CamerAgX

October 5, 2016

And what about film?

Filed under: Gear — Tags: , , , , — xtalfu @ 11:11 pm

Film as a mass market phenomenon is dead. And will never come back.
Sales of film have stabilized to a level representing between 1 and 2% of the volumes reached at this peak, in the first years of the 21st century.

  • sales of color print film are very low (maybe 0.5% of what they were in Y2000)
    • color print film was a product used primarily by consumers on the mass market
    • those consumers have defected to digital cameras or smartphones and social networking apps

      Demand for photographic film - 1992 -2010

      Demand for photographic film – 1992 -2011

    • mini labs/drugstore labs are all closing. The only option for color film users who don’t dare process and scan film themselves are a few mail to order labs but the whole process is slow and it’s getting increasingly expensive.
    • the low sales have generated double death spiral – low volumes translate into higher prices and into a reduced product choice for the customers, which further reduces the sales volumes.
    • Fujifilm have said publicly that they believed that at some point the infrastructure supporting film (manufacturing plants, labs) would disappear – their estimate is that it will happen in the next 20 to 25 years.
  • B&W film sales are holding much better
    • It was not a mass market before the digital revolution – it was and still is targeting enthusiast photographers with some form of artistic ambition.
    • Minilabs/drugstores generally refused to touch true Black and White film (films like the Kodak Tri-X or the Ilford HP-5), and their disappearance has no impact on the fanatics of B&W film.
    • Compared to color film, B&W film is relatively low tech – easier to produce by small outfits, and  far less intimidating to process.
BMW Concept Car "Gina" - Dream Cars Exhibit. Atlanta (Kodak CN400)

BMW Concept Car “Gina” – Dream Cars Exhibit. Atlanta (Kodak CN400)

Interestingly, B&W film is still attracting younger users, who had never tried film before: 30% of film shooters are younger than 35, according to a survey from Ilford, and  60% of those younger users have started shooting film less than 10 years ago, when a relative or a friend gave them an old film camera. What is more, 49% of the respondents to Ilford’s survey develop and print their images in a darkroom. (source: http://www.ilfordphoto.com)

  • Instant film is experiencing a rebirth. There are many motivations to shoot with instant film cameras – (a good summary by The Wirecutter)  but you can add a few to the list: convenience (you can get your color prints without the hassle of sending a 35mm film roll at the other end of the country),  and authenticity (the picture will remain as it was when it was ejected from the camera, no crop, no HDR, no filter, no artificial bokeh – the unadulterated reality).
Sales of film cameras - 1965 to 2008

Sales of film cameras – 1965 to 2008

A new life for old gear

Nowadays, almost nobody manufactures film cameras anymore.

Leica probably still makes a few hundreds of film cameras every year, Nikon still has an inventory of new F6 cameras available (and they say they can restart the production lines if needed), and  Lomo will be happy to sell you their plastic toy-cameras at a good price – for them. But in the grand scheme of things, the quantities must be negligible because the industry official body stopped counting in 2008.

The film camera market is a used equipment market, where enthusiast photographers rule. The prices on the second hand market are determined by a combination of 3 factors:

  • Scarcity
  • Usability by enthusiast photographers
  • Repairability and expected life span

Scarcity: mass market SLR bodies from the film era were produced by the millions. For each model, there are still tens of thousands in good shape, many more than potential takers,

Usability: Enthusiast photographers tend to prefer cameras that will give them plenty of control – semi-automatic exposure and manual focus cameras rule (if they wanted auto-exposure/autofocus cameras, they would also want the convenience of digital). And semi-auto/manual focus cameras that belong technically to families of products that have successfully transitioned into the digital era have a big advantage: the ability to share lenses, flash cobras and other accessories between film and digital bodies. It makes the bag of the photographer lighter, it reduces the overall spend, and it’s the main reason I bought Nikon film cameras after I had bought into the Nikon digital line of products.

Repairability, expected life span and build integrity: cameras made of aluminum and brass, easy to repair and built to withstand the use by professional photographers will fare better than cameras equipped with fragile electronics mother boards and flimsy plastic components.

Basically, an Olympus OM-10 (mass market, orphan system, automatic with plastics construction and electronics of suspect reliability) will be worth $25.00 at best. At the other end of the scale, a Leica M6 or a few Nikon professional models (F3, FM2, FM-3A, F6) will still command prices in the hundreds if not thousands of $.

Jules-French Bouledogue-Fujifilm X-T1 - Canon FL 55mm f1/2

Jules-French Bouledogue-Fujifilm X-T1 – Canon FL 55mm f1/2


October 2, 2016

Fujifilm and the instant film bonanza


The Photokina took place in Cologne a few weeks ago. To a large extent, it was a Fujikina. Fujifilm announced a brand new medium format digital system, and presented a black and white version of their Instax Mini film. And they pre-announced a square (6cm by 6cm) version of their Instax Color film. And special editions (Michael Kors, Colette, ..) of their Instax instant film cameras. At the same time, Leica was showing a Leica branded Fujifilm camera (the Leica Sofort), a clone of the Fuji Instax Mini 90 Neo Classic, with Leica branded black and white and color instant film.

Instax Mini Film - Holga 120 CFN camera with Holga 120 -IB back

Instax Mini Film – Holga 120 CFN camera with Holga 120 -IB back.


Fujifilm has been in the instant film business for a very long time – with their own technology and through cross licensing agreements with Polaroid. Until April 2016 Fuji was still producing peel apart film compatible with Polaroid pack film cameras and backs, years after Polaroid themselves had ceased to manufacture instant film. As a sidebar, the conventional Polaroid film was called peel-apart film, because the photographer had to wait for the image to be processed, and then had to peel a sort of negative apart from the developed picture on paper. A more modern implementation of instant photography is the “integral” film, in which  the picture itself contains all the chemicals needed for an automatic development of the photo.


Fujifilm’s integral film success story started at the end of the nineties, when they introduced the Instax Mini, a new small size instant film system in Japan (the Instax Mini image size is approx 6 x 4.5cm, and as a consequence the size of the cameras can be kept reasonably small). The system was adopted with enthusiasm by  pre-teen and teen age Japanese girls, and Fuji has been very intelligently building on this initial success to convert foreign and older customers (first in Asia, and more recently in the West). In addition to the Instax Mini film, Fujifilm also introduced Instax Wide films and cameras. The Instax Wide image is larger than the Mini’s (twice the size at 10cm x 6cm), but the cameras are anything but pocket friendly.


The growth has been phenomenal (3.8 Million cameras sold in 2014, 5 million in 2015, and on target to 6 million in 2016).

sales_Instax_other

Sales of Fujifilm Instax cameras – 1998 to 2014. The sales volume in 2014 is 3.87 million. Source: Fuji film

 
Those volumes are far from being negligible if compared to the 40 million digital cameras  sold in 2015.


More important still for Fujifilm’s bottom line, instant film photography is a repeat business:  each camera consumes film, and a pack of Instax Mini film which costs approximately US$ 10.00  is only good for… 10 pictures.


On the instant film market, Fuji has only one competitor: The Impossible Project, aka TIP. TIP took over a Polaroid plant in the Netherlands when Polaroid left the film business, and started manufacturing their own integral films (they don’t have the original Polaroid recipes, their films are their own creations). I had tested their first black and white integral film just after they started their business a few years ago – and I had not been impressed. They have improved their products massively in terms of predictability and usability, and they’ve extended their product line to include color films and to support more models of Polaroid cameras; I’ve seen really beautiful pictures made with their current line of films. However, compared to Fujifilm, they remain a small scale operations with expensive products and a very limited distribution network. As opposed to Fujifilm, The Impossible Project can only propose one model  to people who want to buy a new camera. Their customers still  primarily use very capable but old SX70 and 600 Polaroid cameras – which are still abundant on the used market, but don’t have a reputation for aging gracefully.

holga2

Holga 120 with 120-IB Instax back.


Lomography (the promoters of Lo-Fi photography and makers of the Lomo, Holga, Diana and Belair cameras) have developed two lines of instant film cameras,  one for the Instax Mini film, one for the Instax Wide, as well as add-on backs for the Holga, the Diana and the Belair.  They offer more control to the photographer but they don’t have the reputation of being user friendly or to offer consistent results. More about it below.


Lastly, a cottage industry has been busy refurbishing old Polaroid cameras (for use with The Impossible Project’s film or with Instax), and converting old medium format cameras – in particular the Mamiya Press – to Instax film. For all sorts of reasons, Fujifilm recently stopped producing the conventional peel and apart instant film that many lovers of high quality instant photography were using. Since Fujifilm’s  own Instax Wide cameras are rather basic, the best option for serious photographers is to convert old medium format cameras to accept Fuji’s integral film. At the moment, it’s a very limited market – the  cameras capable of taking advantage of the size of the Instax Wide film are necessarily very large,  heavy, and difficult to use, and the conversion is as expensive as the camera itself. But the release of the Instax Square film in 2017 will open the door for the conversion to integral film of smaller 6×6 and 6×7 cameras. If the Instax Square cartridge is designed like the Instax Mini, cameras with a deep interchangeable back will be the easiest to convert. It’s time to buy a good medium format SLR system before the prices go up.

holga_1

Holga with 120-IB Instax back (with add-on viewfinder and Neutral density filter)

Jules (French Bouledogue). Holga camera with defective shutter.

Jules (French Bouledogue). Holga camera with defective shutter.


A few weeks ago, I wanted to have a feel for the Instant film phenomenon, and I mounted an Instax Mini back (the Holga 120-IB) on the Holga 120 CFN  I had brough with me to Rome a few years back. I bought the kit from a on-line store in Hong-Kong. It is composed of the back itself, a corrective lens  to place at the front of the Holga’s lens, and an additional viewfinder. It’s very simple – there is no battery as the picture is processed and extracted when the photographer turns a crank hidden under the bottom of the back.


My first test was not devoid of issues: either the back was poorly assembled, or I did not insert the pack of film properly, but I could not extract the pictures from the camera with the crank as I was supposed to: after each shot, I had to go to a dark room, open the camera and extract the picture manually. I finally solved the problem, probably by brute force, and the back worked flawlessly with the subsequent packs of film. Then with  the second pack of film, the shutter of the Holga decided to misbehave. I had to disassemble  it and lube it. The third pack of film gave better results, but almost all of the pictures were over or under exposed:  the exposure latitude of the Instax film is rather narrow, and nailing the right exposure is very difficult: don’t believe the specs sheet, the Holga only has one aperture (there is a sunny day/ cloudy day selector, but the aperture is F/13 in both cases) and the shutter is inconsistent and unreliable. Not the best recipe for success. Overall, it’s a frustrating experience as you feel you are wasting a good film in a poor camera.

But as always with an Holga, some of the pictures – while technically flawed – have an almost surrealistic quality.

Fuji bicycle - Instax Mini film - Holga camera with Instax back (AFAIK Fujifim is not in the bicycle business. It's a coincidence)

Fuji bicycle – Instax Mini film – Holga camera with Instax back (AFAIK Fujifim is not in the bicycle business. It’s a coincidence)

More about Fujifilm’s instant photography adventures:


Fujifim and Instant Photography (camera-wiki.org)


September 11, 2016

The rise of the smartphone, and the fall of grace of digital cameras

Filed under: Gear — xtalfu @ 11:43 pm


When I started this blog, my focus was “old-gear”, and by “old gear”, I meant film cameras. I would not have imagined that 7 years later,  digital cameras would have started joining the ranks of the old gear.


At the turn of the century, at the peak of the photographic film era, approximately 85 billion photos were taken every year. In 2012, we took 380 billion pictures. And since the growth is not slowing down, the total is probably well over 400 billion now. Basically,  10% of the photos ever taken since the invention of photography were taken last year.


Obviously, this massive growth was made possible by the switch from film to digital technologies. Hundreds of millions of photographers bought digital cameras ( 120 million cameras sold in 2010 alone). But the engine of growth is now the smartphone. Smartphones are ubiquitous, easy to use and supremely convenient. They are produced by the billion (1.5 billion last year) and the user base passed the 2 billion mark 2 or 3 years ago.

Pictures taken

Pictures taken by type of device in % (Source: Infotrends)


Photography is with messaging (and probably in combination with messaging) the most popular use of the smartphone. 92 % of the users of smartphones take pictures with them, and 80% send or upload the photos from the phone. As the saying goes, the best camera is the one you have with you. As a means of sharing pictures, our smartphones are also much more convenient than digital cameras. And with 12 MP (megapixel) sensors, image stabilization, good image processing algorithms, large screens and great apps to edit the photos, they produce better pictures than most of the point and shoot cameras that were still selling by the millions a few years ago.


If 10 years ago, photos were printed on photographic or ink-jet paper, now they stay on the phone – the new pocket-size photo album – or they’re uploaded to hundreds of social networks. 350 million photos are uploaded on Facebook every day, 58 million on Instagram.


As a result, the market for cheap point and shoot cameras has almost disappeared, and the big cameras manufacturers are desperately trying to drive the market towards a range of increasingly expensive “expert” cameras with always larger sensors, as far as possible from the competition of the smartphone industry.


This trend is visible not only on the few remaining models of point and shoot cameras, but also for mirrorless and DSLR cameras, with the push towards “full frame” and now medium format sensors.


But higher unit prices can only do so much in a shrinking market – the digital camera production fell from a peak of 120 million units in 2010 to 40 million units last year. The camera makers are feeling the pinch, and the more fragile and the less committed – such as Samsung – have started leaving the sector altogether. We’re at the beginning of a new phase of consolidation in the industry.


Will digital cameras become collectible?


If 5 or 10 years from now, smartphones have kept on making rapid progress in image quality, almost all the pictures will be taken with phones or tablets, and “cameras” will only be used by enthusiasts. People will start looking at digital cameras with nostalgia. And the most original of them – the most different from smartphones in terms of ergonomics and output, will start gaining value. Maybe.

 

Sales of digital cameras - 1999-2015

Sales of digital cameras – 1999-2015

But digital cameras are different from film cameras: their value is to a large extent driven by the quality of the images they produce, and in that regard, a 10 year old digital camera can not compete.

In the film days, images taken with a 30 year old camera were indistinguishable from images taken with a brand new one, provided you used the same film and the same lens on the two bodies. The ease of use and the depth of the automation were better on the more recent camera, which  produced good pictures with  a higher rate of success in the hands of average photographers. But really good images were not different.


In the digital world, image quality is ultimately function of the sensor and of the image processing engine. And a 10 year old digital camera – even a top of line professional model from one of the big manufacturers can not keep up with a brand new entry level DSLR in terms of low light sensibility and image resolution.


In the silver halide days, film performance was the key factor. In the digital days, it’s the electronics in the camera’s  body, and 10 year bodies are simply obsolete. 


Interestingly, lenses are holding their value much better. And the advent of mirrorless cameras has sparked a renewed interest for all sorts of  lenses, even from older generations or from orphan systems. More about this in a coming post.


Gas Station - Rome, Georgia - Sony A6000 and Nikkor 135mm

Gas Station – Rome, Georgia – Sony A6000 and Nikkor AI 135mm f/3.5 – Metabones lens mount adapter.

5 Years later

Filed under: Fujifilm Cameras, Gear, Intro, Sony Cameras — xtalfu @ 11:06 pm

I started this blog in 2009. And wrote most of the entries between September 2009 and Sept 2010.

Between 2012 and 2015, I did not do much in terms of photography. I did not use my film cameras anymore – too cumbersome – forgot about my DSLR – too large, too heavy. I bought a Nikon V1 mirrorless camera – and got rid of it rapidly, very disappointed by the image quality. In fact, I spent the last four years taking pictures with my iPhone.

At the end of last year, while travelling for business, the desire to take better pictures than what an iPhone could do came back. I bought a $200.00 point and shoot Sony camera, and was so impressed by its technical abilities that I … returned it immediately to buy a second-hand Sony mirrorless camera – a rather scruffy NEX 6 with the tiny 16-50mm Power Zoom. I liked the NEX 6 so much that I decided to invest seriously in the Sony system. The week after I bought it, I returned the NEX to the vendor, and upgraded to a clean and shiny A6000 with a Sony-Zeiss prime lens. In the process, I sold my old Nikon DSLR and a few Nikon F mount lenses.

Old lens - new life

Atlanta- Centennial Park – Shot in June 2016 with a Sony A6000 and a Nikon 24mm f/2.8 AF (non D) lens

Unfortunately, I could never adjust to the ergonomics and idiosyncrasies of the A6000 (it’s made by engineers specialized in electronics under the guidance of marketing people, not by photographers). The sensor is really great, but I did not like the APS-C Sony zooms – too much distortion with the cheap ones, fear of quality control issues with the expensive ones. I did not like the cost of their prime lenses (the real good ones are very expensive), and had doubts about the commitment of Sony to its APS-C line of products – it’s all about the A7 and its full frame sensor nowadays. Looking for something totally different, I bought a Fujifilm X100. I liked it. A camera designed by photographers for photographers. Comforted by the experience, I decided to bite the bullet, and sold all my Sony equipment to pay for a second hand X-T1 and its 18-55 zoom. I positively love my Fujifilm cameras, and I should keep them for a long time.

With my passion for photography re-ignited, I’m re-activating this blog.

In the first entries, I’ll focus on what changed in the world of photography in the last 5 years – the rise of the smartphone, the disappearance of color film as a mass consumption product, and the parallel rebirth of true black and white and instant film à la Polaroid. Then I will go back to what constitutes the core of this blog – giving old gear a new life.


January 28, 2013

A photo scanner for $12?

Filed under: Gear, How to, Smart Phones, Weird cameras — Tags: , , , , , , — xtalfu @ 12:09 am
ION iPCS2GO - the iPhone 4 and the 4x6 drawer are in place

ION iPCS2GO – the iPhone 4 and the 4×6 drawer are in place

$12.00, really?

I was at Barnes and Noble’s the other day, when I saw this ION iPICS2GO pseudo-scanner in the bargains bin. Not really a scanner, though. It’s a sort of light box. There is no lens or imager inside. It’s just a stand where the iPhone actually taking and processing the pictures will be set.

Coupled with an iPhone, it can scan 3×5 and 4×6 prints, and, more interestingly, 24×36 negatives or slides.

The iPICS2GO was boxed, so I could not see it. But it was only $12. And even if it was a piece a junk, it was worth trying.

Unboxing

The whole thing is rather bulky (the size of a toaster), but it looks solid and well built. The negative holder and the 4×6 print holders are made of plastics of good quality and will not damage the originals, and the iPICS2GO will just needs four AA batteries to work. The print or the negative being scanned is lit by LEDs, which seem efficiently color corrected.

There is an iPICS2GO app on Apple’s app store, that you can download for free and use to control the camera of the iPhone. Although Apple’s built in Camera and Photos applications will give the same results if you “scan” a 4×6 print, you will need the ION application to enlarge and invert the 24×36 negatives. You could do it with Photoshop, but if you had a laptop and Photoshop, you would probably also own a real scanner and would not be interested in this product.

The core audience

As mentioned earlier, the iPICS23GO is not a scanner on its own. But paired with an iPhone 4, it forms a cheap and portable scanner, and its bundled application makes it easy to edit and share the scanned images, via e-mail or through Facebook. I can imagine a situation where you visit old friends or relatives, and they end up opening the proverbial shoe box where their favorite Kodak prints are stored. You scan a few pictures for immediate consumption on the iPhone, or share them around via email or on Facebook.

In this situation, the results are pretty good. IN order to benchmark the iPICS2GO, I scanned a 4×6 color print (the picture had been taken by a good 24×36 camera 10 years ago) with the ION box and with the real scanner of an all-in-one photo printer from Canon. Both images were transferred to a Mac, uploaded in Photoshop, and printed again. The Canon scan is a bit better (wider tonal range), but not that much. If the goal is just to casually look at old pictures on a smartphone, share them on Facebook or even print them again (4×6 prints, please, nothing larger), the ION iPICS2GO fits the bill.

4x6 color print scanned by an iPhone 4 on the iPICS2GO "scanner"

4×6 color print scanned by an iPhone 4 on the iPICS2GO “scanner”

Scanning negatives, on the other hand, is a much more difficult challenge.

The app does a good job at converting the negative into a positive image, whose quality is acceptable as long as you look at it on the iPhone (the original 24x36mm negative has a diagonal of 43mm; the screen of the iPhone has a diagonal of 3.5in, or 88mm – Th enlargement ratio is roughly 2:1). But don’t try to export it to a PC, or even worse, to print it. As soon as you enlarge it, the quality becomes unacceptable, as can be seen on close-up (below, on the right).

Screen capture of the ION app scanning a negative

Screen capture of the ION app scanning a negative

Screen Copy of the ION iPICS2GO app (here, processing a negative)

Screen Copy of the ION iPICS2GO app (here, processing a negative)

Close up of the image created by the ION app (size: 376x240 points at 128ppi on an iPhone)

Moderate enlargement of the central part of the negative

I have to admit that the ION iPICS2GO is much better gadget than I expected. If your goal is to take snapshots of your favorite prints every now and then in order to have them always with you on your iPhone, it’s perfect. You can also email your images or post them in Facebook directly from the ION app.

On the other hand, if the only source document you have is a negative, don’t expect miracles. In the best case, the resulting image will be somehow acceptable as long as you look at it on your iPhone. Beyond that, it’s hopeless. If you love the picture, bring the negative to a minilab.

But in any case, an old picture reborn on an iPhone is better than any image forgotten in a shoe box.


Bridge over the Verdon river (Provence). Scanned from a 4x6 print on a flatbed scanner

Bridge over the Verdon river (Provence). Scanned from a 4×6 print on a flatbed scanner

The original images were shot in France in “les Gorges du Verdon”, a small scale version of the Grand Canyon, in 2001. I don’t remember which camera I was using.

September 23, 2012

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

Filed under: News, Pictures — Tags: , , , , — xtalfu @ 8:21 pm
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.


January 17, 2011

Happy New Year

Filed under: Gear — Tags: , , — xtalfu @ 12:49 am
Triel s/Seine - Dec 25th, 2010

Triel s/Seine - Dec 25th, 2010 - Nikon F3 - Nikkor 135mm F:3.5 - Kodak CN 400

On December 25th, I was testing my latest acquisition: a second hand Nikkor 135mm lens (the f:3.5 AI model). I had bought it the day before, in the most incredible store – Photo Cine Gobelins, in Paris. I would have probably paid less on eBay, but the lens was nice, and the purchase experience really unique.

Imagine a store – minuscule even by French standards, maybe 10 feet wide and 6 feet deep, filled up to the ceiling with lenses and cameras. The store may be deeper. There’s no way to know. It’s so packed with stuff. There’s only enough room for one chair, where the owner of the place, Mrs Vu Dihn Hahn, is sitting.

You enter the store. There’s hardly room for two standing people. You look rapidly around you, and, surrounded by this mountain of old equipment, you’re pretty sure Mrs Vu will never be able to locate the Nikon telephoto lens you’re asking for. You could not be more wrong. Obviously Mrs Vu does not need a computer to keep track of the inventory. She says she has two telephoto lenses, one pre-AI modified, one AI, and she announces the price. You’re surprised she could answer that fast, and you ask to see the AI model. In 10 seconds, she has escalated the north face of the mountain of equipment, and brought back a very nice Nikkor 135mm f:3.5. Its price is still labelled in French Francs (the French Franc was replaced by the Euro in 2002) so it must have been in Mrs Vu’s inventory for quite a while. But Mrs Vu accepts Visa, writes an invoice, and a few minutes later you’re the proud owner of a relatively expensive but nice Nikkor telephoto lens.

Out of curiosity, I asked Mrs Vu a few questions about the rest of her inventory. She has a few bodies (from Nikon and other well known brands), lots of pre-AF lenses, but nothing really exceptional. Don’t expect a miracle, she knows pretty well what’s in store and how valuable it is, and you will not fool her. But she may have the lens or the accessory you have been looking for for so long, and it will likely be in a very good shape.

I did not take a picture of Mrs Vu’s store, but Alain Bachellier did it last year and posted a few pictures in Flickr.


The Photo Cine Gobelins used equipment store (Paris)

The Photo Cine Gobelins used equipment store (Paris) From Flickr - Alain Bachellier


October 25, 2010

The Olympus OM-2 series – a revolution followed by 12 years of limited evolution

Filed under: Gear, Olympus cameras — Tags: , , , , — xtalfu @ 2:59 pm
Olympus OM-2s and Olympus OM-2n

Olympus OM-2s and Olympus OM-2n

Look at the picture at the left – showing side by side the OM-2 (produced from 1975 to 1984) and its short lived successor, the OM-2s (also known as the OM-2 Spot/Program or OM-2s/p in other parts of the world), which soldiered from 1984 to 1986. They look so similar.


During the same period, Canon went from the huge EF body to the AE-1 and finally launched the first SLR with a computer inspired interface, the T70 of 1984. Minolta evolved from the XE-7 to the XG before it changed the world of SLRs forever with the first successful autofocus SLR, the 7000. And the always conservative Nikon went from the massive Nikkormat EL to the compact Nikon FE2, which integrated most of the advances of the OM-2, and coupled them with a very fast aluminum shutter.


It is true that the OM series had a significant technological advance when it was launched. But by the end of the seventies the competition had more than caught up, taking advantage of miniaturized integrated circuits and micro-processors to offer compact and feature rich cameras. Olympus was slow to adapt to the micro-processor revolution, and had to face a lot of teething problems in the process.


The early years


Olympus OM-2n - Close-up (Front)

Olympus OM-2n - Close-up (Front) - Note the round rewind release button on the front of the camera.

Olympus OM-2n - Close Up (back)

Olympus OM-2n - Close Up (back). Note the screw-in flash shoe and the mode selector with 4 positions: Manual, Off, Auto and Battery Check


The OM-2 came a few years after the OM-1. The OM-1 had changed the world of SLRs by offering pro-level features in an incredibly compact body. The OM-2 was the automatic exposure declination of the OM-1. Interestingly, it still integrated the whole semi-auto exposure metering system of the OM-1 (with its two CdS sensors located in the prism housing), but in automatic exposure mode, it relied on blue silicon sensors located at the bottom of the reflex chamber, under the reflex mirror. Here was the true revolution: the silicon sensors measured the light reflected by the curtains of the textile shutter (and by the surface of the film) during the exposure itself. The capabilities of the camera in low light scenes are still unsurpassed, and with a compatible flash gun, the camera could control the duration of the flash exposure while the picture was being taken. Within a few years, all major competitors had adopted a similar system on a least a few of their models. In 1979, Olympus launched the OM-2n, a relatively minor update of the OM-2.


An attempt to catch up


Olympus OM-2s - close-up (front)

Olympus OM-2s - close-up (front) - the rewind release button is now on the top plate (marked with an R), between the shutter release button and the film advance lever.

Olympus OM-2s - close-up (back)

Olympus OM-2s - close-up (back) - The flash shoe is now integrated in the body of the camera, and the mode selector now has the following positions: spot/manual, auto, program and battery check.

The OM-2s is not an evolution of the OM-2n. In fact it’s a spec’d down version of the OM-4, which was launched in 1984 as the true successor of the original OM-2 series.
Inside a body which looks very similar, the OM-2s is much more modern than the OM-2n. On the OM-2 and OM-2n, the silicon light metering system, being located under the reflex mirror, did not receive any light when the mirror was in its usual (low) position, and could only be used during the exposure, if the camera was set in auto exposure mode. That’s the reason why the CdS metering system of the OM-1 had also been retained: not only to support the semi-auto mode, but also to provide an indication of the shutter speed that may be set by the automatic exposure circuits when the camera was set in aperture priority mode.


The architecture of the OM-2s is different. It introduces a second (and smaller) mirror under the main (now semi-transparent) reflex mirror, which redirects 20% of the light to the silicon sensor: there is no need for a separate circuitry for the semi-auto mode anymore. The Olympus engineers took advantage of their new setup to offer multiple exposure metering patterns: when configured as an aperture priority auto camera, the OM-2s uses a weighted average pattern, and, very logically, switches to spot metering when set in semi-auto exposure mode.


There are other differences between the OM-2 and the OM-2s. Two of them are of particular interest: the match needle in the viewfinder is replaced by a vertical LCD panel at the left of the viewfinder, which can be lit by a small lamp when the user presses a button on the right of the reflex chamber, and the absence of the “off” position on the big switch on the left of the top plate. The use of LCDs has no adverse impact on the ergonomics, and whether the photographer will prefer the LCD or the OM-2s to the needle of the OM-2 is primarily a question of taste.


The absence of an “off” position on the main switch is more of an issue: even if the photographer sets the speed ring on “B”, the OM-2s is never be completely off, and it needs new batteries regularly (every few months) even if the camera is not used. The situation is made even worse by a design fault in the circuit controlling the flash, which causes the battery of the body to be rapidly drained if a cobra flash is left in the flash mount. The LR-44 (1.5v Silver Oxide) batteries ued by the OM-2s are still easy to find and relatively inexpensive, but the poor management of the batteries was and still is a major issue for the occasional users, and it explains why this model is not as eagerly sought after as its siblings.


Using an OM-2 camera


In everyday use, there is very little difference between the OM-2n and the OM-2s. The ergonomics is almost identical, the viewfinders are very similar, and both cameras can be used alternatively on a photo shoot without any inconvenience. Both share the same qualities – small size, great ergonomics, large viewfinder, good perceived quality – and the same limitations – primarily the textile shutter, limited to 1/1000 sec, with a maximum flash synchro speed of 1/60. The performance of the shutter was in line with what the competition had to offer when the original OM-2 was launched, but in 1984 Nikon proposed much better with the FE2 and the FA, and the OM-2s was outclassed.


I used both cameras recently; I did not perform any scientific testing and my opinion is just based on my limited experience with a few rolls of film. I tend to trust the metering system of the OM-2s a bit more than the OM-2n’s, and the OM-2s is the camera I will chose if I can not bring both with me. I will just have to be sure that I always have a set of fresh batteries in my equipment bag.



More about the OM-2 family of cameras


Olympus is proud of its past, and presents the history of its cameras in its global Web site.


While not as detailed as the pages dedicated to Nikon cameras, Leo Foo’s “Photography in Malaysia” Web site still provides interesting information about the Olympus OM-2.


A long list of pages dedicated to the Olympus OM cameras is maintained by Wim Wiskerke. It is worth checking.

CamerAgX already published a blog entry covering the family of the Olympus OM bodies, and one about the differences between matrix metering and the multi-spot system of the Olympus OM-4.


Gull - Boston Harbor - Olympus OM-2s

Gull - Boston Harbor - Olympus OM-2s

October 4, 2010

Smart phones and photography – a follow up

Filed under: Gear, Smart Phones, Weird cameras — Tags: — xtalfu @ 4:50 pm


A few weeks ago, I was commenting that the market segment of low end digital cameras (let’s say anything not equipped with a zoom) was in danger of extinction, being superseded by smart phones.

Camera of the Nokia N8

The lens of the Nokia N8 - it bears the glorious Tessar name and as a true Tessar lens incorporates 4 elements, all aspherical this time. The Xenon flash is positioned above the lens.

Nokia’s previous high end models were already fitted with a “Carl Zeiss lens” and a 12 Mpixel sensor. A review of the new Nokia N8 by cnet shows that smart phone photography has reached a new level. With its 4 elements lens (all aspherical) and a Xenon flash, the Nokia N8 is in a class of its own, somewhere between the other smart phones and good point and shoot cameras. And Zeiss was obviously very proud of its contribution at the latest Photokina.


According to DPreview, Panasonic has started a teaser campaign to prepare the launch of “Lumixphones“, with a Lumix digital camera built in. Of particular interest is the fact that the camera section will include a mobile version of the “Venus” image processing engine. I suppose it is relatively easy to order and integrate a tiny image sensor and a small lens in a phone, but good digital images are created by good processing algorithms much more than by good lenses. The image processing section is the real differentiator and that’s where Panasonic may shine. When will we see smart phones with Canon Digic 4 or Nikon Expeed 2 image processors?


At the same time, Motorola and T-Mobile started releasing information about the DEFY, a rugged smart phone using the Android operating system. Scratch and water resistant, it boasts a 5 Mpixel camera with autofocus capabilities. It is not suitable for underwater photography, but another model may be in a few months.


The iPhone 4, with a 5 Mpixel sensor coupled with an autofocus lens (focal length: 3.5mm, equivalent to 28mm on a 35mm film camera), gives surprisingly good results on close-ups and when shooting relatively well lit interiors. It is also very good at taking pictures of big objects like cars and trucks. It is more difficult to get good results when shooting people – it is not as good as a regular camera at finding the right color balance; getting decent action shots is even harder. As for landscapes and low light situations (the “flash” is a joke), it’s bordering the impossible. Dedicated and talented iPhone users like Xeni Jardin can take incredible action shots with an iPhone 4, though, so the limit is obviously the photographer.


The focus of this site is film photography, and I will keep on shooting film and writing about film cameras. But using a film camera (or a regular digital camera) is not always a practical proposition, and sometimes a smart phone’s camera can save your day.



The Pool Table - Graceland (Memphis, TN)

The Pool Table - Graceland (Memphis, TN). Shot with an iPhone 4 - HDR activated

Hood ornament - Chevrolet - 1954

Hood ornament on a Chevrolet Police Car from 1954 - Shot in Tunica, MS with an iPhone 4 - HDR activated.


September 28, 2010

Browsing CamerAgX from the iPhone

Filed under: How to — Tags: , , , — xtalfu @ 12:58 am
Cameragx blog page

Cameragx blog page


No. I did not write an iPhone app.


I’m just suggesting that you take advantage of a great function of WordPress, the blog engine behind this site.


The “appearance” of a WordPress blog is controlled by “themes“. WordPress developed a “theme” for small form factor devices like the iPhone, and automatically translates blog entries designed for full size devices into pages adapted to a small screen. Just launch the iPhone browser (Safari) and enter Cameragx.com in the address bar. The most recent posts of this blog will be displayed. If you want to see one page in particular, select it with a touch of a finger, and you will get it. Cool!


Now even better.


Let’s say you’re a fanatic supporter of CamerAgX. You can ask the iPhone OS to create a new icon, which will link directly to the CamerAgX web site. Press the + sign at the bottom of the browser screen, and select the “Add to Home Screen” option. A new icon will magically show up on the Home Screen.


By default, the stylized W of WordPress will be displayed – as is the case for www.techandsimple.com (shown in the third screen shot)


If the administrator of the blog created a logo for his/her site and uploaded it on the WordPress server, the Home Screen’s icon will be the site’s logo, as is the case for CamerAgX on the third screen capture.


Tools anyone?


Interestingly, no weird tool or utility was needed to create this blog entry. The screen copies published in this blog entry were captured directly on a regular (non jailbroken) iPhone, using a function of the iOS: to capture a screen copy, you just have to press the Home button, then press briefly the on/off switch at the top of the phone. The screen copy will be saved as a PNG file, and will be presented in the Photo Roll of the Photo application. From there it can be emailed to a PC, or transferred through iTunes.


WordPress also publishes an iPhone app for blog administrators, who will compose new entries, moderate comments and perform edits from their iPhone or iPad, but it is not necessary to download it to visit a WordPress blog (a similar application has also been published by WordPress for Android phones).


One last thing…The CamerAgx logo is a close-up of the top plate of a nice camera. If you’re a regular visitor of this site, you will have recognized it.

Cameragx iphone page

a Cameragx blog entry rendered on an iPhone

Wordpress home screens

The home screen of the iPhone - how WordPress sites are represented

Cameragx icon

The icon of CamerAgX in WordPress

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 



More about WordPress at www.wordpress.org


More about the iPhone at www.apple.com


There are thousands of books about the iPhone, and probably hundreds of thousands of blogs about the same subject. “iPhone 4 Portable Genius” from Paul McFedries is a good book, and I check The iPhone Blog regularly for updates about the iPhone and the iPad.

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