Film Review – Going Over The Results From This Summer

This summer we left on an extended motorhome trip from the west coast all the way to an island in Lake Erie Ohio.  We were gone for just over 2 1/2 months and I took about 30 rolls of film with me.  I used Fuji Velvia 50, Kodak Gold 200, Kodak Ektar 100, Kodak Ultramax 400.  In addition I had my iPhone 6S and Nikon D5500 with me.  The film cameras were an Olympus OM2n, Voightlander Prominent, and Minolta 600si.

Film results

  • Ektar 100.  Ektar 100 is a professional quality fine grain negative film that I have shot a lot of in the past.  As usual the results made some of the best pictures of the summer.  The ultimate place to use Ektar is in any red rock country of the west.  Zion or Arches National Parks are two good ones.  When I got my shots back from Zion from this year shot on Ektar the results just jumped off the page saying, “wow these are the best Zion pictures”  We were at Zion for a few days and I used Ektar, Gold 200, iPhone 6S & Nikon D5500.

Zion 5 minolta ektar

The above shot is right out of the camera with zero editing.  This is the Minolta 600si and Sigma 50mm 2.8 lens.

  • Fuji Velvia 50.  I have also shot many rolls of Velvia 50 over the last few years.  As usual the colors were intense.  But so were the shadows.  The photo example I will post here is a beautiful towards sunset shot that was edited just slightly with Lightroom.  Where I had problems was on a day in Theodore Roosevelt National Park we went from landscape to animal pictures all of a sudden and I had problems with the dark fur of the bison.
houses with clouds Oly V50_
This is the Velvia 50 shot with Olympus OM2n 28mm 2.8 lense.  

I shot a similar picture with my iPhone 6S which I will post here for comparison.  The iPhone picture has more editing to get this result compared to the Velvia.

houses for peck iphone
iPhone 6S shot

I like both shots, but prefer the Velvia.

  • Kodak Ultramax 400.  I had not used this film until this trip.  It was really the surprise star of the films I used.  I thought being a 400 the grain would be too coarse but it was not.  And the colors are really great as far as my eye goes.  Not quite as red or intense as Ektar, but more neutral than Ektar.  And the colors pop just fine.
corn palace
Taken with Minolta 600si & 24mm Sigma lens

I tried taking the same shot with my Nikon D5500 and here is the result.

Corn Palace Nikon
Nikon D5500 with kit lens set at 18mm (27mm 35mm equivalent)  

I played a bit more with the Nikon shot last night and was able to improve it a little, but to me it still does not look as good as the Ultramax with almost no editing.  I find both Ultramax 400 and Fuji Superia 400 to be great films and very similar in results.  Unfortunately the Fuji is now only in 24xp rolls.  Since 24 and 36 ex rolls cost the same I will tend to use the Kodak.

  • Kodak Gold 200.  I shot this with my old but really high quality Voightlander Prominent.  The pictures turned out well exposed but in many shots with more grain than I like.  This happened the last time I used this film.  It is the least expensive of the four films.  About half the price of Ektar, but only a dollar cheaper than Ultramax.  Likely I will drop this film from any future purchases.
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Kodak Gold 200 with Voightlander Prominent & 35mm 3.5 lens
Ennis businesses vioght kodak gold
This is another shot with Gold 200 and the same camera and lens as above.  

So is film always better than digital.  Not at all.  For inside shots in places like museums the best camera is either the iPhone or the Nikon with my f1.8 lens.  Neither one of those cameras seems to care about what kind of lighting is in the room.  And the Nikon set up properly in most cases has more detail and can match the film for color.  But if you leave the Nikon on auto white balance and auto ISO and so on the pictures are not going to be as good as the film cameras.  Again I love using the Minolta 600si.  It was easily my favorite film camera to use the summer.  Not as pretty as the Voightlander or the Olympus but super easy to use.

Kodak UltraMax 400

A few months back I bought 10 rolls of fresh Kodak Gold 200 and Ultramax 400.  It took me a while to try the 400 as I thought it would be grainier than the Gold 200.  When I shot some on this summer’s long trip I was pleasantly surprised.  I don’t find that even on my largest most detailed monitor (An Apple Thunderbolt Display – finer than 2K and less than 4K) that the grain is greater than the Gold.  I have been shooting Ektar and Fuji Velvia 50 quite a lot and I have to tell you that the cheaper Ultramax looked very good.  I used it for landscape.

cleveland

corn palace

daylilie

I was very pleased with these results.  The middle shot of the Corn Palace in Iowa I also took with my Nikon D5500.  I shot this raw and converted with LightRoom.

Corn Palace Nikon

As is I like the Ultramax shot better.  If I twiddled around with the Nikon photo above long enough I might be able to get it to look as good as the Kodak shot.  But only maybe and the Kodak picture had minimal editing.  Oh, and the Nikon picture is a far larger file.

I also shot quite a few people pictures with the Kodak.

jeff cathy jon betsy_

barb behind fox

me in amana

To me the skin tones are also quite good.  I also took a number of indoor pictures with natural light and these turned out quite good too.  These pictures we all taken with my Minolta 600s, which is a late 90’s higher end manual / auto SLR.  The lens depending on the shot is either a 50mm 2.8 Sigma or a 24mm 2.8 Sigma.  Great camera and two really great lenses.

So I give a double thumbs up on Kodak Ultramax 400.  Color saturation to me is very good.  Not quite as much as Ektar, but for a wide variety of shots I like the color rendering better on Ultramax.  Velvia 50 definitely has more color saturation, but is much more sensitive on exposure, and as with Ektar does not look the best with people shots.

The other 400 speed film I have shot recently is Fuji Superia 400.  In my opinion the Superia and Ultramax are very similar.  Both good.  I like the fact you can still get the Ultramax in 36 exposure rolls.

Film Fiasco

Several times I have posted on this blog that I love using film instead of digital some of the time.  But the two rolls of film I used over the holidays that just ended turned out terrible.  I was only able to save a few pictures using heavy edits in Lightroom.  Why, well I let myself get lazy because my digital cameras are very new and they work quite well with no effort other than point and shoot.  So even though the last 10-15 rolls of film I have shot have had almost all of the shots turn out great, I took them all in daylight and outdoors.  The two rolls I shot in the last few weeks were indoors and I mostly used a flash.  And the film I used was balanced for outdoor light and not for flash or indoor lighting.

So the color balance was terrible.  But there were also other problems.  On one of the rolls I shot about half the pictures using a 135mm lens which is a medium telephoto.  Well, 35 year old lenses don’t come with vibration reduction.  So I took quite a few pictures at too slow a shutter speed.

My first reaction was to make a New Years resolution to give up taking film pictures.  I actually put my least favorite 35mm SLR on ebay.  But then I cooled down.  The bad pictures were my own fault.

poor white balance shot
poor white balance shot

Modern cameras have become so good that most people today don’t really know how to take pictures, they just point to camera/ computer at what they want an image of and usually the result is acceptable.  Even my six month old Nikon can be used without adjusting it at all.  You just put it on automatic and it does almost everything.  However, if you want better than acceptable it takes a lot of learning and some skill.

Both taking great digital pictures or great film pictures takes lots of effort.  It is the same with cars.  Automatic transmissions are nearly universal today.  I learned to drive with a manual trans and still in many ways prefer it.  On a sports car I much prefer a manual.  Even on my Jeep Wrangler.  The one thing I would like to change on it is to have a manual gear box.  Automatics work fine, but if you want to learn to drive well or really feel what your car’s wheels are doing nothing can beat a stick.  And if you want great photos you can’t just set your camera on auto.  What you will get is moments but not art.

I will restate my feelings about digital vs film.  One is not better than the other they are different.  Just as watercolor painting does not replace oil paints, digital does not replace film.  But there is also the factor of old lenses.  All lenses have a different look.  Many modern lenses are quite sharp but they don’t look the same as a vintage lens. My son is a TV and movie professional cameraman.  He has a large collection of vintage Leica lenses he puts on modern digital bodies.  Why, because of the look you get.  Are the old lenses better than the modern lenses?  That is not the right question.  The old lenses give him the look he wants for his art.

So my new years resolution is that I am going to keep a log of how I shot pictures in the notes app on my iPhone.  That way when I get the film developed I can refer back to the log and see what I did right or wrong.  I am also going to try some regular consumer grade film from Kodak.  I have been using the expensive pro grade stuff only and I am going to try out the regular grade because it is set up to be used indoors and out.  With or without flash.  Plus I will save a significant amount of money.  Pro film now seems to run at least 10 bucks a roll.  Ouch.  Regular consumer grade $2-4.50.

August 7 2016 update.  It was my fault that the film photos came out badly.  The film was expired.  The film I used was not supposed to be used for indoor shots.  The next two rolls of film I used after this had unexpired film and was shot outdoors.  The results were great.

Here is one of the shots.  And this is low cost Fuji Superia 400

4th of July rose

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Apple iPhone 6S Camera Quality

Time marches on and digital cameras continue to improve.  Nowhere is this more the case than cell phone cameras.  For this blog post I am talking about still pictures not video.  I recently bought one of the new Apple iPhone 6S phones.  This was a big switch for me as I had carried an Android smartphone since they first made them a few years ago.  I have a number of reasons for switching, but one of the most important was that I use Apple photo software with all of my cameras and it made sense to use a smartphone that was part of the Apple ecosystem.

IMG_0018
This is an Apple 6s photo and is a very small jpeg.  Only 345kb

Time marches on and digital cameras continue to improve.  Nowhere is this more the case than cell phone cameras.  For this blog post I am talking about still pictures not video.  I recently bought one of the new Apple iPhone 6S phones.  This was a big switch for me as I had carried an Android smartphone since they first made them a few years ago.  I have a number of reasons for switching, but one of the most important was that I use Apple photo software with all of my cameras and it made sense to use a smartphone that was part of the Apple ecosystem.

We also have an iPad Air 2 and an iPhone 6+ in our household so the 6S is not my first go around with an Apple camera.  I will have to say though that in my opinion the 6S camera is excellent.  I have taken pictures of this Chicago Peace rose with most of my digital and film cameras and the 6S shot above has great and true to life color + excellent sharpness.  The 6S camera has nearly instant focus.  For comparison here is a picture of the same rose a few months ago taken with my Olympus OM2n, 50mm 1.8 prime lens, and Velvia 100 slide film.

86780030
This is a very nice shot but the file is only 150kb

We also have an iPad Air 2 and an iPhone 6+ in our household so the 6S is not my first go around with an Apple camera.  I will have to say though that in my opinion the 6S camera is excellent.  I have taken pictures of this Chicago Peace rose with most of my digital and film cameras and the 6S shot above has great and true to life color + excellent sharpness.  The 6S camera has nearly instant focus.  For comparison here is a picture of the same rose a few months ago taken with my Olympus OM2n, 50mm 1.8 prime lens, and Velvia 100 slide film.

To me the bottom picture is a much nicer one because of the bokeh and the slight impressionist quality to it.  But the iPhone has great great color rendition.

Before the 6S I used an Android Motorola Droid Maxx for almost two years.  It had a Sony 10 mega pixel camera in it that I used a lot.  It took excellent pictures in daylight.  It also had very slick software for activating the camera, a double twist of the wrist and you did not have to unlock the phone.  Plus the standard Motorola camera software was approximately the same as the Apple camera software.  The Apple does better in low light than the Motorola.  And I like the very simple to use square picture setting on the Apple.  But, in my opinion, in good daylight it would be hard to tell the difference between the shots taken on these two phones.  The selfie shots on the 6S are far superior to the Motorola.

I also find the simple Apple editing software on the IOS platform to work well.  I do recommend strongly to at least size up to a full size iPad or better yet a larger computer based editing screen to adjust or delete your pictures.  The photos app on the Mac is much more complete than the version on the phone or iPad.  For me the editing features of the Mac version are very useful.  I have tried Lightroom a couple of times.  I know there are lots more editing tools on it, but find the Apple software sufficient.  I also have a copy of iPhoto and Aperture on my Mac.  So if needed I can use them for adjustments not on Apple’s newer photos app.

So now we get to the verdict on the 6S camera in my opinion.  It is slightly better than my previous phone camera based on it’s better low light capability.  I take almost no selfies so that is not much of a plus for me.  If you do then the 6S is your camera phone.  The 6S and 6+ are great for selfies.  I also like the editing features of Apple’s phone.  I also like the iCloud connection to the phone slightly better than Google’s on line system.  I greatly miss the Motorola’s phone camera’s capability to activate with a double wrist twist.  That is a much better system for taking candid shots or just taking shots quickly than Apple’s 4 step system.  With Apple you have to wake your phone, unlock, activate the camera, and take the shot.  With Motorola you double twisted your wrist and put your finger on the screen where you wanted the camera to focus.  Very quick.  But the Apple 6S takes a shot almost instantly once it sets focus.  The Motorola sometimes has delay.  For child pictures with fast moving kids the iPhone is much better.  For landscape shots either will work well.

Smartphone cameras even the one in the Apple 6S are not a replacement for a full featured camera.  They are good pocket cameras, but there are lots of things they do not do well.  A couple of examples are 1.  Bringing distant objects closer and still have a sharp image.  2.  Shots of people in groups are enhanced tremendously when people and things that are not the subject of the picture are attractively out of focus.  That is bokeh and you need to use lenses that are good at this.  Cell phone cameras are usually not.

Update August 7 2016.  Here is what cell phone cameras don’t do well.

daylilly

pink white flowers

blue flowers

The three pictures above were taken with a Nikon D5500 set to take raw pictures.  I used 55mm – 200mm zoom medium telephoto.  And the f-stop was around 4.  Plus I used a polarizing filter to cut down on the light that flowers sometimes reflect.

A few days after I took the above flower pictures I got these with the Apple

IMG_1108

IMG_1109

In my opinion the above shots are great.  Very good color rendition.  Very good exposure.  I edited them only in Apple Photos.

Nikon D5500 DSLR

I have had my Nikon D5500 DSLR for about six months now.  It was an upgrade from a Nikon D3200 DSLR that I had for about 2 years.  Let me start off by saying that I have found the D5500 to be a very good camera and certainly a good value for the money.  In addition to the camera body I bought the new style kit lens that is 18-55mm.

Stock picture of Nikon D5500
Stock picture of Nikon D5500

I also have a Nikon 35mm f1.8 and a 55-200mm zoom.  The zoom has vibration reduction and the prime lens does not.  I was able to sell my two year old D3200 on line at a good price.

The D5500 is like the super deluxe version of the 3200.  The sensors of the two cameras have the same pixel count.  I have mostly taken stills with this camera but it works quite well for videos too.  The video portion of the 5500 has stereo microphones which is an advantage over the 3200.  I take more videos with my cell phone than the 5500, but find the results from the Nikon to be better.  The Nikon lenses are able to isolate the subject much better than the cell phone.  I shoot all my videos at 1080p.  I usually use the setting for about 24-30 fps.

The touch screen of the Nikon D5500 is a great feature.  It is much quicker and easier to use than the older style adjustments of the 3200.  I find the Nikon settings to be very easy to figure out.  Usually they have explanations to help you.  This camera has taken the scene settings off of the top wheels and into the touch screen menu.  There is a wide selection of scene settings and they seem to be quite effective.  ISO settings are now easy to adjust with the touch screen.  But for some reason Nikon put the control for applying auto ISO deep in the menus.  There is also a button now for control of single or multiple shots where you can get to it quickly.

Bodie CA. Two houses come together.
Bodie CA. Two houses come together.

The D5500 has very good color rendition.  I find this to be the case on either landscapes or people shots.  Many of the shots I took this summer using a scene from the menu needed little to no adjustment in post.  I did use the raw settings some of the time, but the D5500 jpeg software does a very good job.  Unless you like to twiddle with the pictures a lot I don’t think you need to stay away from just the standard jpeg settings.  The exception to this is very detailed landscape shots.  I still shot most of those in raw so all of the possible detail would be in the photos.

Bodie CA houses and blue sky.
Bodie CA houses and blue sky.

The picture above was a medium jpeg setting and this is how it came out of the camera.

Why I chose to get the D5500.  As I have mentioned in other posts I like well built cameras that take good pictures and the camera itself has good style.  I especially like the look and size of my Olympus OM2n cameras who’s size and look were based on the Leica M series.  I also have an old Voightlander Prominent from the 1950’s that is the same size as the Olympus with even nicer metal work.  The Voightlander is beautiful industrial design.  In my opinion.

Voightlander Prominent

So when I went to look at cameras I went to a camera store in San Diego that had the Nikon D5500, Nikon D750, Fuji XT1, and Olympus OMD – Em5 II.  The Olympus OMD was the best looking of the four cameras.  However, it weighed as much as the larger Nikon 5500 and would have cost me double what the I paid for the Nikon.  Keep in mind I already have two Nikon lenses.  And the kicker with the Oly is the small sensor.  It is significantly smaller than the 5500 and has less mega pixels.  And then there is no optical viewfinder.  I still like those.  The Nikon D750 is a great full frame camera that is like a big brother to the D5500.  I would rather have a full frame camera but don’t want to drag around twice the weight of the D5500.  The Fuji is a great mirrorless camera, but it costs lots of money to get the body and three lenses.  It is mirrorless, so not through the lens optical viewfinder, and it’s looks don’t do anything for me.

So I picked the Nikon D5500.  A very capable camera that feels very good in my hand.  It is however a lump of black plastic and not in any way a thing of beauty.  I am still waiting for that full frame good looking digital camera that is a similar size and appearance to the Leica M or Oly OM2n.  That I can afford to buy.

Kodak Portra 400

In the last year I have shot a number of rolls of Portra 400 35mm film.  I only really like this film when taking pictures of people.  Portra 400 in my experience does a very good job of white skin, but any landscape and my results have been just OK.  This compares with Velvia 50 which I find magical, and Kodak Ektar 100 which I get very good results from.  All of the landscapes I spent a lot of time enhancing them.

Sunset Cliffs in San Diego using portra 400.
Sunset Cliffs in San Diego using portra 400.

The above picture is of Sunset Cliffs in San Diego.  I had to do a lot of computer work with iPhoto and Aperture to get it this good.

Shot with Olympus OM2n using 50mm 1.8 lens
Shot with Olympus OM2n using 50mm 1.8 lens

The above picture to me was the surprise gem of the roll as the statue in the foreground is fairly sharp and the background has a great bokeh combined with film grain.  I really like the background which to me seems like an impressionist style painting look.

Combo of people and landscape.  I improved the water colors but put more red into the faces than I like.
Combo of people and landscape. I improved the water colors but put more red into the faces than I like.

Here is an OK picture with people and landscape.  The faces went reddish when I post processed them to improve the landscape.  I know I could have spent more time and adjusted just the faces back to better tones, but that is just more work than I wanted to put into it.  Most of the time when taking Velvia the shots come good right out of the camera.

If I was going to a family gathering or one of my grand children’s birth day parties Porta 400 would be the film to grab.  It seems to nail face tones every time.  But for landscapes Velvia would be my choice.

Buying And Selling Cameras On Ebay

I have bought and sold a number of cameras on eBay over the last 5-10 years.  Recently I sold two Olympus pocket film cameras I had owned since new.  I had used both of them in the last year and was just ready to try something new.  The one was an Olympus XA, which is a high quality rangefinder pocket camera that comes with a clamshell case.  Mine has worked perfectly for over 30 years and very likely will work for another 30.

My Olympus XA
My Olympus XA – Now being used by it’s new owner.

This camera has been highly rated by many.  It is a solid completely adjustable small rangefinder with a good Olympus lens.  I think most of the reason I sold it is I prefer a 50mm lens to a 35mm as on the XA.  Plus I just consistently got better pictures with my Olympus OM2n.  I was surprised by how much this camera sold for.  It was about half of what I paid for it new.

The second pocket Olympus I sold was an Infinity Stylus.  This was one of the first auto focus clamshell type cameras.  It was also reviewed well over the years.  This did not bring a lot of money, but the person who bought it is getting a very reliable camera that I have shot several thousand pictures with.  Again, most of the reason I sold it is I just like the 50mm view as opposed to the wider view with this camera.

Olympus Infinity Stylus
Olympus Infinity Stylus

The lens in this camera is not the higher end Zuiko found on the XA above.  And therefore the results from this camera were of lower quality than the Olympus XA with similar film.  This camera had worked reliably for about 30 years.

The key to any sale or purchase is knowing what the fair market value of an item is.  I like old cameras and look at them on the internet a fair amount.  So I knew about what each of the above cameras should sell for and listed them appropriately on eBay.  My favorite camera of all time so far is the Olympus OM2n.  I have had one since 1980 and these are great picture taking machines.  Recently I had been thinking I would like to have a second OM2n camera back so I could load people film in one and keep landscape film in the second.  I was not planning on buying right now until I came across a full Olympus OM2n camera setup with one back, 50mm, 28mm, & 135mm Zuiko lenses, plus a motor drive, flash, few filters, and a nice case.  In my opinion it was priced at way lower than fair market value.  And the seller was rated 100% by eBay.

So I put in a bid at their opening price.  I went back the next morning and was still the only bid, but upped my highest pay about 11 bucks over my opening.  So I crossed my fingers and won.  I ended up just 50 cents bellow my max bid.  I think I won because I put in a max bid a dollar over what I figured people would max bid at.

The camera and kit arrived a few days later and the condition is excellent.  The motor drive has a bit of wear/damage on the bottom, but nothing bad.  After checking the meter it is a stop under.  But the motor drive works, and if I don’t want to take the camera apart and adjust the meter I just set it to a stop over.  In my opinion looking at recent sales of similar items I could resell what I bought for twice what I paid.  But I am not planning to sell.

Sample picture of Olympus OM2n
Sample picture of Olympus OM2n – The one I bought looks just like this.

My comments would be these.  1.  Knowing the fair market value of an item is the most important piece of knowledge you need when buying or selling.  2.  Dealing with a reliable seller is very important also.  3.  Buying and selling film cameras on eBay is fun.

I was able to add the second OM2n for less than my two pocket cameras sold for.  The OM2n with the lenses, drive, filters, flash, and case may have sold for $1,500-2,000 new.  I paid $110.50.  When I get some pictures back I will write another post.  My first roll is about half used.  I loaded it with Portra 400.