Photography

Lessons learned in choosing photo labs

When I started making photographs again in 2005 I couldn’t afford a new digital camera, so long story short I bought a used Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80 for $20 and some film and got to shooting. That necessarily meant I’d need to find a lab to process my film.

Walmart still processed and scanned color negative film, for about $6 I think. Money was tight for me then, but I could manage that price if I didn’t shoot too often. So that’s who I used.

I have lamented on this blog (here) the loss of easy, inexpensive film processing at drug and big-box stores. The by-mail labs I use now charge up to three times more than Walmart used to. But perhaps you get what you pay for.

I was looking back through old scans recently to update my review of the Kodak Retina Ia and was surprised and disappointed with the dull color. I didn’t see it then, as I had a lot to learn. I sure see it now. I don’t blame the camera — that Retina’s lens is crackerjack. I also shot Fujicolor 200, a film I know well. So I blame the processing and/or the scanning. I brought the scans into Photoshop hoping to improve them. I got better color at the cost of too much contrast, but I couldn’t tone that down without making the images too hazy.

Red Matrix
Gracie and Sugar

These aren’t bad images, but they could be better.

I did some quick checking of other images I had processed and scanned by Walmart, Target, Walgreens, and CVS, and think that I get noticeably better work from the by-mail labs I use now. The only in-store lab that did equal work was Costco.

In 2012 I bought a Retina IIa and put it through its paces with another roll of Fujicolor 200. I forget who I used to process and scan the film — probably Dwayne’s Photo or Old School Photo Lab. Can you see it like I do, how much more natural and nuanced the colors and contrast are in these?

Matrix
Planting petunias

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Camera Reviews

Another Olympus XA2

I’ve never read a negative review of Olympus’s XA2, a remarkably compact 35mm camera. Everybody seems to like it. eBay bears it out: prices hover around $100 for working and complete examples. I am fortunate, as this one came to me for free from the collection of an old friend’s father.

Olympus XA2

The tiny XA2, introduced in 1980, was based on the 1979 XA but replaced its rangefinder with zone focusing and its f/2.8 lens with an f/3.5 lens. And when I say this camera is tiny, I mean tiny — it’s only fractionally larger than my Canon S95 or my wife’s Sony RX100, both compact digital point-and-shoot cameras that don’t have to hold a 35mm film cartridge.

Olympus XA2

I loaded a roll of Ultrafine Xtreme 100 black-and-white film, pulled a battery out of another camera I’d just finished using, slipped this XA2 into my coat pocket, and took it everywhere for a couple weeks. And then, as I explained in this post, I got black shadows, blown-out highlights, poor sharpness, and lack of detail. Here’s a shot from inside a nature park near my home, heavily Photoshopped to make it usable.

Starkey Park, Zionsville

I know better than to test a new-to-me old camera with an old battery and film I don’t know well yet, and then to send the film to a lab I’m still getting to know. So I declared the first test roll null and void, and loaded a fresh battery and tried-and-true Agfa Vista 200 into the camera. I had the camera shop downtown process and scan the film. Glory be, I got good stuff back from the XA2 this time.

Indianapolis Artsgarden

The little green light inside the viewfinder came on a lot, meaning that the XA2 needed a slow shutter speed to get a good exposure and that you should consider using flash or a tripod. Bollocks, I said each time. Every day but one I shot this camera I enjoyed full sun. I should have been getting plenty fast shutter speeds.

Co-op

I can’t tell what is making that green light come on so often. The XA2 doesn’t tell you what aperture and shutter speed it’s choosing based on the meter’s reading, so I don’t know how I would check this meter’s functioning against a known-good meter. But these results speak for themselves: it didn’t matter.

Suburban autumn

Autumn came late in central Indiana this year. It served to deepen the eventual colors, but to shorten their life span. It seemed like all the trees changed color and dumped all their leaves inside two weeks. I was fortunate to be able to take several good walks with the XA2 in my coat pocket during those days. That’s the XA2’s killer feature, by the way: you can carry it everywhere so easily.

Red

These full-sun photos were all noticeably vignetted, so much so that in the centers, light colors tended toward white. I was able to fix that pretty well in Photoshop. I had the same effect with an XA2 I used to own, so I assume this is endemic to the camera.

Yellow tree on Old 334

I experienced the common (and minor) challenges with the XA2 as I used it: the clamshell cover hangs up unless you slide it open in exactly the right direction, and the shutter button is super sensitive and likely to fire when you don’t mean it. If this were my only camera I’d get past those quirks after three or four more rolls.

Wrecks

I finished the roll before meeting a friend for lunch Downtown on a gray, chilly day. That green slow-shutter light was on for every shot, but as you can see the camera did fine.

Maryland St.

When you close the XA2 it moves the focus to the middle zone, which brings into focus everything 4 feet or more away. Because the camera biases toward big depth of field, for most subjects you can just open the camera, frame, and press the button. For truly far-away subjects you can use the landscape setting, and for close subjects (no closer than three feet, though) you can use the portrait setting. I did that here, and in this light got a narrow-enough in-focus patch that the background blurred a little.

Blue umbrella

To see more from both XA2s I’ve owned, check out my Olympus XA2 gallery.

Many film photographers say they prefer the XA2 to the XA. I’m not in that camp. I like the XA’s rangefinder and I prefer the characteristics of its lens. That said, the XA2 is almost point-and-shoot simple with plenty great optics. If I shot people on the street, this would be a great camera for it: open it, frame, snap, done.

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Film Photography

ClearanceFilm.JPG

When Meijer (a big-box store chain in several Midwestern states) affixes this sticker to an item, it means they’re not going to carry it anymore.

On the one hand, yay! 12 rolls for the price of four! (I bought all they had left, plus four rolls of Superia X-tra 400 for the price of one.)

On the other, waaaaah! My cheap and easy source of film is no more!

No more cheap Fujicolor 200 at Meijer?

Aside

Linback Garage

Linback Garage
Yashica Electro 35 GSN
Fujicolor 200
2012

Writing recently about the State Theater in Logansport and about my ex-Yashica Electro 35 GSN led me to revisit my photos from that camera, for I knew I made some with it in Logansport.

It wasn’t clear to me on this day whether this garage is a going concern. The building reeks of abandonment but the sign looks fresh. I suppose that’s what makes this shot interesting.

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Film Photography

single frame: Linback Garage

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Image
Film Photography

In belated praise of Kodak Gold 200

In case you haven’t heard, the Agfa Vista line of color films has been discontinued. They were manufactured by Fujifilm, which has axed one film stock after another in recent years. At the rate they’re killing stocks, it would not surprise me if they soon exit the rollfilm business.

Agfa Vista 200 is said to have been the same stock as Fujicolor 200. I’ve shot miles of this film under both labels and they look the same to me. It is the color print film I shoot most often by far. It performs well enough for the everyday shooting I do while being inexpensive and easy to get. I can drive to my nearby big-box store right now and buy a four-pack of Fujicolor 200 for about $12.

Its potential demise provokes some anxiety. What will I do when it’s gone?

Switch to Kodak Gold 200, that’s what. It’s nearly as available and only slightly more expensive. It’s just as good.

I’ve only just decided that. For years I strongly preferred Fujicolor’s look, probably because I’m used to it. But when I take those goggles off and look objectively at the photos I’ve made on Kodak Gold 200 I find many that really please me. This is a fine everyday color film. Have a look:

Red house

Nikon N60, AF Nikkor 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6, Kodak Gold 200 (expired), 2013

Foodliner

Nikon N60, AF Nikkor 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6, Kodak Gold 200 (expired), 2013

Downtown Cambridge City

Canon TLb, 50mm f/1.8 Canon FD S.C., Kodak Gold 200, 2015

Jugs

Canon TLb, 50mm f/1.8 Canon FD S.C., Kodak Gold 200, 2015

Allied Van Lines

Canon TLb, 50mm f/1.8 Canon FD S.C., Kodak Gold 200, 2015

The Pyramids

Konica Auto S2, Kodak Gold 200, 2016

My neighbor's house

Olympus Stylus, Kodak Gold 200 (expired), 2013

Bridge at IMA

Olympus Stylus, Kodak Gold 200 (expired), 2013

Flo's

Pentax H3, 55mm f/2 Super Takumar, Kodak Gold 200, 2016

At Juan Solomon Park

Kodak Retina IIc, Kodak Gold 200, 2017

Depot

Pentax ME, 50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax-M, Kodak Gold 200, 2017

Margaret

Pentax ME, 50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax-M, Kodak Gold 200, 2017

Grilling out

Kodak Retina Automatic III, Kodak Gold 200, 2017

North United Methodist

Voigtländer Vito II, Kodak Gold 200, 2015

Fujifilm, do what you will. Kodak Alaris appears to be committed to roll film. I’ll switch to Kodak Gold 200 and not look back.

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Camera Reviews

Operation Thin the Herd: Konica C35 Automatic

Craft Brewery

I asked a lot of my Konica C35 Automatic — probably too much, shooting it mostly at and beyond dusk as I did. Late afternoon sun was the best light I gave it. That’s what happens when you shoot mostly after work in late autumn. Given that this autoexposure camera forces wide apertures and slow shutter speeds in dim light, I risked softness and camera shake nearly every time I pressed the shutter button.

Konica C35 Automatic

Let’s look first at a couple late-afternoon photos. This lens has a character that, to my eye, enhances the film’s grain. It’s a pleasing effect, but it does rob images of a little sharpness.

Tree

But as I said, it’s quite pleasant. It could be put to excellent use for the right subject.

Scenery

The C35 struggled with reflected light. The late-afternoon sun cast this black fence with a delicious glow. I’d admired it for several days on my drive home from work, and this day with the C35 in my pocket I stopped to photograph it. This isn’t a bad shot, especially after I toned down the highlights in Photoshop. It just doesn’t capture the scene’s warmth. I own cameras that could have captured that glow. Of course, those cameras are large, heavy, and complicated compared to the C35.

Plug

I made this photo in downtown Fishers on a cloudy afternoon. I focused on the front bench. Shooting Fujicolor 200 in this light, the camera chose a wider aperture and softened the background just a bit, to a pleasing degree.

Benches

I was lucky to pick up this little rangefinder camera for about 30 bucks a few years ago, as they routinely go for up to $100 in online auctions. While this camera is pleasant enough to use, I couldn’t remotely justify trading a C-note for one.

Autumn

I gave the C35 some challenging assignments, such as this light sculpture inside the lobby of the office building where I work. I made a similar shot here with my Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80 on Tri-X earlier this year. I like it better. See it here.

Lights

I was downtown for a work-related event and had the C35 in my coat pocket. The event wrapped late. I wondered if the spotlight illuminating this sign provided enough light for a photograph. It did.

Biltwell

Of course, it’s hard to focus a rangefinder camera in the dark. I love how the C35 rendered the light within the bells of this clock tower, but man, I wish I hadn’t muffed focus.

Clock at dark

If you’d like to see more photos from this camera, check out my Konica C35 Automatic gallery here.

My experience shooting this camera was pleasant enough. It’s certainly a breeze to use: in Auto mode it is a focus-and-shoot camera. But as I shot it, I couldn’t shake a strong feeling that if I kept it, I’d probably never shoot it again. I own other capable compacts that I just like better.

Verdict: Goodbye

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