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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What I learned shooting #01: Fuji Pro160s (35mm)

What I learned shooting (#01):

Most film reviews are unhelpful at best, they tend to gloss over how the tester shot what they shot and what their own biases and predilections are. I often learn more about photography and a specific emulsion from shooting large batches of the same film over and over and reviewing it, rather than rapidly changing between different emulsions.

For these reviews, I’ll shoot no less than 25 rolls of a given emulsion.

Today’s Review:  Fujifilm Pro 160s (35mm)

Technical considerations:

The film was indeed expired when purchased, but well stored. I mostly processed in large batches of 6+ rolls at a time by either D+J digital imaging or (primarily) Fulltone Photo.

Everything was shot on a Minolta XD11 and the Rokkor 50mm 1.4 MC PG, 24mm MD 2.8, and 85mm MD 2.0. I shot everything handheld, and at higher shutter speeds to compensate for hand-shake.

I shot 2 100ft rolls bulk-loaded of the emulsion (+/- 35 rolls), and exposed all of it at EI 100 to compensate for the expiration date, and to slightly overexpose.

Initial Bias:

I like slow film, cool tonality, and relatively even or muted colors. Fuji Pro 160s should, by most guesses be a slam dunk for me. I shoot mostly landscape, travel, and street/diary type stuff on 35mm. I’ve also shot the same or similar emulsion in 120 and really really liked it. I absolutely love fuji pro400h and fujifilm provia as well.

What I learned:

For day to day shooting, it was fine, but I found that in many situations, storage dependent, the cool-tone reproduction was actually more of a curse than a blessing. If film is stored correctly from the beginning of its life, it tends to hold up much better post-expiration, and in bad conditions when shot.

Unless you’re sending a bulk roll to a dip and dunk facility, your lab may have to cut your roll (this happened multiple times) if it’s too long. You may also end up damaging a machine or causing an accident if your roll is improperly bulk loaded. Also the metal snap-top canisters, while theoretically more durable have a tendency to fall open.

Cool tone films are hit or miss at rendering bright sunlit days, and you need subjects or scenery with enough tonal warmth in them inherently to show any kind of brightness, as light alone won’t show through.  The nature/landscape of the west coast generally doesn’t render super well on this film, because of that cool tone reproduction.

Would I seek out more of it?

Not actively. It’s a nice film, but not so nice that I’d pay a premium or spend extra time seeking it out. If it happened to fall into my lap at the right price again, I’d snatch it right up.

Feature #3: Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve (Color)

For my third feature here, I’m giving a permanent (bigger) home to my color film (C-41 and cross-processed slide film) photos of the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve, and running a sale on the BNW zine until Monday (11/5) at noon.

Get your copy @ Frozenwaste.land/shop .

Additionally, I thought I’d do a quick writeup on what and why I chose to do the zine, and why I decided to do it as a series of black and white photos rather than color.

The Writeup:

When I first got to the Poppy Reserve, I actually had Slide Film loaded into my camera. I had assumed (incorrectly) that the poppies would cover everything, and be in full bloom (they didn’t, and were, on a nearby hill outside the reserve.) However, once I stopped and looked at the hills, there was something utterly fascinating about the way the hills rolled and bent, how the paths around the preserve cut through the desert grass, and the manner in which the mid-morning light gave the whole place a dull but certain sheen.

All of this, in my mind, would show better and more clearly in black and white. So, as soon as I finished my roll of Rollei CR-200, I popped the first of six rolls of Fomapan Creative 200 120 film into my Pentax 6x7. Fomapan 200 (or Arista Edu Ultra 200) is a T-Grain film, and typically exposes best around 160 iso, and while my go-to developer is or was usually Kodak Xtol, I decided to expose around 100 to 125, just to capture the luminance of the desert landscape. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you which lens I used for what after the fact, but I do know I likely used the 105 and 55 (58mm and 24-28mm equivalents respectively).

Ultimately, despite producing a limited pool of photos, I thought that the geometry and tonality I captured was worth sharing with the public in a real way. By creating a short zine (rather than a 50 page megazine), it allowed me to get familiar with designing and laying out a photobook or printed project of my own, and actually commit to printing and selling it for a relatively small amount of overhead, when compared to some of the larger projects that I had priced out previously.

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.

Feature #2: In The Woods

Another Editorial feature from 2017,

In The Woods is a metaphorical exploration of the process of moving to a completely new city, and in this case a new country, feeling lost, and the vulnerability that comes with that, no matter how strong a person one may be.

After failing to publish it elsewhere i’ve decided to publish it here on Frozenwasteland.

Model: Dion Friedman/@dionfriedman

Check it out @ Frozenwaste.land/inthewoods

Feature #1: Chaplet of Divine Mercy

For the last year I’ve struggled with a good explanation or description of my late friend Mateusz M. Tasarz. To simply say he “defied categorization” and was “eclectic” is a grotesque undersale of the man, who he was, what’d he’d done in life, and how he lived.

All I can offer in words or say is this:

You either knew Mateusz Tasarz or you didn’t.

However, in photos, I believe my feelings and understanding are much clearer, and one year after his passing have decided to put up a photoset from the last day we spent hanging out together.

The name of the set takes its name from the booklet of prayers his grandmother asked me to recite for him after his passing.

It’s here on this website @ frozenwaste.land/chaplet

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.