Why More Megapixels Are Actually Better for Black and White Photography

This is going to sound a bit odd, I mean how the heck are megapixels and black and white correlated?

Does it have to do with details? Well, no; not really. Instead, it has to do with the capabilities of your camera sensor, and more often than not, lower megapixel cameras aren’t as capable when it comes to editing. Smaller megapixel cameras are great when it comes to high ISO output. But with higher megapixels, you often get a vast dynamic range and colors. Believe it or not, that’s precisely what you want and need here.

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Long Term Review: Yashica GSN Electro 35 (Premium)

When Yashica hinted at the fact that they were coming out with a new camera, I expected something like the Yashica GSN Electro 35. But instead, I was given something that is much different but that arguably can’t be called a Yashica camera in the sense that we’ve known it to be. It’s something much different. And for me, my reintroduction to film came with the Yashica GSN Electro 35. It was many years ago: companies just didn’t get it back then. I (and apparently many others) wanted a camera that looked good, had retro aesthetics, and that took great photos. To get those aesthetics, I ended up going and getting a Yashica camera. Olympus broke the mold, then Fujifilm, and then everyone else tried getting into it. Yet to this day, no one makes anything quite like those old retro cameras except for maybe Leica.As a result, so many cameras have risen in prices with the Yashica GSN Electro 35 being just one of them. Almost 10 years ago, I met a guy on Craigslist who sold me him camera for $35. I look online now and they’ve doubled in price and sometimes went over that. Why? Well, if you get it restored and you get a working version, it’s actually a very good camera. This is partially due to the beautiful ergonomics, solid build quality, and ease of use. But the biggest and awesomest part of the Yashica GSN Electro 35 is the lens.

The Yashica GSN Electro 35 is characterized by this lens. When you look at the front of the camera, you’ll notice it’s specific designation as a Color lens. This is because years ago, the company figured that it could fool the public into thinking that this lens was designed specifically for color in mind and that it would make their images even better. It’s the same thing that Sony did years ago in the video world. This lens is a 45mm f1.7 lens that has a softness to it but also a sharpness with used in combination with a flash. Overall though, it’s a beautiful lens that will give you a uniquely analog look.

The lens is also where you’ll control the camera for the most part. It is an aperture priority camera with a fixed shutter speed for flash. When the battery isn’t in the camera, it will fire at a fixed shutter speed but still allow you to change the aperture. This is how many of Lomography’s cameras work to a certain point. This lens has five aperture blades, so the bokeh is going to have a much different shape to it. It’s not going to be round and smooth. But instead it will be hard and jarring in some ways unless you’re shooting wide open. I sort of like that look though.

Luckily, you can also use a variety of films with the light meter.

But otherwise, the front of the camera has the rangefinder and this hard plastic textured area. The top of the camera has a cool retro look and layout to it; but there is one oddity. Most cameras have a film advance that will lock when the camera hasn’t shot. But the Yashica doesn’t have that. It will just keep on advancing and advancing. So be careful about that. Generally speaking, you’d think that a camera this big would also have a brighter rangefinder. When I was younger, it didn’t have any sort of problems. Now that I’m in my 30s, this rangefinder is pretty dark. When you compare it to a Leica, Voigtlander, or even some of the Canon cameras you’ll see that it’s dark unless you’re outdoors. Make sure that you get yours cleaned. A good CLA will ensure that it works just fine.

When you’re using the camera, you’ll be best off using it by prefocusing and zone focusing. Otherwise, you can also try to just crank the focusing until you get it right. That’s what I used to do. But take a guess as to how far your subject is at first and then touch it up. You’ll get better results that way. For a long time, I got some fantastic images with my Yashica. But then I moved onto a Voigtlander. Then medium format. And we took a break from one another. My mother took my Yashica GSN Electro 35 from me, neglected it to hell, and I only got it back a few months ago from my sister.

You can say that my Yashica and I took a break from one another. It got me into rangefinders and it helped me to explore a number of the others out there. It made me realize how much I really enjoy Leicas. But coming back to it made me think about simpler times in both my life and how things used to be exposed. It still works. It’s a bit more difficult to work with, but it can be worked with. These days, I’ll tend to use it less and less. Why? I’ve got Leicas. I own a Hexar AF. But the Yashica is a timepiece. It’s also sort of a fashion statement. It looks pretty and overall has a unique look vs many other cameras. It can deliver razor sharp images and as long as you’re alright with a single lens, you’ll be fine. A part of me though wishes that I got the Canon QL17 III instead. But the Yashica is more than good enough of a variant.

Would I buy the Yashica GSN Electro 35 today? Probably. It’s a camera that can still be had very affordable over the Canon. So if you want a very budget camera then this is the one to strive for. Want a gift for a child? Get them this one.

Rangefinder Camera Review: Fujifilm GW690 III (Premium)

In the medium format world, you’ll find that there are a whole lot of rangefinder cameras, but not a whole lot of good ones–the Fujifilm GW690 III is the exception to that statement. When we talk about medium format rangefinders, lots of folks immediately whisper Mamiya, Bronica, Fujifilm–no one mentions Voigtlander or Zeiss. But as it is, Fujifilm’s highest end rangefinder could could indeed be this. While there were newer cameras to come out with a light meter and all, nothing really matches the sheer size of a gorgeous 6×9 negative. That’s what the Fujifilm GW690 III fires. Originally designed for landscape photographers, it’s found its way into the hands of modern portrait photographers and even street photographers. With a big, bright rangefinder to it and a beautiful 90mm f3.5 lens rendering the equivalent of a 35mm f1.2 in full frame 35mm, there isn’t a whole lot to hate about the Fujifilm GW690 III.The Fujifilm GW690 III puts simplicity at the forefront. The only complication may be that the photographer has a number of different aspect ratios they can use. But otherwise, there isn’t much else to worry about. What may put some folks off though is the fact that both the shutter and aperture and controlled via the lens. For those of us newer to the world of photography, this may be something brand new. But if you’ve ever used an Olympus OM, then you’re totally used to it. You’ll also typically want to shoot the camera with the lens hood out as the hood tends to block the controls just a bit if you have larger paws. At the same time, you’ll want to be careful when using something like a graduated ND filter. What you’ll get here is a situation where you’ll need to set your exposure, pull the hood back, place the filter over the lens and guestimate how much coverage there is. Because this is a rangefinder, you’re not getting a through the lens experience. For that reason, a lot of photographers don’t tend to use rangefinders if they’re shooting landscapes.

Go ahead and read about the camera on the web. Some folks may say that it’s got a terrible build quality to it. The Fujifilm GW690 III is made of plastic. It’s a fairly durable plastic, but one solid hit may result in a crack to the body. Fujifilm most likely made it out of plastic to keep the camera lightweight. Just imagine, if it were made of metal and had an aluminum body, your shoulder would be hurting quite a bit. I’ve taken it on travels with me though, and it has always survived well enough. Would I take it into the rain? In fact, I’ve taken it into rain and snow both and the camera has been fine. Again, it’s because of the lack of electronics. While I can’t speak to specific weather sealing, I can say with complete confidence that I’ve never had any sort of issues with the camera in inclement weather. As someone who gets motivated to go shoot in rigorous conditions rather than stay inside and enjoy a nice cup of Earl Grey tea, this is important to me. Of course, this lack of electronics means that you’ll be using Sunny 16 or a handheld light meter. Those offered by Lumu I feel are the best of the modern batch.

With the Fujifilm GW690 III you typically get around 8 shots per roll. The reason why is because it’s a big negative. So you’re using a whole lot of film. With that said, I think that using the Fujifilm GW690 III best lends itself to the old school style of shooting with the camera set firmly down on a tripod, careful measurements being taken, etc. It’s not so great for capturing the decisive moment; but with the right film it can be. For that type of work, note that you’re going to need to stop down the lens tremendously to get anything in focus.

The lens is also very sharp. If you’re a fan of modern Fujifilm lenses, imagine something even sharper. The best results from this lens come out when the images shot are being done with the use of a diffused flash. Then specular highlights come out. Even at f3.5, the lens is exceptionally sharp. In the eyes of many, this may be a slow lens. But for medium format of this side, the 90mm f3.5 is very fast. In terms of light gathering abilities though, you’ll want to be careful as it doesn’t gather a lot of light. Luckily, it’s a rangefinder and the shutter mechanism isn’t so heavy that it will cause excessive camera shake.

When it comes to use, consider the fact that the Fujifilm GW690 III has two different shutter buttons. One is located on top of the camera the way one would suspect it would be set up. But the other is on the front. This front shutter is designed for vertical grip use. In real life use, it’s fantastic and fun to use. A part of me wishes that modern cameras would have something like this instead of needing to purchase a vertical grip for your camera.

The Fujifilm GW690 III holds up for a long time too if you’re a fan of the 35mm field of view. There are other variants, but none with this fast of a lens. Others have wider lenses, but I figure that most folks would find 35mm to be the most versatile option for them. I’ve had a number of film cameras come and go through my hands and of any of them, the Fujifilm GW690 III is bound to stay with me for a very long time. When I need something with interchangeable backs, I’ll consider the RB67.

Fujifilm Acros 100

Compact, Fixed Lens Rangefinders for the New Film Photographer (Premium)

Image by Dave Lawrence

It’s true: sometimes all you need is one lens, a camera, some film, and a little bit of creative freedom–and almost nothing embodies that idea more than a fixed lens rangefinder camera. For a number of years, consumers wanted a camera that could give them professional grade results but that didn’t have a whole lot of complications. Manufacturers answered that call with a number of fixed lens rangefinder cameras. These cameras gave consumers a good, fixed focal length, fast aperture lens and kept the simplicity at the heart of the product. The good thing is that many of these cameras are still around today.

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Building and Using a Portable Photo Studio for Under $750

Every semi-professional photographer dreams of trying to create their own photo studio. What many photographers don’t realize is that with some very thrifty items, you can get the same results as significantly more expensive products as long as you’ve just got the knowledge of how to use them. There are a number of tutorials online that teach photographers how to build a portable photo studio, but not a whole lot that teach you how to use it and how to build one for a pretty affordable price point. Even less tell you what to do with the gear once you’ve got it.

We’re going to get you started from the ground up.

So many people dislike themselves so thoroughly that they never see any reproduction of themselves that suits. None of us is born with the right face. It’s a tough job being a portrait photographer. – Imogen Cunningham

Your Photographic Identity in Studio Portraiture: Answer These Questions

When you’re first starting out creating your own portable photo studio, it’s easy for you to just set it up and take photos. But you should ideally look more long term than that. If you want to do studio portraiture, then there’s obviously a reason for that and part of this has to do with connecting the technical with the artistic side of your brain. They’ll need to communicate with one another. So let’s start out by answering these questions:

  • Who are you as a photographer?
  • What studio portrait photographers do you admire?
  • Do they actually shoot in a studio or on location?
  • Do they bring studio gear onto a location to shoot?
  • What about their creative style and look do you admire?
  • What do these photographers use to get the looks that they do?
  • What do the photographers do with the models and subjects to get their looks?
  • Do you feasibly have the time to do this type of work?
  • Where will you mostly be shooting?
  • What methods do these photographers use to get the style that they do?
  • Why do you want to be a studio portrait photographer?
  • What do you feel you’re going to do for a client or subject that is different?
  • What do you feel you’re going to do that’s different in the art world?

Now as you’re answering these questions, carefully listen to yourself and be honest. Then think about what the needs are for the type of photographer you’re trying to be. This is part of your photographic identity. You’ll easily start to figure out whether you should be a natural light shooter, a flash shooter, a location shooter, a stagnant background shooter, etc.

The Gear

So now we get to the gear. This gear is really simple to work with and so incredibly versatile that you can go from working with it in a household one second or an on-location area for the next.

Godox Li-on Series of Flashes and Transmitters: The reason why we adore the Godox Li-On series of flashes and transmitters are because they’re affordable, fairly durable, powerful and simple to use. If a piece breaks, you can easily replace the unit. These flashes come with TTL capabilities for Sony, Canon and Nikon. But my personal favorite is the all manual version. These lights have a very fast flash duration, so they’re very capable of overpowering a lot of ambient light in most situations. Plus, they’re portable; and as the main piece of equipment that you’re going to need they’ll be a mainstay for you.

I also sometimes use this flash with ExpoImaging’s Gels.

Pro Tip: Use the wide angle diffuser to spread the light over a larger area. The larger the light source is, the softer it can be.

Roundflash dish: Roundflash is the manufacturer of a number of fantastic light modifiers. Their first is the roundflash itself which takes existing light from a flash and makes it work like a ring flash. The second and ultimately more versatile option is the dish. This is a collapsible beauty dish that outputs some very beautiful light. But it’s small and so is perhaps mostly ideal for photos shot from a person’s upper thigh and above.

Its small size means that it’s portable.

Pro Tip: Beauty dishes are sort of like softboxes but deliver an arguably better look.

Neewer Backdrop Kit: This kit is sturdy enough for most uses and transportation–plus it’s affordable. It includes stands and rods that you put together simply by screwing them in at the right spots. You get a ton of them too.

Backdrops: White and black backdrops are really all you need most of the time. But if you need something with more punch, then you’re sometimes best off making your own unless you go for Oliphant.

There is no single form or style of portraiture. Portraiture means individualism and as such means diversity, self-expression, private point of view. The most successful images seem to be those which exist on several planes at once and which reflect the fantasy and understanding of many. – Peter Bunnell

Westcott light stand: This stand works well enough to hold your flash with the collapsible beauty dish on it. But it can also be used to hold a reflector. With the reflector in the transparent configuration, you can fire the flash through it to give off the same look that a softbox does.

Making the Most of Your Photo Studio

So now that you’ve got all this gear, what do you do with it? Well, here are some ideas. All of the photos in this article were done with the gear we’ve been talking about:

  • Use the Godox flash placed off on some sort of higher surface and have it fire down onto your subject. Most lights that we see are naturally above us and human beings. So light sources that come from the side and above are simply more pleasing to us.
  • The Godox flash can deliver pretty soft and nice lighting when used bare with its wide angle diffuser. You can bounce the light off of a surface but keep in mind that the flash output is going to take on the color of that wall or surface.
  • The Roundflash Dish collapses down in the same way that a photographic reflector does. Then you can simply store it in a pocket of your camera bag.
  • The Roundflash dish is best used arguably with tighter frames. But if you’re a fan of hard lighting, then try that. Hard lighting typically works best with thinner body profiles though but that doesn’t mean that it can’t work with larger ones.
  • Are your backdrops all crumply? If you don’t have the time to steam the wrinkles out then consider just not stretching them out on the stand. Instead, make them tighter and sort of like a stage curtain. That will help hide the wrinkles.
  • Killing all the ambient light that you can is a priority most of the time when using backdrops. Personally, I try to do the same thing even without them.
  • Never, ever, underestimate what a reflector can do. You essentially have three light modifiers with this kit: the wide angle diffuser, the Beauty dish and the reflector. The reflector can either bounce light back into the subject, be used as a panel to bounce the light directly off of, or be used in a shoot through configuration where the light is diffused with the massive surface area of the reflector.

The Smartphone Photography Apps That You’re Probably Not Using but Should (Premium)

Anyone that has done smartphone photography before in the past knows that the secret to outputting better photos isn’t in the shooting process necessarily but in the post-production process. With that said, you’ll need the best apps that you can get your hands on to do something better. Unlike actual, dedicated cameras, everything with a smartphone is done via software of some sort. Everyone obviously knows about and uses Instagram, but if you’re not exploring other options then you should strongly consider these.

Lens Distortions

Lens Distortions is something you may be familiar with if you’re a heavy photoshop user. The mobile app takes some of the best filters from the desktop and lets you add them to your images with ease. Lens flare? You got it. Bokeh? Sure. It essentially takes all those romantic elements of images that were engineered out of modern lenses and lets you put them back into the images that you make. You can stack and layer the edits and you can also dial in the opacity of each one. They’re incredibly fun to work with.

In fact, I prefer the mobile app more to the Photoshop experience.

Light leaks

I honestly, never thought that the idea of light leaks would come into fashion, but with the rise of disposable cameras they surely are coming back. Colloquially, light leaks happened on film cameras because there was a problem with the sealing. Said sealing often gave the images a sort of burned look. Back in the day, they hated it. Today, that flaw is being embraced as a really nice effect. The lead image of this post is from Light Leaks. Light leaks does essentially what its name implies. There are well over 20 light leak filters and you can dial them into any image you use accordingly. Though you can’t position them like you can with Lens Distortions, you can dial in the opacity of each photo. Light leaks is fantastic and can add quite a bit of pizzaz to your photos.

RNI Films

Arguably my favorite photo editing app that I tell everyone about is RNI Films. RNI Films is made by Really Nice Images and is free to download. For free, you get a number of emulsions to select from with slide, negative, black and white and instant being available. If you want all of the black and white films, you pay for them. And in the long run, it’s well worth the purchase. RNI spent years figuring out the color science behind film emulsions and studying them. They continue to update the app and add even more films as time goes on. Plus, they spent a long time studying museum archives of images. To that end, you can do things like apply dust filters on your images if you wish.

Glitche

Glitche is an app that I used to do an entire photography project. If you want some very trippy effects, then Glitche is the way to go. In particular, it has 90s VHS effects. Of course, the 90s looks are really in right now. So if you embrace that with a wide angle lens, you’ll be recapturing that look.

Union

Union is a very special app. If you know how to shoot double exposures, then this is the app for you. It makes blending the layers of each image ridiculously simple to do. That’s really all that it does, but at the same time it’s still an app that I use occasionally.

Manual

If you’re on iOS, you probably know about the indispensable Manual app. This app lets you have full control over your camera’s functions like shutter speed and all. It basically does everything that the Adobe Lightroom camera app can.

Review: Fujifilm Instax Square SP-3 Square Instax Format Printer (Premium)

The Fujifilm Instax SP-3 printer is something that many have been looking forward to for a really long time. Instax film is fun, and when Fujifilm announced the square format, lots of photographers were excited to have a larger surface area to shoot on and print images on. And so finally, we’ve got something that’s making the newer generation of photographers really hyped about printing again: of course it’s on a small size and a format that some others may scoff at, but at the heart of it, this is an image format and a printer that can output some gorgeous prints. You won’t be enlarging them, and a single photo in and of itself won’t be on your wall; but instead you’ll put legions of them up.For photographers who like working with Instax film, you may be asking why they haven’t made one for Instax Wide yet. Perhaps they wish to abandon the medium? Apparently, that’s something that may also be in the works. Photographers haven’t really caught on with Instax wide probably because, well, it’s large. But there are collectives of us that adhere to the “bigger is better” mentality. And so I’m not sure if we’re just too small of a clique or if they just didn’t think to do it. Perhaps it could be that the US Prison system and the Catholic Church are the ones that mostly buy Instax wide. However, it can create some gorgeous photos in the right hands and with the right equipment.

When you look at the Fujifilm Instax SP-3, you’ll see a body with a very interesting and angular shape. It’s almost devoid of buttons and physical controls with the exception of the film insertion release, battery release, reprint button and power button. Otherwise, you’ll be operating this printer completely through the app. Yup, that’s right, you’re doing it via an app. The Instax Square app is available for iOS and Android devices and has some very nifty features that will really appeal to folks in various professional photography applications. For example, you can sync your Instagram, Facebook, Google photos, and your device’s own albums to the app. To work with social services, you’ll need to really have your own connection on your device first. Once you connect the social service to the app and find the image you want, you’ll select it. Then the Fujifilm Instax app will prompt you to connect to the printer. After that, the image will be printed. Of course this means that if you want to continue to do it, then you’ll need to ideally download the images to your phone. This could be daunting at something like a wedding or event where people are submitting images to a particular hashtag.

The app also allows photographers using the Fujifilm Instax SP-3 to print and edit the images. You can crop, resize, move the image around, add filters, etc. That means that you can apply black and white filters or even make your own. Unfortunately, Fujifilm isn’t woke on those fuzzy ears that Snapchat and Instagram let you have–and so you’ll need to get those from within the social services themselves. In addition to connecting from your phone, Fujifilm’s printer will also have connectivity via their WiFi connected cameras. So after shooting a session with your X Pro 2, you can ship those images out for print-on-demand right then and there.

Fujifilm doesn’t seem to be coming out with their own black and white Square Instax film yet, but it could be in the works for sure. However, their first camera lets someone using their color film to do one or the other.

What’s really cool is that because of the Instax Square format, photographers can go ahead and create their own little scrapbooks of these images. Those notebooks are often really fun and make for great coffee table books. Photographers who do tons of portrait sessions can buy a number of packs and notebooks, print a number of photos over and over again with this printer, paste them into the zine or notebooks, and then sell them off as a limited edition series. But on top of that, an idea that I really do genuinely enjoy is the idea of using these as business cards. You can save your information to a document, screenshot that, and then print that onto the square format. Then when you give it to someone you can watch them shake the Polaroid photo and then kindly tell them that they don’t need to shake it anymore.

The Fujifilm Instax SP-3 opens up a whole number of possibilities from photographers and creatives. So if you shoot a ton of Acros with your Fujifilm X series camera, then consider the Fujifilm Instax SP-3.

Papers that Every Photographer Serious About Printing Should Try

The best experiences for printing really come when you do it yourself. It’s really convenient to have CostCo, Adorama, or other services print for you. But they offer a very sort of standard type of paper. In fact, if you looked at what the company sells the most paper in America, it would be Fujifilm. Fujifilm? Really, you say? Yes. Go to any pharmacy and get your images printed, they’ll be done on a Fujifilm glossy paper. Fujifilm for sure gives the absolute standard for what you get from most kiosks of some sort. But if you’re looking for a different look, it can be a bit confusing. So here are some of our favorite papers.

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Report: Using Ilford Pan F Plus 50 with the New Sigma 14mm f1.8 Art Lens (Premium)

I like to equate my experience of film photography to that of the experience that the older generation of photographers who experienced digital for the first time. At 30 years old, I still haven’t had the opportunity or the time or step into the darkroom. I never had the opportunity to do it either in college or high school. So to continue with the evolution of film and how it can deliver pleasing images, I believe that using newer, sharper lenses designed with digital sensors in mind is a great way to get even more out of film. Ilford Pan F Plus is arguably the sharpest black and white film out there with TMax and Acros being a bit behind, but if it was sharp even in the days before all of these fantastic new lenses started coming out, then when using these new lenses the film should arguably be even better. At least, this was my thinking when I loaded a roll of Ilford Pan F Plus 50 into my Canon EOS 33 and slapped the brand new Sigma 14mm f1.8 Art lens on the camera.

Sigma’s new lens is designed for astrophotography, but that doesn’t at all mean that you can’t use it for a number of other things. Interiors, landscapes, cityscapes, architecture, and believe it or not, even photos with some bokeh in them all came to mind when using this lens. Besides, Sigma’s lenses since the Global Vision announcement have been runaway hits almost consistently. However, using Sigma glass with film is always quite an experience. Why? Well, in the past few years Sigma has been doing this thing that ultimately increases the contrast of the images that you get. I noticed it first with the company’s 50mm f1.4 original and in comparison to the company’s 50mm f1.4 Art lens. Then when I looked at the rendering from the Sigma 35mm f1.4 Art compared to that of Canon’s and Zeiss’s I found a lot more contrast. Lots of photographers love this contrasty look and understand that digital sensors can do quite a bit to get more details from the images. But with film, that’s a bit tougher unless you’re making a print, of course.

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So why use Ilford Pan F Plus 50? I like to think of this film as the black and white version of Fujifilm Velvia 50. Even in today’s photographic world where digital photography gives you so many endless possibilities, Velvia is capable of doing things that make any photographer’s jaws drop. Fujifilm Velvia 50 is a chrome film and that means that you’re going to get some absolutely stellar colors but at the risk of a more limited dynamic range. Ilford Pan F Plus 50 has quite a range of tonality though. However, the process of working with a film like this is similar. The mentality of the modern film photographer is that of wanting to get everything that you possibly can perfectly right in camera because you don’t want to spend time dodging and burning or working with the images in post. There are indeed photographers out there who try to get the most from their scans and then edit in post; but in my opinion I feel like digital is superior when it comes to doing things like this. So Ilford Pan F Plus 50 film is a very nice challenge. It’s essentially a black and white chrome film.

For this test I decided to walk through New York’s Long Island City. LIC, as it’s affectionately known as, has held a place in my heart simply because it’s in the borough of my birth, Queens. Despite going through some massive changes, it holds an identity that makes it inherently still in some way or another the Queens that I grew up knowing. The LIC waterfront is home to tons of expensive apartments, beautiful architecture, views of Manhattan, the East River, and lots of complicated geometry that lends itself well to the black and white photography world. My scans, which were graciously developed by Lomography and then scanned by me at home, proved to me that this film can be absolutely spectacular but can benefit from using ND filters to get the most from the scenes. Unfortunately, the Sigma lens doesn’t lens itself well to using ND filters. The Sigma 14mm f1.8 has the lens hood permanently attached and the lens cap simply goes over the hood.

So when I went about working with Ilford Pan F Plus 50, I tended to underexpose the scenes simply because of a few methods that I’ve done with black and white photography in the past few years. Photographer Moose Peterson taught me that if you make the black levels in an image deeper, then they fool the eye into thinking that the image is sharper than it really is. Of course, this is already a black and white film. The intended result here was to play with silhouettes and backlighting of the city in a visually pleasing way.

What I really like about this film is how it handles midtones. When you look at the images from it, it’s almost as if you took a digital image, threw it into Lightroom and turned the Clarity up. But the clarity isn’t to the level where you’re obviously getting halos or anything inherently weird. Instead, I like to call it a crispness. Part of this also inherently comes from the super sharp Sigma glass, but ISO 50 film is also a big part.

Certain films from Ilford I feel have a cinematic look to this. But Ilford Pan F Plus I feel has a slightly digital look to it partially due to how much detail comes from the midtones. The only other film that I’ve seen pull midtone detail like this is Kodak Tri-X. So with that said, it’s difficult to get a cinematic look to the images that is so highly prized these days. Instead, the images look like, well, really well manicured photos without a whole lot of work. To any busy photographer, that is a godsend.

Ilford Pan F Plus is a beautiful film overall. At the time of my writing this post, I had just gotten off the phone with famous photographer Ellis Vener. It’s his favorite. Is it mine? Not for the way that I shoot. But I still can’t deny how great it is in the hands of a skilled photographer. If I were shooting portraits with this film, I think that my story would be much different.

Using Ilford Disposable Cameras for Candid Photography

If you’re reading this post, there are strong chances that you remember disposable cameras. My mother, who wasn’t that tech savvy at all, turned to them often when her Olympus camera broke. My college graduation was photographed on one in 2009 when I and many others had switched to digital point and shoots. My parents used them at events. So did my aunts and uncles. I always remember how fun they were–small, portable, and almost never reloadable until Lomography created their own reloadable versions earlier this year. So it was a complete blast from the past when I decided to try out Ilford’s disposable cameras.

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Which Ilford Film is Best for Portraiture? An Analysis

Lead photo by Savara (deprecated)

While many photographers will say that Kodak Portra 400 is the king of color portraiture in the analog photography world, the equivalent black and white film is not really as clear. There’s great options all around. Kodak T-Max 400 is designed to deliver the sharpest images possible. Fujifilm Acros 100 in 120 format can deliver some absolutely beautiful images in a studio. But with Ilford, they’ve got a number of options when it comes to portraiture. The company quite literally specializes in black and white film and for that reason they offer a multitude of products for a multitude of applications. Though if we were to narrow it down to only three films that you should have on you, they would be these three.

What Portrait Photographers Need

Three you say, Chris? Yes. Three. If you wanted something a bit faster I’d say Ilford Delta 400 but I expect a lot of photographers subscribing to La Noir Image to do things in a fashion that I love to call “proper photography.” That means that you’re probably in a studio or a studio like setting where you’ve got at least some control of the light. You’re a creative photographer when you shoot portraits, not a photographer who captures scenes. So you’re directing a scene, placing lights, etc. You’re going for the maximum in details and clarity in the photo. Upon writing this post, I’ve recently acquired a large format Graflex camera; and since I’m aware that many of you have used large format or do portraiture in studio-like settings, I want to help you all navigate the Ilford film world.

Ilford Delta 100

Image by Tim Williams

So why am I picking Delta 100? That’s a great question: It has a medium level of contrast but balances out the contrast with the sharpness and fine details. My assumption is that most readers here will be using it in 120 format and so I recommend good, longer lenses to really take advantage of not only this film’s sharpness, but what medium format really affords you. For example, a Pentax 165mm f2.8 lens is going to have some seriously shallow depth of field while being incredibly sharp. Lenses like that help portrait photographers really take advantage of even the worst of films. Even if you’re shooting 35mm, using newer lenses will mean that you’ll get a whole lot of details in the images that you’re shooting but not enough to make the photos look very digital in their rendition.

Luckily, Ilford states that it can rated at ISO 100 or ISO 200 in addition to ISO 100.

Ilford Pan F Plus 50

Image by Jay DeFehr

Ilford’s slowest film is bound to be on this list simply because of the fact that it also yields the most details in the photos overall. The company recommends using it in either bright natural light or in a studio where you’ve got a whole lot of watt seconds to kill using this slow film. Ilford Pan F Plus 50 also has high edge contrast–which increases the perceived sharpness in the scene overall. For that reason, they recommend it for really big prints. The way that I like to think about Ilford Pan F Plus 50 is like sort of like you’re shooting chrome/slide color film. You really want to nail the exposure and get it right. In fact, that’s how I shoot digital these days. Plus, I shoot film because sometimes I just don’t want to sit down at a computer and edit photos. If I wanted to do that, I’d do digital photography because it’s so incredibly simple and accessible. But with Pan F Plus 50, you should put high expectations on yourself to get your images and your exposures perfectly right. Use a light meter to spot meter various parts of the scene and figure out a great middle ground.

Again, this is why I state that this is a creator’s film.

Ilford FP4 Plus

Image by theUdødelig

Ilford FP4 Plus has to be one of my favorite medium format black and white films. Why? Well, it’s quite special in that you can meter slightly for the highlights and still get really good details in the shadows no matter what. If you put it up against many other films out there, you’ll see that it has a great contrast in its look. But the fact that it still brings out even more details in the shadows means that you can be a photographer that shoots really high contrast and still gets something in the shadows. This film is also at ISO 125–which a curious one. But this low ISO helps the film deliver a lot of detail while also delivering very low grain. Of any of the films on this list, it reminds me of one of my old favorites: Kodak 400 BW CN. I’m very sure that not a lot of photographers loved the look of that film, but I genuinely did. I used it for portraiture and street photography in a Leica camera.

As with every other film on this list, I really recommend using it in a studio setting or in a location where you’ve got a lot of control over the light to take advantage of what it’s capable of doing. If you’ve got an Oliphant backdrop with an interesting texture, this film is bound to do some crazy cool things.

What Ilford Film is Best for Street Photography?

Ilford film is a brand that is well known for creating a wide variety of black and white film. In fact, they don’t make any color film–what they specialize in is black and white film emulsions. While Kodak has created an analog film culture in the street photography community that is almost synonymous Kodak Tri-X 400, Ilford films have also been incredibly popular in capturing everyday life on celluloid. But the advantage that Ilford has is that it can deliver a multitude of looks through various different film emulsions. Typically, a 400 speed film has been the most used amongst street photographers due to its versatility and the ability to easily push or pull those emulsions.So if you’re considering using Ilford films for street photography, look no further.

Common Ilford Films Used for Street Photography

Ilford’s 400 ISO films that really shine for street photography are Ilford Delta 400, Ilford HP5, and Ilford XP2. All of them have different looks that we’ll cover momentarily. Both films come in both 35mm and 120, but we expect that most street photographers will be loading their Leicas up with 35mm film. The wonderful thing about many of these films is that they’re very versatile. In the hands of the right photographer and one who knows how to use a flash at the necessary times, Ilford’s film emulsions can do some pretty magical things. In the hands of the right developer, they’re also very capable.

The Delta Series

I know that this section is called the Delta series, but we’re going to mostly focus on Delta 400. There are indeed other Ilford Delta films, but let’s talk more about Ilford Delta 400. This film has a finer grain than Kodak Tri-X and arguably is more contrasty. You’ll get less details in the midtones and as I speak about it, it seems like it’s similar to Kodak T-Max 400. But indeed, it really isn’t a film that uses T grain. Street photographers will still like the very contrasty look of Ilford Delta 400. Considering that there are various emulsions, I probably wouldn’t try pushing or pulling the film all that much. For what it’s worth, the film likes a fair amount of light. So I’d shoot it between ISO 400 and in low light without flash with +1 exposure compensation.

One alternative that I think is worth talking about though is Ilford Delta 3200. Ilford recommends that you expose this film at ISO 1600 though. So street photographers can easily go around at night shooting scenes in cities with this film. You’re surely going to get a heck of a lot of grain, but in the right situations that can be easily embraced.

Ilford HP5

Ilford HP5 is a pretty beautiful film, but it’s personally not my favorite. I wouldn’t describe is as contrasty but instead more of a classic look. Some photographers may genuinely enjoy that, but I’m a photographer prefers my blacks to be inky and my whites to be pure. I never really feel like I got that with Ilford HP5. To be quite honest, I’m positive that most street photographers would really enjoy Ilford HP5. What makes Ilford HP5 so popular for street photography is its wide exposure latitude. It’s tough to screw it up and so it’s often recommended for journalism, sports, etc. Yes, you heard me–sports! If you’re shooting a wedding, I recommend using Ilford HP5.

What’s really nice is that Ilford HP5 not only can be loaded up into your camera, but it can be used with the Ilford disposable cameras available for sale. So in case you want to give it a try, this is a great way to do it.

Ilford XP2 SUPER

To me, Ilford XP2 could be my personal favorite film for street photography. I first tried Ilford XP2 when I started photographing using Ilford’s disposable cameras. Like the Delta series, XP2 likes light. I really admire it and the results that come when using it with their disposable cameras. I truthfully encourage using the flash fairly liberally too. I don’t want to say that Ilford XP2 is very contrasty, but what makes it so incredibly special is that you can expose scenes between ISO 50 and ISO 800 on the same roll and get solid results. For that reason, it’s great for photographers that want to get into film and want something very forgiving. When I describe it that way, it’s hard to not think about Kodak Tri-X. But Ilford XP2 Super I feel has a cleaner look than Tri-X does. If you value that over the grainy, gritty look that Tri-x affords, then reach for it.

You seriously can’t go wrong with Ilford XP2 Super.

Ease of Development

For photographers that love to develop film themselves to save money, you’ll want to reach for Delta 400 or HP5. Ilford has its own lineup of really good developer fluids that when followed using their directions, yield great results. But for photographers that don’t like the development process or that simply don’t have the time, I’d recommend going for Ilford XP2 Super. Black and white film always takes longer to develop whenever I drop it off to local labs. But if you’re doing that, you should know that Ilford XP2 Super can be developed C41. So that means you can take it into any Duane Reade, Walgreens, etc. However, I still recommend using small labs. They’re pretty easy to work with.

Scanning

All of these films are pretty simple to scan. I’ve scanned all three with a variety of scanners from Epson and even a cheap Wolverine scanner that you’re bound to find on Amazon. The only film that can prove difficult to scan though is Ilford XP2 Super as you can make various different types of exposures on the same roll. This will mean that each scan needs to be done differently to get the details according to how you shot it.

Report: Using the Fujifilm GFX 50S for Studio Portrait Photography

The Fujifilm GFX 50s is the apple of many a photographer’s eye, as it surely should be. It’s one of the first affordable medium format camera systems to hit the market that offers the benefits of a mirrorless camera system with the image quality of that of higher end formats. Of course, the case with medium format cameras is that they’ve always been very popular in the studio. Part of this traditionally has to do with slow autofocus, thinner depth of field, and the relatively slower lenses in comparison to 35mm small format. Though with Fujifilm’s GFX 50s, that seems to be changing.

Editor’s Note: All images here were edited with our presets available complimentary to all La Noir Image subscribers.

A New Breed of Medium Format Photography

The Fujifilm GFX 50s is a medium format camera in terms of genre, but Fujifilm themselves don’t call it medium format. The sensor is smaller than a standard 645 piece of film or sensor; but it arguably performs better than a lot of options out there with the exception of the highest end products in some regards. Fujifilm has been working to not only target the studio portrait demographic, but also the photojournalist/wedding photographer. That type of work was done with medium format back in the film days for sure, but not really a whole lot now. Much of this type of work has been taken over by 35mm full frame cameras.

To appeal to a new breed of photographers, many of whom don’t know the first thing about medium format, there is a 50MP sensor at the heart of the Fujifilm GFX 50s. This sensor is larger than a full frame 35mm sensor and when you’re comparing specs and numbers, the sensor isn’t that much larger. However, when you look at it you notice a bigger difference. The Fujifilm GFX 50S also incorporates weather sealing, pretty darned fast autofocus abilities, a detachable viewfinder, Fujifilm’s signature film simulations, and access to some of the newest and sharpest lenses on the market.

Here are the main specs:

  • 51.4MP 43.8 x 32.9mm CMOS Sensor
  • X-Processor Pro Image Processor
  • Removable 3.69m-Dot OLED EVF
  • 3.2″ 2.36m-Dot Tilting Touchscreen LCD
  • 117-Point Contrast-Detection AF System
  • Extended ISO 50-102400, 3 fps Shooting
  • Full HD 1080p Video Recording at 30 fps
  • Multi Aspect Ratio Shooting
  • Film Simulation Modes
  • Weather-Sealed Magnesium Alloy Body

Just imagine medium format digital Acros…pretty cool, right?

Ease of Use

If you’re used to working with the Fujifilm camera system, then this will be pretty straight forward. There are other additions and features that Fujifilm added to the GFX 50s to appeal to those coming from Canon, Nikon, Pentax and even Phase One. For example, you can set the aperture and shutter speed dials to be non-functional and instead work with the exposure dials the camera offers. But otherwise, think of the Fujifilm GFX 50s as a much larger Fujifilm XT2 camera. Fujifilm designed the camera with a wide appeal factor amongst advanced photographers and professional photographers.

With that said, this camera is squarely designed to go up against the likes of the Sony a9, Sony a7r II, Canon 1Dx Mk II, Nikon D5, Pentax 645Z, and in some ways the Nikon D810 and Canon 5Ds. In fact, it’s around the size of a DSLR with nowhere near the same weight.

What this translates to in the studio is a simple experience. Most photographers tend to create and set their lighting up beforehand with little to no modification in the exposure settings after the shooting has begun. So you can shoot at 1/125th, f5.6 and ISO 100, lock that in and just keep going. With that statement is perhaps one of my biggest problems with the Fujifilm GFX 50s–1/125th shutter speed shooting abilities. There are many cameras with significantly smaller sensors that can do faster flash sync speeds. 1/125th is fairly awful. The way that you’re going to need to offset this is by using a flash or strobe with a fast flash duration. Alternatively you can also use ND filters to cut down on extra ambient light that could be in the scene.

Luckily, the Fujifilm GFX 50s also has a native low ISO setting of ISO 100. If you’re shooting indoors or outdoors with cloudy weather, that will surely be fine depending on a number of parameters in the scene.

Fujifilm’s own flashes aren’t very powerful either, unfortunately. So your best bet is working with some of the newer options from Interfit, Profoto, Elinchrom, Flashpoint, Impact, etc. Sadly, Fujifilm hasn’t partnered with Profoto or other manufacturers yet for TTL control and radio capabilities.

Autofocus

Autofocus on medium format cameras has never been a big selling point with the exception of the Hasselblad True Focus system. With the Fujifilm GFX 50s, you can select one of a number of different focusing points while enabling face detection and eye detection.There’s no big need to focus and recompose at all the way you would with film medium format cameras. Instead, just focus and shoot. In lower light situations, the focusing slows down. In cases like that, try using the modelling light from your strobe.

Studio shooting generally doesn’t involve a whole lot of movement when it comes to subjects; but when it does you’ve still got a pretty good medium format autofocus system. You’ll probably still want to pre-focus/zone focus using the Peaking function and the digital depth of field focusing abilities offered by the Fujifilm GFX 50s.

With Fujifilm though, I’m sure we can expect all of this to become even better after some firmware updates.

Lenses

Fujifilm has always had a fantastic lineup of lenses available. They’ve got some focal lengths that may seem weird to both brand new digital photographers and those familiar with medium format systems. For example, their 63mm f2.8 is a more normal style lens designed to act like your standard 50mm. Their 120mm f4 Macro is more like a 90mm offering which doubles as a fantastic portrait lens. The quality, especially when using flash output is fantastic. The images will be super sharp–and they may even be the sharpest photos on the market. There are other options on the way, but your best bet is typically prime lenses.

If the sensor were an X Trans sensor though, the output would be that much better.

Additionally, Fujifilm will hopefully come out with faster lenses. In the 645 medium format world, the fastest lens available is an 80mm f1.8. If a larger format can get to f1.8 then I see no reason why the GFX format can’t get them too in addition fo f1.4 lenses or even f1.2. That would truly take advantage of what a larger sensor can do. In the studio, it would mean that you’ll be able to blend more natural lights in with your flash output. This is a popular option when shooting on location actually.

Second Curtain Flash

Fujifilm has for years limited the second curtain flash abilities of many of their cameras–only allowing it to happen with their own flashes. With the Fujifilm GFX 50s though you can do it and take more advantage of the slow sync abilities that can stop one section of movement through an entire frame. This is fantastic for location work but best done with an assistant to help you out and get the lighting exactly where you need it.

Second curtain flash, for the uninitiated, uses the flash output to stop one particular section of the photo while showing off a whole lot of light trails in the rest of the image. They’re great for fire performers, hula hoopers, sports, or anything else involving movement that needs to be emphasized.

Of course, what would a medium format camera system be if it couldn’t do this.

Field Report: Urban Geometry Street Photography with the Zeiss 35mm f1.4 Milvus Lens with Fujifilm Acros 100 (Premium)

To say that working with the Zeiss 35mm f1.4 Milvus lens isn’t a dream in many ways is an honest to goodness understatement. The new lens, which was announced earlier last month, is one of the latest options on the market. Zeiss touts the image quality to bt so good that they’re even specifically marketing it to portrait photographers. So if it’s good enough for portraits, then it has to be good enough for Urban Geometry. The Zeiss 35mm f1.4 Milvus has weather sealing, a rubber focusing ring, a metal exterior, and an overall pretty fantastic build quality. Zeiss optics have always been pretty contrast heavy, and so it genuinely made me wonder how it would fare with a fine grain, very sharp film like Fujifilm Acros 100. Indeed, Urban Geometry is oftentimes displayed in black and white. So why not just try to do it in-camera with no editing otherwise?

Like much of Urban Geometry, there often isn’t any sort of real reason to focus your lens. You’re best off just focusing out to infinity, setting the camera to aperture priority, pointing and shooting. If anything, Urban Geometry is more of a unique artistic viewpoint of the photographer captured in a creative way. It uses lines, shapes, tones, lighting, highlights, shadows and geometry to create visually pleasing images where the eye tends to wander in addition to being led around.

Zeiss lenses lend themselves exceptionally well to Urban Geometry–especially in the case of their wide angle glass. The wide angle lenses have stronger contrast than a lot of their telephoto lenses. Though telephoto lenses limit you can do when it comes to Urban Geometry, their nature and the use of them is similar to landscapes where one can sit there and really bring attention to an abstract part of a scene. With a 35mm f1.4 Milvus optic though, you’re going to focus essentially on what the human eye can see.

Luckily, when paired with a camera like the Canon 6D (for the digital folks out there) or in this case the Canon EOS 33 the combination is very lightweight. Of course, a Leica is lighter–and so is almost anything else. But there isn’t anything that would hamper your shooting efforts on a hot day in Manhattan.

Before we get deeper into this story, we’re sure some folks will ask about using the Zeiss Milvus 35mm f1.4 for street photography. Zone focusing is surely possible with this lens.

So then why use a Zeiss? Why not any other lens out there? Well, any other lens could surely have been used. In 2017, pretty much every lens made currently is great in one way or another. But the Zeiss lens and manual focusing abilities lend themselves to a photographer taking different photos and carefully thinking about the scene, composition and focusing that they’re aiming for. It’s a very deliberate and slow process. Combine this with the limitations of only having 36 images on a roll of 35mm film and you’re bound to act carefully.

Since the Phoblographer LLC is based in NYC, the combination was tested there. Big cities lend themselves to urban geometry well due to the way that architects specifically design buildings.

Using film puts a whole other level of challenges on you that digital just doesn’t do. Besides its limitations with how many images you can take to get the right photo, you’ll need to always pay attention to the light around you. In situations like that, you’re best simply using the exposure compensation dial, framing, composing and making adjustments as the light changes. As you walk through a city, different beams of light tend to go down the streets, reflect off buildings, etc. As this happens, you’ll need to adjust your settings accordingly.

On top of all this, you’ll need to consider how Fujifilm Acros 100 works. This isn’t a super high contrast film but instead has a more standard contrast level. Of course, this also depends on how you develop it and then scan it. But when working with it using standard black and white processing, all you’ll need to do is carefully consider your creative vision. Here are some questions that should go through your mind:

  • What aperture and depth of field do I want?
  • What sharpness do I want?
  • Do I want this photo to emphasize the shadows more or the highlights?
  • How high contrast is the light in the scene?
  • What colors are involved?
  • What about their tones?
  • Where is the light coming from?

Luckily, the Zeiss 35mm f1.4 Milvus can keep down the effects of direct sunlight pretty well. In fact, it sometimes is pretty difficult to make the lens flare. If you’re a person that loves lens flare, then this can be a bit of a downer.

When working with Fujifilm Acros 100, a great idea is to also learn how to see and think about the world in black and white. That requires a lot of training, editing, and shooting. But it also needs to come with a bit of understanding and empathy–or at least that’s what I want to say I guess. Empathy in this case is in regards to the film and how it acts. It has its own unique character and so too does the lens. Knowing and becoming sensitive to how it will react when a certain scene is placed in front of them and when acting according to your light metering abilities can help you capture a scene that you really, truly want.

To reiterate, this is where Urban Geometry excels. You’re often looking for the most artistic plays on shapes and more in your environment. One exercise that I often tell workshops students is to imagine that the scene in front of you is a black and white painting or a charcoal sketch. How would you render that?

Of course, both Fujifilm Acros 100 and Zeiss optics have been tried and true for years now. Many photographers tend to reach for other options such as Kodak Tri-X simply because it can be exposed with a bit more versatility. But Acros can arguable generate a sharper negative with its finer grain and lower ISO standard.

With photography being what it is these days though, this setup is about more of a personal experience and working the mind more to get great results. You’re probably best off underexposing at times–like when the sun is stronger and even so Fujifilm Acros can hold a lot of shadow detail even despite Zeiss’s already high contrast optics. What you and every photographer can easily keep in mind though is that the experience of using great gear like this is fantastic. But there isn’t often a reason for you to actually use one piece vs another. With Zeiss though, you’ll be forced to pay a lot more attention to a scene by manually focusing and being methodical. Think of it as a meditative process if you will where you’ll need to concentrate. But once you reach that point of zen, you’ll have no issues shooting beautiful Urban Geometry images.

* Big thanks to Lomography for developing our Fujifilm Acros 100 film emulsions. Zeiss loaned us the Zeiss 35mm f1.4 Milvus lens for a while and the Fujifilm Acros 100 film was purchased at the Fujifilm WonderPhoto Shop.

Review: Kodak T-Max 400 (120 and 35mm)

Kodak T-Max 400 doesn’t get all the love, love letters, and overall adoration that Kodak Tri-X 400 does simply because of the fact that a ton of the most iconic photos in the world were shot on Tri-X 400 vs T-Max 400. However, part of that has to do with the fact that Tri-X has been around for a longer period of time and T-Max 400 is designed to do something much different. While Tri-X 400 is known for its characteristic midtones and grain, T-Max 400 is instead known for its fairly high contrast (in the highlights and shadows), its incredibly fine grain and its overall sharpness. It’s touted to be the sharpest black and white 400 speed film in the world. Indeed, there has been a movement in the black and white photography world towards the high contrast, crispy, sharp look. And that’s essentially what Kodak T-Max 400 can do while still retaining a fair amount of details in the midtones. It does it in a much different way from a film like Japan Camera Hunter Street Pan 400–which is a near infrared film. Yet it also differs from many of the Ilford emulsions.Before you go on, more of the specific technical details of using Kodak T-Max 400 can be found in this Kodak PDF file.

These reviews of film here on La Noir Image have always been targeted more towards the digital photographer out there. So as you’re reading this and are wondering what digital simulation best compares to Kodak T-Max 400, know that you can get it from Olympus. Specifically, the Olympus Pen F has a black and white simulation that is contrasty and also very beautiful. If anything, this looks the most like Kodak T-Max 400. In fact, we were told that the film was an inspiration for that specific color profile.

Now back to the film.

These days, a very good argument can be made that the types of photographers that tend to use Kodak T-Max 400 are those who tend to create scenes vs capturing them–and those include portrait photographers and landscape photographers amongst others. However, it can surely be used for whatever you’d like. For example, shooting a wedding with Kodak T-Max 400 and using a flash to ensure that you absolutely maximize the sharpness potential is a great idea as long as film isn’t your primary option. Then when you want to shoot with more ambient light in the scene, switch to Tri-X 400 and feel free to push it. Of course, this isn’t always followed and sometimes photographers just like the Kodak T-Max 400 approach to tonality more than the Tri-X 400 approach to tonality.

To get the best from Kodak T-Max 400, you should keep it refrigerated or frozen when not in use. When you’re ready to use it, you should let it thaw for up to three hours. Though to be safe, I personally go for an entire 24 hours before I’m going to shoot it. Only after that will I even consider loading it into a camera. Freezing and proper care of your film allows you to still get good results even when the film is expired. I’ve worked with film up to 10 years expired and still got results that I’m very proud of.

In terms of typical use, Kodak T-Max 400 can be pushed (to 1600 with pleasing results) or pulled while still getting good results–which is a lot unlike Japan Camera Hunter Street Pan 400 which needs a lot of light. However, this will also affect the way that the grain looks on the film. As you move in either direction though, Kodak T-Max 400 takes on varying degrees of increased contrast while also increasing grain in the pushing process. Kodak Tri-X on the other hand will only take on more grain while more or less maintaining the same levels of contrast accordingly. When you stack this up against other films, it’s unlike Ilford HP5 and Ilford XP2 which tends to really want you to nail the exposure (in my eyes and tests) though can be a very beautiful film in its own right.

To get the most from Kodak T-Max 400 in terms of the fine grain and sharpness the process really starts in-camera with some of the most basic rules of exposure including the reciprocal rule of shutter speeds and even using a flash to get even more details from a photo. Additionally, good glass is critical. For example a Fujifilm GW690 III with a 90mm f3.5 has significantly higher sharpness than a Pentacon 6 TL does with a Zeiss 80mm f2.8. To be fair, one is 6×6 format and the other is 6×9 format. However, this is all just a testament to the requirements of having good glass.

If you load it up into older cameras and lenses, the images you shoot will naturally still come out more contrasty and sharper than shooting with Kodak Tri-X if you’re shooting in the same type of metering and developing in similar fashions. Again though, Kodak Tri-X gets more from the midtones and TMax goes for either end of the spectrum. So go right ahead and load up your Yashica GSN Electro 35 with it.

It should also go without saying that you shouldn’t really cheap out on filters either. Older lenses really need a UV filter to get the best sharpness–for example the old Leica Rokkor 40mm f2. So getting a quality filter from a brand like Tiffen, B+W, Hoya, etc will truly help. The alternative is getting a plastic filter from a brand like Neewer–and in that case why would you even bother shooting the world’s sharpest 400 black and white film?

If you’re working with Kodak T-Max 400 and really want to get the most out of it, consider your metering carefully. If the highlights are very white in the scene that you’re shooting, don’t be afraid to underexpose a bit. Not only will you get a darker image but also one that can fool the eye and make a person think that it is sharper.

These images were developed standard black and white style. But if you want even more contrast, I recommend reaching for rodinal. However, if you do get that, know that you’re going to get more grain the scene. This film’s whole point is to have fine grain and ridiculous amounts of sharpness.

Overall, I have to state that my favorite thing to shoot Kodak TMax 400 with is portraits. I personally am not the biggest fan of using it with landscape photography though I’ll absolutely acknowledge how it can appeal to some folks. If I were shooting landscapes, I’d much rather reach for Delta 400 or even JCH Street Pan 400.

Five New Cameras That the Documentary Photographer Will Appreciate

Documentary photography could be called the purest form of photography in today’s world. It is not about fancy and expensive lighting setups, nor hours of photoshop wizardry – no, documentary photography and the photographers who capture that are all about the basics. Capturing a scene, a moment, an emotion and sharing that with their viewers.

Documentary photographers don’t need the fanciest cameras with the most cutting-edge new features. But what they do need, is easy access to essential camera features, being able to change settings quickly and without hassle as a moment develops in front of them. Not all cameras fit that criterion, and so today we will be taking a look at five recently released cameras that we feel the documentary photographer could not only use but enjoy and maybe even love.

Fujifilm GFX-50s

Since the dawn of the digital age, medium format has not been the best friend to the documentary photographer with most cameras being big, bulky pieces of gear that are much more suited to a studio environment than an ‘out in the world’ documentary one. While some photographers have used medium format, that has now all changed with the introduction of Fujifilm’s mirrorless GFX 50s.

Not only is this camera medium format, but it is still roughly the same size as a full frame DSLR, meaning documentary photographers can now carry a medium format system around with them. This will allow documentary shooters to get higher quality imagery that every before while they are out documenting the happenings of the world. This is not a feature of this camera that should be ignored, it is one of its most important aspects.

Beyond its size and weight, the GFX 50s continues in Fujifilm’s fine tradition of making essential camera features quickly to access through physical dials and controls that are reminiscent of vintage film cameras. There will be no digging through menus on the GFX 50s while the moment unfolds and then dissipates in front of you, instead you can easily turn one of the many dials on the camera to quickly change the camera’s shutter speed, aperture, or ISO.

This is a medium format camera that will not get in your way as a documentary shooter, and that is why we have included it on this list.

Canon 5D Mark IV

Mirrorless and Medium Format are not for everyone, nor are they within every budget. If you are still a fan of the classic full frame DSLR than there is no better option for documentary style work than the new Canon EOS 5D Mark IV.

The 5D series has been a staple for professional wedding, portrait, and documentary photographers since its inception. The latest member of the family, the 5D Mark IV does not change this at all, and in fact, restores the 5D series to its proper place as one of the best workhorse camera series on the market.

The 5D has quick access to changing essential camera features like shutter speed, aperture, and ISO through its control wheels. Its high ISO performance is great, and its dynamic range means you have the latitude you need in post to show the image as you intended.

This camera can also take a beating, which can be a hazard of the documentary photographers job, so having a camera in hand that you know can survive through hell and back can give a documentary shooter some peace of mind.

Panasonic GH5

There are many reasons that micro four thirds cameras have started to become more common in documentary circles that in years past, and a big part of that has been the introduction of video into the repertoire of many documentary shooters. Panasonic, more so than Olympus, has been at the forefront of these hybrid stills/video cameras and their latest offering, the GH5 doesn’t disappoint.

Offering an interchangeable lens camera, with quality Leica-branded lenses, and the ability to record very high-quality 4K video makes this camera a serious choice for anyone who shoots video or is looking to add more video work to their portfolio.

But let’s not act as if the stills capability on the GH5 take a back seat at all either. Though it is true that at higher ISO levels the smaller micro four thirds sensor will give more noise than some of these other options, overall the still image quality out of these cameras is still more than good enough for most documentary shooters.

Ricoh GR II

Image by Eric Kim

Compact cameras are a favorite weapon of choice for documentary photographers as it gives them the ability to capture an image of anything, anywhere, anytime. One of the very popular model choices for photographers of this genre has been the Ricoh GR series of cameras and the Ricoh GR II is no exception.

It features a 16MP sensor, with a 28mm full frame equivalent field of view. The camera is built like a tank with its magnesium alloy body and when powered off can easily fit into a pocket – making it very easy to be ready to capture an image at a moments notice.

The addition of WiFi to the GR series in the GR II means that now images can be shared through your mobile phone to social media or wire services moments after being taken. This is a great tool for documentary photographers who enjoy sharing their images without hassle.

Fujifilm X100F

Along with the GR series noted above, a very popular choice for documentary photographers looking for a compact travel solution has been the Fujifilm X100 series. These camera are small, compact, and offer an incredible range of features, including that analog look and feel that Fujifilm has become known for. Thair latest offering, the X100F is no exception.

The fixed 23mm lens on the X100F offers a standard 35mm full frame equivalent field of view, making it ideal for environmental imagery and is a favorite tool of documentary street photographers. Additionally, the solid build quality and compact size makes this ideal for a coat pocket or backpack compartment.

Fujifilm’s X100F also features the company’s latest 24MP X-Trans III sensor with its incredible image quality and the amazing Acros film simulation that fans of black and white have been dreaming about since it was introduced on the X-Pro2. The X100F is also easily converted with some lens adapters that Fujifilm sells to expand the imaging capability of the camera even more.

So there you have it, five incredible brand new options for documentary photographers to consider when they are looking at upgrading their kits. Any of the above cameras would make a tremendous tool for any documentary photographer.

Review: Japan Camera Hunter Street Pan 400 Film (Premium)

Before I begin this review of Japan Camera Hunter Street Pan 400 film, you should note that this is an addendum to my review on the Phoblographer. That initial review is free for everyone, but this one goes more in-depth and explores my relationship with the film over a period of nearly half a year. I’ve known about the film for a while now and Bellamy has been in constant contact with me about my results. The first time around that I had the development done, the scans weren’t so perfect. Bellamy recommends using Rodinal in its development process.

For that reason, this review is available only to subscribers of this website and can be had for as little as $15/year.

Now onto the review!

Japan Camera Hunter Street Pan 400 film is an exciting entry into the film photography world. It’s designed for street photography and is also designed to be nice and sharp. For the most part, it really is a sharp film. All of my testing has been with the Hexar AF–perhaps one of my favorite 35mm cameras of all time and perfect for capturing candid moments. So if you’re a street photographer looking to work with something different, then this is probably the film to get.

Street photographers will thoroughly enjoy this film in many situations though if you’re going to work with it, I recommend either:

  • Shooting it then pushing and pulling prints in the darkroom
  • Shooting it in manual mode and exposing your scene accordingly to the Sunny 16 laws of photography.

The big reason for this has to do with scanning. Higher end scanners can basically do what cameras did years ago to create an HDR photo: shoot a perfectly exposed photo, +1, -1, -2, +2 etc. Then it combines the image into a giant TIFF file for you to work with on a computer. but then in that case, you may as well be shooting digital in my personal opinion especially since these scanners use a small sensor typically.

But if you’re shooting Sunny 16 style, then you’re going to work to get it right in the camera in the first place which will result in scans that need little to no work at all.

This goes hand in hand with a few issues that I encountered with the film and using it. I shot a few rolls rated at ISO 400 like the film says. Then I shot one at ISO 800, one at ISO 1600, and one at ISO 200. If you know anything about films like Kodak Tri-X and T-Max, then you know that you can push it and pull it for forever because the film emulsion is just so incredibly forgiving when you work with it. In fact, many photographers that shoot black and white film tend to connote that with all black and white film to begin with. And they’re not wrong–but the best results still come in the darkroom with a solid print involving dodging and burning to get the results that you want.

In my tests, I’ve found that this film likes light–lots of it. In fact, if and when I reload it into my camera again I’m not going to rate it at ISO 400. I’m going to rate it at ISO 200 and perhaps develop for ISO 320. Part of this could be due to the fact that the Hexar AF’s metering system tends to take the highlights in mind knowing that you’ll be able to push the shadows.

As any street photographer knows though, lighting situations can change at a moment’s notice. So you can be shooting at ISO 200, 1/250th and f16 one second then when you walk into the shadow of a building you’ll need to greatly open up that aperture to probably around f4 or f2.8 depending on a number of variables in your scene and when trying to expose for your subject. This is honestly the best way that I’ve found one should use the film.

In all truthfulness, I don’t see this film as competition to Kodak Tri-X, Kodak T-Max, Fujifilm Acros, Fomapan 320, Delta 400, HP5, APX 400, etc. Instead, I see it as a film that can deliver a different look from all of them. Even down to the grain structure, this film looks different. Kodak Tri-X and HP5 tend to have the most pleasing film grain in my opinion but this film here embraces an even more raw and gritty look that a lot of street photographers tend to value. They find it romantic in a way.

There are other variables involved such as who is developing your film. It’s fairly common knowledge that labs tend to put their own subtle twist on how to develop film so that they can keep customers and find a way to stand out from all the rest of the film labs out there. Here in NYC I’ve used Lomography, Color Resource Center, Walgreens and Kubu’s Film Lab most notably and for black and white I tend to want to go to Kubu’s in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. But for Color, I tend to go to Lomography.

When you find a lab that you like, I recommend sticking with it.

Overall though, Japan Camera Hunter Street Pan 400 is a very nice film emulsion. Street photographers are surely going to love it if they enjoy the deep black and white look. For me personally though, I want even more contrast that I believe only chromogenic film can give me. Inky blacks are what I love and they also force me to get my exposures spot on–and that whole thought process is part of what makes shooting film a million times more enjoyable.

If you’re going to use the film, I strongly recommend rating it at ISO 200 and developing for ISO 320–which is a common method used when working with Kodak Portra 400. This film likes a lot of light. So with that said, I really don’t recommend using it for something like concert photography. However, street photography, landscape photography, portraiture, etc are more adequate because the lighting situations are much more predictable and the film is less forgiving than others out there. Ilford Delta 3200 may be what you’re looking for instead when shooting concerts.

Very personally speaking, I’d personally probably reach for this film when shooting street photography though I’m sure that I’d be happier with something like Ilford HP5.

Those are just my findings though.

5 Incredible Film Point and Shoot Cameras For Concert Photography (Premium)

The images used in this article have been embedded via Flickr and are copyright their respective owners. Click on an image to be taken to the Flickr page. Lead Image by Tomohisa

If you want to shoot a concert these days you can just get outta here with any ideas of taking your ‘professional’ camera into the show with you without a press credential. Setting aside compact digital options, one idea you may consider is an old film point and shoot paired with a quality high-speed black and white film.

These cameras are small, compact, and most likely won’t be prohibited from an event. We have compiled a list of five film point and shoot cameras that we think have the chops to help you capture some amazing concert imagery from the crowd perspective.

 

 

 

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Special Report: Using the Sony a6500 for Concert Photography

One of the perks of running a large independent photography blog is the fact that I am blessed with the ability to try gear in situations that I may not have ever done before. So earlier last year when Sony brought myself and a number of other journalists to Austin, TX they set us up to be able to play with their new Sony a6500 as a concert was happening. Now, let me frank: Sony did everything that they possibly could to deliver “good lighting” which as you’ll find out reading this month’s content, isn’t the case with most concerts. In fact, it’s only ever been the case with one show I’ve seen, and this is an exception.

Sony stuffed a 24MP APS-C sensor into the a6500, gave it more responsive autofocusing abilities for photojournalists, better video, better high ISO output, and well for a concert photographer that’s all you’ll really care about. You still get that fantastic and fast ability to be able to transfer an image to your phone or tablet so you can shoot it off to Instagram ASAP, and you still get very good ergonomics for something like this.

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Concerts and the musicians in them run the gamut of personalities: they can be really crazy and all over the place, or they can be pretty stagnant. In this case, the musicians were mostly stagnant. This is much unlike lots of the punk rock, hardcore and metal shows that I remember photographing when I was still cutting my teeth as a young Phoblographer. This time around though, the cameras have better image quality, focusing, and are smaller.

Shooting Methods

Generally speaking for concert photography, I’m always a person that prefers to use the tried and true focus and recompose method. In real life situations, it’s simply easier unless you’ve preset your autofocusing point, chosen a specific composition and are hellbent on getting a great shot with the framing you’re working with. There’s truthfully nothing wrong with that, but the closer you get to a subject, the more you’ll often find that focusing and recomposing works a lot. Photographers have done it for years, and as long as you shift your plane rather than tilt your plane of focus, you should be alright.

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When shooting with Sony’s cameras, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to know that they’ve got a black and white creative profile built in. I typically like setting this to high contrast and sharpness. Then when I’m shooting a concert, I like to underexpose just slightly if I can in most situations to be able to  do two things:

  • Get more details in the highlights
  • To stop fast moving motion.

Just remember that modern cameras allow you to push files for quite a while, so one or two stops shouldn’t be a major issue with black and white photography.

I’ve shot in pits before, and the “pit” that Sony gave us allowed us to have a whole lot of room. 20 or more journalists were allowed to move freely around with lots of comfortable spaces.

That’s weird.

Any time that I’ve ever been in a pit, everyone has been stacked up on one another. Because I’m short, I’m bound to get a lens or someone else on me trying to use me as a human tripod. But this time around, we were given very free reign. Keep that in mind when and if you ever want to get into shooting concerts.

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The Sony a6500 in Use for a Concert

Sony’s a6500 is more than capable of shooting great photos in a concert setting. But to get the most out of it, you’ll want one of the company’s faster focusing lenses like their 28mm f2. This lens is small and also very lightweight, so it works very well with the a6500’s small camera body. You’ll have a field of view a bit longer than 35mm, but it will be workable for the space you’re getting when you’re up against the stage.

The camera also has tracking autofocus abilities which work out well enough in most cases. If you combine it with face detection, you’re bound to get certain hit or miss situations. As musicians move around a stage they go from dark, to light, to red, to blue, or green. These can all throw off a camera’s autofocus algorithms. I strongly recommend using either the center focusing point to initially focus and then let the camera track the subject across the frame. This will also help due to the fact that you’re going to need to turn off the AF assist beam when photographing the performers.

Image Quality

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All of my photos were edited in Capture One 10 with the highlights adjusted, a black and white conversion and the exposure changing a bit. Plus, I boosted the clarity a tad. The a6500 does very well at higher ISOs and is able to pull a fair chunk of extra details out of the highlights. Even when pushing the shadows, the camera isn’t a drag at all. Then when you get into manipulating certain color levels, you’ll see just how much more you’ll be able to get from the camera’s very good sensor.

What’ fascinated me even more is just how good 13×18 prints make when shooting with this camera at ISO 6400. The noise doesn’t really look film-like, but it isn’t bad at all in the situations where you even see noise.

Overall, the Sony a6500 is a rather decent camera for capturing musicians as they perform. Despite the fact that I feel that any camera can deliver great images, there’s still something I personally feel about full frame cameras and their ability to capture scenes at a concert.

But that’s very highly personal.

The Joy and Foibles Of B&W Portrait Photography With An $35 El Cheapo Lens (Premium)

Pssst….Didja hear the one about the guy who put a $35 lens on a $6,000 camera?

Yeah. Well, that guy is me. This is my story.

Last year, I finally invested in a Leica M 240. Got it used from a Washington Post photographer who had used that camera on assignment, photographing life under ISIS in Syria. The camera functioned perfectly, but with all of its dings and brassing, the camera looked like it had been through a war. Which it had. It’s a thing of beauty, and I got a great deal on it. (Lesson: Watch those eBay listings carefully, know what gear is worth, and you never know when you’ll find a great deal.)

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Using the LOMO’INSTANT Automat with Fujifilm Instax Mini Monochrome (Premium)

As younger photographers continue to discover photography, film photography has experienced resurgence in popularity. Nowhere has this been more evident than in the instant film market. Many shooters who may have fallen in love with photography thanks to smartphone apps (and their image filters) like Instagram and Hipstamatic have fully embraced instant film like Fujifilm Instax not just for their throwback appeal but for the flexibility they offer. Unlike the snapshots we’re most accustomed to seeing from instant film, we decided to shoot some portraits with Fujifilm’s Instax Mini Monochrome and Lomography’s Lomo’Instant Automat to see just how far you can push the film and the camera.

 
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