Rustic Roadside Sights

I was meandering through some backroads on my motorcycle a few weeks back. It was just one of those aimless trips where I was out to enjoy the ride and clear my head. Sometimes I don't bother taking a camera at all on trips like that. Other times I'll take something small, simple, and pocketable. Sounds like an iPhone maybe? Nah. I often try to leave as much technology behind as I can on these quiet backroads rides. This time my camera companion was an Olympus Stylus 35mm film camera, loaded up with a roll of Agfa 200.

As it turned out, I didn't do that much shooting that day. The ride was more needed than the photography fix. I stopped rarely and grabbed shots of a few rustic looking abandoned homes and other structures. Nothing out of the ordinary for these parts. Most of the film roll went unused, saved for another day. That's OK. There will always be other rides.

A Ride with the Pocketable Stylus

I've been experimenting with a bit with pocketable film cameras. When I take my motorcycle out for some back roads riding, I want to have a camera other than my iPhone with me and I want it to be analog. Sometimes I just want to be out for the sake of the ride and not have to look at the world through an LCD screen. A little Olympus Stylus is the latest camera to audition for a spot in my jacket pocket and after the maiden voyage, I can say I'm impressed.

Like my Olympus XA and XA2 cameras, the Stylus has a sliding cover for the lens and it acts as a power switch. It is fully automatic. All I have to do is compose and shoot - the camera does the metering, focusing, and winding. With the large shutter button I can easily operate the Stylus with a gloved hand. It's perfect for a motorcyclist to use without having to remove a glove. 

The f/3.5 35mm lens isn't very fast but that's OK. I'm not looking for a low light shooter. My need is for a camera to get a few casual snaps on outings where the the main goal is riding with no particular destination in mind - maybe sharing the road with a fellow rider or two. I found the metering to be accurate and focus was dead on. The only things I can really complain about is that the battery is a CR123A rather than something more common like a pair of AAs. The camera also needs DX coded film. While most new film is DX compatible, I sometimes shoot stuff like motion picture film that isn't coded. The stylus will assume any non coded film to be ISO 100.

I loaded up the Stylus with a roll of film a friend gave me a while back - Lomography Color 400. It was my first time shooting this one. My ride took me through Bartlett and Holland, TX where I stopped for a bit in each town to snap a few shots. I was pleased with the results I got back from my lab. I believe the film is some sort of rebranded Fujifilm stock. There is something about Fujifilm color that I really like. I can't get color this pleasing to my eye with my digital cameras

Here's something I've never done before. I'm posting my whole roll, holding nothing back. That's 37 shots including the banner image on this post. One of the other things about shooting film that I like is that I'm more careful and thoughtful with my photos because I can't immediately see the results and it costs me something with every click of the shutter. Some shots are better than others to be sure. Still, I'm not typically going to be as willing to share every shot I take with my digital cameras where clicks are free. Different mindset. Slower and more contemplative - a good thing to do on a leisurely ride down some Texas backroads.

Hockey and Tri-X

Hockey is an incredibly tough sport to photograph. For reasons that escape me at the moment I decided to make it even harder on myself and snap a few shots at a recent Texas Stars game the old fashioned way. I used my Olympus OM-4Ti with a 85mm f/2 lens and some Tri-X black and white film. No autofocus, no bursting frames and pushing the heck out of some way too slow film. It would take luck to get anything good with this setup.

But this is how things used to be done, before we got cameras that rip numerous frames a second and track players with advanced continuous autofocus. We have it so easy these days, don't we? Shooting things old school like this once in a while is a humbling experience that keeps me grounded. I realize how much I rely on that bursting shutter over my own experience, intuition, and anticipation. It's really hard to get good shots without all that technology. Guys like Bruce Bennett did for years though. 

I'll be honest - there weren't many keepers out of the 24 or so frames I shot. And the ones I kept, well, they won't win any prizes. Still, it's a fun exercise to do once in a while even if it can be a little frustrating. If every shot mattered as much a frame of 35mm film, imagine how much better our shots could be with those modern whizz-bang cameras.

Pushing TRI-X

I love the look of Kodak TRI-X black and white film. It has nice mid range tones and just the right of grain for me. At 400 ASA it often isn't fast enough for the conditions I find myself typically photographing in so I decided to try an experiment and push it to 1600 ASA. I had heard that it pushes nicely and I wasn't disappointed. In fact, I like the results better than what I've gotten with Kodak P3200 in the past. The grain is negligible and the contrast is quite good. I only minimally adjusted the contrast curves of the film scans in Lightroom. I had my local lab, Austin Camera, develop the film with a +2 push and scan the negatives for me. I'll certainly be experimenting more with pushed TRI-X in the future.  Here are a few favorites from the first roll.

Taking a Ride with Ilford XP2 Super

It was a pleasant afternoon this past Labor Day and since I didn't have to go to work it was a perfect opportunity to take a ride down the Texas backroads through some of the nearby small towns. Riding my Harley-Davidson Sportster and snapping photos are two of my favorite things so of course I had a camera along. While I love photography, when I'm out for a ride I don't want to be encumbered by a bunch of gear. Part of why I ride is get away from the distractions and baggage of life. I want to keep things minimalist and a bulky bag of camera gear slung over my shoulder goes against that experience. On this little trip my recently acquired Olympus XA 2 came along in my jacket pocket, loaded with Ilford XP2 Super black and white C-41 film.

Ilford XP2 Super is a new film to me. This black and white film is developed in the C-41 process just like regular color negative film. I'd never tried it because we are lucky enough in the Austin area to have labs that still process traditional black and white film. I figured why shoot "fake" black and white film when the real stuff is easily handled by my lab. Then one day I was talking with Matt at Austin Camera about the scans I get from them. Black and white film scans can be a challenge to work with for me. I always have to do a good bit of adjustment with tone curves and spot out the inevitable dust specs. Matt suggested I give XP2 a try because it tends to scan better for them. 

After seeing the resulting scans of my negatives I can see why he said that. The histograms for the images looked a lot better than the compressed tonal range that I usually have to extensively tweak in my usual black and white film scans. I mostly just had to deepen the shadow range a bit for my liking and lightly burn here and there. The images were virtually free of dust specs. The dust removal software in scanners doesn't work on silver halide black and white film but it will on XP2 since it is C-41. Nice! That's a huge time saver for me. 

The images looked very different from the traditional black and white scans. They are super clean with no visible grain. If I was shooting TRI-X (also ISO 400 like the XP2) I'd see a good deal of grain, especially in highlights. The highlights are crystal clear with XP2. The look is so different that I was initially tempted to add some grain in post. I decided against it because I'd rather present the media as it is. Adding grain to make XP2 look like traditional black and white film would be like putting molded parts on a motorcycle to make it look like a classic (I'm looking at you and your faux carburetors Triumph.)

I did one other thing differently in this film experiment. C-41 is a little less expensive to process than black and white film and Austin Camera has a sweet deal where develop, scan, and print 4x6s for a roll of C-41 film for about $16. That's a a really good deal. The only problem is that the scans are small at that price - just enough for a quality 4x6 print and plenty for web site use. I usually have high resolution scans done but that gets costly. I've got another reason for wanting to try those smaller scans out and I'll talk about that some other time. 

Here are a few favorites from that first roll of XP2. I should mention that I rated the film at ISO 200 after reading a lot of posts on the Internet. There is a lot of latitude in this film for over exposure so opening it up that extra stop helps to pull in more shadow detail. It seemed to work. Enjoy a few sights along some Texas back roads.

Waxing Nostalgic with Prints

It has been a lot of years since I got prints back along with my developed film. When I dropped off my most recent roll of film at my local lab, Austin Camera, I recalled how fun it used to be to get that envelope stuffed with negatives and prints. I remembered getting those prints, usually double prints for sharing, and going through them - sorting out my favorites and tossing aside the crappy ones. No computer necessary, just the pure tactile joy of handling real photo prints. I decided it was time to revert to old practices. If I'm going to the trouble to shoot film and have it developed by a lab, why not get prints? It doesn't cost much more, especially with a develop/scan/print deal they have at Austin Camera.

My roll of Cinefilm color negative film was an ideal candidate for getting back to film prints. I had the lab print the roll on a matte paper that complemented the muted colors of this motion picture film stock. It felt great to hold prints in my hands and to be able to see my images without the aid of a computer or a negative light table. Yeah, I think I'm hooked on printing again. Apart from the gratification of having the prints in my hands, I found that these physical images made me look more critically at my compositions and framing. A few were sloppy and looked rushed. We tend to snap away in the digital world, straightening, cropping, and cleaning things up in post. In a print straight off the negative you can't hide the slop. It's both humbling and motivating. Get it right in camera...really right.

CineStill 50 - A Small Town Test

I spent one recent Sunday afternoon testing a couple of new things - an Olympus XA 2 and a roll of CineStill 50 35mm color negative film. The CineStill film is something I've been wanting to try for a while now. This is Kodak Vision 3 motion picture film that is used to film movies, albeit the use of film is kind of a rarity these days in Hollywood. This type of film has an anti-halation backing layer called Remjet that would ordinarily make it very difficult to process. CineStill has had the Remjet removed so that it can be processed like any ordinary C-41 film. Very cool!

The 50 ISO rated daylight balanced CineStill is perfect for our bright sunny days in my part of Texas. I've read where people even recommend overexposing it at ISO 25. For my first outing I decided to keep it at box speed. I was a little nervous shooting it in the untested XA 2 since CineStill is a little expensive (I think I paid about $11 for a roll.) Since the camera seemed to be in good working order with what appeared to be new light seals I took the gamble and it paid off. I was hoping to have a combination that got me rich yet muted colors with minimal effort on my part. Shooting with the XA 2 I got exactly that. All I had to do was guesstimate distance to select one of 3 focus options on the XA 2 and frame my shot. The amazing latitude of the film took care of the rest.

As usual when testing new gear, I headed down the road into Taylor, TX then up into Granger to finish out the roll. Here are a few favorites. The only post processing of the film scans was a slight bump in contrast and clarity. Film processing and scanning was done by Austin Camera.

Olympus OM-4 Ti

I like to dabble in film photography from time to time. My personal goal is to shoot at least a roll of film a month, although I have to admit I haven't been very good about keeping up with it the past few months. I hope that will change this summer with my latest camera acquisition, an Olympus OM-4 Ti. This is a neat 35mm camera that I've desired for quite some time for a couple of reasons. 

The first thing that got me thinking about the OM-4 Ti is a little silly perhaps. I'm a James Bond buff and ever since seeing an OM-4 Ti in the title sequence to "License to Kill" I've wanted this camera. The camera's cameo appearance has nothing whatsoever to do with the movie itself but it was a prominent feature in the title sequence. Great product placement, Olympus! My copy of the OM-4 Ti isn't an exact match to the one from the movie as that one was in the more common champagne color and I picked one up in black. The black copies actually are more expensive usually. I was lucky enough to catch one in stock at my favorite used camera seller, KEH, during a sale.

The other reason I've been wanting this particular camera is because of the unique spot metering capabilities it has. My film cameras all have meters that are either broken or that are not very accurate any more. I've been wanting something with a good meter so I don't always have to have my Sekonic with me while shooting film. A spot meter is preferable and the meter in the OM-4 Ti is a really good one. The spot is a bit large as it takes up the entire focusing prism spot. However, the camera is able to let you take multiple readings and average them together. In fact, it allows up to 8 spot meter samples to be recorded for exposure evaluation. It works great! You can see some of the shots I got in my initial outing here. Most of these were taken using auto exposure in conjunction with single or multiple spot metering.

A couple other nifty features on the OM-4 Ti are the Hi-Light and Shadow buttons. These are a nice convenience feature that let you spot meter either a highlight or shadow area and push a button that automatically adjust the exposure to keep your whites white and your blacks black. The Hi-Light button adds 2 stops to the exposure and the Shadow button substracts 2 2/3 stops. 

I'm hoping to shoot a bunch more rolls of film this summer and hopefully having the OM-4 Ti as my muse will keep motivated and on task. Queue James Bond theme song...I've got a license to shoot.

Sunday in Taylor

Camera G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) struck me a couple of weeks ago when I noticed that my favorite online camera seller, KEH, had a sweet sale going on. While I wasn't particularly looking for anything at the time, a sale is sale so I had to take a look. As luck would have it I found a camera that was on my "want it some day" list. It was an Olympus OM-4Ti 35mm film camera and at 25% off I clicked the buy button without a second thought. I'll talk more about this camera and why I was interested in it in an upcoming post. For now, I just thought I'd share a few photos I took with it on a functional test in nearby Taylor, TX. 

It was last Sunday morning when I ventured out with my friend and fellow photographer Jim. He has the same camera and was kind enough to show me the ropes on it and lend me some lenses. Taylor is a small town and I've certainly been there enough times that it seems like I've taken photos of just about everything there. Once again though, Taylor didn't disappoint as I pushed myself to find something special in the familiar. 

All photos were taken with the Olympus OM-4Ti using 50mm and 24mm Olympus lenses on Fujifilm Acros 100 black and white film. The film was developed and scanned by Austin Camera.

Searching for Clarity

There's nothing like a ride on my motorcycle through some quiet Texas backroads to clear my head. The purr of the engine silences my thoughts and the sights along the open road are a peaceful respite from city life. A camera usually accompanies me, although when I'm looking to get away and regain my mental clarity, taking photos isn't always a priority. I knew I wanted to ride more than shoot one Sunday afternoon. To keep myself on the task of riding meandering roads as much as possible, I took only a compact folding medium format camera a single roll of film. 12 shots. That was the limit I placed on myself.

I took my shots in a few small towns along my little trip. There was Briggs, Buckholts, Rogers, and Davilla that I can remember. A few old and lonely structures beckoned for my attention. As I sometimes do when I decide to shoot film in daylight, I didn't use a light meter. The exposures were educated guesses. It's not tough to do, especially during the day with black and white film. The Zeiss Ikon Nettax I carried in my small bag is a gift from a dear friend. Simple in operation while requiring a bit of skill and attention to detail. I'd find out later that I was a bit lacking in the latter that afternoon. 

The Nettax is a diminutive, bellowed camera of a different time. It is operated as much on instinct as procedure. A viewfinder separate from the lens helps one to frame a shot. The only focusing aid is a distance scale. A red dot on the small focusing ring helps the photographer find infinity focus. Red dot...well, maybe to someone else - not so much to my colorblind eyes. Too anxious to get back to riding, I setup what I thought was infinity focus by lining up the focus indicator with a dot on the ring. Had I bothered to take off my sunglasses and put on a pair of readers, perhaps I'd notice there was more than one dot on the focusing ring. Maybe there is only one red one, I don't know. Apparently that's not the one I chose.

12 shots were taken, 11 with the intent of focusing at infinity. One was shot with a closer distance in mind and I managed to adjust focus accordingly (meters vs, close enough.) 12 shots, 11 blurry pictures. Ouch. Now, I am known to shoot deliberately blurry pictures sometimes with artistic intent. It would be nice to say this was one of those times. I meant to do that., that's not true. If these were digital files I might well have deleted them. Medium format would be such a waste. In spite of my carelessness, I actually like the way some of these turned out. The soft focus adds a bit of mood that I think fits with the scenes and my emotions of the day. 

I'm not holding anything back. Here is the whole roll. I edited these for contrast, along with some dodging and burning. When I work with film scans I try not to do anything that wouldn't be possible in a darkroom. These are processed more heavily than I would normally do in post production. The out of focus images reminded me a bit of Holga toy camera shots I've seen so I worked with that in mind. The Zeiss is no toy and I'll try to use it more carefully next time. Then again, there is a certain look here that kind of works. Maybe there will be more sloppy focusing in my future. Next time I'll do it because I meant it. Here's to happy accidents.

Zeiss Ikon Nettax, Fujifilm Acros 100 film

Solitude in the City

I've been quiet on the blog lately. A sinus infection that turned into bronchitis has had me down and out for a good week now. After days of sinus headaches, hacking coughs, difficulty breathing, fevers, and just feeling generally lousy, I'm starting to return to health. Seems like everyone is getting sick. Ah, spring time in Austin, allergy capital of the world. 

Speaking of Austin, those of us who have lived here for many years are finding our once little city not so little any more. Thousands of people move here every year. Our traffic has become a nightmare. Rush hour never seems to stop anymore. The open land around the city is getting consumed with growth as the landscape is bulldozed for more subdivisions. In the heart of the city, new construction extends skyward as high priced condos can't seem to be erected fast enough. The city is changing at an alarming rate and I can't say it is for the better.

The image above was taken a few weeks back in downtown Austin. I like to run out with an old manual-only film camera and a roll of film every so often. It's a breath of simplicity and sanity in this fast paced gadget focused world. It's a time to switch off the smart phone and wander about in search of images with only my creativity and experience to guide me. Exposures are made by my judgement of the light, no computers involved, no batteries required. Perfection doesn't matter. I'll make mistakes. Not every frame is a keeper and it costs me time and money to find that out. A little skill, a little chance, maybe a picture worth keeping. 

It is getting harder these days but if know where to look in Austin you can still find a quiet moment of solitude. The Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge is a popular place and usually full of people on a nice day. As I was walking below the bridge I glanced up and saw the one guy. In that brief moment it looked like he had the bridge to himself. Far from it, of course. For a short time at least, he had his solitude in the city.

Image captured with an Olympus OM-1N 35mm camera with 50mm f/1.8 lens and red filter. Poly Pan black and white 50asa film.

Smoke Stacks

I was wandering around downtown Austin a bit last week, shooting a roll of black and white film. A personal goal of mine is to shoot a roll a month and I'm really behind in that endeavor lately. My little outing was long overdue. I needed an analog photography fix. Call me a luddite if you want. Technology is wonderful and the advances in modern cameras are truly amazing. Still, there is nothing like the experience of shooting film, especially a purely manual camera where the only controls for exposure are shutter speed and aperture. Ah, simplicity! No screens of menus or fiddly dials and buttons. I was shooting an Olympus OM1N this day. No meter, just experience and instinct to judge exposure.

The old Seaholm Power Plant is now a shopping center. The smoke stacks remain and the main building still has the old Art Deco signs and accents. I was playing with a red filter on the lens and the stacks made for nice contrast against a darkened sky. The film was a roll of Poly Pan F that I bought from the Film Photography Project a while back. I'd never used it before. There were some interest frames on my roll and I think I might try this one again sometime. 

Granger, A Canon, and some Kodak

Earlier this year I tried out a couple of new to me things: a Canonet QL17 GIII and some Kodak 5222 black and white film. I was looking for a good compact 35mm camera that I could keep in my every day carry bag. To put the little Canon to the test, I headed to nearby Granger, TX for a short photo walk around the eerily quiet small town.

It was an overcast day and the 5222 film didn't give much contrast. I had to use some aggressive tone curves to get the scanned images more to my liking and they are still a little flat for my tastes. The little Canon and I didn't click (no pun intended) very well together either. The rangefinder patch was rather dim, making focusing difficult. There was a softness to most images and I'm not sure whether that was due to my difficulty in focusing or if the rangefinder mechanism was out of alignment.

Still, I came away with a few images I liked. I decided that the Canonet wasn't "the one" and returned it. Maybe I'm not cut out for rangefinders? It was a fun experiment and I'll be looking for the next small 35mm camera to audition. 

Eastman 5363 High Contrast Film

I purchased a few unconventional rolls of film from the Film Photography Project store a while back. One weekend recently I decided to load one of these rolls into a Canonet QL17 GIII I was trying out. It was a 24 exposure roll of Eastman 5363, a high contrast black and white film. This is a copy film, used for copying titles and mats in motion picture films according to the FPP site. From what what I'd read, I was hopeful I could get a nice contrasty "noir" look. I loaded up the Canonet and headed to my favorite nearby photography testing grounds in downtown Taylor, TX.

Well, I can say that this high contrast film certainly lives up to that description. I shot in a variety of settings, from harsh daylight to open shade. In the right light, this film looks great and gives a fantastic noir look. The camera I used didn't have a working meter so I ball parked things with the sunny 16 rule. What I found is that the dynamic range of this film is very limited. Shadows and, more importantly, highlights are easily lost in bright sunlight or on anything reflective. Normally, I'd use a yellow or orange filter to help tame sunlight but this was advised against by the folks at FPP. Keep the light a little flat like in open shade and the results are impressive. 

My film was developed and scanned by the friendly folks at Austin Camera. Here are a few of my favorite frames.

This is some interesting film stock and I'll definitely order more. I was hoping it would do a little better in bright daylight. Perhaps better results could be had with different development chemistry or pulling the development time down a bit. I'd like to see how well it does on an overcast day and early evening. At ASA 25, this slow film would become a challenge at night without a tripod. I'd be up for trying it out though. Working with some limitations, this film has promise for giving me that noir fix.