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!