again.

But enough from me . I’ll let some of my first photos from the Blad do the talking. These are like the first beer made by a home brewer, I am sure I will improve with practice. These were taken on either Ilford FP4 or Kodak Tri-X film. Yes ,Tri-X the real deal. No digital emulation here.  In case you are wondering I won’t be taking my Hasselblad travelling with me. It is far too heavy and cumbersome for that. If I took the Blad outfit on a plane it would use all my luggage allowance. That’s no way to travel! A Blad outfit and one pair of underpants! No, the Leica X1 is safe .

If you want to see how my slow photography develops watch my eclectic blog on www.therollingroad.blogspot.com and please don’t comment that I am crazy as I already know.

 

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