Film Photography

In praise of square photographs

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.

Wheeler Mision
Kodak Brownie Starmatic, Kodak Ektar 100, 2018
Fire Station 32
Kodak Brownie Starmatic, Kodak Portra 160, 2012
Benches
Yashica-D, Kodak Ektachrome E100G, 2014
Jet
Yashica-D, Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros, 2013.
Charles H. Ackerman
Yashica-D, Kodak Ektar 100, 2017
Available
Yashica-12, Ilford Pan-F Plus 50, 2018

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Film Photography

Scanning 120 color negatives with ScanGear on the Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II

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.

Suburban banalia

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.

Suburban banalia

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.

Spring flowers from my garden

Here’s another CanoScan/ScanGear scan from this roll.

The Old School Photo Lab scan is flatter and warmer. Both scans have their charms.

Spring flowers from my garden

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.

Spring flowers from my garden

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.

Saving $5 on scans is nice, but the real savings is in processing and scanning my film myself. I still have in mind to buy processing gear and try a monobath black-and-white developer like this one from the Film Photography Project. I had hoped to be doing that by now this year, but life just seems to keep dealing us energy-consuming difficulties. Maybe this summer, maybe this autumn. Wish me luck.

Next: scanning black-and-white medium-format film. I expect it to go very well.

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Photography

Learning portraiture

My first wife made brilliant portraits. Through wit and charm, and sometimes even a little flirting, she was very good at drawing spark and life out of her subjects as she worked the shutter. She made many portraits of our young sons with her Pentax K1000, several of which were framed around our home. Two black-and-white portraits of Garrett, aged about five, somehow found their way into my hands and are framed in my living room. His eyes are full of light and joy.

I shied away from photographing people for a long time. I didn’t think I could ever be as good as my ex, so I wouldn’t even try. What a logical fallacy. But I let it be for years.

I wanted annual portraits of the boys, so we’d go to the Target portrait studio. They did reasonable work for the money. But after several years the photographer moved on, and the new one wasn’t very good. I figured I could do at least that well. So I started trying.

Damion

Nikon F2AS, 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor, Kodak T-Max 100, 2013

I bested the new Target photographer right out of the gate.

Damion

Nikon F2AS, 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor, Kodak T-Max 100, 2013

I don’t own any lighting gear, so I photographed my sons outside. Broad daylight turns out to be challenging for good skin tones. I relied on my cameras’ meters; I see I should have underexposed by at least a half stop.

Garrett

Nikon F2AS, 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor, Kodak Portra 160NC, 2015

I used slower films for the finer grain, but found the in-focus patch could be mighty narrow even in blazing sunlight. I got lots of soft-focus photos, and even some that were clearly out of focus. I shoot handheld; perhaps portraiture calls for a tripod. Or faster film.

Garrett

Nikon F2AS, 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor, Kodak Portra 160NC, 2015

I even started dabbling with 135mm lenses, because portraits are supposed to be taken with long lenses, right?

Damion

Nikon F2AS, 135mm f/3.5 AI Nikkor, Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros, 2016

I could really fill the frame without having to put my lens right in my son’s face, which they liked. But I think a 100mm, or maybe even an 85mm, lens would be more useful.

Garrett

Nikon F2AS, 135mm f/3.5 AI Nikkor, Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros, 2016

And soon I busted out some medium-format equipment, and even started experimenting with poses, trying to do something artistic.

Damion

Yashica-D, Kodak Ektar 100, 2016

I still haven’t mastered the art of posed portraits. I just don’t have that ability to be engaging and charming with my subject as my ex did. She had a gift. I’m too buttoned down, too unsure of myself yet. My sons frequently look like they’re trying too hard to smile. Damion usually doesn’t bother.

Damion

Nikon F3HP, 135mm f/3.5 AI Nikkor, Fomapan 200, 2016

But now and then I do nail it, usually at a more candid moment. Garrett was just watching YouTube videos in my easy chair when I asked him to look up. He was relaxed and content, and it shows in his eyes.

Chillin'

Nikon N90s, 50mm f/1.8 AI Nikkor, Eastman Double-X 5222, 2016

Now that the boys are moving on into their own lives, they’ll be around less for portraits. Maybe now I need to put Margaret in my lens more!

© 2013-2017 Jim Grey. All rights reserved.

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Photography

Spring flowers, courtesy my Yashica-D and a Spiratone close-up lens

After I figured out I had the close-up lenses on wrong on my Yashica-D, I knew I’d want to shoot with them right to see how the photos turned out. So I attached them correctly and loaded some Kodak Ektar, and waited for the flowers in my gardens to start blooming this spring. One by one, I photographed them as they emerged.

I shared the first of them with you yesterday — the best photo of them all, if you ask me. But here are some more, starting with my grape hyacinths.

Spring flowers from my garden

I forget what these are. I bought them at Walmart, of all places! I planted them in the middle of my big bed and they didn’t flourish. So a couple years ago I moved them to a largely shaded spot just outside my front door and they’ve been very happy ever since.

Spring flowers from my garden

And of course, there are daffodils. Verna, who built my house and lived in it first, planted these. My neighbor says she created the big front bed a few years before she passed. I’m happy to be the current steward of her garden, and to have added my own flowers to it.

Spring flowers from my garden

These are Grecian windflowers. A smattering of them come up every year, bloom for a few days, and then retreat.

Spring flowers from my garden

I forget where my Lily of the Valley come from. I remember planting them, I think. Did Mom give them to me after she and Dad moved out of my childhood home? Did I buy them at Lowe’s? It’s funny how such memories blur after a while.

Spring flowers from my garden

Purple is my favorite color, and I’ve favored purple flowers (like these irises) when I’ve chosen them.

Spring flowers from my garden

These purple and white irises were already here when I moved in. Since my parents retired and moved here, my mom, who misses her gardens, has worked hard in mine. A pine tree Verna planted had grown so large it shaded these irises from full sun. So Mom moved them, and they’re so happy in their new location that they now bloom in the spring and in the autumn.

Spring flowers from my garden

As you can see, I didn’t get the whole flower in focus. I wanted blurred backgrounds, so I chose widest apertures possible in the available light. I wish I had narrowed the aperture a stop or maybe two, which would have brought the whole flower into focus. I’ll bet I would still have gotten blurred backgrounds.

The Yashica-D remains a total joy to shoot. Despite being shaped like a brick, it’s comfortable to hold. Its controls move with silky heft. But it’s the big, bright viewfinder that charms the most, elevating even the most mundane scene with jewel-like color. And now that I know how to properly attach the Spiratone close-up lenses to it, I’m getting good results. Look at this color, this sharpness, this bokeh! The Yahinon lenses are not diminished at all by these inexpensive aftermarket accessories. They let me move to within inches of my subjects while carrying through all of the Yashinon lenses’ great characteristics. Win!

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Camera Reviews

Yashica-D

Yashica-D

I’ve lusted after medium-format twin-lens reflex cameras for many years, but I’ve always rebuffed them for their high prices. The Rolleicords and Rolleiflexes are the most respected members of the genre and go for hundreds of dollars on the used market. Lots of companies made TLRs in the Rollei idiom, but even the clones can be mighty expensive.

Nobody cloned Rollei TLRs as prolifically as Yashica, which produced them from 1953 to 1986. Collectors broadly group Yashica’s many TLRs by the film advance mechanism: knob or crank. The crank-advance Yashica TLRs, which tend to have been produced later and offer the best lenses and shutters, go for the most money on the used market. The crank-advance Yashica-Mat tends to be the most expensive today because it includes a coupled CdS light meter. Except for a model here and there that flirted with selenium light meters, other Yashica TLRs are meterless.

Of the meterless knob-advance Yashica TLRs, the Yashica-D is the best specified. Its Copal MXV leaf shutter operates from 1/500 to 1 second. Early Yashica-Ds featured three-element, f/3.5 80mm Yashikor viewing and taking lenses. Later Ds came with twin four-element Yashinon lenses, also f/3.5 at 80mm. Even though the Yashikor is a fine lens, collectors favor the Yashinon. That’s probably why I got quite a bargain on my Yashikor-equipped Yashica-D – about $50, shipped.

Yashica-D

When I held my Yashica-D in my hands for the first time, it felt incredibly right. I wanted to shoot with it right now. It was much as how the scent of a delicious meal can make you hungry, or the sight of a beautiful woman can make you …well, you know. I’ve never been so affected by a camera before. I heeded its call, moving it to the front of the line ahead of several other cameras awaiting their test rolls.

All-manual cameras like the Yashica-D slow you way down as you deliberately focus and set exposure. I’m so used to my auto-everything digital cameras that I sometimes forget to set exposure on my manual film cameras! On the least enjoyable of my manual cameras I even resent having to mess with it. But using the Yashica-D is such a pleasure that I looked forward to it, and enjoyed the process. Not only do all the knobs move smoothly and precisely, but there’s also a sensually pleasing heft to them. I was delighted to find that focusing the camera moves the entire lens assembly in and out. You have to cock the shutter manually, but the lever slides like it’s on silk with a tiny, sure click at the end. Winding the film is even a pleasure, as the winder stops at each frame – there’s no infernal red window and no accidentally winding too far.

To focus, look down into the viewfinder and twist the big knob on the right side until the image is sharp. You can pop a magnifying glass from the lid to help you, or you can pop the center of the lid out and use that square hole as a sports finder. To set aperture and shutter speed, turn the two small dials between the lenses until the values you want appear in the window atop the viewing lens.

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By the way, I also own and have reviewed the Yashica-12 (here), which is much like the Yashica-D but offers a light meter and a crank winder. Other medium-format gems in my collection include the Certo Super Sport Dolly (here) and the Kodak Monitor Anastigmat Special (here). You can check out all of my camera reviews here.

It seemed right to shoot black-and-white film in this camera, so I loaded some Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros and took it along when my sons and I drove up to Terre Haute one cloudy afternoon. This jet has sat on the lawn of the Clay County Courthouse in Brazil, Indiana, for as long as I can remember.

Jet

We also stopped by Iron’s Cemetery, which is hidden from view along US 40 west of Plainfield. Check out that delicious bokeh.

Iron's Cemetery

The roll’s 12 shots went by too fast. So I went to the fridge for my last roll of now-discontinued Kodak Ektachrome E100G slide film and kept shooting. My D beautifully rendered the evening sunlight as it fell across my car’s tail.

Matrix Hindquarter

I really miss E100G; I love the color it returns. My back yard is an embarrassing wreck, but E100G makes it look good.

Blooms on the Edge of the Deck

I’ve put several rolls of E100G through this camera. This film just loves the D’s Yashinon lens.

Crown Hill National Cemetery

I sometimes get out my Yashica-D just to enjoy it. I own few cameras that bring me such pleasure. One evening after work I shot an entire roll of E100G on the flowers in my front yard.

Yellow and purple lilies *EXPLORED*

Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros was my go-to black-and-white film for this camera until it was discontinued.

Moore Road

The father of a dear friend gave me another Yashica-D, one he had used for many years. It was in like-new condition and it was older, so I sold my first Yashica-D and kept his. I shot some Kodak Ektar 100 in it.

Charles H. Ackerman

This Yashica-D came with a Spiratone close-up lens kit. It did nice work on the narcissus in my front yard.

Spring flowers from my garden

To see the rest of the photos I took with my two Yashica-Ds, check out my gallery.

My Yashica-D has zoomed right up to the top of my favorite-camera list. I’m still more a 35mm shooter. But when I want to shoot for the pleasure of it, or when I want to put my best medium-format foot forward, this is the camera I reach for first.

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