I wish I had only taken one or two cameras on our trip

Two posts ago I put up one talking about taking a ton of camera gear with me on our current long extended trip.  I wish I had not done it.  If I had it to do over again I would take – 1.  Cell phone of course.  It is always with you.  2.  Compact pocket camera with long zoom.  About the same quality as a good cell phone but with the ability to optically zoom.  3.  Digital changeable lens camera.  4.  Changeable lens film camera.  And if I was flying somewhere out of the USA I would leave the film camera at home.

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Nikon D750 with 50mm f1.4

Why?  The number one most important rule in taking good photos or video is to know your camera.  Lots of cameras means you never really get really familiar with them.  This is really true of digital cameras, but also a bit true of film ones.  Today even good smartphone cameras have many many options.  It seems like every year more are added and they become more complicated.  And my compact Sony pocket zoom has so many menu options that it is almost impossible to understand them all.  On the other hand I have found Nikon DSLR cameras easier to figure out.  And my D750 full frame digital is pretty simple if you are using raw.

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Nikon D750 with 50mm f1.4 Nikkor

What lead me to write this post was today when I was using my Olympus OM2n film SLR that I have owned for 38 years.  I was in a public place and my dog was with me on a leash.  I loaded up a roll of expired Ektachrome I had been saving for some Montana shots.  The OM2n film loading is tricky.  You need to make sure the film is loaded securely or you can think your film is going through when you cock the wind lever and it is slipping over the sprockets.  I have leaned by past bitter experience that you need to look at the rewind winder when you cock the shutter to see that it moves a bit.  If it does not the film is not moving.  Today the rewind winder did not move.  So I just opened the back and sure enough, loose film.  Now with lots of leader out I got it loaded fine.  Then when leaving the left side of my Peak strap came loose.  The little black flexible string had fit through the break in the circle holder on the Olympus camera.  Fortunately I caught the problem before my almost 40 year old camera was broken from falling.

If you use only one or two cameras then this sort of problems become rare.  You know what to look for.  Before the days of cell phone cameras I would say that you should only have one camera with you, but today you almost always have the cell phone one with.

Using Film and old Cameras can Be very Enjoyable.

As I said in the last post I was headed out to use a film camera (Minolta 600si + 24mm f2.8) to take shots of a western styled old town.  I really had a good time and very much enjoy the fact that I got some really great photos.  Of course I have not seen any of them yet except in my mind’s eye as they were film.  Why was this really enjoyable?

  • I am now writing this post instead of editing my pictures.
  • The camera is absolutely a great high quality and easy to use film SLR.
  • I am currently have no regrets about what settings I did not get right for the pictures I shot.
  • I am confident that likely all film shots will give images and that some will be great.
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I shot this with a Nikon 750 and 24-120 zoom lens.  This was the day we got here and was lucky enough to have just a little break in the haze that has been around the last three days.  

A while back Ken Rockwell mentioned in his excellent extensive web site that a big advantage of film was that you did not spend your evenings after shooting during the day in front of a computer editing your shots.  Boy was he right.  After I go out and shoot for a day using a digital camera I edit them later in the day.  This can be a short time if I used my iPhone.  Or a long time if I shot raw and need to go through every one of them getting them to look their best.

Most 35mm film SLRs are really simple to use.  Even my fully automatic Minoltas have no menus.  All functions are operated with simple visual switches and buttons.  Plus it is very easy to go full manual or semi manual if you want.  Easy peasy no confusing crap like figuring out which of the choices I want to pick from either of my Nikon DSLRs.  I do think about what film I should use for the shoot though.  Today I mostly shot using Kodak TriX and then some with Kodak Ektar.  I thought the subject would match those two films characteristics best.  And I only took one lens, a 24mm f2.8.  I took that because it lets you get close and still get a lot in the shot.  Plus if people are around you don’t have to point right at them to include them in the shots.  And at 24mm almost everything is in focus.

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This is shot with a Nikon D750 and 24-120 f4.  Taken in Teddy Roosevelt National Park.  

I have no regrets from my settings as I have not seen any of the results yet.  In general I only change the meeter settings on the Minolta from spot to matrix or center weighted.  And I usually go back and forth between A and P on the mode dial.  The Minolta’s auto focus works so well with only 3 spots I almost never manual focus.  But if I did want to manual focus the Minolta viewfinder is bright and better than either of my Nikon cameras viewfinders.  Of course with a film camera the big setting you change is what film you use.  But that comes from learning which you like for what subject.

When I shoot film, which is frequently, almost all the shots provide an image.  If I use a good processor the quality of the images I get back improves a lot.  Usually when I shoot 36 exposures I get back 36 usable shots.  Mostly they need little editing or no editing unless the subject was in bad lighting.

WHY TRI-X AND EKTAR?

I like black and white film when I want to show shapes and and not be distracted by colors.  And the subject was a western themed town and black and white suites that.  I like Tri-X for it’s contrast and starkness.  Tri-X will likely help this subject as it is mostly newer buildings made to look like the 1880’s.  I think they will look more authentic with Tri-X.  I shot a few photos with Ektar 100.  This is my favorite outdoor color film when not shooting people.  Ektar is OK with people but puts some red into their complexion unlike Portra which adds white.  To me Ektar just makes most landscapes better.  The colors pop.  It is very fine grain.  It loves the outdoor shots in the western USA.  It is the king of red rock photography.  Portra would have worked OK for this subject too.  The slightly faded look would have added to the “old” theme of the town.  Plus Portra is almost impossible to expose poorly.  And several of the Fuji slide films would have worked well too.

 

Travel Photography When You Can Take Everything

We travel regularly by motorhome.  We don’t live in a motorhome, but we do go for local and extended trips with one.  One of the benefits in doing this over either going somewhere by car or flying when you like to take pictures and video is you can take everything.  Another benefit is that if you are a hybrid shooter who uses both digital and film you have a refrigerator with you to store your unused and exposed film.  We left mid June and I had with me.

  • Nikon D750 Full Frame digital DSLR with two lenses
  • Nikon D5500 Digital DSLR with three lenses
  • 2 Olympus OM2n’s with six lenses
  • 2 Minolta 600si SLR’s with six lenses
  • 1 Voightlander Prominent rangefinder with 50mm f1.5
  • 1 Sony compact HX 80
  • 1 iPhone X
  • At least 30 rolls of film
  • 3 tripods.  None have been used yet.

We are now still on our trip.  Since I bought the D750 shortly before the trip I have used that the most so far to see how well it performs.

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Taken with a Nikon D750 with Nikon 24-120 f4

And the answer to that question is pretty dam well.  Other than the two little corner imperfections that I should get rid of with Lightroom the above photo from Bryce National Park is very nice.  Yes there is a little bit of sky issue caused by too wide of a lens for a polarizing filter, but when you look at the file in full size on a good screen the detail and color of the rocks is stunning.

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Nikon D750 with Nikon 50mm f1.4

The above shot was a couple of days earlier near Page UT.  This was taken at dusk and the file was taken raw and it allowed me to bring up the foreground of the photo so that it blended well with the top of the frame.  When you see this file full size it is very detailed.  Again I have not done as much Lightroom as I could and the top corners need a little fixing.

My experience using this camera when traveling is that if you put my 50mm f1.4 prime lens on it and one of the Peak larger camera straps you can carry it around pretty well without feeling weighted down.  It is nowhere near as easy to use like this compared to the Nikon D5500.

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Taken with a Nikon D5500 and 18-55mm P

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All three of these photos above were with my D5500 and the latest 18-55 P model zoom.  I took the D5500 with me this day because it is much lighter than the D750 and I felt like using it instead of the 750.  To me the 5500 files are as good as what would have come from the 750.  But when I work with files from both these cameras there is no doubt that the full frame 750 and full frame glass gives more details and less noise.  It seems like you can crop the 750 files forever and they still look great.

And a few times I have put the little compact Sony in my pocket and come up with these results.

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All of these were shot hand held.  You cannot do raw with the Sony so these were jpegs only.

Plus I did use my iPhone X some.

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For the iPhone X pictures I used for these three the native Apple app that comes with the phone.  Sometimes I use the Adobe Lightroom camera app which allows you to use raw.  This works very well with the Adobe Lightroom mobile app on the phone and my iPad.  But as you can see from these three shots that the standard Apple app works pretty good.  The middle photo is taken using Apple’s portrait mode.  This now gives what I would call excellent results in most of the times I use it.

Now here is the bad news.  No matter how many cameras you have with you you cannot control the weather.  We have been in the mid west USA mid summer heat dome and we have had bright overcast days for at least a month now.  Blue skies and puffy clouds have been as rare as Leicas.  Bright overcast skies are the enemy of good outdoor photos.  Bright overcast skies are almost impossible to shoot with a digital sensor camera as all digital cameras do not handle highlights that well.  Even if you shoot in raw you might have only two stops over on the best digital camera.  What happens is this.

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Wisconsin Dells shot spoiled by too much contrast in sky to land.   
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North Dakota grasslands spoiled by too bright sky

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So with too much contrast in the sky you only solution is to take shots without sky like the one above.  The problem with this is that when you are at places with natural things to see like National Parks you need to put some sky in the shots sometimes.

To me not being able to handle over-brignt highlights as well as photo film is digital photographies biggest weakness.  In one very well done you tube video I have watched a couple of time “The Slanted Lens” showed how the Nikon D850 compared with Kodak Portra film.  The Nikon shots were not usable at 2 stops over and the film was OK up until about 4 stops.  This is a very big difference.  Remember that each stop doubles the amount of light.

  1. Mirrorless cameras with good EVF’s and indications in the viewfinder are helpful at knowing when the highlights are too bright.  However, this does not fix the problem.  It tells you to turn down the exposure, but then you can plug your shadows.  Or if you don’t plug your shadows, you darken them.  And when you turn up your shadows in post it increases noise.
  2. Film tends to work better than digital in situations where you have very bright highlights and lots of contrast.  At least film with lots of dynamic range does.

Thats it for now.  Time to go shoot some film in the classic western town of Medora with classic old SLR.