Ilford 120 film packaging turns into a camera

From the dieline, a design/packaging blog I read regularly.

A student designed a package for ilford 120 rollfilm, that can be folded into a pinhole camera for said film.  Supercool, although it wasn’t clear whether this was an actual product or just a design concept.  Check the link for more images and info on the project.

an ode to the normals

Ah, the humble normal lens… in a day and age where all the glory goes to the 70-200/2.8s and the ultrawides, it is easy to overlook the humble elegance of the unassuming normal.  Traditionally the 50mm in 35mm terms, but may vary depending on format.

The normal is small, light, fast, sharp and versatile.

It does portraits, it does landscapes, it does street, event, low light…

Need to get in closer? take a step forward.  Need to get  wider? take a step back.   Unlike many other focal lengths the normal is almost chameleon-like in it’s ability to adapt itself to different situations, rendering tightly framed shots as well as “wider” with equal aplomb.  (yes I know the actual focal length and field of view don’t change, I refer only to it’s apparent versatility in framing).

In fact, I would estimate probably 75% of my shots overall are taken with a normal lens (50mm on my Nikon, 20mm on my gf1, 75mm on my Mamiya).

The normal lens has a long and influential life in the history of photography.  Many of the seminal images of the 20th century were made with the 50mm.

There is a kind of “Zen Like” simplicity to shooting with a normal as well – maybe it has something to do with the fact that it approximates the normal human field of view, but previsualizing the shot becomes almost unconscious.  As if one of the barriers between concept and image just falls away…

And then there’s the beautiful, beautiful depth of field.  Opening up to f/1.4 (or more!) just creates a whole new world of depth of field effects.

Of course the normal is not a *replacement* for your zoom – especially a telephoto or ultrawide, but if you’re a zoom shooter primarily, give it a shot – spend a couple of weeks with just a normal on your camera.  You might just find it addictive…

Panasonic GF1 first impressions

As anyone who’s been following this blog knows, I’ve been very excited about the whole inception of the new micro four thirds standard… I decided not to jump on the EP-1, waiting to see the developments from Panasonic etc…  With the release of the GF1 and the announcement of the EP-2, I finally decided to get myself a GF1 for my birthday.   Of course my B-day isn’t for another month, but given the impossibility of actually finding the stupid thing in stock, when I saw one available from amazon I jumped on it and received it last week.

Of course a week and a few shots are not nearly enough to get the real “feel” of a camera, but here are some initial thoughts:

  • I bought this camera as a replacement for my G9 (which I subsequently sold). my first thought was “this is just like my G9, only better”
  • Image quality is superb – particularly with the 20/1.7.  Plenty of detail, and the raw files hold up to processing well (using LR3 beta).  High ISO is perfectly adequate for me.  I’d use it comfortably up to 800/1250, and 1600/2500 are definitely usable with some NR/processing.  3200 is a bit noisy, but still seems perfectly usable for smaller prints etc… with some NR.
  • I don’t miss an OVF at all.  I don’t know why folks get hysterical about composing on a screen- to me it’s just another way of composing.  SLR finder, Rangefinder, Waist-level finder, ground glass… whatever.   as long as I can compose my image, it’s all good.
  • Much like the G9 it’s not truly “pocketable” it definitely needs a small bag or coat pocket.  To me this is basically a camera for “good pictures that’s lighter/easier to carry than an SLR”
  • Responsiveness is excellent.  Shutter lag is negligible, and focus is nice and snappy even in low light.  It’s not quite as good as my D700 (!) but it’s more than adequate.   I can’t see myself missing any shots due to lag (caveat: I don’t shoot kids or sports, so if you do YMMV!)
  • build quality is… decent… it’s not a leica, but it doesn’t feel like its going to fall apart either.  Probably the cheapest-feeling part of the whole thing is the zoom action on the 14-45 kit lens, but even that isn’t terrible (hey it’s a kit lens!)
  • Manual focus with the m4/3 lenses is actually not bad at all.  The “focus by wire” doesn’t bother me, and the focus rings (particularly on the 20/1.7) are surprisingly smooth and well damped, unlike many modern AF lenses.  I’m curious to try some real MF lenses on it with an adaptor.
  • I’m still getting a feel for the menus/controls, but they seem perfectly adequate.  I wasn’t sure about the whole “push-turn” control wheel but I actually really like it now.  All the necessary info is shown on screen, and all the settings I need to use regularly are easily accessible without digging through 27 menus (<cough> canon mirror lockup<cough>
  • I’m curious how the lack of a mirror will affect hand-holdability.  I know I can handhold a rangefinder at least a stop slower than an equivalent SLR, I wonder if the GF1 will have the same advantage…
  • So far the main “negative” I can find with the camera is that the grip on the front feels a little slippery (the rear has a nice rubber thumbpad, but the front “fingertip” area is too slick for me) Surprisingly this makes the grip less sure than my G9… it might be worth getting a little stick on pad for the front to alleviate this.

Overall, the “gestalt” of this camera is the same to me as the G9 – not a “pocket camera” per-se, but a “real camera” that I can carry around more easily than a full SLR.  In this regard it succeeds superbly.   For my purposes, the GF1 realizes the dream of “SLR image quality in a compact body” perfectly, particularly with the superb 20/1.7.   I’m actually toying with using it fom a couple of “real” shoots coming up, to see if the ability to go ultralight/minimalist will give added freedom in location shooting.

more to come…

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the Mamiya 6 – a highly subjective review

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My photography career started with film.  Black and white negative film, and an old Pentax spotmatic.  I “switched” to digital with a Minolta Maxxum 7d, and shot pretty much exclusively digital from then on- up until about 6 months ago, when I got the itch again…

Now I knew I wanted to get a MF kit, as it’s hard to justify the extra work of 35mm film, given the quality of full-frame digital (ducks the angry rolls of tri-x being thrown).   Medium Format, OTOH, is a whole ‘nother beast…  I also knew I wanted a rangefinder just because, well, I love rangefinders.   That narrowed down the field a bunch – leaving basically the Fuji MF rangefinders and the Mamiya 6 or mamiya 7 in serious contention.   I took the plunge and got the Mamiya 6 (I chose the 6 over the 7 as I prefer the 6×6 negative rather than the 6×7).   Now after about 6 months of using it, I think it’s about time to write a proper review.

be forewarned – this is not an “Controlled Environment, Pixel Peeper” type review.  I’m not going to run rolls of test film against brick walls, or post MTF charts.  This is merely my overall impression of the camera after half a year of regular use (just about enough time to really get “comfortable” with a piece of gear!)

First off, for anyone thinking of getting one of these cameras – if you’ve never used a rangefinder before, there’s going to be a learning curve.  Rangefinder camera’s are different than SLRs in that you are *not* looking through the lens to frame/focus – you look through a separate window.   This window does not change with the focal length of the lens the way an SLR viewfinder does (in other words, your view doesn’t “zoom in” when you attach a longer lens) There are simply “framelines” – a glowing box/outline that shows what will be in the frame for a given focal length.   On the Mam6, these light up automatically depending on which lens you have mounted.  Focusing is also a totally different beast – instead of looking through the lens and subjectively evaluating if the image is in focus, the rangefinder uses a “patch” in the middle of the viewfinder, which superimposes 2 images over each other.  when they are “out of alignment” the image is out of focus – you simply adjust the focus until the overlaid images are lined up – taking a lot of the “guesswork” our of manual focusing.

Out of focus:

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In Focus:

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Despite the differences (some might say limitations) there is a lot to like about rangefinder framing/shooting:

  • Once you get the hang of focusing it can be much faster and more accurate than a SLR.  You don’t have to subjectively evaluate whether the image in the vewfinder “looks sharp” – if it’s lined up it’s in focus!
  • No “blackout” – since there is no mirror flipping up to block your view at the moment of exposure, your view through the window is never interrupted.  May not sound like a big deal, but once  you’ve gotten used to it, it’s really nice!
  • framing outside the lines.  With an SLR, what you see in the vewfinder is what you get in the  frame – you can’t see “outside of the  frame”.  With a rangefinder, the frame does not take up the whole area of the viewfinder – the the area contained by the brightlines.  This mean that with the camera up to your eye, you can actually see the area outside the actual frame of the photograph.   To me, this is the single greatest part of rangefinder photography – you can see the scene through the camera wholistically – chosing which parts to include, and which to cut out.  You can see elements *before* they actually  move into the frame, and you can see the area around your frame to determine if you need to make a minute adjustment to composition etc…   It’s hard to describe, but it is incredible.  After shooting with a rangefinder for a while, going back to an SLR feels like putting blinders on – like shooting down a tunnel with no peripheral vision.

Now on to the actual meat of the review:

Handling:

The Mam6 is a solid piece of kit.   Tight tolerance, nothing loose or sloppy.   It feels like a brick of metal in the hand.  Size-wise it is fairly comporable to a 5D, but  it actually “feels” a lot smaller.  A lot of this is due to the “collapsing lens mount”.   The mamiya 6 is essentially a “bellows” camera (albeit with a sturdy shell on the outside to protect the bellows) – pressing the button on the left side of the lens mount allows the entire assembley (lens and all) to collapse *into* the body of the camera by a few inches.  Particularly with the 75/3.5 lens mounted & collapsed, the camera’s “depth” shrinks quite a bit allowing it to slip into a narrow/small camera bag.  I find it much easier to carry around as an “all day” camera than the 5D.  Here it is side by side with the 5D+50/1.8.  The 6 has the 75/3.5 normal lens mounted, and the lens mount collapsed.  (for reference the image at the top shows the camera with 75/3.5 with the mount exteded – note the difference!)

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And here it is in my everyday shoulderbag along with the 150/4.  To give a sense of scale, that is a pocket moleskine in the side pocket…

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Not exactly a “pocket camera” but when you consider that this is a *medium format* kit – it’s pretty amazingly compact.

The camera also just “fits” well in the hand. The grip is nicely contoured and comfortable.  Despite it’s somewhat “boxy” shape, it is extremely comfortable to hold/shoot with.  The controls fall well under the fingertips – the left hand focuses and sets aperture, while the shutter speed dial is positioned in a way that it can easily be rotated with the right index finger without removing one’s eye from the VF.  When combined with the meter which shows the shutter speed in the vewfinder, it makes it possible to adjust exposure without ever taking your eye away from the camera.  The focus is smoothly damped and the rangefinder works well with a decently sized focusing patch and nice bright framelines (which light up automatically depending on which lens is mounted)

Controls:

as with any fully-manual camera, controls are simple – aperture is set on the lens, there is a top dial for shutter speed/ISO(ASA) with EV comp lever under it, a film advance lever (single stroke) and the shutter button.  that’s it.

Having TTL metering, the Mam6 has a Aperture Priority mode, enabled by turning the shutter speed dial to the red “A” on the dial.  In this mode, the camera will meter to the aperture set on the lens.  As I understand it, the metering system is a center-weighted average.   There is also an AEL mode, which is also aperture priority, but has the added feature of “locking” the exposure at a 1/2 press of the shutter – very useful!   The meter shows up along the left hand side of the viewfinder – the currently selected shutter speed is shown solid, while the metered speed will blink above or below it for over/under exposed.

It’s a very intuitive system overall, and enables quick manual metering.  I generally shoot in fully manual, but I’ve had good success shooting in AEL, pointing at the part of the scene I want to meter, 1/2 pressing to lock exposure, and then recomposing and shooting.  Frankly for “fast moving” photography such as street etc… the meter is good enough to just “set it and forget it” especially given the exposure lattitude of b/w neg. film.   In A (and AEL) mode, EV comp is controlled by a little lever under the shutter speed dial.  Honestly I’ve never used it – I’m either always in manual or AEL-meterlock-recompose mode!

Changing lenses:

Changing lenses is the same as an SLR, but with a catch.   The Mamiya 6 uses a Leaf shutter system, as opposed to the focal plane shutters in most SLRs.  This means that the shutter is actually *in the lens* instead of in front of the film plane.   The obvious ramification to this is that if one removes the lens, the film plane is exposed (since there is no shutter to block it!) which would prevent changing lenses while fim is in the camera.   Luckily the Mam6 solves this rather elegantly, by having a “dark slide” that covers the film while the lens is removed.   There is a little knob on the bottom of the camera that enables the dark slide, and a switch that releases it (it snaps back automatically).   The camera also has a series of interlocks which prevent you from “doing anything bad” during this process.  In other words,  when there is film in the camera, the lens-release button will not function unless the darkslide is enabled, and once a lens is mounted, the shutter will not fire until the darkslide is withdrawn.  There is a little warning light in the upper right hand corner of the viewfinder which will blink to let you know if something is set incorrectly when you press the shutter button.   This may sound complicated, but in practice it only adds a few seconds to the process of changing a lens which becomes:

  1. turn knob to enable darkslide
  2. press lens release button, remove lens
  3. mount new lens
  4. hit the switch on the bottom to remove the darkslide
  5. shoot away

Lenses:

The bad news is that the Mamiya 6 system, only has 3 lenses.  The good news is that it only has 3 lenses.  For me, they cover just about everything I want – moderate wide, normal and moderate tele.  The added advantage is that once you have all 3, there is no worring about “oh I need lens X and lens Y”.   It’s actually rather freeing, in a strange way.   And don’t worry about said 3 not being up to snuff – these lenses are good.  Really, Really, Really Good.   If you are coming from a 35mm system, the quality will blow you away.    The lenses are:

75mm f/3.5:

This is the “normal” lens, just shy of 50mm equiv. in 35mm terms.   Beautifully sharp and contrasty across the entire frame, straight from max aperture. I tend to favor normals, so this is my “default” lens.   Also helps that it is the smallest of the 3, and collapses nicely in to the body, making the camera wonderfully portable.

150mm f/4:

Stunning. An absolutely gorgeous portrait lens (appx 100mm in 35mm terms), razor sharp, with a beautiful falloff and incredible bokeh.   The images from this lens are truly jaw dropping. I have heard some complain that it is difficult to focus, but I haven’t had any problem, so YMMV.

50mm f/4:

28mm equiv.  Don’t have this lens, but from what I’ve heard it’s the best of the 3 (which is almost scary considering how good the other two are).   Saving the pennies for it now 🙂

Gestalt:

I’ve shot with quite a few camera systems, and I can say unreservedly that the Mamiya 6 is my “”favorite” system overall.   It may sound crazy, given the limited nature of the system overall – but it’s just one of those cameras that “gets out of the way” and lets you get the shot.  From the smoothly damped action on the focus to the quiet “snick” of the shutter, to the cleverly collapsing lens mount, the camera is simply a pleasure to use – it practically “sings” in the hand.   Needless to say, the quality is superb as well (as one would expect from a medium format system).  Of course it comes with all the caveats of a rangefinder system, but it comes with all the benefits as well.   It seems to hit kind of a “sweet spot” with a combination of simplicity, usability and portability that really just *works*.

Another wonderful aspect of the system for shooters who use strobe/flash lighting is the fact that the leaf shutter of the camera allows syncing at all shutter speeds.  Unlike focal-plane slr users who must spend outrageous sums (and endure huge power losses in high-speed-sync modes) on system-dedicated strobe units to allow flash sync beyond their native sync speed, the Mamiya 6 will happily sync with any strobe right up to it’s maximum shutter speed of 1/500 sec – simply wonderful when working with lights outdoors for dropping down the ambient!

In a lot of ways, it’s hard to exactly pin down the appeal of this camera.   I recently read a review of the E-P1 which called it “a camera that you buy with your heart, not your head” (to paraphrase).  I think in a lot of ways the Mamiya is similar.   It’s certainly not as versatile as an SLR system, and in these days of high-volume shoots and fast turnaround times, it would be ludicrous to imagine using it as one’s primary camera.   But when I’m walking out the door in the morning, it’s almost always the one I grab.   It’s the type of camera that is simply *enjoyable* to use, the one that is just “comfortable”.

Nitpicks:

While I absolutely love the 6 as a whole, there are some nitpicks, nothing major but just some things to be aware of.

  • the 1/500 max shutter speed can be limiting if you want to shoot wide open in bright light.  Course you can use ND filters, but that gets cumbersome etc… (although the tradeoff to this is that you get that full 1/500 when syncing with a flash, which more than makes up for it in my mind!)
  • the meter readout can be difficult to see when wearing glasses.
  • the rather large minimum focus distance on the lenses can sometimes be limiting.

Bottom line:

If you shoot sports, this is not the camera for you.

If you shoot wildlife, this is not the camera for you.

Nor is it for weddings (well maybe) or events, or product photography (no close focus).

That being said – this camera is a unique product that is simply magical in it’s own way, and if it suits your shooting style will quickly become one of your most-loved pieces of gear.

UPDATE: My Mamiya 6 is currently in the shop for a broken film advance mechanism.  Apparently this is a not-uncommon issue with the 6, and something to be aware of before purchasing one.    Personally I wouldn’t let it stop me (and it doesn’t change my opinion of the camera) but just for full disclosure…

olympus digital pen, e-p1, officially released!

And finally the true strength of the 4/3 system is realized…  Just in case there’s anyone who *hasn’t* heard about it yet (my RSS reader already had about 15 articles on it!) Olympus has finally announced their first MFT camera, the e-p1, in a unmistakable homage to the PEN series of old. To me, this is what the 4/3 system should have been from the beginning.  high-quality, interchangeable lenses, supercompact body.  To me, this is more of a “digital rangefinder” than the Leica M8 (dons flame-retardant suit and hides from the leica-o-philes).
check out the size comparison next to the e-420 *already* the smallest dSLR on the market. 
 

All the usual goodies are checked, HD video, 12mp (reasonable for 4/3 sensor – glad they didn’t push it), a multi-apect sensor (very cool! – it shoots 1×1! square love!), yadda yadda yadda…  The dual control wheel setup is unusual, but I could see myself liking it…

for the full rundown, check dpreviews hands-on preview. 

and some more sample photos over at PhotographyBlog.com

Honestly, it’s hard to overstate my excitement at this camera.  I’m not all that much of a “gearhead”, but when something like this comes along it’s just like “wow, that’s exactly what I’ve always wanted in a picture making tool”

wireless tethering in a card? yes please

I’ve written about the Eye-Fi series of SD cards before.  Very cool concept, I really wanted to get one but they had just a few nagging issues that prevented them from being suitable for my needs.

Until now.

The newly announced Eye-Fi pro adds
RAW transfer and ad-hoc network connection capability – the two things that were conspicuously missing from earlier versions, and now Im thinking I may never buy another card again.   So for all practical purposes, this card provides a wireless tethering solution in a box – consider:  grab a laptop, set up an ad hoc network, connect the eye-fi.  Now every shot you snap on that camera is transferred to a folder on your laptop.   Set lightroom to “watch” that folder and bam – now as you shoot, images stream to you laptop and pop up in lightroom in real time.

This my friends, to use the parlance of the day, is EPIC WIN.

course it still has all the same functionality of the earlier eye-fi, as well as adding the capability to selectively upload shots instead of just shooting all of them up by default.  Very cool stuff.  Kudos to the eye-fi guys for listening to the community and coming back with a product that really seems to knock it out of the park!

could this be the camera I’ve been dreaming of?

combined with the recent series of videos commerating the 50th anniversary of the olympus PEN series of cameras, THIS LEAK seems almost too good to be true…

a MFT, digital PEN.  Oh Joy!

(that sound you hear is all the “digital rangefinder” folks squealing with anticipation!)

The Renaissance continues

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Who woulda thunk it?  in a sea of digicams, Voigtlander goes ahead and releases a rangefinder. An analogue rangefinder.  A *medium format*, fixed lens, analogue rangefinder.  (and a folder to boot!).

Guess film isn’t dead after all 🙂  The Bessa III (as it is called) apparently will be available in may for about 2k. not too shabby!

An old flame…

It’s funny, there seems to be a kind of “collective unconscious” in the photo community… All the buzz about film lately, from discussions on strobist to Brian Auer’s fantastic “build a film developing kit for <$50”  Of course it just so happens that’s I’ve been rekindling my lost love affair with film as well…I started out developing film (from my 1967 Pentax spotmatic) and printing it in a wet darkroom.  Once I moved to digital, my 35mm film kind of fell by the wayside…

I picked up a Holga a while back with the intention of just messing around, running some 120 film etc…  At the time, I still had access to a pro darkroom, and intended to do my own processing and printing… Of course, that never happened.  With 99% of my work being digital, my poor rolls of 120 sat un-developed for <ahem> quite some time.

Of course that was before I discovered Diafine.  (for those who don’t know, Diafine is what is known as a “Compensating developer”  It comes in 2 parts, solution A, and solution B.   You pour in A, the film absorbs as much as it’s emulsion can hold, you then pour it out, and pour in B.  B reacts with A, doing the developing until A is all used up – then it stops (as there is no more A left to react.) essentially it is a “self terminating” development process.   What this means in practice is that it is just about the fastest, easiest way to develop black and white film that I have ever seen.  No carefully controlling temperatures of solutions (it works just fine anywhere from 68-80F), no exact timing down to the second (because it is self terminating, it doesn’t matter how long your film in).   You can load your film, pour in A, walk away and eat a sandwich, come back pour in B, go grab a beer, come back a half hour later, and your film will be done.  Just like that.

There are a couple of other cool features as well (eg it gives an effective “speed boost” of a stop or more to many films – my preferred HP5+ becomes effectively 800ISO when souped in diafine) and a few downsides.  It’s definitely not the developer to choose if you demand exacting precision & control over each step of the development process.  But for a low-fi neg like the holga produces it’s a match made in heaven.

Say what you will about film v. digital.  I love them both, I think they both have their place, and I think that every photographer should use both to at least some extent.   Even if you are die-hard 100% “digital is superiour to film in every way”, the “creative experience” of film is very different than digital.  It makes you shoot in a different way, think in a different way, see in a different way.  Not better, not worse, just different.  And that in my opinion is one of the great “creativity juicers” that we get.   So if you are in a creative rut, try it out.  Grab a holga and a few rolls of black and white 120 film ($30-40 bucks) and some diafine, and shoot some blurry, light-leaky, distorted, streaky, vignetted, *beautiful* frames.   Guaranteed to cure what ails ya!

All shot with the holga,  Ilford HP5+ film, processed in Diafine:

Philadelphia, Old and New

Independence Hall

At the Beach

Adrift on a sea of clouds

Liftoff

Panasonic intros new G1 (GH1) and lenses

As pretty much everyone was expecting, panasonic released the “MKII” version of thier ground breaking G1 at PMA, calling it the GH1 (the H presumably being for “HD video”).  frontBasically the same as the G1, the GH1 adds video capabilities, along with (surprisingly) a new sensor, which can be optimized for various aspect ratios, ala the LX3 -cool!

The real excitement though is the new lenses – a 14-150 (28-200 mm equiv.) superzoom and a 7-14 (14-28mm equiv.) ultrawide.    The 14-150 is supposed to be optimized for video as well.

I dunno about you, but to me the GH1 with the 14-150 and upcoming 20/1.7 lenses might just be the ultimate “travel/carryaround” camera setup.  (unless Pentax does in fact announce an EVIL that can use their pancake primes. )

Samsung gets E.V.I.L.!

From the “where did that come from” files – Apparently Samsung just announced the development of a new hybrid/EVIL (Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens) camera at PMA scheduled for the 2nd half of ’09. *with a full size APS-C sensor*

Seems like the success of the G1 is driving the industry, which is fantastic! There have been a lot of folks clamoring for something like this for a long time.

Of particular interest is the fact that samsung uses the Pentax K-mount for their SLRs, meaning that this camera could potentially work with the full range of K-mount lenses.   A EVIL hybrid camera with the ability to use some amazing Pentax glass would basically be my dream camera.

The real question is, is Pentax going to have one of their own?  (cue the “me kicking myself for selling my incredible Pentax primes”)

EDIT: more images HERE: (Drool!)