Tim's Photo Magazine

Timely editorials on the world of photography plus camera and equipment reviews from a "user" rather than "technical" viewpoint.

My Photo
Location: Bovey, Minnesota, United States

My interest in photography goes back to my first camera, a crummy plastic Diana that took 120 roll film and took horrid photos (who knew these bad photos would be considered "art" years later). Then I swiped my Mom's Instamatic when she wasn't looking. Dad was/is a photo buff which I'm sure had a big influence on me! I was the only student in my high school shooting for the yearbook, went on to shoot semi-professional since, doing it more as a hobby business than anything else. I've used thousands of different cameras, collect them today, and enjoy both film and digital. I still use and maintain my own black and white darkroom. I've got lots to say about cameras, the business, copyrights, and all this fancy digital stuff.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

It's The Photographer, Not The Camera!

I ran into this photo in an online photo sale, and had to grab it because it so perfectly demonstrates a bad photograph.

You always here people say things like "If I just had a better, newer, fancier, etc. camera..." Then someone always comes along and says "It's not the camera that makes a good photograph, it's the photographer." This of course is completely true. You can make amazing photographs with a simple box camera if you take your time, and work within the limitations of the camera.

This photo shows so many things wrong. How many can you come up with? First off we have the classic "tree coming out of the head" trick. Just moving the subject a bit one way or the other would have solved this. Move her a bit away from and in front of the tree, too and gain a little depth to the image. Just to make it interesting we have the popular "shadow of the photographer" off to the left. Remember too, to always check what's in the background. The big ol' trashcan is not helping the scene at all.

Had our photographer moved a bit to the right she could have moved the tree, left out the trash can, and maybe even got her own shadow out of the shot. Raising the camera a bit, or even lowering it would have also moved the horizon off the same line as the top of the chain link fence. This is how you make better pictures without a lot of work or an expensive camera. Take a moment and look at all the elements in the frame and see what's going on! It wouldn't have hurt to move in closer too. A huge percentage of snapshots like this are always taken with the subject too far from the camera. If you're really trying to include a person and the scene around them, move the subject into the foreground and put the rest of the scene off to the side, and behind. Remember of course to then have your subject facing or looking into the frame, not out of the picture!

I just couldn't resist using this as an example. Look and learn!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

From The Gut Review: Olympus E-PL1

I've crawled my way through the ranks with digital cameras. First was a Kodak, I believe it was a DC20. It took 8 (yes, eight) "high resolution" photos (which I believe were 493 x 373 pixels) before you had to plug it into your computer and download the images (no memory cards yet). At the time, I was just amazed to take a picture with no film! After dropping it on the cement garage floor it ceased to function. In desperation, urgently needing a camera right away, I dashed to Walmart to buy any digital camera that said it would work with a Mac. Came home with a Casio. Don't remember the details but moved up to about one megapixel! Then I moved up to an Olympus C5050 (A very nice camera with many unique features) then the Canon S3is, then in 2009 the Canon SX20is. I've been a sucker for the compact, all in one, do everything super zooms.

Until I saw the Olympus digital Pen. I've loved the Olympus Pens since back in the film days. Half frame rangefinders and SLR's. Cute, solid, functional. Heck, I still have one. I looked at the first digital Pen models at the camera shop. They felt like REAL cameras. They're expensive, have interchangeable lenses, and a lot of other fun features, but NO FLASH! OK, so I'm spoiled. Even if it's not a big powerful flash, I need to have SOME firepower in the light department built into my camera. Then came the E-PL1. It's not quite as traditional looking as the other digital Pen models, but it was a bit cheaper, and had FLASH!

OK, so to get to the point, a blue bodied E-PL1 is now in my camera aresenal. Came with the 14-42mm kit zoom (28-84mm in 35mm speak). I studied the manual for days. I was intimidated by it actually. There are a lot of settings. A lot of user preferences that can be set. Enough that reading the book over and over even left me feeling a bit unenthusiastic about using this camera. Phooey, says I. I put the darn thing on automatic (actually iAuto) and started taking pictures. This is clearly the best way to learn this or any other camera. I just want to share some observations.

This camera FEELS like a camera should. I like being able to zoom without pressing an electronic button and bumping it back and forth to get what I want. You zoom turning the lens barrel. I've actually read reviews posted on online retailers web sites where buyers are complaining the camera doesn't have a powerful enough zoom, or NO zoom (if they got it with the 17mm prime lens). This leads me to believe that people don't realize that the choice of lens is different than the choice of camera and perhaps they should have stayed with something more basic. The various buttons, menus and controls are quite a bit different than other cameras I've had so it takes some getting used to if you've been on the compact super zoom point and shoot train for a while.

I have this theory -- there's no such thing as too much resolution, so I have the camera set for the highest it has available, with minimal compression. This makes HUGE photo files and after each shot it takes 5-6 SECONDS for the images to save to the memory card. This improves if I set it to a more reasonable setting but darn it -- if I can HAVE that much resolution, I WANT it! Originally I had 4 meg SDHC cards that were class 2. I got some class 6 cards and that helped a bit. So I found myself taking a shot, not sure if I caught "the moment" and then having to wait to shoot again, which is frustrating. However, in continuous mode the camera will fire off several shots quickly so you get the shot, but then wait while it writes 4 or more shots to the card. Get fast cards. Or don't be a resolution hog.

Image quality is amazing. I'm sure this is no big bulletin to DSLR users, but for me, using the compact super zooms up until now with their teeny sensors jammed with pixels, it's AMAZING what a larger sensor will do for image quality, especially shooting in low available light! The E-PL1 on auto chooses the ISO necessary to get the job done. At a wedding I just attended, I shot a few frames in available light, noticed the camera was selecting ISO 1600, and I thought "Holy crap, that's gonna be bad". The images are delightful. Far FAR superior to anything my Canon SX20is would have done in the same light. Compared to a super zoom compact these images are bright, full, rich, thick and creamy. The difference is surprising. Don't let megapixels fool you. Both this and my Canon are in the 12 megapixel arena, the larger sensor in the Olympus makes FAR better pictures. Jamming all those megapixels on those teeny sensors in the compacts is an evil practice used by makers to impress you with pixels rather than performance.

Of course, with the E-PL1 not being an "it's all crammed into one camera" miracle box, I'm gonna have to invest in some spendy accessories. It's a small camera. it seems a bit odd with the zoom on the front. I MUST get a "pancake" lens for snapshot and street shooting. My initial plan was the Olympus 17mm 2.8, however the Panasonic 20mm 1.7 has FAR superior test results in all reviews, so that's going to have to be the one. Then I'm going to need a biggie zoom of some sort for shooting airshows, etc, but I haven't even begun researching that yet.

Oh, and of course this camera shoots HD video. Built in mic is mono. But there's a nifty, reasonably priced stereo mic that plugs into the accessory socket and mounts in the hotshoe. Speaking of the hotshoe, a nice array of Olympus flash units work with this camera, AND it supports wireless flash triggering! This same mount/socket can also be used for the optional (and expensive) electronic viewfinder -- if you don't want to use the LCD screen for everything. The accessory viewfinder tilts up to make it easier when you're working at odd angles. Another feature I gave up from the compact super zooms -- no tilting articulated viewing screen.

The camera has an HDMI output, so you can watch right on your HD TV from the camera, photos or videos. Depending on your TV outfit, you can even use your TV remote to control the camera to change pictures (much like a vintage slide projector remote, except no wires!)

After using the super compacts for all of my previous digital life, I'm finding the E-PL1 to be much more like a traditional camera. You'll want accessories, and a nice gadget bag.

Oh geeze! Lets not forget about less important things like the ART FILTERS! Want grainy black and white? Soft focus? Punchy artsy color? Just dial it up, man. And they work in movie mode too! I've found the soft focus effect very nice for some portraits. Certainly these are not necessary, but they ARE fun.

Oh, did I mention the camera also shoots in RAW, or RAW + jpeg? I've never used RAW mode on any camera, and probably won't. Reviews have said that the jpeg engine in the E-PL1 is SO good that the jpegs are astounding on their own, and RAW is only really necessary if you've planned some after the fact tweaking that requires a RAW file.

I've found the auto white balance to be more accurate and -- well, white -- than that in other cameras I've owned. Also I take a lot of product photos for ebay, and can now get away with a white curved paper backdrop with fluorescent shop lights above for illumination -- the camera goes into a higher ISO, the white balance kicks in, and I get FAR better shots, requiring a lot less Photoshop tweaking, than I EVER did with my compacts. This camera has greatly sped up my product shooting/downloading/posting process.

Take note this SOUNDS like a camera, too. You know how some compacts make NO noise, or you can turn on a fake shutter sound? This has a real shutter, and it makes a real shutter sound. Not as loud as a film SLR, but enough that people will turn around and scowl at you when you fire a burst at a wedding!

The E-PL1 did not come with any software for the Mac. The CD inside was PC only, however Mac software was available on the Olympus web site. Not that you don't NEED this software. You can easily import your pictures, and do what you need with any photo program you prefer, and your Mac probably has iPhoto, etc. in it already. You will probably want to download the little program they have for checking the firmware version for your camera online, as they make improvements and updates. Once you've got it loaded it's an easy process. You plug the camera into your computer, launch the program, and it checks with Olympus and your camera to see that you've got the most recent version installed. The last update made quite an improvement in auto focus speeds.

Breaking one of my own camera rules, the E-PL1 uses a special Olympus Lithium-Ion battery. One comes with the camera of course, but only a foole would not carry a charged spare. They are expensive from Olympus and we all know there can be trouble with cheap third party batteries. I did manage to find two new, authentic Olympus batteries on eBay for about $10 each, compared to the $50 they get for them at Olympus. My intense examination of them has me convinced they are not counterfeit, but you should be aware that you need an oddball battery, and should be prepared to get a spare. A cute little charger comes with the camera. The battery charges from about conked out to full in about 3 hours or so.

All in all, I like it. After reading the manual, I didn't think I would. Using it, and seeing the photos has clearly changed my mind. If you need a camera to point and shoot with and are not used to a more traditional photo experience, this camera may frustrate the heck out of you. But if you're a "real" camera person, you'll be pleased.


Friday, April 24, 2009

Backup Schmackup

Ya ever think that maybe, sometimes, technology creates things that we get convinced we need that we really don't? Well DUH! But in this case, I'm talking about backing up your images.

Holy Crap! I hear you scream. Is he going to tell us not to back up our images? Well, I'm going to tell you that it's kind of nutty, and kind of for the paranoid, and especially for those unable to exercise moderate care.

Think about it. How the heck did you back up your images back in the film days? I'll tell you how. You DIDN'T. You took your photos, you put the film in your camera bag in the pocket you set aside for exposed film, and you took care of it. Maybe you had a separate bag you stored it in. Maybe you kept it in a little cooler if it was hot out. There was no back up. You took the responsibility to take care of your work. Now, practically every photo magazine you pick up has articles about backing up your work on the go, about carrying a laptop to back up your work, or a portable drive, or a device to let you upload to an internet based storage service. Anything you can possibly do to back up those pictures! Just think all those dainty, fragile digital images are backed up!

But we never used to worry about this. Think about it. What can happen to a digital image on a memory card? You can lose it. Or you can pass it through some high powered magnetic field. That's about it. But oh man, back in the FILM days it's a wonder we ever came home with any pictures! Don't leave your film in the car, the heat will ruin them. Don't get the film wet. Don't get it frozen unless it's in a baggie to save it from condensation when you bring it inside. Don't lose it. Don't let the airport guys x-ray it to death. Film is a multitude of times more perishable than any digital image. I have left memory cards in the car in scorching heat. I had one go thru the washing machine, AND the dryer and the pictures. were all there waiting for me. I drove over one just to see what would happen. It was fine. Oh, sure, if you drive over one just right you might crack it or mangle it, but this SD card survived just fine. Try THAT with a roll of film. OH, and lets not for get LIGHT! Let a little bright sun hit your film canister just right and it's fog city. Your memory card could care less! No one tells you to load your memory card in subdued light!

But we've been trained to back up everything. Mostly because it's a neat way to sell us more doodads, that need more cords, and batteries and all the rest. Yes, I admit that I've been guilty of backing up images from memory cards to my laptop while on vacation but only because it was handy at the time and putting them in the computer gave me a chance to delete the less than perfect shots, which was a better pastime in the motel than staring at the TV. But for Pete's sake people, try to remember how we used to simply take care of things and keep track of what we are doing and where we were putting our stuff. Backing up is for the careless paranoids.

Disclaimer: This is for camera memory cards only. For heavens sake, back up your work from your computer regularly, especially of you're using any kind of computer that doesn't have an apple on it someplace. With your PC you have to worry about mechanical failure and viruses, not an issue with a memory card. Don't EVER consider your computer to be the final storage place for your images. ALWAYS back up your images from your computer to another drive, or CD's, or DVD's, etc. I make it a rule to save every original unedited image I take at least two different places - two different brands of DVD's, a CD and on an external drive, or whatever. If you're on a PC it WILL crash, be invaded by virii, or have a complete mechanical breakdown. If you're on a Mac you might fall victim to thieves, lightning bolts, or some other external force that may harm your machine.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Pointless Warranties

I've come to the realization that for the most part warranties are worthless, and I'm sure that manufacturers are aware of this (oops--here they come now waving their data sheets showing how many millions of dollars in warranty repairs they've given away). I don't know about you, but the very few times I've had something conk out on me, the warranty was not a viable option.

My example. We had a nifty eMac. Bought it brand new. Let me right off the bat say we have had an Apple computer in our house since 1998 and have only this one time had ANY repair needed. After 14 months of household use (and we used it a LOT as a lot of my work is done at home, and we had three teenagers using it too) it went bonkers. Short version of the story is there were some defective components in the power supply that were provided by a third party to Apple. My warranty had expired by two months. But alas! knowing of the trouble Apple offered some sort of extended coverage for this problem. A call to Apple verified my computer was covered, I was given a case number, and informed that if I would get my machine to an Apple service location they would fix it free! Yahoo! (I said to myself, not intending to promote the Yahoo! corporation). Of course the nearest Apple service location is 200 miles from my home. My choices were spend $50 or more to ship it off for repairs, or deliver it 200 miles away. Since shipping it all over the country didn't seem like a good idea, and since we visited the city where the repair center was on a regular basis I decided we'd just tote it along on one of our trips and get it fixed. So I called the Apple store that had their Genius Bar (or whatever it's called) guys on hand. They checked my number, said they could fix 'er up, and to bring it in. OK, well to do that I have to schedule a day in advance to leave the machine. Then wait. Wait for them to take it apart and verify the problem. Then wait for the parts to come in -- which of course were back ordered due to the demand-- then wait while they fix it, then get a chance to go pick it up. So, bottom line is, this would take a month or two or more. A month or two of being without my machine. Without my stuff. A computer, like most of the devices we own today, become part of our life, without which things are a pain. I wouldn't be able to update my or my employers web page. I wouldn't have all my audio and photo work at hand. Oh, sure I had it all backed up. But what good will the backups do without a machine to use? They don't give out loaners. Any computers I had access to didn't have the programs I use on them, not to mention the work involved in getting things rolling on a temporary machine. Then, I got to thinking (which is, I'm sure manufacturers master plan) it's already "old" technology (heck, since they put that machine out they had moved to the G5's then the Intel machines) so I said to heck with it, and bought a new iMac. Basically showing that getting something repaired of a technological nature is silly. A warranty doesn't help if you can't do anything for weeks or months.

Similar experience for a friend of mine. His less than a year old digital camera went kaput. He was about to go an a road trip. Repairs would have taken a couple weeks plus transit time to and from, and the cost of insured speedy shipping. Even though it was fully covered by warranty it wasn't feasible to ship it out, wait weeks, miss photo opportunities and have this time and money invested in repairing what was an already outdated camera. So, he bought a new one, and the broken one sits in a drawer.

As far as I'm concerned the only type of warranty that is REALLY a warranty is one that says "If your device stops working correctly bring it to ANY retail location that sells our product for immediate replacement of the same or similar model". So, if your Powershot or Coolpix goes kaput on vacation, you just walk into the nearest Ritz Camera or Wal-Mart or where ever they might sell them, hand them the busted one, and walk out with a new working one. THAT is a warranty that is useful. If that model is no longer available you trade it for a current model with the same value as your original retail price. "Send it in and fix it" warranties are pretty much a bust unless you've got a spare to use in the meantime, and I don't know about you but I don't have another equal computer or camera laying around.

Could I interest you in a slightly used eMac? I didn't think so. I dismantled it, sold the parts on ebay (just like an old car, the parts are worth more than the assembled machine) and turned the case into a playhouse for the cat!

Three Needed Photo Inventions

There are three things I constantly believe some manufacturer will introduce to the photo market any day now. Trouble is, I've been thinking about these things for several years now and apparently no one else has either thought of them, or thinks they're a good idea. So, I toss these out to you, fellow photo buffs and equipment makers.

Number One: Digital for your classic camera. I'm sure we have the technology, we just need to convince someone there is a market. Imagine being able to pick your trusty Leica, Nikon rangefinder, heck even your Argus C3, and go off shooting digital photos! It just seem to me that in this day of full frame 35mm sensors that someone could make a device that would fit in a typical 35mm standard camera. I don't know all the mechanics of how a sensor works but I suspect that it is possible to place a full size sensor in the spot where the film lies in a typical full frame 35mm camera. Most cameras I know have quite a bit of spring-loaded pressure plate space between the back of the camera and the film plane, and they all have the same amount of space where a normal 35mm cassette would go. The electronics, battery, etc go in the cassette area, the sensor hangs out like a film flap. Drop it in. The sensor "flap" could be designed to slide in and out of the electronics cassette to facilitate cameras that have different spacing between the cassette chamber and the film frame opening. You even have the possibility for some control of mechanical switching in the device with the rewind knob -- two taps to the left for on, one tap for off, etc. I should think this would be a big seller to classic camera fans. It would be just like shooting film, as you'd have to choose your ISO when you load and wouldn't see the photos till you download them from the device since your Minolta rangefinder won't have an LCD on the back. I suppose it will never be developed since if we can shoot digital with the millions of existing cameras sitting in closets, why would we buy some new fangled digital camera, so it's probably counter productive to todays manufacturers. But still I dream. Same idea could be applied to vintage 2 1/4 TLR's, etc.

Number 2. A simple device for the consumer/photographer to put digital images onto traditional slide film. Why would you want to do this, you may ask. I can think of many reasons. You want to give a slide show to a large group of people. To do this the modern way, you would need a laptop and a computer projector. A couple grand investment at the very least, which will give you crummy images on the screen, and greatly limit the size of the room you can work. Plus you'll have to wrestle with a computer, all the associated cords, and all the rest of potential problems. You probably already have a slide projector in your closet. If not, buy one on eBay for about eight dollars. Remember the good ol' days when you could simply plop the Kodak Carousel projector on the stand, flip the switch and put bright, clear, amazing Kodakchrome slides on the screen? Wouldn't it be nice if you could have in your desk drawer a device that would let you load up the slide film of your choice, plug into your computer, pull up the images of your choice, press a shutter button, and put that image on real slide film? A full frame size high resolution LCD screen with a fixed lens and shutter arrangement should do the job. Make your own slides from digital for presentations. Compare the image on the screen from even a cheap department store slide projector to that of a decent expensive modern computer projector and you'll be amazed at the vintage machines brightness and clarity. The other good reason is the chance to archive your images on the most stable and versatile medium we've ever come up with. I've got Kodachromes around here from the 1940's that are still crisp and clear and colorful. I've got floppies with images put on them at a lab 10 years ago that no one can figure out how to access!

Finally the BIG NUMBER THREE: A digital camera with traditional camera controls. You know, with a shutter speed dial on top, a real lens aperture ring on the lens, real focusing, a film speed dial, and all the rest, the way it was for 75 years. OK, sure, they DID do this with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-L. This camera looked like a real camera should look, with traditional controls and everything. But it was expensive and sadly the reviews were not that good in the image and useability department. It was an SLR with a lot of shutter lag, slow flash recycling, slow live view, and a few other drawbacks. but it was a step in the right direction. I don't know about you, but after 40 years of shooting with traditional cameras the whole menu driven method of camera control still doesn't sit well with me. Lets get someone else out there to bring us some digital cameras with normal controls. All the other goodies they slop into a camera these days can be in the menus for those who want to diddle with them -- things like white balance, special modes, flash modes, all that beyond the basics stuff, and let us have cameras where the basic controls are right there, connected to real knobs! Of course, if someone comes thru with Number One we won't really be needing this one I guess.

There you have it, manufacturers and developers. I challenge ye.


Saturday, February 07, 2009

Review - Kodak 828 Flash Bantam

I can't believe how long it's been since I updated this blog! Promise- more updates in the future. Really.

Last time around I promised you a review of the Kodak 828 Flash Bantam and now, over two years later here it is! The 828 Flash Bantam is not really a user-collectible. I mean that in the sense that it's not really something you can pick up and go out and use. You CAN use it if you're a hardcore 828 film size fan and are willing to create your own film, as I use one of mine every now and then but sometimes I enjoy doing things the hard way.

828 film was a small roll film size the same width as regular 35mm film, but without sprocket holes. It did however have 8 little rectangular holes spaced accordingly for the little "catch" in the camera to automatically locate the film for the next exposure correctly. Something not really needed since the camera also has the traditional green window on the back to read the exposure number on the backing of the film. The film has been discontinued for years. Every now and then you find a company selling 828 film. My experience has been you get one of two things. Film hand cut and wound into vintage backing paper and wound on a vintage 828 spool, or hand cut, hand wound film on a home made spool made out of a brass tube and two hand cut metal discs for the ends. I have had no good experience with ANY moden purchased 828 film. Two ways I create my own film: 1. Hand wind regular 35mm film into backing paper and wind onto an original 828 spool. Old film and spools can be found on line, in used cameras you buy, etc. Advantages are you don't have to cut the film strips yourself and you have a wide variety of 35mm films to choose from. Disadvantage is you'll have sprocket holes in the image area, and will need to compose allowing for the very top and bottom edge to be cut off from what you see in the finder. 2. You can get 120 roll film, measure 35mm from one spool end, and actually saw the film spool creating a shorter spool of 120 film that is now 35mm wide. This works, and can be done in dim light with a simple jigsaw, etc. You do get a teensey bit of light strike on the edge you cut, but for me it has not encroached into the image area. Now that you have some 828 film, on to the camera itself.

The 828 Flash Bantam is one of the earliest "pocket" cameras. The finder folds down, and the front lens board moves inward to make a camera that you can actually put in your pocket -- although they're heavy and will make your pocket sag! Near as I can remember this was the first "real" adjustable camera I ever used. I was going to the high school homecoming football game -- I was not in high school yet -- only a 6th grader at the time. I asked Dad for a good camera to take with me. He gave me a Flash Bantam loaded with Ektachrome, set the shutter and lens for what I now know was the "sunny 16" rule, set the focus for pretty much "snapshot to infinity" and sent me off to the game. I took my 8 exposures and had my first slides! My Dad had two of these cameras (somehow now I manage to have both of them, don't tell him) and he had used them for a lot of slides since the 50's. You can always tell the 828 slides compared to the 35mm slides as the image area is just a bit wider and taller in the 828 format.

The camera itself offers an f: 4.5 48mm lens (which is a bit more wide angle than you think due to the larger image area compared to 35mm) and shutter speeds of 1/25 up to 1/200 and of course T and B. Focuses down to 2.5 feet. You have to manually cock the shutter for each shot (there is a little cocking lever behind the front lens board on the shutter release side). Like most cameras of this ilk, the shutter is nearly silent and makes for great candid shooting. It's all metal construction with leatherette covering makes them hell for stout little cameras. The short bellows is pretty well protected with the folding metal cross bars top and bottom and I've never found one of these with a leaking or damaged bellows. Many years ago I posted a few 828 photos taken with the Flash Bantam and home made film, and you can find them on an old "vintage" area of my current web site here.

Note that the Flash Bantam has no easy way to affix a flash unit. There IS an old fashioned post connector for a flash cord -- and adapters are around to let you connect a regular PC type cord (although they're getting harder to find). Dad had a flat straight bracket that screwed to the camera bottom into the tripod socket and had a flash mount to which we always put one of those nifty folding fan flash units. (Danged if I don't have THAT now too). Most of which would take M2 style or the #5 or even Press 25 bulbs.

There were several other 828 models of course, including some variations on this model. There were some very basic bakelite body models that fold up small and are much lighter, but of course not as versatile. The film used to come in cute little 828 size metal screw top Kodak film cans, too!

If you like to play with older cameras and don't mind making your own film rolls, consider playing with some of those neat 828 models you find in the second hand and antique stores. Most of these are also basic enough with traditional, mechanical screw and bolt style construction that if you need to disassemble and clean and lube to get it working right, you can!


Friday, September 15, 2006

Digital Photography-Same As Film!

You'll discover soon enough that many of my posts will be rebuttals to articles I read in the popular photographic magazines, as so many of their articles and letters to the editors get me riled up. I've often wished I could have a monthly rebuttal comumn in many of those mags, but since that's not likely to happen, I started this blog.

A recent issue had an article about what photographers want in imaging software. The same magazine also had whining from some photographers that miss film, want to shoot without having to be tethered to a computer, and miss the art of "real" photography. Alright, hate to shock you guys, but DIGITAL is the same as FILM! Just the media for capturing the image in different. One big print quote in the magazine was "get us away from the computer and give us more time to shoot" (ok, so that's not an exact quote, but you get the idea).

Umm..you're not tethered to a computer. A computer is not required to use a digital camera. You can work just like it's a FILM camera. Go take pictures. Take the memory media to your favorite printer/processor and get your photos. There. That was easy. Ahh..but I hear you crying already "I can't do that..I don't know what I'm getting without the computer" OK, so...you're saying..when you were shooting with film you knew what you were getting before you got it processed? I don't think so! When you're shooting digital, do it as if you're shooting film! It's all in your mindset. Compose, expose, light, focus, just like you were shooting film! Turn off the LCD screen, use the viewfinder and pretend it's film! You get the same anticipation of the finished work. The camera is at least as capable as your film camera. Nothing says you have to tweak every shot in the computer! You want black and white? Set your camera to black and white and go shooting. That's the trouble with so many digital shooters these days. They get so used to shooting knowing they can fix it later..zoom in, crop, adjust the color balance, the contrast, remove the power lines from the edge of the landscape, whatever. Shoot like it's film. Go back to doing the art as you shoot instead of fixing it later. You'll enjoy the same thrill and satisfaction you did with film.

Of course, you can also reap the joys of both worlds. Shoot like you're shooting film, but still take advantage of the digital pluses. Delete the crummy shots. Check to see that you caught the moment. Adjust the camera color balance if you must. That's the beauty of digital. You CAN shoot like a film photographer, but not waste the film taking 8 shots of one scene to be sure you've got it! Shoot like it's film, knowing you can change from black and white to color, from a 50 iso to a 1000 iso if the situation warrants. Couldn't do that with film. If you really feel the need to torture yourself, get a few extra memory cards. Only shoot B&W on one, 100 iso on one, 400 iso on one..and change 'em as you feel the need. It will make you feel like you're switching cameras or bodies to the emulsion you want. Even if you're a regular digital user who loves sitting at the screen, go out and shoot like it's film and it will sharpen your skills and I bet it makes you create better photographs. And you'll spend less time dinking around with your photos in Photoshop!

I'm kinda sick of the free me from the computer crowd. Did you cats also scream "get me out of the darkroom so I can shoot"? I used to shoot all weekend, then live in the darkroom in the evenings during the week to create some wonderful black and white prints. I can tell you I spent a lot more time in that darkroom than I do in front of my eMac, and I used up a lot of perishable paper and chemicals. Wasting time AND expensive materials!

Find yourself a lab that will make you decent prints from your digital media. Go fill a memory card shooting like it's film. You'll see I'm right, and that it's great fun too! I find that prints from my digital media from my local K-Mart are amazing. I don't use their "in house" service..I have 'em send 'em out...I suspect they go to a Kodak service center. They're just amazing and a LOT sharper, crisper and prettier than my film shots. Also, I highly recommend Dale Labs (find 'em in Google) for outstanding prints too. Love those guys!

Free YOURSELVES from the computer!

Till next time....

Tim the Photographer

Monday, September 11, 2006

Camera Review: Olympus 35 RC

A wonderful little camera, easy to use, with a sharp lens and virtually silent shutter.

The Olympus 35 RC was the first really advanced camera I ever used. Back in Junior High in the early 70's my interest in photography was beginning to blossom and my Dad was more than happy to help, being a bit of a shutterbug himself. He had purchased the 35 RC for himself of course, but as I moved into High school and started getting involved with the yearbook staff it was clear that the little Olympus would fit the bill nicely.

At the time, I didn't know much about exposure, but this camera knew enough to help me along. Set the film speed, choose a shutter speed, and shoot. If there's either to much, or not enough light for the shutter speed you chose the camera won't fire. So I quickly learned about adjusting the shutter to get the camera to work and learned about the relationship between shutter and aperture settings. It has a sharp, bright easy to see rangefinder that made focusing easy and the lens setting and shutter speeds are clearly shown in the finder. I shot one heck of a lot of Tri-X, available light, in school that year, sometimes even shooting it at ASA 800 (we called it ASA not ISO back then) after I learned how to push the film a stop in the school darkroom.

Of it's many advantages a big one is the nearly silent shutter. When you're shooting candids in a classroom being undetected can be a real benefit. The camera has a very sharp f: 2.8 42mm lens, and shutter speeds from 1/15 to 1/500 and B. ASA settings from 25 to 800, so I was covered with Kodachrome or pushed Tri-X. Slides taken with this camera were simply amazing. Dad shot a lot of slides back then and I was always amazed at how incredibly sharp and colorful they were. The camera is small and light. Has a somewhat automatic flash exposure system too. You set the guide number of your flash on the camera and it adjusts the f: stop as you focus. 'Course back then I was using a slip in flash unit that took AG-1 flash bulbs! Once I finally got an electronic flash unit (A Kako Hi-Beam II, remember those?) i was pleased to learn that the shutter synched at all speeds with electronic flash! Also, should you find yourself with a dead battery, the camera still works just fine as a manual camera as power is not needed for anything but the meter. All settings are fully available to the shooter with no battery, unlike other cameras that have a coupled shutter/lens/meter system where the meter has to work for the camera to work. Has a hot shoe for the flash and a pc socket so you can use whichever you happen to have.

The quick, one stroke smooth operating film advance lever is a nice touch as is the built in self timer....the only part of the camera that has ever needed service. Somewhere along the way about 20 years ago the screw that holds the self timer lever on came off and the lever got lost. I wrote to Olympus and they sent me a replacement at no charge!

It does take the odd sized 43.5mm filters which can be tough to find. The meter cell is located adjacent to the lens itself and is covered when you add a filter so the exposure adjustment for filter use happens automatically.

I can only imagine how many thousands of rolls of film have been thru this camera. Just in high school I ran a couple rolls of black and white thru it nearly daily for four years, not to mention the thousands of miles it has logged on family vacations. And Dad has used it tons, after all it IS his camera...but somehow I've managed to hang on to it since about 1980.

Not a particularly valuable camera. Generally selling on the used market and ebay for around $40 - 50 dollars US. A great camera to have around if you're still shooting film. Quick to use, nearly silent, amazingly sharp lens, and feels like a real camera in your hands.

Next review coming up? The Kodak 828 Flash Bantam!