Category Archives: gear

iPhones, iPods, and Filters

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The release of the Flickr App, coupled with our recent acquisitions of an iPhone5 and an iPod Touch, has opened up an area of photography which I’ve otherwise managed to avoid so far.

I’ve written previously about filtering apps, touched on gimmickry, and even experimented with Instagram. But I haven’t really seriously played with mobile photography and filtering apps.

They’re tempting to hate on. At the same time, I’ve found that I really like them. I’d probably prefer a much more fully-featured set of controls but I’m finding that rather than using the filters for retro effects, I’m using them to emphasize or hide elements in the photos which I want to emphasize or hide.

Heavy vignettes or crushed shadows help compensate for the way the iPhone flash works. Low contrast or non-white whitepoints can recover highlight detail. Many of the filters seem especially tuned to the way the iPhone camera renders things and I’m starting to get a sense of what filters I like,* why, and when/how they’ll be useful.

*Mammoth in particular.

The sheer number of black and white filters is very nice. As is the ability to desaturate the image before filtering. Many of the color filters do very nice things to the desaturated images.

Also, a lot of the fake noise and film grain is proving to be especially useful for compensating for the iPod Touch’s somewhat lousy camera. The iPhone camera is pretty nice in its own right and the app is great at just letting me upload photos without having to plug into my computer. They’re both also extremely handy to just grab a photo.

The photos here are all either processed by the app or taken with an iPhone/iPod. Or both. It’s been fun so far—both shooting and processing. And that’s really the best praise possible.

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Keeble and “The Box”

I’m lucky to have a good local camera shop. Not only have I purchased my three workhorse cameras at Keeble and Shuchat,* I’ve been steered in the right direction regarding lenses** and other equipment as well. If you can get past the sort of I-know-more-than-you-do attitude of some of the clerks, this is a great place to actually get a new camera if you want to try stuff out before you buy.

*Nikomat FTn, Nikon Coolpix P3, and Nikon D40x.

**While it’s not difficult to pick a good 50mm Nikkor prime, that they recommended the 50mm f/2 AI as my first lens says a lot about the price/quality understanding.

I also take all my film there for development—even the crappy C41 35mm stuff since I’ve had too many bad experiences with the local minilabs. They’re good enough to return my 620 spools and are friendly to people doing weird things or using weird cameras. I’ve also been able to score and experiment with some expired film as well.

And they have a pretty good used section. Not huge, but pretty well stocked. I’ve picked up a few good lenses there over the years.*

*The 105mm f/2.5 AI and 200mm f/4 AIS being the best two.  

What really sets Keeble apart however is the box. It’s legendary. And for good reason. The bargain box is worth cruising past in each visit. Most of the time it’s full of junk, but every so often you find a gem. I’ve purchased six cameras from there so far and shot four of them to-date.

Two which are now in my semi-standard rotation of cameras that I count on:

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Kodak Retina IIa—My first purchase and still the one I’m most happy with. This is actually a quality camera with a coated lens.

Kodak Pony 135 Model C

Kodak Pony 135 Model C—My 35mm toy camera of choice. Double exposures and a cheapish lens make this one a lot of fun to play with.

I’ve also picked up a few “museum pieces” which, while I’ve shot a roll of film through them, have some reliability issues and are just a bit too much work to use. But I can’t bear to part with them either.

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Kodak Retina I—Too pretty to pass up. Too flaky and too similar to the Retina IIa to shoot again.

Kodak Six-20 Brownie Junior

Kodak Six-20 Brownie Junior—Another beauty. Works well, but carrying a cardboard camera in my bag is kind of scary. And filing down 120 spools doesn’t work too well so if I shoot it again, I’ll have to respool 120 onto 620.

I’m a bit scared to look in the box now. It’s too good to pass up but I can’t really justify any more project cameras. I barely shoot the ones I have now as it is.

Six-20 Brownie Junior

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Another Keeble $5 box special. I couldn’t turn this down since it’s just a nice camera to look at.* Plus it came with a 620 spool inside.

*Suggesting another requirement to my rules for purchasing vintage cameras. In addition to taking either 135 or 120, they should be nice objects in and of themselves.

Kodak Six-20 Brownie Junior

I’ve never shot 6×9 before. Nor had I ever shot one of the old-style cardboard-body Kodak Brownies. It’s an interesting experience. The viewfinders are brighter than I expected and the shutter switch (not a button) requires a bit of getting used to. And 6×9 negatives are almost too much larger than 6×6 negatives. I’m not feeling the same rush I received when I shot my first roll of 6×6 in the Hawkeye and was instead feeling a bit of fatigue in dealing with them.

That said, the camera is an interesting choice for architecture photos. Especially old buildings.
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I also played a bit with long exposures since the shutter switch functioned almost as a cable release. My other toy cameras require holding the button down continuously for the long exposures. The Brownie Junior shutter though just has to be pushed twice so while there’s a little shake at each end of the exposure, the longer you leave the shutter open, the more negligible the shake becomes.

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I’m pleased with the two areas I chose to really experiment with. The people testshots weren’t even worth scanning since this camera doesn’t focus close enough to be worth it. I’m not sure if I’m going to continue using this guy but I’m more inclined to use it next June 20* than the Duaflex I used last year.

*620 camera day

I just need to do a better job with my film handling and either file down my 120 spool a lot more or do it properly and respool 120 onto 620. There are stress marks on all the negatives.

Ultrawide

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In my post about photographic gimmicks, I mention that wide-angle lenses are dangerously close to being gimmicky. Ultrawides are even closer. They are an easy way to get some extra drama in a photo and are usually the first new lens new photographers are tempted to purchase. The result? Lots of crappy ultrawide photographs. And a lot of people who do not like ultrawide photography.*

*That Ken Rockwell is an ultrawide nut does not help with this matter. Even though his ultrawide advice is very good.

I am not one of those people. I shot with a 20mm lens almost exclusively for over five years (until I upgraded from 35mm film to a digital SLR) and it’s the largest reason why I still shoot film.

But I see why a lot of people don’t like ultrawide shots. Most of it suffers from a combination of boring foregrounds, distant subjects, and a lack of cohesiveness between near and far. It’s very easy to point the camera down and get the view which includes both what I’m standing on and what I’m looking at. Tying it all together so that the viewer moves through the different depths takes work.

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florence-duomo.jpgMy initial motivation for the ultrawide was photography while traveling—especially in the narrow streets of Europe. I’ll admit that this was a bit of “get everything in” but since I’ve never been one of those guys who likes to step back from a scene, this was more a way to allow me to make the most use of my working distances. If I can only step forward, I may as well shoot as wide as I can. And then that approach just becomes natural…

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Dish-Tree1The danger of an ultrawide is that it’s very easy to end up with too much junk in the frame—when you get it all in, you get it all in. Walking forward is one way to avoid it. Another is to use the junk instead.

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siena-campo.jpgWhere I find myself liking the ultrawide the most is inside where, instead of having to worry about boring foregrounds or skies, the entire interior space is available to me. And by inside, I mean any interior space. It doesn’t have to be fancy architecture or anything.

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overpass-3Since picking up film again after a couple years just shooting digital, I’ve been branching out a bit more and experimenting with other ways of using the ultrawide. Whether it’s trying to take nice photos of people, attempting more rigid compositions,* or trying other experiments, I’ve still got a lot to learn about this lens.

*Getting in close means that everything gets all bendy. I like this a lot but I recognize that, as with tilted horizons, sometimes this encourages lazy shooting.

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Ten Camera Collection

My response to a recent Flickr discussion post asking for a list of “your top ten must-have film cameras”

  1. 35mm SLR
  2. 35mm rangefinder
  3. 35mm toy camera
  4. 35mm nonstandard format (half frame, square, panoramic, etc.)
  5. 120 645 format
  6. 120 6×6 or 6×7 format
  7. 120 6×9 format
  8. 120 toy camera
  9. 4×5 view camera
  10. some kind of pinhole

This was partially tongue-in-cheek. Lists like this, especially on a place like Flickr, quickly become a list of expensive, name-brand, “legendary” cameras.* And the resulting discussion turns to one of fanboyism. The alternate approach is the (equally silly) collect-them all list. I tried to address both extremes by going generic.

*Leica M3, Hasselblad 503CM, Mamiya 7, Plaubel Makina 67, Nikon F/F4/F6, etc.

At the same time, this list is pretty close to what I am looking for.* While I’m not a collect all standard film formats type, I have found that I like having my choice of different interfaces. I find myself really liking the different methods of using eye-level viewfinders, rangefinders, and waist-level viewfinders.

*Full disclosure, I currently own and use nine film cameras (plus two digitals)

So, in all honesty, my list of cameras to own really looks like this.

  1. 35mm SLR
  2. 35mm rangefinder
  3. 35mm toy camera
  4. 35mm nonstandard format (half frame, square, panoramic, etc.)
  5. 120 waist-level viewfinder
  6. 120 rangefinder
  7. 120 toy camera

I’m currently covered with #1 (Nikomat FTn), #2 (Kodak Retina IIa), #3 (Kodak Pony 135 Model C), #5 (YashicaMat 124G), and #7 (Kodak Brownie Hawkeye Flash). Since I refuse to invest in multiple camera systems and I’m already heavily invested in the Nikon F mount, anything else I get is going to have to be a fixed-lens camera.

Yes, I wouldn’t mind upgrading all of my non-toy cameras to newer/better versions. But that isn’t stopping me from shooting what I’ve got.

Kodak Duaflex II

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After I started shooting the Brownie Hawkeye Flash, I started looking for 620 spools so that I didn’t have to worry about losing the single spool I had. I also found myself liking the waist-level viewfinder as well as medium format (especially 6×6) in general.

Yes. This meant danger looming ahead. I could see it coming but I opted for a second baby step rather than jumping all-in to medium format.

The Duaflex II is a pseudo TLR. It focuses and has three aperture stops but the viewfinder is just a bubble which doesn’t show what’s actually in focus. I figured I’d give it a whirl and see if I liked composing and seeing with it.

It turns out that I did and decided that a real TLR was worth pursuing. Sadly, my Duaflex appears to be busted. The focus is extremely soft and it’s got crazy vignetting. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t gotten a couple good shots out of it.

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So while I enjoy using it, I’m much more likely to use it for TTV photography. It’s a bit too toy-camera for my taste and I prefer the results I get from my Brownie for this kind of work. One project that I can see pursuing though is pairing a TTV shot with a film shot taken at the same time.

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I want my TtV

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While I periodically go out of my photographic comfort zone, I usually do so in ways that aren’t too different from what I’m used to. I will change cameras or lenses but I tend to avoid techniques which risk overwhelming the photography.

Granted, almost anything photographic can become an exercise in technique over content.* The dangerous ones though are those which are fairly easy to do yet have instantly-recognizable and eye-catching results. As a result, they tend to be used as photographic gimmicks rather than useful tools. It’s hard enough to see differently; throw in a gimmick and it’s even harder to avoid falling for the flickr wow factor.

*This will eventually be a post of its own.

One such gimmick is through-the-viewfinder photography.* I have a Kodak Duaflex II which accompanied another 620 spool purchase for my Brownie Hawkeye Flash. Because the Duaflex doesn’t accommodate 120 as well as the Hawkeye does, I’ve ended up shooting through the viewing lens more than the taking lens. The results end up looking a lot like what Hipstamatic or Instagram do but add some distortion to the edge blurs/effects.

*Another, which I’ve posted about previously and which I have a better handle on in terms of how to use the gimmick rather than be used by it, is shooting with a flipped lens.

My results are not intended to show that I have avoided succumbing to the gimmick. These shots are still very heavily-dependent on the effect rather than what I’m doing with it. I’m just documenting the process of learning how to use a gimmick. Also, I really enjoy taking these.
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First, the obligatory shadow self portrait. You can tell from my arms that I’m doing something more than just holding a single camera.
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