Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Fuji HS50 - The Zoom War Continues

Fuji has now joined Nikon (P510) and Canon (SX50) in producing a 'bridge' camera with very long lens that is ideal for wildlife photography (see my post of 14 October 2012). I have sung the virtues and few vices of the P510 — it was first on the scene and clearly established that there is a demand for light cameras with a long lens (and, of necessity, a small sensor).

The specifications of the Fuji HS50 are very similar to the P510 with (as with the SX50), a few key differences: zoom range of 24-1000 mm in 35 mm equivalents; a slightly wider maximum aperture (f2.8 at 24 mm, decreasing to f5.6 at 1000); similar size of output (4609 x 3456). Like the Canon, but not the Nikon, there is RAW and full HD (1080) video output. In terms of weight, the Nikon (555 g) scores over the Canon (595 g) and the Fuji (758 g).

The prices of these cameras today on Amazon UK were:

Fuji HS50 £419.99
Canon SX50 £394.99
Nikon P510 £235.82

I also see that the Nikon P510 has disappeared from the WEX website. It is still on the Nikon UK list but its obvious replacement, the P520 (labelled 'new') is a disappointment. Nikon have gone for the same basic camera with the same lens but have added 3D and a few other irrelevant features (why? — stereoscopic photography has only ever had short waves of popularity and already looks on the wane again). An opportunity to add RAW output has been missed. For a price today of £399 for the P520, the Fuji and Canon seem more suited to the wildlife market. Nikon may have missed a trick after having been first in the field.

The value of a camera like the P510 to the birdwatcher wanting to get a picture quickly before a bird flies away has been demonstrated by my Number 2 son. The P510 I so kindly bought him for his birthday has already been used to provide evidence, acceptable to an expert committee, for a range extension of a rare bird, as well as allowing rare migrants to be identified in the comfort of air-conditioning and with the assistance of the full range of reference books. He keeps the camera set up with a central 'sniper' autofocus site when he is out, as I described in my post of 31 August 2012.

With Canon and then Fuji joining in the zoom war, will Panasonic come up with something longer than 600 mm to join them?

Monday, 18 February 2013

Scanning Old 4 x 4 Super Slides — Part 2

Following on from the last post on 4 x 4 cm superslides, I scanned those in glassless plastic mounts in the Epson V500’s frame for 5 x 5 m (2” x 2”). For the transparencies I removed from edge-bound glass mounts, I left the thin paper or foil mask around them. For those I removed from the glazed plastic mounts, I simple dropped them onto the bed of the scanner, fully expecting to see Newton rings. But I didn’t and so carried on.

One problem I did have early on with the V500 was sometimes getting purplish-pink vertical lines on the scans. A quick Google search showed this problem is caused by dirt on the first few inches of the scanner bed. A good clean of this area was the answer; cleaning the area to be scanned was not sufficient.

At the outset I set out what I was trying to achieve. I did not want to have to scan these transparencies ever again. Therefore, I decided to scan at a resolution that would yield a reasonable-sized print in the unlikely event that I would want a print. Most of my old photographs are viewed either on the iMac screen, iPad, or on the television either as HD video or DVD.

I decided to scan at 3200 dpi. Printing at 300 dpi would give me a 15” x 15” (38 x 38 cm) print from these superslides.

Incidentally, I have found a lot of utter rubbish written about the scanning capabilities of the Epson V500 on internet fora. Some people have claimed (without providing any evidence, visual or historic) that the maximum ‘optical’ or ‘hardware’ (i.e. non-interpolated) resolution is about 2400 dpi and that anything above that is interpolated. However, the Epson website clearly states that the optical resolution of the V500 is 6400 dpi.

I did actually check that I was getting better resolution at higher dpis by enlarging in Photoshop the scans at 1200, 2400 and 3200 dpi to the same size (in cm) as that reached at 4800 dpi, with all set to 300 dpi. I then cropped a small area of detail from each, copied them to an A4 sheet and printed them on glossy paper. Resampling for the enlargements was kept at bicubic throughout. My argument for doing this check was that if 2400 were the maximum optical resolution, then scans at 3200 and 4800 should appear no better since they would have been resampled in scanner. In fact, at this enormous final size (nearly 2 feet or 60 cm square) there was a discernible difference on the printed output. 1200 dpi, not surprisingly, gave the poorest resolution since interpolation to the final size was greatest. Both 3200 and 4800 dpi were sharper than 2400 dpi but I really could not separate 3200 and 4800. Clearly though, 2400 is not the maximum optical resolution in this scanner.

I should stress that these comparisons were made on a print at 300 dpi. Unfortunately, at screen resolution the small differences cannot be seen and so it is not worth trying to show the print in the space available in a blog post.

I scanned using Epson Scan software in ‘Professional’ mode. I compared in trials 24- and 48-bit but found no difference in output. So I settled on 24-bit, with a considerable saving in file size. I also tried various settings for unsharp mask, grain reduction, dust removal or digital ICE. Here is one comparison:

Slices of scans of the same slide scanned in the Epson V500 (Epson Scan software)
A. No additions
B. + Unsharp Mask - Medium; Grain Reduction - Medium; Dust Removal
C. + Unsharp Mask - Medium; Grain Reduction - Medium; Digital ICE
D. + Unsharp Mask - Medium; Grain Reduction - Medium; Digital ICE; Colour Restoration

For these old slides, I eventually settled on: Unsharp Mask - Medium; Grain Reduction - Medium; Colour Restoration and Digital ICE (Quality or Speed, depending on condition).

The .tif files generated (63+ MB) were imported into Aperture for final tweaking.

I said in the earlier post that my Superslides were either Agfacolor CT18 or Ektrachrome X. I shall return to CT18 in another post but there is no doubt that the Ektachrome X slides have been the better survivors overall. However, CT18 slides survived either extremely well or fared badly in relation to the development of a purple cast. There was nothing in between. By contrast, the Ektachrome X slides seemed to have survived with little or no colour degradation. I was not that keen on the colour rendition of Ektachrome X in the 1960s (a cold, blue film). The irony is that they look better after scanning and with some colour correction than they ever did in a viewer or projected on a screen.

I have been able to improve on the originals by using gentle manipulations in Aperture or Photoshop. Details have appeared from shadows, for example, while highlights can (sometimes) be held in check.

Finally, two scans of superslides taken with a Rolleiflex 4 x 4 in Macau in March 1966.
Macau. March 1966. Agfacolor CT18. Rolleiflex 4 x 4
A photograph extending from deep shadow to direct, sub-tropical sunlight
on the wall

Macau. March 1966. Agfacolor CT18. Rolleiflex 4 x 4

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Scanning Old 4 x 4 Super Slides

A Superslide, projected in a run of 35 mm transparencies, could make a 1950s or 1960s audience gasp. Square at 40 x 40 mm, rather than 24 x 36, a good superslide showed better gradation, sharpness and vibrancy than its counterpart from a 35 mm film camera. Compared with a 6 x 6 transparency from what is now called a medium format camera using 120 film (then along with 35 mm classified as ‘miniature’) the superslide offered one great advantage: it could be shown in the same projectors as 35 mm 24 x 36 mm transparencies rather than the extremely expensive machines made for the larger film size.

But then, as now, a good big one (whether film size or sensor) beats a good little one.

Superslides were from 127 size rollfilm, each spool producing 12 transparencies. The major camera producing superslides was the Rolleiflex 4 x 4 — the grey baby. Its f3.5 Xenar lens produced excellent results.

There were disadvantages. Kodachrome was not made in 127 size (with hindsight a major disadvantage) and films had to be changed more frequently, a nuisance when travelling.

A disadvantage certainly not apparent at the time is scanning. Although the superslide mount is the same size as the standard 35 mm mount, conventional 35 mm slide scanners, like my Nikon Coolscan IV, only cover an aperture of 24 x 36 mm. One can scan the central part of the superslide in either direction but it is not possible to cover the 40 x 40 mm.

The Epson V500 seemed to offer the best chance of getting a good scan from superslides at a modest cost.

I had used three sorts of slide mount. Firstly, ones made from the basic components (two glass plates, a cardboard mask and tape); secondly, commercial plastic mounts with anti-newton ring glass on both sides; thirdly I had some in plastic mounts without glass.

My 4 x 4 transparencies were in glass sealed mounts (left), plastic unglazed
mounts (right) or plastic mounts with glass (see below)

The glassless mounts were easy to scan. However, a number of transparencies in them had wrinkled especially round the edges so they were no longer flat and straight walls, for example, were no longer straight.

Plastic slide mount without glass (as received from the processor)
showing the wrinkling

When trying to scan some equally old Minox transparencies I had damaged two by removing them from their mounts. The emulsion had stuck to the glass and remained there. Therefore, I was very reluctant to risk the superslides and scanned them in the V500 through the anti-newton rings glass. The results were good but not so good as with slides scanned without glass.

Since scanning them a few years ago, it has irked me that they had not been scanned to their full potential. So, a few weeks ago, I took the bull by the horns and decided to remove all the other superslides from their mounts and scan them again.

At this stage I hit a problem. I could remount those in plastic mounts with glass easily enough, but those in the bound-edged glass I could not. Easy, I thought, I will buy some new superslide mounts for those bound fully in glass. Not so easy, as it turned out because superslide mounts are no longer in production by the likes of Gepe. So I had to find a stop-gap measure and a long-term solution to storing those re-scanned transparencies.

I opened the glass-bound slides by slitting the tape along the edge of three sides and removing the inner mask and transparency. After scanning, the slide was reassembled and closed along the bottom edge only using a piece of self-adhesive black tape of the same width as the old tape over the old tape. The slide was no longer flat because of the extra thickness so this was a stop-gap measure. The only reliable source of Superslide mounts is eBay and when they appear they are not cheap. However, I have been able to obtain sufficient to remount all my superslides originally mounted in glass and not plastic.

The transparencies from the edge-bound glass mounts are now in GEPE
glazed mounts (left). Others were returned to their 1960s F&P colour
glazed mounts (right)

Before going on to how I scanned these slides, I should say that they were either Agfacolor CT18 (not Agfachrome — Agfa did not then use chrome to denote a reversal film) or Ektachrome X.

How I scanned these Superslides will be the subject of my next post.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Camera Shops

Anybody with the slightest knowledge of photography looking at the online photographic fora cannot but be saddened by the level of ignorance abroad. Even given the vast amount of information — and misinformation from the ignorant but opinionated — on websites, in books and magazines, some people seem immune to the acquisition of knowledge, despite a professed interest in some area like photography with film.

One of the best sources of photographic knowledge in the past was the good photographic shop. Knowledgeable staff with years of experience passed on real information while selling or showing their wares. The long-gone Nottingham Photo Centre in Pelham Street was a shining example. Schoolboys could and did learn much in there. (There is a photograph on Flickr showing the shop front http://bit.ly/V0ZqQY)

The first proper, as opposed to box, camera I had from there was a Braun Paxina 29 and the last, a Rolleiflex 4x4 — the grey ‘baby’ that produced 4 x 4 cm ‘Superslides’ from 127 film. Mr Fitzgerald, I think his name was, took a keen interest in encouraging the young. He had a small, one-man, processing shop in Hockley and arranged for two of us to be taken there to see how a commercial operation worked. The prints produced for customers were of superb quality and each negative for that service received individual attention. I learnt much in that short visit about making quick decisions on how to analyse a negative and to turn that overview into the practice of burning and dodging. The baseboard exposure analyser/meter (made by Agfa?) was the subject of great envy.

The near demise of film photography and of the cameras and equipment that had reached the end of their economic lives, together with the rapid development of improved sensors and the planned obsolescence of the consumer electronics industry (which cameras now fall into) have seen off most of the old photographic shops. Most of the photographic chains, like Jacobs and Jessops have now gone as well, with the rise of camera phones and the treatment of cameras like the rest of consumer electronics.

I walked along Tottenham Court Road a couple of weeks ago. From being a mecca for photographers and collectors of equipment, I only found one shop selling second-hand stuff. The closure of Kingsley, which always had an interesting range of stock, in 2011 was bemoaned on many a web forum.

In Hong Kong late last year, Stanley Street, once full of photographic shops now has only a few left. Kinefoto is one survivor, I was very pleased to see, still with its old shop sign. Locals and expats used Kinefoto for buying and part-exchange of still and cine. The first camera I bought there (when the shop was in Pottinger Street) was an Exakta Varex IIb with 50mm f2 Pancolar lens; the last was my wife’s Olympus Pen FT.

Kinefoto, Hong Kong, Invoice 1967