Category Archives: gear

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A couple weeks ago Marc sent me a cryptic note on Twitter that I should be expecting a package in a few days and that I shouldn’t leave it in my mailbox. I’d said something that inspired him earlier this summer but had no idea what to expect. Marc’s packages are frequently surprising but one which could spoil? I was so clueless that I couldn’t even begin to guess.

When I opened the package a week ago, it all made sense. Marc and I, in addition to being into cards, are also photographers. Much in the same way that Robby and I talk shop with cards and printing, Marc and I discuss cards and photography—and sometimes just photography itself.

That I’ve been shooting film and posting my on-the-go contact sheet scans* this summer means I’m the recipient of some of Marc’s over-stocked freezer. Everything here is expired—often long so. But that’s not stopped me in the past.

*Why yes I do have a post about the workflow.

It’s been a long time since I had bunch of random expired film to try. Keeble has been shuttered for a few years and even before then the bargains had dried up. This looks like a lot of fun. Four emulsions I’ve never tried plus one that I’ve not shot in eight years*

*And looking through my notes suggests I may actually have shot Portra 160VC, not Portra 400VC.

Two of these rolls look perfect for toy cameras. The ORWO looks to be all kinds of nutso since it’s the only one that’s not from Marc’s freezer. I’m currently thinking that I’ll run it through the flipped lens camera but obviously things might change. The TMax100 meanwhile is calling for me to start shooting my Pony again—though putting the 105mm lens on my Nikomat is also a possibility.

The slide film is also all kinds of exciting. Even my good cameras are kind of junk in that I don’t exactly trust the shutter speeds anymore. They’re fine for color negative film. They’re totally fine for Tri-X. But I’ve wanted to try slides for a long time. Especially 120 slides.

I’ve already loaded the Provia in my Yashicamat and am working my way through that roll. Hopefully I’ll get it done before I go back to New Jersey since I have no idea where to get it developed in New Jersey.

The Ektachrome? I don’t know yet. It’s tungsten balanced so it’s already going to be kind of wack since I have literally no tungsten lights around me anymore. Part of me wants to shoot it straight and embrace the blues. Part of me wants to take it out at night with a tripod. Part of me wants to cross-process it so I don’t have to worry about finding a place that processes E6.

Anyway this is good. I’ve been in a bit of a photography rut for the past five years. A lot of this is just not getting Princeton. When I’m in California in the summers I see photos everywhere. I’ve yet to reach that way of seeing things in New Jersey. Some of this is because things are just too pretty and picturesque. I’ve taken all those photos to get them out of my system but haven’t felt many of them. But I’ve also just gotten out of the habit of going out and taking photos.

I used to go shooting as part of my lunch break. Get out of the office. Clear my head. Go outside. Now I’m often trying to get as much done before the kids get back and I need a bit of kick in the pants to go out. Trying new gear or film has always been one such kick for me. Those years when I was always trying out some new junk camera or expired film were a lot of fun.

While the gimmick of the new gear was often not the winning shot, getting outside and looking for photos was the recipe that worked. I’m excited to have an excuse to get back to that.

Oh, and of course there were cards in there as well. Lots of these are for the kiddos as they represent junk wax that I have already but which they will happily add to their “old cards” binder. Yes, that’s what they call all their cards from the 1980s and 1990s. Yes it makes me feel really really old.

I’ll probably hang onto that Trevor Wilson card though. And I need to fogure out what to do with the Tom Herr card since it’s technically a Cardinals card even though it features a Giant and was shot at Candlestick. Also that photo is the kind of thing which made my jaw drop when I opened my first pack of Score back in 1988.

Marc managed to fill a hole in one of my searchlists with that Roger Craig Glossy All Star. Where in 1990 I bought a ton of packs of Topps even though I’d been getting a factory set for Christmas each year since 1987, in 1991 I saved my money and bought no packs of Topps. Unfortunately that meant I missed out on all four Giants in the Glossy All Stars set. It’s nice to have all four of them now.

The rest of these 1991 cards are also likely to end up in the “old cards” binder. Though I’m pretty sure that I never had those 1991 Fleers since I did not buy many packs of those back in the day.

The last of the junk wax cards includes a fantastic Topps Stadium Club Ultra Pro Barry Bonds oddball. I was unaware of this set. I’m not sure if I should be glad or mad about finding out about it.

And a handful pf 2015 Topps cards. Some of which I need. Some of which I don’t. It’s nice to slowly work backwards and backfill team sets from the 2010s since this team is very much one that’s close to my heart.

Marc also sent a wonderful sample of 2018 cards. The handful of Series 2 Giants is especially appreciated. The pair of Stadium Clubs are beautiful. And I’m really digging the handful of Big League. For a modern release it just feels like cards from when I was kid. Not physically, but the photography and backs are closer to what things used to be like. Things aren’t as aggressively cropped. Action images don’t emphasize exertion. Borders give everything a chance to breathe. Substantial stats on the back are great (although I wish they were complete instead of cutting off at 15 years).

these are also the first Gypsy Queen and Allen & Ginter cards I’ve seen this year. I’m still not a convert to either of these sets. Gypsy Queen still gives me the HDR hives although this year’s set is doing some interesting things printwise in terms of its GCR handling. Ginter meanwhile continues to be Ginter. I like the non-sport cards (most of the time) and am very happy to have representative samples of the baseball cards. It’s just not my thing.

On to the weirder stuff. First some early Mother’s Cookies cards. The 1985s in particular are brand new to me. It really weirds me out to see so much action photography. I’m used to the more-sedate posed photos which the 1986s feature here (I love that Greg Minton pose) and which they never moved away from until the mid 90s.

By the mid-90s the Mother’s Cookies poses were tighter head and shoulders images like these. I don’t enjoy them as much or the change to having borders. The 1986 Topps and 1990 Fleer cards are for my set builds and are much appreciated. It’s always fun to get a Sportflics card. I only have four from 1987 too so this one is doubly awesome. That Swell set sure is yellow. I already know that my kids are going to be ecstatic receiving Willie Mays and Christy Mathewson cards.

Holy moly how great is that 1975 SSPC Roger Craig. He looks the same in 1962, 1975, and 1989. The handful of Stanford guys is also great. I know I don’t have three of them and the other two are part of sets which are in binders in a box on a shelf in my parents’ converted garage. In other words, having duplicates that I can actually put in my Stanford albums is super useful.

Thanks Marc! I’ll post again when I get my film back and scanned. And it looks like I’m going to have to write about my kids’ reactions to getting huge stacks of Giants cards.

about:blank is my Light Table

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While I was traveling this summer, I shot a bit of film. Since I didn’t have a scanner with me, I ended up hacking together a mobile contact sheet workflow so I could share some shots before I got back home to my scanner. Doing this required an iPad,* iPhone, Photoshop Express, and Snapseed.

*I’m working in Appleverse so these will all be within the iOS space. Nothing here requires Apple stuff however since Google makes Snapseed and Adobe makes Photoshop Express.

First, pointing the iPad toward about:blank is a super-simple way of getting a light table. This is useful in general for previewing negatives or slides and once I started doing that the obvious next step was to use my phone as a loupe and take photos of the negatives.

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When I’m doing this I set my iPhone to invert colors. This is a standard Accessibility option and only changes the phone display—the camera and even the screenshots all result in the non-inverted colors. Inverting the screen allows me to get a better sense of the negative and even adjust some of the camera exposure settings before I take a photo. The hardest part is minimizing the reflection of my phone off the negative sleeves.

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The resulting image should look like a decent negative. I didn’t worry about cropping or even getting things super square since I can fix all that later on in Snapseed.

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I use Photoshop Express to invert the negative. It’s one of the basic looks and there’s not much to say about it. Open the app, select the photo, invert, and save the photo. If I screwed up and reversed the negative on the iPad I often flip it here. But that’s something Snapseed can do too.

Since this is just an inversion, it won’t work with color negatives. Removing the color mask is a lot more complicated than a global color correction can handle so this workflow only works with black and white film.

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The result is a low-contrast positive image. This is sufficient for sharing and previewing but I like to run it through Snapseed and adjust the levels to reflect just what’s in the film. No recipes here. I adjust the crops and perspective correction until it looks square enough. And I play with the image tuning so that the histogram covers the entire gamut.

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I don’t push things too far though. I like seeing the negative borders and keeping a sense of “contact sheet” to these. They’re supposed to be roughish and prepare me for scanning them for real. I just want them to be nice enough that I enjoy sharing them too.

Flipped lens

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A roll through the Brownie with the flipped lens. I still find myself thinking that this is one of my better portrait setups. Also underexposed Ektar is mighty odd stuff. Usually underexposure just gives me reds. Ektar gives me blues instead.

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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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