Friday 30 April 2021

Gear Simplification - The Never Ending Quest.

Nikon FE, Ilford HP5+ in Rodinal 1:50

Gear Simplification is something that absolutely drives me nuts. Every time I get some time to think about my setup, I start looking at gear simplification. 

Two simple reasons:

1. I want the simplest setup possible for my needs.

2. I like buying gear.

Needless to say, those are two diametrically opposed items.

Looking at the gear I have lying around, I can put it into four categories.

1. Absolutely never sell:

FE, 55/3.5 AI Micro, Nikkor-S.C 5cm f1.4 LTM and 105/2.5 AI-S

Two of these are heirlooms (the FE and 55/3.5), one is my cold dead hands lens (5cm f1.4) and the last I've rebought every time I've sold one, I'd be a fool to do it again. 

2. I really like, but could part with if it made sense:

F2a, X-T2, Z5 bodies

7Artisans 12/2.8, Fujinon XC35/2, Laowa 15/4, Z 24-50 f4-6.3, m.Zuiko Pro 12-40/2.8, Super-Takumar 35/3.5, 7Artisans 18/6.3 UFO (yes, really).

3. I'm OK with it, but not too attached.

X-T1 body, Super Ricohflex

Neewer 25/1.8 MC, Nikkor 24/2.8 K, Nikkor-H 28/3.5, Nikkor 200/4 AI, Super-Takumar 135/3.5, Vivitar 70-150 f3.8, Nikkor 50/1.8G AF-S

4. I'd dump in a heartbeat if somebody was actually interested

Coronet 12-Twenty

Nikkor 50-135/3.5 AI, Nikkor 300/4.5 K AI'd, Hanimex 135/2.8 M42

Note this is the kit that might get actively shot. I've got a couple box cameras and a Soligor 300/5.6 that are heirlooms, but don't figure in as they are not active shooting gear and won't see use.

The challenge? What would a minimalist kit actually look like?

Well, in terms of film, I could readily get by with the following:

FE, Nikkor 24/2.8, 55/3.5 Micro, 105/2.5 AI-S

That would be minimalist, but workable. No low-light option, but I don't have that today really anyways.

For digital?

Z5, 15/4, 24-50, 50/1.8G, 105/2.5 could work.

X-T2, 12/2.8, XC35, 55/3.5 also works.

Re-acquire an E-M1.2 and use the 12-40 + 105/2.5 and add an UWA option (Laowa 7.5/2 or 10/2, or a 9-18). Eventually that might become the 12-40/2.8, 40-150/2.8 and the UWA. 

I really wish my brain could settle on a kit. This is why I so rarely get to one year of ownership on a digital camera. 

One thing I keep coming back to is that any attempt to make the Fuji more than a minimalist/manual focus kit bumps into the issue that it quickly matches the Z5 for size/weight while delivering IQ barely better than the E-M1.2 for single shot and inferior to the Oly's for multishot. I'm also finding that for all I like the idea of Fuji's classic UI, the only time it's been really been a benefit was shooting night work at Torrance Barrens last summer. This is part of what drove me to the E-M1.2 and Z5 earlier this year. 

So today I hauled in all the Fuji kit. X-T2, X-T1, the XC35, 7Artisans 12/2.8 and 18/6.3 UFO, the Neewer 25mm, the USB charger, spare batteries, USB power kit et al, and came home with an E-M5 Mark II.

Why that body?

1. E-M1.2's are just coming off the end of a ridiculous sale and are unobtanium right now, new or used, as a result.

2. The E-M5 Mark III has a worse EVF than the Mark II and no USB webcam support, so it can't do everything I used the X-T2 regularly for even if it does have PDAF and the better 20MP sensor. Webcam support was the deciding factor here, I do need that capability.

3. The E-M5 Mark II can get paired with small lenses for a very pocketable kit, essentially replacing the X-T1+18 UFO combo with something more capable if I track down a cheap Panasonic 14/2.5.

4. I already have some accessories for the body, namely a grip and a USB charger that I kept when I sold my last one in fall 2019. 

5. I got a new one for used cost. It was seriously cheap for an open-box but fully warrantied body with all accessories.

I'm aware I don't like the IQ on the 16MP Mark II as much as the 20MP bodies, or larger sensor bodies and long-term expect this is really a replacement for the X-T1 as an almost-P&S, although it can handle most of what I was doing with the X-T2 as well until I fill out the system (I still see another E-M1.2 in my future). But it should be a pretty solid setup paired with the small but superb 12-40/2.8 Pro.


Monday 19 April 2021

The F2 is Complete, and a Return to PanF+


Nikon F2a, 105/2.5 AI-S, Ilford PanF+ stand developed in Rodinal 1:100

I was able to pick up a DP-11 metering head for my erstwhile-headless F2 last week, which gives me a fully functional F2a (the 'a' indicates the DP-11 configuration). That's basically the same setup I had with my original F2a, but a much older body as my original one was 79 production and my current body dates to 1973, the DP-11 is a few years newer.

I immediately shot up the last of the test roll in the body, only to discover that like an idiot I'd loaded it last fall with Superia X-Tra 400 rather than the HP5+ I'd thought I had put in the body. Double oops, as that old expired HP5+ is something I've been shooting at EI 125 (a 2/3rds of a stop pull from the EI200 I often use with HP5+. Luckily C-41 should handle ~2 stops of overexposure OK. 

At least now I actually have a box tag in the memo holder so I can document what's actually loaded.

As soon as I'd polished off the last of the Superia, I loaded some PanF+, and this is the first image from that roll. I missed focus, it's back focused, but I do like the shot overall. It reminds me why I love PanF+, it's gorgeous tonality, minimal grain even in stand-developed Rodinal and so easy to work with if you can deal with the low speed.

The F2a is pretty much how I remember. A brick, but a delightful one to work with. it's so nice to have a real manual, mechanical SLR again, there's just a joy in shooting with these bodies that's hard to duplicate in more electronics-infested bodies. 

This does remind me, so often I've prioritized bodies over anything else, but I really do have almost everything I really need right now in terms of bodies. I'm going to make a concerted effort to quit buying more bodies, with 2 exceptions. Those being a proper MF SLR (probably an RB67) and maybe another E-M1 Mark II to use with that 12-40 I just can't bring myself to sell. 

If I add gear, aside from those two specific items, the gear needs to be lenses or accessories. And I want to actively try to hold onto every body I currently own for minimum one year.

Sunday 11 April 2021

And a Couple Film Milestones Too

Mamiya 645 Super, Ilford PanF (expired) stand developed in Rodinal, lens unrecorded but probably the 80/1.9 C

I passed two milestones on my film shooting this week, recording my 800th roll of 35mm film since I started shooting film as an adult in 2003, and my 600th roll of B&W film over the same period. That also puts me at 12 rolls shot this year, the most I've shot since 2016, I didn't break 10 rolls in 2017 or 2020 and shot no film at all in 2018 & 2019. 

I also cleared out the last of my B&W backlog, developing the last roll of 120 I had leftover from my days with the 645 Super, a roll of HP5+ pushed to EI800 that had been sitting since 2012. The only roll of B&W in my to-develop pile is the roll of HP5+ in 135 that I shot yesterday on my daily walk. Now I need to work on clearing out the colour and slide backlog. I've still got two rolls of 120 E-6 to get developed and 8 rolls of colour 135, mostly from the FG and FE, as well as 4 rolls of E-6 135 dating back to the Maxxum 7 and 2012 or so. I think I'll start dropping them off 2 at a time over the coming weeks. 

That reminds me that I do miss my Maxxum 7's. I had 3 of them, originally a very beat up one with an equally beat up 24-105D, then later a NOS one and a spare, plus a single VC-7 grip with a decent selection of lenses (17-35D, 24-105, 24/2.8, Sony 50/1.4 D, Sony 85/2.8 SAM). Think I even still have the remote release for them. If I was to get back into AF film shooting, I'd really be tempted by another Maxxum 7 even though an F100 would make FAR more sense as I already have a great selection of Nikon glass, and all but 3 of my Nikon lenses work on the F100 (two of course aren't in F mount, the Nikkor-S.C 5cm f1.4 LTM and the Z 24-50 f4-6.3, and my 24/2.8 K is not AI Converted so can't mount on the F100). A mount glass is getting cheap these days as well.  

With regards to the Maxxum 7, I liked the smaller size and lower weight of the body, without giving up too much performance compared to the F100. The F80 for me was always a fun body, but without AI compatibility it can only use two lenses I own, both 50mm (the 50/1.8D and 50/1.8G), that's fine as a near-P&S, but not for serious shooting. Nikon never really did anything comparable to the Maxxum 7 and that's a pity, it sits perfectly between the F80 and F100 in capability.

Frankly, I've also been wanting to get something to shoot my M42 lenses on film, and just remembered the Maxxum 7 does very well with that and I still have an adapter handy. Hmm, that's a two birds with one stone kinda solution. Beats buying a cheap Cosina SLR in K mount and then tracking down an M42 adapter for K mount.

That said, there's some gaps in my lens kit that need filling before I add any new bodies or mounts. A 20mm (to replace the 20/2.8 AF I sold), probably the f3.5 AI-S version as it's good, tiny and has a 52mm filter thread like most of my other Nikkors. I also want an 85/90mm and a 135mm to gap fill, right now I only have the 105mm in the 55mm to 200mm gap. I also need to get a lens wrench so I can tear down my 200/4 and properly clean the oil off the aperture blades. It's got a really sticky aperture. I'm thinking the 85/90 and the 135 are priorities here.

Further out, I'd like to add the 35 and 100mm Series E lenses as compact & lightweight alternatives to my current options at those focal lengths. A 200/4 Micro would be good as well for bugging. Probably should see my eye out for either the AI ring for my current 24/2.8 or an AI or AI-S version so I'm not as limited in what cameras I can use the 24 on and the 28/2.8 AI-S would pair nicely with my old 28/3.5 to give a couple options at a favourite focal length. 

Long term, Zeiss ZF and ZF.2 primes are on my radar, they're getting cheap enough to consider now and while larger & heavier than the Nikkors, they bring some quality gains I'd like. Might even start with the 25/2.8 as an alternative to getting another Nikkor 24. The 25/2.8 is generally tied with the 50/1.4 as the cheapest ZF series lens and its excellent close focus performance is well suited to my style.

Finally on the 35mm side, I'd love to use my Nikkor-S.C 5cm f1.4 on film again. That means I'd need to acquire an LTM or M mount rangefinder. I've got a soft spot for the Bessa R, but I've always wanted a Canadian-made M4-2 or M4-P (my real dream is to own one of the few late M4's made in Canada, but that's extremely unlikely for me to find or be able to afford, these are the only really collectible Midland M's). Maybe a Christmas present for myself, but given the Bessa R was only an occasional shooter the last time around, I'm not going to put a lot of budget into getting one. 

I've also found the MF bug hitting me again. I do just love those big negs and smooth tones. I've been working on printing a Dora Goodman Zone 2.0, a 3D printed 6x6/6x7 camera that uses Mamiya Press lenses or LF lenses in a helical and either RB67 Pro S backs or a printed 6x6 back, and can be focused either by zone focusing or a nifty little groundless back (actually it uses either mylar sheet or tracing paper instead of glass). Here I think I'll spring for a cheap Press lens, 110mm or 127mm likely and an RB back, then see how it works out for me. If I dig it, I might parlay that into an RB setup paired with the Zone for a heavy/light system. Not sure I want to go back to 645, a TLR or the Zone will do light MF better and as a better than 35mm landscape setup 6x6+ or digital makes sense.


Tuesday 6 April 2021

The Battle of Two Instagrams


OM-4T, Tri-X

I've had my second Instagram account now for 9 days, I've posted 9 images to it. I'm averaging over 20 likes per post, double what my main IG gets, and am up to 29 followers already (vs my main which has been sitting at 149 followers for weeks)

It seems pretty clear so far that the IG community likes my B&W film found item & cityscape work better than my nature and landscape work on digital.

I think there's several reasons for this.

First off is simple consistency. My Filmic IG is very consistent in the sort of work that gets posted. In fact it's all Ilford HP5+ on Nikon film bodies right now, and heavy on the found items. My main IG is much more diverse and probably pays a price for that.

Second is the sort of accounts I follow. My main mostly follows big name landscape shooters and youtube personalities. I've only really got one big name on my follow list for the Filmic IG (Matt Day).

Also by extension, I don't engage much with the accounts I follow on my main beyond likes. So far I've engaged much more on the Filmic IG than with the main IG, because I'm largely interacting with smaller accounts where I'm one of just a few commenters, so I don't feel like my comment is just lost in the chaff.

Where does that leave me? Well it means that for now I am going to continue to put effort into the Filmic IG. I'll keep posting to my main IG of course, but I suspect it's never going to really grow unless I decide to get disciplined about both regular posting and subject matter.

I am halfway tempted to start an IG account just for the X-T1+UFO lens combo though.

Monday 5 April 2021

Walking with the X-T1

X-T1, 7Artisans 18mm f6.3 UFO

I've been quite thoroughly enjoying the combo of the X-T1 and the 7Artisans 18mm f6.3 UFO lens. The lens is tiny, surprisingly good and so simple that it takes a lot of complexity out of shooting. You can't focus, anything past 1m is in focus. Aperture is fixed at f6.3, which is great for walking around. No close focusing, kinda sucky corners and really weird flaring are the downsides, but the plus side is a nice rendering, good colour and a really useful focal length. 

The X-T1is a little unique in my bag, it's a very good camera with two issues. The first is my copy has the common issue with the control dials, they pretty much don't work. That has less impact than you might think, the only real uses of the control dials on the X-T1 are setting aperture on XC lenses and changing settings in the Q menu. The second issue is it's just got a lot of rough edges, from being a very early X series body and the first SLR-style body Fuji did. So the controls aren't as well laid out as the X-T2 and there's a number of UI and system oddities that would slowly go away as the X series evolved, most notably the somewhat limited focus peaking implementation. 

Because of the former limited the X-T1 is best suited to working with lenses that have an aperture ring or are fixed aperture. The latter makes the use of manual focus somewhat more challenging than on the X-T2. So combining the X-T1 with a fixed focus and fixed aperture lens is pretty idea. 18mm works better for me than other options because it's a nice moderate wide (28mm-e), a 10mm like the Pergear f8 could be fun but is too wide for everyday use while a 35mm like the 7Artisans f5.6 needs to be focused because of DoF limitations and is too tight to hipshoot with unless you're an absolute god of the hipshot. 

As such, I mostly just leave the camera in a variant of B&W+R with boosted contrast, although occasionally I will change up and shoot either Velvia when I have a really colourful scene or Classic Chrome when I just want colour. Classic Chrome I find really pairs well with these Chinese lenses and their somewhat muted colour due to limited coating.

So the X-T1 is now a point & shoot for me, ideally suited for walkabout. 

I do have to admit that an X-Pro1 would be an even better choice with the 18mm UFO if I can get 18mm framelines active in the OVF. I've been keeping my eye out for a cheap X-Pro1 anyways and I think the 18 would be the perfect combination with the X-Pro1 as it pretty much eliminates all of the X-Pro1's real weaknesses, namely lousy AF and lousy MF assists. 

Saturday 3 April 2021

X-T1 Hits a Milestone


X-T1, 7Artisans 18mm f6.3 UFO

I missed it a couple weeks ago, but my X-T1 has hit a rather rare milestone. The X-T1 is now one of the few digital bodies I've owned for more than one year. I bought it at the beginning of March 2020 and have now owned it for 13 months.

That really shouldn't be a big deal, but I can count on one hand the number of digital bodies that have achieved that and only one of them (my last D300) was at all recent. 

I've long known I need to settle down the gear churn and quit chasing the dragon, and I think I might actually be getting there finally with the two X-T bodies and the Z5. The Z5 covers my needs & desires for shooting landscape & nature, especially when hiking, as well as for a platform for adapting classic 35mm lenses while the two Fuji's cover my needs for a good handling almost-P&S in the X-T1 with the 18/6.3 UFO, and a general purpose body that does everything reasonably well without being too large or heavy in the X-T2.

The X-T1 for me is somewhat limited in its utility as my copy has issues with its control dials and the focus peaking implementation is somewhat weak. But it's great paired with the 18/6.3 UFO where focus peaking is irrelevant as the lens is fixed focus, and I just leave it in B&W mode with a red filter applied and boosted contrast and get great stuff. It does alright with other manual focus lenses mounted but my only current Fuji AF lens is an issue because the XC35 doesn't have an aperture ring and that means it relies on the wonky rear control dial for setting aperture. So I pretty much just leave the 18/6.3 UFO mounted and use it as a light walk around body as it's still noticeably lighter than the X-T2.

Friday 2 April 2021

A New Instagram and More

Nikon FE, Ilford HP5+, lens unrecorded but probably the Nikkor-H 28mm f3.5

I've started a second Instagram account, Filmic_Mawz, for my film work. This will be focused on Cityscape, Found Item and a little Street Photography, much as my main Instagram and Flickr are focusing on Landscape and Nature Photography. 

The reason for this is simple, the more I think about what I shoot, the more I realize that I have two very different approaches to how I work and what I shoot, and likewise very different preferences.

For landscape I prefer colour and the look I get from digital and/or medium and large format film photography. I have relatively little interest in 35mm or B&W landscapes, although I may dabble at times. When hiking I generally prefer to carry a minimal amount of kit, which means a couple zooms and maybe one prime. The minimalist hiking kit here and knowing what I have before I leave the location is the benefit of digital here, although I could totally see myself one day shooting nothing but 4x5 E-6 on a field camera with a couple lenses and a bag full of ND grads. 

For cityscape and found item work, I prefer B&W and also smaller format film. Part of this is purely the gritty look of small format B&W film, especially fast films like HP5+ and TriX, but some of it is just enjoying the workflow of shooting 35mm manual mechanical cameras when walking around the city. 

None of this is of course exclusive, I actually quite enjoy shooting cityscape & found item work in B&W with my two Fuji's and my collection of inexpensive Chinese manual lenses for them, a lot of that is purely in how similar the experience of shooting an X-T series body is to shooting an FE or other aperture priority manual focus body. In particular I'm not going to stop using the X-T1/18UFO combo anytime soon, its just too fun. 

Because there's such a huge thematic and process shift between the two sorts of subjects I tend to shoot, I'm trying to split them logically where I can. I'm trying to avoid the case where colour digital landscapes disrupt a stream of B&W city work or vice versa, so each account presents a consistent look and subject matter. 

I'm still debating how I want to use my second Flickr account, Filmic, as Flickr makes flipping between accounts somewhat aggravating while Instagram has made it increasingly easy to do so.