Category Archives: Lenses

New Camera: Fuji XT-1

As most of you know, I’m a die-hard film shooter. And I’m not about to stop- I seriously love my Rolleiflexes. But there is a real-world place for a good digital camera in my toolkit. 

I was using a Canon 5D mk.1 for a long time- perhaps ten years now. It still does a very good job of doing what it does, but it is BIG, it is HEAVY, and the image quality and technical features of newer cameras have really outstripped what it can do. 

I’ve been investigating alternate options to replace it. One thought was a Canon 6D, which would give me another full-frame chip with higher resolution, better color rendering and low-light performance, and I could keep all my existing lenses. But that would still have been really outside my budget. Even more so a 5D mk.3. Neither one would have solved my issue with weight, which quickly becomes an obstacle to regular use.

I looked at what I use my camera for- mostly events (as in documentary shooting, not commercial event photography), portraits and travel. I wanted something that would give me improved low-light performance, be much smaller and lighter, and give me the quality of glass I was used to with my Canon L lenses. 
I turned to mirrorless cameras, did some looking around, and after getting feedback from some trusted friends, arrived here: 

 

Fuji X-T1
 
The Fuji X-T1. It has a 16 megapixel APS-C sensor, a line of outstanding lenses in the focal length range I use the most, and as you can see in the photo above, is quite a bit smaller than the 5D. Not to mention quite a bit more affordable. 

Right now I only have the “kit” zoom lens. Calling this a kit lens is a bit like calling the 24-105 L lens with my 5D a kit lens. It’s an 18-55, or the equivalent of a 27-84 in 35mm/full-frame terms. A maximum aperture of f2.8-f4 means for a compact zoom, it’s quite fast. It also has optical image stabilization, a nice plus when shooting hand-held in low light. 

 

stairwell- hand-held @ 1/8th second
 
Things I like about the lens: image quality is excellent. The range of focal lengths covered is very useful. It does a great job with both near and distant subjects. The out-of-focus rendering is pleasant. 

 

dogwood bloom, night-time
 
Things I don’t like: switching from autofocus to manual requires a separate switch to be toggled. That switch is small and on the back of the barrel, close to the body, so toggling it requires taking the camera away from your eye. The aperture control ring is not mechanical with defined click-stops, but is instead electronic, making it hard to tell if you’re turning it the right way, and easy to turn it away from your preferred f-stop. 

 

magnolia blooms
 
This is not a problem with their prime lenses, two of which I will be acquiring soon. 

Also, as you can see, the image quality and color rendition of the image chip in the X-T1 leaves nothing to be desired even at relatively high ISO. The dogwood bloom at night was shot at ISO 6400. It has two extended range ISO settings above that, but I have yet to explore those. 

The camera has a whole host of other options including film emulsion emulation modes (all of these were shot in Astia simulation, which is a little lower in contrast with a slightly less saturated palette for more pleasing portraits). It also has black and white modes, including red filter and yellow filter simulations. 

Some environmental portraits:

 

Julian
  
Tan
  
Missy
 
A black-and-white shot with the red filter mode on:

Richard

DC Pride Parade 2015 – On the Sidelines

Here are some photos from yesterday’s Gay Pride Parade. These were faces in the crowd of people watching the parade.

This first picture is the reason why we need gay pride parades still – I was standing on the curb, waiting for the parade to arrive, and this woman carrying this sweet little girl came up to me and said, “She’s a Pride baby – she needs her picture taken! Take her picture, she’s a Pride baby!”. When I put the camera to my eye to compose the photo, the mother turned her head so her face would not appear in the photo, only the little girl’s.

Pride Baby
Pride Baby

These guys saw me standing with my camera and approached, asking to be photographed. They asked me where the photos were going to be used – “Will these be in the New York Times?” I told them I’m shooting for this blog, and they said “you can use our photos anywhere!”. I hope they find this photo and enjoy it!

Besties
Besties

I don’t know her name or if she is in fact a mother, but I’m calling her Pride Mama for all her ribbons and beads.

Pride Mama
Pride Mama

This is my friend, Sak Pollert, who owns Rice restaurant on 14th Street (where I parked myself to watch the parade, as the restaurant is on the shady side of the street in the afternoon when the parade is passing).

Sak P.
Sak P.

One of the waitresses at Rice – she put a rainbow flag in her hair like a chopstick.

Rainbow Waitress
Rainbow Waitress

I think this guy is one of the busboys/kitchen staff at Rice, out to watch the parade. I loved his Grumpy Cat T-shirt.

I Hate Mondays
I Hate Mondays

I don’t think this guy actually had anything to do with the goat in a trench coat sign behind him (I think it belongs to the guy in the black t-shirt to his left). When he saw me composing the image, he straightened up, made eye contact, and posed.

Boy, Goat Sign
Boy, Goat Sign

This young lady was standing next to me for a while, and I wanted to get a photo of the shirt with that caption.

Right Side of History
Right Side of History

This gentleman was all decked out in rainbow finery (if you call tons of sequins ‘finery’). He was certainly in the spirit of the day! Not visible except by interpolation were his six-inch platform heels.

Rainbow Top Hat
Rainbow Top Hat

I titled this one “Apres Parade” because I caught these two as we were all leaving the parade, heading home after a long, hot, fun day.

Apres Parade
Apres Parade

This was another experiment photographically. I shot the whole parade using my Helios 85mm f1.5 lens. This is the second time I’ve shot the parade with this lens – I did it for the first time the last time I photographed the Pride parade, and the lens was brand new to me then. It’s a bit of an oddity because it’s manual focus and it uses a pre-set aperture – unlike modern all-automatic lenses, this one you have to tell it to stop down the aperture on the lens by turning a separate ring. The lens has a particular signature to its look – when focused and configured properly, it produces a “swirly” background (most visible in the “Apres Parade” image in this post, and several others (Bright Wig, Bike and Miss Gay Virginia) in an upcoming post. The lens is big, heavy, a bit slow to use, especially because of the aperture mechanism, and exposures are sometimes a little off because there is no communication between the lens, camera, and flash. The “swirl” is something I’m still debating if I like. I might need to just shoot more with it to decide.

Intro To Large Format Class – Portraiture Session

This weekend was the next-to-last session of the Intro to Large Format Photography class I’m teaching at Glen Echo. As a treat, I broke out some of the last remaining sheets of Polaroid Type 55 I have in my personal stash. We had a lot of fun setting up portraits and posing for each other. One of my students even brought along his 6×17 panoramic camera and took a couple frames of all of us in the studio together – a couple were serious, and one was very silly (I gave someone next to me bunny-ears).

Sean L.
Sean L.

We covered the fundamentals of not only how to use a view camera for portraiture (movements – not many – focusing, bellows extension factor, lens selection) but also basic studio lighting. Given that we were limited on time and had lesson objectives to cover, I dictated the lighting setup with just a main and a fill, driven off my Calumet Elite 2400 W/S unit. It’s a lot of power for just 4×5, but I wanted to give people a real studio experience (that and the moonlights I would have used that are at the school are at the moment buried in the storage closet under dozens of boxes from the exhibits currently hanging in the gallery space).

Dean M.
Dean M.

We rigged a softbox on the main light and an umbrella on the fill. The softbox was camera left, and the fill was beside the camera. I used a 240mm Docter Optics f9 Apo-Germinar as my lens because the focal length is a nice one for studio portraiture (not too long, but not too wide either), it’s mounted on a lens board to fit my Sinar (some of my other portrait lenses are on different lens boards), and the shutter has good working flash sync (some of my other portrait lenses are in archaic shutters that don’t have reliable flash syncs – and yes, I’ve had them overhauled but they still don’t work 100% of the time). f9 is a bit dim for a traditional portrait lens, but I think this one produced outstanding results (further confirmation that that lens was a phenomenal buy and well worth every penny).

Anthony R.
Anthony R.

Polaroid Type 55, for those who are unfamiliar, was an instant film that produced both a positive print and a re-useable negative. Artists have loved the negatives not only for the incredibly fine grain and sharp detail, but for the artifacts at the edges that the Polaroid process produced. It hasn’t been made since 2008, so any Type 55 anyone is using is old stock. There is hope on the horizon for a replacement as a group called “New55” is creating their own improved version. One of the challenges of the original Polaroid Type 55 was that the negative film and the print were not equally sensitive, so you had to decide if you wanted a good print or a good negative – a good print gave you an underexposed negative and a good negative gave you a washed-out print. New55 will have one advantage over the old stuff – the instant print and the negative will be speed-matched so you won’t have to expose for either a good print or a good negative.

Ari G.
Ari G.

I can tell from the negatives that my Type 55, which outdated in 2006, is starting to get a little long in the tooth, as they have begun to lose some contrast. I’ve tweaked it a fair bit in Photoshop to get these negative scans to look good. I’ll try printing them in the darkroom and see what I can do with them – they may print much better than they scan.

Glen Echo Intern
Glen Echo Intern

Here are some behind-the-scenes shots, taken by one of my students.

Dean M, Posing
Dean M, Posing
Sean L, Polaroid Print
Sean L, Polaroid Print

New toy

not much to say, really- it’s camera porn, pure and simple. I got a steal on a Sinar Norma 5×7, which I plan to use in the studio (it’s a heavy beast!). Here she is in her glory: Edit

 

To pretty her up a little I put my Voigtlander Heliar 240mm f4.5 on the front, and used my Sinar pan-tilt head to get her on the tripod.  

 

Quick takes from today’s Intro to Platinum/Palladium class

I’m running a quick impromptu by-the-seat-of-the-pants version of my Intro to Platinum/Palladium printing class this weekend. It’s a bit of a hash because we had scheduling conflicts of varying types to deal with, but we did manage to meet today. My normal plan with students is to take them out into Glen Echo park and have them shoot a bunch of negatives with my 5×7, then come back and process them. WELL… today, the daytime high was still below freezing, so we scratched that idea. Instead, we shot some self-portraits indoors using my Hermagis Eidoscope soft-focus portrait lens, a 1000-watt hot light (a VERY welcome hot light given the weather today!) and an improvised guillotine shutter composed of a pair of dark slides, held in a V-formation. The “shutter” starts with the lower dark slide completely covering the lens, and to allow exposure to happen, the pair are swung past the lens so that the gap between them briefly allows light to strike the film. Exposures can be a little variable, but these are forgiving media.

Here is one shot of one of my students:

Barbara, Hermagis #1
Barbara, Hermagis #1

and here are two of me:

Scott, Hermagis #2
Scott, Hermagis #2
Scott, Hermagis #1
Scott, Hermagis #1

I brought the Hermagis to class to give the students a little something special to play around with, since they both had past experience in working with large format, and I think the soft-focus lens fits very well with the alternative process print look.

Of the two of me, which do you all prefer? I know which one I like better, but I’ll wait to get some feedback before I offer my opinion. All three of these are scans from the negatives, not from prints. We will be meeting again tomorrow to do the actual printing.

Portraits with the Hermagis Eidoscope – Part 2

Five more from the shoot. Wanchuk is a fun subject because he always brings a creative energy to a shoot that brings out the best in both photographer and subject.

Wanchuk, T-shirt
Wanchuk, T-shirt
Wanchuk, Profile
Wanchuk, Profile
"Girl With a Pearl Earring" Pose
“Girl With a Pearl Earring” Pose

I call that last one “Girl With a Pearl Earring” because the pose reminds me a bit of the Vermeer painting.

After doing a series of more serious poses, we decided to get a little funky and play around with faces and gestures.

Wanchuk, Denim Jacket
Wanchuk, Denim Jacket

This last one is not typical of what I’d expect someone to use a soft-focus lens to shoot, expression-wise. I think it works, in spite of or perhaps because of the contrast between the content and the image style.

Wanchuk Rocking Out
Wanchuk Rocking Out

Portraits with the Hermagis Eidoscope

I think I wrote previously about the Hermagis Eidoscope soft-focus portrait lens I have on loan. Here are some results from it. As the lens is on loan to me and not mine, I have not sent it off to have replacement waterhouse stops made for it. It was expensive enough modifying my camera to fit the lens – I don’t want to spend more money on accessories for a lens I’ll have to return. That said, as the only waterhouse stop I have for the lens is the wide-open f5 stop, that’s the only one I’ve been using. It’s not only the maximum amount of light but also the maximum soft-focus effect. I’ve been told that if you stop the Eidoscope down past f8, it becomes a much more regular, sharp lens. But this is what you want to see with this lens anyway – the soft-and-fuzzies.

Wanchuk, close-up
Wanchuk, close-up

I know the lens is flattering to women – I did not know if it would be too much for male portraiture though. I think my example here bears out the fact that it works well for both genders. Here is another portrait of my friend Wanchuk, this time a half-length shot with a different outfit. The soft-focus glow is especially apparent in this image, with the bright denim jacket giving lots of flare around the cuffs of the sleeves.

Wanchuk, denim jacket
Wanchuk, denim jacket

These were shot on Ilford FP4+, with the lighting being just one 1000w Fresnel tungsten lamp and a silver reflector. I bought a pair of these cheap Chinese knockoffs of ARRI fresnel lights ($125/ea as opposed to more like $600/ea for the ARRI lights) for the purpose of teaching my large format photography class. Since I had a need for something that would work without needing electronic synchronization (the Hermagis has no shutter, therefore no flash sync), I broke the fresnels out again for this lens test. Proof positive that you don’t have to have massive, fancy, expensive strobe lighting setups to create great portraits. That said, I wouldn’t try this with my 14×17 using hot lights – there’s just not enough light to be had without literally cooking both subject and photographer.

As I mentioned previously, the Hermagis Eidoscope does not have a shutter in addition to not having an iris diaphragm for the aperture control, so I used a pair of spare dark slides from an old 5×7 film holder, held in a V configuration, as the shutter. I was able to pull off a roughly 1/30th second shutter speed by keeping the gap between the dark slides relatively modest (about a 20 degree wedge). Eventually I’ll print these in platinum/palladium.