Category Archives: film photography

When Shooting Spring – 1. Use a tripod. 2. Use a Manual Camera. 3. Consider or Just Use Film

Advanced digital cameras with automatic features are great for action, low light, and video.  They are not that good for shooting spring flowers and other things that bloom in the spring.  For me spring has arrived.  My first California poppy bloomed today and I have early roses coming out.  Half of my yard is fields of blooming Alyssum and other wildflowers.  I record spring happenings like this every year.

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Sony A7iii with 55mm f1.8 lens 

Shots like the above are just far easier with manual cameras.  I had to fiddle with the Sony A7iii to get the focus on the orange poppy and not the background.  My iPhone absolutely refused to get sharp focus.  But my almost 40 year old Olympus with manual focus only was completely simple.  I have negative film in it so I know that the highlights will not get blown easily.  But from past experience I know flowers tend to be about 1 stop over a center weighted meter.  So I just set the Oly -1 stop.  Put it on a little light tripod, took maybe 30 seconds to focus precisely on the flow and took the shot.  Of course the disadvantage of film is you have to wait for it to be developed to see the results.  So I can remember how I shot the photo I keep a photo log in my iPhone notes app.

Then I loaded a roll of Ektachrome into one of my Minolta 600si’s.  Getting that set up was about twice as hard as the Olympus because the Minolta has auto focus and no manual focus aids in the viewfinder.  But no menus to putz with so maybe 10 times easier than my full auto Sony A7iii.

Film.  I have a bunch of film (maybe 25 rolls) left over from last year.  None of it has expired.  I just have not shot much of it lately because I have been too busy playing with my full frame Sony and iPhone.  But now that spring has arrived there are all kinds of beautiful subjects that will be available and I want to use some of my older cameras.  I have heard some disquieting news that Kodak Alaris is selling the film business.  As I mostly use Kodak film I hope there will not be any problems with supply.  Overall I like the look of Kodak film better than any other.  I would have to say Ilford makes excellent black and white.  The last roll I shot was Ilford 50 speed and it was just a great result.  And Fuji has announced they are raising their film price 30% soon.  So I don’t know how to read that.  30% + of their consumer film is not that much, but 30% on Velvia or Provia is a bunch.  That would make Velvia about 20 bucks a roll and that is too much.  The current price of $15 bucks is already too high.  BUT.

BUT continued – if I had just used my film cameras this past year and my old Nikon D5500 and Sony HX80 it would have been far far cheaper than what I spent to get two full frame cameras.  New full frame cameras and especially full frame camera glass that is good is soooooooo expensive it just makes my head swim.  New full frame lenses are being introduced left and right by Sony, Canon, Nikon, Sigma, and a bunch of others.  The latest for my Sony camera is a 135mm f1.8 – I am sure it is a great lens, but it costs $1,900 US dollars!!!! And it weights over 2 lbs (almost a kilo).  Good grief Charlie Brown that is a lots of dough and very big and heavy.  I have an Olympus 135mm f3.5.  These sell for about $40 on eBay and it weighs about 8 oz.  If I wanted I could get an Oly 2.8 for about $75.  Or I could get a Minolta AF 135 2.8 that would work on my A7iii for about $140.

I have bought two Minolta lenses from eBay that are supposed to arrive tomorrow.  1.  100mm f2.8 AF macro.  This lens is rated as about 9.5 on a scale of 1-10.  I paid $220 for it including shipping.  Condition is rated as mint.  2.  Minolta 100-400 f4.5-6.3. I am curious to see how good this lens is.  The reviews I read on it said it was good to excellent.  I paid about $250 including shipping.  Rated Excellent + condition.  I have been thinking about getting this 100-400 for a while now but was trying to decide if I wanted to pony up the $2,500+ for the Sony new one.  Then I tested the Minolta 70-210 f4.5-5.6 that I have against my Sony 24-105 f4 I bought new a couple of months ago.  I thought the Sony would blow it away.  It did not.  I shot some houses on a hill opposite out house that are about 2-3 miles away and the Sony and Minolta are about equivalent.  I paid $32 for the Minolta lens about 2 years ago.  Just before Christmas I paid $1,300 for the Sony.  The Minolta lens is smaller and lighter than the shorter zoom Sony.  The Minolta 100-400 I have coming is much smaller and far lighter than the new Sony 100-400mm.

I bought the 100mm 2.8 macro because spring is here.  I have been using various 50-55mm lenses on my Sony and Minoltas and 50 & 135 on my Olympus bodies.  The Minolta 100 has been rated as a great lens by a number of people including just last week the “Casual Photographer” blog.  Ken Rockwell has raved about how good the lens is.  So I am looking forward to it.  100mm in macro is just easier to use than 50mm macro.  My Zeiss 55mm lens is excellent and I can get pretty close with it and then just crop the image.  Hopefully the 100mm will be better.  A Sony 90mm 2.8 macro is about $1,000.

Even though I keep thinking that I will get away from using any film I keep going back to using some.  I like manual cameras.  I like being able to set them quickly how I want them without having to delve into any deep menus.  For landscape manual focus is fine.  There is the problem of getting a good lab to develop, but that is solved easily by just paying more to a good one.  Enough for now.

 

The Minolta 600si And Why You Should Buy One

I have been on a film use slump.  I have a closet full of film and I just have not been shooting film for the last six months.  Why, I bought a full frame Nikon D750 and two lenses in May six months ago and spent the whole summer and September using-testing it.  Then I sold the D750 and lenses and bought a Sony A7iii.  And I have been testing it for the last two months.  Yesterday after writing the previous post about how it was hard to love the Sony, today I thought, “Use a camera you really do love and have some fun”.  So I got out my original Minolta 600si that was loaded with Portra 400 and got out my best, but heaviest tripod and started shooting.  At first I did not get out the tripod out of laziness.  I have learned in the last few years that if you want to get the best flower and plant shots a tripod helps.  When you are doing close ups it is always best to have the camera rock steady.

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All of the photos in this post are from the first two rolls I put through my first Minolta 600si when I got the camera.  The film is slightly expired Fuji 400 Superia and the lens that came with the camera at Sigma 50mm 2.8 macro.  All of these were shot hand held.

One of the great benefits of shooting film over digital is that you have to wait to get it processed and cannot edit it immediately.  What I mean is that you can have an enjoyable shoot and then keep enjoying yourself.  You do not have to feel obligated to edit what you just shot.  With film if you are using a good quality not long expired film likely all of the shots will come out.  Maybe some need tweaking a bit but I almost never have ruined shots any more.

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The above shot was the fourth shot I took with this camera and when I saw it I just went, “Wow”!  Keep in mind this was consumer grade film from Wal Mart that was given to me for free and the processing was with a just OK lab.

When I get my film back from the lab scanned it usually is mostly processed and edited when I get it.  Sure I Lightroom it a bit if needed, but way more often than when using a digital SLR the film shots come out right from the get go.  And they are already in jpeg, plus I have the negatives or positives and a CD scan as back ups.

Back to why I love the Minolta 600si.  This thing was designed and made as an anti menu statement.  All controls are easy to use and this is a modern camera, auto focus with more than one point, adjustable metering with spot, center, and matrix, auto film load, advance, and rewind, top LCD giving you setting information, front and back adjustment wheel, even high speed sync on the flash.

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top view of 600si

All functions are obvious marked simple switches, dials, or marked buttons.  Things that are individual marked controls are AF mode (Continuous, Auto, Single), Auto focus area (simple marked switch with picture grams ), Exposure (spot, center, matrix), exposure and flash exposure compensation dials, just like todays full frame digitals the front control dial is for shutter setting and the rear dial for f-stop, there is a mode dial with program, A, M, S, and drive switch with double exposure, bracket, single, multiple, and timer.  In the manual it points out that if you have all the switches so they are either vertical or horizontal you are set on full auto and you can just point and shoot.  Full Manual is also very easy to activate.

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The 600si easily shifts from people to macro if you have the right lens.  What it cannot do is give neutral color if the film tends to go a little green like Fuji can.

Having individual switches and dials for adjustments means you just make one direct movement to change the setting.

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If you want to adjust AF area you just move the setting lever.  Same with metering.  Spot, center, or matrix meter setting you look at the dial and either move it or not.  On the Nikon D750 or Sony A7iii you push the metering button and then change the setting.  With the Nikon D5500 you need to bring up the back touch screen.  Touch the place for setting, and then touch the setting you want.  It is certainly true that the digital cameras have more settings.  If you need those extra settings then the 600si won’t do for you.  Very likely you do not need them.

Auto focus mode.

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Same deal.  Look at the knob and set to what you need.  One movement.  No menu screen.

Or look at the way the 600si handles drive.

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Simple and direct.  The indicator switch can be set to double exposure, bracket, single shot, multiple shots, and timer.  The Sony A7iii is about ten times this complex.  It has all the settings for this, but you have to remember where they are in the drive settings.  The Nikons are also much more complicated but much easier to learn than the Sony.

The 600si also has a built in flash.  I think this is a significant feature.  The Nikon D5500 and D750 do too.  But the Sony A7iii left it off.  Why?  They included it on my tiny compact camera and include it on the crop sensor bodies.  It is much better to use a full size flash, but the built ins are very good for fill in.

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You will also notice the Minolta has a double dial for exposure compensation and flash compensation.  And the Minolta does high speed flash.  And very handily it has built in motor drive for loading, advancing, and rewinding film plus auto film speed.

Conclusions – To me the Minolta 600si is for the film shooter who wants automation plus manual.  So this camera is good for landscape, people, and wildlife.  Landscape is usually easy and all manual settings usually work fine.  But for people and wildlife it helps to have some automatic features.  As a bonus, with an adaptor you can get the AF lenses from this camera to work on the Sony A7 bodies almost as though they were native lenses.  I have found the auto focus and exposure work very well.  Not so much with the TTL flash.  These camera bodies sell for about $35 on eBay.  Make sure you get a good one and maybe pay a bit more.  The batteries are not common, but for sale on the internet at reasonable prices.  I have found the batteries are good for a year or two.  The manual states 15 rolls of film.  I think it is about double that.  I would suspect it depends on how much you use the built in flash.  I bought a very capable high speed sync Minolta flash on eBay for $35.  And I bought the 24mm f2.8 macro lens you see in the picture above on eBay for $80.  The lens is a Sigma/Quantaray.

If you buy one of these in good working condition you will be able to learn to use it in a day.  The manual is on the internet.  It is simple, simple, simple to use.  I would guess you can get a whole kit with one body and three lenses for $150.  A stunning deal.  I already have $4,600 into my Sony A7iii with only two lenses.

Using The Sony A7iii In Auto Mode

Back about 1 1/2 years ago I bought my fourth in a line of Sony compact cameras going back to a Sony Mavica in 1999.  The new addition was the Sony HX 80.  When I got it that model was just out and cost me all of $380 at Best Buy.  I had always liked using and the results out of my previous Sony compacts and this was a good one too.  I was looking forward to having an electronic viewfinder, steady shot vibration reduction, and the ability to optically zoom from 24-720mm equivalents.  For the price and size of this camera I got very good results including really amazing long lens shots of birds in flight and distant mountain tops.  One of the big benefits of this camera was the small size, and one of the problems of this camera was the small buttons and small electronic view finder.

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Soon I figured out that it was just simpler and better to set the camera to Auto when the exposure seemed not too wide and then I would use A mode and adjust the exposure setting using the zebras on the back screen or in the viewfinder.  Sony’s “intelligent Auto”. worked well and was able to detect most scenes and to find people’s faces.  And that is how I used the camera until I sold it about 8 weeks ago.  My 2 1/2 month old Sony A7iii is a highly capable camera that gives excellent stills and video.  It is hard to adjust and change settings quickly on it most of the time.  I am sure after I have it for a year it will be easier.  So after grousing about how hard it was yesterday when we expected family to come over for a Christmas cookie decorating event I decided that I would try setting the A7iii to Auto and seeing how well it did.

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For all of these shots it was always in Auto and I used my 55mm Zeiss f1.8 prime lens.  Also used was a Godox flash in some of them.  I set the flash on TTL and did not adjust it at all.

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As it turns out I think the Sony did a splendid job.  When there was a face in the scene it picked it out right away.  It did a good job of auto white balance, exposure, speed, and so on.  Do I plan to just let the camera do the thinking for me in the future, no, I like trying different settings to get the best result possible.

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Color.  I am finding the best results at this point to be just setting the camera to export raw only and editing that in Lightroom CC Classic.  I have also used Lightroom CC and there is little difference between those two.  I prefer the organizational ability of LR Classic to putting everything on line like CC wants you to.  The Sony does seem to put out raws that need little editing.  For these shots I mostly tried Adobe auto to see if that improved it.  In about half the shots it did.  And then I mostly added either Adobe Standard profile or Sony Standard profile.  Plus maybe a little clarity or dehaze.

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All these shots were hand held and this lens does not have VR, but the camera body does.  The A7iii was able to get focus quickly and snap off the shot rapidly.  I seems to work with the Godox flash easily.  I did have a cover over the flash head that quieted down the light blast a bit.

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I am surprised at how well the A7iii was able to automatically adjust for backlight and skin tones and come up with a good result.  We have had cookie decorating parties in this same spot for about 15 years and the Sony did the best job on exposure of any camera I have used so far.  A year ago though I did shoot some Fuji 200 speed film using my Minolta and I will now insert in a few of those shots.

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The above film pictures I did use a flash but forgot to tilt the head up so in some cases there is glare on the faces.  But the colors are good.

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The above six shots were also Fuji 200 (Walmart film) but shot about a week later and with my manual focus Olympus OM2n.  All of them except the top one were just nature light through a window.  The top one I think the color is a bit affected by a little incandescent light.  The bottom five photos are all excellent with the beautiful bokeh you get from the Zuiko lens and the just popping colors on the gingerbread house and the painting.  I love some of the sharp focus rolling into off focus from wide open glass and the inexpensive Fuji film just does a great job.  There is a little of the Fuji green tinge in the shots though.  I did shoot about a roll or so of film yesterday and when I get it developed I will post the results along with the Sony photos for comparison.

I like both the Sony shots and the film shots.  The Sony shots are technically excellent.  Clear, start, exposed right, clean.  Even though the lens I used on the Sony is very highly rated it Just is not rolling in and out of focus like the old Zuiko.  Plus the film adds some softness to the look.  I find the look of the bottom five shots where the focus rolls in and out and some of the color is just vibrant and other times soft to be beautiful in a way the Sony photos are not.  And that is the reason I think film still has a place in 2018.  If all we had was digital our photos would look mostly like we were Xeroxing the World.  More art is needed with the Xeroxing.

 

The Sony A7iii Is Technically Advanced But Hard To Love

My first Minolta 600si was my Dad’s last camera before he passed away.  I inherited it and put in in the very large office closet where all my camera gear is stored.  It stayed there for quite a while and then I loaned it to one of my wife’s friends for about 3 years.  When I got the camera I was in a digital only phase and just did not want to use it.  But then when I got it back I had started using film again and tried it out the first day I got it back.  It came paired with a 50mm f2.8 macro lens.  It also came back with two 24 exposure rolls of Fuji Superia 400.

I did find and download a manual for the 600si.  After looking at that and then checking with the internet to see what people thought about this camera I shot the first roll mostly around our house.  Then the next roll we went to the zoo with my daughter and her two kids.  About half way through the first roll I started to think things like, “wow this is really easy to use”.  “What a great bright viewfinder”.  “No menus Yeah!!!!” “It even loads, advances, and then auto rewinds film rolls” “Boy is this auto focus fast.  It works about as quick as my Nikon D5500”. “This Minolta viewfinder is soooo much better than the Nikon.”

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And then those first two rolls came back from the developer and I was in love with this camera.  For a while I preferred the 600si to my long standing favorite the Olympus OM2n.  Now I am about evenly divided between the two.  I use the 600 when I think there will be kids, action, or low light and auto focus helps.  Or when I am lazy.  The 600 just does everything for you when you want or nothing at all and you can use it manually.

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Minolta thought a great deal about how someone would use this camera body and then made it simple and easy but effective.  My biggest complaints are that the plastic body does not look as good as the Nikon and the viewfinder is not quite as good as the Olympus.  But in every other way this is a great shooter.  Very quick to set up and then make changes when shooting.  All the controls are visible at a glance and changeable with just moving the individual controls changing a setting.

Sony bought Minolta in 2006.  This camera was made around 2000.  Sony must have fired or not listened to any of the Minolta people that made the brilliant 600si.  Even camerapedia calls this a cult camera because of the ease of use and capabilities.  But of course by the time it came out the hey day of film cameras was ending.  The Sony A7iii is a technical tour de force.  However, to set up, adjust when using, and love, not so much. And  I don’t just like older film cameras.  I loved my Nikon D5500.  The D5500 has some of the same advantages of the Minolta 600si, easy to use with it’s capable touch screen, very intuitive adjustments, and gives good photos.  A terrible video camera though.

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Notice all the single purpose controls.  A little secret is that when they all are aligned the same direction the system is on full automatic.  The Sony has pretty much no such thought given to the actual operation of the A7iii.  It’s all there from a technical standpoint, but using it is a jumbled up mess of mostly unmarked buttons, dozens of menus not set out logically, and very difficult to use in the hand.  The Sony is very hard to use quickly, one handed, or fast.  You can set up many of the controls but then you have to remember which ones are which.  If you have a dozen special buttons or controls and only a couple are marked you have to remember which is which quickly sometimes.

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The Sony A7iii turns out really good jpegs.  I always used raw with my Nikons because editing the raws gave better results usually than starting with jpegs.  But Sony adds to my confusion by turning out raws and jpegs that are almost indistinguishable.  That is nothing like Nikon.  Nikon raws are unedited and easily developed in Lightroom.  Sony raws out of my camera look the same as the jpegs.  The Sony is developing both in camera even though I would prefer raw, raws.  One of the problems I have encountered is that the A7iii knows through AI that we are near large bodies of water like the ocean.  When it knows that it adjusts the scene towards the blue side.  And that means you have to go through and edit white balance for every shot you want to use.  That said the Sony A7iii with it’s EVF and histogram in the finder you can control exposure much better than on a DSLR with OVF.  The Sony jpegs and raw so far as I have used this camera seem to be able to handle mid day harsh sun and give better files than Nikon.

I go to this one beach park that is part of a National Park and have tested a bunch of digital cameras and film.  The Sony A7iii is the best digital in this tough lighting of the ones I have used.  That said Kodak Ektar, Kodak Gold 200, Fuji 200, Kodak Ultramax, and Fuji Superia 400 have all given very good results on this test even when using the cheapest photo lab to develop them.  The Nikon D5500 & iPhone both failed this test badly.

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The above shot was taken about a month ago and this was a full sun mid day shot.  The Sony did this with a jpeg.  What is really strange is that when I put on a UV filter later in the shoot I could not tell the difference in the files.  I got shots with unwashed out colors from several films, but no other digital. (I only tried a Nikon D5500, Sony HX 80, and iPhone 7+).

Conclusion so far.  My six weeks of experience with the Sony A7iii is that from a technical and performance standpoint it is excellent but hard to use and confusing.  Sometimes too smart for it’s own good.  Like when it turns water scenes blueish.  And, why is it editing the raws?  It is also expensive compared to the Nikon Z6.  A Sony A7iii with kit 24-105 f4 & 55mm Sony Zeiss f1.8 = $4,300.  The Nikon Z6 with kit 24-70 f4 & Nikon 50mm f1.8 = $2,895.  I don’t think the cheep Sony kit lens is worth having.  And 200 of them currently on eBay at half price says I am right.  Final thought – I may get really good results from the Sony but I don’t think I will ever love or even like this camera much.

Suggestion for Sony – Get those Minolta guys back to help you with handling and logical handling.

Kodak Ektachrome – Is Back – And Here Are Some Image Samples

After waiting a year and a half for the new Kodak Ektachrome I finally got some.  These samples are from the first roll of Ektachrome e100.  The featured image at the top of the page was taken last weekend and is totally unedited.  It did not need any editing and this is exactly as I got it back developed and scanned by North County Photographic in Carlsbad CA.  When I saw this shot on my computer this afternoon I just went “wow” look at those colors.  My second thought was, “I can’t improve this image and am going to leave it alone.

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Kodak Ektachrome e100 shot on Olympus OM2n with 28mm 2.8 – UV filter only 

The above picture just POPS with that pink animal costume for halloween.  The Olympus OM2n is a very good film camera.  It was the very first SLR that metered the exposure right off the film.  That was handy for this shot as I trimmed off a bunch of overexposed but not blown out image to the right.  Most positive film (slide film like Ektachrome) does not have the dynamic range of print film or digital.  My impression from shooting one roll of the new Ektachrome is that this film has more stops of range than most slide film.

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Ektachrome shot with Olympus OM2n & 50mm f1.4 & tungsten blue filter

And when I saw this people shot (of my wife) using a bounce flash, a lot of tungsten lighting, and using a tungsten filter it made my very happy.  It means that this Ektachrome gives good skin tones.  That puts this slide film ahead of Velvia 50 or 100 that I use for landscape but not people shots.  Both give what I consider unflattering skin color.

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Same as the last one but with me in the picture

I have to say I really like these skin tones.  I usually have to do some color tone editing with most films and on these two people shots I only cropped the photos and made minor exposure adjustment.

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Ektachrome with 28mm and UV filter

On the other hand this Ektachrome does not like it when I bring up the shadows in Lightroom.  When I used the auto setting on Lightroom Classic this photo got much too grainy.  So I went back to the original and increased the black table cloth just a little.

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same as the last one

I really like the colors of Ektachrome e100.  But this is my first roll and I have 7 more in the fridge to get some more experience.  You can see from the above photo that when you go from full shade to full sun that it holds up pretty well.  If I had been using a separate light meter I would have likely added a stop to the exposure and that shade of this shot would not have blocked so much and the full sun would have been just slightly overexposed.

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The above is a mixed sun – shade – and a tiny bit of skin.  When you look at this blown up you can see sharp bricks to the right.  And sharp photo overall until you get to full sun.  Very likely something like Portra 160 or 400 would have held on to the highlights a few stops longer but I do not think the orange in the T-shirt would have been nearly as bright.  Ektar would have worked but the skin would have had more of a red hue.  And the Ektar would have had a different overall cast to it.  But I think Ektar or Portra would have been almost as good with the details.  That said, with just my gut reaction I think for this shot I like the color rendition of the Ektachrome the best of all three of these.  I am sort of smitten with this film after one go at it.

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Look at this nice color and clarity.

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Good mixture of shadow and highlights.  The Ektachrome handles it all really well.

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These colors are just fabulous.  Bright, saturated, but not overdone like Velvia can get.  The above shot I only cropped I did not adjust the color at all.

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Very lifelike colors.  I did not post process this photo expect for crop.  The colors look exactly like what I saw in the field.

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I used a little dehaze on this to cut down the glare from reflections, but other than that this is right from the developer.

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I shot one roll of 36 and got back 36 images.  None were junk, but some were better than others.  My overall comment after this one roll is to say that my long wait for this film was worth it.  Kodak has a stunning winner on it’s hands.  The price is a little steep, $12.95 per 36 ex, but that is the same price as fresh Velvia or Provia.  If you are into film buy some and see what you think for yourself.  If you are not into film, give it a shot.  After just buying a Sony A7iii and a Zeiss lens I can tell you film is not more money than digital.  Get yourself a good quality SLR with a 50mm & 28 or 35mm and go enjoy.