The lens is pretty sharp, even at f2, though it’s best at f4 or f5.6. I was surprised at the detail on some of the shots, even on the Kentmere, which is kinda grainy.
The lack of a split prism and smallish finder makes it quite hard to focus in bad light, which is when you really need it. I almost never miss manual focus on 35mm cameras with a split prism, whereas here I did a few times (I’ve not posted the mis-focussed ones… they’re not awful but definitely out.) So if you are shooting in bad light, make sure that if you miss focus the shot is not going to be ruined e.g. have potential subjects at various distances.
Even outdoors with 400-speed film, in London you may need to shoot at f2.8 to get a 1/125 shutter speed.
It’s weird, but even though you’re just as obvious, shooting with a small camera draws less attention. Maybe people see me, see my silly camera, and dismiss me as just some weirdo not worth worrying about.
Now I want to go back and re-try my Olympus Pen (the first, full-manual compact one, not the Pen EE) to compare. I remember some of the shots from that being surprisingly good.
I bought an Olympus Pen FV and I’ve been shooting with it. I finished one roll of Poundland Plus over the weekend (aka Agfa Vista Plus 200, 24 frames, sold for £1—ideal for half frame cameras as 48 shots is plenty) and am now about halfway through a roll of Kentmere 400.
I’ve wanted one of these for ages. I wasn’t particularly focused on the FV, but one appeared on eBay for a reasonable price at the same time as I got some money unexpectedly. There was an FT (which has a light meter) for the same price but, apart from needing mercury batteries which don’t exist any more, it sounded from research as if the meter is just a pain in the arse, being uncoupled from the aperture and speed, and reduces the brightness of the finder too.
I won’t go into the exact details of what the F(V) is and does—you can google that and be just as informed as I was when I bought it. Basically it’s a compact half frame (i.e. each shot is half the size of a normal 35mm frame) film SLR. It was sold on its size and portability as a whole system compared to contemporary full frame cameras.
Half frame never really took off though; I’m not quite sure why. It might not be a great format if you want huge detailed prints but there’s plenty of detail there—commercial movies were shot in half frame, after all, and blown up to the size of a projection screen. The sort of 4×6″ prints that most people took didn’t need large negatives at all. Perhaps one issue for the consumer market was that it takes forever to use up a roll of film.
Half frame also has effects on depth of field, in that it is larger for the same effective focal length; this is good for street photography, letting you shoot faster or in lower light and get more of the scene in focus, but less good for portraits and other styles where you want to isolate a subject by having other elements out of focus. Swings and roundabouts really.
It is a small camera but not much smaller than my Pentax MX, which is to be fair about as small as full frame SLRs get. It’s small enough to fit into the pocket of a big jacket, anyway, making it handy for street photography. Longer lenses will also be smaller.
It is also heavier than it looks (solid metal construction). It’s maybe slightly lighter than the MX and a lot heavier than a compact. That’s still not very heavy though.
Ergonomics are good. It feels comfortable to hold and shoot. I suppose I will find out how stable it really is when I get the film developed.
It’s not as loud as most SLRs, but it’s not silent either. In practice, if you hold a camera to your eye and point it at things, you will draw attention from anyone looking in your direction anyway. I don’t think it is loud enough to draw extra attention after you’ve taken a shot in any moderately busy place.
It doesn’t have a meter but I’m finding that I’m familiar enough with manual settings for city environments that I don’t need one any more. I’ve shot with the MX (manual, has meter but no auto exposure) for long enough that I’ve pretty much memorised them. Your eyes are the best meter if you can train them properly, anyway—no meter can extrapolate incident light at a distant point or know what it is you want to expose for. In weird light, though, it could be an issue.
While it has no shutter lock I don’t think I’ve triggered it accidentally in my pocket yet.
The shutter speed dial is on the front and this is a really good position for it; it’s on the same plane as the aperture dial but far enough away that it’s easy to operate on its own.
There’s no film box end holder on the back or any way of marking, or telling, what film if any is loaded. I suppose one just has to remember.
Loading film is easy, but you have to close the back before it will wind properly—without the backplate, the teeth don’t advance it.
Focussing is pretty easy even though you don’t get a lot of light through a half frame finder. (A fast 50 on a full frame is easier.) It doesn’t have a split-image focussing screen though, which would be nice.
The “kit lens” is a 38mm f1.8 prime, which is about 55mm equivalent on full frame. This is noticeably tighter than 50mm, but with half frame you do need to concentrate on filling that half frame, and a longer lens encourages that IMO. It would make a great street portrait camera, particularly given that the default orientation is portrait.
At the moment my thoughts are that I didn’t really need this and it will not make much difference to my photography, but that it’s cute enough that I don’t really mind.
The Dynax 9 is easily the loveliest late-era professional film camera I have used—all of its functions are so polished and perfect. Exposure is universally spot-on to the extent of being telepathic; autofocus is precise; the huge, clear viewfinder, like an Evian swimming pool, makes people say “ooooh maybe I should try a film camera”; dials and displays have just the right balance between knob-twiddling and “I don’t care just show me the settings”.
The only problems are:
it is pretty heavy. But not really that heavy when it comes down to it. Toughen up. Carrying cameras is cheaper than the gym.
it eats batteries. Well, not too badly I suppose—a pair of CR123s will take it through a holiday easily. But CR123s are expensive, and the battery grip takes 4 x AAs, which are cheap and last longer.
I bought this VC-9 battery grip on eBay from Japan because that seems to be the only place where they are available. I’m not 100% sold on battery grips for SLRs that are pretty large already but, you know, if you’re going to carry a big camera why not go all the way?
The lens on the Dynax 9 in these pictures is the Minolta 50mm f1.4 (with an ugly rubber hood—sorry) which I know looks absurd on a camera this size, particularly when it’s got a battery grip attached, but works wonderfully.
Me: “Sorry, A900, but I think I’m going to sell you.”
A900: “What? But why?”
Me: “Well, it’s just that you cost loads and I don’t have the money. And, you know, I don’t use you much.”
A900: “But wait, what did I do wrong? You love the Dynax 9, right? That’s why you bought me in the first place! How am I worse than the Dynax 9? Do I take worse pictures?”
Me: “Well, no, but you don’t shoot film…”
A900: “Don’t give me that ‘film’ nonsense, you bought me because you were sick of the quality of image quality from the Dynax 9. Do I or do I not take really great pictures?”
Me: “Yes, you do.”
A900: “Don’t I have a really great viewfinder? Don’t I have all the manual controls that the 9 has? Isn’t my autofocus and everything as good or better? Doesn’t my battery never run out? What have I done wrong here?”
A little while ago I was at Silverprint buying some paper and saw rolls of ADOX Colo(u)r Implosion film on the counter. “Imploding Colours! Bursting Red! Toxic Green!” it said on the canister. This is a Lomo film isn’t it? But it was pretty cheap and, you know, why not, so I bought a roll as well as the rest of the junk I was buying.
Researching it on the net, the suggestion is that it was a ruined batch of 800 ISO colour aerial film. People suggested shooting it at between 100 and 400, so when I went to a photography meetup on Easter Monday I thought I’d give that a try – shooting 12 frames at 100, 12 at 200 and 12 at 400. Here are some scans – I’ve messed with levels slightly on some of them, but not changed colours. (Correcting for the green tint isn’t hard but in this situation seems a bit silly.)
So this is really green then. And also, at EI 100 (that’s Exposure Index i.e. the ISO that I exposed the film at) pretty over-exposed. And also very grainy.
So these are all very green too, and grainier. I suppose there’s a very slight blue cast too.
Some red! Not all that bursting though I have to say. Basically still very green and even grainier, to quite ridiculous levels here.
At the end of it all I wasn’t that impressed by this film. I didn’t see any colour shifts between different speeds and it was absurdly grainy at all of them. Like a lot of expired or damaged film, I think it might be best when used to take pictures of one large thing rather than complex crowd scenes like the ones here which rather require detail.
(The camera was a Minolta Dynax 5 with 50mm/f1.7 prime, for the record.)
I did a little experiment with my Ricoh GR with pictures of moving water at various speeds, which might be of interest and use to people, so hey here are the results. (The pictures were taken at Camden Lock incidentally, and cropped quite significantly as the GR has a 28mm equivalent lens.)
At 1/30, moving droplets are blurred lines, and water in greater volume is a textured sheet. This is about the limit of how low I could handhold the camera while perching on the banks of the canal.
At 1/60, individual drops are more visible but still turn into lines. There are more gaps visible in sheets of water but detail is still lost.
At 1/250 there is a balance. Individual drops are visible if they aren’t moving too quickly perpendicular to the direction of the shot, but they still blur slightly, and if they are moving perpendicular (i.e. across the shot) they’re certainly blurred. The water is still definitely moving but you can see some detail in it.
1/500 is coming close to freezing the water, though there is still a little bit of motion blur in areas that are moving particularly quickly.
And at 1/1000 the water is pretty much still, and blur is due to the limits of the camera.
Which is best? Okay, the answer is always going to be “depends on what you want”, but, some thoughts:
In a landscape photo there’s a lot to be said for freezing the static details of the scene and blurring the moving ones – Ansel Adams did this a lot. The lower speeds achieve this.
The higher speeds are slightly alien. You only see water like this in real life if the scene is lit by a strobe. I would generally use them if I wanted to capture a very deliberate slice of somebody interacting with water drops, and I wanted to emphasise the fact that drops were involved.
For most purposes 1/250 is a good speed for me. People generally don’t move faster than 1/250 unless they’re doing something really quick like sports or martial arts (more so if they’re close), and if I was taking pictures of a scene with people plus moving water I’d get more out of freezing the people in the shot and retaining water movement via motion blur.
I’ve recently started learning to print pictures in an actual darkroom. I was a bit concerned that I wasn’t getting the full potential out of film, that I was missing out somewhere. It’s also nice to spend a few hours in a quiet dark room wholly involved in a creative process, and it is creative – the darkroom is where you do your post processing.
It’s slow, or at least I am. In the last session I spent four hours to print three negatives to a point where I was happy with them. At this stage I’m picking things that will challenge me each time – different films and development and lighting conditions – so that I learn, so this will end up being slower than if I was just printing a series of fairly similar shots.
It’s not very expensive though, even if it’s time consuming. I go to a darkroom in a community arts centre (Chats Palace if you’re interested, I can recommend it) and pay a few pounds an hour. The paper isn’t all that expensive. For learning purposes I bought a box of 100 5×7″ sheets of Ilford Multigrade RC Satin – this is a good quality paper that allows for different contrasts, not exhibition quality fibre paper but then you’d not print for an exhibition at 5×7″ anyway unless you were odd. That cost me about £20. At the moment I may use 3-4 sheets to get a print nailed – you need to use paper to test your exposure settings, and they change with each negative – but once you’ve done that you can make as many prints as you like at the same settings.
The technology of it is not difficult to learn. Objectively speaking it is far simpler than Photoshop. That doesn’t mean that it is easy to make good prints, but it means it is much quicker to get to the stage where it is your artistic ability and experience that is the deciding factor, rather than you not knowing where a menu is.
You do learn how forgiving film is in terms of exposure, but also how important lens and film quality is, because you can push the physical limits of the medium when printing. When scanning I’ve found that, while sharp film and a good lens does make a difference, it doesn’t make that much difference as you’re limited mostly by the scanner. This isn’t the case with printing, and the larger you print (including enlarging for a crop on smaller paper) the more you notice. Though even with my staple grainy Kentmere 400 it’s still not bad. I’ll probably buy more T-Max though.
And finally, it’s not something that is digitisable. You’ve made something that exists in the physical world. You may be able to put it in a scanner but at best looking at it on a screen will not be the same as seeing the original. I’m not quite sure what to do about this but it’s novel. I feel like making a zine or something.
I find myself having to defend my position of using1 film cameras a lot less frequently than I used to. When I talk to anyone interested in photography and mention this, they either don’t even mention it, ask some questions about how I afford it2, or say “oh yes I do too”.
Film photography seems to have become acceptable, at least in the circles I have encountered, for the purposes of:
Those are the two aspects of photography that I am most interested in; I don’t know about you.
I’m coming to the conclusion that the only people who really care are on the internet, and thus don’t really exist.
One of the features that gets used by both film and digital advocates to promote their argument for their preferred medium is the limitation of the number of shots on a roll.
“I can take hundreds of shots in a day on a cheap SD card. Having just 36 on a roll means I might miss something, and I’ll be reluctant to take shots because I’ll be thinking about the price. Plus, I could miss something while reloading, or when the roll comes to an end too early.”
“Having limited shots on a roll means you don’t just spray them around, you take more time composing and choosing shots and you end up with better results.”
There’s truth in both of these – quite a lot in the digital one, though I wrote it to illustrate some common misconceptions too. Film really isn’t all that expensive, particularly if you develop it yourself, which I do for B&W, and if you scan it yourself, which I do for both. The process doesn’t take that long either.
It also isn’t hard to carry much more film than you will ever ever get through in a day, changing rolls on most cameras is quick, and any sensible person will have a backup pocket camera anyway if they’re that worried about losing something in the seconds changing a roll takes.
(I’m not saying there are no advantages to the digital workflow by any means but capacity is way less significant than people make out.)
On the other hand the common film defence isn’t really true either. Fine, it is good to think before taking shots, but if you get into the habit of not taking shots because of the value of the film you’re as bad as a digital user who takes hundreds of shots of everything because they can.
A lot of the classic (and thus film) street photographers took absurd amounts of pictures. Garry Winogrand took on average several rolls a day the whole of his photographic career – there are anecdotes about him shooting a whole roll while walking less than one block. He shot so much film it wore down the backplate of his Leica. He wasn’t just taking pictures of clouds and fire hydrants and the backs of people’s heads though; every picture he took had a point to it, but he didn’t ever stop himself. (He also took multiple shots if he could, though with street work this isn’t always possible. This is something I’ve heard lots of good photographers say they do.)
So I suppose the conclusions that I’ve come to are:
Shooting more pictures doesn’t mean you get more keepers. It doesn’t work by a ratio. A roll of crap pictures on film will have no more keepers than 500 crap pictures on digital.
You shouldn’t ever stop yourself from taking pictures though, at least not in 35mm. (Okay, if you’re shooting medium or large format you should probably pick and choose more.) Also take more than one if you’re not convinced you nailed it the first time which you probably didn’t.
If in doubt shoot, but it needs to be a reasonable doubt.
(this post originally appeared on Google+ – I should have written it here first though)
I expect that better writers and philosophers than me have explored what it is that photography teaches us about perception. Certainly it is teaching me that light is not perception. First of all, with black and white film, I had to reconcile the difference between what I was seeing with my eyes when taking pictures, and what actually came out in the negatives. It’s hard to recognise how much levels of light really vary in the real world when just looking at things – eyes, after all, are very well suited to looking at things in all levels of light where there is any at all, and also many different levels of illumination in the same scene.
For instance, I am currently indoors in a not terribly well lit bar, but I can easily see everything around me. If I concentrate, I can tell that I have a lower depth of field here than I would in daytime, and that my eyes have to adjust slightly to see things at different distances. But I have to concentrate to notice that. There is probably 1/1000th of the light in here now than there would be outside in full daytime, but that doesn’t matter to me in practice, except if I am taking photographs, when it suddenly matters a great deal.
There is also the issue of colour. Most of the light here is very yellowish, but I adjust for that pretty well – I instinctively know that the menu by the candle is white, not yellow, and that the plant on the other side has green leaves. When there is more light and the difference is more subtle I barely notice the ambient colours. On the other hand, here are two versions of the same shot taken on Elite Chrome 100 in downtown LA recently.
Note that this is slide film, so there aren’t any of the odd issues regarding colour correction that you get with colour negatives. But the uncorrected picture looks very blue. I googled to see whether this was a known issue with the film (several others from LA at the same time have the same) and saw some people saying “yes, shadows are blue with Elite Chrome” but then also others saying “but shadows are blue in natural light – they’re lit by ambient light from the blue sky, not from the sun”. From my memory, the second picture is closer to what I remember, but look at how the white balance correction in the second picture also removes a lot of the blue from the sky, which really have should stayed. And, you know, it was pretty monochrome in the shadows. Perhaps it did look like that and I’m misremembering?
What helps me get past this sort of rumination is remembering that the point of taking photographs is to produce a good picture. Maybe the camera and film will capture colours and light in a way that won’t correspond to what I remember seeing, but that’s okay – what matters is knowing how they will capture the scene given the settings I choose, what sort of results I want, and matching the two together.