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.

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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.

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Test Your Goddamn Film.

Test Your Goddamn Film

Until early 2018,

I never took properly testing my film or developer too seriously. I picked a developer, cycled in between basically anything I could find and shoot, mostly just to shoot whatever I could find, and just stuck with whatever recipe the massive dev chart suggested, and hoped for the best. Honestly, it worked -- most of the time. That being said, over time, I’ve begun to desire more consistent results, to build a codified aesthetic, or voice if you will. I had a long period shooting Delta 100, in Kodak Xtol 1:1, but even then I’d go off and get distracted shooting Fomapan 100 for a week, or some bizarro expired neopan, without really digging into testing best practices for that core of Delta 100. While I may not have finally settled into a consistent aesthetic -- I’m still settling on my daily shooter/singular film stock -- I have learned or at least gained an appreciation for good testing and consistency. I think thorough testing is a necessity to the craft of black and white analogue photography, and to a lesser extent -- color photography.

Traditional Silver Black and White Negative film, and its developers, is the only film which requires extensive testing. There’s only one true “correct” developer for color negative still film, which is C-41 or whatever the company making it is calling it. Any color negative development, outside of that is cross-processing. Once you learn what an individual emulsion does, and how it reacts to light, and what it does when pushed or pulled or whatever other idiot processing decisions you want to subject it to it’s not going to deviate from that -- but even then, with rare exception, almost all C-41 film behaves the same way. As of writing this, there are over 100 different developers listed on the Massive Dev Chart. Given some (most) of them may not be in wide use. But even then, let’s say there are 10 “standard developers” (Rodinal, HC-110 or Ilfotec HC, D-76 or ID-11, DD-X, Xtol, Sprint, the Pyro Family, Ilfosol S, and Diafine), that’s still 9 more developers that are standard process than color film has. And each one of them has different dilutions which do different things, and act differently based on the relative temperature one develops at.

For my primary case study, I’d like to use Rodinal, because it’s such a universal developer. Let’s go over some standard assumptions -- Rodinal has three standard dilutions, 1:25, 1:50 -- the “standard” , 1:100 -- which sometimes is performed as a semi-stand development, and sometimes as a full stand for at least one hour. Rodinal does *not* play nicely at higher temperatures than the given 20ºC/68ºF, and tends to create heavy, heavy grain, as it is an Acutance developer, and most of its developing action comes from making grain larger rather than cutting away at the grain -- ie a solvent developer -- I’ll get to that soon. On top of that, because rodinal works at high dilutions, 1:50, 1:100, and those dilutions can take so much time, you can get compensation. Compensation is a bizarre phenomena which seems to allow one to get a more even rendition, along with sharper edges on their image subjects, but within certain limits, and only with certain developers. On top of that rodinal can be used to push, but because of the way the developer works, it’s typically not used as a push developer. Or at the very least, from my personal experience, one should not use additional time to push the film itself, to “gain” a stop, so much as they should use it to increase the negative thickness or the amount of contrast on the negatives. (NB: most of my info is pulled from Massive Dev, or Unblinking Eye -- they have a page specifically on Rodinal).

I don’t know if you’ve been keeping tally of all the variables and considerations in that last block of text, but that’s a lot of variables, with a lot of finicky and personal/preferential answers -- That’s three separate dilution choices, temperature volatility, speed volatility (ie how much grain the developer creates given the speed of the film, then also how much nominal speed the film loses in the developer), what kind of contrast you need, how much extra time you should be developing to compensate for a particularly dark or light scene. And those are just the developer variables, that’s not even taking into account how you rated the film you’re developing, or the water quality/mineral content of the water that you’re using for your dilutions.

That being said: most film, or at least any film made by a decently large manufacturer, or of “professional quality,” typically comes with its own datasheet, which should either be right on the film’s own box, or available from the manufacturer, online. Kodak is really great about this, as is Ilford, given the number of different films they manufacture. I even have a data sheet from the now defunct AGFA, for the batch of APX100 I shot (which actually confirms their loose recommendation of 17 minutes, in Rodinal 1:50.) These sheets typically give best practice for the film, and the best possible starting point. That being said, they’re not long on examples, just pure data on “how much contrast do you want vs. how thick your negative will be (gamma), and this is what the light response curve is.” Which is great, but not really a good substitute for figuring out what you actually need out of a film, which, unless you can perfectly read all those charts, and intuitively know what the film will look like, you still have to go and shoot film yourself to find out what the compensation is like, the amount of grain is in a given developer, or even how a developer will render the film given the scene. And this isn’t even taking into account all the variables that go along with developing, aside from time. All of this is a good starting point, but at the end of the day, you should still conduct your own tests.

Testing your film is important. Thorough testing allows one to get exactly the look, feel, and density one requires out of their film, without having to worry too much, or spend an excess amount of time correcting or photoshopping, once a desired benchmark is set. Once you sets your benchmark, you end up saving much more time in the long run despite the initial timesink of having to do all the research and testing in the first place. To make this personally relevant, this process of testing, in detail, is why I won’t review a film, unless I can shoot at least 20 rolls of it (if not more), because without that thoroughness, or exposure to multiple developers, conditions, etc, I feel it paints a relatively incomplete picture of what a given film is capable of. Admittedly, I was inspired to do or start testing thoroughly or sticking with a single film (per usage) at a time by Johnny Patience’s Article on the death of the zone system, which is also definitely worth a read.

Anyway, to sum all of this up: If you want the best most consistent results, test your goddamn film.

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