Comparing film and digital: Mom

I had lunch with my parents recently and took a few photos with both my film and digital cameras. I shot about the same number of photos with each camera, with close to the same number of “keepers”. Which do I prefer?

Here I’m showing one of each, digital and film, of my favorite from the visit.

Film: Leica MP (HP5 Plus)
Digital: Leica M10-R (B&W conversion in Silver Efex)

I prefer the film image. I manipulated the digital shot in Silver Efex Pro and added a bit of grain to try and get the look I like, but I still prefer the film image.

The difference might be partially due to using the 50mm Summilux on the MP. It’s my favorite lens. The digital shot was with the 35mm Summilux. Also a great lens, but lacks that certain “something” of the 50.

I don’t think the lens difference explains it, though. A large part of what makes me prefer film photos is just knowing they’re film photos. That means something to me, and influences how I respond to an image. One could probably use a decent HP5 preset on that image in Lightroom and I wouldn’t be able to tell it from a film photo in a blind test, but I don’t view my images that way. I know how they were made, and it matters.

Additionally, I can make beautiful silver gelatin prints of the film photo in my darkroom. That’s important, too.

I’ll probably always shoot both film and digital, but more often than not I prefer the results I get from film.

Fiber-based silver gelatin prints are a wonderful PITA

I hate making fiber-based silver gelatin prints in the darkroom. But I love having them to hold and to hang.

Fiber-based papers have this deep, magical sheen, and the surface is smooth yet has a distinct, subtle texture that is missing from resin-coated (RC) papers.

Compared to RC papers, fiber-based paper takes twice as long to process. It requires additional washing and optional toning steps. It eats up fixer and takes more trays than I have comfortable room for. It must be washed for up to an hour. And then there’s the curling, so I have to press the prints under heavy books for a few days before I can do anything with them

Just look at this example. It’s ridiculous.

A recently-dried fiber darkroom print.

I gave up on fiber a few years ago, but have been having second thoughts. A fiber print feels so good in hand. Heavy, smooth, and solid, somehow. And there’s no escaping how great they look. I’ve been asking myself if maybe it’s worth the trouble after all. I made a few prints this week and yes, it is definitely worth the trouble.

A recent print of a favorite negative. On fiber.

I enjoy processing film

There are things that I dislike about shooting film, but processing isn’t one of them. I actually enjoy it.

I shoot a roll or two of film each week and process it in my bathroom darkroom. Developing black and white film is quite simple. I have gotten to a point where the process is muscle memory. I shoot mostly the same type of film (HP5 Plus) and develop it in HC-110. I know the dilutions and I know the time, temperature, and agitation schedule.

It takes me about 20 minutes to develop a roll of film. I have to pay attention for five minutes in the developer, one minute in stop bath, then five minutes in the fixer. After that, it’s a hands-off ten-minute wash, a quick dip in Photo-flo, and that’s it.

Standing at the sink during the processing steps is meditative. I can stand there and just let my mind wander. It’s usually silent, but sometimes I have music playing. And there’s nothing like seeing the images unfurl when taking the roll off the reel. Magic.

Scanning, on the other hand, is ????.

The Kodak Retina IIIC

Kodak Retina IIIC

My dad called me from Florida and said that one of his neighbors had died and left a bunch of camera stuff to be given away or sold. He mentioned there was “some old Kodak” and wondered if I was interested in it. I said “Sure, why not” and he said he’d send me a box with the camera and some other stuff that came in the box.

The box arrived yesterday and I was thrilled to find a working Kodak Retina IIIC inside. I didn’t know much about the Retinas except they were around for many years and were very high quality cameras, which isn’t something Kodak is known for.

The last of the Retinas, the “Big-C” IIIC was made from 1957-1960. I assume that mine was made somewhere late in that range, based on the serial number. It doesn’t have the absolute latest changes, so let’s guess 1959.

I was surprised by how nicely the camera is built. It’s dense and feels very solid. All the movements, from focusing to folding the lens, are smooth and dampened well. It’s not quite Leica-level build, but much closer to it than I expected, especially considering the price.

I put a roll through it immediately and everything appears to work perfectly. Not bad for a 60-plus-year-old camera.

Black and white self-portrait

One of the lauded features of the IIIC is the 50mm f/2 Schneider-Kreuznach Retina-Xenon lens. I haven’t shot enough to get a good feel, but even after one quick roll I can see that it’s no slouch.

For more details about the camera, there are a few good resources. I enjoyed this Retina IIIC review by Kurt Munger . For everything you need to know, Chris Sherlock has a ton of info on the Retina series .

I don’t know yet how often I’ll use this new camera, but it’s certainly not going to spend the rest of its days on a shelf.

Here’s the camera’s page on my wiki

Studio self-portraits

I finished a roll in the MP today by taking a bunch of self-portraits in my basement “studio”.

The shots in which you can see both my hands were triggered by stepping on the release bulb. Clever! ????

I really like the look of these. They were shot in my basement with a new canvas backdrop. I used two Profoto strobes. One with a softbox (octogon) to camera left, and a second with a reflector at camera right pointing at the backdrop. I’m learning.

Large Format: Challenges

There are too many things that can go wrong when shooting large format (4×5) film.

I made four exposures of my friends Steve and Bryan this afternoon. Two of the four were ruined right off the bat: The first, because I’d left the shutter open when pulling the dark slide. The second because I didn’t expose it at all and processed as though I had.

Large format is hard.

There are so many opportunities to fail that making a successful image is really quite rewarding. Today wasn’t a rewarding day. Both of the photos that weren’t completely ruined were spoiled in other ways.

The above image was taken while facing into the sun. That was dumb. I was so flustered after accidentally exposing the first negative that I basically ignored the actual subject of the shot.

And the following image shows some blooming/flair around the overexposed decking and table areas. I’m not sure why it’s so severe. The lens may have been dirty.

Linhof Master Technika | Rodenstock APO-Sironar-S 135mm | HP5+ 400Scanned with Epson V750 D-76 1+1

Oh well, I’ll just need to keep practicing because when it works, it’s awesome.

The Linhof Master Technika

Anyone who’s dabbled in large format photography knows the name “Linhof”. It’s one of those companies with a long history and a reputation for building some of the best 4×5 field cameras available. I’ve always been curious about them. Are they really “the Leica of large format”?

My first 4×5 camera was a beat up Burke & James press camera. Then a beat up Crown Graphic. Then a Speed Graphic, and finally a Wista Field Camera. The first three were super cheap. The Wista was bit more serious, but it was such a beautiful wooden camera.

The problem I have with large format is that I hate tripods. I had the most fun shooting the Speed Graphic hand-held. This is not how large format is done today, though. Maybe back when Weegee was doing his thing, but now it’s for sharp and super-detailed landscape and architectural work, mostly. Maybe studio portraits. Nonsense, I want to do hand-held, informal, environmental portraits. My Speed Graphic has a light leak, though, so I haven’t been shooting much 4×5.

Then one afternoon I spotted a Linhof Master Technika kit in one of the forum classified sections. It was the camera, lenses, grip, viewfinder, cams, and film holders. The camera was recently CLA’d and had the bellows replaced with genuine Linhof replacement bellows. Basically, it was everything I’d need for handheld 4×5 work. Plus, it was the mythical Linhof.

I bought it. The gentleman who sold it to me included a stack of large format photograph books, negative sleeves, a cool Grafmatic film holder and a bunch of hand-written notes with details about many of the items. I couldn’t be happier with the purchase.

And the camera? It was made in 1972 but looks and feels almost new. The short version is that it’s as well-built and smooth as I’ve been told. Everything is solid and tight and moves like butter. Its build quality feels so far beyond that of my old Graphics that it’s hardly fair to compare them.

It came with three lenses: A 90mm Schneider-Kreuznach Super-Angulon f/8, A 135mm Rodenstock APO-Sironar-S f/5.6, and a 240mm Fujinon A f/9. All three lenses have lens-specific custom cams that allow for accurate focusing using the rangefinder. This means I can focus and shoot hand-held with any of them. And just look at that giant grip!

90mm, 135mm, and 240mm

I’ve only had the camera for a week, and shot maybe a dozen sheets so far. It’s a joy to use, and I hope to use it often. Here are a few photos I’ve made while getting used to using the camera.

Linhof Master Technika | Rodenstock APO-Sironar-S | Ilford Delta 100 100Scanned with Epson V750Home developed in D-76 1+1 | 11min at 20C
Linhof Master Technika | Rodenstock APO-Sironar-S | Ilford Delta 100 100Scanned with Epson V750Home developed in D-76 1+1 | 11min at 20C

Betting long on film with a new Leica MP

I enjoy both film and digital photography, but the pendulum has been swinging toward film recently, and I’ve been having a ball.

Leica MP

I’ve finally dialed in a film processing, scanning, and editing workflow that works and that I don’t hate. What’s more, I’ve been studying my recent film photos and I really like them. I like that they’re not so perfect that zooming in to 100% is useful. I like the defects and unpredictability. I like the process. But most of all, I like the cameras. Specifically, I like Leica rangefinders.

I bought my first Leica M, an M6 TTL back in 2004. From there I’ve had an M3, M4, M6, M7, M8, and M10-P. Eventually, I ended up with a comfortable kit with an M3, M4, and M6 Classic. The M3 is great because it’s the first M, and the .92x finder magnification is perfect for 50mm lenses and makes shooting 90mm lenses feasible. The M4 is a more modern, but still entirely mechanical, non-metered body. And the M6 Classic is newer (still 20+ years old) and is metered.

Each of the M cameras was purchased used (of course). Their resale value has gone through the roof over the past few years. Clean M6 bodies go for twice what I paid for mine. Leica film cameras may not qualify as “investments” but they certainly don’t depreciate. At least they haven’t since I’ve owned them.

What I’ve never done is buy a brand new Leica M film camera, because that would be crazy. Why buy new when I can get something for a third of the price that works great and does basically the same thing? And unlike used bodies, new cameras dodepreciate. At least for a minute.

But I must admit to always dreaming of a brand new Leica M film camera. Leica only makes two: The non-metered M-A and the metered MP .

Leica recently announced a special black-paint version of the digital M10-R and I thought it looked beautiful. It got me thinking about other black paint Leica bodies and how much I love that finish. Several of the older models were available with the gorgeous black paint finish, but they fetch even higher prices than the regular chrome and black chrome models.

I couldn’t stop thinking about it and started poking around and learned that the MP happens to be available in black paint. Whaddaya know? Of course they’re always backordered everywhere and I was told the wait time was in months. So much for an impulse purchase. Whew!

So for a few days I put a few rolls through the M3 and M6 and was reminded how much fun it could be. But wouldn’t it be cool to be the original owner of a new Leica M? I’ve been told by people who know me and have been around me that I should “Never sell a Leica!”. What better way to make sure that happens than to have a new one I can call my own forever?

And the rationalizations continued for a week or so while I absorbed every review, forum post, and YouTube video I could find that contained even a whiff of information about the MP.

I love film. I want to always shoot film. So I called Leica Store Miami and put myself on the waiting list for a black paint MP. I was told they only receive new ones every couple of months, and the waiting list is pretty long, so I should settle in for a long wait. And who knows, maybe I’d lose interest in the meantime. It happens. Of course B&H, Leica, and the other usual outlets were backordered as well.

Then, on a whim, I looked for one at Camera West . I’ve purchased from them before and had good luck. You know what happens next, right? They had 2 new black paint MPs in stock. I bought one immediately.

So that happened.

The camera arrived today and I’ve never seen anything so beautiful. It’s perfect. It’s new, warrantied, flawless, and mine. My long bet on film begins today.

Top view of Leica MP

Dusting off the Olympus Stylus Epic

I bought my first Olympus Stylus Epic in 2004 and fell in love. I’ve owned one ever since. That original copy was replaced in 2012 for $10, in the box, from a guy on Craigslist. Those days are gone. These little fellas have grown quite a following and fetch upwards of $300 on eBay. I’m not going to be paying that much once this one dies.

Mine has been collecting dust in a drawer for a year or two, which is a shame, so took it out today and loaded it with a roll of HP5+. No sense trying to preserve it, right?