photography

What I learned shooting... #4: Agfapan APX100 (35mm)

A thorough review and overview of one of the last batch of Agfapan APX100 in 35mm. Tested primarily with the Minolta XD-11, and Rokkor MC-PG 50mm 1.4 lens, and to a lesser extent the Minoltina AL-s. Primary Developers used were Kodak Xtol, and Rodinal.

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What I Learned Shooting... #3: Minolta XD-11 -- A Tribute

I’m gonna switch topics from film to cameras and lenses here for the next couple weeks while I wrap up my 2 100ft rolls of Agfapan APX 100. (I’m at #17/36 as of posting this)

I have pretty much all the gear I could want or reasonably need. I have a full shooting set of lenses (and a few extras) in Minolta SR (the actual name of the mount, not MC/MD -- so help me god if I hear one more person call it that...), and in Pentax 6x7 for medium format.

Over the last five years I’ve shot a Minolta XD-series (XD, 11, and 7) camera with near slavish devotion. I’ll test out a new camera now and again --mainly an SRT 102 (seriously underrated), and the Minoltina Al-s (also critically underrated).

I may switch to a compact rangefinder (say a CLE with Rokkor 40/2) now that I tote a Pentax 6x7 around for most of my “serious” work, and use 35mm as a bts/quick journal camera, but I’ll never get rid of my workhorse(s). Also if I end up doing more portraiture or editorial work, and it wasn’t on Medium Format, I’d happily shoot it on my XD.

Let me put a few things out there right now:

  1. I love these cameras so much, when I had all four break on me, I nearly got their serial numbers tattooed onto my ribs (I didn’t -- a friend pointed out that that was kinda Holocaust-ey, and maybe I should avoid that -- thanks Jake.)

  2. I’ve always been a “Minolta guy,” my first camera, at age 15 was an XG-M, the repair guys at my local repair shop Walter’s Camera Repair -- http://www.walterscamerarepairs.com/ -- Call me “the minolta guy.” (not a paid endorsement, seriously, if you’re in LA and need honest repairs done at a fair price and pretty quickly, they can probably help you out.)

  3. Either by gross overfamiliarity or closemindedness, I really don’t like most of the other 35mm camera brands’ SLR’s from the pre-autofocus era. I hate the Canon AE-1, I think it’s a bad camera with a backwards meter, honestly Canon SLR’s on the whole before AF are just straight garbage. Most of the Nikons are nice but badly designed, clunky, or flat out backwards -- good lenses though. I guess Pentax is okay (for 35mm -- Medium Format is a whole different story). I don’t know shit about Olympus -- people who shoot them seem to really like them.

  4. I think most reviews of this camera kinda miss the point of it. Or at least haven’t run  give or take 400 rolls through the the thing. It’s always “Leica this, Minolta that.”

  5. My complaints on reliability are a little bullshit. I probably ran +/- 75 rolls through the damn thing this year. I don’t think most people run that much through their cameras or tend to flat out abuse or over-carry their equipment the way I tend to. I’ll probably keep stricter track next year.

After nearly a page of disclosures and complaints here we go:

Here’s why I love this camera:

  1. It feels really nice in the hand. -- It’s a relatively compact design, but all metal, and it’s weighted really evenly with the 50 1.4 MC, which is the lens I use most as of writing this. I realize this is probably a dumb thing to vaunt as it’s best feature, but it makes it much more enjoyable to use regularly.

  2. It has a quasi-mechanical vertical shutter. While it lacks a really fast sync speed -- like a Contax g2 or a leaf shutter camera -- it can do 1/100th of a second, mechanically. I can shoot any lens I regularly use with it, safely, and mechanically if I have a battery failure. Also 1/100th of a second is fast enough for *most* uses. I know HSS is a hot commodity, but 1/100th is usably fast for me. Also, for an SLR, assuming you get a good copy of the camera, it’s really quiet.

  3. It has three modes in order of usefulness, Manual, Aperture Priority, and Shutter Priority. It’s not easy to accidentally switch between the modes, and they’re all pretty reliable --- the camera actually has a hidden program mode which double-checks your exposure and fixes it -- steplessly.

  4. The meter is good down to EV 1 -- Which basically has you covered in most situations you’ll ever run into, unless you’re a hardcore night photographer, or shoot mostly backlit.

  5. Kind of a no-brainer, which is why it’s #5 on my list, but Rokkor lenses.

Complaints:

  1. It’s a hard camera to fix. My normal shop can do a bunch of fixes on it, but they can’t fix everything -- apparently the circuit board is kinda janky, or not an easy one to fix because of how early-primitive it is in its technology.

  2. It’s not nearly as reliable as a standard mechanical camera. I put way too many rolls through my camera, but I still probably have to send it out once a year for maintenance.

  3. People have started to get in on the camera, and the price of them keeps climbing. Also the number of Black Minolta XD’s keeps shrinking. And if you’ve seen the black finish, you know how great it is. The silver is fine, but the black finish is just better.

What’ve I learned shooting it?

A lot.

I’ve had one (of four) basically since I showed up in Los Angeles five years ago.

Basically, with the XD-11, I’ve used it to shoot everything: friends, the city, my drive across America, my first fashion editorial --- which I’m pretty sure never got released --- and every project I’ve done in 35mm. If you look at my instagram or any 35mm feature or story on here, it was most likely shot on the XD11.

It also showed me what I like and dislike in a camera, and it’s now what I bench my expectations around.

Anyway -- Thanks for reading! If you’ve enjoyed this -- please consider buying a zine in the shop. It helps me keep the lights on here.

Feature #5: Mourning (Homecoming)

Feature #5: Mourning (Homecoming)

A trip home to Maine under the most dire of circumstances.

Two days of shooting, and three completely separate contexts: Eastern Prom of Portland, Maine, the Royal River, and a bridge over it, in Falmouth, Maine. A hiking path to Morse Mountain, and then Popham Beach State Park in Popham, Maine. Three different landscapes, and three different experiences.

Shot on a mixture of Portra 160, 400, on medium format film on a Pentax 6x7.

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Your Phone is All the Point-and-Shoot You Need.

Shooting or taking pictures daily, or very frequently, is an essential habit for photographers of all stripes. Many of us who shoot film carry a dedicated film camera on us all the time, in addition to the camera that every living person carries: their cellphone. I believe that your phone camera is an equally useful, or better, point-and-shoot than any other stand-alone point-and-shoot camera (a compact film or digital program camera) for most uses, and that buying a true point-and-shoot is pointless.

Most point and shoot cameras were aimed at the average person who wanted to shoot photos wherever without having to worry too much, and take their camera with them easily. Likewise the premium point and shoots were supposed to enable pro photographers on the go to shoot a nice camera anywhere without having to lug their normal gear. The iPhone destroyed the camera market, and digital point and shoot sales aimed at the average person have largely been completely cannibalized by cellphone camera market.

On the premium end of the spectrum we have the Contaxes, Fuji’s, and Olympus Mju’s on the film side, and the Rx1 and assorted fixed lens Leicas/Panasonics. I could definitely understand if you didn’t want to take your studio camera, you’d take a lighter smaller camera with you for day-to-day shooting. Most film shooters, take their “premium” point-and-shoots with them in addition to some other interchangeable lens camera. Unless you’re lugging a medium format camera, or something else equivalently heavy, it all seems a bit redundant.

Realistically, how many of us regularly shoot or share for print? Even if one did print regularly how often would you really want to print a 35mm negative bigger than 11x14, (about 12 megapixels)? I know that 99% of what I shoot day-to-day on 35mm, goes to a 5.5-6” screen, max. I can’t imagine being far from the norm here. If one absolutely needs grain or a particular film look, you can fix that in 30 seconds or less, in VSCO.

The main argument, that I would accept is that: you know what focal length you want, the point and shoot camera provides a look and feel, that’s satisfactory to you, and it’s part of your artistic goals or statement, or you find that shooting a dedicated camera gives better results than taking your time with a phone, more power to you. But for those of you that use that camera in addition to a Leica or a Contax g2, or basically any 35mm SLR, why? It seems like pure collectorism, especially with the insane (and still rising) prices, and the diminishing or flat out non-existent ability to repair these cameras.

My phone is one of my favorite cameras. It does exactly what I need it to, which is take pictures that I don’t have to think too much about, or offhand as a reminder to go back and shoot something, or when I can’t be bothered to take a regular camera with me, which I’d argue is the whole point of a premium point and shoot, it’s supposed to be simple and quick for social use, which is exactly what modern technology has provided with in-phone cameras, and software.

Why Film?

Why Film?

I learned photography on film, and I’m probably one of the last people to learn on film rather than digital. I’m sure I played around with my parents’ digital point and shoot cameras when I was a little younger, but when I actually really dug into photography for the first time, it was on my grandfather’s Minolta XG-M. I use film in my personal work because it plays to my core skills and lets me sidestep a lot of the stuff I don’t really like spending my time on.

I shoot film out of familiarity. Most of the cameras I shoot on are manual only cameras, or manual first, with a built in meter. This is how I learned to shoot, and it’s what I tend to think in terms of. I know how to work the internal meter, and focus using a normal SLR and rangefinder, and get completely reproducible results.

Next to familiarity is comfort and ease of use. Having learned photography fully manual, I find it much easier to manually set my exposure (and it’s compensation) and focus, rather than having to sit there and chimp my rear display to figure out why the highlights are blown or the evaluative metering is acting weird (given, it’s really really good on modern cameras). At any rate, without a lot of the extra automation, it strips back what the camera does for me, and allows me to focus more on composing and shooting.

Time is the ultimate factor for me. When I shoot film in a hybrid process (scanning the negatives and retouching), the amount of time that I have to spend sitting in front of a computer editing my scans is a tenth of what it is with digital files. I place a high premium on spending my time shooting rather than editing. I don’t like waiting or playing games with a computer to get the images I’m finishing to be like I saw them in my head and doing scans myself, or having a lab do them when they do the development. This usually gets the images I capture 99% of the way there without me having to sit there and play with them too much.

The home-dev color crew will be quick to argue that lab scans don’t leave much up to to the photographer, but I’d honestly argue that’s a difference in priorities more than some kind of moral imperative. The lab would really have to really take poetic license, or overcorrect the scans to some absurd degree for me to say they’re the ones calling the shots, especially after you factor in composition, film choice, exposure compensation or deliberate re-rating of film.

I shoot film because it allows me to shoot more clear-headedly, with little regard for post processing or getting the gadgetry to work fully in my favor. I realize the incremental costs are higher, and based on the amount that I shoot, probably much more expensive in the long run.  The time I get back from shooting, metering, and choosing the correct film for my application, is all time saved that I don’t have to spend re-envisioning photos I’ve already taken, is well worth the money.

Film is not sacred. Film is not magic. Film is simply the most convenient means to my ends.