Photography

Two photography quotes

These quotes resonated with me recently, especially the second one, from Alan Burles.

One must work hard to smuggle anything into a photograph other than record keeping.

Erwin Blumenfeld

Unless we are having lots of life moments, how can we have any photography moments?

Alan Burles

Back to scanning film with a real scanner

Epson V750 film scanner on my desk
Epson V750 film scanner on my desk

I tried, I really did. The Wise Old Internet guided me into changing my film scanning process from a dedicated flatbed scanner to using a mirrorless digital camera setup. I did everything right. I bought good equipment and the right software.

I hated it.

To scan using my flatbed, I load the negatives, hit “Prescan”, confirm that things look ok and press “Scan”. I go do something else for a while and come back to a folder full of JPGs. I edit the files by adjusting contrast and cropping as needed in Lightroom or whatever and I’m done.

What the internet told me was that I needed a mirrorless digital camera, a quality Macro lens capable of 1:1 magnification, a copy stand, a bright, even light source, film holders/transports for every size negative I plan to scan, and Negative Lab Pro (which requires the use of Lightroom Classic).

To scan negatives using a digital camera, I first have to mount the camera, level it correctly, set up the appropriate negative mount. Then I make sure it’s focused properly, and adjust camera settings as needed. Then for each frame, I advance the film, trip the shutter, advance, and repeat 36 times. Then I must import the raw scans into Lightroom, load the NLP plugin, convert all of them, then adjust them using NLP. Finally, I have to export positive TIFF or JPG copies from NLP. I just don’t see how this is easier. No one agrees with me, but the old way is better.

35mm film holder for for Epson scaner
35mm film holder for for Epson scaner

What about scan quality? That depends upon a hundred variables. Honestly, I can probably squeeze a tiny bit of quality/resolution from the digital camera scans, but the effort getting there isn’t worth it. My flatbed 35mm scans are fine, although if you read anything online you won’t believe me. “Flatbed scans are shit!” is the usual trope. OK, but they look good to me, thanks.

Also, the grain from dedicated scanners looks better. And if I’m shooting color, there’s no match for digital ICE.

I tried the new way, but I prefer my old-fashioned scanning system.

My camera situation at the end of 2022

Everything changes all the time.

2022 has been another year of wildly rearranging my approach to photography. I’ve gone all-in Leica and back. I’ve been all-in with film, and back. And so on. I do this because I’m more of a camera nerd than an artist.

Let’s start with the film cameras. First, I sold the big Linhof Master Technika. It was a beautiful kit, but I almost never used it. I still have an old Crown Graphic for when I get the urge to shoot 4×5.

I still have three Leica M film cameras: M3, M6, and MP. I tried and failed at selling the M6. Here they are on my workbench:

Leicas: M3, MP, and M6

The M6 is for sale again. I will hate myself for selling it, but it’s dumb to have something so nice (and valuable) just sitting on a shelf most of the time.

I was also able to revive the Ricoh GR1, which I’m very happy about.

Ricoh GR1, back from the dead.

So, what about digital, then? That’s still being tweaked, but right now I’m going with the new X-T5 and a few favorite lenses.

Testing the X-T5

I ordered the X-T5 with the 16-80 “kit” lens. I don’t like zooms, and I don’t love f4 lenses, but it’s a nice all-arounder in a pinch and a cheap way to get it. I have the 23 f2, 35 f1.4, and 56 1.2 on the way.

I’ve stopped scanning film with a digital camera, so I shouldn’t miss the Lumix S5 and Macro, which I’ve traded for the Fuji lenses. I can change my mind pretty inexpensively with the Fuji 60mm macro any time.

I have come very close to buying another Leica M10-R, but I’m going to see how it feels to use the Fuji for digital.

Where does that leave us? To sum up:

Every Day(ish) Carry:

  • Leica MP
  • Ricoh GR1
  • Fujifilm X-T5

Change-of-Pace Carry:

  • Leica M3
  • Hasselblad 500C/M
  • Crown Graphic 4×5
  • Assorted 35mm (OM-1n, Leica IIIf, etc)

How I’m feeling about large format film photography

Self-portrait. Linhof Master Technika

The short version is that I have a love/hate relationship with large format film photography.

I love the detail and depth. I love the tonal values and focus fall-off that seem impossible with smaller formats. I love that I can decide on a frame-by-frame basis what film, developer, or process I’m going to use. There’s no waiting until the end of a roll. It’s as close to instant gratification as one can get when shooting film. I love the big negatives!

On the other hand, everything else about large format is a pain in the ass. I thought I’d do studio and environmental portraits when I bought my first 4×5 camera in 2013. I admire the portrait work of photographers like Judy Dater and Judith Joy Ross who worked primarily with large formats. It turns out I’ve only done a handful, and most of them are self-portraits. An example…

Self-portrait. Linhof Master Technika.

When they work, they really work. There’s nothing like it. But when they don’t, it just ends up being a giant waste of time and money. My “hit” rate is pretty low, so the net result is that I get very few images that I love and a lot more that are mediocre or worse.

And then there’s all the supporting gear needed. Loupes and dark cloths and tripods and hoods and releases and bags and film holders. Not to mention that printing 4×5 film requires a ginormous enlarger.

Film is expensive, large format film is more expensive. Per exposure prices are hovering around $2.25 for black and white and $5.50 for color. Then there’s all the gear for processing 4×5 sheets.

The more I think about it, the more I wonder if it’s all worth it. I guess if I could have a permanent studio with a camera mounted and ready to go, it would be easier to justify all the fuss. But setup and teardown introduces so many opportunities for failure that I’m less and less likely to bother.

Maybe one day I’ll decide it’s worth the trouble, but right now I’m thinking of leaving large format film photography behind.

When I feel the urge for smooth, high-detail film photography, I think that medium format (120) and the Hasselblad will do just fine, and without nearly as much fuss.

It’s never the photos one expects to like

Black and white photo of a tabletop containing margarita glass with a bowl of tortilla chips and salsa.

I took the above photo while waiting for a friend to arrive at the restaurant and I love it.

It’s a film photo. It’s slightly misfocused. It’s boring. But still, I keep looking at it. I made an 8×10 darkroom print that I’ll probably mount and hang.

What is it about photos like this that I like so much? Honestly, I don’t know, but I expect that it’s all about what it represents to me. The photo in the restaurant, for example, reminds me of friends. And of my favorite restaurant. And my favorite “Ultimate” margarita. It may not be art, but it’s meaningful to me, and that’s become the most important part.

Sunsetting the Canonet

This is probably the last roll I’ll run through the Canonet. I can’t seem to focus it and I don’t trust the shutter speeds. Also, it has scratched a couple of negatives and the frame spacing is all over the place. It’s a nice camera to look at, so that’s how it’ll spend its remaining days.

Here are a few more from that last roll. I told you I can’t focus it.

I almost sold the M10-R

Sometimes I notice the Leica M10-R sitting forlornly on my desk and I’m reminded that I don’t deserve it. A camera like that should be used, and used a lot. Mine mostly sits around waiting for me to take another selfie or photo of my dog. That’s a lot of money tied up in what most people do (and often better) with their phones.

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2022-Roll-073. OM-2n/HP5

There was a roll languishing in the OM-2n so I finished it during my walk today. I really need to find some new subjects.

Shot on HP5 Plus. Developed in HC-110 (dilution B) for five minutes. Scanned on the Epson V750.

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