What if I Like The Noise?

Nikon F6, Nikkor AF 50/1.8, Kodak Porta 400

While I do love shooting film, I also enjoy keeping up on developments in digital cameras.  If you are looking for objective data on the latest digital sensors and lenses then you had better check out DxOMark.

They put most new cameras and lenses through their paces and produce a bewildering array of charts, graphs and performance scoring.

CNET recently sent behind the scenes at DxO Labs to take a look at their testing procedures.  Stephen interviewed chief scientist Frederic Guichard who had some interesting things to say about digital versus film.

Frederic says that "the dynamic range of film is eight stops more than any sensor on the planet", presumably speaking about color print (C-41) film which typically has broad exposure latitude.

He goes on to argue that with some minimal acceptable "quality" threshold (which he defines as 20 decibels signal-to-noise-ratio or SNR) that the latest DSLR's appear to beat out film.

Take a look at their figure 9 comparison of film and sensor dynamic range:  the digital sensor does achieve a higher maximum SNR, but it hits a hard wall clipping higher exposure levels while the film goes on to degrade slowly and gracefully.

I wonder what the "noise" is in this context.  If it is the grain, color tendencies, tonality, etc. of the film I don't personally consider it "poor quality".  The tested film was Kodak Portra 160, and I prefer the look of its photographs taken in daylight over any digitally captured image.

I guess the film versus digital debate at some level comes down to whether you like the inherent characteristics of a given film or the more neutral (or is that sterile…) look of a digital sensor.  I know where I stand in this argument, and I have to say I don't mind the bonus exposure latitude either!

Remove Before Flight

Nikon F6, AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8, Ilford XP2 Super 

This is a shot I took at the Hiller Aviation Museum back in January.  Our two young boys love this place, I think we visit there at least twice a year if not more often.

Since I had our boys with me I was just taking some quick hand-held shots, mostly wide open due to the relatively low indoor lighting.  Sometimes I was uncertain what to focus on, but in this shot I think the "remove before flight" tag worked.

I just finished listening to Film Photography Podcast episode 56, released April 1st.  This is my favorite film photography related podcast, and while the discussion can wander at times there are usually a couple gem segments in each show.

This time I thoroughly enjoyed Hunter White's interview with Brian Wallis from the International Center of Photography in New York City.  They discussed the Weegee – Murder is my Business exhibit currently showing at the museum.

Weegee was one of the first famous photojournalists, you have probably seen some of his iconic photos.  He was a fascinating character who leveraged his connections with both the police and the gangs to be on the spot when the action was happening.

Dan Domme gave a brief introduction to pinhole photography and also reminded us that World Pinhole Photography Day is coming up soon on Sunday April 29th.  The whole idea is to get out and take pinhole photographs that day and then share the results.

I lost my Nikon F-mount pinhole cap some time ago, but we have a few other pinhole cameras around the house.  I will have to dust off one of them for this event!

Vintage Star Destroyer


Rollei B 35, Ilford XP2 Super

While I am on a vintage kick, this is arguably as vintage an example of a Star Destroyer photograph as you can possible get.

This is one of the original models used in the Star Wars movies, currently on display at the Discovery Science Center in Santa Ana, California.  You can see many of the models, costumes, props, etc. on display at the Star Wars Where Science Meets Imagination exhibit. 

I took this with my Rollei B 35 pressed up against the glass protecting this model. It was fun "filming" it myself, capturing my own image.

I loved seeing the real, physical models and props from the original movies which seem so much more lifelike than the computer generated ones from the prequel trilogy.  The ship models are impressively large, often six feet long or so.

The extra Millennium Falcon Experience ride was fun for our young boys.  You sit in the cockpit and view a projected movie of flying through space as C-3PO and R2-D2 narrate about astronomy.

It was so convincing that our three-year-old actually asked us "When are we flying back to Earth?" in the middle of the ride!

However, if you are in the area and interested you had better act quickly.  The Star Wars exhibit closes down after April 15th.

Shorpy Historical Photo Archive

Nikon F100, Nikkor AF 28-105 f/3.5-4.5 D IF, Ilford HP5 Plus

(not a vintage photo, but one of the closest I have taken ;)

Lately I have started following a few vintage photograph blogs.  One of them is the Shorpy Historical Photo Archive which features photos taken in the United States mostly between the 1850’s and 1950’s.

The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner born around the turn of the last century.  It is amazing to think that it was still a few more decades to go before he would have benefited from the first federal laws regulating minimum age of employment.

The Shorpy images are mostly sourced from the Library of Congress archive. Then the blog webmaster takes up to a few hours per image cleaning them up to have good detail, contrast, etc.

Here are a few of my favorites so far.

I love the look of these older photos, mostly taken via wet or dry plate processes on large format cameras.  They have an amazing amount of detail and broad exposure range.

Roll In A Day Results

Nikon F6, Nikkor 24mm f/2.8, Kodak Portra 400

The Darkroom finished developing and scanning my Roll In A Day film roll two days ago.  I just barely pulled the files from their site and uploaded them to my Flickr photostream last night before the designated deadline.

It was a fun project and I tried two kind of new things out for the day:

  1. I only took one shot per subject.  (Normally I "work" the subject with multiple compositions and I often bracket exposures.)
  2. I used color conversion filters to try to correct for the color temperature of the predominant light source.

Check my whole roll out in my Roll in a day March 24th 2012 Flickr set.

I think I may have overdone it on the one-shot-per-subject goal as I didn't even complete the roll of 36 exposures.  I barely managed over 20 shots that day.

However, it was thrilling to be very selective in what I shot, when I shot it, and then move on once done.  I think I need to practice restraint like this some more, it certainly saves some film!

And using the filters was fun.  I rarely try to shoot color in incandescent or mixed lighting (or bother with the filtration) but I was very happy with the results here.

Looks like the next Roll In A Day event is scheduled for April 21st 2012.  I am looking forward to it, and will have to try some other camera/film/technique this time around.

Lighting It Up

Nikon F6, Nikkor 24mm f/2.8 AF, Kodak Ektar 100

Well, I had a blast working on my Roll in a Day / Day in a Roll project this past Saturday.

It was a rainy day and so we were unfortunately stuck in the house much of the time.  I shot more of some indoor subjects and with artificial and mixed lighting than I am used to, but that was part of the fun.

We did make it out for breakfast at one of our favorite places, Gilley's Coffee Shoppe in Los Gatos.  The food is excellent and the staff as friendly as can be so definately stop by there if you are nearby (though beware of the lunch time rush).

I was a bit too conservative in my shooting, by the end of the day I only had around 20 shots total.  I had an idealistic approach of only taking one exposure of any given subject/composition.  I could have afforded to "work my subject" a bit more in a few instances, oh well.

My roll of film is now off to The Darkroom for processing.  They scan your photos and upload them to an online interface where you can access them.  Hopefully this will let me get them on Flickr by next weekend.

One of my earlier resolutions for the year was to streamline my photo editing process, and to that end I have taken the plunge and purchased Adobe Lightroom 4.  The new $150 price point is to attractive to ignore, and I have heard from other film photographers who love working with it.

I haven't read any manual or instructions and just spent about 5 minutes working on the image above.  But I did clone out a strand of hair from the scan, adjust blacks a bit, crop, sharpen, and add a slight vignette.

I can't wait to dig into it some more, but I am BIG read-the-manual-first kind of person.  I will have to see if there is a good book to get me deep into the Lightroom 4 interface.

Roll In A Day

Lomography Sprocket Rocket, Fujicolor Pro 400H

Yikes, the last few weeks have been busy, and I don't mean photographically.

The daily grind has been keeping me busy, and favorite time of the year (ahem…) has come and gone.  Thankfully I wrapped up our tax return the other night and I can put that behind me until next year.

I need some kind of project to pull me back into my photography and I think Roll In A Day / A Day In A Roll is just the thing I need.

The premise is simple:  Load a roll of film into your camera and shoot it all in one designated day.  Process, scan, and upload the film to your Flickr stream, warts and all.

That's right, upload the whole roll, from shots worthy of being World Press Photo of the Year to bungled exposures.  Join the Flickr group and try to upload your images within one week of the scheduled day.

The next scheduled day is this Saturday March 24th.  I look forward to seeing what all the participants come up with.

I don't think I am going to do anything special this day (like say go on a day trip to Yosemite or even just visit San Francisco).  But it will be fun to capture my day's events in 36 exposures, being as creative as I can be in the process.

P.S. I excitedly told my Dear Sweet Wife about Roll in A Day only to find out she knew about it already.  At least I joined the Flickr group before she did!

UCLA Royce Hall and Lab Update

Nikon F6, Nikkor AF 24/2.8 D, Fujifilm Provia 400X

I mentioned a while back I have been using some new film development labs and figured I needed to update my sidebar link to include them.  I have done just that, so you can read more about them there.

The short story is that NCPS is my favorite lab for "serious" shots due to the quality of their enhanced scans.  I can still do a bit better job scanning myself if I spend some time with my trusty Nikon LS-5000 scanner, but for anything short of a large high quality print the NCPS scan is magnificent.

The above picture was taken at UCLA's Royce Hall and is an example of an NCPS scan.  Aside from a basic contrast adjustment it is untouched from their file.

I do like The Darkroom for toy camera photos, especially for their sprocket hole scaning service.  Their normal scans don't quite compare to NCPS's, but when opting for the sprocket option they seem to do a very high quality scan.

Lately I have sent most of my rolls to these two labs and seems to be quite comfortable using them.  I do still send our View-Master rolls to Photoworks SF as they are closest to us and the turn-around for a "do not cut" and no scan job is faster that way.

Nikkor AF 24/2.8 D

Spin Spin Spin

iPhone 4S, Hipstamatic app

We hit one of our favorite San Francisco spots this past weekend, the Exploratorium.  Not only do kids have a blast there, but frankly adults do too.

My kids loved biting a metal rod (through a one-time-use straw) and hearing music via vibrations conducted through their jawbone.  They also spent considerable time at the above spinning platforms covered in fine sand which they could carve shapes into via long spatulas.

I had to be torn away from the sound booth creating effects for old-fashioned radio shows with metal service utensils (sword fighting), a wooden peg board (marching troops), plastic cups (horse hooves, though not quite as classy as using coconut shells), and numerous other items.

I shot a roll of Kodak T-Max P3200 B&W film inside and my first ever roll of Kodak Ektar 100 color negative film outside.  Ektar is supposed to be the most saturated color negative film, I will be curious to see how its color turns out compared to slide films.

A few more things I have been following…

I would buy a few of these vintage camera pillows, but my young boys would just use them for pillow fights.

Photographer Nadav Bagim brings together insects, flora, and moisture to create miniature wonderland shots.

Don Hong-Oai’s (1929-2004) work is getting some recent attention, he was one of the last practicers of a style combining multiple negatives and text into photographs resembling traditional Chinese paintings.

Stacked Cameras

Nikon D300, AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8

Well, I have updated the design of my blog to include a genuine banner.  The above shot is part of it, but those of you following the feed should check the home page out.

Thanks to my DSW for some Photoshop help to tweak the lighting, color, and shadows.  She wanted to be sure the glory of our jalapeño pepper green kitchen wall came through in force.

You may recognize some of the cameras from a number of my previous posts. The complete rundown front to back is:

  1. Rollei B 35 – I carry this almost everywhere these days
  2. Canon IV-S – sadly the shutter is still full of leaks
  3. Petri 7S – also sadly, its film advance is stuck again
  4. Kine Exakta – I haven’t even tried this yet, its shutter controls are a bit daunting
  5. Nikomat FTN – my workhorse SLR for shooting B&W
  6. Nikon FA – The most advanced manual Nikon ever made
  7. Nikon F100 – My main film camera until recently
  8. Nikon F6 – My new king of the hill

How did I order them?  Not by age, nor purely by size.

They are arguably ordered by technical features as you start with the viewfinder Rollei and proceed to add a rangefinder, average metering, single-lens reflex, center-weighted metering, matrix metering, autofocus, and finally color matrix metering.

I might have ordered a few of them differently, but in the end I think this made for the best looking shot.