Film Photography

Shooting Eastman Double-X 5222

Kodak makes just nine kinds of still films today. That might sound like a lot, but it’s a pittance compared to days gone by. They’ve discontinued a whole bunch of films, including their entire slide-film line. Only negative films roll off the Kodak manufacturing lines today, six in color and three in black and white.

Kodak also still makes motion-picture film under the Eastman name. Demand isn’t what it used to be, but enough filmmakers still insist on the stuff to make it economically viable for Kodak to produce it. 35mm is a common motion-picture film size, and sometimes those films get spooled into canisters for use in still cameras. The Film Photography Project buys black-and-white Eastman Double-X 5222 film in bulk, hand spools it into canisters, and sells it. I got a few rolls recently, and put one into my Nikon F2AS with the 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor lens on board.

I shot most of the roll Downtown near Indianapolis’s last camera shop, which has been getting my color-film processing business lately. Just check out the rich black in that urn, and the textures in those buckets! I want to reach out and feel the woodgrain, it’s so good.

Urn in a Basket

I’d say Double-X is made for contrasty, textured subjects. Standing on the corner of Pennsylvania and St. Clair, I shot the street names etched into the corner building. Again, dig those textures!

St. Clair

But I notice a tendency for highlights to blow out with this film. I was able to correct it pretty well in Photoshop, but that part of me that likes to get it right in the camera wants to set exposure compensation back a half stop next time.

Penn

You can see this tendency pretty well here. The red bricks are well defined and contrasty, but the concrete steps and the limestone block is missing some detail in the highlights — and that’s after I fixed it as well as I could in Photoshop. It probably doesn’t help at all that I took these shots on a blisteringly bright day.

Central Christian.

This is Indianapolis’s Central Library. Fortunately, this shot needed nothing more than a crop to improve my composition. I love how this shot looks like it could have been taken in 1955, 1935, or 1915.

Central Library

I have more to learn about Eastman Double-X. In this shot of some dark purple petunias, I would have thought the flowers would have popped much darker against the green foliage. Instead, the shot turned out not to be very interesting, save the great detail on the right flower.

Petunias

This year, instead of schlepping my sons off to a portrait studio, I’ve been practicing portraiture on them myself, with various cameras and films. I’ve also handed the camera to both boys so I can have new photos of myself. It was cool to explain the F2’s basic workings to my youngest son, who’s 16, and have him listen carefully and then take a pretty competent shot. My boy might never understand how significant it was that his first film SLR photograph was taken with the iconic Nikon F2. But it’s all right, his dad knows.

A portrait of the photographer on his deck

True to Double-X’s form, the textures in my brown polo and my (slightly out of focus) black hair are the most visually interesting elements of the photo. My face was fairly blown out, but fortunately Photoshop’s Darken Highlights tool brought it back from the brink.

I have a couple more rolls of Eastman Double-X 5222 chilling in the fridge. Next time I shoot one, I’m going to look for dark and textured subjects. I might also shoot on a dim, overcast day. Experimenting like this is a big part of what makes film photography fun for me.

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Camera Reviews

Canon EOS 630

I’ve become…Canon curious. It’s not like I haven’t shot Canon before. My main camera is the wonderful Canon S95. But it’s a point-and-shoot digital camera, not a film SLR. And frankly, I’m a Pentaxian first, a Nikonian second, and that’s enough to keep a man busy for a long time.

I have shot two manual-focus Canon film SLRs, but never a camera from Canon’s EOS line, the bodies and lenses of which were designed from the ground up for automatic exposure and focus. Where Nikon has stuck doggedly with its lens mount that dates to 1959, Canon started with a clean sheet in 1987 with EOS. So I went looking for an early example, and came up with this EOS 630.

Canon EOS 630

Canon introduced the tall and bulky EOS 630 in 1989. It’s long specification list (see it here) can be boiled down to this: it has several autoexposure modes including full program, a shutter that operates from 30 sec to 1/2000 sec, and autofocus. Like most early all-electronic SLRs, there’s no mode dial; to change settings, you press buttons and look at the LCD panel.

Canon EOS 630

This EOS 630 came to me with a plastic-bodied, nearly weightless f/4-5.6 35-80mm lens. I was surprised that this lens tips the camera forward, because the plasticky EOS 630 is surprisingly heavy.

If you’re interested in Canon EOS cameras, by the way, I’ve also tried the EOS 650 (here), the EOS A2e (here), the EOS Rebel (here), and the EOS Rebel S (here). You might also enjoy my reviews of the Canon AE-1 Program (here) and T70 (here). Or just check out all of my camera reviews here.

Despite the EOS 630’s various modes, this camera really wants you to just set it in Program and shoot mindlessly. So that’s what I did, after loading a roll of Arista Premium 400. Film loading is as easy as it gets: insert the film, draw the leader across to the red mark, and shut the door. The 630 automatically rewinds the film after the last frame.

Even though an f/4 lens doesn’t exactly scream “available light photography” I tried shooting a few things around the house. My mother’s grandfather — or was it her great grandfather? — made these duck decoys. As display pieces, they haven’t fooled any ducks in at least a half century.

Decoys

Despite being an unimpressive kit lens, the 35-80 is capable of capturing rich tones on the Arista Premium film. I shoot this trio of trees frequently, as they’re convenient: on the golf course behind my house. The sun was bright and the shadows were crisp.

Golf course trees

Meet my next-door neighbor’s new puppy. I think the EOS 630 is meant for candid, casual shots like this — aim at the subject, press the button, let the camera make zip-zap noises while it focuses, get the picture. If the zip-zap were faster, I might have captured pupper before he turned his head.

Neighbor's new pup

I figured I might as well take advantage of the zoom lens, so I took a walk along Michigan Road near my home and photographed the surroundings. I’ve been meaning to do it for years. Here’s a longtime barber shop — the “421” refers to this road’s number when it used to be a U.S. highway. Despite being big and bulky, the EOS 630 handled fine on my walk.

Barber Shop

I hoped for more contrast and sharpness in these photographs. To be fair, my lens is defective — on my first shot, the front element fell off. Plop. I fitted it back in as tightly as I could and hoped for the best. Perhaps a non-broken lens would have performed better. But I feel like I won’t know what the EOS system is capable of until I shoot with a 50mm prime.

So I bought one, For a 50mm f/1.8 Canon EF lens, and took the EOS 630 out again with Eastman Double-X 5222 film aboard.

VDGN

The lens made the most of the Double-X’s inherent contrastiness, and returned excellent detail. Win!

Parking

The EOS 630 continued to be a big lump in my hands, inspiring no love or joy. But it did its job.

Wall

I know a lot of people loved these cameras. I’m not one of them. I didn’t dislike the 630, I just wished for more dopamine (or seratonin, or whatever the right feel-good chemical) to wash through my body as I used it.

Creek

To see more photos, check out my EOS 630 gallery.

Cameras like this are a great way for a first-time film shooter to dip a toe in the water, as you don’t actually have to know anything about exposure or focus to get good shots. While I generally recommend cameras like the Nikon N60 to such people because I find them more joyful to shoot, cameras like this EOS 650 can be picked up for an absolute song, sometimes less than $10, and as you can see they still do great work.

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

Olympus Stylus

All hail Yoshihisa Maitani, the master of photographic miniaturization. He designed the camera you see below, the Olympus Stylus. He spent his career at Olympus shrinking cameras, actually, first the 35mm SLR (the OM-1; see mine here) and then the 35mm rangefinder camera (the XA; see mine here).

Olympus Stylus

Maitani then turned his attention to shrinking the 35mm point-and-shoot camera. Olympus was very late to that party as good-quality point-and-shoots upon the Stylus’s 1991 debut. But when Maitani delivered a camera no bigger than a bar of soap, he delivered another small winner for Olympus.

Olympus Stylus

In most of the world, Olympus gave its small camera a small name: µ, the prefix for “micro” in scientific measurements. As sometimes happens in the camera world, the µ got a different name for the American market: Stylus. That’s probably just as well, because the average American probably couldn’t pronounce µ anyway. (It’s myoo, by the way.)

Olympus Stylus

I thank reader Derek Wong (see his film photography blog here) for donating this little camera to the Jim Grey Collection. When I mentioned in an earlier post that the Stylus was on my short list, he e-mailed to say that he had several of them sitting around doing nothing, and that he’d just send me one. Here it is!

The Stylus packs a 35mm f/3.5 lens, of three elements in three groups. It sets exposure for you; there is no manual control. I don’t know how far down the lens stops, but the shutter operates from 1/15 to 1/500 second. It reads the DX coding on the film canister to set ISO from 50 to 3200. Olympus claims the Stylus has an “active multi-beam 100-step autofocus system,” whatever that means. The Stylus automatically advances and rewinds the film. It includes an electronic self-timer and a tiny flash that you can set to fill and to reduce red eye. An LCD panel atop the camera counts down frames, indicates the flash mode, and tells you how much charge is left on the CR123A battery, which the Stylus needs to run everything.

Slide the front cover back to turn the camera on. The lens extends a little. Frame the shot in the viewfinder. Press the shutter button down halfway to let the camera focus and set exposure, and the rest of the way to take the photo.

If you like point-and-shoot 35mm cameras, also check out my reviews of the Canon AF35ML (here), the Kodak VR35 K40 (here), the Nikon Zoom Touch 400 (here), the Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80 (here), the Olympus µ(mju:) Zoom 140 (here), and the Pentax IQZoom EZY (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I loaded some expired Kodak Gold 200 and went a shootin’. This iron bowstring pony truss bridge dates to around 1900 and was originally part of a longer bridge that spanned a creek in Montgomery County. This span was moved here, to the Indianapolis Museum of Art, where it crosses the canal that flows behind the museum. It is open only to pedestrians.

Bridge at IMA

The Stylus feels great in the hands. After having recently shot cameras that demand a lot of interaction with the photographer, I found it freeing to take this a competent point-and-shoot camera out for a day’s fun. This is my neighbor’s house. Even on expired film, the Stylus grabbed great color and clarity.

My neighbor's house

Despite the “active multi-beam 100-step autofocus system,” I found it impossible to know what the Stylus decided to focus on in the frame. I also didn’t know how close I could get with the Stylus, though I expected it to be around three feet. I moved back what I guessed was three feet from these leaves and pressed the button. As you can see, the closest leaves are out of focus. I was probably just too close. But I like the swirled effect in the blurred background.

Little leaves, out of focus

I took a couple of shots with the flash, too, and it did the so-so job typical of tiny, built-in flashes. This turned out to be the last photo I took of my dog Gracie before she passed away. Boy, did she look old and tired.

Gracie

On another outing I loaded some expired but always cold-stored Kodak Plus-X. I just brought the Stylus along everywhere I went for a while.

Arby's

The Stylus is so easy to carry. It slips into the back pocket of your jeans or into your coat’s side pocket, riding undetected until you want it.

Fountain Square

I seem to shoot a lot of expired film in the Stylus, here Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400.

Garfield Park

The Stylus gives me good results on any film I throw at it. Here’s a photo on Eastman Double-X 5222.

Along the Wall

And here’s one on good old Kodak Tri-X.

Carrying a jug

The Stylus handles challenging lighting conditions surprisingly well.

Reflected on the water 1

The Stylus has bungled a few shots when it couldn’t figure out what the subject was and focused behind it. That’s my only complaint with this camera, and it’s happened to me on only a handful of frames.

Lion graffiti

See the rest of my Olympus Stylus gallery here.

The only barrier to owning an Olympus Stylus is cost, as prices have risen considerably over the years. I used to see these sell for $20 all the time, but now they start at three times that, and minty ones sell for more than $100. Quality point-and-shoot cameras are hot! Don’t hesitate to pick one up if you find a good bargain, though. You’ll have a great time with this tiny camera.

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