If you cannot see the back LCD on your DSLR maybe it is not a good time to take pictures or video? Or you should stick to film that has huge room for bright highlights in full sun? 95% of my best digital outside photos or video are taken when it is not bright overhead sun. So instead of a new camera with EVF or reading the zebras to make sure your highlights are not blown you should just take your shots or video when the light is good? Even if you turn down the exposure on digital so you don’t blow your highlights in full sun you have to pull your shadows up so much that you get a lot of noise. The best digital cameras like a Nikon D850 only have about +2 stops of highlights before the pictures are unusable. The best film like Portra have about +4 stops. Many times when the photo is overexposed a stop when you try to improve it in post you just don’t get a good result even using raw.
The flower below was taken with a digital camera about an hour before sunset and mostly in the shade.
The shot below is what happens to many digital photos when taken at mid day.
On the other hand here is some film shot at mid day with full sun.
Right now you have a ton of people switching to buy mirrorless cameras from DSLRs to get an EVF. That way you can control your exposure better when you can’t see the back screen. My suggestion is that if you cannot see your back screen maybe your camera is telling you it is not a good time to be taking pictures.
Now if you are switching to mirrorless because you want to take more videos with your camera then I think that is a good reason. But if you are going to take mostly or all photos and not video there is no reason to ditch your DSLR or not buy a new one. Both Nikon and Canon offer very good DSLRs at modest prices. I have a several year old Nikon D5500 that takes sharp clear detailed photos and is half the price of a comparable mirrorless.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The films I have used in the last 12 months have all been either Kodak or Fuji. In my opinion you can characterize products from both companies by just looking at the colors on their boxes. Fuji – green and Kodak yellow-red. My overall experience is Fuji tends green, Kodak warm yellows, oranges, and reds. You can correct much of this in post but it is still there.
If I was to guess why, I would say that Japan is where Fuji is from and it is overall a very green place. On the other hand the most iconic Kodak shots are of the Grand Canyon and southwest USA. There is even a State Park in Utah named the Kodachrome Basin. The color pallet of that park is orange, red, and yellow.
I will start with lowest price first.
Kodak Gold 200 and Color Plus 200. I have shot both in the last couple months. Both basically the same price in California and very similar.
This is a very good low cost film except you need to be careful of getting too much grain in shadows. Personally I cannot tell the difference between the two Kodak films on my large monitor except to say that color plus seems a little brighter. In some cases when I get this film the box says Kodak Gold and the film can says Kodak 200.
Fuji 200. – This is the Walmart 24 exposure rolls.
This is a beautiful detailed shot of my dog on my large monitor. This hardly needed any editing.
This one needed a bit of post to get something I liked, but the Fuji did very well in forest scenes. Fine grain throughout even in shadows.
Even in the dark areas there is little grain. I brightened this quite a bit in LR and still minimal grain.
This is a beautiful picture of one of my grand daughters with great skin tones and minimal grain in the out of focus shadows.
I bought this roll of film at Walmart for $250 a roll. Only 24 ex. There are 36ex rolls for sale at B&H and elsewhere. I mention B&H because they sometimes have some very good sales on this film. Currently 36ex rolls are selling for $4.
My comments. If I was shooting the southwest or the beach I would prefer the Kodak Color Plus or Gold color rendition. Both almost as good as Kodak Ektar. Just this morning “The Darkroom” posted on my Facebook a comparison of Kodak Gold 200 and Fuji C200 with two beach shots. To my eye I preferred the Kodak on their example a lot. I have to say the Fuji 200 gave a much more elegant rendition of my forest scenes, far less grain, and beautiful skin tones, much better than Kodak. So which is it? These are both great low cost films. I would only remember to buy 36ex rolls so you can save on processing and watch the shadows on the K Gold.
Lomography 100. Lomography sells 100 speed print film. It is in the same range of price as the Kodak and Fuji products but a slower speed. I have been giving some thought to buying a 3 pack and trying it out. I have looked at the samples on Flickr and they look good.
Kodak 400 and 400 Ultramax 400 & Fuji Superia 400.
I have had very good luck with both the Kodak and Fuji. Kodak has kept their prices level on this film to the same range as the Kodak 200. Fuji used to sell at the Kodak price but now is usually about 2 dollars more. At 2 dollars more I will always buy the Kodak, but this past Christmas I snagged 10 rolls at under the Kodak price. That said here are some samples.
In the end I think I prefer the Kodak Ultramax for landscape and Superia 400 for people and green. The Fuji seems a bit finer grain, but not much. The issue with Superia is that at $6.00 a roll it is almost up to Ektar 100 price and I think Ektar is one of the two best landscape films you can buy. And the Superia is also right in the Portra price range. Portra just outclasses the Fuji on skin shots and anything not in bright desert sun. But you cannot go wrong on either the Superia 400 or Kodak Ultramax 400, buy on price and depending on subject. I plan to work through my supply of Superia 400 this summer but since I have several film cameras I can load them with black and white plus some Kodak for punchier “National Park” type shots.
The ones I have used in the last 12 months are Fuji Velvia 50 & 100, Kodak Portra 160 & 400, Kodak Ektar 100.
Velvia 50 – A classic slide film that is known for highly saturated colors. If you like this level of saturation it does a great job on landscapes and not good at all on skin tones. The speed is a slow 50 but in full sun this works fine. I have used this film often in all of my cameras with built in light meters. It is somewhat fussy about exposure, but I really have not had that much problem with ruined shots except when I ran a roll through a very old mechanical camera from the 50’s with a slow shutter spring. The other thing to watch out for is limited dynamic range. If you average your exposure and have a great variety of shadow and highlight it is easy to underexpose your shadows. Two summers ago I had problems with the bodies of bison against bright backgrounds. The animals had mostly blocked shadows which I could not correct well in Lightroom. Since the big animals were up close and scared me a little I did not change the settings fast enough on my manual Olympus OM 2n. My more auto Minoltas would have worked better. I used Ektar 100 shooting bison and had much less problem with blocked shadows due to that film’s wider dynamic range.
These were taken a couple of months ago and as you can see Velvia pops the colors but then does not do a great job on the skin tones.
But on landscape you can’t fault it.
Ektar considering everything might just be the best overall landscape film available. It is 100 speed which is about what you should have for daytime landscape shots. The landscape color is similar to Velvia 50 without quite so much excess. The grain is very fine. It handles exposure better than Velvia. And it costs about half as much as Velvia. I have shot a lot of rolls of it.
I have had some issues with Ektar going red on skin but as you can see from the next two pictures it is OK with skin.
This is my favorite film but not if I am shooting mostly people.
Portra 160 and 400
Portra tends to be most peoples favorite film. Here are some of my results. It is one of mine too. I find both 160 and 400 to be great with 400 having a touch more saturation.
Portra 160 or 400 are both very forgiving of exposure error. They both have tremendous dynamic range. I do prefer Ektar for landscapes, but if you only want to take one film Portra is a better choice. Very fine grain. Much lower price than the competing Fuji product. Only slightly more money than Fuji Superia 400.
Ektachrome. I had planned to shoot some Kodak Ektachrome this summer. The problem with that is I have not been able to buy any yet. Ektachrome is not Kodachrome, but if I do see some Ektachrome soon I will buy some.
Black and White.
I usually shoot color, but recently have used some TriX and Tmax. I have beautiful results with both. These are both gorgeous films and here are some recent shots.
If I had to pick only one of these I would take TriX, but both are sure to give you B&W results you will like.
So what am I taking with me this summer on our long trip? All of the ones mentioned with a couple of rolls of Ilford black and white. I have just looked up the price of Velvia 100 and Provia 100. They seem to be about $7 a roll. I will call to see how long to expiration before I buy, but that seems like a good price. I have never shot Provia and would like to try it. I usually take about 5 camera bodies with me and I load them up with different films and take what I am in the mood for that day or fits the likely subjects. If I shoot any new films before we leave I will update this post.
All around films. Any of the ones mentioned in this post Kodak 200 or 400. Fuji 200 or 400 will work well and not cost a lot. But if you have to pay $6 for a roll of Fuji 400 I would pick the Fuji 200 for $4 or either Kodak for $4.
Higher end film. I will not pay $15 for Velvia 50. But Kodak Portra or Ektar make great images at about $6.50-7.00 per roll. Fuji Velvia 100 seems like a good buy at $7 but I have to check the expiration. Don’t forget that slide film is harder to shoot and costs about $3 extra to develop.
Black and White. I love both Kodak TriX and Tmax. Both run about $6 a roll.
We usually travel by RV in the USA and deciding on what camera gear to take is easy, Take everything you want. But in 10 days we are going overseas by plane and if you take more than you need then you have to lug it around. So for the last few weeks I have been trying to decide what should go. At first I watched Rick Steve’s video and he is a minimalist and says, “1 compact camera”. I have a very good recent compact that is a Sony super zoom. It does a good job and critically, has a viewfinder. For sunny days viewfinders are a must. But here is the thing, I asked myself, “when you are taking pictures of the Parthenon in Greece is a small Sony enough plus an iPhone 7+”?
Travel pictures always seem to run into the “mid-day” problem. Even though for best photos you are always supposed to go out before dawn and an hour before sunset, the reality is that this is not always possible, or something you want to do. Last night I listened to a very popular and very good you tube couple talk about what they do when traveling and they said, “take pictures early morning and the golden hour before sunset, and spend the rest of the day in museums”. (Tony & Chelsea Northrup). Thing is if you are on a tour you go when your tour goes. Or maybe you want to have breakfast and a shower before going out. Faced with the fact that many of our best shooting opportunities in our upcoming trip will be between early morning and late afternoon I have been testing my cameras to see (once again) which handle bright sun in mid day best. The contestants were iPhone 7+, Sony HX80, Nikon D5500, Olympus OM2n (film), Minolta 600si (film).
The picture above was taken with my iPhone 7+. It was taken last weekend at mid day with mostly bright sun. I spend a lot! of time trying to get this picture into any kind of decent shape. The result is OK.
I then shot some photos a few days later with the iPhone and the colors were much better, but this required some work in Lightroom to get this shot to come out.
The Sony HX80 to me is a slightly better camera than the iPhone. It still struggles with mid day photos. I spent some time trying to get anything out of the above shot that was passable.
The above shot was taken with the Sony while I was sitting in the shade and at a different angle to the sun than the yacht shot.
Yesterday I went down to the same general area and got this shot with my Nikon and just the kit lens with a polarizing filter.
I like the above shot. It is lightly edited and pretty much just came out of the camera this way. I was just shooting aperture priority and fine – jpeg. The key difference in this being a good shot is the fog. So no bright mid day sun.
Shortly after the cemetery shot the sun came out and the Nikon failed to take memorable pictures. I got so frustrated with the color in this group I turned most of them into black and white.
The reason I was so frustrated is that I went to the same location the day before with one of my old film SLRs, a Minolta 600si, some inexpensive Kodak 400 negative film, and an Quantaray 50mm f2.8 lens. I had this film locally developed and they fouled up the scan and only gave me tiny files. But the fact is that this lower end film with poor scans gave a much better balanced color result, by a wide margin than any of the three digital cameras I have used this week. Imagine if I had shot Kodak Ektar 100 and had a fine scan done. The film would have won by a wider margin.
So after all this work, what is the best camera gear for me to take? Very likely I am going to duplicate last year and take the Nikon DSLR with the 18-55 P kit lens & 35mm f 1.8 for low light, iPhone, & Olympus OM2n with my 50mm f 1.4. I will likely add the Sony too as it is small and could fit in my pocket on the flight over. We have booked a number of tours in places we are going to and many of these will be during mid day and sunny. If I was to lighten this up just a little I would leave the Nikon home and add a couple of lenses to the Oly kit + a flash. I would likely take the 28 mm f 2.8 and the 135mm f 3.5. The flash is a T32.
I don’t know why I keep needing to re-affirm the fact that in natural light film usually gives a far superior result to digital. If it is dark digital works better. The iPhone 7 plus is a very good low light shooter.
6 Days later —– OK, I just could not let this issue rest. So I went down to the same beach cliff location today and shot my Nikon D5500 with raw and my iPhone 7 plus with Adobe camera raw in the iPhone. The results from the two digital cameras was the closest I came to the film. Of the two I have to say I preferred the results from the iPhone to the Nikon. I edited both as with Lightroom as best as I was able and the color was just a bit more pleasing from the Apple. But it does not change the fact that an 15 year old Minolta camera with and off-brand (but very good) lens and low cost Kodak print film gave superior results. I am so disgusted with the whole effort I don’t even feel like posting samples. If you want to see some write me a comment and I will do so.
Bottom line. Digital daytime still shots suck compared to film. Sure digital is better for more difficult lighting and interior shots, but in typical vacation type family shots film still rules. I guess that is why more and more people are going back to film. The scary issue for the camera makers is that this means for most snapshot /family shot shooters they don’t need a fancy digital. Sure if you make your living with a camera you should get a high quality rig, but if you are a family shooter an iPhone (or better Android) smartphone camera is fine. If anything my recommendation is for family shooters to consider a film camera, maybe an instant. Polaroid is back with a new camera and Fuji Instax ones are all over the place. Analog rules. Digital is mostly for convenience not quality. I am writing this as I listen to a 45 year old LP record on my good quality Hi-Fi system. Analog music is easily superior to any digital I have heard. Analog music is just not nearly as easy to use. Same with photos. Digital is easier and analog is better.
Over the last couple of years one of the films I have used with good results is Kodak Gold 200.
This shot was taken last summer with my Voightlander and a 35mm 3.5 lens. We just walked around Ennis MT and took in some of the local town sights about an hour before dusk. To my eye Kodak Gold provides with good color saturation and has a pleasing white balance for landscape and people.
Gold has a fine grain if you don’t underexpose. I have run into a few difficulties in the shadows of some shots with Gold. You can get rid of most of the unpleasant grain with noise reduction in Lightroom, but better if you just expose for shadows and then turn the highlights down a bit. One thing to keep in mind is that this is an inexpensive film and it is 200 speed and not 100. Ektar has less grain but costs about 50% more and is 100 speed.
I find both of the above two shots to be quite attractive but the one shot with Ektar is just magic on a big high quality monitor. I took a series of about 15 of the west side of Zion National Park with Ektar and when I got them back from the developer I just went “wow”, the best shots I have even taken of Zion with regards to the red rock color.
As I said, Gold can go grainy on you when underexposed as you can see in the sky on the above two shots. But then the shot above that of the door is very sharp with little grain and the only difference is lower contrast in the scene and correct exposure on the door.
Gold can still be bought at just over $4.00 US in 36 exposure rolls here in the US. It is a good general all around film that does very well on skin tones. Ektar is a finer grain and is beautiful for landscapes, but puts red into skin color.
And here is Fuji Superia 400 for comparison.
To me Superia goes green and that is hard to control, and Ektar goes red and that can sometimes be a problem. Gold is more in the middle but you have to watch the grain.
And finally Kodak Ultramax 400.
All four of these are very good films. They have to be to have survived the purge of the last 10 years. Here are some tips.
Kodak Gold is a very stable film that is very versatile. It is not fussy at all but I would recommend no underexposing it too much or grain could become an issue. I prefer the Kodak Gold color rendition to Fuji. Fuji Superia has less grain and 400 speed. But it is also 50% more expensive on 36ex rolls.
Right now Kodak has two very good lower cost films in the color negative category. Gold at 200 speed & Ultramax at 400.
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