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Sunday, October 23, 2016

••◊ Getting to know film: Fujifilm Pro 400H

Having ruled out Kodak Ektar 100 as a good choice for vacation photos, I moved on to a roll of Fujifilm Pro 400H.  As the name implies, this is an ASA/ISO 400 speed film stock.  From my limited research 400 speed film seems to considered an all-around general purpose film stock.  What I found out in Washington is that 100 speed film isn't quite fast enough for many shots under the shade of trees, whereas I found that on a sunny day 400 speed film is typically adequate.  Even with dusk approaching 400 speed seems to be mostly fast enough.  What you give up is noise (or "grain"), which does become significantly more noticeable with this stock.

One characteristic I found is that Fuji Pro 400H heavily favors greens and blues.  The staff working at the local photo shop also confirmed this from their experience.  If you take pictures in less than ideal "daylight" you can expect your pictures to shift toward green and blue. The picture below was taken just before sunset and you can see a strong green/blue shift along with some remnants of the golden sunset on the saddle bag.  The corrected picture shows what it looked closer to in real life.  Notice also how the shadows in the bushes behind her are just completely black.  Underexposure is not your friend with this film.  If I was to shoot this picture again I would overexpose at least one stop.

The hula hoop picture also shows what happens near sunset.  At the time of day which this photo was taken the sun's color temperature was about 3200K, much more orange than daylight.  However Pro 400H held onto skin tones and repressed warm oranges and reds.  So sometimes the color balance can work in your favor too.

As mentioned before, film grain starts to become noticeable with this speed of film.  The two 100% crops below show what happens in underexposed and normally exposed pictures.  In my experience this is about equivalent to my old 5D mark II at ISO 3200 and with noise reduction turned on.  It's not bad, but not great either.

If I had sweeping grassy landscapes, blue skies, and need to shoot until sunset, this might be a good film stock to consider.  However I typically photograph people and I don't like having to correct the green out of most pictures, as well as adding saturation to skin tones.  So I kept searching...

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

••◊ Getting to know film: Kodak Ektar 100

Recently I've been introduced to shooting on film.  It's a frustrating and adventurous endeavor for a digital boy like me.  Film stocks are their own animal.  The first film stock I tried was Ektar 100.  Thinking like a digital photographer I initially believed that ISO 100 must be better, therefore Ektar 100 is the premium stock to throw in the old camera body.  Boy, was I wrong!

The first lesson I learned is don't judge a film stock by it's ASA/ISO rating.  Film stocks have different contrasts and color personalities.  Some stocks are more forgiving when the exposure is off.  Each one likes to be overexposed a certain amount, but only within a limited range.  They respond to color differently, so some work better on people and others on landscapes, or even urban photography.  Grain is generally related to ASA/ISO rating, but even with ISO 400 film the grain is generally fine enough if you overexpose the correct amount.

The summary of what I learned about Ektar 100 is that it's a high contrast, highly saturated, fine grain film stock.  It's mainly suited to add contrast to landscapes and urban street photography.  What it isn't, is a portrait film stock.

Let's start with this example; the bridge was back lit at maybe 10-11am in Washington State.  Notice how the shadows of the trees are nearly all black/dark brown?  The back lit water is blown to white?  This is the type of contrast I typically saw with this particular film stock.  Even if you turned up the printer lights while scanning the shadows would just turn muddy brown.  A medium quality digital camera would have handled the tree shadows no problem.

Now if we look at color rendition, this stock has a very over-saturated look.  Typical of Kodak, the saturation favors red.  Anything slightly red or green...trees, dirt, skin, clothing, etc...gets noticeably hyper; which makes sense for a landscape film stock.

As far as under-exposure goes, Ektar 100 is very unforgiving of exposure issues.  It very quickly loses information in the shadows and goes muddy brown if you underexpose it.  The picture below was under exposed between 1-2 stops and I had to do my best in Photoshop to get it back to the very unspectacular picture you see below - including a large shift in color away from brown/red.  The negative just doesn't hold shadow information - which makes sense given the high contrast photos previously shown in this post.  A good digital camera at ISO 100 would have been fine here.

Grain is not really a factor with Ektar 100.  I was doing high resolution scans on a Nikon Coolscan 5000 (4000dpi, 16-bit) and properly exposed photos didn't have significantly noticeable grain.  See the 100% crop below.

What I've determined for myself is that Ektar 100 is a specialty film stock.  It's not what I'm looking for.  If I was to shoot this film stock again I might try to over-expose by 1/2 to 1-stop and pick my subjects carefully - because it doesn't handle highlights well either.  I want a film stock with the latitude of a modern digital camera and a more neutral sense of color, which is part of the reason I shoot digital photos in raw.  There's never enough time to perfect a photo on location - which is what this film stock pretty much demands. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

••◊ Washington Ironman 2016 Photo Diary

Two weeks ago I bought a new Fujifilm X-E2S camera for travel and took it to central Oregon for a vacation.  I have to say that this is a fun little camera.  It's doing everything I wanted it to. The DSLR was just getting to be too much of a burden to carry around for general photography.  The Fujifilm lenses are also proving to be a winner.  They wouldn't even flare when I was trying to make them flare!

The two photos below were taken at 37,000 feet on my way up to Seattle.  The first is standard processing with a bit of contrast added in post to compensate for atmospheric haze.  The second photo is the same view, but with the "toy camera" effect turned on.  It's not my favorite effect, but I had to determine that somehow.  It looks more like an "old camera".  I suppose the whole green-yellow tone has it's place, but I'm just not a big fan.

Here are some views as we approached SeaTac; travelling north to south.  The first shows Gas Works Park on Lake Union.  Chase Jarvis...if you're reading this...I see you!  His office is just up the hill from the Park on Wallingford.

The second photo is the iconic Space Needle.  I was lucky and grabbed it just in time before the clouds covered it up on either side.

The last photo is downtown Seattle, of course.  Then I had to quickly put away the camera for landing.  Sharpness was limited by the airplane window.

My aunt picked me up and we headed over the Maggie's Bluff.  Stay away from those black beans.  Whatever they put in them is possessed by demons...as I found out the next day.  On our drive up the road to the restaurant I saw some street art that I wanted to capture.  The HOPE LOVE sign was my favorite find.  I might frame it up for my house.  The second "cereal" picture was just strange enough to be intriguing.  All the photos were incredibly sharp and I found that the Fujifilm film simulation LUTs were really great for adding a quick "pop" to the photos.

The real reason I was flying to Seattle was the Washington Ironman muscle show.  I generally have to work during the bodybuilding part of the show, but I get some free time when the bikini girls and man-kini boys get on stage. 

One thing I really like about this camera is the ability to create panoramas in camera.  I used this extensively during my Oregon trip to capture landscapes.  It's much, much easier than doing Photoshop stitching, as I used to do with the Canon DSLR.  The only limitation is that the photo is jpeg only.  There's no TIFF option.  So be sure to get your white balance and exposure correct.  I often locked those two settings down before framing up the shot.  Unlike a DSLR, this mirrorless camera lets you see exposure before you snap a picture.  That really helps get it right the first time.

As sort of a joke, I started playing with the "miniature" effect while snapping pictures of the muscle-bound bodybuilders.  You can see the effect in the third and second to last photo in the series below.  One thing I learned is that the white balance doesn't seem to work correctly under tungsten lights while using this effect.  That's why the guys are so orange.  The effect also increases contrast and saturation for some reason, which made the photo even more surreal.  Let's just call this "artistic".

I've been practicing food photography for an upcoming web series I might shoot. This is part of my recover meal after the show.  Again, the film simulation LUTs made the bowl pop without much effort.

Here's a miniature effect photo taken at SeaTac on my way home.  I think the effect worked better here.  You really have to have a landscape or a scene with items nearest to you at the bottom of the frame and furthest items at the top.  Then it works.  Notice the increased saturation and contrast, but the white balance seems reasonable because this was shot outdoors.

Here are two photos of the Los Angeles area taken in miniature.  Again, I think these really worked.  I believe the second photos is somewhere around Laguna Beach.

Overall, it's a fun little camera.  I think I made the right purchase.  The special effects filters will probably wear thin quickly, but the panorama feature is always useful.  The film simulation LUTs can be quite good when used appropriately.  For the most part I just use "Negative Standard" since it gives the most neutral look.  But I did use Classic Kodachrome and Provia when processing certain pictures from the raw files. 

More to come as soon as I find and purchase a film negative scanner.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

••◊ Review of the Hive Lighting Wasp 1k

Dom and I completed a new video review of the Wasp 1k from Hive Lighting.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

••◊ Tower of (LED) Power

I know it doesn't look like much, but this is progress.  I have three of the six LED driver boards assembled and working.  Parts are on their way for the next three.  Then comes revision 2 of the LED bulb boards, for which layout is in progress.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

••◊ Video Production Essentials

Dom wanted to create a short tutorial on the essentials for a video production go-bag.  So we recorded this yesterday.  It's a great little piece of information for anyone starting out in the business.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

••◊ Shooting on actual FILM! - Highway 20

Believe it or not, I actually shot on film this last weekend - Kodak Ektar 100 to be exact.  The idea was that this would be a warm up for a future outdoor adventure with my grandpa's Pentax Spotmatic IIa SLR camera, circa 1968.  I inherited two "useful" lenses; a 28mm f/3.5 and 55mm f1.4 Takumar lenses.  Oh, how I really wanted a 35mm lens!

My results were mixed.  This experience taught me how much I should appreciate the advantages of modern digital cameras.  When I got the negative scans back they all had extreme contrast, which I had to fix in Photoshop.  The shadows were just...gone and the highlights were blown out.  Saturation could be problematic, depending on the hue.  Half the pictures were garbage because of the limited dynamic range of this film stock.  Since the outing I've learned that Ektar isn't the most forgiving for dynamic range.  I would have been better using Kodak Portra 400 or Fuji Pro 400H.

I also learned that film is sensitive to UV, sort of like digital sensors are sensitive to infrared.  So at any reasonable altitude you're supposed to use a UV filter, like the Tiffen Haze-1.  This can be had on Ebay for about $10.  I didn't have one with me.  The really cheap UV filters do little to nothing, despite their product naming.  Cheap UV filters also blur the image.

My biggest concern in shooting film was exposure.  I'll likely never come back to these places and not knowing if I got the exposure right in tricky situations, like mixed shadows and dappled sunlight, was a bit concerning.  I was also limited to ASA 100, which meant I couldn't get certain shots in the canopy of the woods without loading a different roll of film - after I used up the current roll!  This seems to unnatural to me since I'm used to ISO sensitivity just being a knob roll on a DSLR.

So, the camera does work.  But do I pine for film, like the hipster squad?  Not really.  When I have to get the negatives scanned in a lower resolution than most modern digital cameras, manipulate the contrast and saturation in post, and publish digitally, I have yet to see an advantage for image quality.  What I will say is that it was refreshing not having to worry about the camera's battery wearing down.  But you have to be aware of the 36 exposure limit at all times, which limits creativity and experimentation.  Every "oops" costs money. 

The original idea here was that since this was my grandpa's camera, it would be like taking him along on the trip if we shot on his trusty SLR.  In that regard, I see merit and will try to keep going with film.  But eventually I'll probably settle down into my digital comfort zone again.  Besides, modern (good) lenses are much better.