When You’re Really Trying…

When You’re Really Trying…

Sunset, Badlands National Park, South Dakota (2018)

OK, so maybe I jumped the gun a little. Maybe I still do have something to say regarding the F6. Allow me to explain.

Over the past several years I’ve enjoyed shooting with a variety of cameras, including all the Nikon single-digits F-series, as well as a few medium format Mamiyas. Anyone who has more than one or two cameras can surely identify with the conundrum of which camera to grab when you’re heading out the door. You can only carry and shoot so much in any given outing, so you need to make some decisions. Whether the decisions are made at home before heading out – or – while standing at the back of the car on site plowing through all your junk (because you wouldn’t or couldn’t make that decision at home). So in a very democratic way I decided to use them all for a while, just to spread the love.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota (2018)

Badlands National Park, South Dakota (2018)

I’ve also been shooting a good bit of black and white over the past several years – for reasons previously laid out here, and enjoying the heck out of it. Process your own film, printing in the darkroom, working with filters, the smell of fixer on your fingers… all wonderful stuff. Because of that – I’ve grown accustomed to, let’s say – alternative metering solutions to what the F6 employs. Sunny 16, early Nikon center-weighted metering heads, iPhone app’s, totally winging it see how close I can guess… anything goes. After all, with film, as long as you’re within a stop or so things are pretty flexible. And until you have comparison data points, it’s sometimes tough to evaluate just how well something else performs.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota (2018)

Badlands National Park, South Dakota (2018)

So last month I was heading home from Illinois to Colorado the long way, through South Dakota. Before leaving for this trip a few weeks prior I was disciplined enough to make decisions regarding kit. It would be all F6, with a new F3T thrown in for some black and white work. I gathered the remaining rolls of Velvia 50 from the fridge along with a smattering of C-41 and called it good. I’d always wanted to visit Badlands National Park and hoped timing allowed on the return leg. If so I’d be prepared.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota (2018)

Badlands National Park, South Dakota (2018)

As things worked out, by the time I hit Badlands Junction, South Dakota the day was shaping up nicely for some photography. Light was superb after a bit of recent rain refreshed and cleared the sky. Autumn grasses were bright green and played nicely against the ochres and crimsons of natural Badlands coloring. There was an active sky – plenty of cloud cover mixed with plenty of a beautiful cobalt blue. When the time came to shoot I loaded one of the few remaining rolls of Velvia in the F6. The reason this is important is because at nearly $17 a roll, Velvia is pretty pricey stuff, as is the new Kodak Ektachrome at $13/roll. But more importantly, the opportunity before me wasn’t something that came along every day: a beautiful location I’m visiting for the first time (there’s nothing that can match the thrill of discovering a place for the first time), perfect conditions, plenty of time to explore… rolling the dice when it comes time to make the most out of each shutter release isn’t a good approach. Here’s where the F6 really proves superior over all its (charming, old) predecessors. Specifically, it’s metering, features and reliability. No way I’d trust my (wonderful) old cameras to shoot chrome films in changing light on this rare opportunity.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota (2018)

Badlands National Park, South Dakota (2018)

I almost always use a tripod for work like this. I know some people don’t, but honestly – aside from laziness – can’t understand why one would approach shooting anything they’re really trying to get the most from any other way. Slow film in fading light at f8-f11 means shutter speeds hovering around the 1/2 second mark or slower. A tripod, Mirror-Up and the MC-30 cable release, turning off VR on your lens, even using the DR-5 to aid focusing are standard operating procedure.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota (2018)

Badlands National Park, South Dakota (2018)

I won’t drag this out – hoping you get the idea. All these other cameras are wonderful, really. Each has its own personality and allure and I’m happy to have them. But when the time comes to shoot; to really try to get the most from each frame – the Nikon F6 has no equal. As much as I appreciate my other F’s – the F6 is King of the Hill.

The F6 shooting Devils Tower, Wyoming (2018). S.O.P. when I’m really trying to get the most out of a frame of 35mm film. (Nikon F3T, 35mm f1.4 AI-S + Velvia 100).

Kodak Reveals How and When it’s Bringing Back Ektachrome

Kodak Reveals How and When it’s Bringing Back Ektachrome

This is pretty exciting… (rather then re-hashing the same information, this post was lifted from DPReview)

Kodak first announced the rebirth of Ektachrome way back in January at CES. Along with Kodak Alaris—who will distribute the 35mm Kodak Professional Ektachrome film for stills shooters—the company said it would bring back Ektachrome by the end of 2017… and then promptly stopped talking about it.

But if you were worried that Kodak had given up on the idea, fear not: in a new episode of the Kodakery podcast, a few of Kodak’s higher ups (including Marketing and Product Manager Diane Carroll-Yacoby) updated the world on the progress of the Ektachrome reboot, how they’re making it, and what testing still stand between your hands and a fresh 36-shot roll of the stuff.

You can listen to the entire Kodakery podcast update below:

The first half of the podcast is mostly a photography and history lesson: discussing the origins of Ektachrome, its ‘characteristics’ (read: limitations), and how Kodak has managed to bring it back to life after discontinuing it in 2013. But if you want to get into the “how and when” of the matter, you’ll want to skip to the 22 minute mark.

That’s where we get to learn about how difficult it is to bring back a film like Ektachrome—which is made up of 80 ingredients, some of them no longer available to purchase—and how Kodak is making the economics of Ektachrome work by creating it in smaller, more sustainable batches.

You’ll want to listen to the discussion to really get the details of how the film is made, but here are a few of the most interesting tidbits about the revival process (for us anyway):

  • Kodak has managed to either find or manufacture all 80 ingredients required to make Ektachrome.
  • Much of the process so far has involved retooling the formula so it will work on the machines available to them, because they no longer have all of the equipment they had when Ektachrome was being developed previously.
  • They’ve already produced some ‘pilot coatings’ that they are testing to ensure they’re ready to mass produce Ektachrome that’s up to snuff.
  • When they’re ready to go, they will be making rolls using a coater that produces the film on sheets that are 4 feet wide and 6,000 feet long. The first of these ‘wide’ rolls will be produced before the end of 2017, and will be used for internal testing.
  • Kodak will be making a single (4ft x 6,000ft) roll for the first production run, so they don’t have to hold on to too much inventory at one time.
  • Kodak Ektachrome’s market release is planned for 2018.

Eastman Kodak itself will produce all of the film and plans to distribute the Super 8 cinema version of Ektachrome, while Kodak Alaris will distribute the 35mm slide film for stills shooters. For now, we still don’t know exactly when Ektachrome is coming back in 2018, but as soon as we do, we’ll let you know so you can mark your calendars.

Working with Filters for Color Photography, part 1

Working with Filters for Color Photography, part 1

There are different schools of thought on whether one should use filters for their color film photography or not; each having its own merits. For example, why get a super high-quality lens and put a ‘cheap’ filter on it, effectively reducing the quality of glass the image has to travel through? Great question (you should never do this, btw). What about if you put a ‘good’ filter on your lens? What is a ‘good’ filter? Does it matter? Can you stack different filters? Most have thread mounts on the front and back… does image quality suffer when you do this? What about vignetting? If you stack filters then mount the ‘correct’ hood, you’ve pushed that hood out a few more millimeters. Will you get dark corners in your photos?

Another question or concern is, if you don’t use a filter on your super expensive lens does the front element get buggered up over time? Do you ever wipe your lens off with your t-shirt before taking a picture? (I’ve done it ;-).

What about multi-coated filters? What about Polarizers? Warming filters? Cooling filters? UV filters? Skylights, etc., etc. Or do you get a clearer picture with just pure lens? What about a hood? Why bother with a hood?

So a few weeks ago I decided to answer the question for me and my own personal preferences once and for all. I took the F6 up to Rocky Mountain National Park with an assortment of filters I regularly use and did a couple controlled experiments. The results surprised me a little.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

 

If you’re short on time, here’s the executive summary: yes, using filters matters when you’re shooting film. What filter, and how much it matters is the big question each photographer needs to answer by doing something similar to what I’ve done here. Stacking high-quality filters has virtually no impact on image sharpness, vignetting wasn’t an issue in my situation, and I’ll be doing this a lot more in the future with no fear of negatively impacting the photograph.

I’ll keep it short and sweet. On most of my lenses I run at the very least a UV filter. Here in Colorado, without a UV filter – especially at high altitude, pictures tend to get a bluish cast, stripping the image of all the lovely color nuance your eyes saw when you were standing there deciding to take the picture. UV filters filter  out Ultra Violet light and do have an impact on the image.

I’ll say this straight away: I use high-quality (expensive) filters on all of my lenses. Citing the first paragraph above, I’m a believer in using the highest quality piece of glass I can on any lens, no matter the lens.

I did this test with three specific filters:

  1. The Nikkor L39, a medium strength UV filter that filters a little more than some other UV’s. According to the old Nikkor catalogs it’s not suitable to leave on your lens all the time – but I do it, and it doesn’t seem to make a bit of difference.
  2. The Nikkor A2 filter, picked up for $10 at Englewood Camera in Littleton. The A2 filter introduces a slight warming tone to the image that – depending who you are and what you like – will either balance your image out nicely with the ‘real scene’ or make ‘too yellow.’ Different strokes.
  3. A Circular Polarizer, in this case the Nikkor circular polarizer. I also have and use a Heliopan slimline Circular Polarizer, but it’s 77mm and too large for the lens I was using for this test.

A word about filters, lenses and sizes. This is can be a quagmire of a topic. So many lenses have different sized front elements, creating the need for either different sized filters, or step-up/step-down rings to put smaller or larger filters on miss-matched lenses. True – you can do this. But you wind up with a bag of stuff you might not want to carry around all the time. It really depends on your priorities. There’s no absolute right approach.

My priority these days is going as light and small as possible while still getting being prepared for whatever. I decided on a series of lenses I thought I’d use often, then adapt the F6 to accommodate pre-ai lenses. This allows me to use many of the older Nikkor’s, most of which are 52mm front thread. Most of my zooms are 77mm front diameter, so I have basically two sets of filters: big and small. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than spending a fortune on redundant sizes then fumble around with a lot of extra stuff when you’re trying to take a picture.

Enough of all that. Here are two sets of images showing the results of:

a) no filter

No Filtration

b) A2 filter only

A2 Warming filter only

c) L39 + A2 warming filter

L39 UV + A2 Warming Filter

d) L39 + A2 warming + Circular Polarizer

L39 + A2 + Circular Polarizer

L39 + A2 + Circular Polarizer

and a second set:

No filtration

L39 UV filter

L39 UV + A2 Warming

L39 UV + A2 Warming + Circular Polarizer

One of the important things to me is not sacrificing image detail for slight color improvements. Let’s face it, shooting 35mm film is already at a disadvantage to medium or large format film when it comes to holding detail. So anything I can do to hold as much detail in the final image as possible – I’ll do. I was delighted to examine the “stacked” image closely and determine that there was no loss in detail, even shooting through three high-quality filters. To see the final image, click here.

Of course, there are things that will make a difference in your images, like quality and angle of light, haze, etc. so you’ll just have to play around to see what combination appeals to you. But rest assured that if you use a high-quality filter, even if you stack them, you’re not hurting the detail and sharpness of your image – providing you’re doing everything else right too.