Photography

The Minolta Autocord

I’ve had this Minolta Autocord for so long I don’t remember where I got it. Or when, exactly.

My Minolta Autocord

Mine is a model RG-2 from 1962 with the Optiper-MVL shutter. I don’t know much else about the camera other than it’s fun but challenging to use. I keep thinking about taking it out for a spin but haven’t done that in a few years.

There’s more info about the Autocord at camera-wiki.org

Here’s an example from the camera. It’s me trying a self-portrait while wearing Mario jammies of course.

Self-portrait at home (2009). Minolta Autocord. Tri-X.

And then there’s this crazy thing…

Jack self-portrait with Gas mask (2010)

Keeping the Leica SL

I was supposed to sell the Leica SL once the SL2-S arrived. I almost did it, too. It’s technically still listed for sale in a couple of places, but I’m not ready to get rid of it yet. I mean just look at it.

The Leica SL is five years old and still a wonderful camera. If I’m being honest, the brand new SL2-S is better, but not that much better. I’m keeping the original because it’s awesome and it’s worth more to me to have around than the money I could get for it. This calculus could change, of course, but it’s kind of amazing that I have an extra SL available. I don’t see the APO-Summicron-SL 35mm ever coming off the SL2-S, so it’s great that I can keep one of the M primes or the Zoom lens on the SL without having to switch lenses.

Another benefit of keeping the SL is that I can take it places I might not take the newer one. It seems silly to call the SL my “beater” camera but that’s how I’m thinking of it. If I drop or lose or have the SL2-S and Summicron stolen, I’m out a very significant amount of money. With the SL and cheaper lens it would still really hurt, but less. The SL has GPS built in and the SL2-S does not, which is handy for if and when I actually do go places again.

I no longer have a camera to use for scanning film , since I sold all my Fuji gear. I’m thinking about finding a cheap Nikkor macro and adapter and using the SL for the scanning station. Not an ideal use for such a fine camera, but should work well.

And finally, I get a little emotional about cameras. I sold the M10-P and hate myself for it, even though it was necessary at the time. I’m thinking that if I don’t have to sell the SL, why not keep it around for a while?

I have had thoughts about finding a used Leica Monochrom. If I get serious about that I’d need to sell the SL to help fund the M. In the meantime, the SL won’t go to waste.

UPDATE (February 24, 2021): I sold the SL. Could not resist trying a Q2 Monochrom.

Who should I let manage my photos?

I have for many years kept my photos properly named and in a dated folder hierarchy on my hard drive:

/2020/12-December 2020/2020-12-02-Alice.dng

This requires that I import my photos from a card, then add metadata (Title and Caption), then rename them with the capture date and title, then put them into the proper folder, where they live forever. Whew!

Another step later in my process is to "burn" a copy of each edited RAW file to a JPEG that lives right beside the original. I also create a copy of the best photos in my "Digital Print Archive". The DPA is swept up and uploaded to Google Photos, Flickr, and my Synology, automatically. This gives me ways to share and organize them later. It also provides the content-based search and face recognition that is so handy.

It’s a good system. Solid. Future-proof. Backups are a known quantity.

But I’m tired of doing it. I’m tired of copying, moving, renaming, archiving, burning, etc. Basically I’m tired of managing everything myself. I edit my RAW files in Capture One Pro and deal with culling, naming, and distributing using Photo Mechanic. They’re great apps, but expensive and so flexible that I spend way too much time tweaking my process.

Some days, today for example, I’m tempted to import everything into the new Lightroom and let Adobe take it from there. This battle has been raging for a few years now and I cannot for the life of me settle it.

The truth is, Lightroom can be configured to keep all of the original RAW files on a local drive, in dated folders, automatically. This helps alleviate my fear of going all-in with cloud storage. I can’t rename files from within Lightroom, but at least I know they’re there. I’ve tried importing, culling, renaming in Photo Mechanic and then importing into Lightroom, but if I’m going to bother with all that I should just stick with C1.

Lightroom isn’t even close to Capture One on features, power, or flexibility. But it syncs my photos to all my devices, including my iPhone photos. I don’t have to do anything. That’s a huge benefit. 90% of my images can be processed just fine in Lightroom. If I want, I can always process the other 10% using Capture One (or Photoshop, I suppose).

This post is just me trying to talk myself into yielding to my lazier tendencies and moving everything to Lightroom. I’m still noodling on it, but don’t be surprised if there’s a new post soon about how I switched to Lightroom (again). Maybe then I’ll spend more time photographing and less time playing with my editing workflow.

(UPDATE January 3, 2021: Here’s the answer)

The Leica APO-Summicron-SL 35mm f/2 ASPH

I recently bought a used, 5-year-old Leica SL . I didn’t buy any new lenses at the time, as I wasn’t sure I’d even like the camera. Turns out I liked the camera very much, so I ordered a Sigma 24-70 f2.8 zoom. I figured the zoom would cover my bases but I also bought the Leica M-to-L adapter so I could use my Leica M lenses.

The M lenses work flawlessly on the SL, and are even easier to focus on it, given the super bright EVF and focus peaking. M lenses are wonderful, but they are manual focus only. I was using the Sigma zoom a lot and falling for the convenience of auto-focus. This got me thinking about prime lenses for the SL. I prefer primes in almost all cases and so the research began in earnest.

The Sigma zoom is fine, but I really wanted a Leica native SL lens. And I wanted a prime. But what focal length should I get? Since I can only afford one lens (by “afford” I mean sell off most of my other gear to pay for it), I opted for the APO-Summicron-SL 35mm f/2 ASPH . I can never decide which length I prefer, 50mm or 35mm, but I went with the 35 because I feel it’s just a tad more flexible.

I must admit that hearing Peter Karbe, Leica’s designer of the M and SL lens lines, say that the APO-Summicron-SL 35mm is his favorite Leica lens and that it might be the best lens Leica has ever made helped push me over the edge. You can listen to Peter go into glorious technical detail about the SL lenses for like an hour and a half in this video.

The lens arrived a few days ago and so far all I can say is that my first impressions are that it has easily exceeded my high expectations. It’s beautiful, and the construction and feel of it are just wonderful.

The SL lenses are significantly larger than the M lenses I’m used to. Here is a photo showing the size difference between the tiny, jewel-like Summicron-M 35mm f/2 ASPH and this new 35mm f/2 SL

Summicron-M 35mm f/2 ASPH vs the APO-Summicron-SL 35mm f/2 SL ASPH

A nice feature of the SL lenses is close focusing distance. The SL lenses are more useful close up. For example the SL can focus down to 27 cm while the Summicron-M can only get to within 70 cm. That matters a lot more often than one might think.

What about image quality? Good question. I don’t know much yet, as I’ve only been plinking around the house. What I do know is that the few images I’ve taken have looked fantastic. Most decent modern lenses make great images, but I have convinced myself that the files coming out of the SL with the APO-Summicron are somehow even better. To my eyes, they are noticably, meaningfully better, and that’s the only criteria I need.

Is the APO-Summicron-SL 35mm ASPH worth $5,000? Of course not. No one needs a lens like this. I certainly don’t. I mostly take photos of my dog or selfies or family snapshots, so there’s no point trying to justify the cost other than to say that it might be the best lens I’ve ever used. It feels fantastic. It looks fantastic, and, combined with the SL, it makes fantastic images and I’m very happy with it.

The Leica SL2-S = Instabuy

The new Leica SL2-S

When I bought a used Leica SL(601) recently instead of the newer SL2 , it was mostly because I didn’t want to spend $6,000 on a camera that I wasn’t sure I’d love. But it was also partly because I really don’t need a 47-megapixel sensor. Who’s got the time and space to manage 80MB per image photos?

I’ve had the SL for a month and that’s long enough to know that I love it. It’s big but not too big. It’s an absolute tank, build-wise, and it’s fast and fun to use. I’m happy. I can shoot my M-mount Leica lenses on it and am finding it even easier to focus them on the SL than I do on the M10-P. So everything’s good then. I wish it had IBIS, though.

And then, just this morning, Leica announced the SL2-S . The SL2-S is, from my standpoint, an updated SL that adds everything in the SL2 except the giant sensor. The SL2-S has a 24 Megapixel sensor, which is a sweet spot for me. It also improves focusing, low-light capabilities, and of course includes IBIS. In other words, it’s exactly what I wanted in the SL2. And to top it off, it’s more than $1,000 cheaper than the SL2.

Apparently the SL2-S is being marketed as a hybrid still/video powerhouse. I guess the video features are great, but I don’t care as much about that. I care about speed, handling, image quality, and reasonable file sizes. Proper video is a nice bonus, though.

I’ve already sold my beloved M10-P and preordered an SL2-S. I have no idea when it’ll arrive, but I can hardly wait.

My new (5-year-old) Leica SL

When I first saw the Leica SL, I was amazed by its brutalist audacity. Coming from the M series, this was not what I pictured when thinking “Leica”.

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Leica SL, the brutalist beauty

And yet the SL appealed to me immediately. It was powerful, flexible, beautiful, and very, very expensive. In fact, it was so expensive that I eventually stopped thinking about it. Then, when the SL2 came out last year it all came rushing back.

So, after five years, I bought one.

This came only a month after I purchased my dream digital camera, the Leica M10-P . Why would I do that? Well, as much as I adore the M10-P; its size, classic design, build quality, and optical rangefinder, I’m finding that I struggle with focusing. Rangefinder focusing has, for years, been my favorite way to manually focus a camera. Snapping those two offset squares together was fast and accurate, regardless of lighting. My eyes must be getting old because I now have trouble doing it.

When talking about the SL, people tend to talk about three things: Size, price, build quality, and the viewfinder.

One of the first things people mention is the price. OK, sure, when new, it was crazy expensive. Fine, but I paid only about 1/3rd of the original price, so let’s move on.

Leica doesn’t build cameras to a price point. They build them to a standard. A very high standard. This, then, is part of why they’re so expensive. And the minute you pick up the SL you can feel it. It is a brick. Solid, heavy, dense, and confidence-inspiring. Machined from solid blocks of aluminum, the camera feels amazingly well-built. Every control feels precise and just right. I value these things highly in a camera.

The SL is weather sealed, which is important to me, even though I rarely find myself needing it. I can’t explain it, but knowing I can use the camera in freezing or rainy weather is comforting, even if I hardly ever do it.

How about that electronic viewfinder? The internet was right, it’s awesome. For a long time, I was dead set against using an EVF. Then, they got better. And better. The EVF on the SL is so good that I barely notice it’s an EVF, except that it shows exact content and exposure of the image I’m about to make. It’s great. I thought the viewfinder on the Leica Q was good, but this is even better.

An EVF like the one on the SL makes manual focusing easy. This is awesome because I have a few nice Leica M-mount lenses that work perfectly on the SL using an adapter. Using M lenses on the SL seems to be as popular as using native lenses. After a day of testing, I can see why. The big, bright viewfinder and focus peaking is a combination practically purpose-built for it.

Let’s talk about the size. The SL is a big, heavy camera.

Here it is next to the M10-P

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Leica SL and Leica M10-P

No doubt about it, it’s big, but put an M-mount lens on it and things get much more manageable.

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SL with adapted Summilux-M 50mm

For me, there are two modes when it comes to taking photos; I’m either out specifically to take pictures or I’m not. If I’m out to take pictures, the size of the camera does not matter. I might feel differently if I was into street photography or planned to hike miles uphill for landscapes, but I normally do “editorial” type photography or portraits. Camera size isn’t a meaningful factor for me. If I’m not out specifically to take photos, I put the little Ricoh GRIII in my pocket.

Aside from my focusing problems with the M10-P, I bought the SL because I wanted something more flexible. And I still wanted a Leica, for all the reasons above.

Sometimes, I want more than what the M cameras can do. You know, fancy things like focus automatically and use zoom lenses. For this, I bought one autofocus zoom lens, the Sigma 24-70 f/2.8 Art lens and it seems fine as an all-purpose lens, especially considering the cost compared to the other options.

For specific things like portraits, I may consider one of the 85mm or 105mm L-mount options by Panasonic or Sigma. The Leica SL lenses are still way too expensive to consider, as lovely as they may be.

I’ve only had the SL for a couple of days, so it’s too soon to tell how well it will work in real life, but so far it’s everything I expected.

Prepare for an onslaught of dog photos, self-portraits, and snapshot of random objects around the house.

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Alice, unimpressed by my new camera

Am I losing interest in shooting film?

Film photography is a lot of work. Not so much the actual shooting part, that’s work no matter what the medium, but lately I find the rest of the process (developing, scanning, storing) to be more trouble than it’s worth.

Thing is, I enjoy spending time in the darkroom, processing film. It’s meditative; the perfect hobby for an introvert. I have various wonderful old cameras, which are often reason enough to shoot film. But is it worth the trouble?

If forced, I must admit that I like being seen as a “film photographer.” It makes me feel like I’m in a group separate from the masses. I like being an outlier.

The trouble, I’m finding, is that I don’t really like the results I’m getting. I’ve shot maybe 20 rolls of film this year and a couple dozen large format negatives. Not a ton, but I’ve gone through them and there are only a handful that I really like, and most of those I only like because of their filminess.

By “filminess” I mean grainy, blurred or otherwise odd in some way that screams “I’m not an iPhone photo!” Is that really the characteristic I’m going for?

I look at a lot of film photographs on social media. I’ve begun noticing that they’re often not very good. Aside from the fact that they were made on film, they’d be entirely forgettable. A lot of the images look like nothing more than an excuse to use a cool camera or a way to finish the roll.

In fact, this attitude is what I see in my photos, and I don’t like it.

As usual, I’m overthinking things, but the infrastructure I have amassed in order to ease the process of shooting film is ridiculous. If the results were better, I wouldn’t mind. I’m tired of getting to the end of the long, sometimes tedious and difficult process only to look at the images and think, “meh.”

Film photography is a wonderful hobby, but maybe I need a little break from it.

Very expired ektar 25

I have lots of film stored in my fridge. Some of it is very old. I’m determined to shoot it rather than throw it out, so I ran a roll of Ektar 25 through my Nikon F100.

Let’s just say the results were less than stellar.

Negative Lab Pro v2.2.0 | Color Model: Frontier | Pre-Sat: 3 | Tone Profile: LAB – Soft | WB: Auto-Neutral | LUT: Frontier
Negative Lab Pro v2.2.0 | Color Model: Frontier | Pre-Sat: 3 | Tone Profile: LAB – Standard | WB: Auto-Neutral | LUT: Frontier
Negative Lab Pro v2.2.0 | Color Model: Frontier | Pre-Sat: 3 | Tone Profile: LAB – Standard | WB: Auto-Neutral | LUT: Frontier

To be fair, this roll had expired nearly 25 years ago, so I wasn’t expecting much. Another thing I wasn’t expecting was that someone had already exposed about half the roll. It wasn’t me. I wondered why the number “13” was written on the leader. Now I know. They’d exposed 13 frames and then removed the roll from the camera.

The thing about shooting film is that even disasters like this can be interesting.

Using the Skier Sunray Copy Box 3 for digital film scanning

I hate scanning film negatives. Especially color film negatives.

Scanning software is universally atrocious to use. Getting good color from scanned film is such a hit-or-miss (mostly miss) proposition that I’d largely given it up.

Many people are moving from using film scanners (flatbed or dedicated) to “scanning” with digital cameras. I’ve been skeptical of this, but ever since the introduction of Negative Lab Pro it’s become more interesting. NLP makes it easy to get decent color from a digitally scanned negative.

To scan film using a camera, you need a copy stand to hold the camera, a lightbox or other bright, even light source, a macro lens, and something to hold the negatives.

I’ve been using my Fuji X-T3, 7Artisans 60mm Macro, Kaiser Slimlite, and the MK1 from Negative Supply . This all worked pretty well, but was limited to scanning 35mm film. I also shoot 120 and 4×5. Putting together a kit for every format using the pricey Negative Supply gear would run me well over $1,000. More like $1,699 for the pro kit .

I started looking around for something a little more reasonable and found the Skier Sunray Copy Box 3 . The kit for 35mm, 120, and 4×5 costs $299, so I took a chance and ordered one.

My scanning station looks like this…

Skipping to the chase, the Sunray box works great. The light source is ridiculously bright, allowing me to stop down and keep a fast shutter speed to avoid any shake. The holders are easy to handle and do a good job of keeping film flat. I was able to digitize a roll of 35mm film in less than 10 minutes.

My workflow for this is a little convoluted, since I use Capture One Pro for editing but NLP requires Lightroom Classic. I import the “scans” into Lightroom, crop, and convert in NLP, save TIFF copies of the edited RAW files, then move them into my C1 library for finishing. I’m still working on making this more efficient, but I’m getting the hang of it so it gets easier every time.

If you are looking for a (relatively) inexpensive way to scan film negatives using a digital camera, the Skier Sunray Copy Box 3 is a very good option.