Some subjects draw me in every time I pass by with a camera. This scene on Main Street in Zionsville has become one of those subjects. I am sure I have at least one more photo from here, but I can’t find it now. Enjoy these five.
Lab scans of 35mm color negatives are miracles. Any lab I routinely use reliably sends me crackerjack digital images.
Getting usable scans from my CanoScan 9000F Mark II via its ScanGear software, on the other hand, is a lot of work involving a number of subjective choices in scanning and post-processing.
I used to think that the colors I got back from the lab were the film’s true colors. I see now how much of that is in the scanner settings, and that I don’t actually know how any film I typically use renders color.
The improvements I made this time were to scan to lossless TIFF files, and to turn off ScanGear’s Image Adjustment setting (which I had overlooked when turning off all the other image-enhancement settings). It helped? I think?
Here’s my scan of a photo I made on Kodak Gold 200 with my Olympus OM-1 and a 50mm f/3.5 Zuiko Auto Macro lens. There’s a little of that mottling in the blue sky that I keep trying to prevent. But it’s not as bad as in previous scans.
Roberts Camera scanned this film when I had them process it. It’s a touch brighter than my scan. The sky has a slight turquoise tint and lacks any mottling. Otherwise, either scan is fine.
Here’s my scan of a butterfly pausing over this flower. Notice how purple the flowers in the background are.
Roberts made those same flowers quite pink, but brought out the detail lurking in the butterfly’s wings.
I also tried scanning some Kodak Ektar 100 I shot in my Pentax Spotmatic F with a 35mm f/3.5 SMC Takumar lens.
Here’s Robert’s Camera’s scan. They got richer colors than I did, although I’d say the sky in mine looks more realistic. The green tint on the right edge of my scan is clearly an artifact of the negative that Robert’s somehow edited out.
I walked over to the building to make this close shot. My scan:
Roberts Camera’s scan got a richer red, but my scan offers better highlight detail.
It was so much easier when I accepted whatever color I got from my lab scans, as if they were the final word on film and lens. Now I’m suspicious of every scan, because of all the choices it represents. Is it possible that the only way to truly know what colors are in a negative is to make a darkroom print?
This, by the way, is the last in this series of experiments. I’ve learned what I need to. I get good enough black-and-white scans now to start processing and scanning black-and-white film, which was my goal. Now that I work Downtown in Indianapolis, eight blocks from Roberts Camera and their C41 lab, I’m likely to have them process and scan my 35mm color negative film. They charge just $10.
I wonder why square photographs aren’t more common. Maybe it’s because starting in the 1980s 35mm point-and-shoot cameras became popular. That could have cemented the format’s 3:2 ratio as normal for photographs.
In the digital era the DSLR kept 35mm’s 3:2 aspect ratio. Point-and-shoots went with 4:3 for some reason, but that’s close enough to 3:2 to not look weird. My digital point-and-shoot, a Canon S95, has a 1:1 setting buried somewhere in its menus. My iPhone 6s also offers a square setting. But no digital camera I know of shoots square by default.
For me, however, shooting square feels like going back to my roots. For the first eight years of my photographic life, I shot nothing but cameras that made square photographs. It was the 1970s and early 1980s; square was very common then thanks to the wildly popular 126 format.
Here’s a scan of a print from my first-ever roll of film, Kodacolor II in a Kodak Brownie Starmite II, August, 1976. Side note: just look at how beautifully these drug-store-print colors have kept over the last 40+ years! These are my childhood friends Darin, Colleen, Christy, David, Mike, tank-topped kid whose face I can’t see and therefore whose name I can’t recall, and Craig just entering the frame from the right.
Here’s a scan of the negative, cropped 3:2 to the subject. Conventional wisdom calls this the better composition because the subject fills the frame. But what it lacks is the big blue sky we used to play under and the city infrastructure that lay all around and above us. The crop also cuts off the rounded tip of Mike’s grand walking staff. The square format brought in all the details.
That’s not to say that square format is inherently magic. Just like with any aspect ratio you have to find the subjects and compositions that work best. Here are some decent square photos I’ve taken more recently.
I’m experimenting with scanning medium-format color negatives in my CanoScan 9000F.
I’d shoot more medium format if it weren’t so expensive per frame to get scans. Every lab I use charges about the same to process and scan both medium format and 35mm, around $17 shipped. A roll of 35mm yields 24 or 26 images, while a roll of 120 or 620 yields only eight or 12. If I can get credible scans from the CanoScan without too much fuss it would cut about $5 out of that equation. I might shoot my TLRs, folders, and boxes more often.
I first scanned some Kodak Ektar 100 negatives I shot last year in my Agfa Clack. (Ektar is my go-to medium-format color film.) Old School Photo Lab processed and scanned the film.
Here’s a photo from that roll, scanned through the CanoScan and ScanGear. I scanned at 1200 dpi, the maximum ScanGear allowed to avoid enormous file sizes. This resulted in images 3968 pixels long. I left all image enhancements off in ScanGear. I applied unsharp masking and other enhancements in Photoshop. I shrunk the scans to 1200 pixels long to upload them to the blog.
Here’s a crop of this image at 100%. The Clack is a box camera with a simple lens that’s acceptably, but not exceptionally, sharp in the middle. This is a pretty reasonable result.
Here’s Old School Photo Lab’s scan. It’s 3569 pixels on the long side. I like both scans equally.
Here’s another scan from this roll using the CanoScan and ScanGear.
In this case I like the Old School Photo Lab scan better, as its colors look more true to life. I did the best I could in Photoshop to get better colors from my scan but they just weren’t there. Either scan is acceptable for my usual bloggy purposes.
Next I dug out some Kodak Ektar 100 negatives I shot in 2017 with my Yashica-D and a closeup lens attachment. Old School Photo Lab processed and scanned the images.
ScanGear let me scan at 2400 dpi but no larger to avoid extremely large file sizes. This yielded images of about 5200 pixels square. Again I left all image enhancements off in ScanGear and used Photoshop to apply unsharp masking and other enhancements. I shrunk the scans to 1200 pixels square to upload them to the blog. Here’s my favorite photo from this roll.
Because this scan is so large, a crop from 100% shows only a small portion of the image. But as you can see it’s reasonably sharp and detailed.
The Old School Photo Lab scans are about 2400 pixels square. My scan offers more contrast and a lovely purple in the sky, but the OSPL scan offers a more limited and nuanced color palette.
Here’s another CanoScan/ScanGear scan from this roll.
The Old School Photo Lab scan is flatter and warmer. Both scans have their charms.
Finally, a CanoScan/ScanGear scan of this lily. I made all of these shots in my old house’s front garden, which I sorely miss.
The Old School Photo Lab scan is again warmer. It’s been a while since I’ve seen these lilies but I believe my scan’s purple is more true to life.
Unsurprisingly, the CanoScan and ScanGear do credible work making scans of color medium-format negatives. It was far, far easier to get good enough scans from these negatives than with any of the color 35mm negatives I’ve scanned. When it comes to negatives, there’s no substitute for size.
Scanning isn’t a joy any way you look at it. The act of scanning mostly involves waiting, which isn’t terrible. The real work begins after the scanner produces the files. The worst of it is removing dust marks. Even after gently wiping these negatives with a cloth designed for the purpose, a lot of dust remained on them. It was tedious to remove all of the marks in Photoshop.
I sold my Kodak Baby Brownie recently, to someone who’d had one many years ago and wanted to relive old memories. You might recall this tiny camera had its turn in Operation Thin the Herd and I decided not to keep it. It languished on my For Sale page for months.
As I packed and shipped it I looked back at some of the images I made with it. I like the composition of this one, but the lab didn’t get the film flat before they scanned it. I find that most labs struggle to scan the odd sizes. I’ll bet they have to scan them by hand.
Then there are those light leaks. Could be the camera, could be the hand-cut and -rolled film I bought on eBay. I wanted to shoot Ektar in this tiny box, because Ektar has been a solid performer in every box I’ve put it into. My other options involved films I’d never shot before, one called Rera Pan and another called Rollei Crossbird — the last 127 films still manufactured.
We tend to think of medium format film as being for serious work with expensive gear. But its first use was in an inexpensive snapshot camera — this, the No. 2 Brownie.
This is actually the last of a long line of No. 2 Brownies. The first, its body made of cardboard, was introduced in 1901. Models B, C, D, and E followed. (I own a Model D, too; see my review here.) They all look like the original to me (though this page charts the minute changes). The Model F is different — not in form or function, but in construction, as its body is made of aluminum.
Model Fs rolled off Kodak’s assembly lines from 1924 to 1935. For some of those years you could get one in blue, brown, gray, green, or red! As you can see, mine is basic black. It is also a gift to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras from David Ditta.
If you like old boxes, by the way, I’ve reviewed a couple others: the Ansco Shur Shot (here) and B-2 Cadet (here), and the Kodak Six-20 Brownie (here). A few other cameras I’ve reviewed are boxes, too, just in more modern packaging: the Agfa Clack (here), Kodak Baby Brownie (here), and the Kodak Brownie Hawkeye (here). You can check out all the cameras I’ve ever reviewed here.
No. 2 Brownies are pretty hard to kill. They’re both so simple and robustly enough manufactured that even the jankiest one you find in the back of some dumpy junk store can probably still make images.
But these cameras can get so dirty after a century or so! I cleaned this camera’s lens and viewfinders before I put any film through it. The camera’s front plate is held on only by pressure on the sides, and it’s easy enough to pry the pressure points back. The front just falls off when you do that. It provides good access to the viewfinder glass and mirrors, which slide right out with a tweezers. Isopropyl alcohol and a cotton swab made short work of 80 years of accumulated grime. Any No. 2 Brownie’s viewfinders will be dim even when clean, but when they’re dirty they’re useless.
The lens is a little harder to clean. To get at the back of the lens, remove the film insert by pulling the winding knob out and sliding the insert out. To get at the front of the lens, pull up the little tab on the top of the camera that’s to one side of the lens and flip the shutter lever — the shutter remains open until you flip the lever one more time. Again, I used a cotton swab and isopropyl alcohol. Holy cow, was the front of the lens filthy.
The No. 2 Brownie offers three aperture settings, selected by pulling up the tab on top of the camera over the lens. I couldn’t begin to guess at what f stops these apertures represent, but a manual I found online says that the largest aperture (tab all the way down) is for snapshots outdoors in all but the brightest light, the middle aperture is for bright sunlight and indoor time exposures, and the smallest (tab all the way up) is for time exposures outdoors on cloudy days. I assume the shutter operates at something like 1/50 sec.
I loaded a roll of fresh Ektar. I mis-spooled it the first time and winding was so hard I feared I’d tear the film. I put the camera into my dark bag, removed the film, and started over. Then frustratingly the Ektar’s frame numbers sat at the far right edge of the ruby window. Actually, the window on mine has faded to a sickly yellow. Fearing light through the window would imprint the frame numbers onto the film, I covered the window with electrical tape and peeled it back only to wind.
The Brownie focuses from about 10 feet. As you can see, the lens distorts a little and it is soft in the corners. Standard stuff for a one-element lens.
The act of shooting a No. 2 Brownie is pleasant. You frame as best you can and gently move the shutter lever. The entire process is so quiet and gentle. You just have to accept that the teeny tiny viewfinders make it hard to tell whether your subject is level. Frame as best as you can and hope you got it right enough.
Also, because of the slow shutter speed, camera shake can be a problem. The photo below shows it when you view it full size. Fortunately, the Model F offers a tripod mount. Previous models of the No. 2 Brownie lacked this useful feature.
I love shooting with simple cameras like this. I have half a mind to shoot this camera exclusively for a time, maybe three or six months, to see what I learn. I will want to invest in my own film-processing equipment first, as it is just as expensive to have a roll of 120 processed and scanned as 35mm, to yield a quarter or a third of the number of images.
If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here! To get Down the Road in your inbox or feed reader, subscribe here.