Snow, part 2

Just a few more snow photos from the second roll of film shot that same day.

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Rolleicord III, Acros 100, self-developed, camera-scanned.

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Snow comes to Minnesota

A nice snowfall recently gave me the opportunity to take a walk and give my Rolleicord some much-needed exercise.

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Not terribly exciting photos, but it was fun shooting them and developing the film at home. I guessed at the metering using the sunny-16 rule, and it worked well. The film did a nice job picking up the subtle detail in the very bright sunlit snow (while remarkably still holding shadow detail as well).

Shot on Fuji Acros 100; home developed in Arista Premium film developer (1:9, 7  min @ 68 deg).

Camera scanned using same setup described in the previous post.

I just developed a second roll shot on this same walk, and that’s now hanging to dry. Will fire up the ‘scanner’ again soon.


Camera-scanning negatives

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I recently posted photos that I had shot on black and white 120 film, home processed, and ‘scanned’ using my Fuji X-T1 camera and an old Nikkor macro lens. I’ll detail a little bit of the  process below, because I think this holds great promise of being a quick and easy way to get some really nice quality scans.  Below is a screen shot of a detail area from the photo above, to give you some idea of the quality and resolution.

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When cropped square, these images are about 3100 x 3100 pixels.  The X-T1 has about a 16MP sensor in it, and the full image size is 3264 x 4896 pixels. I didn’t completely fill the frame with the negative, so I’m cropping in a bit (plus cropping square of course in this case, since they’re 6×6 negs).  I could make higher-resolution images of 120 film by getting closer to the neg and moving it around to capture several images, then auto-stitching them in Photoshop.  I’ve seen examples of this online that are stunning.  But for quick scans, these 9+MP images are pretty great.

So, how was this done?

First I bought a small light box to act as a backlight-source. I got a Logan 4″ x 5″ Slim Edge Light Pad, but I’m sure any would work fine. I had read that this model has a nice consistent brightness and color. And I wanted one for some other uses, anyway.

Then I had to figure out a way to hold the camera perfectly parallel to the light box. A tripod could be used, but it would be hard to align it perfectly, and to adjust height and repeat the setup. I tried this with a tripod in the past, and it’s a pain in the a**.  An old copy stand would be perfect, but I had a hard time finding one for a reasonable price.  So I decided that an old photo enlarger could be converted to a copy stand. I picked up an old Omega enlarger at a thrift store for $16:

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It seemed a shame to tear apart such a nice enlarger, but I found that it could easily be dismantled in a way that it could be put back together if I want to return it to it’s intended use.

I added a small platform of plywood, with a hole cut at the perfect size to hold the end of my Nikkor macro lens. This certainly wouldn’t work with all lenses, but the way this lens is built (and since the Fuji X-T1 is a very light camera), it works perfectly.  I used a level to carefully align the platform to be near-perfectly level with the base of the enlarger (fortunately, the enlarger had adjustment screws on the base that normally holds the neg-carrier, to make this adjustment easy).

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I used a neg carrier that I happened to have from a flatbed scanner to hold the negatives flat against the light box, and inserted the camera and lens into the platform:

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It may look a bit unstable, but the camera actually sits very steady, since the camera body is light, and the lens is heavy and has a portion that sticks out with nice straight sides, which slides into the hole in the plywood (I looped the camera strap around the top of the enlarger to keep it out of the way, but it would also catch the camera if it were somehow knocked off the stand).  The height of the stand was adjusted so the neg would almost fill the frame, then the lens was focused. The manual focus aid in the X-T1 helps a lot for this — it will zoom in on the center of the frame and show red highlights when edges are in sharp focus, as seen below in the bad iphone photo of the camera’s LCD screen:

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The room lights were shut off before shooting the actual photos, to eliminate any reflections off the film.

I tested the camera and lens combo by shooting several images of a couple negs from f/3.5 to f/22, and found that I got the sharpest images at f/3.5 to f/8.  Surprisingly, this lens actually seems slightly sharper wide open at f3.5 than stopped down a stop or two.  But to get a little bit of depth of field to help ensure the whole neg was in focus, even if it wasn’t completely flat, I shot them at f/8.

Here’s the lens I’m using:

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It’s a Nikon Micro-Nikkor 55mm f/3.5 – a great macro lens with extremely little distortion.  In these images of square negatives, there was absolutely no bowing of the edges of the images.  When cropped square to the image, the edges were perfectly straight.  I’m lucky that I just happened to have this lens already, so I only needed a cheap adapter to put it on the Fuji X-T1.

The camera was set to electronic shutter so there’d be no camera movement from the shutter, and set to ISO 200, auto shutter speed, and with a 2-second self-timer to eliminate camera shake from pressing the shutter button.  Next time I’ll set the shutter speed manually so that all of the exposures on a roll are consistent, as that will make later Lightroom adjustments easier to apply through the whole roll.

The negs had just been dried after developing, so they were still very clean, so I didn’t even bother blowing dust off of them.  The scans picked up a few dust spots, but not bad at all.  I slid the negs through by hand, and had to spend a few second on each one making sure it was aligned straight in the viewfinder, and that I wasn’t cutting off any of the image.  That’s where this process could really be improved — by building some kind of neg carrier that the negs could slide through and stay aligned in the viewfinder.  Even so, it probably only took about 15 minutes to shoot the roll, from setting the camera height and focusing the first neg to shooting all twelve images. (EDIT:  Now that I’ve done a few rolls this way, it’s even faster — I have the enlarger marked at the proper height, so setup is faster, and I can get through a roll in a few minutes)

Process updated: See NOTE at end of this post.
Then the negs were brought into Lightroom and adjusted.  Here’s what they looked like when first imported to Lightroom:

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In Lightroom there’s no easy way to invert the negs into positives (they should really add a simple checkbox in the tone curve panel to invert the image).  You have to grab each end of the tone curve and pull the bottom end up to the top, and the top end down to the bottom to invert the image (if you can’t get this to work, click the button in the bottom-right of the Tone Curve box — this change it to a ‘point curve’ and you can move the very ends of the line).

So you change this:

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Simple enough, but now all of your exposure sliders in Lightroom are reversed.  Increasing the Exposure slider darkens the image; decreasing the Blacks slider actually increases the Whites.  It’s a bit confusing.  I did this in Lightroom because I wanted to work with the camera RAW image, thinking that would give me the best quality.  But after some experimenting I’ve decided that the JPG images are just as good, so it’s easy to simply invert the images in Photoshop, then make all the normal adjustments in Lightroom.  Next time I do this, I’ll quickly invert all the images in Photoshop before importing them into Lightroom.   Process updated: See NOTE at end of post.

Another advantage that I discovered in shooting my own scans is that I can get the full frame with no cropping of the image. Here’s the first test image I shot, from an older roll of film.  You can see the actual edges of the frame of the film:

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And here is an overlay showing the scan that the lab did on top of my scan (tinted red). The red edges are the parts of the image that were cropped out of the lab scan.  That’s a pretty big difference.

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I’m looking forward to developing more film and experimenting more with this.  Next step: build a neg carrier to slide the 120 film through.  After that: Build a rig to slide 35mm negs through for the same kind of setup.

EDIT:
I’ve scanned more film using this setup and have changed just a couple things:

1) I’m setting my camera to record a B&W JPG instead of color to simplify it a little. I did some testing of B&W vs Color and JPG vs RAW, and found virtually no difference.  The dynamic range is very low, so there’s no need to shoot raw.

Note on dynamic range:  I’ve seen some online posts about camera-scanning, and people are concerned about the digital camera’s ability to capture the full dynamic range of the film.  Here’s my take: Relax, it’s not an issue at all.  The dynamic range of the scene was already captured and compressed in the film.  When “scanning” the neg, the dynamic range you’re capturing is only the difference between the blackest part of the film and the brightness of your light pad.  Unless your light pad is as bright as the sun, you’re not talking about much dynamic range here.  I don’t get any clipping of highlights or shadows.

2) Before importing into Lightroom I do a quick inversion in Photoshop to turn the negs into positives.  I created a Photoshop action ‘droplet’, so all I have to do is drag a folder full of images onto the ‘droplet’ on my Mac, and they will all be opened in Photoshop, inverted and re-saved.  It all works automatically and just takes a few seconds.  Then when they’re imported into Lightroom I don’t have to mess with inverting the tone curve.

I’ve built a nice rig for 35mm neg scans that I should show you soon.


Como Park Conservatory

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A few weeks ago we spent a nice evening walking around Como Park taking photos as a family.  My wife wanted to learn to use our Fuji X-T1, and my son was carrying my old Canon DSLR, so I went old-school and carried my Rolleicord.  After our picnic dinner on the lawn, I loaded a roll of Fuji Acros 100 black and white film, and we set off for the Conservatory.  We intended to go inside the conservatory and back out to the beautiful Japanese garden, but found that both were closed for the evening, so we just walked around the park.  With all of us taking photos, I enjoyed for once not being the one slowing down the rest of the family.  I had no trouble finding subjects for my 12 images on my roll of film, and enjoyed the slow process — if I would have been shooting digital I probably would have taken a hundred shots and ended up with about the same number that I liked.

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I developed the film myself the night before last, which was quick and easy since I had chemicals premixed and ready to go. This is the first time I’ve developed 120 film, and it’s even easier than 35mm because you don’t have to mess around with opening the film canister — you just unroll the film right off the spool (inside a dark-bag) and onto the developing tank reel.  I let the film hang to dry in an unused room where it’d be unlikely that much dust would be flying around in the air, then last night I “scanned” the images.  I say “scanned” in quotes because I actually shot photos of the negs using my X-T1 with an old Micro-Nikkor 55mm manual-focus macro lens.  The process was quick and easy, and the results are stunning. I’ll be writing a post soon about my process.

Details:
Camera: Rolleicord III
Film: Fuji Acros 100
Processing:  Arista Premium Liquid Developer, mixed 1:9, 7 min. @ approx. 68 degrees F.
Arista Indicator Stop Bath; Arista Premium Liquid Fixer; Kodak Hypo Clear; Water wash; a couple drops Arista Flow wetting agent; hang to dry with no wiping.
Scan:  Fuji X-T1; Nikon Micro-NIKKOR-P.C Auto 1:3.5 f=55mm (at f/8); Logan 4×5 light pad.


BWCA Star Trails by Rolleicord

I haven’t posted in a long, long time, so I thought I’d restart by digging through stuff I shot in the last year.  The two images below are the result of my first experiment with photographing star trails.  I made four attempts and came out with two nice shots.

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Shortly before going to a friend’s cabin last February on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota, I had read something online about shooting star trail images.  I found that my timing on this trip coincided well with a new moon, so the skies would be dark.  I was originally going to shoot with my new-to-me-at-the-time Mamiya 645, because I wanted to shoot in medium format with a good quality lens, but realized that long exposures are a problem with that camera because it relies on the battery to keep the shutter open (even more of a problem since I’d likely be in sub-zero temperatures).  So I decided that a totally manual camera was the way to go.  The Rolleicord fit the bill for this project, as it’s totally manual, has a very high quality lens, and is medium format.  The only problem was that I didn’t have a functioning lockable shutter-release cable (I had several broken ones for some reason) to lock the shutter open on the B setting.  So I tossed a couple of rubber bands in my camera bag to wrap around the camera and hold the shutter lever open.

I brought along my very heavy Bogen tripod, even though everything we bring to the cabin has to be hauled on foot across the lake to the cabin. I knew I’d need a very solid support for this to work, though.

I lucked out and had perfectly clear skies, and shot on two nights.  I think I set the camera to f/5.6 or f/8 for a moderate depth of field.  Focusing a twin-lens reflex (TLR) in the dark is impossible, so I prefocused inside the cabin for just short of infinity using the depth-of-field guide on the lens to make sure the f/8 range went well past infinity.  I wanted sharp stars for sure, but also sharp trees in the foreground.  Another advantage of using this camera is that it’s hard to accidentally change your focus when setting up the camera on the tripod.

It gets dark early in Minnesota in February, so I don’t really remember what time I started my first exposure, but well past dark, probably close to midnight.  I seem to recall trudging out onto the lake and starting one exposure before we gave up on the bottle of scotch for the night, and leaving that one go for about two or three hours.

Framing the photo was very difficult because with the dark skies I could barely see anything in the ground glass of the TLR.  I tried shining a flashlight at the trees to help see them, but it wasn’t bright enough.  I had to mostly guess at where I was aiming the camera and hope for the best.  After the first exposure, I advanced to the next frame, set up a new angle, locked down the tripod ball head, and carefully propped open the shutter lever with the rubber band.  I went to bed and set the alarm for about three hours later, I believe.  Boots, parka, balaclava, gloves back on and out to the lake to stop the exposure and bring the camera back in from the cold.

Two nights of  getting up in the middle of the night to go outside and stop an exposure and/or start another one had my cabin-mates wondering about my sanity, but a long time later when I saw these images, it was well worth it.

I’m surprised by the amount of color in the sky, and the varying colors of the individual star trails.  I’ve done no color correction or color changes to these scans.  I only adjusted the exposure and contrast a bit, as the exposures weren’t perfect.

These were shot on Kodak Portra 160.  I really wish I would have written down exposure info, but I believe they were around three hours at f/5.6 or f/8.  Surprisingly, the negs were a little thin, so I could have gone with even longer exposures or wider aperture or faster film.  I figure it’s a good idea to use a wide-latitude film like Portra to help forgive exposure errors.

I always look at the thermometer outside the cabin when I get up at night up there, and I recall that it was about minus 15 degrees F (about -26 C).  Here’s what my Rolleicord looked like when it came back inside the cabin:

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Don’t stick your tongue on that!


Rollei 35 first shots

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I had a chance to borrow a Rollei 35 from my friend George last fall, and I carried it with me a little bit on a trip to Minnesota’s ‘north shore’ along Lake Superior.  It’s a fun little camera that’s beautifully built, a little bit quirky, and has great optics packed into it’s tiny body.

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rollei-35-camera-8I’ve long wanted to use one of these little cameras, and when I first picked it up, it felt as finely built as I had expected. This camera is truly pocketable at about the size of a typical modern point-and-shoot digital mini camera.  As a matter of fact, it’s smaller than my Lumix point-and-shoot, though the body is a little thicker.  I believe this holds claim to being the world’s smallest 35mm camera, and there’s some clever German engineering built into it to make it so small.  When you hold it in your hand, it’s kind of hard to imagine that a 35mm film cartridge will fit in it. The back slides off the camera to reveal a kind of puzzling interior. What’s rollei-35-camera-9puzzling (the first time you open it, at least) is that you can’t see the lens opening – where the heck are you supposed to put the film?  There’s a unique hinged pressure plate that you swing down to load the film, then close it back over the film before sliding the rear door back on. It’s those little touches that make the camera really unique and allowed them to keep it so small. Every piece of the camera seems to have been engineered with an eye toward minimizing the size.  And it worked well.

The little 40mm Zeiss lens retracts into the body for very compact carrying, and slides smoothly out and locks in place with a slight twist. That sliding and twisting motion and how the lens subtly locks into place speaks to how the whole camera feels in your hands — a feeling of fine design and craftsmanship. It feels solid, smooth, finely finished. It has a heft for it’s small size that tells you there’s not much plastic in this camera.

With no rangefinder (that would have taken up way too much space), you’re stuck ‘zone-focusing’, or ‘guess-focusing’. Guess at the distance and set the dial on the rim of the lens. Shutter speed and Aperture are set on the two front dials, as is film speed (yes, there’s a light meter – a simple match-needle meter found on the top of the camera body). I found setting aperture and shutter speed a bit tedious on these dials, but I suppose you’d get used to it.

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And some more photos taken with it…

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Can you spot the ruffed grouse in the photo above? Strangely, he let us walk right up a few feet from him after I snapped this photo, and he just slowly sauntered off into the woods. Usually they’ll flush if you get close to them and stop.

These last two shots are along the Pigeon River, which separates Minnesota from Canada here. So the other side of that river is Ontario. We had fun with our son throwing rocks into Canada. This was an important transportation route for the fur traders up to the 19th century. The North West Company had a post at Grand Portage near the mouth of this river on Lake Superior until 1801, where there’s now a recreated fort and a nice museum. I was intrigued to learn recently that the US/Canada border follows this route, and the many rivers and lakes that make up the jagged northern border of Minnesota, because of the importance of the route for the voyageurs working for fur trading companies in both countries. The route was so important that fur traders from both countries needed to share the route, thus the national border was set up following the main travel path of the voyageurs.

Follow-up Comments about the Rollei 35:  While I love the Rollei 35’s look and feel, I’m not enamored with actually using it. I only shot one roll of film with it, so this opinion is not based on extensive use, but I found it a bit tedious and finicky to actually use. The tiny size is great for carrying in a pocket, but detracts from it’s usability in my opinion. I love holding it and marveling at the beautiful fit and finish, the high-quality machined parts, the overall feeling of a fine quality instrument. It’s a beautiful little camera, and an engineering marvel. But actual useability feels like it suffers from the small size. For a compact camera, I’d rather slip my Trip 35 in a jacket pocket — it’s not as small, but is easier to use, though it lacks manual exposure settings.  But if I’m going to be setting exposure manually, I’d also like to be able to focus through the viewfinder, so I’d rather carry a small rangefinder camera. In the pre-digital camera days, I probably would have been more impressed with it’s small size and would  have liked it more, but today the small size isn’t enough to make me love it. The fact that I shot just one roll of film, and it’s been sitting on a shelf for several months seems to confirm these feelings.


Shooting digital as if it’s film

A couple of things caught my eye recently about using digital cameras more like they were film cameras:

Last week my friend Matt wrote an interesting blog post about how he set up his digital Fuji X100 to act more like a classic film camera when he’s shooting it. By simplifying the setup, turning off the instant image review on the LCD screen, and setting some limitations, he’s able to spend less time fiddling with menus, buttons and dials, and have a greater focus on the actual shooting. It’s a good read, and good advice even if you have a different type of digital camera.

A few days later I read a post on the Life, Edinburgh blog – a favorite of mine – about an iphone app called Thirty Six, that simply puts film-like limitations on an iphone camera. The main idea is that you have to shoot a 36 exposure ‘roll’ before you get to see any of the images. There are also some film-like tools like looking at a contact sheet, but I think that idea of shooting without seeing what you just shot is the main thing that may push people to shoot a little differently.

When I first got a digital camera, the ability to shoot as many photos as I wanted without the incremental costs of film and developing seemed like an amazing thing. It still is a great thing in some ways, but it has made many of us lazy photographers. Now that digital has been around a while and has matured a little bit, perhaps people are ready to start thinking about it differently.

Until I have some time to post more photos, here’s a shot from an Argus A-Four with some focusing issues, which I found in a dollar-bin at a camera show a while back.  This thing might just create bad enough images to make someone using a $50 Holga jealous.

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