4 Ways to Save Money Shooting Film

With all the ways we have to take photos now, shooting film is definitely not one of the cheapest. You constantly have to buy film, develop it and find a way to scan it. I still love it for the surprise factor and that it forces you to pay a little more attention. But what about the costs? For about 15$ a roll with scans things can add up fast. For me, one roll a week would add up to 676$ a year! That hurts even doing he calculation.

Even though it cost more, doesn't mean there aren't ways we can make shooting film cheaper. Here are my top 4 ways to cut costs.

1. Developing Film

The biggest way to save money on film cost is learning to develop film yourself. Black and white film development, which is a bit simpler than C-41, cuts cost down to about $7 for each roll and even less if you develop in bulk. You'll learn a lot more about the development process and have total control over how the image comes out.

 Some negatives I developed back in the day.

Some negatives I developed back in the day.

The reason I don’t develop my own film is time. The development part isn’t too bad but the scanning part can be very tedious. You’ll need to get a flatbed scanner and spend time getting your images into a digital format. A lot of people enjoy scanning and having absolute control over the entire process. If you do everything in house you'll save a lot of dollars too.

2. Choose your chemistry wisely

Different types of films are gong to cost different prices to develop. If you’re developing yourself or going through a third party the cost of processing from highest to lowest is typically going to be slide (E6)/Black & white/color negative (C41). C41 at third parties developers is going to be the cheapest because the process was pretty well automated since the early 2000s, or peak film use. We used to have one hour film development in every drug store and camera shop and those same old machines are still in use today.

Back in the early 2000's C41 was the most widely available and accessible film. E6 slide film was more niche and professional and typically sent out for development from specialized labs. The same is true now, there are three film developers in Austin and none of them develop E6 on the premises anymore, it’s all sent out of state for development.

Lastly E6 film is typically more expensive than C41 films. You can get three rolls of Fuji Superia 400 for the cost of one roll of Fuji Velvia 100. The additional developing costs due to having to send the film out compounds the cost of shooting E6 over C41.

3. Shoot more films per roll

My local camera store sells expired film at $2 bargain basement prices. I’ve been a huge sucker for it and purchase whatever seems interesting at the time: Superia 200/800, York film, even garbage Walgreens film. It let's you get a taste of what the film is like at a ow cost. But I realized it was also eating my paycheck and making me shoot less.

You really don’t lose out on shooting a roll of 24 but you pay for it in development costs, which is typically the same for a roll of 24 vs 36. So let’s just say a scan and dev cost you 13$ a roll. That’ll be $0.54 an image for the roll of 24 exposures and $0.36 for a roll of 36 exposures. The number of images adds up too. Shooting 10 rolls of 24 exposure rolls is going to be 240 images vs 360 on 36 exposure rolls. There aren’t many 36 exposure roll color films out there but seeking them out is going to save you a pretty penny.

4. Making Sure Your Gear is Solid

You can lose a lot of frames due to light leaks, underexposure and flare. Sometimes the effects are very cool and for some, a big reason why they shoot film, the random organic chaos you can have in an image. When I'm not experimenting I like to have consistent images and repeatability. Here are some simple tips to keeping your camera in check.

 That’s a leak.

That’s a leak.

When light seals go bad you get light leaks, usually really small ones add a little flavor to your images but big ones destroy images. Changing your seals is pretty simple and something worth learning. It'll save you a lot of time and money down the line.

Second, use a lens hood. It's one the best ways to cut down on flare, haze and increase contrast in an image. My camera feels a bit naked without it so I have a few metal ones I use on different lenses with step-up and step-down adapters. It's one of the best $10 investments you can make for a lens regardless of film or digital.

Even after shooting as many rolls as I have, I'm not comfortable in guessing my exposures with film. I always carry around a simple light meter to start any shoot. This has saved my butt in difficult metering circumstances like cloudy days and shooting indoors. I recommend the classic Sekonic L-308 which is a workhorse and just dead simple to use. I get more usable shots using a light meter and that saves me money and time.

Shooting with film should be fun, and it shouldn't bankrupt you either. With a couple of tweaks to your practice you can save a few dollars that will hopefully allow you to tackle bigger projects. Do you have other ways to save money shooting film?

The Five Murals You Need to See in Austin and other things to do when you get there

Last year I spent a few months documenting the murals in and around Austin. Here’s a list of my top five, also major thanks to Austinot for their great post on Austin Mural History. This article would be lesser without that assistance.

Hope Outdoor Gallery

1101 Baylor St

Hope Outdoor Gallery is an open air gallery, living mural space and one of my favorite things to do in Austin. The unfinished building project has taken on a life of it’s own as artist in town and across the country go to paint there. Some of the great pieces there last a couple months while everything else is covered and recovered every few days. If you only see one mural in Austin, this is it.

Tips

  • You’ll see a lot of the $2 Walmart brand spray paint cans there and they are pretty terrible quality wise and jam easily. The next level up in spray paint cans is going to be worth the savings and Asel Art Supply downtown will be able to point you in the right direction.

  • There isn’t really parking next to the gallery. It’s in a mix residential and business neighborhood and it can get packed quickly. Better to park across the street in Duncan Neighborhood Park by the 7 Eleven or at the Book People parking lot and walk over on really crowded days.

Nearby

Fresca’s Al Carbon on Lamar is a pretty great spot for local Mexican food. Down the street is also 24 Diner and Counter Cafe which are some of the best diner spots in town as well. You also have Book People, one of the greatest bookstores in town who are also carrying my book. Waterloo Records across the street from Book People is an amazing record store too.

The 2 Daniel Johnston’s

Hi How Are You? 408 W 21st St, Love is the Question, 1115 Lynn St.

If you’re not familiar with Daniel Johnnston, he's the musician whose songs about love and loss are coveted for being raw and off center. His struggles with schizophrenia is well documented in both song and media. Daniel actually has two murals in town. The first and most popular and iconic is "Hi, How Are You?" near the UT campus. The second is Love is the Answer in Tarrytown near one of the oldest ice cream parlors in Austin. Both are pretty symbolic of the Austin's art for art's sake nature.

Tips

  • Parking near UT is a headache, my favorite option is the little outdoor parking spot behind Electric 13 tattoo if you can find a spot. Street parking near the sign is an option as well but it's all one way streets and traffic which makes it a pain.

  • The second mural in Tarrytown has better chances of off-street parking and depending on the day you’ll get a great view of the mural.

Nearby

Like everywhere else in Austin there is great food to be found here. Near UT, I’d recommend the Via 313 which is always in contention for best pizza in Austin as well as Arlo’s for veggie burgers that taste just like regulars burgers, trust me. Also, if this is your only time in Austin you should stop by Torchys and get a migas taco with queso dip. While many will argue they aren’t the best at either they do make them both extremely well and are a good example of the Tex-Mex Austin and Texas is known for.

Near Tarrytown, there's a bunch of great spots to go but nothing more iconic than getting an ice cream at Nau Enfield's Drug which has been around forever. Cafe Medici not far down the street is also known as one of the best coffee spots in town too.

Greetings from Austin

1720 1st St.

Inspired by an old postcard this is on the southern side of the Roadside Relics and my favorite mural in Austin. It’s vintage and has a really great feel. The neighborhood this mural lives in is a really great place to walk around and get food.

Tips

  • To get a really good picture of the mural you’re going to need to stand in the street. It’s sketchy and it sucks but it’s the best way to do it. Go early on a Sunday or Saturday and be careful with traffic.

Nearby

This is a great neighborhood for everything. The nearby Bouldin Creek Cafe is known for some of the best vegetarian food in the city and Churro Co. is the best churro I have ever had. The campfire churros with gingerbread, caramel and marshmallows with a scoop of vanilla is my favorite dessert in Austin, maybe ever. The new Loro restaurant a bit up the street is a great place to have a casual meal and if you're there at the right time get some of the world known brisket from Franklin's Barbecue.

Historic 6th Street Mural

582 N Interstate 35 Frontage Rd

Murals - 11.jpg

The story goes that the people of Sanctuary Printshop, now defunct, painted this massive mural in a span of 1 night. The iconic mural has been re-appropriated greatly and the colors either came to embody Austin or were the direct extension of it.

Tips

It’s hard to get a great shot of this mural and you need to cross the street near the underpass to get it all in one shot. Standing in the street to get a good picture is possible if it wasn’t directly in sight of a freeway off ramp, so try and be safe.

Nearby

Passing from Downtown Austin to East Austin is relatively safe but this area is known for having a large homeless community and can be a little dicey at times. There are some great food options like the immaculate Easy Tiger Bakery, Koriente, which everyone raves about, and Camino el Camino whose burgers I’ve heard are some of the best in town.

I love you so much

1300 S Congress Ave

The story behind "I love you so much" is that musician Amy Cook painted the phrase on the side of her partner's business Jo's Coffee to make her happier. The handwritten red on green text has been iconic since and become a great place to grab an iced turbo, seriously try it, and a photo. It's made all of Austin happier since.

Tips

Parking on Congress Ave. is pretty tough. There are a lot of spots on Congress that you'll have to literally back into, it's safer, but most locals park in the adjacent neighborhoods and walk over.

Nearby

There are a couple of awesome murals nearby I love you so much too. The Fred Rodgers by Home Slice and the Willie near STAG provisions (see below). If your by Home Slice their pizza is pretty amazing as well and you have Amy's Ice Cream, get the mexican vanilla, and the Continental Club which I hear great things about.

Honorable Mentions

There are so many good murals in town it's unfair to make such a short list. Here are a bunch of quick takes on the rest.

Any shortlist is going to miss a bunch of great things you couldn’t fit in. Anything else you think should be on the list?

Not Second Fiddle, A review of the Canon GIII QL 17

I've been using the Canon GIII QL17 for the past couple of months. Before that my main rangefinders was the Leica M4-2 and the Canon P. Both the Leica and the Canon P are much larger than the GIII QL17 and things I wasn't totally comfortable traveling with, mostly due to how rough I am on my gear during travel. Things get banged around and I'm not a huge fan of shooting with flashy cameras. So far the Canon GIII has been an amazing travel partner.

The Canon GIII is a very productive and solid shooter. I purchased one with a broken shutter that needed repairing and a broken meter that I can live with. The lens is a 40mm F1.7 with a very awkward 48mm diameter ring, luckily there are plenty of step up rings. Having a large aperture gives you a little bit more reach when you need it.

Unlike the Leica IIf which was my previous travel rangefinder the GIII is extremely straightforward to use. The QL (Quick Load) feature makes loading film quick and stress free. You drop the film on the plane and you can start shooting immediately, I end up getting an extra frame or two on each roll.

The camera is light but made of sturdy materials. While I don't feel that it can withstand a large fall it has been an object that has lasted many decades and works fine mechanically. I replaced the light seals when I got the camera and haven't found any other issues that need addressing.

There are a few glaring issues I find with the camera. When I first began using the camera I had a had time with framing. Unlike the simpler Leica and other rangefinders the incorporation of the light meter readings on the right hand doesn't give the photographer an intuitive frame of reference for where the image ends on the right side of the frame, it actually ends at the left most edge of the meter bar. I've gotten used to shooting with it over time but I still find myself questioning where I am in the frame.

The most problematic issue of the GIII is the lack of zone focusing on the lens. While this camera was aimed at the prosumer this is a gigantic oversight. Being able to use a rangefinder to control focus is something we can take for granted but I'd trade a rangefinder for zone focusing marks any day. With a 40mm lens and a compact package this camera benefits greatly from being able to set your focus at a hyperlocal distance and fire aware. I found myself having to memorize a few measurements and contemplated if I needed to add the zone focusing marks myself to increase the functionality of the camera. I can see how Canon tried to market this camera to a wider audience but a few extra lines of paint would have made this an even more perfect camera.

Lastly the images from the camera are great. Colors are accurate and punchy, even across different film stocks. The black and white images are sharp and contrasty and the lens doesn't bring in too much character but isn't boring as well.

One thing I'm realizing is that the images a camera takes also is affected by the ability of the camera to blend in. The GIII is as inconspicuous camera and sometimes looks more like a toy than a serious instrument. For shooting in tight settings and in close quarters taking out the GIII doesn't change the moment, like a Leica and Hasselblad do. Because of it's approachability I find it easier to take intimate shots and get closer to people.

If you're looking for a Leica alternative for a rangefinder you can't do much better than the Canon GIII QL17. It's a simple camera that has almost all the things I love in a rangefinder. More importantly, it is a camera that totally gets out of the way and allows you to just focus on capturing images and moving around as simply as possible.

Superia-Light a review of Fuji Pro 400H

I usually shoot with the cheapest color films available. In the beginning the main reason was that it was cheaper. I didn't really have a grasp of what slide film was and everything I was shooting was going to get developed at the local Walgreens. I was lucky to land quickly on Superia 400 and loved it's strong contrast and saturation, especially of greens and reds.

Conversely, professional color films promise a more realistic color rendition and less contrast so the photographer has a bit more control over the images. I found box of 5 rolls Fuji Pro 400H (expired 2013) in 120mm and jumped at the chance to try it out. To truly experience any emulsion I'd recommend trying it in 120mm. The larger format allows you to see the film on a larger scale that really tames any variation you may have from frame to frame on 35mm. 120 is going to make any strengths and issues with an emulsion apparent very quickly.

My approach with Fuji Pro 400H was to continue the same color and subject analysis as I had been doing with 35mm. I was shooting 400H with a Yeshica D TLR and a Hasseblad 500CM. I also added a roll of 220 (expired 2008) that provided very similar results as the fresher rolls.

Fuji color films always lean warm. 400H has the same characteristic saturation but it's much more subdued. While the reds and greens popped, they didn't take over the scene like they did with Superia. Blues and yellows weren't as fun but accurate and in control. Overall everything was accurate but flat.

The negatives that came back gave a much lower contrast profile that looked like I overexposed the images. I had to add contrast adjustment to most images I posted with 400H to get the typical look I preferred with Superia. It's interesting that Kodak's current color professional negative emulsion, Ektar, has strong contrast and warm profile that you'd expect from Fuji.

This leaves 400H in a weird spot. It falls into a no man's land for color emulsions. If you want the most accurate color emulsion you are going with Velvia while you can find it. If you want to shoot a negative film with more character you're better off with Ektar. If you want pleasing and accurate skin tones you go with Portra. If you want to save a few dollars you can try Lomography 400 which will give you accurate colors and a washed out look. That leaves 400H being the king of the color negative with a flatter contrast profile and slightly saturated greens and reds.

Color films should have a look that distances them from color digital where saturation and color are set on being as accurate, and boring, as possible. The emulsions that we associate with most with color film, Kodachrome, knew back then it wasn't accuracy that was king but enhancing what was already there. For me, Fuji Pro 400H doesn't do enough enhancement to stand out from it's peers.

Rediscovering the Canon S90 in 2018

I came of age in the early 2000's when digital cameras were a necessity and not an add on to a smart phone. We all carried around small digital point and shoot cameras that could take some video (badly), had a strong flash and dedicated modes that you selected with dials and buttons. When we all went to smart phones we traded in the convenience of always being able to take a picture with all those photo dedicated buttons and settings small point and shoot cameras had. I enjoy shooting with my iPhone but deep down know that it's always awkward and something I never really love.

Luck has it that I live next to a Goodwill that sells old digital point and shoot cameras for 4-5$. I started to buy a couple and take them home to shoot and was instantly hooked. The cameras served a very clear purpose during the 00's and still serve that purpose today. They were smaller than film cameras, took great images and had all the functionality you could want or need.

If there was one crown jewel of that period it had to be the Canon S90. It had some very simple functions and a really intuitive click wheel that you could use to change your focal length (my fave), ISO or aperture. On top of that it was the first camera at the time to take relatively great photos in low light settings and had a F2.0 aperture throughout the entire focal range.

I've been shooting with it for the past couple of weeks and having a blast. It slips seamlessly into my front pocket and weighs close to nothing. In the hand it feels extremely well made, perfectly proportioned and simple to use. I can fire it up and take a picture in less than three seconds and with the dedicated camera functions and dials doesn't feel like your losing control over your image.

Negatives, the images don't have the greatest dynamic range and low light images leave a lot to be desired but I find myself just shooting a lot more in places I wouldn't be shooting: at work, in the car and going to and from work. The images are fun and simple, and I'm slowly building up the discipline to not just take a quick snap but to really frame my scene.

As much as I love shooting film it can also be a crutch at times to take "special" images due to the added cost of shooting on acetate. With a small digital camera you can experiment a little more and be a little less disciplined with the fear of blowing through frames and dollars. I'm glad I started with film first and learned that discipline, even with digital I shoot largely with no photo review out of habit, but I'm happy to bring back digital into my shooting style to allow me to take more photos.

At the end of the day we have a lot of reasons not to shoot. Cost, portability and image quality are all things we juggle with in our modern photographic landscape. With the very old and still capable Canon S90 I really don't feel like I'm sacrificing anything.

Losing Los Angeles a Review of Kwasi Boyd-Bouldin's Forsaken | One

We expect our neighborhoods to change over time. Maybe your favorite bagel shop has been replaced by a Subway or the old Blockbuster is now a bike shop. In my California suburb changes were limited to names switching from one business to another. For Kwasi Boyd-Bouldin and many people of LA, the change is drastic. Buildings are torn down, landscapes are erased and communities are displaced. Gentrification turned old neighborhoods into unrecognizable areas that hold no links to the past.

 Photograph: Kwasi Boyd-Bouldin

Photograph: Kwasi Boyd-Bouldin

Kwasi Boyd-Bouldin's first book, Forsaken #1 from Kozu Books, focuses on his urban landscapes of the greater Los Angeles area. He captures what's left of the diverse landscapes that make LA so unique. "The character of these neighborhoods are being replaced by a generic nothingness" Kwasi says about the effect of developers changing the landscapes of Los Angeles in a recent podcast with Jon Wilkening.

His images capture portions and snippets of neighborhoods that haven’t changed much in his life. The mini strip malls with restaurants and liquor stores. The large Korean grocery store in a building it was never designed for. The oddly shaped buildings and parking spots that are used by necessity rather than design.

 Photograph: Kwasi Boyd-Bouldin

Photograph: Kwasi Boyd-Bouldin

That's the the cruel irony to gentrification. The beauty of these neighborhoods comes from the individuals living their using what they have access to build communities and businesses. They repurpose these buildings and areas for their usefulness and not their aesthetics.

As time passed in the 00's the cost of living closer to cities increased across the nation and these areas that were once blighted for being close to city centers became fertile grounds for investment and gentrification. For these new tenants, the last thing on their mind is preservation. Kwasi asks with hope, "How can we develop the area, so that it benefits the area and not change the area?"

 Photograph: Kwasi Boyd-Bouldin

Photograph: Kwasi Boyd-Bouldin

Kwasi's work follows a lineage of photographers like Walker Evans and Stephen Shore capturing landscapes and people for future generations. The difference is those photographers entered these neighborhoods as outsiders and Kwasi approaches it as a Angelino trying to capture something he knows is disappearing.

Even he doesn't know how much longer these places can hold on. "I'm documenting this process and I don't know where this process is going." Growing up in Southern California you get used to change and buildings going up and coming down at speeds you don't see throughout the rest of the country. But it's harder to deal with changing whole neighborhoods to attract outsiders, leaving out those who never wanted to leave.

Lomochrome Purple Review, the Fun in Fuchsia

In 2009 Richard Mosse took his camera and Kodak Aerochrome film into the Congo to capture the war and fallout in a vibrant and other worldly palette of purples, pinks and reds. The infrared film which was notoriously difficult to work with; needing to be kept refrigerated and extremely expensive, made his images stand out from the traditional ways conflicts were covered. His work and the book of his photos not only changed the way that we looked at how you can cover a conflict but was a very influential way of using color to bring new light to an old story.

 Platon, North Kivu, Eastern Congo, 2012. PHOTO: Richard Mosse

Platon, North Kivu, Eastern Congo, 2012. PHOTO: Richard Mosse

While less obvious, the introduction of video and the heavy usage of filters enable photographers to add texture and shape to an image by simply shifting the colors in post production. I don't believe images should be defined by it but having an interesting use of color doesn't hurt. For Lomography whose whole MO is to create cameras and films that leverage the organic and random nature of film (light leaks, color shifts with expired film, and more room for mistakes) introducing a Lomochrome Purple (LMP) that mimics Kodak Aerochrome makes a lot of sense.

While shooting with LMP is not a cheap experience it is a fun one. Lomochome purple is a variable ISO film, meaning at higher ISOs with less light hitting the negative scene's have less colors and more contrast. I'm usually shooting to overexposure all my films, I like the look at a really low ISOs (25-50 ASA) with LMP where the images are well exposed, contrasty, and the color shift effect is greatly controlled.

Compared to the vivid colors that Mosse obtained with Aerochrome LMP is much milder. The images clearly are shifted to brilliant purples and reds but aren't as radioactive as Aerochrome. Shooting LMP I'm looking for the greenest areas of Austin that I can find and try to mix in complementary elements like dirt, water and buildings. Luckily Austin is very green and the images came out pretty great.

Here are some tips to get better results with LMP. Shooting LMP later in the day near golden hours gives you much more contrast and stronger colors. If you want a usable image shooting the film at much lower speeds (25-100 ASA) and overexposing is going to give you an easier image to manipulate. To get a much more contrasty and graphic image I'd recommend shooting at ISO 400. Lastly using a lens hood at whatever speed is going to keep contrast high.

Lomochrome Purple is more than a gimmick. It's a useful tool to change the color of a very green world and a versatile film that can express different looks on the same roll. That's not a simple task and something I love that Lomography supports and pushes. While it's hard to find LMP in 35mm I think it's much more effective and beautiful in 120 where the negatives are much larger and forgiving.

If you found this review helpful please use this link to purchase Lomochrome Purple. It helps support this page and allows me to use and shoot other films.

A bunch of Rolls with Fuji C200 A Review

Shooting film is not necessarily a cheap endeavor so I'm always looking for ways to save money. Fuji C200 or Fujicolor 200 is a very affordable film and is one of cheapest options to shoot color film on 36 frame rolls. I've been shooting heavily with C200 over the past year, taking more than 600 frames. When I’m looking at any film emulsion I want to consider just a few things, how versatile is it and how does it look. 

When you nail your exposure correctly Fuji C200 it is contrasty, rich and engaging. Similar to Superia 400 it leans towards red and green and represents color in a vivid and saturated way. It's not neutral but rarely comes off as extreme or gimmicky. This is the best strength of C200 and it's ability to enhance natural colors. It's a perfect film to take with you on a trip and even though it's only ISO 200 I didn't find too many scenarios where the film couldn't be shot. 

One weakness of C200 is that doesn’t overexpose well. I naturally overexpose my images, to error on the side of having too much light rather than not enough, and C200 didn’t respond as nicely to overexposure as Kodak Ektar or Superia 400 does.  C200 loses both color saturation and contrast if overexposed more than one stop. The effect gives your images a washed out look that I don't really care for. I was able to reproduce the overexposure issue with different cameras and in different places, so it wasn’t isolated.

On the other hand, you have to go out of way overexposing Ektar to get a loss of contrast and saturation, usually at 3-4 stops, and even with overexposure you’ll get some really interesting color shift and little loss of contrast.

At the end of the day this is a cheap film that works well in a variety of settings. It’s not designed to have the kind of versatility and range as Ektar or even Superia 400 and that’s ok. In my workflow and shooting style I found it fell a little outside of what I would say is ideal. I’ll pick up this film in the future again but it's not something I'm particularly excited to reach for.

If you're interested in purchasing Fuji C200 please use this link to help support this site as well.
 

If Bokeh is the Best thing about your picture then it's not a good picture

I'm a huge fan of Kai and Lok era Digital Rev. Solid content, great writing and hilarious presentation. It set the standard for what photography reviews could be and how they should be handled. If there was one bad thing to come out of the Digital Rev era it has to be a focus on Bokeh. 

 Trophys

Trophys

Bokeh, as David Hancock reminds me is the quality of the out of focus areas in an image. Specifically at lower apertures. Historically having a really large lens opening was needed for the worst situations. You were in a room that was lit by candle light and you needed to drop your shutter speed to 1.5 seconds, pushing your film to 3200 mid roll and praying that something would come out.

Then digital arrived. No you can shoot all day and at shutter speeds that do not make sense. For example, my first fully manual camera was the digital  Nikon D40 and it had a top shutter speed of 1/10,000 of a second. No film camera is  mechanically is close to that speed. We could finally capture images at speeds and sharpness that were unheard of before, like catching sweat whip off a forehead or freeze a humming bird in mid-flight. 

These crazy shutter speeds enabled photographers to use large aperture cameras in the middle of the day, for portrait to separate the background from the foreground. Shooting at F1.8 in midday for most of photography required either extremely slow film or the use of light blocking Neutral Density (ND) Filters.

Digital Rev and other reviewers began to focus more on how nice the bokeh looked, pointing out when the highlights were perfectly round, a sign of extra aperture blades. The lenses that had square and more geometric bokeh were now considered distracting and unpleasant. Even old lens formulas were seen in a new light and cameras with properties we found distracting like Petzval and Sonnar, where the backgrounds swirled, suddenly became fashionable. 

I think bokeh is crutch. Meaning, composition and design are much more important. I never felt that a great picture was great because of how out clean the out of focus parts were. It's bizarre to grade lenses on how something out of focus looks. Of all the aspects of a lens, sharpness, color rendering and flare control it ranks pretty low.  

Seeing the lust after 0.95 and 1.1 f stops makes me pause. Aperture is another thing to chase and argue over but like other gear decisions doesn't lead to better pictures. Maybe if I shot a lot at night or really wanted to shoot like Phillip Barrow I would be more interested in lower f stops and bokeh. But I shoot film and the medium and camera doesn't allow for those options. I'm glad it doesn't. 

To Sell and be Sold 

Collecting things is a slow and gradual process. You buy an item here and an item here and suddenly you end up with way more than you ever needed. Last weekend I went to guy so sell some of the gear I had accumulated. All the tables had guys young and old trying to get rid of things they no longer needed. I looked to my neighboring table and saw a large collection of bags. "How did you end up with so many bags?" 

"How did you end up with so many cameras and all that stuff"

Touche. 

Writing multiple articles about buying things and selling things should get boring but maybe this is more for me to understand why I do things and how I can be better. You do art buy going out to make images and to make people feel something. You buy things to either use or collect, and sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference. Here's some of my reasoning to buy things in the past...

- It would be cool to get that camera to do a review. 
- A tilt shift lens is totally usable and a great tool. 
- You'll need that extra light and it will pay itself off in seconds. 
- You've made money with videos so you need to keep on making them. 

That's the trap. The gear and the purchases solve a problem that might not exist. I  don't need to buy another 50mm lens, but I'm still lusting after a Nikon 50mm LTM lens that supposedly renders greatly and has a trademark Sonnar look. Do I have scenarios when I need to shoot with a Sonnar Look? Probably not and spoiler, I bought it! 

Gear, it solves a problem. And when we aren't creating enough there are a lot of problems. Gear becomes an easy solution. I'm not sure how to break the cycle either. Do you shun the gear and sell everything you have? No! That can't be healthy.

Maybe you cull the heard. Look over the things you have, à la Marie Kondo and you honestly take into account things that make you happy. This lens just sits here and just brings me pain, I should sell it or give it away. And reversely, I love this lens even though I don't use it so I'll keep it. 

With all the gear and cameras I have I shouldn't need to search for any new gear until everything breaks. But I still look. I still have the used section of many sites bookmarked in my browser. I realize the futility of looking for gear, reviewing it and researching it when shooting and making images is the goal. Maybe it's another obstacle in the process though. Something you have to strive through to get better. I just wish I didn't enjoy the hunt and the packages hitting my doorstep so much.  

July 4th Used Film Camera Deals

This isn't the healthiest thing to do but hopefully you find some good deals in here. 

What is Left Out?

I picked up a Moviepass card earlier this year and have been able to watch a movie weekly. My main aim is to just relax, get caught up on what is in theaters and see some great cinematography. After seeing the recent "You We're Never Really Here", I was taken away by the movie and especially a few scenes.

The images and scenes reminded me of a quote in The Photographer's Playbook from Michael Schmelling.

I had a professor who once told me something like this: if you know what the picture is before you take it, it's not worth taking... I think it's always served as a reminder to avoid the obvious photos, and the easy explanations. You should take any photo you want to -just don't make the assumption about what they mean, or what they might mean later. 

The movie itself is similar to Taken about a teenager being abducted and the violent path to get her back. Unlike taken there is a lot of mood, open pacing and ambiguous shots. Shooting something ambiguously so the audience has to guess at the meaning or motive of the image is a difficult and rewarding task.  

Here are three shots from YWNRH that on stand on their own as images but don't give you enough to know anything else. All three play impactful parts to the stories. 

When I look through my photography, the images that I revisit the most have an open ended and ambiguous nature to them. Three of them happened when I shot in a Catholic high school parking lot, down the block from my house. I didn't have any intentions or goals when taking the images and it led to more interesting images. I actively try and recreate the same feelings now in my pictures but it's not something I can easily channel. 

Maybe it's how you approach the images and the scene and less about composition and lighting. Whatever it is I wish I could do it more. 

Watching more movies this year than I have in a long time has been a great learning experience. You can see how a director develops a story through images and also find little nuggets on how to better frame your photography. I'm really impressed with movies having scenes that leave the audience guessing. It doesn't always have to end up in purpose but it keeps me thinking and analyzing, something I hope to do with my images too. 

Leica IIF Review: A Throwback

History has a weird way of connecting things. We connect the greatest photographer of all time, Henri Cartier Bresson, with Leica who he adored and vaulted. The ultimate Leica is the M3 which was released in the 1950's. When Henri was making his incredible images in the 1930's he was using a variant of the Leica III and most likely a standard 50mm F3.5 lens. 

I had been looking for a reason to get the standard lens and when I saw a deal on the Leica IIF (no slower shutter speeds and self timer compared to the IIIF) I jumped on the deal. With a trip to San Antonio around the corner during the Fiesta celebration it would be a perfect time to test the old body and lens. 

The first thing I noticed about the camera was: it's definitely from a different era. Film loading is complicated. I needed to cut the film leader to accommodate the spool. Once trimmed you load the cartridge and place the roll and spool into the camera. One trick is to make sure the film is firmly locked on the advancing gears otherwise it will spin continuously without advancing the film, a problem with the newer M's too. 

Next the rangefinder and viewfinder are split both being in separate windows. With a camera like this I'm shooting using hyperlocal distance 85% of the time so it wasn't a huge issue. The times I had to switch between the rangefinder and viewfinder were a clumsy at first but became natural and fluid after a few rolls. Both viewfinder and rangefinder are also minuscule compared to modern standards. 

Advancing the film was done via a round dial and not a lever and film rewind was a simple knurled knob. It took extra time to do everything on the IIF. I've shot with some older cameras, and compared to the clunky and awkward Argus C3 the Leica was much closer to a modern shooting experience but still not as user friendly as a Pentax K1000 or Nikon FM.  

The other functions of the IIf are extremely familiar and intuitive. Aperture is set on the lens, shutter speeds set on the top of camera (only after the film is advanced) and focusing is normal. 

The camera once set up has an amazing ability to get out of the way. Being lighter and simpler than a SLR it can truly be a pocketable camera with a collapsible lens. I can easily see Henri Cartier Bresson keeping the camera on him at all times in a coat pocket and carrying a few extra rolls of film.

It also handles as a fully formed and developed camera, everything on the camera is laid out and connected in a logical way. It's the type of thing that you could pull out of your pocket, extend the lens and take a shot within seconds. The weight and balance of the camera are solid and the shutter is nearly silent.

Walking around in 2018 shooting a camera from the 1940s can be an awkward experience. If you're carrying around a TLR or Graflex, eyeballs are going to follow your every shot. The IIf blends into the scene with it's classic design and usability. No one asked what I was using and I rarely got a second glance.  

The images from the IIf came out as I expected. In direct sunlight metered correctly it performed extremely well, like all cameras should. Older lenses are known for being softer at lower apertures but I really couldn't find any conclusive examples. Shooting at hyperfocal near sunset gave me some great images with contrast and depth. I did have a few shots where a beam of light flared out the image but I think a hood should solve that issues easily. 

Shooting with the Leica IIf was a very fun and informative experience, I don't really need the camera but after buying it I'm going to keep it because of how portable and unique it is. It's not the type of camera I'd recommend for someone just getting into film or looking for a cheaper Leica experience, it's finicky and there are much easier ways to start. It is a throwback camera and a great portable system. As a backup or a change of pace camera it can be a real treasure. 

Automatic Documentation as Photography

In 2014, my brother and cousin and I went on a once in a lifetime trip. We had all gotten jobs and decided to go to the place we always dreamed about, Japan. My brother and cousin are Japanophiles and I was always down for adventure. Me being the photographer in the group, was charged with documenting the events and trip. 

I did a decent job taking photos, getting the touristy shots and pictures of us eating and being in a group. I documented the trip the in a way to help describe what we did and where we went. In other words, it was pretty boring and pretty basic. 

My cousin on the other hand had a much simpler way of documenting. Whenever he ate anything: a soda, soup or concoction from the street he took a picture of it. No matter how common or insignificant, he took a picture of the item and logged it.

When we got back home and looked at all of our pictures I was extremely jealous of my cousin's shots. What seemed less creative and simple at the time turned out to capture the trip in a more authentic and factual way. We could see what we ate, where we ate it and remember the stories about how we got there and felt. 

I've been trying to get better at shooting automatically and documenting things around me, starting a few series on items like: telephone poles, public payphone, beds I sleep in, good quotes and coffee cups. It makes shooting less of a creative task and more of a documentation routine. Although it's not creatively spectacular it's a way to make images that make you remember more of your days.

My cousin is a super smart guy and got the point of some trips is to not wait for an amazing moment to happen but to take a simple reminder of what happened that day so you could look back on it later. I'm glad I was able to share the trip with him and pick up that new skill. It's helped us create new stories and capture new memories. 

The 4 Best Places to buy Used Film Gear Online (USA) 

When I was making videos weekly for Youtube I would spend a lot of time on used photo gear websites. I still do, even though I don't really need any more new gear, it's a bad habit to break. Here are some of their strengths and weaknesses. Note, eBay is excluded here. eBay is a collection of shops, great and terrible and I'll do a future article on that. 

Adorama 

NYC based and a staple in photography community, Adorama is known for their  good deals and printing services. In terms of deals you can get some insane bargains on their website, but it usually comes with a gamble. 

I've purchased things from them that were too good to be true and have only returned a few items. Their grading and quality control is a bit hit or miss. A big difference between them and KEH is when that an "X" or "G" rating, heavily used and parts respectively, it means it and will be non functional.

Strengths: Really great bargains, Random listings and prices  
Weaknesses: Product descriptions of used items can be spotty. No images of some used items make it even more tough. 
Steals: Hasselblad Kit (650$) Leica M4-2 (200$, yeah) Multiple Nikon FM and F2s with broken meters (25$ or less)
Tips: The Hasselblad backs and Rangefinder section are something you can create manual alerts on. If you are looking for a bargain Leica I'm not sure there is a better place to keep your eyes glued to. 

B&H Photo Video

B&H are the other NYC staple of the photography world. While Adorama is known for having good deals and being accessible B&H simply sells the best stuff and has amazing customer service. 

This comes at a cost and B&H rarely have as many good used deals as Adorama and their focus mainly on having really great used gear and not messing around with beaters. 

Strengths: Really great quality used items
Weaknesses: Rare deals and higher priced than competitors
Steals: Manfrotto RC2 quick release (25$) Manfrotto fluid head 128 RC ($70)
Tips: I've been really lucky with used grip equipment on B&H photo. They don't treat tripod heads and accessories as preciously as their cameras. 

KEH Camera

The best and most dedicated used camera store in the USA. Their grading system is straightforward and simple to understand, an industry standard. They also continuously underrate their gear and I really only purchase bargain/ugly gear from them and haven't had a prolblem. 

Their returns are also great and they do repairs as well. Unlike Adorama they also don't sell garbage cameras, they will put these in lots and auctions on their eBay site though.

Strengths: The best rating system, lots of photos and good descriptions of cameras, incredibly nice sales people, best website to navigate
Weaknesses: Can be a little expensive, some of their best deals on eBay, really great sales can be random and cleaned out quickly
Steals: Hold your drink....Nikon SB-24 (17$ BGN), Nikon 105mm F2.5 (109$) Manfrotto Magic Arm (40$)
Tips: You won't get too many steals but you'll always get a good price. Also their grips and flash section has some absolute bargains. 

Used Photo Pro

I'm late to the game when it comes to Used Photo Pro. They have a huge selection of stuff which get's turned over pretty quickly. They price things to move which is great and also annoying. I always feel like I'm missing out on something when I go to the website and they tease you with the "just sold" items. 

I've also gotten some really great deals on their website and think their listing system is pretty good. They also have the best use of social media out of all the online used photo retailers. One issue is their testing can be hit or miss, a few items I've bought haven't worked and should of been sold as parts. 

Strengths: Really great prices that move items. 
Weaknesses: You have to check in often to make sure you are getting good deals. I check almost daily and things slip by really quickly. 
Steals: Summicron 50mm F2 ($400) Olympus Stylus (17$) Olympus OM-1 ($20)
Tips: Check often and use their automatic sale codes TAKEFIVE to get 5% off items. If you buy fro them it's like an insider secret. 

Hope you enjoyed that overview. Any shops that I missed? Any tips you have for these sites as well? 

The Six Infinity Films

We usually rate film emulsions by their ability to chemically render the world around us. We also know that there are some films that go beyond this and are magical. If the Marvel Cinematic Universe can have infinity stones, film shooters might as well have their infinity films. 

Space Film - Power of space and the ability to teleport between worlds. 

This should be a film that could take someone from the digital universe to the film universe. With it's availability and great potential, the Space Film would be Kodak Ektar 100. The ability to easily develop via C-41 and the gorgeous color rendering of Ektar will have you jumping from digital to film pretty quick. 

Mind Film - Control the minds of others.

Maybe you don't want to go film and feel that digital can give you everything film can. Which film would I show you to change your mind? Ilford HP5. 

The ability of HP5 to go from ISO 400 to 3200 and adapt as it's pushed and pulled is extraordinary. When I began shooting black and white film I was stuck on the great Tax 100 but used HP5 out of necessity. I'm so glad I did as HP5 can be used in almost every situation well while still maintaining it's signature look and feel. 

Reality Film - Ability to Manipulate Matter. 

Lomography's Lomochrome purple is an amazing film to shoot with.  The power to turn green landscapes into pink and purple worlds shocked me. I shot a few rolls earlier this month and was stunned to see how strong the effect was and how fantastic it could turn standard green scenery.  

Power Film - Energy, enough to destroy worlds. 

Kodachrome was a film used in some of the most powerful images of our times. A favorite of Steve McCurry, William Eggleston and Alex Webb. The color red especially popped off the images. It was also a very dangerous film to produce and develop, with harsh chemicals and toxins. Although it was beautiful and powerful it was just as dangerous.

Time Film - Go back and forth in time. 

Kodak Tri-X has been is use since 1954 and is the defacto street photography film Tused by greats like Garry Winongrand, William Klein and still a favorite of modern photographers like Andre Wagner. The contrasty images and telltale grain structure make it a timeless film that works well in any era. Your grandfather was shooting with it and one day your kids could easily be shooting with it too. 

Soul Film - Control Souls. 

No spoilers but this film should come at a great cost. Fuji Acros was discontinued earlier this year. A black and white emulsion that is beloved by those who shoot with it. I've never seen as much pure adoration and hurt when I heard the film was cancelled earlier this year. That's the tough part of Acros, you can start shooting with it but you know it's only going to be here a couple more months.

Any film that I missed or decisions that you didn't like? Let me know in the comments.