Lomo Instant Square – just delivered…

A few months ago, I pre-ordered a Lomo Instant Square on Kickstarter, and I received it last week. It came without film, and I had to order the new Fujifilm Instax Square film on Amazon ($12.45 a pack of 10 instant prints).

On paper, the Lomo Instant Square is a very interesting camera:

  • it works with the new Fujifilm Instax Square film, which yields images significantly larger than the Instax Mini, without needing cameras as large as those accepting the Instax Wide film.
  • It also accepts the Instax Mini film – but it needs a different film door, which is only sold as part of a bundle of accessories ($59.00). I’ll pass for the moment.
  • It has a lens with glass elements. The focal distance is 93mm, and the maximum aperture F/10.
  • Thanks to its folding construction and light weight, it’s easy to carry.

I’ve only shot a few pictures so far, but because it’s a brand new model that only Kickstarter subscribers have received so far, I decided to post a few pictures of the camera with my comments.

The Lomo Instant Square in 4 bullet points:

  •  it’s intelligently designed, with the needs of serious photographers in mind.
  • the build quality is good – for a Lomo camera – it’s not a Leica for sure, but it worked out of the box, and looks like its going to withstand the test of time in the hands of a moderately careful user.
  • the Fujifilm “Square” prints are much larger than the “Minis” (which are credit-card size), but they’re still significantly smaller than the Polaroid SX700/600 format. The Impossible Project and Polaroid have a clear advantage here.
  • I need to test the camera in different situations (in particular taking pictures of people with and without a flash – which seems to be the typical use of an instant film camera) – but what I’ve seen in admittedly difficult conditions shows potential – it’s hundreds time better than the combination of a Holga 120 and a Lomo Instax Mini back.
Lomo’instant square in its box – it’s available in three colors. As you can see, this one is white. The camera comes without the film, and more surprising, without batteries.
the camera, a manual, a box of accessories, a box of sample pictures, and a filter. The remote control is stored in the base plate of the camera (you have to buy the batteries of the remote separately)
Lomo’Instant Square – folded – the lens (93mm, F/10) is protected by plastic curtains. They retract when you unfold the camera.
The Lomo has two strap lugs, but the strap does not come with the camera (it’s $9.90 extra if you want it)
The commands at the back – flash off, multi-exposure, exposure correction, mode Normal or pause B, timer. The film door can be replaced by a door designed for the Instax Mini film (a $59.00 extra – you start seeing a theme here? )
The shutter release button is the square (of course) Lomo logo on the front.
It’s a folding.The lens (with glass elements) can be set in 3 positions: 0.8m, 1 to 2.40m (the default position), and the infinite.
Lomo ‘instant Square internals – the Fujifilm Instax Square has a sensitivity of 800 ISO
Jules – my first picture with the Lomo Instant Square  (scanned on multi-function printer) – real size: 6cm x 6cm image, on a 8.5cm x 7cm print.

When I took this picture, it was already getting dark in the house, and Jules was somehow back-lit. With a lens opening at F/10 and a 800 ISO film, I was clearing flirting with the limits. The camera did well considering  the circumstances. The picture is too dense (under-exposed), and the color balance is blue-ish, but the result is encouraging – the lens shows potential, and it’s my first Lomo camera that produces decent results out of the box without requiring some form of surgery.

The picture in the center is one of the examples provided with the camera – it shows the relative size of the Instant Square picture compared to the Instax Mini. Left – a picture taken with the Square (default exposure); right a picture taken with the exposure on “-“. On the Lomo, “+” over exposes, and “-” under exposes.
The Instax Square picture is much smaller than the Impossible Project’s SX70 film. The Lomo seems to under-expose, but the picture has much more contrast than the first iteration of the Impossible Project’s film (picture on the right was shot in 2010, with a Polaroid SX70 camera)
When comparing the quality of pictures, all things are relative. After I was finished shooting pictures of the Lomo, I took a picture of Jules at the same place, but this time with a Nikon D700 and its Nikkor 55mm f/2.8 lens (1600 ISO, f/4, 1/60 sec, cropped and adjusted to taste in Lightroom).

A few links

Lomo’s official site

My previous experiences with instant film:

Fujifilm and the instant film bonanza

The Impossible Project’s PX100 – the ultimate “low-fidelity” film ?

New Isola theme for CamerAgx

This blog had been using the same WordPress theme since the beginning, in 2009.

A change was overdue. Today, it’s been upgraded to a new theme, Isola. Clean, simple, more smartphone and tablet friendly, with more room for content. The menu and widgets are now tucked behind a button in the top bar. I also paid a few extra dollars to have the ads removed.

Nothing else is changing. If you love taking pictures, if you love old cameras, we’re in the same frame of mind and you’re welcome.

Morning at the Beach – Peñíscola, Spain – Canon T90 – Canon 24mm f/2.8 FD – Kodak Ektar 100

CamerAgX – The three most popular blog entries of the past quarter

The three most popular blog entries over the last quarter

Angenieux 28-70 f:2.6 Angenieux 28-70mm f:2.6 AF

Nikon FE2 The Nikon FE2: one of the very best manual focus SLRs ever.


Eye Relief Viewfinders coverage, magnification and eye relief


The three most popular recent blog entries

 The Fujica film cameras – the best screw mount SLRs ever?

 Canon A-1 or Fujica AX-5?

Canon FD to Fuji X adapter, and Canon FL 55mm Old lenses on new gear – manual focus lenses on mirrorless cameras



Charleston – July 2009 – Nikon FM Nikkor 24mm







Pictures of Venice on Kodak film processed by Ritz-Camera – Thomas Mann’s “Death in Venice” revisited?

The last time I used a Kodak film - so far
One of the many canals of Venice. Nikon FE2 – Kodak CN 400 film

I was in Venice during last year’s holiday season – a family reunion of sorts. I did not suspect that it would be the last time that I would have Kodak film processed by Wolf Camera (a local brand of the Ritz Camera empire). Admire the irony. Is there a better subject than Venice to illustrate the decline and fall of the glorious.

Venice - Nikon FE2 - Fujicolor 400
Venice – Nikon FE2 – Fujicolor 400 – Dec. 2011

The weather in Venice was absolutely splendid, except for a few days of rain and fog at the end of our stay. There was so much to shoot that I felt I had no time to lose fiddling with manual (film) cameras, and I shot primarily with digital cameras and with my smartphone. After one week of robotized photography, though, I felt like using a “real” camera again, and loaded my beloved Nikon FE2 with Fuji color film and with Kodak’s chromogenic B&W film, the CN400.

After heading back home, I was immediately absorbed by the daily routine, and forgot about the rolls of film from Venice. A few week-ends ago, I finally cleaned my desk and found the unprocessed film cartridges. The following day, I stopped at a rather large Wolf Camera store which still processed film, and generally did a decent job at scanning the negatives. The day after, I heard on the radio that their parent company, Ritz, was being liquidated. I was a bit concerned for my film.

In the evening I stopped at the store (which had yellow liquidation posters all over its windows). The guys said they had not processed my film yet (by the sad look of it, it was obvious that their film processing machine had some sort of problem) and they promised they would call me when the job was done. Three days later, they had not called. I stopped by again and I was decided to ask them to give me my film cartridges back. To my surprise, the processing machine had been fixed, and my CD was ready.

I was glad to get it, but I was sad for the staff of the store. Those guys were more competent and more helpful than the average of their colleagues working in smaller Wolf stores, and I don’t know what they’re going to do now.

I live in a rather big metro area – 4 million people call it home – but with Wolf going out of business in a matter of days, we’ll be down to one single walk-in, full service camera store for the whole area.

As for Kodak, they announced a few weeks ago that they were planning on selling their consumer film business. It’s likely the buyer will have the right to use the Kodak name – at least for a few transitional years, so there will still be Kodak film on store shelves for a while, even if it will only be very remotely connected to the Yellow Grandfather.

I love Venice. It’s beautiful and weird, a world in itself. The city used to rule the Eastern Mediterranean world but today it has lost all of its influence and most of its inhabitants. It is primarily a tourist destination. But it still lives and keeps on inspiring writers, musicians and all other sorts of artists.

May film photography follow the same tracks.

Venice - gondoliers
Venice – Gondoliers in the sunset. Nikon FE2. Fujicolor 400 film

And now for something completely different. My father in law gave me his old Canon A1 (pristine) as well as battered Canon FT, with an incredible 55mm f:1.2 lens. As strange as it may sound I had never owned – or even used – a Canon SLR before. I’m planning on testing them in the weeks to come. Stay tuned.

Gone fishing?

Hilton Head (SC) - Labor Day Week-End
On the beach - Labor Day Week-End. Hilton Head, SC - Olympus OM-2 - 28mm f:3.5 - Fuji Superia X-Tra 400 ISO

Well, not really. I’m working on the next series of blog entries: evaluations of the different options for having film processed and scanned, now that the minilabs around the corner don’t “do” film anymore. I didn’t reach a definite conclusion yet, but I already know one thing for sure. It’s not going to be cheap. It will for sure change the way I use film.

As long as processing and scanning were relatively inexpensive, I tended to take some risks – testing old cameras of unknown quality and bracketing a lot. Expensive lab services will bring me back to a more prudent approach – using better equipment, and paying more attention to my images while I’m shooting.

I started testing my latest acquisition, a very nice Olympus OM-2n, on a quick trip to Hilton-Head (South Carolina) a few weeks ago. But I have very few pictures to show at the moment, because of issues with the quality of pictures coming back from the labs I’m trying to evaluate.

The Photokina is about to open in Cologne. The most interesting innovations are coming from Sony and Fujifilm. Sony’s SLT-A55 still looks like an SLR, it still uses the Sony-Minolta-Konica A-mount lenses, but its conventional reflex mirror has been replaced with a semi transparent film. Reflex cameras with a semi transparent mirror are no news: Nikon and Canon have used this type of design on multiple occasions, when they wanted to propose high speed cameras (up to 13 images per second for the Nikon F3 High Speed) while getting rid of the finder black-out during exposure. But the motives are different this time. It’s about adjusting the focus when shooting videos.

Sony SLT-A55 Pellicle Mirror
Sony SLT-A55 Pellicle Mirror

There are currently two ways to control the focus on a digital autofocus camera. The simpler and cheaper way is to measure the contrast of the image directly on the sensor. The contrast of an image is supposed to be at its maximum when the image is in focus. So the camera moves the focusing elements of the lens forward and backwards until it finds the focusing distance which maximizes the contrast. This method is used primarily on Point and Shoot cameras, because the focusing process tends to be frustratingly slow and unacceptable for action photography.

Autofocus SLRs have been using another method, named Phase Detection. Specialized components (semi transparent mirrors, micro-lenses and dedicated sensors positioned under the reflex mirror) calculate the optimal focusing distance and then “ask” the lens to position its focusing elements for that distance. Focusing is much faster and less prone to errors, but it requires more hardware and – in the conventional SLR design – it can only operate before the photographer presses the shutter release and the mirror has started moving out of the light path – which makes it unsuitable for video.

Here comes Sony. The semi transparent mirror of the SLT-A55 camera is only used to direct enough light to the Phase Detection autofocus system, because there is no conventional optical viewfinder anymore. It is replaced with a good (by current standards) electronic viewfinder, fed directly by the camera’s main image sensor. Of course, the semi transparent mirror is taking 33% of the light from the main imaging sensor, but it’s an acceptable drawback in the current state of technology.

There is an even better way to solve the problem tough. A few weeks ago, Fuji presented a new point and shoot camera, the FinePix F300EXR, whose Hybrid Autofocus system operates most of the time in Phase Detection Mode, with the option to roll back to Contrast Detection in low light situations.

dpreview wrote a very well documented subject about Fujifilm’s Hybrid AF. To make a long story short, some of the photodiodes of the FinePix’s imaging sensor serve double duty: they contribute to the production of the overall image, but they also feed a Phase Detection focus determination algorithm. It may still need some work (read this review from AKIHABARAnews), but on paper it’s a simple and elegant solution. Not surprisingly, Sony has a patent for an equivalent technology, and Panasonic is rumored to be working on another variant of the same idea.

10 years after the introduction of the first mass produced dSLRs by Canon and Nikon, digital photography has reached maturity. For the first ten years, manufacturers focused their attention on the sensors and on the processing algorithms, and retained the architecture of the AF SLRs from the mid eighties, which was itself derived from designs of the thirties. Now that the basic problems have been solved and that the consumers are happy with the equipment they own, manufacturers have to explore completely different routes if they want keep their production lines busy. Interesting times ahead.

Fujifilm Phase Detection AF (Hybrid AF)
Fujifilm Phase Detection AF (Hybrid AF) - Image Courtesy of Fujifilm

It’s getting harder to have film processed around here

Ferrari 250 GT Comp./61 SWB (1961)
Ferrari 250 GT Comp./61 SWB (1961) - The Allure of the Automobile - Atlanta (Olympus OM-2s - Processed and scanned at Costco, in May 2010)

So far, I was lucky. My local Costco warehouse was still processing film: I could drop a 35mm cartridge and have it processed, scanned and transferred to a CD in less than 60 minutes, for less than $5.00. The scanning was done on a good Noritsu machine, correctly tuned, which produced 3000 x 2000 digital images, equivalent to what a 6 Mpixel sensor would capture. The color balance was right, the accentuation minimal, and the saturation was kept within reasonable limits.

Last week, the Noritsu was gone. The employee at the counter directed me to another Costco warehouse, in another part of town. They could develop the film, they could scan it, but could not transfer it to a CD because the CD burner was out of service. I had to come back two days later to get my CD, on which the pictures happened to be over saturated with a rather narrow dynamic range. Not encouraging.

I’m afraid I will have to find another solution. I will try different options (other local minilabs, mail to order, pro labs), and I will report on my findings.

If you can recommend a good lab in the Atlanta area or a good mail to order service, please feel free to do so.

Thank you

Lobbying to make the use of film mandatory?

White Elephant - Hollywood Boulevard - Los Angeles
The symbol of an industry? Two white elephants sit at the top of columns on Hollywood Boulevard.

You may have read about this last week – the immensely popular RIAA and the always forward looking NAB, representing respectively our beloved recording industry and the owners of radio stations, are teaming to lobby the US Congress in order to make FM radio receivers mandatory on every cell phone or smartphone sold in this country.

Cell phones have been available for more than 15 years now, and the few manufacturers who tried to sell cell phones with built in FM radio did not see any explosion of their sales volume. Ten years ago, the buyers of cell phones didn’t see the need of an integrated FM receiver, and now that Internet radios and Pandora are available, there are even less reasons to place a good old FM tuner in a brand new 3G smartphone.

By the way, what’s the justification for putting an FM receiver in a cell phone? Public safety. According to the NAB, cell phone users would be able to listen to emergency messages on their favorite FM radio station.

Too bad the photographic film industry did not have the same imagination. Or they could have imposed 35mm Film Cameras in candy bar cell phones, and Instant Film cameras in smartphones. Cell phone carriers would have obliged the film industry by proposing two year agreements including two new cartridges of film per month. And the justification would have been national security, of course.

Imagine the business opportunities. Apple negotiating a 5 year exclusivity with Polaroid, Verizon smartphones printing two copies of the same picture for the price of one. And another carrier imposing hefty fees for the consumers who did not burn their 48 pictures during the last 30 days.

We really missed something.