Photography, Stories Told

Rose-Hulman, Spring, 1986

What was I doing on the roof of my residence hall that spring day my freshman year of college?

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Deming Hall, oldest residence hall on campus

Nothing more nefarious than taking photographs. I’m sure the administration would not have approved of me being up there, but when an upperclass friend with an illicit building master key bade a few of us come, we went.

Baur-Sames-Bogart Hall, from the roof
Baur-Sames-Bogart Hall, from the roof

This is our building, Baur-Sames-Bogart Hall. That summer, BSB would get new windows — thank goodness, because these aluminum-framed crank-out jobs gushed heat like a sieve all winter. In the photo you can see the guy wires stabilizing the antenna mast for WMHD, the now-defunct campus radio station.

Hulman Union
Hulman Union

We ate our meals in Hulman Union, across the muck pond from BSB. It’s been expanded and remodeled so much that you’d hardly recognize it as this building today.

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Moench Hall in background; Olin Hall at right

When I wrote about my visit to Rose-Hulman last fall, I shared a current photo of the quad pictured in the distance here, all landscaped and pretty. In 1986, a long driveway led in, and that was that.

Templeton Hall, RIP
Templeton Hall, RIP

Templeton Hall doesn’t exist anymore. A classroom and laboratory building stands on this spot now. Like most schools, Rose has been on a building binge in the last 20 years or so.

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Moench Hall entrance

I also took some ground-level photos, like this one of Moench Hall’s old main entrance. This brick sign was brand new. The campus switchboard used to be behind those doors, and for about 10 hours every week I operated that switchboard for pay. I was working when I took this photo. The switchboard’s bell was loud enough that I could hear it all the way out here, as long as that door was open. But on a weekend afternoon like this one, that bell seldom rang. I got a lot of homework done working the switchboard.

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Olin Hall and some green space

Looking west from about the same spot is this uninspiring photo of Olin Hall, which was just a few years old. Rose does a nice job maintaining its buildings. When I visited in October, Olin looked just as fresh and new as I remembered.

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Moench Hall demolition

Moench Hall was being renovated when I arrived as a freshman. The building is divided into five sections, A through E. When I started at Rose, A section had already been renovated. B, C, and D sections closed for demolition halfway through my freshman year. Some buddies and I broke in to record the detritus. My crappy 110 camera wasn’t really up to the task. A buddy of mine with a Pentax SLR took much better photos. I should get him to share them. Anyway, a day or two after our covert operation a memo went out to all students warning us to stay out of the construction area. We had been detected!

Demolition of Moench Hall
More demolition

Old Moench had hardwood floors everywhere. In the hallway on the second floor, you could see through the gaps in the planks right down to the first floor. I was not at all pleased to see that the wood was being ripped out in shreds and splinters.

We found some remarkable stuff in Moench, including an old teletype, a giant bathroom mirror into which “Class of 1932” had been etched in enormous letters, and miscellaneous ancient equipment. We wondered what would become of all of this cool stuff left behind. We took some inconsequential souvenirs that night. I wanted the room number plaque for room E-104 — and Rose students will know the significance of this room — but it was already gone. So I swiped the plaque for room D-122. I still have it.

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A portrait of the photographer as a young man

This is what I looked like in those days. Could my glasses have possibly been any bigger? Oh 1980s, thank goodness your fashion sense did not endure.

That upperclassman with the illicit master key gave it to me when he graduated. The worst I did with it was let myself into the building before it was officially open at the beginning of the school year, as I liked a couple of quiet days to myself before students arrived en masse. And I used it to get toilet paper out of the supply closet on the weekends when the bathroom ran out. I don’t recall ever again using it to go up on the roof.

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Film Photography

Review: Wolverine Super F2D – A good-enough tool for digitizing your film snapshot negatives

Most of us beyond a certain age photographed years of family moments and vacations using simple point-and-shoot film cameras. We stored the prints and negatives in albums or boxes.

But when was the last time you looked at them? We all shoot digital now. We look at our photos on screens and store them on phones, SD cards, and hard drives. Because you can’t share a physical photograph on Facebook, our photo albums get very little love or attention.

To bring those memories into the modern age means making digital images of them. You have two options: pay someone to do it for you or do it yourself. If you pay to have it done you’ll get the best possible quality, but the expense might make you wince. For less money you can buy a flatbed scanner that handles negatives and do it yourself. But it’s slow work and there are lots of settings to master. And few scanners take the old 126 and 110 snapshot film formats that were popular in the 1970s and 1980s.

Wolverine Super F2D

What’s needed is a way to do the job fast with minimal fuss and at reasonable cost. Few options exist. That’s why I’d even consider a flimsy-looking toy-plastic device like the Wolverine Super F2D film-to-digital converter. It promises to deliver on all of those goals, quickly creating JPEGs from color and black-and-white 35mm, 110, and 126 negatives – and 2×2-mount slides in those formats, and Super 8 movie frames. At about $100, the price isn’t bad. I got mine for even less on sale.

But there’s a big tradeoff: you won’t get professional-quality work from the Wolverine Super F2D. And you will need to touch the images up in photo-editing software – but, to be fair, you would need to do that after using a flatbed scanner, too. But the Super F2D will give you images good enough to view on your screen and to share online. You could even make prints of them, but they will be too noisy for big enlargements.

But I’m not sure I care about those limitations for my old snapshots. I converted about 1,000 images in under six hours. Then I spent about 10 hours touching up every image in Photoshop Elements. And now I have digital images of all of my old negatives. That’s faster than I could have done it with my flatbed scanner, and hundreds of dollars less expensive than paying to have it done. And I’ve already shared some of my images on Facebook, and they look pretty good.

That’s the guts of the review. But more good information follows, including insight into using the Super F2D and examples of my scans. Here is a set of links to each of those sections so you can skip to what you care about.

Using the Wolverine Super F2D

I used some recent downtime to digitize every old 126, 110, and 35mm negative I have. (If you have negatives or slides from even older films, such as 127, 620, or 828, you’re out of luck.) I did it in my lap while lying on the couch; the Super F2D is small and entirely self-contained. I plugged it into the wall, but you can also plug it into any powered USB port. It has some internal memory, but it also has an SD-card slot. I put an SD card in and went to town.

The Super F2D isn’t a scanner, but rather a digital camera and a light table. It lights up your negatives and slides from below and photographs them from above. It is as inexpensively made as it looks: the plastic is thin and cheap, and the buttons and connectors feel flimsy.

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Using the Super F2D is simple once you get the hang of it. You slide the negatives and slides through the sleeve in the middle of the unit. You line up each image on the screen until it looks right, and then capture and save the image. This video tells all.

Pushing negatives through was easy enough except when a negative was cut shorter than the sleeve. I usually used a second negative to push the first one through. There’s a separate sleeve for slides, which are a snug fit in the sleeve. A second slide is always necessary to push the first one through. To get out the last slide you scan, you have to remove the sleeve from the Super F2D and pull it open (it is hinged). The sleeve is hard to open.

The screen is good only for framing images, as it doesn’t accurately render color and the corners are a little washed out. The Super F2D does offer basic color and exposure correction tools, but given the screen’s limitations I decided just to do all of that in Photoshop.

The Super F2D offers no dust and scratch removal, so be sure to clean your negatives well. I used a soft cloth to wipe dust off my negatives. Dust creeps inside the Super F2D, too, and so I frequently cleaned it off the light table with the supplied brush. You’ll see most of these imperfections on the screen.

Image quality

The Wolverine Super F2D boasts 20-megapixel resolution. It’s overkill, because its puny image sensor returns noisy images. The noise is acceptable when you look at the images at smaller resolutions but shows up bigtime at maximum resolution. You probably don’t want to print big enlargements from these images.

Also, the Super F2D’s field of view leaves out a little bit around edges of your negatives. You can slide each negative left and right inside the Super F2D for best framing, but there’s nothing you can do about what the Super F2D cuts off at the top and bottom. The effect is minimal on 35mm negatives, noticeable on 110 negatives, and pronounced on 126 negatives.

You will need some sort of photo-editing software to touch up these images after you convert them. All of my images had a green caste that ranged from slight to substantial. My oldest negatives, from the mid-1970s, suffered worst. You will also want to fix the scratches and dust that escape your cleaning.

I have Photoshop Elements. Its Auto Color Correction and Auto Levels commands corrected almost all of my images’ color-fidelity ills, and its Spot Healing brush did a great job of quickly removing marks. I applied these corrections to all of the images I’m going to show you from the Super F2D. I’ve uploaded all of the images at full resolution; click them to see them at full size.

Images from 126 film

The Super F2D makes 4000-pixel-square images from 126 negatives. That resolution is beyond the sharpness that most 126 cameras could deliver, especially the junky one I had. But the Super F2D and a little subsequent Photoshoppery yielded usable images. Here’s me in front of the family Christmas tree in 1977.

1977

The circa 1978 print of this image shows my whole head, but the Super F2D masks too much of the negative and cuts my head off.

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Images from 110 film

Pity the poor 110 format for the so-so image quality inherent in such an itty-bitty negative. It did not help that most 110 cameras were inexpensively made with low-quality optics. Surprisingly, the Super F2D scans these negatives at a whopping 5120×3840 pixels. When viewed at maximum resolution, these images look like a mosaic. They’re still visibly noisy at smaller sizes.

I used a cheap 110 camera to record one of the best times of my life: a trip to Germany in 1984. I was happy enough with the images the Super F2D made from those negatives. The colors were good, even though the sharpness wasn’t. Here’s a streetcar in Krefeld.

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And here’s a tiny Trabant automobile in East Berlin. Shadow detail is very poor and noise is high, but it is the same on my original prints.

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Images from 35mm film

The Super F2D returned much better results from my 35mm negatives. I didn’t shoot much 35mm until the late 1980s, by which time advances in film technology produced negative films that simply scan better, at least in my experience. But I also had a better camera than ever before. It was a modest point-and-shoot 35mm camera, but it offered a better lens than any average 126 or 110 camera. The 5472×3648 images the Super F2D creates from these negatives are still too noisy for big enlargements.

Here’s my car parked outside the house I lived in after I graduated college in 1989. Detail and color are much improved and noise is somewhat reduced compared to my 126 and 110 images.

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I lived around the corner from Terre Haute’s Coca-Cola bottler. A quick hit of Auto Color Correction in Photoshop Elements really brought out the red in the sign.

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The Super F2D’s black-and-white mode seems to do better work than its color mode, at least for the few black-and-white negatives I have. They needed very little touchup to look good. Here’s a 1984 photo of the elementary school I attended.

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Images from mounted slides

I never shot slide film in my youth. But I wanted to see how the Super F2D handled slides, so I bought some old Kodachromes on eBay. I didn’t buy any old Super 8 movies, though, so you’re on your own there. The Super F2D scans slides at the same resolutions as the corresponding 35mm, 110, and 126 negatives.

Here’s one of those slides. (You can see the rest in this post.) I think the Super F2D did its best work on these slides. They needed very little touchup in Photoshop and they are less noisy than any of my negative scans.

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Comparing the Super F2D to flatbed and professional scanners

The Super F2D isn’t as capable as a flatbed negative scanner, and is absolutely, utterly blown away by the bigtime pro scanners that most film processors use.

I used my Epson V300 flatbed scanner to digitize this image of me taken with my Argus A-Four camera in about 1982.

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The Super F2D also does a decent job, although it scans less of the negative than my Epson V300 and returns more saturated colors. It’s a matter of personal preference whether you like the V300 scan or the Super F2D conversion. Where the Super F2D falls down, though, is noise. It shows up at larger resolutions; click the images to compare them full sized.

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I took the image below a couple years ago on Fujicolor 200 using my Pentax KM and its 55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax lens. I really enjoy this shot for its color and its sensitive exposure. I’m pretty sure I had The Darkroom process and scan the film.

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The Super F2D fell flat on its face rendering this negative. No amount of Photoshop trickery could save it. I deliberately chose it as a worst case, but none of the images the Super F2D converted from this roll of film could compare to the scans The Darkroom did with its big scanner.

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The verdict

If you want to digitize any images you might use more than casually, or that you took with high-quality equipment, you won’t be happy with the Wolverine Super F2D. The resulting digital images are simply too noisy, and sometimes Photoshop won’t be able to restore accurate color and exposure. I’d never use it to digitize the more artistic images I shoot with my good film cameras today, as I can get cleaner scans from my flatbed scanner and outstanding scans from the companies that process my film.

Old snapshot negatives are the Super F2D’s sweet spot. It will always give you a usable image, and it will frequently give you a plenty good image. Given the Super F2D’s cost, speed, and flexibility, that’s more than a fair tradeoff. I’m glad I bought mine. And now I have plenty of memories that I can e-mail to my mom and post on Facebook.

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Camera Reviews

Rollei A110

Leave it to the Germans to build the ultimate over-engineered camera for the world’s crappiest film format.

And good heavens, is 110 film ever crappy. Kodak had to develop an entirely new film technology just so that the tiny 13mm x 17mm frames on the negatives could yield usable images. And then camera companies worldwide puked forth legions of plastic 110 cameras with plastic lenses that rendered Kodak’s good work moot.

Part of what makes the Rollei A110 brilliant is that it packs a mighty fine lens – a Tessar. It’s hard to beat a Tessar; it brings out any film’s best performance. But then Rollei upped the ante, wrapping that lens in a wickedly delightful little package.

Rollei A110

The Rollei A110 cribbed its design from tiny spy cameras of the 1960s, such as the Minox and the Minolta 16. It’s a shade under 3½ inches long; it weighs just 6½ ounces. It’s made of steel (though I gather some of the internal bits are plastic) and its finish is velvety. Grasp it at both ends and pull, and the camera not only opens to reveal a viewfinder, but winds the film, too.

Rollei A110

The A110 is simple to use: frame the photo, slide the orange lever under the lens to focus, and give the orange button a light press. The A110 focuses from 3.5 feet to infinity; as you slide the lever, a green line moves across a scale within the viewfinder. The 23mm f/2.8 lens gives a slightly wide view, at least to my eye. From here on out, everything about the A110 is automatic. Its onboard light meter drives the aperture and shutter speed, from f/2.8 to f/16 and from 4 sec. to 1/400 sec., respectively.

Rollei A110

Rollei introduced the A110 in 1975 and issued about 200,000 of them before production ended in 1981. Rollei’s German factory built them until 1978, when production was moved to Singapore. My A110’s film door says “Made in Germany.”

The A110 came in a velour-lined clamshell box with a flashcube attachment and a little leather case that fits the camera like a glove. (Mine was missing the box and the flashcube attachment.) If all of this sounds expensive, it was – the A110 retailed for around $300. That’s almost $1,300 in 2013 dollars.

I’ve owned but two other 110 cameras, and have reviewed only one of them: the Minolta Autopak 470 (here). The other was a crappy Keystone camera I bought new in 1984; I documented East Berlin with it that summer (some photos here). But I’ve reviewed dozens of other cameras; see all of my reviews here.

The A110 takes an odd battery, the 5.6-volt PX 27. That’s a banned mercury battery, so I bought a same-size 6-volt silver S27PX at Amazon and hoped for the best.

My first film through the A110 was Fujicolor Superia 200, expired since 1996 – problematic because the A110 “reads” a little tab on the film cartridge to set ASA in one of two ranges, 64-100 ASA and 320-500 ASA. I had no idea how it would handle this ISO 200 film.

Sure enough, all of the photos were overexposed. I used a little Photoshop trickery to rescue them. I got good color and decent sharpness (for the format), though. Here’s my favorite photo from the roll, of the Monon Trail bridge in Broad Ripple.

Reflected Monon

I walked around Broad Ripple for an hour, my dog, Gracie, on the leash, looking for things to shoot. The A110 was easy enough to shoot one-handed, though a few times when I squeezed the shutter button the shutter wouldn’t fire. I found that it always worked when I backed off and tried again.

The Vogue

The A110 did its best work in evenly lit situations, unlike those of the photos above and below. That’s an old Willys Jeep parked there. I should have photographed it more extensively and written it up for Curbside Classic, the old-car blog to which I contribute.

Brugge Jeep

The A110 was easy enough to take everywhere. I loaded film into a late-60s Canon SLR before I loaded the A110, but I finished shooting the A110 first because it slips into my pocket and the SLR doesn’t. This is my church on a Sunday morning.

West Park Christian Church

On another outing I loaded some Lomography Color Tiger film. I forgot that the backing paper leaks light; that’s what the red splotches are.

Home

There’s nothing to using this camera. I adapted to its controls readily. When it hits, it hits big.

Sunburst

The A110 was in my pocket on a sunny-afternoon walk through a big city park. It was the perfect companion — until I needed it, I forgot it was there.

Park road

See more photos in my Rollei A110 gallery.

I have two complaints about my A110. First, the focusing scale inside the camera reads 1.5 ft, “person,” 6 ft., “group,” “mountain.” I figured “person” must be about three feet and “mountain” must be infinity, but I wasn’t sure how far out “group” was. I guessed right every time I used it, though, because all of my images came back crisp. My other complaint is probably just a quirk of my camera. A little metal lens cover hides behind the front panel, and it’s loose on this one. I kept forgetting to make sure it hadn’t slid out to cover the lens before I took a shot, and I have blank frames on my negatives as a reward. D’oh!

I was incredibly lucky to pick up this little gem for $10; they usually go for $50 and up on eBay. You’ll be hard pressed to find a 110 camera at any size that delivers results this good.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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Film Photography

What’s a guy who still shoots film supposed to do?

It is a sad day for this camera collector – my neighborhood CVS has stopped processing film. Theirs was the last one-hour color lab (that I know of) near my home on Indianapolis’s Northwestside. Goodbye, $6 processing and scanning.

BurnedCVS

Just a few years ago I could get my color film processed all over town: Wal-Mart, Meijer, Target, Walgreens, CVS, and Costco. These labs have shut down one by one. Oh, for the halcyon days of Costco’s startlingly good processing and giant high-quality scans for about four bucks.

I do have options. A camera store on the Northside still has a one-hour lab. But their processing and scanning is expensive at about $15 per roll, and I’ve had too many of their scans feature stray hairs that got into their equipment. Of course I can keep sending film off to The Darkroom or to Dwayne’s Photo, the mail-order processors I use most. I send all of my medium-format and black-and-white film to them already, because the drug-store labs won’t process it. They both do very good work, and they process almost anything you care to send them, including defunct film formats such as 110 and 620. Their prices for processing and scanning are reasonable (but go up fast when you send in odd formats or ask for higher-resolution scans). But thanks to shipping charges the overall cost starts at $14 per roll, which isn’t much of a bargain. And then you have to wait a week, give or take, to get scans back.

CVSSign

I’m cheap and impatient. I’m thinking seriously about processing my own film. For an initial outlay of no more than $100, I can buy all the equipment I need to process black-and-white film. (The sources I read say that color film is trickier to process and many recommend just leaving color processing to the pro labs.) My scanner can handle 35mm negatives, but I’d want a scanner that can do medium-format film too. I think I could get a serviceable one for around $200. After the initial outlay, though, I can process film for less than a buck a roll.

Two things hold me back. First, I processed a roll of film once, in high school, and I thought it was the most boring thing I’d ever done. Second, my life is busy enough today that I wonder where I’d find the time to mess with it. It is just so convenient to drop off or mail in film.

I know that some of you reading this process your own film. What advice do you have to offer me?

Film is still a bargain compared to 30 years ago. Read about how this is true.

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Camera Reviews

Minolta 110 Zoom SLR

Unbelievably, when Kodak introduced the tiny 110 film cartridge in 1972 a few camera makers said, “Hey, I know! Let’s make a super high-quality camera for this film!” Never mind that Kodak intended this film to be used for family snapshots. Never mind that Kodak had to invent a whole new film technology so that the super-narrow 16 mm negatives could yield a print with merely heavy, rather than unacceptable, noise and grain. Makers as lofty as Voigtländer, Rollei, Pentax, and Minolta quickly issued 110 cameras with fine multi-element lenses and automatic exposure control. Pentax and Minolta even went as far as creating single-lens reflex cameras for 110 film. This is Minolta’s: the 110 Zoom SLR.

Minolta 110 Zoom SLR

This camera is an odd duck because it doesn’t have that classic SLR look. Yet an SLR it is, with a fixed f/4.5 lens that zooms from 25 to 50 mm and includes a macro mode that focuses to 11 inches, a shutter that operates from 1/1000 to 10 sec., and aperture-priority autoexposure that uses a CdS-based light meter. Strangely, the light meter and the aperture selection dial are next to the lens on the camera’s front. But zooming and focusing are on the lens barrel where they belong.

Minolta 110 Zoom SLR

Every 110 Zoom SLR came with that rubber lens hood. When you’re not using it, push it toward the lens and it collapses cleanly and cleverly. It screws in, so you can remove it. When you attach a flash to the hot shoe, move the dial to the left to X so it will sync properly. The other choices on that dial are A for autoexposure and B for bulb (the shutter stays open as long as you hold the shutter button down). The switch next to the shutter button locks and unlocks the button. The switch north of the shutter button lets you adjust exposure up or down up to two stops. The little red button checks the batteries – two SR44 button cells you can buy at the drugstore.

Film isn’t available at the drugstore anymore, though. Kodak and Fuji gave up on the format a few years ago. The Lomography folks offer new 110 films in color and black and white if you’re curious. Or you can find expired 110 film on eBay, which is what I did. Three rolls of expired Fujicolor Superia 200 came with this camera for under $20 shipped.

If you’re into 110 cameras, also see my reviews of the tiny Rollei A110 (here), the Minolta Autopak 470 (here), and the Keystone XR308 (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

Straightaway I dropped in a film cartridge and some batteries and got to shooting. My favorite shot is of these flowers from my next-door neighbor’s extensive hosta gardens. I used macro mode for this shot. There’s some color shifting from the expired film, but for such a tiny negative that sharpness isn’t bad.

Hosta flower

I had trouble focusing this camera. The manual says that the focus patch shimmers when a subject is out of focus. Thanks to age, my eyes are starting to decline and I have to work harder now to see fine things. Given how many of my shots were out of focus, clearly I sometimes failed to see that fine shimmer. Here, my subject the traffic barrel is only slightly out of focus.

Merryman

I took my dog Gracie over to Holliday Park for a walk with the 110 Zoom SLR in my hand. One of these days I’ll figure out a more interesting way to frame The Ruins, although I do like the color I got. I cropped this a little but shot it zoomed all the way out, at 25 mm, which felt to me like 50 mm on a 35 mm camera.

Ruins

I am impressed with this camera’s metering, which got good exposure under pretty much any circumstances I threw at it. The camera lets you know when there’s too much or too little light – when you press the shutter button halfway, a red triangle appears inside the viewfinder when the shot will be overexposed, and a yellow triangle appears when the shutter speed is slower than 1/50 sec and shake will be a problem. No triangle means the camera will return a good exposure.

Headless

But true to 110 form, these images are grainy and noisy. Macro shots such as this one suffer worst, and can show appreciable loss of detail.

Macro flower

But if you forget all the special settings and just shoot stuff at medium distances, you’ll get good results.

Anonymous office building

I found focusing to be so unsatisfying that I’m unlikely to put any more film through this camera. I got about a dozen usable images from this 24-exposure cartridge. You can see them all in my  Minolta 110 Zoom SLR gallery.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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