Sunday, 5 November 2017

Has the recent increase in film photography peaked?

As a photographer who ditched film photography as soon as results of equal quality could be produced from a digital camera, other than still dabbling with medium-format black-and-white film photography, I have been fascinated by the increase in interest in film photography during recent years, particularly among the young who are attracted as much by the process as by the results. As such I have been looking at various websites over the years, sometimes just for historical interest.

In the past months though I have noticed a decrease in activity and I now monitor three activities that, to me, seem to serve overall as an index of interest and potential interest in film photography. I feel a bit like the journalist who counted the number of skips in front of houses in his street to gauge the health of the building industry. I will not state here what I am counting but will keep reporting on my index in coming months, suffice it to say that on one measure interest is at 70-80% of what was what at the peak a couple of years ago and on another measure is about 90%.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Identifying a camera from the 120 film negative image size

I was sorting some old family photographs and had difficulty putting some into date order. I used three 120 6 x 6 cm cameras sequentially in the 1950s, namely, a Kodak Duaflex TLR box camera, a Braun Paxina and a Zeiss Nettar. When I looked at the negatives I had from this era, I realised that the images were of a slightly different size and that I could easily identify which camera they came from since I knew that certain photographs were taken with each camera.

Different manufacturers clearly used a slightly different frame size for their nominal 6 x 6 cm (2¼ x 2¼ inch) cameras. I have three such cameras at present and so I measured the frame sizes: Here they are added to my measurements on negatives:

Frame Size (mm)
With direction of travelAcross film width
Braun Paxina/Gloria5856
Zeiss Nettar56.556.5
Kodak Duaflex5858
Minolta Autocord5556
Rolleicord Vb5656.5

Are there measurable differences in 24 x 36 mm frames from 35 mm cameras which would be useful for identification?

I hope this method proves useful to others faced with the same problem.

Monday, 12 June 2017

My current processing workflows for ‘faux’ colour Infrared photography with DSLRs

Readers of this blog will be aware that I have tried all sorts of different software and ways of processing ‘faux’ colour images from infrared-converted cameras. I came across the superb article* by Bob Vishneski here on the photographylife website and found his method to be the best, with a second (which he also describes) as a back up to provide greater flexibility on occasion. Both use Lightroom and Photoshop CC plus Nik Collections Silver EfexPro. Both depend on using RAW images.

At present I have two infrared-converted cameras. The first is a Nikon D7100 with a 720 nm filter; the second is a Nikon D80 with a 590 nm filter. Bob Vishneski makes the point that different camera/infrared filter replacement combinations need different settings. His preset developed for his D7100 with 720 nm filter from Kolarivision works fine with images from my D7100 with 720 nm filter (I do not know who did the conversion). I was able to modify the settings for that preset to use with images from my D80 with 590 nm filter simply by moving the Tint slider.

Because there may be months between sessions of processing infrared photographs I like to keep a note of my current standard methods (‘workflow’ in photography-speak; ‘protocol’ in a laboratory).

Vishneski Preset at Import Method

For those who want to use the Vishneski Preset at Import Method, which uses presets on import into Lightroom I show my protocol and the presets below. I cannot say standard protocol because there are stages in it where the final appearance can be affected and experimentation is possible. I do not describe some of the whys and wherefores, adding ‘structure’ with a luminosity blending mode overlay from Silver Efex Pro, for example because they are covered in the Vishneski article.

Camera Calibration Profile Method

The second method I had used before reading the Vishneski article. The Camera Calibration Profile Method relies on using an Adobe Custom DNG Profile for the camera/filter combination that can be applied in the Camera Calibration section of the Develop module in Lightroom before sending the image to Photoshop for the Channel Mixer stage to be applied. Like Bob Vishneski I found little difference between the two methods for the D7100/720 but that with the D80/590 the Vishneski Preset method (using my own tweaks for that combination) produced better results with ‘cleaner’ colours after the Channel Mixer stage in Photoshop. Using a custom DNG profile does have one advantage: in Lightroom, the white balance can be shifted by the Temperature and Tint sliders or by picking an area on the image to set a white balance (e.g. glass or foliage in sun, grass in shade, tarmac in sun, tarmac in shade etc) with marked effect on the image that emerges after the Channel Mixer stage in Photoshop.

Photoshop Channel Mixer Settings

Bob Vishneski has published two Photoshop Channel Mixer settings (shown below). The second one is here; I will not deal with the rest of that second article here suffice it to say that I have tried both of his and compared them with the traditional simple red-blue channel swap. I use what I have called his Type 1 channel mix for the D80/590 combination using both methods in Lightroom (results are better than the conventional swap and the Type 2 channel mix) and the Type 2 mix for the D7100/720 combination, again for both the Preset at Import Method and for the Camera Calibration Profile Method. I have all these Channel Mixer Settings set up as Actions in Photoshop along with the addition of a (Auto) Curves and Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layers.


Here are my Workflows or Protocols for the two methods:

Presets for the Preset at Import Method

Preset for my converted D7100-720 nm IR Filter

Preset for my converted  D80-590 nm Filter

*It is worth reading (and ignoring some of the inane) comments at the end of the article.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Panasonic Lumix DC-FZ82 for Birding and Wildlife Video and Still Photographs: First Impressions

Readers will know that I was a fairly early adopter of a superzoom bridge camera for wildlife. Nothing else bar an APS-size-sensored DSLR and a lens of at least 600 mm focal length has the reach. With binoculars, sometimes a telescope and tripod, and a video camera, weight becomes important.

Self-defined real photographers and their familiars, the photographic journalists, ignored bridge cameras for a very long time but they are now so important to bird and other wildlife photographers that they have to be taken seriously. More and more wildlife watchers are using bridge cameras of varying zoom ranges for the simple reason that they are light and versatile. Indeed, we are just back from a wildlife trip in Europe where nobody was carrying a DSLR or CSC—a first as far as we can remember.

Yes, the sensor is small—it has to be—and so there is more noise especially as the ISO rating is jacked up for long shots and/or in poor light. And, yes, the image is subject to the effects of diffraction at any aperture smaller than about f/4 (1/2.3” sensor) but you can get a shot of a bird with the equivalent of a 1000 mm lens or longer and get a very good image especially after a little tweaking in Lightroom and/or Photoshop. As well as the well-known disadvantages of a small sensor, for wildlife photography there are advantages. Depth of field is greater. For example, with the Lumix DC-FZ82 at its maximum focal length of 215 mm (equivalent to 1200 mm on a full-frame 35 mm camera), the depth of field for f/5.6 at 20 metres is 54 cm. By contrast, the depth of field of that 1200 mm lens on a full-frame camera is just 9 cm. So getting an image is easier.

I started with the Nikon P510 and then, two years ago, moved on to the P610. Since then though I have moved to taking 4K video while outputting to HD (1080). This has given me enormous advantages: doubling the size of the image in the frame during editing in Final Cut Pro X and thereby doubling the effective focal length of the taking lens; zooming, panning and tilting in post-production; adding additional stabilisation, for example. The appearance of a new generation of bridge cameras with large zoom range offering long focal lengths plus 4K video and RAW for stills was too much of a temptation.

I had a choice between the Nikon Coolpix B700 and newly-on-sale Panasonic’s Lumix DC-FZ82 (FZ80 in the USA apparently). After reading a few reviews and looking at the specifications (which I could not find on the Panasonic website) I chose the Panasonic. There were compromises on features whichever way I had gone.

Neither camera has GPS—a serious omission for a travel camera. Yes I know that I can use my iPhone to make a log file and then do the whole GPS thing in Lightroom or use Panasonic’s iPhone app-Camera wifi connection but it is extra hassle. Why are camera manufacturers leaving out features they once considered essential or desirable?

I have now had a week or so to look at what the FZ82 can do. It does not have some features that the Nikon P610 had and the B700 has. The screen is fixed; there is no eye sensor to switch between view finder and screen; there is no easy bird watching setting. But focusing does seem to be faster (albeit still contrast detection) and the viewfinder brightness can be changed.

I am not showing any photographs or videos here; plenty of examples can be found in more formal reviews of the camera like this very useful one.

The reviews made much of the fact that the FZ82 has a touch-screen focusing, and the standard setting is for this to be activated. However, as also noted on this site where birders discuss their experiences of the FZ82, there is one severe disadvantage to left handers (actually left-eyers) like me. I could not work out why the focusing point was moving all over the place. I eventually realised the end of my nose in contact with the screen was shifting it about. Even when the screen display is “off”, the touch screen is still “on”. Right-handed users with a short distance between nose and eye have the same problem. I was less than content with this really silly arrangement. For most purposes I have disabled the feature, but kept a custom setting where it is on so that I can use touch focus when the camera is on a tripod. There are also discrepancies between the instruction manual (it has to be downloaded) and what happens in the camera in relation to touch focusing.

After that irritating start to getting the camera into a useable state, I tried some long- and short-distance stills and 4K video in good and poor light. Some reviewers have questioned whether RAW would be of much use in a camera with such a small sensor. I have found the jpg output to be rather flat, flatter than on the Nikon P610, and that it is more effective to work on the RAW files in Lightroom than on the jpgs (simultaneous RAW/jpg recording to the card is possible).

Reviewers have mentioned noise even at base ISO (which is low at 80). I compared the noise with the P610 and it looks about the same or slightly better. However, autoISO takes the setting up pretty quickly and I had several shots where the ISO was 1600; noise was obvious and needed attention in Lightroom. 

I am very pleased with the 4K video. I imported some into FCP X then balanced the colour. A quick export to a Blu-ray disc produced images on television that I really could not distinguish from my Sony 4K to HD footage. The sound quality seems to be better than in the P610 as well. I put the camera on a tripod and extended the lens. With the cropping for 4K, the working range of the lens in full-frame 35 mm terms is 28-1680 mm. I was able to fill the frame with a Blackbird digging worms out of the grass at the end of the garden. I had the stabilisation off. The travel tripod I was using is pretty stable but the effects of the wind coming round the side of the house could be seen in the form of an occasional slight wobble in the image. But 1680 mm equivalent focal length is a delicious prospect for future trips (with tripod!) especially since I can double that without loss of final quality during editing in FCPX—3700 mm, which deserves an exclamation mark.

I have also used the P610 for time lapse videos when travelling. That was easy. Start the process off and a time lapse video appeared when all the shots had been taken. With the FZ82, you have to find Time Lapse in the menu, set the number of shots and the interval between shots. No clues given as to sensible settings, so you either have to do the calculation in your head or use an App on the phone. You can then either make the 4K or other video format in camera (taking a few seconds) or use the collected stills in another programme because, unlike the P610, the original still images are retained.

There are all sorts of ways of using custom function buttons, custom settings for particular purposes and a customisable quick menu. I needed to go through the whole thing to see just what is there.

Basically, the camera will do what I want it to do. There are irritations and things missing that I would like to have. I do not know if the Nikon B700 would have been better, worse or more suitable for my particular requirements. I do, however, still have to do more tests on AF modes, for example, to see which is best for particular subjects, like birds in trees with twigs all around and then to arrange a standard setting that can be accessed by turning as few knobs, pressing as few buttons and selecting items on screen as possible. The essence of a wildlife camera is speed of being ready to press the still or video button (the latter being, incidentally, a little too small and depressed) from either a standing start or another setting. You may only have a matter of seconds to get the shot.

Finally, a plea to the manufacturers. There is a vast market for birding cameras. No bridge camera is ideal at present because the speed of focusing is still relatively slow. But on-sensor phase focus devices are being fitted to small cameras. Yes, they are more expensive but the first manufacturer to put it in a superzoom bridge would capture the birding and other wildlife market. It seems that bridge cameras are made down to a price as the poor-(wo)man’s proper camera. Double the price and put in the features we all need (phase autofocus, stabilisation as effective as Sony’s BOSS on its camcorders, mobile screen, high-quality viewfinder, GPS, the capacity to turn off whole suites of functions not needed in the field, for example) and the WILDLIFE CAMERA—a new category of camera for marketing purposes—would sell, just as the finest and most expensive binoculars and telescopes sell. 

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Manfrotto Befree Live Video Tripod for Travel. First tests passed with flying colours

I have been looking for a short-when-packed, light tripod with a video head for a long time. Strong enough to take by Sony AX33 camcorder or even one of my Nikon DSLRs, it would be my tripod of choice when travelling without the telescope and Gitzo tripod.

I hoped that Manfrotto might come up with the goods in the wake of their success with the original Befree with ball-and-socket head and last autumn the Befree Live appeared—with a video pan-and-tilt head. Ted Forbes reviewed it very favourably in his Art of Photography YouTube video. Wex soon had one at my doorstep but before I could try it when I found another reviewer on YouTube who praised it but when I looked at the video he had produced the head appeared to be terrible—really jerky pans which he obviously thought acceptable. I found that this guy has half a million followers for his photography videos but on looking at a few I found them gut-crunchingly irritating. However, whose video to believe?

I set up the camcorder on the tripod and within minutes was producing smooth pans with the ‘fluid’ head of the Befree Live. I used the old trick of using a rubber band to give a gentle, steady pull. Then I tested it to see its ability would hold position (unlike many, particularly ball-and-socket heads) when locked. My extreme test for this was the Nikon P610 at its longest focal length of 1440 mm (full-frame 35 mm equivalent). It held position as I locked on to birds in the garden. It was as good as my full-fat Gitzo head. So I am delighted with it.

Weighing 1.78 kg and, when closed, short enough to go in a backpack it it will be going on our first overseas trip of the year.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

When 35 mm film photography was novel…and involved a steep learning curve

On my other website which deals with daylight-loading developing tanks, I recently described how Lancelot Vining (1880-1968)—a user of the Rondinax 35—became involved with 35 mm photography and how his career as a press photographer, picture editor and then lecturer for Ilford developed. Photography with a 35 mm camera was frowned upon by both professionals and the old-guard of amateur photographers well into the 1950s. There were all sorts of reasons given from their being just a toy through limited capacity for enlargement to pure luddism. Yes, Leicas were sneered at.

Lancelot Vining found himself at the vanguard of getting 35 mm cameras recognised as serious photographic tools and in pointing out their great advantages for ‘action’ photography. There was a certain irony. Vining was 61 when he started writing about photography with a 35 mm in his book My Way with the Miniature and in his columns in the magazine, Amateur Photographer. His followers, the people who saw the future for amateur photography as 35 mm, were the young.

For those of us who in the 1950s and 60s flitted between rollfilm (‘medium format’) and 35 mm, there seemed little difference in terms of technique. However, it became clear to me that earlier some people really did have difficulty in coming to practical terms with 35 mm photography when they shifted from plates or rollfilm.

About 20 years ago I was looking for something in an old filing cabinet when I found an old envelope marked ‘Secret’. It had brown sticky paper across every join with sealing wax melted on all points of access. I of course opened it. It contained a memorandum written by one of my predecessors on a novel method for preserving food that had been described to him during a wartime mission for the then Ministry of Food. In finding out what he had done about following up what had been divulged to him, I came across his correspondence with an old friend. He wrote to Professor Cyril Tyler* of the University of Reading in 1947 congratulating him on his promotion to a chair and saying that he would address him as ‘Professor’ but only once. Tyler replied, giving as good as he got by way of ribbing. But then he asked how my predecessor was getting on with his new Leica since he [Tyler] really could not get used to using his and much preferred his old camera. The letters to and fro suggested that both got better results with their old cameras, of unknown format and vintage.

So I can only infer from the letters that there may well have been a steep learning curve in moving to 35 mm photography in the 1940s even for two scientists accustomed to handling and using the instrumentation of their day. But what was more difficult? Focussing? Exposure? Processing? I wonder if they both bought Vining’s book?

Oh, you may ask, what happened to the method of preserving food that was divulged by its inventor in great secrecy? Nothing, it was toxic.

*Cyril Tyler (1911-1996) worked on the structure and mechanical strength of avian eggshells; he was a pioneer in the field of biomineralisation. At the University of Reading he was Professor of Agricultural Chemistry (1947-58) and then of Physiology and Biochemistry (1958-76). In 1936-38 when he was a lecturer at the Royal Agricultural College, he played first-class cricket for Gloucestershire as a medium-pace off-break and occasional leg-spin bowler; he took 5 for 116 against Middlesex at Lord’s.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Final Cut Pro X with Lightroom. Yes, then No, now Yes with a workaround

On 23 November 2016, I noted with regret that I could not find a way of importing a folder of jpgs to the new Photos and Audio Sidebar in FCPX 10.3. Before 10.3 I could do this using a Published Smart Folder from Lightroom.

I now realise, having looked up the various import procedures for 10.3, that it is possible to import folders and individual files from the Published Smart Folder by dragging from the standard Apple Finder to an event or directly to the timeline.

The two convenient ways to do this are (quoting from the Apple manual):

  • Select a file, Command-click to select multiple files, or select a folder of files, then drag the file or files from the Finder to the event.
  • Select a file, Command-click to select multiple files, then drag the file or files to a project in the timeline.

This method is not so convenient as in 10.2 because it adds an extra step.

And, just in case you are wondering, the latest update (10.3.2) which I installed this morning still does not restore the functionality in this respect of 10.2 although files of audio folders can now be added to the photos and audio sidebar.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Why are the numbers on the back of Ilford and Rollei 120 films so indistinct?

I an preparing an article on a particular sort of old film camera, one that has a red window in the back through which the frame number on the film backing can be read. These are not the cameras that space the film automatically when winding on, like the Rolleis, or Hasselblads or Bronicas  but the run-of-the mill folding cameras and box cameras from the likes of Zeiss, Agfa and Kodak.

I started by loading a 120 Ilford FP4+. Even taking into consideration my eyesight I had great difficulty in seeing the numbers through the red window. They seemed to be printed in a very pale grey, not black as they once were.

On processing the film, I kept the backing and discovered that the numbers were indeed a light grey and what made matters worse that for 12 exposures, the row of numbers in the middle of the roll, were the most indistinct of all.

I then looked at the backing paper from a roll of Rollei infrared black and white film. It was identical to the Ilford one, suggesting some film manufacturers are buying backing papers from the same source.

The scan below shows the problem:

The red window dates, of course, to the time of orthochromatic film which was insensitive to red light. Any red light leaking round the backing paper to reach the film would have had no effect. Even when panchromatic film became cheaper and replaced orthochromatic in common use, the red window remained despite the fact that a deep green window would have provided greater protection; only a few cameras had a green window but at least one had a shutter to provide a choice of red or green.