Cruising the Parking Lot at the Handbuilt Motorcycle Show

I shared some shots that I took at the Handbuilt Motorcycle show a couple of weeks back. This time I wanted to share a few images from outside the show. The street in front of Fair Market was closed off for motorcycle parking and these are some of the bikes people rode in the show. Sometimes the bikes in the parking lot are even more interesting than the show bikes.

The images below were taken with my trusty Olympus XA2 and a roll of Portra 400 film. If you follow my blog with any regularity you know that I'm often inclined to shoot a roll or two of film at events like this, often with seemingly limiting cameras. Shooting with the simple XA2 lets me stay in the moment and enjoy the show and company of the folks I'm hanging out with. These images are very snapshot-like. Nothing fancy, just quick captures of things that interest me.

The little XA2 can be a challenge to use since I find it difficult to see the framelines through the viewfinder with my glasses on. I shoot looser than I would normally with this camera. The XA2 does a fine job with exposure and the images it produces are just sharp enough. I find them to have a bit of a low-fi look that really suits the subject matter. Below are a few favorites. Check out more sights from the Handbuilt Show on my gallery site.

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.

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 XA 2

I've been looking around for a small pocketable film camera for those days when I'm scooting about the back roads on my motorcycle and I don't want to be burdened with a camera bag over my shoulder. A few weeks back I stumbled on a little Olympus XA 2. The form factor is just what I wanted and I liked that it has a sliding lens cover instead of a cap. Without knowing a whole lot about this little camera I snapped it up.

This style of camera is really different for me. I tend to use my cameras primarily in full manual mode. That's not even possible on the XA 2. The only exposure control it has is the ASA (ISO) setting. The aperture and shutter speed are determined by the meter. There is no precise focus control - only a 3 position switch with icons for portrait, group, and landscape. The viewfinder is a simple window with a frame line. No through-the-lens composition here. I'm giving up a lot of control and that's outside my comfort zone. This will be an interesting and challenging camera!

The shutter button is kind of unusual on this little camera. It isn't a button so much as a pressure sensitive area. I thought it felt odd at first. The nice thing is that I had no trouble activating it even with motorcycle gloves on. One thing that is kind of annoying about the camera's operation is that when the sliding lens cover is closed the focus distance resets to the middle "group portrait" setting. That behavior got me more than once!

My XA 2 came with a flash and the original case. The flash is neat in how it attaches to the side and blends right in. I don't intend to use it so I removed it right off the bat. I intend to use this camera mostly during the day as a snapshot tool on my little motorcycle journeys and I won't need the flash for that sort of stuff. While it is all lightweight plastic, the XA 2 doesn't feel cheap. I've already had it out for a test run and the results are impressive. Photos taken with this little gem will be coming up in the next post.