Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Fuji X100 in My Hands

"And then I realized, like I was shot! Like I was shot with a diamond … a diamond bullet right through my forehead. And I thought: My God, the genius of that! The genius!"
-Col. Walter E. Kurtz, Apocalypse Now!

The Beginning...
I’ve been an enthusiastic fan of the FinePix X100 camera ever since Fuji unveiled the it back in 2010. I immediately found the optical viewfinder, the fast high-quality lens, the larger size sensor, and the rangefinder styling to be very attractive features that on their own would make the camera worthy of ownership. Based on those features alone, I knew back then that I would own the camera. However, after a succession of promising high-end fixed-lens point-and-shoot cameras had appeared under the new product spotlight over the years and then receded into the shadows dragging their failings along with them, I was a skeptical and somewhat cynical consumer. So, when Fuji announced the camera MSRP, I decided to be cautious and hold off on purchasing the camera until I had seen some of the initial usage reports. I also wanted to see the review for the camera (I was very keen on seeing the high ISO performance). I painfully pulled myself off of every online waiting list for the camera and hunkered down into lurk mode for the fallout.

The initial reports looked great, and everything seemed to shake out positively for the X100—even though the camera didn't receive the highly valued 'Recommended' rating from Despite some of the minor concerns detailed in the review, I placed an order for the camera. I had yet to physically see or handle the camera, but I really wanted it. That desire didn't make the decision to purchase it any easier. The camera is quite a financial commitment for the hobbyist and amateur, and immediately after consummating the online order with Amazon, I began to have those nagging buyer’s remorse-type regrets. Fortunately (I reasoned), I ordered the camera while it was in an out-of-stock status, so I estimated that I had a wait period of about a month or two to reconsider my decision and, if necessary, cancel the order.

The Middle (Wait Period)...
Not long into the wait period, I had my first opportunity to handle the X100. I was shooting at an outdoor event in San Francisco when I ran into an online photo buddy who had the camera in one of those gorgeous red leather cases made by Luxecase.

Even beneath the case, the ergonomics of the camera called out to me. I’m really big on camera ergonomics, and I can't help but compare every camera to the camera that I consider to be the ultimate shooting machine, a Leica M. Luckily, on this day, I was able to get a direct comparison between the two cameras, and the X100 made an immediate and lasting impression on me during that very first handling.

I had been shooting that morning with a Leica MP (and a Cosina Voigtlander Color Skopar 35/2.5), so my hand was nicely conformed to the MP body. When I was handed the X100, it was a quick exchange between the two cameras. “Wow!” I was instantly impressed by how the X100 fit and how my MP-contorted hand fell naturally around the camera. I couldn’t spend a lot of time with the camera, because other local photographers were queuing up for a chance to hold it. I reluctantly passed the camera along, but the feel of the camera, the contours, the weight, the positioning of the shutter release and top-mounted dials had a comfortable familiarity.

A few days later, I had a chance to spend some more time with the camera when a friend brought it to our quarterly photo-print group meeting. The camera sidetracked us for about 20 minutes, but it was great to handle it again and confirm that same ‘perfect fit’ feel—this time on a naked camera with a modified Thumbs Up attachment.

I was able to spend a little more time investigating the viewfinder and playing with the manual focus ring. The fellow who brought the camera also does a fair amount candid street-style shooting, so I got some feedback from him about how the camera handled for this type of shooting. We talked a little about the auto-ISO and dynamic range settings, and by the end of this second encounter, I was convinced that camera was going to work out for me. I checked the order status on and found the camera had already shipped.
The Camera in My Hands...
When I received the camera, I took the advice of some online reviewers and set aside a block of time to go through the user’s guide. According to some accounts, the Fuji menu system on this camera is difficult and unintuitive. Hmmm. Maybe it’s the ‘internet bugaboo effect’ of magnifying complaints, or maybe it’s because I already own a Fuji point-and-shoot camera—I think it’s more the former—but those concerns about the menus are a load of nonsense. The menu system on the X100 is much simpler—structure-wise—than what I’ve seen on a Nikon DSLR or even a Canon G11. Of course, the Canon is a feature-laden point-and-shoot, which has a lot to do with it.

In fact, whilst rooting around in the X100 menus, it struck me with just how little there is to this camera. Beyond the high-level features (the hybrid OVF, the great lens, the large sensor, and the RF styling and ergonomics), which (again) are very nice on their own, there really isn't much by way of special features. Sure, I knew this already from reviewing the camera specs, but you become very (almost painfully) aware of this when you have the camera in-hand.

The reviewer at seem to address this as well. He thought that certain standard-type features such as face detection should not have been left off the camera. Initially, I agreed with that conclusion. Of course, there are features that are somewhat unique and certainly interesting about the camera. For example, I think I’m going to really like the dynamic range settings, the RAW button on the back of the camera, the ND filter, and the leveling line, but beyond that I can imagine that there isn't much to entertain the buyer who likes a lot of bells and whistles. One can't help but wonder where all the $1200 USD (MSRP) went.

The Diamond Bullet...
After owning a an MFT camera and a slew of high-end compact digital cameras, I was a bit disappointed with the meager feature set, until I showed the camera to a couple of photographer friends who are outside the target audience for the X100. After a brief introduction to the high-level features and some camera fondling and ogling, we sat with the X100 sitting on the table in front of us. Then one of them asked, "So, what else can it do?".

I had to pause, because the question was based on the supposition that a camera needed to do more than enable (enhance) a positive shooting experience and produce good-looking image files. One could argue that features (features!) enhance the shooting experience, but really that's a determination for the purchaser and the intended audience/end-user. An abundance of features means one thing to the buyer of a compact camera and something else to a professional shooting with a DSLR.

Then, like a diamond bullet to my forehead, I remembered what I wanted from this camera, and really, what I had wanted from every digital compact and MFT camera I’d ever owned. The remembrance shook off all my previous digital photographic experience like rain from a raincoat. What I really want this camera to do is to perform—as closely as possible—like a rangefinder camera. I want to be able to shoot a digital camera the same way I shoot a film RF camera--quickly and with as much control as possible. And, aside from a Nikon DSLR that I purchased several years ago to photograph my kids sporting events, that goal has been the impetus for my excursion into digital photography up to this point.

I didn't buy my digital compact and an MFT camera, because I wanted or needed them for any particular purpose (yes, I have found the situations where these cameras function at their best, and I use them in those situations). I bought these cameras because I saw in them the possibility of using them as I would a film camera, because I want that same experience every time I shoot with a camera. And, really that's what this niche market, the target audience for the X100, is primarily about, quality output, rangefinder camera-like handling, and film camera performance.

So, after failing to achieve that single purpose by trying to coax RF camera performance out of my Canon G11--through a seemingly endless combination of settings and features (including face detection)--and by twisting a seemingly endless number of M-mount lenses onto my Panasonic G1, I now hold in my hands the Fuji FinePix X100. The camera hits on a lot of RF-like points, great ergonomics, an excellent lens, bare-bones feature set, manual control, fantastic high ISO performance, an f-stop ring, and an honest-to-goodness viewfinder. Straight out of the box--and aside from a Leica M8 or an M9 (neither of which I can afford)--this is the first camera that comes the closest to achieving that wonderful goal. Could this be the camera that allows me (us!) to achieve that end? The best test for determining this is (as always) usage.

To be continued....

Photo of camera in red Luxecase belongs to Gary Hagan.
Photo of camera with Thumbs Up attachment belongs to Jamie Pillars

Monday, June 06, 2011

Fuji X100: Clamoring for Imperfection

Well, the Fuji Finepix X100 is finally a released product, and after a delay in shipping (because of the earthquake/tsunami disaster in Japan), the camera is in the hands of early adopters and getting a real-world shakedown. Sample images and usage reports are appearing in online galleries and forums, and, the highly respected digital camera site recently posted their much anticipated assessment of the camera. All this feedback confirms what a lot of us thought it would; the optical viewfinder, the lens, and the camera ergonomics are excellent. The feedback also confirms what a lot of us hoped it would; the camera image quality (IQ) and high ISO performance are also proving to be exceptional. So that’s it then. The camera appears to be a success.

Well, hold on now. Delving a little deeper into the Dpreview report, we find that the reviewer found a lot of (what I’ll call) "nagging issues". These are seemingly less significant issues (certainly less significant than the bigger issues of IQ, high ISO, lens performance, and ergonomics), but they are issues nonetheless. And as every photographer who has ever had to deal with cryptic menus, fiddly buttons, or buried functions will attest, when it comes to digital cameras, the devil is in the details, or more precisely, it’s the little things that end up impacting the user experience the most. However, most of us usually put up with the few minor nagging inconveniences inherent in every camera, because (again) as every photographer will attest, there is no perfect camera. And, from all accounts the X100 is not a perfect camera, yet, the clamor for the X100 within its target market is nothing short of impressive.

Here is an imperfect camera—and there are a lot of people outside of the target market who will point out its deficiencies—that the projected end-user simply cannot wait to get into their hands. At the time of this writing, the camera is back-ordered at every online outlet. I called one of the big online photo retailers and spoke to an exasperated representative who admitted that the wait list was several hundred deep and that every other call was an inquiry about the X100. Combine this with the buzz the camera is creating at online forums, and it’s obvious that Fuji really nailed this one. They listened to their target market and came up with a winner.

I guess that begs the question: who is the target market? Who is this end-user that is clamoring for an imperfect camera? Well, I won’t attempt to define the market, because if you’re in the target market, you know it. And, if you can find no appeal in what Fuji is offering with the X100, if you find yourself incredulous over $1200 USD for a fixed lens camera, and if your incessant pixel-peeping forces you to bemoan the imperceptible presence of mustache distortion, then you are not part of the target market.

If you’re convinced that you are part of the target market—but your rooting around in spec-sheets cannot allow you to get past the imperfections of the X100—then you need to step away from the in-depth online reviews and come to the realization that the perfect camera does not exist, and, more importantly, it’s not coming—especially if you continue to look at every new camera at the level that doesn’t allow you to see the forest for the trees. At that granular level, no camera will ever be perfect enough. What you need to do is feel this camera, pick it up and look through the viewfinder, because if you’ve chased through the MFT and NEX systems and countless point-and-shoot and compact cameras in search of that one quality, you’ll know you’ve found it when the Fuji X100 lands in your hands.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Steidl Books

If you're a browser or a collector of photography books, then chances are you've seen or you own a book by the publisher, Steidl. For me, the name Steidl is a mark of guaranteed quality. I have never worried about book print or construction quality when I'm "blindly" buying or ordering a Steidl book online or from a bookseller, and repeatedly without fail, I have yet to be disappointed. Of course, that kind of consistency can only come from a publisher with a passion for high quality fine art printing. As a recent NY Times article attests, Gerhardt Steidl has that kind of passion.
Here's a look at the inner workings of the Steidl publishing house in Gottingen, Germany.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

It's No Toy. It's the Nikki NK-2626 Camera!

OK. I’m not going to waste too much time on this, but I feel obligated to make this post. When I first relaized that this camera was coming to me, I immediately began to search for information. I knew nothing about the camera and found very little information online. I’m sure I wasn’t the first, nor will I be the last to try to find information on the Nikki NK-2626 35mm camera.

First of all, the camera is marketed under a couple of different names. Here are a handful of the names that I’ve come across:
  • Nikki NK-2626
  • SUNNY S-2000
  • Olempia Big Royal Camera
  • Olympia DL-9000
  • Olympia GM8426

First Impression

My intial impression (before actually holding the camera) was that the Nikki NK-2626 was a ‘toy camera’--a camera aimed at the toy-camera enthusiast market. That intrigued me. Since having the opportunity to inspect the camera, I’ve come to the conclusion that the NK-2626 is not a toy camera at all—at least not in the same sense as the Holga or the Diana camera. The Nikki definitely falls into the same low-cost camera bracket (however, it is more stoutly built and has a tad more sophistication). Instead I think it's accurate to view the camera as a cheap Chinese knock-off of an SLR, and probably more accurate to view it as a cheap Chinese knock-off of someone’s idea of an SLR camera, an exploitation of a real 35mm SLR. That alone could endear the camera to some folks, and I have to admit that holding the camera in my hand and inspecting it up close did generate a very brief photographically-illicit cheap thrill sensation. The camera is covered with hints and claims seemingly designed to fool the clueless into believing the camera is something considerably more than what it actually is (a big motor-driven point-and-shoot camera). It doesn't take much photographic knowledge to 'get' the inside joke of such claims as 'red-eye reduction' and the center circle line in the view finder.

Regardless, with the flash attached and fully loaded with batteries, the camera has decent heft. It has a good right-side grip and a clear viewfinder. The motor drive is l-o-u-d, as is the self-timer beep, which is probably one of the most annoying beeping sound I've ever heard. There's definitely nothing stealthy about the NK-2626. If you want a camera that announces your arrival, then the Nikki NK-2626 is your camera.

NOTE: The weather hasn’t been very agreeable for camera testing, so I’ve not had a chance to shoot this camera. I found a couple of samples on Flickr, but it’s difficult to get a feel for what the camera can produce. I'm in no rush to shoot with this camera, but when I do, I'll post some images here.

The Nikki NK-2626 35mm camera

The camera has 50/6.3 lens. This shot shows the lens set at the maximum aperture (f6.3).

To adjust the aperture to one of the other two settings (f8 or f11), twist the outer knurled ring.

The f-stops are also designated by little weather report-type icons, cloudy (f6.3), partially cloudy (f8), and sunny (f11).
There's a three position switch with settings for off, on, and rewind. The camera is motor-driven, so there isn't a film advance lever or a rewind knob.

On top of the camera there's a waist-level finder. The image through the finder is really distorted. It's not very good, and I'm not sure that there's much value in this "feature", really.

Below is a shot through the viewfinder. There's a frame line and a center circle line. There isn't auto-focus or a meter on this camera, so there really is no purpose to the center circle line, except to indicate frame center for framing.

Here's a front-side detail. There's a self timer, and a red-eye reduction claim. The only red-eye reduction feature on this camera is the side/bracket-mount flash.

That's it. That's the Nikki NK-2626 35mm camera.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Love Film, Love a Holga – From Hater to Lover

Mention the Holga camera to a group of photographers and you’re likely to get many different opinions. Cool. Hip. A cheap waste of time. Overpriced junk. Supporters are likely to show you their cameras, bragging about its idiosyncrasies, pointing out a pinhole light leak, or the special marking that identifies a particular camera within a stable of cameras. Detractors are likely to sneer haughtily or dismiss the camera as doofus-hipster junk. Likewise, in the squeaky clean world of digital capture there isn’t much love for the messy imperfection of the low fidelity (lo-fi) aesthetic, of which the Holga camera is the flagship. For a time, I counted myself as a detractors. I’ve since come to terms with the toy camera and lo-fi aesthetic, and now I count myself as a supporter. I love shooting with film, so I have learned to appreciate the Holga. The camera is energizing a whole new generation of film users. That means more people discovering the magic of using film, which in turn means a continued demand for film and film-related products.

I was first introduced to the idea of using toy cameras as a ‘serious’ photographic tool back in the early 80’s when a close friend of mine showed me his recently acquired Diana camera. He passionately explained the unique peculiarities and possibilities of the blue and black plastic camera. It was cool, and it seemed like fun. But then he loftily announced his intention to use it exclusively to explore the depths of photographic expression for our upcoming photography class. I had my doubts about how successful he would be. At the time, I remember being impressed that the toy camera movement was fairly well established, and by extension so was the lo-fi aesthetic. I had to admit that there was a definite appeal to the atmospheric images and to the push-back attitude that thumbed its nose at the zone system mentality that permeated our photographic education back then. However, despite being intrigued and partially aligned with what I saw, I was having none of it, for two reasons.

First, the thought of using a plastic toy camera for serious photographic study was incomprehensible. I wanted real quality gear, and I wanted it so badly that couldn’t conceive of settling for anything less than what I had. My thought process was something like “life is too short to not shoot with real glass or a real camera”. It was only onward and upward for me. Besides, one would never be taken seriously shooting with a toy camera, so why bother? However, my opinion changed significantly when my friend used the camera to take a prize in a local photography competition.

Second, the thing that bothered me the most about the Diana camera was the one quality that made it so desirable, its uniqueness. Because of the out-of-control manufacturing variables (particularly with regard to the lens), each camera that tumbled off the assembly line was unique. If you happened to get a ‘special’ one (having the right amount of lens distortion, flaring, vignetting, or light leak), you could make art. You were an instant artist. You didn’t need talent, skill, or the craft required for special processes, you just needed to know where to point your ‘special’ camera. For this reason, I considered the camera more of a gimmick. I admit that I still exhibit a lingering bit of snobbery toward all things photographically ‘gimmicky’ (I still struggle with the Lensbaby!), but back in those days, I relegated the Diana camera to the same low level of esteem as the dreaded star filters.

I admit to the error of that line of thinking. After all, it is not uncommon for photographers (including this one) to chase the quality and the unique characteristics of cameras and lenses. For example, if you’ve followed this blog at all, then you know that I’ve developed a fondness for shooting with c-mount lenses on my MFT camera. And really, is this any different than being fond of the characteristics produced by a toy camera? I don’t think so. The same goes for those ‘bokeh-chasing’ photographers, who spend thousands on a piece of glass so they can shoot it wide open and leverage the special qualities of the out-of-focus area. So yes, in the years since that first introduction, I’ve learned to open my heart to the Diana and other cameras of its ilk. I’ve long since shed those prejudices toward toy cameras, and I am no longer a hater.

Instead, I have grown to appreciate toy cameras, not so much for what they are, but for what they represent. For me, the toy camera movement, and especially the Holga camera, represents the persistence of the appeal of using film as a means of creative expression. The toy camera movement is not so much about the camera as it is about film, discovering film, shooting film, and enjoying the magic of it. Obviously, the camera makes all this possible.

Over the last decade or so, most film-camera manufacturers have succumbed to the pressure of the digital marketplace and scuttled their remaining film camera production. Sure, you can still buy a new metal and glass film camera from a very few select manufacturers, but the pickings are slim and expensive. However, the toy camera and lo-fi aesthetic remains afloat and in-production—thanks to a dedicated user base and a few dedicated outlets.

The main outlet for toy cameras,, has a full range of new cameras with wide variations in design—including special edition collector cameras. It’s easy to see that the site appeals to a younger/youthful market. The result of this marketing is that the Lomo brand has produced an exuberant and dedicated following amongst this younger group of photographers—all of whom are using film.

Indeed for some, the Holga camera was their first introduction to film, and perhaps this explains why this group seems to have a freshly different perspective with regard to film than the photographers of previous generations. The biggest step to getting people to shoot film is to actually get them to want to shoot with film. These new users, who are coming of age photographically in a world with numerous image capture options, want to shoot film, and they seem to have a far more positive outlook about film. A lot of the ‘older’ generation of photographers that I know abandoned film as soon as digital photography became ‘good enough’. Their abandonment was wholeheartedly complete and in some instances downright vengeful. One would think that film had caused them years of pain and suffering. For the newer generation of film users, film is fun, because the camera makes it fun. It’s different. It’s easy, because the camera makes it so.

As a result of all this fun, these younger photographers are discovering the creative possibilities of film, and often they are film’s most fervent adherents. For some the appeal might simply be the contrary nature of shooting film in a digital world. For others, it’s a dedication to something requiring a degree of craft, of process, of effort, or it might simply be a love affair with film itself.

Since exploring film with their Holgas, many have moved past the camera and are exploring the photographic possibilities of shooting with higher quality metal and glass equipment. I see younger photographers shooting on the street with old SLR and rangefinder cameras all the time. I also see a lot of medium format cameras as well (because of the familiarity of the format used with the Holga camera). Of course, I still see the occasional Holga, and when I do I pay my respects by thinking good thoughts.

As easy as it might be to dismiss the lo-fi plastic toy-camera movement as gimmicky hipster-chic, it’s hard to fault the success of the camera for kindling the magic of shooting film for a new generation of photographers. It might be selfishness on my part (ultimately, the more people using film the better for all film users), but it makes me happy to see that when film is presented as an option, people will choose to use it, especially if there's a camera that can make it possible.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Tiny C-mount Lenses on MFT Camera

One of the cool things about c-mount lenses is their size. Some are very small. If you're a rangefinder camera user (as I am), or if you're into the MFT system because it offers RF-like functionality (again, as I am) then this is probably something you'll find appealing (small fast lenses on compact bodies is a highly valued combination for RF users, because it facilitates quick discreet shooting in a wide variety of lighting situations, which is great for shooting in a photo-journalistic fashion (e.g., street photgraphy) or taking candid photos). However, all is not rosy and perfect. These little lenses can have their drawbacks, some of which can affect how you end up shooting with them.

My recent c-mount lens hunting and gathering produced these two beauties, which are ridiculously small.

Wollensak Cine Velostigmat 1-Inch f3.5

Wollensak-Keystone Cine Raptar 1-Inch f2.5

I pulled The slower lens, the f3.5, off a Keystone A3 16mm camera. The Keystone A3 is one of those wind-up pill-shaped movie cameras. The other lens (f2.5) also has a 'Keystone' designation (on the lens), and although I haven't yet verified it, I'm guessing that this lens was attached to a similar type camera.

Both of these lenses are considered normal focal lengths for 16mm film (they are 1-inch or about 25 mm). So, one would think that these normal lenses coupled to a MFT camera using a c-mount adapter would work without a hitch. But they don't, and this brings up a point (or two) about dealing in the wild world of c-mount lenses.

About the only thing standard with the c-mount "standard" seems to be the mount width and the thread (pitch, etc.). Also, while it's convenient to think of c-mount as the mount for 16mm film cameras, it is also the mount used for video and CCTV cameras, and these formats can have their own normal focal-length lenses. Sensor sizes vary considerably, so be careful when bidding on auctions or when hunting and gathering video and CCTV c-mount lenses.

These two lenses present a couple of issues of which one should be wary when purchasing or gathering c-mount lenses, particularly older 16mm lenses. First, just because the mount is a standard don't assume that the lens will work with a MFT camera and adapter. Case in point, note the thread depth of the lens on the left in the photo below compared to the thread depth of the lens on the right.

The thread for the lens on the left (the f3.5) is too long for a MFT camera. From the base of the lens, the thread extends about 4-5 mm. When attaching this lens, it threads past the adapter and contacts the beveled interior of the camera. In the photo below, you can see where the lens rubbed up against the camera interior.

Forcing the lens to mount flush with the adapter certainly would have damaged something, so when mounted, the lens sits away from the camera.

On the other hand, the thread for the f2.5 lens extends around 2.5-3 mm. This lens screws in firmly and sits flush with the adapter.

None of this really matters, because if you look closely at these two little beauties, you'll notice something is missing. Yup, there isn't a focus ring. These are both fixed focus lenses. The f2.5 lens doesn't provide an in-focus image at any distance, and the f3.5 lens—by virtue of its inability to mount through to the adapter—provides a focus distance of about 10-12 inches. So, what does one do? How does one use these lenses on an MFT camera?

Well, to focus the f3.5 lens, I unscrew the front element.

The f2.5 lens doesn't have a detachable front element, so I focus the lens by unscrewing it from the adapter.

This actually works quite well—in both instances—and probably more so with the f3.5 lens, because the threads on the lens are finer than the mounting thread. With the f2.5 lens I can focus the lens very precisely, but the amount of slop in the threads means that I have to either "focus" the lens and allow it to 'hang' from the mount, or I can hold the lens firmly against the mount as I focus. The difference between the two techniques produces significantly different focus points. I prefer the latter method.

With both lenses the processes can get a little fiddly as the aperture ring and the mounting (in the case of the f3.5 lens) have a tendency to move as well. The amount of dexterity required can slow down shooting considerable, and one loses that RF-like advantage of shooting quickly with small fast lenses.

As an alternative to loosening the front element or the mount, another possible way to focus these lenses is by using shims or extenders and setting an acceptable fixed-focus distance. One can then refer to a DoF scale to determine an in-focus range and use the camera as a fixed-focus point-and-shoot—that is, use the lens as it was probably intended.

This method is more applicable with the f2.5 lens than the f3.5 lens, because the latter lens is already "shimmed" by virtue of its inability to mount completely—hence the 10-12 inch focus point.

I picked up a couple of shims, a 1 mm and a .5 mm and three 5mm extenders.

With the shims, I can get focus points of about 6'8" with the .5 mm shim and 3'4" with the 1 mm shim.
The .5 mm shim at a higher f-stop could be very usable for shooting as a fixed-focus point-and-shoot. (I'd really like to pick up a shim or create one that will allow me to set the focus at infinity.)

With the three 5 mm shims I can get six inches with one, three inches with two, and 1.5 inches with three.

Obviously, the macro possibilities when using extenders is interesting.

So, these diminutive little lenses have an appeal, but they have their drawbacks—the least of which is the odd looks you might get from the DSLR crowd (we RF users are used to that mild annoyance). Compatibility and focusing could be an issue, and these are things one should consider carefully. In the end, what good are these little lenses if one can't use them for the intended purpose. Of course, the real appeal of c-mount lenses is the signature they are capable of producing, and it's really one of the biggest reasons to delve into c-mount-to-MFT.

The two lenses discussed here compared to a focus-capable Wollensak 25/1.5.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Woe to Film Users

The following chart shows the price of silver over the last five or so years.

It's the same chart that is using in an open letter to their customers announcing an 8-18% increase in film prices.

Friday, February 04, 2011

C-mount Lenses /Camera Photos

I've been posting images here and on Flickr from the c-mount lenses I've been using on my m4/3 Panasonic Lumix G1. Here are the lenses mounted on the camera.

Lytar SOM Berthiot 25/1.8

Lytar SOM Berthiot 16/2.8

Kodak Cine Ektar 63/2

The lens is attached to the camera with a
s-to-c mount adapter.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Curse of Film

A Portion of my latest order from Freestyle

There's a show on TV about hoarding. I've never watched it, but I've seen the commercials for it. I'm pretty sure I don't have to see the show. I get the gist. It's about people who "collect" a lot of one kind of thing. They collect it in a desperate, maniacal fashion, and soon things gets to the point where it's obvious to others that there's a problem.

For example, I saw one commercial for the show that featured a woman who hoards cats. There's a shot of the woman standing in her kitchen surrounded by hundreds of meowing cats. It's obvious that things are out-of-square in her life.

I was accused of hoarding recently when a co-worker saw my freshly delivered Freestyle order of eight cans of 100' 35mm Arista Premium film. I felt a bit silly and afflicted as I tried to explain the how and why. There was pity in his eyes as I described the dwindling supply of film and the narrowing of film options by the film manufacturing greats, Kodak and Fuji.

"Well, supply is dwindling..." I began to explain.
"But you said film is not dead." He said.

He was referencing another conversation we had when I made that proclamation in reply to his accusation that I just couldn't let go of film. He had suggested that film was dead, and that I and everyone like me needed to let it go, let it die.

"If it's not dead, then what's the rush, why hoard the stuff?" he asked.
"I'm not hoarding." I said.
I checked the space behind me for cats.
"I'm stocking up." I added.

He was persistent, just like everyone else who seems to want the demise of film.

"So was there a sale on this stuff?" he asked, picking up one of the cans and examining the label with a disgusted look.
I relieved him of the offending object and placed it back in the stack with its brethren.

"No." I replied.
"Well, sort of.."

You see, it's been a worst kept secret amongst film photographers for some time now that Freestyle's Arista Premium films are actually rebranded and repackaged Kodak film. Specifically, Arista Premium 400 is allegedly Tri-X, and Premium 100 is supposedly Plus-X. Many swear by this. On a couple of forums, the tale has persisted about the friends of friends who have the ability to test and compare the emulsions of both the Arista films and Kodak films using "scientific methods".
From a post on RFF:
Arista Premium IS plus-x. There's no question it is, the film is American Made, has the same dev times as Plus-X and there were even a couple of chemists on APUG who tested the emulsion scientifically and determined it was chemically identical to plus-x. Arista Premium 400 is Tri-X and was verified the same way.
There's also the group who are out shooting and working with the film (including yours truly) and who have noted the similarity. If that's not enough, then Freestyle's shrouded message on their website about "a new partnership with a major film manufacturer" should get the ol' conspiracy juices flowing.

So assuming this is Kodak film rebranded, and comparing the prices of the film at Freesyle, one would be a fool not to at least pause before adding a can of Kodak Tri-X or Plux=X to one's cart. In both cases, Arista Premium by comparison is heavily discounted. For example, Premium 100 lists at $34.99, and Kodak Plus-X lists at $69.99 (!!!).

So, yes. It's kind of like getting the film "on sale".

"But that's the regular price." my co-worker deduced.
"Yup!" I announced proudly.
"Is the stuff being discontinued?" he asked.
"Going on a trip to some remote location?"
"Then you are hoarding!" he countered, as if announcing checkmate.

I had to make a quick decision. Would I allow myself to be pegged as a hoarder, or would I have to uncover my deep-seated fear that indeed I do envision a day when film would be clinically dead?

The cat lady appeared in my mind's eye with her parallelogram life of service to a one-hundred-headed meowing monster.

I hung my head. There was a way out. The truth was best.

"I acted on a rumor." I admitted.
"So, I stocked up."

On the same (previously mentioned) photo forum, a rumor popped up that Freestyle was about to show 'no stock' on their Arista Premium films. The word was that the company was selling Kodak back stock, and now, the back stock had run out. The supply listed was to be the last. Acting accordingly—as a panicky user would—I made the order for the eight cans of film. It was all I could afford at the time. Otherwise, I would probably have drained their supply and my bank account.

"Admit it." my co-worker insisted.
"Film is dead."

I'll never understand why this is so important to these people. What joy can they possible find from the demise of film? What joy can they find from the loss of pure magic? Have they never exposed and processed a roll of Tri-X in an elixir of D-76 or some other solvent developer? Have they never imagined the fizzing violence of the developer activity occurring on the microscopic level? Have they never pulled a freshly developed roll from a developing reel and held it up to the light? Have they never exposed a negative onto a piece of paper fat with silver and slid it into a tray of developer? Have they never seen the magic of the image appearing in the safety of a darkroom, and rushed a out into the light with a wet print glistening in a tray?

Have they seen a silver print hanging on a wall emitting a light of its own? Even barring all of that experience, have these people ever really looked at or held a strip of negatives in their hands and realized the preciousness.

What is wrong with these people?  I've come to the conclusion that this is proof that pure evil does exist. This bug-eyed enthusiastic anticipation for the demise of film is like a mad pack hunt for the last unicorn.

Yes, I fear for film. I fear for a time when Tri-X, Acros, Plus-X, and other films will be unavailable. We've already seen manufacturers such as Kodak and Fuji cut their lines to a select few film types, and it certainly feels as if they will be out of the business all together. There is much flux in the film manufacturing segment. Film is not dead, but the offerings will dwindle even further and the prices will increase. Those who wish to continue to use film will be able to do so, I feel certain of that. So, as I maintained in my conversation with my co-worker,

"Film is not dead." I said. "And, I am not a hoarder."

I don't have an affliction. It's more like a curse. You see, I'm of the generation that grew up in a film-only world. For me, for a while, film was all there was. I have that experience. I know the magic. I want the magic to continue, and I am guilty of panicing on that level alone.

I know people who have shot film and have left it completely to shoot digital. I also know those who shoot both film and digital (including yours truly). I know those who have left digital frustrated and returned to film, and I know newcomers to the craft who are discovering the film process for the first time (they are often film's most ardent supporters). There's digital, and I use it, but I will shoot film for as long as I can.

Long live film!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Some C-Mount-to-micro 4/3 Results

Continuing with c-mount lenses on my Panasonic Lumix G1 (ยต4/3 camera), here are some results and commentary.

The first two images were made with a Lytar SOM Berthiot 25/1.8. I think these images are indicative of what is appealing about shooting with c-mount lenses. Note the vignetting, the color saturation, and the smooth bokeh that has a tendency to get 'swirly' in busy areas.

The vignetting is a result of the focal length. Wider focal lengths seem to produce the strongest vignetting, and the 25mm focal length seems to offer a nice trade-off.

The Lytar SOM Berthiot 16/2.8 vignettes pretty fiercely (sample below). I've also shot with a Wollensak 17/2.5 that produced similar results. The vignette look of both lenses lenses has a 'tunnel vision' effect. I've not played much with either lens to be able to discern whether the lenses offer or add much value within the image area. I've seen wider lenses that offer a distinct fish-eye effect.

I'm not finding much value in the 'tunnel vision' effect. I prefer the coverage, and, going forward, I'll probably avoid any c-mount lens wider than 25mm or 20mm.

Here's the Lytar 16/2.8.

Noting the flare, I think the lens might have some fungus or lens damage. I haven't been able to determine the condition. The lens elements are very small and the front side is deeply set within the lens, so I haven't been able to evaluate the condition nor confirm that my cleaning is thorough enough. However, this is an improvement from the first few shots with the lens.

The next images were made with the Kodak Ektar Cine 63/2 lens (more images available in an earlier post). Notice the lack of vignetting.

This is an interesting lens. It's pretty sharp and the bokeh is rather nice. It's an all-metal lens with a length around 3.75 inches (less the hood and including the removable s-to-c-mounting), but the weight is very manageable on my G1. The lens has eight blades, and the close-focus marking on the lens is 24 inches. I'm thinking this lens can probably be had at auction for cheap, so if you would like to try a fast longer lens in a c-mount, keep your eye out for this one.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

CES Video Shot Through Fuji X100 Viewfinder

More on the Fuji X100. It looks like the camera is on-target for its march release.

Here's a video from CES shot through the Fuji X100 viewfinder:

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Voice From Beyond - More on the Maier Story

I don't normally post twice in one day, but I had to get this out there. It's nice to see and hear Mr. Maloof. All Maloof naysayers need to see this. I think he comes off as genuine and sincere. At points he appears to be in over his head with regard to photography and art, and at other times, he appears to be quite savvy with regard to his find and his responsibility. I don't envy the tasks he has before him, especially when I see him scanning this work on an Epson V750 (the same scanner I have). His setup is not unlike mine, and, as I stated in a previous post, I know what a grind it can be.

The real treat in this YouTube video is hearing the voice of Ms Maier herself. The excerpt strangely foreshadows this incredible story.


Is there no end to the fun and versatility of mirror-less digital camera systems? Besides being diminutive cameras with image quality on par with larger and heftier DSLR cameras, the current batch of mirror-less systems support an impressive number of adapters that allow you to attach non-native lenses to the camera's mount. This opens up these systems to an impressive selection of lenses.

For example, I have an M-mount adapter and an F-mount adapter for my Panasonic Lumix G1. Those adapters allow me to attach Leica and Nikon-compatible lenses (respectively) to the camera. I recently acquired a C-mount adapter ($20 off eBay). This adapter allows me to attach and shoot with cine and CCTV lenses.

I probably wouldn't have bothered with the C-mount adapter if I didn't already have a Bolex 16mm camera with three C-mount lenses sticking to the front of it. I'm glad I did bother, because for me the adapter has opened up a new world of exciting optical possibilities .

The photos below show my Bolex camera with two of the three lenses attached. I'm shooting with the third lens, a Kodak Ektar Cine 63/2.

The other lenses are Lytar SOM Berthiots. One is a 25/1.8 and the other is a 16/2.8.

There are a lot of C-mount lenses out there (both new and used/older)—many with names I've never heard or with names that I haven't heard mentioned in over 20 years.  While I'm just beginning to understand the characteristics of these lenses on my m4/3 system, one of the things I've noticed is C-mount lenses are fast. Generally, most of the lenses I've come across in my online viewing and research land in the f0.95 - f2.8 range. I'm sure there are slower C-mount lenses, but it's the lenses in this range that are creating a stir.

From what I've seen, the quality of these lenses can run the gamut from Holga-ish to Leica- and Zeiss-like. The results have been impressive.The effects range from images with heavy vignetting and flare-y softness to 3D-like images with creamy smooth bokeh supporting razor-sharp in-focus areas. Images with seemingly impossible DoF shifts and images with spot color saturation are not uncommon either.

The photographic world pretty much caught on to the c-mount rage a while ago, so if you're looking to pick up a couple of these lenses, you can expect to pay a premium or engage in some heavy bidding wars. Regardless, as of this writing, the lenses are still a bargain compared to what you might pay for fast lenses in other mounts. However, as I stated above, there are a lot of these lenses out there, so there are also a lot of unknowns. Do your research and know what you're getting. It can be difficult to assess what you can expect from a C-mount lens on a mirror-less system. This is where a service such as Flickr is invaluable. The site has groups dedicated to C-mount lenses, and it's in these groups where you can find the image samples you need to help you make a decision. You can leverage the efforts of those brave souls who venture into the unknown and scoop up some no-name CCTV lens.

If you are going this route, remember that mirror-less systems have a crop factor. In the case of the m4/3 the crop factor is 2x. A lot of the current samples in online groups are 25mm lenses.

If you're interested in checking out some images created with C-mount lenses, then I recommend starting at the Flickr group, C-Mount on Micro 4/3. And once you get to shooting with your C-mount lens, do us all a favor and share your results.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

The Fuji X100, Vivian Maier, etc.

Here's a post about the Fuji X100 at CES.

I've also added a couple of links to the Link section.

Particularly of interest is the link to the blog site for the late Vivian Maier. If you're a photographer who 'gets around' online (e.g., forums or Facebook), then it's doubtful that you haven't heard of Vivian Maier. Vivian Maier was a  mid-twentieth century Chicago street photographer, who shot a lot, processed little, and did even less to promote her finished work.

Apparently, the blog's author, also a photographer, came across a stash of her negatives just after her death, and, when he realized the value of his find, he decided to put forth an effort to get the work seen. And why not? The images are very good and obviously have some historical significance.

Unfortunately, Ms. Maier also left behind several hundred unprocessed rolls of 120 film—without processing instructions—so the author has his work cut out for him. The job of processing, scanning, and prepping the images is no small feat. I know the amount of effort required for this undertaking. It is time consuming. I also know the immense amount of effort that was  required on Ms Maier's part, the hours spent on the street looking and shooting.That's a lot of combined effort on both parts, a lot of responsibility on his part. So far, the author has done a good job and has produced some beautiful scans.

For his effort, the author is looking to compensate himself through the presentation of the work and the retelling of Ms. Maier's life story. And again, why not? He owns the negatives, and he could end up expending a lot of money on this venture. Besides, he purchased the negatives and probably would lke a return on his investment.

Regardless, his self promotion has brought him before the inevitable tribunal of the internet judges, who as always can be counted on to weigh in heavily with opinions, and as expected he is being both praised as a hero and scorned as a bum and a thief. Such is life on the internet. Most likely, the truth lay somewhere in between those two poles, but then the same can be said for probably 90% of us.

I won't weigh in with my opinion, but instead I'll leave it at this: In the end, I hope that both individuals end up benefiting from this effort. I'll follow this story, because it's a good one, and because the photos are good. I'll also continue to follow this story because I think much of this hits close to home for all us who pick up a camera and shoot. Check it out for yourself.

Oh, yeah. If you're reading, Happy New Year!