Film Photography

More 35mm color negative work from the CanoScan 9000F MkII and ScanGear

The advice some of you gave me in this post helped me get decent black-and-white scans from my Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II and its bundled ScanGear software. I used the same advice to scan a little more color film.

I made these photos last fall with my Olympus XA2 on Agfa Vista 200. Roberts Camera in Indianapolis processed and scanned them. Their scans are 3130 pixels on the long side. I used ScanGear to scan them at 4800 dpi with all built-in image enhancement turned off, resulting in scans of between 6750 and 6800 pixels on the long side. I resized my scans to 1200 pixels long to upload them here.

I edited scans from both sources as best I could in Photoshop, including adding unsharp masking to the ScanGear scans.

My first test was of this shot of old US 52 and a great abandoned neon sign near my home. It shows considerable vignetting, which I believe is endemic to the camera. While I like the depth of blue in the sky, I don’t like how mottled it is. I tried various Photoshop settings and tools to smooth it out but wasn’t happy with any of the results. I wonder if the film profiles and multi-exposure scanning in Silverfast would resolve these challenges.

The Roberts scan captured more turquoise in a perfectly smooth sky. The Wrecks sign shows far better definition and detail. I suppose the Roberts scan might have a touch of green caste to it. Roberts also reduced the vignetting. I prefer the Roberts scan.

Wrecks

The CanoScan/ScanGear scan of this abandoned farm co-op building shows the same mottled deep blue sky, but plenty of great detail in the corrugated walls. This building is all that’s left of the onetime town of Traders Point, Indiana, by the way. See 1950s film footage of this town, including a brief look at this co-op building, here.

Here’s a crop of the image at 100%. It could be sharper, but it’s fully usable.

In the Roberts scan the colors aren’t as vibrant, and the sky is again more turquoise. In retrospect, I could have helped this photo by reducing exposure a little in Photoshop.

Co-op

From here on out, the winner isn’t as clear between the Roberts and ScanGear scans. This ScanGear scan from downtown Indianapolis shows a scene that’s changed, as the Hard Rock Cafe has since closed and its signs are gone.

The Roberts scan looks like it got more exposure than my scan. My scan highlights the vignetting the XA2’s lens tends to deliver.

Down Maryland St.

These arches are around the corner from the previous scene. Here’s my scan.

Here’s the Roberts scan. Each has its charms; I can’t call one better than the other.

Arches

Still downtown in Indianapolis, I shot this outdoor cafe scene. The day was drizzly and chilly and so not ideal for outdoor dining.

Here’s the Roberts scan. I like my scan’s blue umbrella and the overall color temperature better.

Blue umbrella

Finally, here’s a forlorn building. My scan gives its gray painted brick a bit of a blue caste.

The Roberts scan is more of a straight gray. Like all of the Roberts scans, it got a touch more exposure. Either scan is good enough for my purposes, but I believe I slightly prefer my CanoScan/ScanGear scan.

Gray building

I believe I’ve figured out a good base 35mm scanning technique and can refine it from here. Perhaps I can get a little more sharpness, a little better color. I do have to solve that terrible mottling problem, though; the two scans with blue sky in them aren’t that great.

Next, I’ll try scanning some medium-format negatives with the CanoScan and ScanGear. This is perhaps the most important test, as my goal is to shoot my lovely TLRs and my simple box cameras more often, and process and scan the film myself.

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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, Photography

When testing a camera, let the camera be the only unknown

I recently put a roll of film through an Olympus XA2 that someone gave to me. I’ve owned another XA2 so I know that this is a lovely camera — very compact, with a great lens and easy zone focusing. But then I made a series of rookie mistakes shooting this one and it reminded me of a key lesson: when testing something, let the thing you test be the only unknown.

I didn’t follow that maxim when testing this XA2:

  • I grabbed a battery out of another camera I’d just shot, which I had pulled out of another camera, and another before it, and who knows how many other cameras before that. That battery could have been tired.
  • I used a film I’m still getting to know, Ultrafine Xtreme 100. I’ve liked it a lot every other time I’ve shot it, but I don’t know how it behaves in all conditions yet.
  • I used a lab that is fairly new to me to process and scan the roll, and I’m still learning their capabilities.

The scans looked terrible, with both blown-out highlights and very dark shadows. I couldn’t tell how much of that was the lab’s fault and how much was the fault of bad exposures. No amount of Photoshopping could save them. I rescanned the negatives on my flatbed scanner (a Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II) using the software that came with the scanner. That improved them enough that Photoshop could make the images usable.

Here are a few photographs that show what came off my scanner. This was the worst of the photographs as the bridge was badly blown out. I severely squashed the highs and lows out of the shot in Photoshop to make it sort of usable.

Starkey Park, Zionsville

This shot is probably the best-exposed of the bunch, and I still had to heavily adjust highlights and shadows on it.

Starkey Park, Zionsville

The just-before-dusk light in the nature park was challenging. I had another camera along, one I’ve shot many times. Its meter got the highlights right but left the shadows very dark. So perhaps this was an extreme test of an unknown camera. Fortunately, I took this XA2 along on a day trip to a distant town. It was near the middle of the day and the sun was fully out.

On the square in Crown Point

Even on these shots the shadows were very dark. The highlights weren’t as blown, however. But these shots miss the mark in sharpness and detail.

On the square in Crown Point

These photos clearly do not represent what this camera or film can do. Here’s a photo I took with my other Olympus XA2, beautifully exposed and full of life.

Blow-up dolphins

And here are a few photos on Ultrafine Xtreme 100 from other cameras. First, from my Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK:

Steps

And now from a Minolta XG 1 with the 50/1.4 MD Rokkor-X lens.

Roses

That frame was processed and scanned by the same lab as did the roll from the XA2, so I know the lab is capable of good work.

I have put a fresh battery and the film I know best, Agfa Vista 200, in the XA2 for another try. I must have missed it before, but the in-viewfinder underexposure light comes on in situations when I would expect it not to. All may not be well with the meter. So the lab appears not to be the problem — instead, it’s probably the camera itself, the one thing that should always have been the only unknown in this equation.

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Camera Reviews

Olympus XA2

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Marvels of miniaturization, the Olympys XA series put great optics into your pocket. The XA came in 1979 with a rangefinder and a six-element f/2.8 lens. The XA2 followed in 1980 with zone focusing and a four-element f/3.5 lens. There was also an XA1, an XA3, and an XA4, each with different specs but all sharing the same basic clamshell body design. Collectors and photographers alike praise these cameras, so I suppose it was just a matter of time before I got one.

Olympus XA2

All XA-series cameras are itty bitty, at about 2.6 by 4.1 by 1.6 inches. This is in the realm of small digital point-and-shoot cameras – my svelte Canon PowerShot S95 is only fractionally smaller at 2.3 by 3.9 by 1.2 inches.

Olympus XA2

Miniaturization had its limits in 1980, though. My Canon’s flash is built in, while the XA series offers a range of attachable flashes. My XA2 came with the common A11 flash, which lengthens the camera by about 1.75 inches.

Even though the XA2 has lower specs than the original XA, there’s much to like about both cameras. The XA’s lens is said to be superior, and the camera offers a rangefinder and aperture-priority autoexposure. But the XA2’s lens is no slouch, and the camera offers fully automatic exposure and zone focusing. The focusing lever is next to the lens, with settings for portrait, group, and landscape. The group setting keeps everything beyond 4 feet in focus, making it useful for almost all shots. You’ll seldom need to use portrait, at 3.3 to 5 feet, and landscape, beyond 8.3 feet. The camera itself seems to agree, as when you close it the focus lever moves back to the group setting. Focus may be mechanical, but everything else about the camera needs two SR44 batteries. Fortunately, you can buy those at the drug store.

Given that the XA2 is easily pocketable, barely noticeable to others, and point-and-shoot simple, I thought it’d be a great choice to take along to the Indiana State Fair this year. I’ve wanted to try street photography for a long time and I thought the fair’s crowds would make a great first outing.

Deep fried everything

My favorite part of the fair is Pioneer Village, where people dress up all old-timey and do things the way Hoosiers did them in the 1800s. These gentlemen were busy sawing logs into boards.

Sawing

Next to Pioneer Village are rows and rows of antique tractors. Here are some of their noses. I have a soft spot in my heart for Oliver tractors like the green one in front because my father built them in South Bend when I was a boy.

Tractor noses

My sons like to visit the midway – the older one for games, the younger one for rides. I’m not crazy about either, but at least there are plenty of people and colors to photograph.

Rising waters

A green light glows inside the viewfinder when the exposure system needs a slow shutter speed; it’s your cue to use either a tripod or the flash. That was never a problem on this hot and blisteringly bright day. At slower speeds the shutter clicks twice, once when it opens and once when it closes, so wait for the second click before you move the camera!

Some complain that the XA2 is clumsy to hold, but I’ve shot thousands of photos with my similarly-sized digital camera and must be used to it. I found the shutter button, which is famously feather light, entirely too easy to press by accident. I thought the thumbwheel winder felt kind of flimsy. And I had to resist the temptation to open the cover by pressing the front and sliding, which works but not without ugly scraping noises. It’s important to open it only from the top, pressing against the ribs next to the XA2 logo.

My test-roll photos are acceptably sharp but not stunningly so. Those shot in the brightest sunlight suffered from noticeable vignetting (darker in the corners than in the middle) but I’ve read that this is typical of the camera. I shot my usual Fujicolor 200, but I chose this roll to try out my nearby CVS Pharmacy for processing. They process, scan, and burn to CD for about $6, which is hard to beat. You can see more photos from this camera in my Olympus XA2 gallery.


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