in Cameras, Photography

Polaroid SNAP samples

I downloaded some of the digital backup images from my Polaroid SNAP just now and thought I might as well post some samples of what they look like. Second one has the B&W filter option selected in-camera.

The SNAP saves everything you take to a MicroSD card, if you insert one, which you might as well—they’re undated, as it doesn’t have a clock, but as you can see the quality is not too bad. It’s certainly better than that of the actual prints which are ugly unless you’re in really good light; underexposed with odd colour shifts, very blue.

They work well for journalling though. I prefer Instax in general for colours, physicality and enjoyment, but if you want to stick pictures in a journal (which I do), the SNAP’s Zink prints are:

  • thinner, so you can put more in a book without it getting too fat;
  • sticky with peel-off backing, so you don’t need to carry tape/stickers/glue;
  • more space-efficient as there’s no border, so you can get more on a page.

Plus the SNAP is way lighter than any Instax camera, as are Zink paper refills, so better for travelling. It charges via USB too, vs the Instax battery on my Mini 90 needing its own charger, but that’s not a significant advantage as neither of them really use any power worth talking about and won’t run out.

Technical details: the EXIF data shows that ISO ranges from 37 to 450 on the ones I downloaded, with aperture at a constant f2.7.

Olympus Pen FV – some pics

Just a few random samples from the Olympus Pen FV that I wrote about previously. These are on a mix of Kentmere 400 and Agfa Vista Plus 200.

thoughts while shooting and scanning

  • 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.

So I got an Olympus Pen F(V) finally

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.


Some observations:

  • 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.


Midori Traveler’s Notebook Film Pocket Sticker

I picked up a pack of these while buying another lightweight paper refill at JP Books1. I increasingly stick Instax pictures into my journal, so the idea of something that makes this simpler than carrying around tape interested me.


The pack contains six sheets of three pockets each, with each one being able to hold a credit card sized object—for instance an Instax picture, but also tickets, receipts, any random rubbish really. The pockets are plastic film with glue around the edges and a slit at the top through which you can insert your emphemera. They seem sturdy enough despite being thin.

Two advantages of this over double sided tape or glue are that (a) it protects the item, and (b) said item is also removable should you ever want to take it out or replace it.

A full sheet of these doesn’t quite fit into the TN plastic pocket insert where I keep far too much junk already. However if you cut the sheet into three you can put the individual pockets in without trouble.

I like the direction that Midori are going with accessories like this—they help make the TN into a general purpose physical memory capture device with the benefits of scrapbook and journal, which is precisely what I like about mine. It’s the same mentality as the Instax and I’d be very surprised if they hadn’t thought of it when releasing it.

  1. I recommend this shop just off Piccadilly Circus if you’re in London and want to buy Traveler’s Notebook accessories. Not only do they have pretty much everything, they have very good prices. 

Ongoing protest photography project: history and rules

At some point my taking pictures at marches and demonstrations turned into a Project.

Initially it was just my response to going on marches but being incredibly bored at them. I’m not good at waiting around patiently for things to start, or listening to speeches; I know why I’m there or I wouldn’t have come. Most people come with friends and comrades to chat to but none of my friends are interested in this stuff and I don’t have any comrades.

So I started taking pictures. For a while I thought that I might actually do photojournalism at least semi professionally (I bought the A900 for this reason) but I found that I hated the identikit set-up type of picture that you have to take if you want to do that because that’s all that the media wants to buy.

I started to take pictures from the perspective of someone on the march instead, ones that tried to show people as real individuals and not a generic shouty mass of “protest”, and I generally shot film. This is mostly because I like shooting film, but I re-invented it as a rule with an artistic purpose: I was going to use equipment and film types from around the time of my childhood and youth (70s and 80s, a period of a lot of political protest in the UK, and also one from which a lot of cameras survive).

Eventually I came up with these rules. Why? The capabilities of your equipment influence the type and nature of the shots you take. Using period equipment lets me compare period photojournalism to my own photography and also modern photojournalism, look for differences, and try to see whether they are due to differences in society and politics or to changes in technology and the economy of pro photography.

  1. No cameras from after the Poll Tax riots (1990). This rules out most though not all of the autofocus SLRs that I have, but that’s okay—I’m fine with using manual SLRs. I’d use a Leica if I had one. (All donations gratefully received.)
  2. Prime lenses in general. This isn’t hard and fast but it’s so much easier to manually focus fast primes than slow zooms that it happens all the time in practice.
  3. I use B&W almost all the time, usually classic photojournalism films like HP5+ and Tri-X which haven’t changed a lot. (This is new film but people at the time would not have shot expired film if they could help it.) If I was going to shoot colour I should really shoot slide film to be period accurate, but slide is so damned expensive these days, so I tend not to. Also I can’t print it in the darkroom, which leads me to…
  4. I do scan the negatives of these pictures, using them for social media and also as a sort of contact sheet, but the goal is to make prints. Nothing fancy: I go to a darkroom and bang out 8x10s of the keepers, no cropping. I don’t know what I am supposed to be doing with these to be frank but maybe something will come to mind. I’m a big fan of doing things which seem artistically appropriate and then working out why, later.

Goals for the future

  1. Maybe an exhibition of some sort, but it’s a constantly updated project so that doesn’t seem quite appropriate. A zine?
  2. Do away with the digital element of the workflow completely. Make contact sheets and decide which frames to print from those. This would make sharing harder but you know, it’s not like that’s going to make much difference. I can always take pictures of the prints.

Minolta VC-9 battery grip for the Dynax 9

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:

  1. it is pretty heavy. But not really that heavy when it comes down to it. Toughen up. Carrying cameras is cheaper than the gym.

  2. 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.

Pencil tentative conclusions

So I have been using a number of the pencils that I have posted about over the past few months, mostly in three contexts:

  1. writing in my work journal (these are actual notebooks I physically write in the office, which really disturbs some people);
  2. writing in my personal journal (currently a Midori Traveler’s Notebook with the ultra-thin paper);
  3. writing in pocket notebooks/pads.

Thoughts along the way:

  • Keeping a wooden pencil in your pocket is just asking for the point to break off. I don’t do this any more. A clicky ballpoint is what you want here.
  • Even keeping a wooden pencil in a bag results in the point breaking off every now and then. You should always carry a sharpener. I use a Kum Long Point sharpener—you can get these from lots of shops and they’re cheap. In the UK, cultpens stocks them; outside the UK, I don’t know, just google. They are good because the length of the resulting point means it goes blunter slower, which makes a lot of difference with soft leads like those on the Blackwing. The sharpener also keeps the shavings inside it so you don’t have to be near a bin.
  • I have found using even cheap pencils more comfortable than using even expensive mechanical pencils. They may be straight lengths of wood with lead in the middle but they feel much better in the hand and I write much more happily. I suspect it’s a combination of the weight, both overall lightness and balance, and the lead quality.
  • On the subject of expensive mechanical pencils—don’t buy them. They don’t write any better and they go wrong. Cheap mechanical pencils go wrong less. The best balance between expense and use I’ve found is the Uni Kuru-Toga, which is noticeably nicer to use than other mechanicals that need rotating a lot, but is still relatively inexpensive. On the other hand I bought an aluminium Super Promecha which stopped working after a couple of weeks.

But anyway, the pencils that I have ended up using the most:

  • Top pencil: the Field Notes No.2. These look simple but are excellent. The lead has a great balance between darkness and hardness; they smell lovely when you sharpen them; they are round, which does mean they roll off tables but also makes them easier to rotate to get precisely the lead angle you like; they have a proper rubber on the end. I write much more when I am using these pencils.
  • Equal top pencil but maybe slightly lower: the Blackwing 602. I bought a box of these because there was a coupon somewhere. I enjoy writing with Blackwings but they are so soft, I mean, aggravatingly soft. The 602 is the hardest one they make and a page of journalling will rub a freshly-sharpened point down to one that is noticeably broad. I end up sharpening them a lot, so I have lots of short Blackwings. The line they make is dark and deep and satisfying, and I love them just after I have sharpened them and wonder why I bother writing with anything else, and then a page later I remember.
  • Pencil that works perfectly well: anything by Staedtler apart from the WOPEX ones. If you haven’t heard of these, WOPEX pencils are made from compressed artificial wood and are horrible. Sharpening them just feels wrong, scraping-fingernails-on-blackboard wrong, and their leads are both too hard and not dark enough. But apart from the WOPEX, the rest are great. I prefer the Tradition because of the nice red and black colours; I’ve never noticed a difference when writing between those and the “premium” Mars line.

The Mitsubishi Hi-Uni and the Tombow Mono 100 that I mentioned in my last pencil post? They’re nice, but on consideration I don’t see enough benefit compared to the others to justify the price.

Conversations with my cameras #1: the Sony A900

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?”

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Interim pencil update

I have ordered a load of new pencils.

  • Mitsubishi Hi-Uni HB
  • Faber-Castell 9000 HB & B
  • Staedtler Mars Lumograph HB & B
  • Caran d’Ache Technograph HB (these are surprisingly pricey)

and a few literally old-school pencils for comparison – these were the pencils I used at school:

  • Staedtler Noris Pencil HB
  • Staedtler Tradition Pencil HB

I will post about them when I receive them.

My general observation so far is that “standard” pencils leave a lighter line than “posh” ones at the same hardness, but still erode at the same rate. I tried some Staedtler WOPEX HB pencils which were inexpensive but pretty much unusable as HB, unless you just wanted to leave a faint ghost impression on the page, or you pressed really absurdly hard on the paper. They’re not available as anything apart from HB, either. I don’t recommend WOPEX pencils. They don’t smell nice either, not being made of wood.

Out of the posh pencils that I have, the Tombow Mono 100 is proving to be the best so far. I have given up on the standard Blackwing – while I do appreciate being able to just drift a writing implement over paper to produce a line, it quite literally goes blunt before I have finished writing a word. The Blackwing 602 with the silver barrel is slightly harder, but it still seems to need more sharpening than the Mono 100, whilst producing a very similar sort of line in darkness/pressure terms.

The Mono 100 is pretty expensive here though, being a Japanese import, so I would be interested in finding a more local equivalent – that’s why I ordered a few of the Staedtler Mars and the Faber-Castell 9000, which are half the price. I’m interested to see whether there’s any practical difference between those and the consumer-grade Staedtlers, though, at HB, which is the grade that school pencils are designed for.

Random additions: I ordered a Mitsubishi Hi-Uni because I saw it on the Cult Pens website while I was looking at pencils. The same goes for the Caran D’Ache Technograph. I have no idea why the latter are so pricey – they’re £2.60 each including VAT.

Pencils and the Atlantic

I’ve started on pencils.


There is a specific reason why I started buying, and using pencils. Actually there are a few but the primary one is that I find it very difficult to tell the difference between pencils. With fountain pens, tiny details of the ink and the flow and the writing angle and the grip obsess and distract me while I am trying to write. I even have this problem with ballpoints, which were my next attempt to find something I couldn’t spend all my time messing about with – people find it hard to believe, but there is a lot of difference between a bog standard Bic and, say, a Schneider Slider (my favourite biro – I have a big box of them).

The English don’t romanticise pencils in my experience. For some reason, U.S. commentators seem to be more likely to – not only are there many pencil blogs, but compare the comments on pencils on and I picked the top result searching for “pencil”. There are 11 comments on .uk, mostly vaguely positive one-liners like:

Good quality at a good price, couldn’t resist; decent bulk buy for the school, the kids prefer the rubber tipped ones.

These traditional looking pencils work well, they draw nicely and the rubber is useful and hasn’t fallen off. They sharpen well and are useful. They feel OK in the hand.

whereas on .com there are 147 comments, highly opinionated and often running into multiple paragraphs. Just some of the shorter ones:

These pencils are absolute garbage. You can’t even sharpen then without the wood splitting down the middle. If you are lucky enough to get past that, the lead is very weak and breaks off everytime you try and write with it. This is the WORST PENCIL EVER!

This is the absolutely the greatest pencil you can purchase. It writes smoothly and works like a charm. It is easy to sharpen and erase. This pencil is magical.

Sharpen…start to write…break. Sharpen…writes for 1 minute…break. ETC. ETC. ETC. The WHOLE BOX. These pencils are AWFUL. The teachers in the school recommended these…maybe they used to be good…but not anymore.
Unless there is a public statement from Ticonderoga that they made a mistake and have rectified the problem…stay far away.
I never knew I could get so FRUSTRATED by a simple pencil. Guess I have to write in INK from now on.

though this chap probably qualifies for a UK passport:

So yeah. These are pencils. When it comes to pencils, there are really only two things that come to mind: is the eraser good and does it sharpen easily. Fortunately, these pencils are pretty good. The eraser won’t smear your writing and make it illegible, and the pencil is pretty easy to sharpen. So yeah. Pretty decent box of pencils, I’ll probably buy another sometime.

Pencils just aren’t a thing here. The Staedtler ones I linked to are really standard-issue at schools, either those or the black and red “Tradition” ones, but one really isn’t expected to care in the slightest about pencils after early primary school, unless one is an artist or architect or something (and I am not, so can’t speak for gear obsession there). Basically pencils are what children get until they can be trusted with ink. If anything can stop me getting too obsessed with a stationery item for itself, it is this.

I might as well just quickly run down what I thought of these pencils.

  • Tombow Mono 100 – good quality, light in the hand, for an HB delivers a nice dark line whilst still being hard enough not to need sharpening every word. It looks very ordinary but I can sort of see why people like these.

  • Palomino Blackwing (black) – lovely smooth lead, needs very little pressure, needs sharpening every word, or in fact halfway through long words. If you don’t mind rotating the pencil constantly, or you don’t mind thick lines a lot of the time, this a great pencil. I’m getting annoyed with it though.

  • Palomino Blackwing 602 – noticeably harder lead than the standard Blackwing, which was why I bought one after reading American pencil blogs. Actually it still needs sharpening quite a bit but not nearly as much as the Blackwing does. One can actually write a whole sentence.

  • Field Notes pencil – for some reason I have a pack of these. I don’t know why. I must have got them as a free gift at some point because there is no way I would have bought them. This is my favourite pencil here though because (a) it smells really nice – proper cedar scent (b) it looks really nice – plain wood with simple black printing on it, straight silver ferrule, green eraser, no messing about – and (c) it also writes well – smooth point, dark line but not too soft.

  • Kimberley 525 – this really quite soft, which is more my fault for buying a 2B. It feels, you know, kind of like a pencil, but the lead is a bit soft for writing. I can’t blame the pencil for this – it’s not like the Blackwing, which says “hey I am a writing pencil look at all my faux-historical references”. I should really get an HB one if I’m going to properly compare and contrast.

Reading back, I’m doomed, aren’t I?