Thursday 14 July 2016

Whither Full Frame

Timmy's and a Laker
D700, 35/1.8G DX (in FX mode)

There is a certain expectation that a serious photographer will be shooting a Full Frame camera. I don't and I get asked occasionally why I don't.

The reality is I don't need Full Frame. I've taken 2 kicks at that can and may take another in the near future, but so far my experience is that the gains of FF (IQ, wide lens options) do not exceed the downsides (size, weight, cost) for my shooting style. Note this is from a perspective of someone who shoots handheld much more than on a tripod and prefers a smaller, less obtrusive camera.

The gear head in me wants to be shooting FF. The IQ certainly is nice (the D600 remains the best camera I've owned in terms of IQ) and I do like the big viewfinder. But I don't like carrying big & heavy cameras like the D700 or D600, and especially not ones with poor grips like the D600.

I find the IQ from 16MP m43 camera's to be entirely acceptable and today's 24MP APS-C camera's are so good I don't really need anything more in terms of IQ. Lens lineups in mirrorless have all my needs pretty much covered, while the DSLR world is good but not ideal (not enough wide prime options for non-Pentax shooters, Pentax's 14/2.8 and 15/4 make a huge difference for a wide to short tele shooter like myself). I'd be perfectly happy shooting Fuji or m43 in mirrorless or any of the decent DSLR options in APS-C.

The only real use case for me in FF is as a digital option to carry alongside a film kit, taking advantage of the common frame size to minimize the lenses I need to carry. I really have 3 options along these lines.

1. Carry a NEX/A6x00 body + native wide + adapters
2. Carry a A7 body + adapters
3. Carry a Fuji X-E2/X-T10 + native wide + adapters

Unfortunately the crop factor in m43 makes a similar kit impractical, I'd need at least two native lenses for that kit to work (wide + normal).

The A7 body is obviously the simplest choice. It'll use exactly the same lenses I use on the film body and will minimize the overall carried kit.

The E mount (NEX/A6x00) kit is the cheapest option, since the bodies are reasonably inexpensive used and I'd simply use a Sigma 19/2.8 as the wide. It also uses the same set of adapters as the A7 and provides a ready path to upgrade.

The Fuji path is interesting because I love the glass, especially the 18/2 which would be the likely wide choice, but would end up nearly as costly as the A7 in the end and would have me fighting X-Trans conversions again.

What will I do? No clue. A lot depends on where my film shooting goes as until I know that, I don't know what I should be optimizing my kit for.

Wednesday 13 July 2016

A Look Back

Mamiya 645 Super, Sekor 80/2.8 C, Kodak Porta 160VC

Of all my work shot in the last 12 years since I started shooting seriously, my favourite as a body of work is my Medium format work, especially the work I shot on my Mamiya 645 Super.

I shot the Mamiya 645 system for 5 years, totaling 174 rolls of film, of which 146 of that was with the Super. I normally worked with a 3 lens system, originally the 45/2.8 C, 80/2.8 C and 150/3.5 C, later changed to the 55/2.8 N, 80/1.9 C and 150/3.5 C. And I've produced more work with that single camera than most systems I've shot in smaller formats.

There's an aspect of the film look that's unique to the larger formats that I just love. The DoF falloff and fine tonality produced by bigger negs really works for me.

Frankly, I think I may need to consider medium format as a long-term option. I've not shot any since 2012 and I think it's high time that I remedy that. Luckily I still have my Super Ricohflex TLR and Sekonic meter, so I should be able to shoot a little on the side.

Tuesday 12 July 2016

But what About Digital?

Panasonic G3, Sigma 60mm f2.8 DN Art

Shooting more film brings up the question of how to handle my Digital kit. I greatly prefer to have a single, flexible kit so I can use the same set of lenses across all my bodies in regular use. If I'm going to be shooting alot of film again, this means acquiring a Sony A7 or A7II to use with the same set of manual focus lenses as I use on my film bodies (Minolta MC/MD on the X-700 for now).

If I was still shooting almost entirely digital, this wouldn't be an issue. My Micro 4/3rds gear is working very well for me and in particular I really get along with the GX7. I've got a nice little lens setup that covers most of my needs and plans to cover the rest. I like the output, like the handling and my only complaint is that my backup body (Panasonic G3) doesn't deliver IQ that's quite up to my standards, and that's readily solvable by replacing it with a newer 16MP body (like the G5, G6 or E-M10).

Frankly, in the short term I'm simply going to keep shooting with what I've got. It's working well for me and I'm enjoying it. I'll simply deal with the need to carry a little more in the way of lenses if I want to shoot both digital and film on a single outing. I'll start considering film+digital options when I hit 50% of my film shooting goal for the year (26 rolls), and probably not buy anything until the goal is met (52 rolls). Until that point, the m43 stuff will continue to be my digital kit and I will be adding a few items to the kit (14/15mm prime, telezoom, some UWA option)

Monday 11 July 2016

Just a Walk

Wide Open 
Nikon F3HP, Fujifilm Neopan 100SS

I've been pushing myself to take a solid walk after work at least 2-3 times a week. This has been a major contributor to my renewed shooting. If I'm out and I have a camera, I will shoot. A lot of my mojo loss was a simple lack of interest in getting out the door with a camera. Today was a solid example, I did a 1h45m walk south and west of my work, pretty much going out and back along an oval-ish route. I shot a roll & a half while doing so, bringing me to 11 rolls for the year and I've now exceeded both my 2015 and 2013 rollcounts, and polished off my stock of C-41 film (I still have one roll of Velvia floating around and then I'm completely out of colour film)

I've mostly been shooting cityscape while doing these walks. It takes a fair bit of time before I really get comfortable shooting street in an area and where I'm shooting is a pretty new neighbourhood for me outside of one corner of the area. As I get more comfortable, I'll switch slowly to more street and less cityscape in the area. I've mapped out several routes that I can rotate between to keep the area fresh, unlike my old work neighbourhood, the current one doesn't lend itself to continuously shooting in a small area.

In a related note, I need to decide on what film I'm going to keep around. For fast B&W it's HP5+ for the time being and likely a return to Tri-X once I'm done the HP5+ (I still have 1.5 100' rolls of HP5+). I think I'm going to look around for some ISO 50-100 options, PanF+ and Acros are rather pricey these days so some smaller maker's alternatives will get looked at. On the colour side, it's easy. I need to buy a brick of Ektar 100. Love the stuff and can't wait to shoot some more of it.

Suggestions on slow B&W emulsions at good prices are most welcome.

Sunday 10 July 2016

A Few More Thoughts On Film

Group and Solo 
Nikon F3HP, Fujifilm Neopan 100SS

I've now managed to nail down an acceptable set of scanner settings for producing web output from 35mm scans and my flatbed. The trick was reducing the resolution, I'm scanning at 2400dpi (instead of the 4800dpi setting I use for 120/220) and getting decent results. Combined with an import preset which gives a better starting point for editing, I've now got something which allows for a low-stress workflow from film to Flickr.

That said, I've still got a few things to sort out on the film side. Consumables are an issue, while I have a solid source on most of them, Blazinal/Rodinal is something I don't trust my local supplier to keep in stock (it's the only item I buy from a source other than my usual store, as they don't carry it and the major chain that does is not really interested in supporting film shooters). Also I'm approaching the need to replace some of my reels and reloadable canisters. Not to terribly expensive, just wear items. I also need a solid process thermometer and some deep-dish trays for doing water baths. once I have those I am going to look at doing E-6 in the home (for about $5/roll vs $15)

All said, as long as I'm willing to deal with the workflow after developing, film could have a long future in my bag. I'm up to 9 rolls in the last couple weeks, compared to 8 rolls in 2015, 16 rolls in 2014 and 10 rolls in 2013. If I keep shooting at a decent rate I'll certainly hit my 52 roll target for making serious investments in film kit.

Saturday 9 July 2016

First Pass on the X-700

New Look Parking 
Minolta X-700, MD 45/2, HP5+

I've now got 5 rolls through the X-700 (out of 9 rolls of film shot so far this year) and have enough time on it to have a decent first impression.

Overall, that impression is very good. I thoroughly understand why the X-700 is beloved by so many Minolta shooters. Simply put, it's the best mid-range consumer manual focus SLR I've shot. It's not perfect, but for an AE manual focus 35mm SLR it's a very good experience.

For starters the handling is excellent. Good finder, good metering readout in P & A modes (it needs selected shutter speed indication in M mode to be ideal there, but if you need that the X-500/X-570 has it). Solid tattletales for Exposure Comp & Manual modes and it's match-LED metering which I greatly prefer to the more common match-needle. The AE-Lock is very well located, falls right under the forefinger on a control shared with the self-timer (pull up for self-timer, press down for AE Lock). Shutter dial locks for P & A modes, and has the on/off switch under it. Exposure compensation is the usual dial under the rewind knob, but one of the better implementations (press button & turn). The finder is bright and easy to focus. Not the largest, but more than acceptable size. Build quality is rather good for a plastic-shell camera. Feels very solid aside from a flexible back (pretty common issue with any plastic-shell camera I've owned)

The downsides come down to the shutter, it's 1/1000 max and 1/60 sync were on the low side even when the X-700 came out, the lack of selected shutter speed readout in the viewfinder and the slightly wonky on/off selection (centre is off, one way is on, the other on with warning beeps. Makes turning the camera on easy, but off fiddly).

Overall I'm very much enjoying the X-700 and it's slipped into the primary film body role for now.

Wednesday 6 July 2016

A Break and a Return

New Reeds
Mamiya 645 Super, 150/3.5 C, Portra 160VC,

That's the second last colour image in my 645 processing queue (not counting unprocessed E-6 that I still need to find a processor for). Yes, over 3 years after selling my 645 Super, I still have some new work from it to post. Really need to sort that out. I will say that selling my 645 Super kit was one of the most foolish decisions I ever made. I ended up with a Nikon setup that I disliked and quickly dumped (the D600 debacle) at the cost of two of my favourite film setups (the 645 Super and my Minolta Maxxum 7's) It made sense at the time, but in hindsight selling both kits was a terrible idea. I hadn't shot much with either kit in a while, but that was more an issue with my ongoing motivation struggles than the kit itself. I shot more with the 645 Super than anything else I've ever owned (and the Maxxum 7's were #2 for 35mm kit for me) and quite frankly my best work was produced with the 645 Super.

As to actually shooting, the challenges did not work out so far. I just barely made the March Challenge, but then didn't touch a camera until late June. I've been shooting a bit lately, mostly film though (I've shot 4 rolls in the last week and a half) after spending a rather small sum on a couple film bodies (Minolta X-700, Nikon N6000) and a couple lenses (Minolta 28/2.8, 45/2, Nikon 50/1.8 E). I'm enjoying film again, although I still haven't sorted the whole scanning issue.

On the gear side, aside from the film kit I dumped my E-M1 and the 17/1.8 for a GX7 and the Oly 25/1.8. The E-M1 remains a great camera, but it really was a little too much for my actual needs right now and it kept getting in my way (too many buttons), the GX7 has all the features I actually used on the E-M1 and all I give up is the viewfinder (and the GX7's finder is entirely acceptable). The 17 never quite impressed, while the 25 certainly does impress. I like it rather a lot. Still could see dumping the high-end body and just keeping the G3 though, but I'd keep the lenses. I'm thinking for medium term I'll just find a 14/2.5 and shoot with the resulting 3-lens kit (14, 25, 60). I don't really need anything more, although an ultra-wide would be nice. Plan is for a similar kit in film, I'm on the lookout for a Minolta 105 or 135 for the X-700, and will be rebuilding my old Nikkor kit (much slower since it will require actual investment). The X-700 will be my beater camera for now, while the Nikon kit is tentatively my long-term standard. I like the X-700, but am unsure about it as a long-term system while the Nikon stuff always satisfies.

In the meantime, the real challenge is to get out and shoot. Gear is nice, but the image is what photography is about.

Oh, and I'm seriously thinking about dabbling in wet printing again. May take a course on it.