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Saturday, October 29, 2016

••◊ Getting to know film: Kodak Portra 400

The next film stock I tried in my rounds of experimentation was Kodak Portra 400. It's supposed to be a peer of Fujifilm Pro 400H.  Every photographer knows that different photography companies address color and contrast in different ways.  That's certainly true here.  Kodak built their brand on not only the "Kodak moment", but also "Kodak color."  What I found within the first few scans of negatives is that the color just appealed to me.  Whereas using Fujifilm left me a bit apprehensive about the "film look", I was anxious to see what the next negative scan of Portra 400 showed.

Keep in mind that Portra 400 is a general purpose film stock.  It has limitations in terms of grain, but you gain versatility by being able to shoot in the Pacific Northwest or on cloudy days in California.  I'll show an example of grain later, but first let's talk about the pictures.

I went down to San Diego's Little Italy to do my test shots.  During this particular weekend there was the annual stick ball tournament during the Saturday morning farmers' market.  I also stopped in at Queenstown Pub for lunch with friends; after which I went down to San Diego bay - featuring a pirate gun battle.

In case you haven't picked up on it already, I liked the Kodak Portra color rendition much more than Fujifilm for my type of photography.  Whereas Fujifilm Pro 400H lacks reds, Kodak tends to favor red - giving more pleasing skin tones.  Sometimes this can be a bit overbearing, and sometimes it can be just the thing to add a bit of pop to the picture.  For instance, the first picture of flowers below has orange screaming off the page, but the second picture of tea brewing feels nice to me.  Yellow doesn't seem to be as affected as orange or brown.



One down side to this red bias occurred when I need to increase the scanning printer lights about a half stop to bring up this picture.  You can definitely see a red bias toward the whole image.  As a first order fix, I would definitely recommend over exposing this film by at least one stop.  I also found that it's better to fix exposure problems in image editing software than during the scan to avoid this red bias in underexposed parts of the image.





One aspect that's definitely different than Fujifilm is the rendition of blue.  On Portra 400 blue feels much more dull and subdued.  This is both good and bad.  The sailing pictures below don't do much for me, color wise.  However, if blue was increased on the picture of the sandwich, which was mainly lit in the shadows with sky light, it wouldn't look as good.  So there's trade offs.  Maybe Kodak decided that sky light should be subdued for portraits to keep blue off skin and make it look healthier...don't know.


In general, I liked the color rendition of well exposed photos in daylight - which was my discovery objective for later travel photos.









Just like the other films I tried, you can't underexpose Portra 400 and expect good results.  There's no detail under the porch railing in the picture below.  It's just gone.  The film doesn't mind a one to two stop over exposure, which you can bring back down with the scanner lights.  It also increases your saturation slightly when you use the film this way. 


Then there's the topic of grain.  Just like Pro 400H, Portra has significant grain.  It's *maybe* slightly better than Fujifilm, but I wouldn't call either insignificant in a general sense.  Still, the Portra 400 grain appears more neutral in color than the Fujifilm stock.  Certainly, it looks much better than most cell phone or high ISO pictures from digital cameras.



So there you have it.  I like Kodak.  I still have one more film stock to review in my series.  Unfortunately I didn't get to borrow a film scanner in time for my vacation so I gambled on the Kodak stock and got lucky.

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.