What I Learned Shooting #008 -- ORWO N74+

ORWO N74+

Is a black and white german cinema film manufactured by Filmotec under the ORWO brand. It’s available in Europe direct from filmotec in lengths of 100ft or more, exclusively in 16mm and 35mm, and in the US from ORWO NA provided they either have stock directly on their website  -- if they don’t have any stock listed, they’re super friendly, and I’d still recommend reaching out to them to double check. You can buy the film from some other sources/places but there’s definitely a markup -- I can confirm that Lomo Berlin Kino is N74+ -- the edge coding is the same, and even includes “n74” with the only difference being the addition of individual frame coding. Apparently, it also used to be Bergger’s house brand (BRF+) of 400 speed film and Bergger’s dual layer approach/style comes from Orwo N74+/BRF’s. 

I’ve had my eye on N74 for quite some time, I always thought the concept of it was fascinating, and from what I’ve seen the tonality of it was pretty great.

Here are some of the reviews that got me interested in the film (click through):

Colin Barey for Japan Camera Hunter’s Review

Emulsive’s Review

Alex Luyckx

Wide Angle Living (honestly this was the hard sell set of photos that really made me want to shoot N74+)

Prone to distraction I wandered off and found myself having trouble committing to ordering the film (this was before I started bulk rolling). After the announcement of Lomo Berlin Kino, (the supply all over Ebay had dried up or jumped in price), I scrambled to find some at an affordable price, and made a priority of finding it and shooting it, in my quest for a true daily shooter.

I doubled down and ordered two 100ft Reels of 35mm. I regret nothing.

My Basic Test Benchmarks are: 

The film was shot at 200, 400, 800, and 1600, and pushed to 800, 1600, or 3200. There’s a chance some of the film got divebombed to like 5000, but I think that’s unlikely considering the developer, etc.

I only used the film in the Minolta XD-11, and the only lens I shot was the venerable MC PG Rokkor 50mm 1.4.

One of the rolls was exposed to some slight radiation via the WTC’s X-ray machine. I can’t really tell a difference in it though.

33/35 rolls were developed in Xtol 1:1, at a variety of ratings and techniques.

2 Rolls were shot in Rodinal, of those, one was shot @250, and developed to 500, and the other was shot at 400, and stand developed in rodinal 1:80 (with two rolls of tri-x, the 1:80 is to avoid complications with a minimum amount of Rodinal)

(Rodinal 1:50 shot @250, Developed to 500 pictured to the left.)

So given all that, what did I actually learn shooting 35 odd rolls of Orwo N74+?

  1. If you’re going to pick a daily shooter that isn’t digital, make sure you can find it reliably. I know this is a somewhat lost concept on a lot of film shooters -- a lot of people like variety in their film diet, and I’d even argue for some people, using a heavily variated slew of different films is part of their process. But if you’re going to make the commitment to having one consistent look for your photography (and I’m sure this seems really obvious typed out like this) you really need to be able to easily access the film and developer you’re shooting. The availability of Orwo at affordable prices is spotty (in the USA), so while I liked the results, it’s a bit difficult to honestly recommend or think about. Take for example my trip to New York, where I burnt out of my film in maybe a day and a half, and ended up having to run out and buy a couple of bricks of Tri-X to replace it.

  2. Obscurity isn’t superiority. So, there’s a strong chance that you’ve never heard of N74+ before this review, and it’s not due to ignorance, or lack of being generally informed -- this film is pretty obscure -- sure there are a handful of reviews of reviews out there on the film, and you can definitely find some published data on the film from Filmotec, and the Massive Dev Chart, but it’s by no means an easy film to find or acquire. N74+ is definitely a high quality film, but after having tested it fairly extensively, I can honestly say I don’t think it’s any better or more useful than say HP5+, Tri-X, or even it’s bastard-son still successor (and personal favorite) Bergger Pancro 400, nor is it really cheaper than any of those films, especially when one factors in the cost of bulk rolling supplies for standard 100ft rolls, or even the difficulty of potentially chopping down/up a 400ft roll or 1000ft roll of the stuff. 

    1. TL;DR -- ORWO N74+ is a great film, but it’s not necessarily so unique or so much better than any of the other mainline 400 speed films, despite it’s obscurity.

  3. Cine film and still film are two different animals. So, point of order, I actually had a cinematographer tell me this, verbatim, maybe seven years ago. Unfortunately that comment didn’t stick. Anyway, the two films actually respond differently because, go figure, they’re typically used for different purposes. Per David Hancock’s video on Kodak 5222 (double-x) they lack reciprocity failure info (not that I’ve ever particularly cared about long exposures, or using a tripod.) Also, minor detail, but somewhat relevant: the perforations between the two film types are different. The only real other relevant commentrary I can give is that the film is maybe a little more touchy when it comes to playing dumb games with processing and exposure.

  4. The Johnny Patience Methodology isn’t foolproof, and doesn’t work with every film. I’m a big fan of the Johnny Patience Zone System is dead methodology -- I’ve probably linked to it too many times here, or I should write my own article on it or my findings -- not that I really have enough data (for my own standards) to really refute, argue, or agree with him. The method is really strong, and I think it bears repeating or using. Johnny promotes using it across all films, and while I think it’s probably legitimate for still film, I ended up running into problems left and right with it for the Orwo N74 while shooting in daylight, either because the scenes I was shooting were way too bright, or perhaps too contrasty to begin with. So, another nod to the aforementioned David Hancock video on 5222, is that he found that the exposure window of the film was pretty narrow -- or that if you developed the film at a certain shot ISO it had to be developed at it, because the film was essentially meant to do reversals or be reversed, and that seems to be the case with N74 as well. Most of the film I shot at 200, then pushed to 800 was almost too thick to scan, and likewise on the day shots I shot at 800 and pushed to 3200, I suffered a similar problem. However I definitely got usable results pushing from 250 to 500, and from 800 to 1600.

  5. Really refining a shooting/developing system is hard. Like harder than I’d initially anticipated, especially if you already have a system in place that works. So to reiterate, I’ve gotten pretty firmly adapted to shooting 1 stop over my target and then pushing 1 stop over the target to get the best possible tonality out of my film. For most dedicated still film, the system works really well, especially with bulletproof/indestructible films like HP5+ -- but unbeknownst to me, it can actually fail. Now instead of trying to re-think my methodology, because this film behaved completely differently than anything I’ve I tried, I kept using my normal method and system, to middling at best success, and only tried to retrofit the film to my existing system rather than realizing it was different. Making those adjustments is even harder when you’ve got a fairly slim technical document to work off of, a limited understanding of the numbers and figures in that document, and on top of that there’s a very small set of published data available, from the manufacturer, or otherwise on the massive dev chart.

  6. Be careful using or re-using bulk-load canisters, and bulk loaders. So, up to now, I’ve had pretty good, or even excellent luck with my bulk loader, and my reloadable cartridges. I used to own a bobinquick/AP/Kaiser design (would highly recommend), but it broke, so I decided to try out a lloyd loader. The lloyd loader worked for a while (it’s what I used for my APX 100 reviews) but by the time I’d gotten to chopping up the film for Forte 400, the loader had some kind of odd leak, or alternately, my used 35mm plastic loading spools had gone bad and started giving me intermittent light leaks in odd places from light piping.

  7. Rodinal can actually be okay or acceptable with 400 speed film, but you really have to mind the dilution and temperature. I actually really like the roll of ORWO I ran in Rodinal 1:50, I prefer the look of the XTOL 1:1 rolls (or like I prefer the Xtol once I realized if you shoot at 800, you can only really push to 1600 or 800, or if you shoot at 400, you can only really develop to 400, in this case), but overall, I think the rodinal roll at 1:50 was actually a decent or acceptable look.

  8. Night photography without a tripod is cool. I think tripods take away a sense of urgency, especially during night photography, so getting out at night and into night-shooting handheld shenanigans was really fun, and actually pretty informative to how exposure works, or I guess how bright highlights can be, even when you think they’re barely going to read at all.

  9. Lomography can be kind of a rip-off with good packaging. I know I’m peripherally in/around the film community, and this is a bit of a hot-take. But after confirming by hand that N74+ and Lomo Kino Berlin are the same film, but at over twice the price (in 35mm), it puts a bad taste in my mouth. I will give them huge props on assembling the huge amount example photos for the film -- check it out here (if you look carefully you can even see “N74+” on the edge coding in one photo on the page). That said, I just found out they’re going to be making Berlin Kino in 120, along with the existing Potsdam Kino, and quite frankly 10 dollars is expensive for b&w 120 film, but, armed with the understanding that there’s no real easy way to respool master rolls into 120 film, or cut 70mm film into 120 film without dedicated equipment, I think the price (for both emulsions in 120) is justified.

XTOL TESTS (all 1:1)

Shot @200 (Day) Developed to 800

Almost too thick to scan, but once you’re through that, the tonality isn’t too bad, provided it’s not a complete blowout.

Shot @ 400/800 (Day) Developed to 800

Can blow out, but less blowout/not too thick typically.

Shot @800 (Day) Developed to 3200

Almost too thick to scan, the contrast is crazy but in kind of a neat way. A bit of a double edged sword.

Shot @800 (Day/Night) Developed to 1600.

For my uses, this is probably optimal. How I’d shoot/use N74+ From now on.

Shot @800 (Night) Developed to 3200

The two stop push here might be a little overkill, but it seems to work out okay, would recommend, if you’re only doing night photography.

So, what’s the word on the film:

I’d recommend it but with some pretty hefty reservations. ORWO has fairly unreliable availability in the USA, even if the company is friendly enough, that and the other options are to buy the film at a not insignificant markup from LOMO, FPP, or even Silberra (not hating on Silberra, they seem to be doing god’s work as far as developing or reviving new black and white emulsions goes, I’d just rather order one of their own original emulsions, rather than a respool from another company). I like the results I got from ORWO, it’s neat stuff, and I’d argue of a very high quality, and assuming you do properly expose and develop it, it has a really nice look, and 35 rolls later, after having had to re-configure my system for it, I’d still consider buying and using it. That said -- it’s a bit finicky, and the ease of blowing it out makes it kind of hard to recommend here in LA where it’s bright sun all the time -- but if you’re in a climate with darker and softer lighting, like say New York, or Maine, or Germany, and either don’t binge shoot 30 rolls in two months, don’t mind the hassle of chopping down a 400 or 1000ft roll of film (you can get some real huge savings here), or don’t mind taking a price hit, it might be worth your while to check out.

Likewise, this film made me want to go back and shoot more Bergger Pancro 400, but like N74+, Pancro is pretty hit or miss on availability, as of writing this, none of the major outlets seem to be holding any stock of Pancro in 35mm. So far the compromise (not really a compromise) to swap over to Tri-X, has actually been really good.

I definitely will try the film in 120 format when available from Lomography (don’t worry I’ll check the edge coding of the 120 to see if there’s any hints or tips of the hand -- there may not be). That’s of genuine interest to me, even if it is mostly a curiosity to me at this point.

Anyway, if you’ve enjoyed this article, go ahead and pick something up in the shop.

Return to the Huntington -- November 2018

Return to the Huntington

The Huntington is by far one of my favorite places in Los Angeles — I actually have an earlier less organized set on this blog from my first trip around the Huntington — Clickthrough here. I mean, I know The Huntington Gardens and Library, etc, are in San Marino, which is really just Pasadena, which is really just Los Angeles. Go Figure. I’m not really a huge history buff, so I’m far far too unqualified to talk much about the history, but the whole thing is pretty fascinating. I’m not usually a fan of collectors or flexers, but The Huntingtons really knew how to do it right -- Money can’t buy taste -- but it helped. 

Before I met up with my father for lunch, I took a brief walk  around Downtown LA, near my apartment, and met him at his hotel -- which is by far one of the oddest most surreal places I’ve been to in LA (I stayed there while my building was fumigated two ish years ago -- the Hotel isn’t even one of the most mysterious or haunted ones in Downtown, but again another story/photo series for another day…) I did some street-ish photography, and met up with my father to get coffee before we had lunch.

After lunch, my father and I picked up Kristina and headed over to the Huntington. This round I walked around the grounds of The Huntington Library and Gardens was much different experience — I was going with other people. It was a very different experience roaming the grounds on a weekend, and with other people but not unenjoyable at all. It definitely was good to be able to compare thoughts on the gardens, and the art with other people. The grounds were magnificent as ever, and this round I even saw some interiors (not pictured here).

I believe (rough guess) The route we took was as follows: We Entered normally, cut through some of the grounds, skipped going into the greenhouse and back to the Mausoleum (which, let’s be honest is a pretty awesome way to stunt while grieving). Then travelled through the Chinese Garden (something my father is immensely fascinated with -- gardening, and to a lesser extent, the design and planning that goes into the elaborate Chinese style gardens and grounds.) Then through the Japanese Garden -- took a water break -- it was really unseasonably hot that November/October.

Shooting the Chinese and Japanese gardens were a bit of a challenge this round -- I quickly found that because of the abundance of tourists, I had to be very careful while shooting to get the shots I wanted -- and that within limited reach, I really couldn’t use a wide angle like I had done the last time. So, as has become the standard I slapped my Rokkor 50mm MC PG 1.4  onto the Minolta XD-11 pretty quickly, and it stayed there all day. The only other equipment note I can bother to give here is that everything you’re seeing was shot on Agfapan APX 100 during my test-period for that film. I think some of these photos have my favorite look I’ve ever seen/shot -- I know that for sure while the lighting helped the photos, I was using Rodinal 1:50, semi-stand, pushed to 160, and I think that really “made” the photos. I think while the gardens are colorful, after the major floral bloom it looks much more compelling in black and white too. Everything was scanned through the Epson V600 -- you can read my opinions on that here. That’s gonna be the end of me talking tech/equipment shit here -- there’s really not much else to say.

If you weren’t aware, the Huntington Gardens are large and sprawling complex. After we wrapped up our water break, we headed for the Desert Garden which was of particular interest to my father -- who, I believe if he ever retires, will likely move to a desert of some kind -- provided it has mountains. By this time, we were starting to get the really beautiful diffuse late-day light, you sometimes get in southern California, that’s somewhat like golden hour, but isn’t quite. Word salad I know, but bear with me here. By far the Desert garden is the most interesting garden, or at least it looks the most totally alien.

We walked the Desert Garden end to end, and headed on to the Lilly pond -- Which was likely the only place in the Gardens that day that I felt like the Agfapan APX 100 wasn’t quite fast enough -- don’t get me wrong; I really like the photos I got from it (that I’m presenting here) but some of them felt kinda jank while shooting. Like they worked, and I got more or less what I wanted, but it’s not *quite* optimal. After scaling up the hill, we worked our way back across the grounds once more and then ended up back at the main Mansion, and I suppose one of the three main art galleries. The collection they had was, is? Really impressive, specifically their portraiture gallery. Definitely food for thought for a portrait project. I should’ve taken photos inside, but lacked the film I needed to do it right.

It was late in the day once we’d finished up in the Mansion we were about ready for dinner. We exited out onto the lawn and walked the grounds, down to the Fountain. It’s long been on my must return to/to shoot areas, but that day was not in the cards for me shooting -- there were actors doing some community theatre tier play or something on the lawn, which made it near impossible to get the shots I wanted. So I grabbed a couple last shots of the statues and we all filed out back to the car, and headed for dinner at MHZH over in Silverlake.

There’s not much real technical photographic takeaway here -- maybe label your film so you know you need to push a roll or two differently than the rest. The real takeaways I got were as follows: a 50mm is more than enough lens for you for most applications. Just get clever. And carrying around a giant-ass or even medium-ass sized camera bag sucks, especially when you’re out with non-photographers and you’re really just trying to enjoy your day out, but also get some good shooting done, because you’re a compulsive shooter. Honestly, I had a very nice day shooting and walking, but I think it would’ve been dramatically improved for everyone had I not been toting that stupid bag.

Anyway, if you’ve enjoyed this content -- please pick up a zine or shirt in the shop. Every purchase helps keep the lights on here.

Thanks!

Andrew.

What I Learned … Scanning #007: Epson V600

What I Learned ... Scanning: #007 Epson V600

AKA: Andrew D. McClees slowly goes insane.

When shooting film, in 2019, printing and sharing photos in person is dead. Sometimes we do still print photos (or sets of photos), but largely most of photography has migrated to being consumed on screens, either Mobile via instagram, or on Computer, probably also on instagram -- I feel like Flickr is dead, I’m sure there’s a bunch of people who disagree -- but really, IG is the premiere online platform for photography in 2019 (Given, instagram isn’t really aimed at, nor is it actually for photographers -- that’s another essay though).

Anyway, circling back, when shooting film there are really only two ways to get your film images off the negative and into a computer: 1. You (or your lab) use a scanner, to scan your negatives into your computer. 2. You use a DSLR/Mirrorless Rig to take pictures of the negatives, then subsequently process/invert them in photoshop. I think collectively, most of us who scan/digitize negatives can all agree this is probably the biggest, most obnoxious bottleneck in our workflows, regardless of how we go about doing our scanning.

For all intents and purposes many people will argue that using a DSLR setup is “easier” and “faster” than owning and operating a scanner. And while I definitely can believe it is faster, and produces a better result for the owners of quality DSLR’s who also have a good understanding of Macro Lenses, light tables, and setting things up, the combined price of all those things kind of blows the price of the scanner out of the water. Given, most people own a digital camera, but factoring in a good dedicated macro lens (I mean, how many non-product/non-macro photographers, regardless of digital vs. film use a macro lens, or have one just sitting around?), a light table, a decent tripod, and enough space to build a setup, this to me is not a largely feasible solution for most shooters, or most of us with limited time/space/budget requirements.

So let’s talk scanners. If you’ve ever gotten film commercially developed (and if you’re reading this you probably definitely have), you’ve probably gotten scans back from whatever lab you sent your film to. Those scans were probably at least fairly decent, if a little expensive. The color correction is good, and the general scan quality is pretty okay, and definitely good enough to share on instagram or even make 3x5 to 5x7 prints. On top of that you didn’t have to work that hard at getting the scans, and you probably got your film turned around really quickly. Lab quality scanners are great, they can process a bunch of film really fast. Unfortunately they’re really expensive (remember they used to be an industrial good that everyone actually *needed* rather than wanted), and rapidly either dying off due to age, OR lack of compatibility with modern computer drivers, and connections -- making them almost a non-solution. In the bottom of the film collapse you could buy a pakon 135+ for maybe  -- I’ll link a Matt Day video here about it -- 300-400 dollars -- pakons now retail for 900+ dollars easy (go look at the Pakon user group on facebook), and that’s for a basic, “low-res” model. And that’s if you want to own a scanner like that at home -- the price of scanning will inevitably bleed you dry if you keep sending both your color and your BNW to the lab. Honestly, any good lab should still save you time and money if you’re scanning color -- but the cost of entry at a given time, or just the sheer size of your backlog may stop you from sending your color or slide film to a lab (this has definitely been me, and is me right now -- Buy a t shirt?)

I’m sure some seasoned professionals will chime in here about paying for quality, or that “the only real way to print or do photography is hand printing” or “what about drum scanners, or flextights.” And yeah, those are all great options, but as feasible everyday solutions, they’re not really viable options. Besides, do you have like 10k minimum sitting around? Didn’t think so.

So now we’re down in the realm of consumer-grade (not that the average “consumer” is really using any of these) film scanners. Let’s say this market caps out at 2k. Let’s do a quick rundown of the options/archetypes over on B+H: you have the crazy expensive plustek -- which usually can only do 35mm film (lest you want to pay another 1k for 120 capabilities) -- but gives really great results. You have the Flatbeds (read Epson V600+V800/V850) which are in the exact right price pockets, but aren’t really hyper specialized to scanning film like the plustek designs. And then you have the non-photographer style scanners, which seem to be okay, but otherwise are pretty weak, and pretty small with no real option to scan or accommodate 120/medium format film.

Looking at the options, by the statistics -- the Epson scanners are the right buy, unless you know you’re only going to shoot 35mm film, in which case you should buy a plustek and be happy. Epson has a basic model for getting into scanning (the v600) for about 200 dollars that can theoretically get you scans big enough for pretty much any kind of display you’d need to do, and a more upmarket one (the epson v800) with better resolution, and a larger scanning area if you’re so inclined to shoot large format, up to 8x10 for like 600 dollars. And then an even more premium one than that -- the epson v850, which is (to the best of my knowledge) basically the same, but with 100-200 dollars worth of nicer features. Given that -- it sounds like the V600 is a great deal.

The Epson V600 is a great deal. But, it’s the only so-called deal in town. The epson v600 “works.” It delivers adequate scans at an adequate size, and the software supplied (epson scan) is easy enough to use, and at 200 dollars, maximum, it's a stomachable purchase. And that’s about the end of the nice things I can and will say about it.

If you’re reading this, and shoot film, there’s a pretty good chance you own, have owned, or have friends who own an epson v600, and while opinions may vary, I think to some extent we’ll all agree on this:

The Epson v600 sucks. It sucks a giant bag of dicks.

If you know, you know.

If you know, you know.

but it’s the only affordable, relatively versatile (meaning it can do both 35mm and 120) scanner available, so it still gets bought, sold, recommended, and used.

Here are my main three complaints, in order of frustration.

  1. The software has a learning curve, and color is a massive pain in the ass.

  2. It’s slow.

  3. It’s a jank piece of shit in terms of engineering and coding.

I’m not typically the sharpest tool in the shed when it comes to learning technical procedures, or doing finicky bullshit.

I think that qualifies me extremely well to deliver my first criticism. The Epson V600 has a really annoying learning curve, and getting good colors out of it is finicky. I’ve shot and scanned mostly, if not entirely fujifilm -- apparently kodak scans better -- and while I’ll take some of the blame for the faulty scans/negatives, being too blue due to home processing -- the amount of time it took just to kinda scoop and shape the negatives into an acceptable color-correct version was steep. Again, I’ll admit I’m a beginner to color scanning, but the fact that it took me a good chunk of time to even get mildly palatable results using the auto-correct as a baseline is telling.

When scanning color, the scanner is even slower than it is when scanning black and white; and it usually takes me an hour to scan a roll of black and white film.

120, 35mm, whatever, it takes a fucking hour. That’s fucking bullshit. I’ve gotten into this argument repeatedly with people who “like scanning” but do you really want to sit there while you wait for your negatives to appear on your computer? Like it’s barely even grindwork, it’s just sitting there, waiting for your negatives to process. And while I know the flatbeds can be slow because of their design, it’s extremely frustrating to have to sit there and do next to nothing while the stupid thing loads. And that’s if you’re lucky. If you’re like me, and your scanner has the driver error where you need to constantly click the software icon to make it scan your negative move on from each individual scan, it can easily take even more than hour if you forget you’re scanning, or that your scanner’s automatic batch scan doesn’t work, or that it just randomly decides to stop working.

The epson v600 is a janky scanner.

It’s made of cheap plastic which, I’m sure, helps keep the cost down, and it comes with crappy plastic film holders for scanning, which again, do their job fine, but don’t feel good to use. Those complaints pale in comparison to the fact that you have to A. patch the scanner driver so that the batch scanning function (ie scanning multiple negatives at the same time) works properly, B. hope to god that the patch works, because otherwise it’s the same business as usual and you’re stuck clicking the button to make the scanner advance, and C. Fanatically clean the scanner, or else you end up being stuck with weird bands of black or gray or color running through the middle of your images (which don’t appear until after you’ve finished scanning), forcing you to have to stop, clean the calibration area, and hope that the banding will go away. I have one friend who had to essentially get rid of his V600 because the calibration area couldn’t be cleaned and the banding just wouldn’t go away. By my Standards, items B and C make it a clear failure of a product.

So those are my complaints with the Epson V600. I don’t think I’m alone in them. I don’t think epson will do jack shit to fix their product or make a better scanner. I don’t think epson is out to get film shooters, nor are they indifferent to us, but I do believe we/the scanner market is such a small portion of their income, they’re probably not going to bother to make a newer better scanner -- if anything they’ll rehash the same exact scanner they have for the past two generations or fifteen years (yeah, seriously, the epson v500/v550 is more or less the exact same scanner as the v600), and we’ll all keep buying it.

Usually I write about positive things I’ve learned in these articles, but really all I’ve learned how to do is push a button and tweak things the same way I would in any other photo-editing program. I haven’t learned anything about photography here, except that the scanner market is incredibly poorly served. I’d prefer not to end this on too sour of a note, so let me fire off one last hot take:

I don’t care what film Kodak brings back next, or even that they bring any film back at all. Ektachrome and an overspecialized 3200 speed bnw film mean absolutely nothing to me.

Kodak should bring back the Pakon.

But bring it back with USB-C/3.0 Mac OS/Windows 10 (that’s the current OS right?) software and drivers. Most people shoot mostly 35mm if they shoot film. Personally I think lowering the bar (and the costs) to entry of efficient and good home scanning/and shooting would go a lot further towards keeping film alive than paywalling it behind obsolete products. The original pakon’s had great quality reasonable scans, and they had Kodak’s proprietary color science/scanning technology which enabled some really great color interpolation, easily. But above all that the Pakons are fast, and don’t seem to need a whole lot of handholding to do their scans. If they could make a new model capable of doing 120 film, even better, but I’d take just 35mm.

Anyway, all food for thought. If you liked the article and also hate your v600, share this article. If you hated it, and think I’m an idiot fight me in the comments.

If you’re feeling generous, or you liked this content, go pick up a zine or shirt in the shop.

Thanks for reading!

Maine - July/August 2017

Honestly, I probably should’ve posted this a year ago or like whenever I started doing heavy updating to my website/blog on a regular basis, but y’know -- whatever.

This was a while back, when I was in the habit of carrying around *three* separate Minolta XD 11/7/s cameras. Yeah I know, I’m cringing too. Around the same era as the trip out to the Trona Pinnacles. -- Actually some of the film from that trip got processed in the same batch — also in fairness, it’s not like 2 years is that long of a time — it kind of is, but it’s not — really.

Anyway, I typically take one trip home a year, in addition to the holidays. In 2017, I went home in late July or early August. Maybe both. I can’t quite remember the dates of the vacation. Either way, I did a lot of shooting. Too much to be honest.

I hate tech specs, but, this was one of my first real multiple day landscape outings with the  24mm, so that tends to dominate a lot of the photos I took. I think I was also trying out the 100mm/135mm and making a last stab at telephoto landscape -- two years later, I think I’m willing to say I’m not much of a fan, but in selected uses, it’s alright.

I also decided (stupidly) to have a professional lab develop my bnw film. They fucking ruined 8 rolls of it. I had to pull teeth to get to my money back for a lot of the service/film. The owner of the lab is a really nice guy. The lab shall go unnamed, but to this day, it still really pisses me off when I see some of the botched photos -- some of them would’ve been really great. Beyond thaft I still think their scan/dev (on black and white) is way way overcranked/overcooked/contrasty (to my taste). Their interpolation/correction on the color is actually still one of my favorite jobs/batches of film. Also they kinda fucked up the Bergger Pancro 400 (I think this was actually my first time shooting the film). Bergger’s low contrast but this is… special. I’ll also throw in that as much as I generally dislike lab-done bnw development for my own work, there is something really nice about the low amount of dust contamination in the scans. I’m not naming the lab because we more or less reached a reasonable settlement, and genuinely, the seem like nice people, and it was an unforeseeable accident.

At any rate, Acadia is really beautiful, though I doubt these photos are really doing it any justice. That said, I honestly think the ultra-muted Bergger Pancro actually is a fairly accurate representation of Portland Head Light, and probably some of my favorite shots of it, ever.

At any rate, I also ended up taking a few walks around Portland during the trip. I think I finally started to get the city “right.” in terms of portrayal, etc -- I incorporated a bit of that photography into Chaplet of Divine Mercy, but always have looked for a good place to put up some of the rest of my photos from that same period. I’d like to believe I started to get the city “right” but time will tell. I’m actually covering the city for Around the World in 80 Cameras (a Kosmo Foto project) with my Minolta XD-11 (don’t worry, I’m going to produce new content/photos for it, and y’know an actual XD-11 review instead of me joking around about the camera for a couple pages -- I’m going back soon, in May, and plan to cover it then).

I guess of note, also, is that I was shooting mostly Fujifilm Pro 400h for color around this time (I think there’s like one roll of Ektar snuck in -- it’s pretty obvious -- and I think some Ultramax 400), I probably have enough to do one of my writeups/reviews, but for the life of me, it’s just so poorly documented -- I don’t know if I could conscientiously do a decent writeup. Also I wasn’t really in the habit of pushing a film’s limits or exposing 1 stop over for color. Likewise, the same thing follows for Acros -- Shot a lot of it, but the documentation isn’t really there so I have no clue what I’d really report on aside from like “ACROS GOOD” “XTOL and ACROS GOOD.” Or like Pro 400h (and it’s slow speed sibling, Fuji Pro 160NS) is actually really excellent for the East Coast/New England and the color profiles that pop up there, or like the greenery in that region is more conducive to using cool tone film for the blues/greens, where the sunny, warm-toned west coast makes it maybe a little more feasible for Portra 400. I could probably also do a similar thing with Ultramax 400 -- but I dunno -- the documentation just sucks, and while I’m happy enough to share weird (old/past) plateau moments or photosets, providing bad documentation or just another mediocre film/camera/lens review that basically amounts to “look at these photos I shot with this, with no real insight” isn’t really something I’d feel great about doing or posting up.

Anyway, I think this trip is also kind of a weird important piece of chronology for a few reasons. Primarily that A: It was the last time I saw my friend Matt. B. After shooting that much in quick succession, my eye did a huge leap forward. Because these things run in plateaus and spikes more than anything else. C. This was the last trip or set of hikes/walks I took without my Pentax 6x7, and was done entirely on 35mm cameras. I may revisit only using a 35mm camera in the future. I’ve got a lot on my mind gear-wise, most of it seems to involve stripping back more or continuing to limit myself.

One other odd thing is that I had a crappy point and shoot, A pentax 110 iq-zoom I think — nothing special but fun to mess around with. I’ve been kinda re-thinking my stance on zooms lately, so funny to see this here.

I still wish I’d spent a little more time in Lewiston or shot more there. I’m finally making some time to do that, but it’s still a bit of a sore point. I feel like the years of not shooting it or kinda avoiding the city (I’m using the Maine definition of “city” -- not really a city per-se, but definitely a city by the population standards of the state) finally added up into me wanting to take a serious look at it, from both a personal standpoint, and one that lines up with my own family’s history with it. It is what it is.

This is probably the most informal/actual blog-ey post I’ll do, but I just wanted to put some (a lot of) photos up, and keep some kind of stream-of-content running so the website stays up and ranked. So, I dunno -- Don’t read the text if you don’t really care about me grousing and complaining about photo processing -- just look at the nice (ish) photos of Maine, and hope that it helps sell you on why tourism is the number one industry in the state, and rich Bostonians and New Yorkers bought up half of Portland on the cheap, because they’re carpetbaggers.

Anyway, if you’ve enjoyed this content, pick up a zine in the shop or swing by the Independent Art Book Fair in LA next weekend.

What I learned Shooting #006: Minoltina AL-S

What I learned shooting #006: Minoltina AL-s

I probably haven’t shot quite enough to be a truly definitive authority on the Minoltina (Minolta?) AL-s, but on the other hand, I feel like it doesn’t take super long to figure out a camera, as opposed to a film, because the mechanisms are largely the same across cameras. So I think i’m qualified to write a loose report on it, or at least what I learned shooting the thing. If you want to see the images/examples just jump down to the bottom of the page for the gallery.

So anyway, here’s the stats on the Minoltina Al-s/Minolta Al-s :

It’s a small, compact rangefinder camera (128x74x60mm), and weighs a little more than a pound including it’s 40mm 1.8 lens with a leaf shutter that runs from B, 1-500, and a solar powered meter, with an iso range of 25 to 800. It’s got a self timer (I never used mine). -- Stats taken from this overall review.

I bought mine on Ebay for around 40 bucks, all in. The cameras are definitely climbing in value (likely due to the exorbitant prices now commanded by Canonets, and other compact rangefinders, like the Minolta Hi-Matic 7), so I’d definitely encourage you to buy yours now, before they really spike in value. They might not, but given how everything film is getting kinda expensive, you’ve been warned.

So what’d I learn shooting the camera?

It’s nice to have a compact camera -- It’s the first time I’ve seriously considered picking up an actual halfway decent point and shoot based on how nice/convenient it is to have a small camera with a decent-ish lens, and be able to carry/use it as a serious camera without it being forced to have a full on camera-guy camera, etc.

40mm is a pretty ideal focal length, it’s wide (like 20% wider than a 50mm) (not really) but not so wide or broad that it ever feels “wide angle,” like 35mm lenses tend to. The Rokkor 40mm on the Minoltina al-s even has a really nice rendition (see below for examples).

Rangefinders are pretty ideal for documentation and street photography, because of the area around the actual capture area, and ability to read what’s going to be in your frame and around before it actually hits the frame -- I finally “get” the rangefinder cult that seems to pop up around those genres. I still stand by an earlier statement (here?) that I probably wouldn’t use a rangefinder setup for formal portraiture, or anything else needing a lot of setup, or where you don’t wanna deal with any possible.

Anyone saying you can take a decent exposure with 1/30 and steady hands, on a rangefinder or leaf shutter, is a liar. Or I just have super fucked up, shaky, hands. Could be both. Either way, I found most of my “reach exposures” were unusable due to motion blur/hand shake.

With a little practice, sunny 16 (and a taking quick incidental light reading every once in a while), can be as reliable or more accurate in a bunch of cases than the internal meter in a bunch of SLR’s, because of backlighting, etc. Also you start to get a better “feel” for lighting over time. That said, I have difficulty thinking you’ll ever really beat a well operated incidental meter/spot meter.

Leaf shutters are really cool. I like that they only really make a small “click” when fired. It was fun to pretend to do street photography and get right up to people without them noticing. Not really my deal, art wise, but it was interesting to see how that worked. Also, because I’m lazy and don’t have a super common flash, I didn’t get to try out the flash sync -- the camera doesn’t have a hot-shoe, so you need a separate sync cable, and apparently it’s hard to find one for my Minolta x-series flash.

Zone focus is also really interesting. The Al-s actually does have something like a lens-tab, like you’d see on a Leica, but maybe quite as obtrusive or really ergonomic -- that said, if you get a loose feel for the camera’s focus/focus range (2.6ft-infinity), and use a suitably small aperture, you can make zone focus work somewhat reliably. It’s not intended for that, and I wouldn’t go hard on a zone focus only project with it, but if you need to be inconspicuous, it can probably get you by.

Would I shoot it again?:

Maybe.

It’s not a bad camera by any means, in fact it’s a really really great camera, especially given the bang for the buck. That said, it can feel a little janky, and the rangefinder isn’t the greatest. It works, but it’s not the greatest. That being said, if you were looking for say, a Canonet or even the Minolta Hi-Matic-7, I’d heartily recommend it, over either of those cameras on price alone. The other reason -- and it’s a dumb one -- is that the camera doesn’t take straps easily, or like the loops for straps are really small, and mine didn’t come with said strap -- and here in LA coat/sweatshirt season is definitely over, so it makes it kinda difficult to carry around.

The camera also feels just a bit flimsy -- not bad by any means, and it is a solid camera (it’s all metal) but some of the parts have more give and shake than I’d like. However, that may also be a maintenance issue than anything else and the construction/joinery might be a lot more stable in a different copy of the camera.

The built in solar (photo voltaic?) meter is pretty good, probably a stop off  -- but if you’re like me and you typically rate your film at half box speed anyway, it’s sort of a non issue. I probably wouldn’t attempt to shoot slide film using that meter/metering combo though, or like, I don’t think it’s worth risking slide film on something that janky, or potentially just old/burnt out.

If I were good with my hands or had disposable income for doing really dumb stuff with, I might actually consider lopping the lens off to stick on a digital camera or slap on an m-mount. But that’s kind of a stupid/pointless endeavor. I just happen to really like the Minolta rendering, and 40mm is slowly becoming a favorite focal length.

All that considered, I still default to my Minolta XD-11/ Rokkor 50mm MC-PG combo for daily shooting, etc — partially out of familiarity, but also because it seems to work for me a bit more.

If you’ve enjoyed this content buy a zine in the shop, or come visit me at the Independent Art Book Fair in LA, on April 12-14th.

Feature #006: Greener Pastures

Feature #006: Greener Pastures

I go over the shooting process for Greener Pastures and reflect on what I learned shooting it, technically and artistically. The first Feature I shot on my Pentax 6x7, and heavily using Fujifilm, specifically Pro 160NS and 400h, alongside Provia 100f. This project was based in Silverlake in Los Angeles.

Read More

What I learned shooting #005: Pentax 6x7 (MLU)

What I learned Shooting #005: Pentax 6x7 (MLU)

I deeply resent that I have to write this article. I deeply resent the fact that I paid 200 dollars for a broken Pentax 6x7, and then had to throw another 100 bucks to get it to work. I resent the fact that the Pentax 6x7 is the it-girl camera (or at least, it sure seems like it) in medium format right now, alongside the Mamiya 7ii, the evergreen favorite.

I know your first instinct as a reader will be to ask “why bother writing it if you hate doing it, or that you have to do it” -- and to that my response is simple: reviews, specifically camera reviews for in-demand cameras get website traffic. Likewise with film reviews for permanent favorite emulsions, ie your HP5+, your Portra 400, your Ektar, your Fuji Pro400h Reviews. I’m not above a little commercialism, I’d even argue it’s healthy.

That aside, The Pentax 6x7 (MLU) or non MLU is a great camera, and I do really like it, a lot. Some of the images I’ve gotten from it, like the glassy more-than-real, but still organic images it produces when I’m shooting at the heights of my abilities (not trying to be egocentric, it just seems like the highs that come out of this camera are really, really really high). I’m probably never going to sell it, if for no other reason, than I could probably never afford to buy the dumb thing back.

To save you the trouble of reading *another* fawning. Pentax 6x7 review:

The Pentax 6x7 is a big clunky steel machine with no frills. The lenses are my favorite general look of all the medium format systems that I’ve seen, or had access to so far. It’s capable of taking some really amazing photos that would be very very hard to replicate in 35mm. I think the best examples currently posted up on my website are the photos in Feature #4: Apocalypse Gulch. I think my (current) flagship Editorial Homecoming (Mourning) is great, and it shows off the optics, but not quite as clearly as the Salton Sea photos.

For a slightly different perspective, I think this review by Daniel J. Schneider is probably more helpful to an actual potential buyer than my post/review/essay this is going to be.

My Best/Worst about the camera, with brief explanations:

Here’s my top five favorite things about the camera:

  1. The Lenses, and their rendering. I know in terms of pure sharpness the Zeiss lenses on the Hasselblad probably blow the Pentax 6x7’s to shit, as well as the painfully sharp Mamiya RB/RZ or Mamiya 7 series glass; but I think the Pentax lenses have tend to have a certain (still super sharp/high resolving power, if that’s your bag) human look that suits my own particular need/style of photography really well.

  2. The Viewfinder is kinda magic. Not like it makes you better, but just having a giant bright image makes it really nice to compose and shoot on. I guess I have some (minor) complaints about the focusing because the depth of field tends to be super thin, but overall, the viewfinder (ground glass) just shines. I haven’t had a chance to use a dedicated waist level finder or chimney on the Pentax 6x7, but when I’ve just stared down through the ground glass it’s pretty amazing.

  3. The Aspect Ratio. The Pentax 6x7 has a nearly perfect 4:3 ratio, which, for what it’s worth makes it pretty perfect for darkroom printing on the common sizes, ie 8x10, 11x14, 20*24. Beyond that I think the the boxy, relatively even aspect ratio also lends itself to a more thoughtful, slow composition style, as opposed to the more dynamic ratio of 3:2 (ie 35mm). I know cropping is always an option, but usually the way the box or viewfinder

  4. It’s Imposing. I know I typically tout the Minolta XD-11’s nice compact feel in hand, and the form factor is small, so this may come as a surprise. But I like that the Pentax 6x7 is a big, gnarly, imposing camera, that makes a loud-ish, clack, when the shutter fires. It makes you, and to some extent, the subject (if you’re doing portraiture) take the camera seriously. It feels like an event, when you shoot and work with the camera, but maybe not as involved or static as one would when shooting and setting up a large format.

  5. (hypocritically) Flex Value. I’ve pissed and moaned a lot about price here (or if you keep reading I will), but there’s something kinda nice about owning an expensive piece of gear, and one that seems to be retaining it’s value, or even increasing it. I typically scoff at the Leica community, more for the idolatry of the red dot and the flex around it, but it’s kinda nice to brag that you got a deal on your (now expensive) camera, and show it off some. But not too much, nobody likes a rich prick.

Here’s some stuff I don’t love about the camera:

  1. It’s heavy. Not so heavy that it’ll break your back, or do permanent damage right off the bat, but the thing is definitely very heavy, and after a long day of hiking with the thing, you’re not going to feel great. I don’t actually care that the camera’s big or (relatively) loud -- I’m not really a street photographer, or at least what I do in street photography is so irrelevant to disturbing people that the noise and physical size/threatening look of the Pentax 6x7 don’t really matter that much.

  2. It’s expensive, and the price of replacement is just going to keep going up. A big reason why I’ve never even bothered to experiment with another system is that I don’t think I’d get enough money back selling whatever else I tried to buy back my original equipment if I didn’t like it -- and the camera’s good enough for what I use it for that I guess it doesn’t matter, but I still don’t like the thought of paying another 500 dollars to shoot the camera.

  3. The Eye level finder only covers 90% of the frame. It’s a perfectly nice finder/prism, but missing 10% of your image can be kinda tough, or like easy to forget about. Usually the image is pretty much exactly what I shoot, but that extra 10% has definitely snuck up on me before, requiring me to go back and crop back in, which overall is fine, but definitely a little demoralizing or frustrating.

  4. The flash sync speed kinda sucks. There’s no real good way to shoot flash with the camera, handheld, even with the specialized leaf shutter lenses, it’s still a pain and a lot of button clicks to get everything right, and not really anything you’d want to do handheld. I’m not a huge flash shooter or anything but this is admittedly, a significant border to entry for me.

  5. I’m now part of the medium format community, or like, if I want to share something (like this or one of my features/editorials) on facebook to a group to kinda get more eyes on it, I have to wade through the sea of shit that is the group of dumb, stubborn, fucks with no discernable taste who see fit to constantly criticize anything they neither understand nor like for not meeting their narrow, boring, and tasteless criteria of good photography, that seems to reek of being a professional hobbyist who approaches photography as an engineering question than an art. On top of that, the belief that they could be wrong is so foreign to them, that they refuse to try to see anything in a light that doesn’t favor them. There are plenty of perfectly nice people in the groups, but I get burnt out pretty quickly from the constant trolling, or dickish “criticism” which contains no palpable or helpful criticism that tends to hang over the board. (If this is you, you can kindly fuck right off my website, thanks.)

That brings me to, the eponymous section of the review/column:

So, what did I/have I learned shooting the Pentax 6x7:

  1. It’s probably way overpriced for what it should be, or like, I remember looking into buying one three to five years ago (I wasn’t ready for one) and it was like 200 bucks, maybe 300-400 with a lens. Tops. I know the whole film market has grown, and I should be happy, but as someone who’s been a (relatively) long-term film shooter, it kinda chaps my ass that all these johnny come lately kids are (un-intentionally) jacking the price of gear way the fuck up. I guess I should just be glad I don’t give a fuck about premium point and shoots.For a point of comparison, and SEO ranking, even the price of my beloved Minolta XD series cameras, have shot through the roof. Five years ago, when I got my first one, it was basically in mint condition, and I paid maybe 50 bucks for it. To get one of a decent quality, now, it’s something like $150 -- and even then the internal guts of the thing are a crapshoot. Additionally, it’s not like there’s a lot on the US used market either -- so you’re stuck gambling on Japanese eBay, which isn’t totally unreasonably priced, considering convenience of being able to just order the camera, but it’s always 30-40% over whatever budget I have for a camera or lens. Paralleled to the Pentax 6*7, even when I was buying mine, I remember the market being about 400 for a body only, with an unmetered prism, if you’re lucky. All this should probably be couched in “Andrew is an aggressively cheap bastard when  any purchase over $100 dollars is involved -- and his sense of value is way way stunted.”

  2. I like the camera and love the images it produces but I have yet to really bond with the camera in a meaningful way, or build a real relationship aside from “this camera is a tool, a really good tool.” My only real hypotheses are that 1. I haven’t gotten Stockholm syndrome’d by the camera yet -- it’s only been a year and some change, which leads into 2. The weight and expense of the camera, ie the price of 120 film (development and scanning, too), having repairs and CLA’s done (the big name Pentax guy charges $300 bucks for just a CLA -- I’m sure it’s basically a rebuild, but still, it doesn’t sit well with me -- see “I am a cheap bastard” above.), and just the dead weight of lugging the Pentax 6x7 (with lenses) around is prohibitive to me shooting enough with it to really gel with it beyond “camera make photo.”

  3. Right now, I really only take the camera out when I do “serious project work” -- and even then, because I seem to have a nasty habit of accumulating (and shooting) 100 foot rolls of 35mm film, I still seem to end up using the Minolta XD-11 for a good chunk of my projects. That being said I do lug the Pentax 6x7 with me to do landscape photography when I travel -- and it’s definitely been good or great for that -- I have some stuff coming up to show that off, I’m almost done re-scanning all my photos from one specific trip to show that off.

  4. Bracketing is for chumps. Admittedly I haven’t fully incorporated this lesson into daily practice all the time, but typically, the amount I bracket shots has radically decreased way down. Typically (with limited exception) I tend to fall into the category or thought pattern of “first shot, best shot” and it’s borderline madness for me to re-shoot something better the second time when I’m overthinking it, but traditionally I still do or have a lot. Having only ten frames on a roll definitely cuts way down on the amount that I’m tempted to re-do something, if for no other reason than budget.

  5. Having a bigger/better camera doesn’t make your work better. I know this is something I say a lot, but I definitely have gotten some better shots out of the Minolta XD-11 than the Pentax 6x7, on the same day, just because I wasn’t working hard enough at getting the Pentax 6X7 framing right, or I just flat out didn’t have the right/wide enough lens for it. You can’t always make your new fancy toy work out for everything, as much as you want it to.

Thanks for reading this! If you’ve enjoyed this content, please buy a zine in the shop, or commission a print. It helps keep the website up and running.