Odd patterns on colour negatives

Scanning some colour negatives that I got back this afternoon, I find that several of them have faint blurry white spots in a diagonal grid pattern on them. This mostly seems to appear on bright ones which have a lot of blue sky on them, but then that could just be because I only notice the spots against a bright blue – a couple indoors have noticeable ones too.

This is with the Olympus XA, so it could be something to do with the camera – I noticed that the bit which presses on the film inside the back of the camera, whatever that’s called, has holes in it – but I’ve not noticed it on any shots I’ve taken on black and white film and developed myself. (Admittedly, shots on other rolls were all in fairly poor light, as opposed to Thursday’s brightness.) I’ve never seen it on other scans using the same film, either. It could be development… this is just at the local Snappy Snaps, and while they are nice there I’m not that sure about their development process. Most of my colour films from there have looked rather washed out, from a number of cameras.

Any thoughts?

Quick camera purchase update

I got the Olympus XA that I bid for in the post earlier today, incidentally, for all those thousands of you who are fascinated with my eBay activity. So now I have an XA, an XA1 and an XA2. That’s probably enough to be getting on with.

They all look extremely similar, but are really quite different in operation. I took the XA out today and wandered around snapping with it for a bit; it is much more of a “compact 35mm rangefinder” than a “camera you keep in your pocket in case aliens land next to you”. It has optical focusing, an ƒ2.8 lens, aperture-based exposure and an indicator of the current shutter speed in the viewfinder (from 1/500 to 2s). These are all quite simple to use, but one will be tempted to spend more time fiddling with them to get a perfect picture I suspect, rather than just pointing and taking the picture and seeing how it comes out later.

The XA1, in contrast, has automatic exposure and basically no controls at all apart from setting the film speed and whether you want to use the flash – not even focusing. It doesn’t have a battery; the lightmeter works with a selenium photoelectric cell. I have some surprisingly good pictures from it though. The XA2 is in-between, with three focus zones and the same light-touch electronic shutter release as the XA.

I suppose the relative use of them for “street photography” depends on exactly how you think of this concept as working.

Eyedropper update, and a little about my journalling habits

I posted last year about the Airmail 69L eyedropper – a simple, well made, large capacity pen – and I thought I would write a little follow-up.

Since then my journalling and writing practices have become a bit more regular. There are three pens that I need at any one time to be fully efficient:

  1. A writing pen – this can be almost anything depending on my tastes at the time, as long as it is loaded with some reasonable ink that isn’t red, and I have it with me.

  2. A red editing pen. When I am “processing” my journal I read over previous entries and add tasks based on them, or copy them up. When I do this I write what I have done next to the entry with the date that I did it (e.g. “16/2/2012 tasked”) and, when everything on a page is dealt with, I cross the page number out. I do all this in red. Sometimes I write little comments on the page as well. These are often sarcastic.

  3. A highlighter, optionally, to emphasise things while I am writing them, as immediate editing.

For #3 I use the Pelikan Duo highlighter. That one is a easy choice. There isn’t a lot else that the Duo is actually for.

For #2, I played with a few solutions, but ended up buying another Airmail with a red cap that I fill with Noodler’s Empire Red, slightly diluted. An editing pen needs to have a fine nib, since you may have to fit notes into limited space, and it needs to reliably work regardless of how long it was since you last picked it up, since I edit quite unpredictably. The Airmail works very well for both of these. It doesn’t dry up easily and if it does, it’s very easy to re-prime – just unscrew it a bit, point it downwards, screw it up until a drop of ink appears on the nib, then turn it to point upwards and finish tightening it.

For #1 I use whatever pen I have at hand, but generally I carry a spare in my bag, and that has ended up being the original Airmail most of the time, for similar reasons – it writes reliably whenever I need it, and it’s better to have a spare with a fine nib to cover more possible uses (a pen can be too broad for a purpose, say drawing diagrams, but it’s much rarer that it is too fine).

Increasingly frequently, I think “you know what, I can’t be bothered with another pen, I’m just going to use the Airmail”. I still load it exclusively with Noodler’s Heart of Darkness, which I rarely put in anything else. I have a large bottle of HoD which has an eyedropper built into the cap – this makes it ideal for filling eyedropper pens, but awkward to fill other pens from. (The eyedropper arrangement comes out of the bottle covered with ink, so has to be wiped down or put somewhere impermeable if one is going to fill a pen straight from the bottle, and this always means getting ink all over my fingers.) HoD is an excellent black that suits almost all occasions, being fast drying, dense and permanent. The pen itself has proved to have just as good a nib as I thought initially – fine but smooth, really quite amazing for a sub £10 pen – and the shape and balance make it very easy to write with. It’s really only when I have a fancy to use a new ink in a broad nib as part of some pretentious writerly mood that I use something else.

Perhaps this means I am getting boring, but the Airmail has certainly ended up high on my favourite pen list. I gave it a positive review when I first got it, and a year later I’m glad to see I was right. So, buy one. Or more. I may get some in different colours.

Omni frustrates me

Annoyed to the _n_th degree by yet another Things sync issue last year, I migrated to Omnifocus, as it seemed at least to have working OTA sync. Which it does. It also has a very clear and well designed iPad client, and a basic but functional iPhone one. The highly expensive Mac desktop client, however, is still a dinosaur that has barely changed since I first tried a demo several years ago and thought “this is way too hard to use”.

“But they’ve just written this nice new iPad client,” thought I, “so, fingers crossed, the desktop one must surely be in for an update soon.”

Similarly, I tried OmniOutliner for the iPad when it was released and found it to be easily the best iPad outliner I’d seen. It really is a superb piece of work, and I use outliners a lot, so thought that it was a reasonable investment to buy the highly expensive Mac desktop client as well, given that surely it was going to be updated. The potential OmniFocus upgrade, after all, was just speculative on my part, but they were actively promising that OmniOutliner 4 would be released any day soon, and outlines aren’t much use if you can’t also access them on the desktop.

Neither of the above have happened and I can’t see why. OmniFocus for Mac, I’m sorry, is a pain to use, and remains a pain to use regardless of whether I use it every day, which I do. I still find myself adding blank items that I didn’t want, creating new top level projects by mistake, accidentally completing things which are then annoying to find again and so on. OmniOutliner 3 is even worse – I tried hard to get used to it and simply gave up. Both of them suffer from Flaky Mode Change disease, where the exact editing mode one is in is both inobvious and hard to switch. I could go on at length but what is the point? Neither seem to have any development work associated with them at all any more – it’s hardly going to make a difference what I say.

If I spent a large proportion of my working life on iOS devices then I would happily use OF and OO regularly. As it is, I don’t use OO since I can’t bear the desktop client, and I am looking at the Things cloud sync beta and thinking “you know, maybe I will switch back if this gets to live”. When you are being outpaced in development by Cultured Code you really should worry as a company. (Things cloud sync has been promised for years, and the lack has led a lot of people including me to migrate, but is at least actually testably happening now.)

The Holga 120N and me

As I noted previously, my recent interest in photography started with the purchase of a Holga 120N. Actual photographic types reading this may well be familiar with said camera, and may also have let out a groan. I’m not going to make excuses for myself here, and in fact might make things worse by saying that I bought that because:

  1. I’d been using the iPhone app Hipstamatic, and liked the novelty of unpredictable “lenses” and “films”, but had got a bit bored of the poor quality camera on my old 3GS;
  2. I purchased an iPhone 4S and found that its far better camera made me a lot more interested in taking casual photos;
  3. My 4S was stolen in the Starbucks on New Oxford Street on Christmas Eve. With no insurance. Ho ho ho. So now I had no camera, apart from a serviceable but unremarkable Nikon Coolpix.
  4. The experience of Hipstamatic made me think “why don’t I look at getting one of the real cameras that this app is trying to emulate?” You know, unpredictable toys.
  5. The first one that I saw advertised and written about was the Holga.

I had never even heard of medium-format film before that, but bought some along with my order of the Holga from Amazon. I did, however, look up some of the prices for developing 120 rolls, blanched slightly and thought “might as well get the kit to develop this myself, plus it will keep me busy and out of the pub”. (I still have four colour 120 rolls undeveloped, something which I’m putting off until I finish the fifth, to get a 5% discount from Peak Imaging whom I have been recommended.)

I appreciate the positive aspects of the “lomography” philosophy, and would defend toy cameras from photo snobbery forever, but let’s not pretend that the Holga isn’t mostly a tool for taking crap photos that would have been better with something else. I’ve taken some decent pictures with it, but the imprecise focusing and bad lens have mostly just been frustrating. Vignetting is fine, irregular focus is fine, but I tend to look at pictures I’ve taken with the Holga and think one or more of

  1. “That’s just a bad photo”
  2. “That would have been a good photo if only it had been in focus”
  3. “That would have been a good photo if it wasn’t underexposed because the aperture is either ƒ11 or ƒ13”
  4. “That would have been a good photo if it wasn’t overexposed because I loaded it with a 400 film to cope with the small aperture and then took a photo in bright sunlight”
  5. (very occasionally) “That’s quite a nice photo actually, even if it is a little blurry and under- or overexposed”
  6. (or, frequently) “I wish I’d taken the lens cap off / not had it in bulb mode”

If you have a lot of 120 film which you need to get rid of in a hurry and can’t just throw away, perhaps as part of some sort of Brewster’s Millions deal, then by all means shoot a lot of 6×6 frames with a Holga. I have put mine on 4.5×6 indefinitely, partly because I always mess up half the frames so having 16 is better and partly because I’ve had to tape it up a bit internally to stop light from the flash leaking in.

But without the Holga I wouldn’t have thought “yes, I quite enjoy this film photography thing, but you know I’d quite like to have the odd picture that’s actually in focus once in a while”. I would not have then bought a decent Praktica MTL3 SLR on eBay for about the same amount, coming with standard, zoom and macro lenses, case, flash etc – or, for medium format, a Lubitel 2 TLR, which (even though it is a workmanlike Soviet clone) takes pictures that are just absurdly better than those from the Holga.

And I do find it fun to use, still, which is important with a toy. It is not particularly small, but it is the lightest camera that I own, and the toy-ness means that I never feel at all anxious about carrying or using it. If I have nothing better to do and am just wasting time wandering around and taking pictures, the Holga is a perfect companion – it’s just as pointless as me.

I couldn’t say that, if I had to pick just one camera to take with me on a desert island, I would pick the Holga. But at the stage I was in at the start of the process, I just wouldn’t have picked something in a different category. For that it will always have affection.

Smena Cosmic Symbol

At some point I will probably do a post just listing the small collection of cameras that I currently have – which will hopefully not grow at the same rate as the fountain one did – but this post is about a cheap camera that I recently picked up on eBay for around six quid, mostly because of the name and the look of the lens.

It is, fairly obviously, called a Cosmic Symbol, and it is some variety of Russian Smena camera. It is suggested that it is the UK export version of the USSR Smena Symbol, manufactured potentially between 1971 and 1991, though from the look of it it has been around quite a while. I think I will try to match the colour of the front panels and tidy up the scratches on the silverish parts.

I have taken it out with me a couple of times and even developed one roll of film, so clearly am qualified to write a comprehensive review.

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