Reviews

Fujifilm X-T1 - First Impressions

In April 2012 I took my last photograph using a DSLR. That photograph was of my newly arrived Fujifilm X-Pro1 and my journey into digital "mirrorless" photography began. Nearly two years later I am fully invested in the Fujifilm X ecosystem and have recently procured Fujifilm's latest top of line camera, the X-T1. This post will be a brief "first impressions" post I will talk about my initial thoughts after spending about 1 day with the camera.

Read More

Fujifilm X-Pro1 - My Real World Opinions

Introduction

I have had the Fujifilm X-Pro1 a few months now. I am not the type of photographer who takes photographs every day (or even every week) but I have had enough time to play with the camera to form some opinions. The photographs shown here show real world situations an average amateur photographer may find themselves in. They were taken around my house, at a friend's BBQ, at the local county fair and while on vacation.

For the record, the shots shown below were taken with either the XF18mmF2 R or the XF35mmF1.4 R. The camera and lenses are all running with the latest firmware versions at the time of this review (Camera: 1.10, Lenses: 1.01).

All photos were shot in RAW and exported as JPG from Lightroom 4.1.

 

Using The Camera

One of the features that everyone has spoken about is the hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder. I find myself mainly using the optical viewfinder (OVF) and I have configured some useful items to appear in the heads up display like ISO, exposure compensation, f-stop and shutter speed.

From time to time I switch over to the electronic viewfinder (EVF). I usually do this if I need to more accurately compose a shot when I am close to the subject. With the OVF the composition may be off a little due to parallax errors. I rarely use the screen on the back for regular shooting as I prefer the extra stability when using a viewfinder.

The EVF is also very bright and fairly fast in response so when shooting in low light, it makes sense to switch over to this viewfinder.

I love the the physical controls on this camera and its lenses. My other main camera is a Leica M2 so having a real aperture ring on lens is more natural to me compared to changing aperture via a thumb wheel or a menu item. The physical shutter dial is nice too but for 99% of the shots I have taken I have left this dial on "A" (aperture priority) and instead adjusted exposure via the exposure compensation dial. This compensation dial is perfectly located for me and very easy to use even when looking through the viewfinder.  The amount of compensation is shown inside the viewfinder which makes using this dial even easier.

The "Q" menu or quick menu is very handy for getting to the most frequently used items but the only parameter I change often is the ISO option and for that I have programmed the Function (Fn) button which sits under your shutter finger beside the shutter button.

There is one strange quirk with using the Fn button for ISO though. When in OVF mode, the procedure is to press the Fn button and then move the thumb-wheel on the back to rotate through the different ISO settings. However, when in EVF mode, this thumb-wheel does nothing. Instead, the procedure is to move up and down through a list of ISO setting using the arrow buttons on the back of the camera. This inconsistency is just one of a few minor UI annoyances.

Image Quality

One of the major selling points of this camera is the image quality. The X-pro1 has a different type of sensor compared to DSLRs and it doesn't use an anti-aliasing filter. Now, I don't know exactly how this translates into lines per picture height or pixels per unit hectare but the quality of the photographs coming out of the camera look superb to my untrained eye. Instead of a standard Bayer pattern, the pixels are arranged in a way that was "Inspired by the natural random arrangement of the fine grains of silver halide in film". I am sure this is marketing mumbo jumbo but I do like what I see.

Low Light

The low light performance of the X-Pro1 is really great. There is no significant noise up to 1600 and I would have no problem switching to 3200.

When in really dark situations, switching to ISO 6400 still yields a very usable image.  While there is noise present, it is not overwhelming and doesn't detract from the photograph.

 Auto ISO

One problem with the X-pro1 is Fujifilm's implementation of the auto ISO feature. Auto ISO is useful when shooting in places where the light is constantly changing. One example of this is when I visited the Alameda County fair and was shooting outside one minute and then inside a building the next. The way the X-Pro1 auto ISO works is that it assumes you want to shoot at as low an ISO as possible while adhering to the old shutter speed rule of using 1/focal length.  What this means in the real world is that on an 18mm lens, which is 27mm in 35mm terms, the camera tries to use a shutter speed of 1/30. This may be OK in some circumstances but many times the resulting shots may have camera shake or motion blur, especially if you are trying to track a moving subject like my dog.

Other cameras allow you to set a minimum shutter speed (e.g. 1/125) and the camera will bump up the ISO to achieve this. Since the X-Pro1 has such good high ISO performance, it is a pity that we can't use the full potential of the camera in auto ISO mode.

 

 

Focus

One of the major downsides of this camera is the focus speed. The X-Pro1 will not be a DSLR replacement for some situations. Shooting stationary subjects in daylight has no major problems but once the subject is moving or the light is a very subdued, it can take a while for the camera focus to lock on and this can occasionally translate into missed shots.

An example of this is the horse photo shown here. The horse was being led by a handler at a normal walking pace. I pressed the shutter button just as the horse's head was about to be at the rule of thirds top left line intersection. By the time the shutter actually fired, the horse was already moving out of the frame. And yes, the horse was walking at the handlers pace.

I should add that the lag is normally not as bad as what is shown in the horse shot, but this does happen from time to time.

 

Update (10/5/12): In September, Fujifilm release firmware version 2.0 and the focus speed is much faster now. Kudos to Fujifilm for striving to make their camera better and better.

 

When shooting multiple shots where the subject is not moving much, I now use the AF-Lock button so the camera doesn't have to refocus each time. This essentially eliminates shutter lag in these circumstances.

In low light, I normally try to find a vertical line or area of contrast so the focus system has something to lock onto and this works most of the time.

The good news is that when the focus locks on, it locks one well and with the two lenses I have, the photos are fairly sharp.

The X-pro1 also has a manual focus mode but I haven't really used it. Since the lenses are "fly by wire", the response is not great and I find it difficult to determine what I am focused on. Pressing the thumb-wheel in for a second enlarges the image to aid focusing but since the magnification is so great, this is probably only useful when set up on a tripod to eliminate camera shake. A focus peaking feature would be really useful here but I don't know if there a plans to add this to a future firmware update.

 

Update (10/5/12): In September, Fujifilm release firmware version 2.0 and the manual focus is much more response. Also, in addition to 10x magnification, there is now a more usable 3x magnification.

 

Both Fujifilm and third party M-mount adapters are available for the X-pro1 and I am tempted to buy one so I can use my Leica and Voigtlander lenses.

Conclusion

Despite all of the annoyances and quirks, I love this camera. I love the quality of the photos and I look forward to bringing it out to shoot. The image quality is superb and the low light performance is excellent. I like the feel of the camera from a physical stand point and I like the way it is controlled (mostly).

Yes, the firmware needs to be improved to make the user interface a little more consistent and there is no doubt that the focus systems needs a major update but alongside my M2, this camera will definitely have a place in my bag.

If you agree or disagree with my opinions or you have questions I haven't answered here, please add a comment and I will try to respond.

 

Fujifilm X-Pro1 Firmware Requests

Fujifilm if you are listening, here are a two problems that you may consider fixing in the next firmware upgrade for the X-Pro1.

1. Inconsistent ISO selection when using the function button.

I use the Fn button for ISO. If I am using the OVF, cycling the command dial changes the ISO after pressing the Fn button. But in EVF mode, the up down arrows change the ISO. Why is there a different selection method for each of the VF modes?

2. Inconsistent macro button functionality.

To put the lens into macro focus mode, you first have to press the macro button and then using menu on the back LCD screen, you select the flower icon and press OK. But to put the lens back into regular mode, the LCD screen remains blank. The same menu as before is this time displayed in the viewfinder only. This menu should be displayed on the same screen each time. (Preferably the back LCD).

 

Leica M2 First Impressions

Leica M2 Over the weekend I picked up a Leica M2 35mm rangefinder camera at the San Jose Photo Fair. I had been watching these cameras on eBay to see what the usual prices were and I was planning of buying one around Christmas time. But on Saturday, when I held this M2 in my hand I just had to have it right then and there.

Leica M2

When I was researching what M model to get I settled on the M2 over the M3 because of the 35mm frame lines in the M2. The widest M3 frame lines are for 50mm lens and my main lens these days is a 35mm. The camera didn't come with a lens so it is shown here with my Voigtländer Nokton Classic 35mm f/1.4.

It looks like this camera may be from around 1960 or 1961.

Leica M2

The camera is in fairly decent condition. Cosmetically there is some vulcanite missing from the body below the lens and there are a few minor dings on the back but mechanically and optically everything seems to be in order. Based on some limited testing, the rangefinder appears to be spot on and the shutter speeds seem to be correct. The film transport is very smooth and the viewfinder is nice and bright with a very clear rangefinder patch.

The shutter sound of Leica cameras is famous for being quite and unobtrusive. It is definitely quieter than my Voigtländer Bessa R4A which has a loud clack sound but the Leica isn't as quite as the compact Olympus XA rangefinder.

Leica M2

The M2 differs from later more modern models (like the M7) in a few ways. First, the Leica M2 is a fully mechanical camera with no batteries so there is no light meter. I will be using an external light meter or the sunny 16 rule to expose correctly. The rewind knob has no lever so it takes a little longer to rewind the film but I found it easier to use than rewinding with the lever on my Bessa.

Loading the film is not as straight forward compared to regular 35mm cameras. Instead of flipping open the back, loading is done by removing a plate on the bottom of the camera. There is a take up spool that you have to remove and thread the film into before inserting the film and spool back into the camera.  It's easy enough to do when there is something to place the camera on while you hold the film in one hand and the spool in the other but I am not sure how I will load film on the go without finding somewhere upon which I can set down the camera. I will write a more detailed post on loading film sometime in the future.

Yesterday I ran a roll of Arista Premium 400 quickly through the camera to make sure it was working correctly. Everything looked pretty good. No leaks and I managed to expose everything fairly well. I have included a couple of the the photos from the test roll here.

Leica M2 Test Shot

Leica M2 Test Shot

If you have any tips on the M2, please leave them in the comments.

Olympus XA Review

A photograph of an Olympus XA 35mm Camera One of my favorite 35mm cameras is my Olympus XA. Introduced in 1979, this camera is part of a series of cameras (along with the XA1, XA2, XA3 and XA4) but it is the only one of the series to use a rangefinder focus.

The Lens is a Zuiko 35mm f:2.8 lens and is completely covered by the clamshell when closed which makes this camera easy to slip into a pocket. Also, when the clamshell is closed, the camera is powered off which means the batteries last for a very long time.

A photograph of an Olympus XA 35mm Camera with clamshell open

With the clamshell open, you gain access to the focus lever which sits below the lens. Focusing is easy and fast since the lever has a very short throw and the rangefinder patch is still quite bright in my camera. Above the focus lever is the film speed setting with a range from 25ASA to 800ASA.

The camera uses aperture priority with the apertures being set by a lever beside the lens. Shutter speeds are rated from 1 second to 1/500 and the current shutter speed is shown using a needle that is visible in the viewfinder. (Note: I have seen other websites that quote 10 seconds as the max shutter speed but I have not tested this on my camera - the viewfinder scale only goes to 1 second).

A close up photograph of an Olympus XA 35mm Camera aperture lever

The shutter is extremely sensitive requiring barely a touch to trigger. This means hand held slow shutter speeds are quite possible. Also, the shutter is practically silent lending itself well to being discrete in situations that warrant it.

These days you can pick up an XA for around $40 to $60 on eBay. If that is too expensive the zone focus XA2 is worth checking out.  A lot of times the XA2 cameras go for less than $30.

To find out more about the XA and other cameras in the XA family, visit the best XA resource on the web, http://www.diaxa.com/

Example photograph taken with an Olympus XA 35mm Camera

An example shot from an Olympus XA 35mm camera.

To see more of my XA shots, check out my Flickr stream with the tag Olympus XA.

Impossible Project PX100 Review (My First Pack)

A lot has been written about PX100 since March 22nd, 2010, when The Impossible Project finally announced the release of the first new Polaroid SX-70 compatible instant film since Polaroid exited the film business a few years ago. Reactions were mixed with some lauding the efforts of TIP and others disappointed with the results they were seeing.

Initially I didn't feel like jumping on the Internet to be the first to buy some packs but after a few days I decided to take the plunge and try the film for myself.  Even as I made my order, I was still not overly impressed with what I was seeing on the the web but I was curious to see what I could achieve myself. Also, I kind of felt like I was investing in the future of instant film. If the PX100 didn't sell, would TIP continue their R&D to develop more films?

Anyway, on to my review...

First some facts:-

  • PX100 Silver Shade / First Flush is rated at ISO 100.
  • There are 8 photos per pack.
  • The Dark Slides (the piece of card that covers the pack and gets ejected when you first insert the film) have quotes on them and are intended to be collectible (maybe). Artists will be invited to create art for the Dark Slides in the future.
  • The film is designed for integral cameras like the Polaroid SX-70.
  • TIP admit the film is very sensitive to outside factors.
  • TIP recommend that the film be used in a narrow temperature range of 17-24°C / 63-75°F. Outside this range, you run the risk of a photograph that is too light when cold or too dark when warm.
  • The opacifaction layer is not 100% light proof which means the film can continue to be (over) exposed if not covered immediately while it is developing.
  • Developing takes about 60 to 90 seconds.
  • The images are monochrome and have a sepia tone to them.
  • Cost is $21 per pack. When I ordered, there were no packs available in New York so I had to pay for shipping from Europe ($25 - ouch!!).

My first few shots were test shots taken in my kitchen under florescent lights. Being aware of the temperature limitations I took note that it was 20°C/68°F.

First of all, it is very noticeable that the photo is very light. This could be due to continuing exposure after the film ejected, a known problem. Also, there were spots on the photo and a kind of mottling in the light areas.

I took two more shots, this time with the candle lit and I also played around with the exposure wheel.

For the 3rd shot I moved the exposure wheel all the way to dark. The spots seen on the first shot are more pronounced in the dark area of frame 3.

The next day I tried the film outside. It was around 13°C/56°F outside so for these tests, I planned to immediately put the photo into my back pocket after it was ejected to keep it warm. Also, to prevent over exposure after the film was ejected, I taped the dark slide to the front of the camera so the film would be covered after it came out.

The first shot was completely blank. Well, there is a very, very faint image of my dog Sassy (if you play with the exposure in Lightroom).

Frames 4 and 5 are very light. At least there is some image in frame 4 but frame 5 is completely washed out.

Later in the week, I tried again. This time it was 22°C/73°F and sunny outside so I didn't expect any lightening due to cold temperature. Because of the sun, I did expect a potential for over exposure so I once again used the dark slide taped to the front. But, the shots were still quite faint with very low contrast.

Frame 8 had a dark spot on it. I read that this can occur if there is a warm spot but both frame 7 and 8 developed in my back pocket so I am not sure what went on here.

So, my opinions based on this first pack are:-

  • Correct exposure is quite difficult even when the ambient temperature is inside the  range 17-24°C / 63-75°F.
  • The opacifaction layer not being 100% light proof means that to avoid continuing exposure you need to get the photograph out of the light as soon as possible after it is ejected. You should also shield the photo as it comes out of the camera.
  • The photos are very low in contrast even when you think you are doing everything right.
  • Don't forget there are only 8 frames per pack. The SX-70 expects 10 shots so after you shoot the last frame, the camera will still tell you that there are two shots left.
  • The rollers of the camera will probably need to be cleaned between packs. At least on my cameras, there was a lot of dried chemical residue on the rollers after the first pack.
  • There are spots in the dark areas (not sure if this is due to the film or the camera rollers).

Finally, I believe that if SX-70 Time-Zero film was still readily available today, this film would never have been released. It is clearly far from being a polished product. But as a first effort created from scratch, it is not a bad attempt. I think a lot more research is required to make the film more stable. The film needs to be more temperature tolerant and opacifiaction layer needs to be more light proof. Part of the magic of Polaroid was seeing the photo develop in front of your eyes after all. Also, I'd like to see more contrast in the images. Right now the photos look a little flat to me.

Of course, I am not an artist. You can see what real photographers are doing with the film on the TIP Collection website. Also, it is worth checking out the Impossible Project and the PX100 Flickr Groups.

Postscript: Since I started writing this post, I opened a second pack and I am a lot more pleased with the results. You can see the first shot here.

Link: http://www.the-impossible-project.com/

Polaroid Automatic 230 Overview

Over the past few days I have been posting some Polaroid photos taken with a Polaroid Automatic 230 Land Camera. For those of you not familiar with older Polaroid cameras, I thought I'd explain exactly what this camera is.

The Polaroid Automatic 230 Land Camera is a folding pack camera in the  "200 series" available from 1967 to 1969. It has a plastic body with a 114mm f/8.8 glass lens. The camera use 100 series peel apart pack film which is 3 1/4" x 4 1/4" in size. The actual image size is 2 7/8" x 3 3/4" centered on the frame.

The shutter is electronic with speeds from 10 seconds - 1/1200. There is a dial on the lens for exposure compensation of -1 stop to +2 stops.

Focusing is achieved by using a rangefinder that is separate from the viewfinder. The viewfinder assembly is on a hinge that allows for it to be folded down when storing the camera inside its case.

To focus, a lever attached to the bellows is moved left or right and there is a pictogram indicating which way to move for closer focus (a man) or infinity (a man standing in front of a mountain).

Film speed is chosen using a dial under the lens. The available speeds are 75, 150, 300 and 3000. So if a film such as 672 (ISO 400)  is used, some exposure compensation is required. The yellow button under the lens assembly is the "scene selector" which adjusts the aperture.

Recommendations for which scene to use are listed on the top of the lens assembly for each of the film speeds and a yellow square shows the currently selected scene.

Numbered buttons indicate the sequence for taking a shot. Step 1 is focus and step 2 is press the shutter.

Step 3 is reset the shutter for the next shot. In reality, this is done before step 1 of course.

Finally step 4 is remove the film from the camera by pulling on the paper tab.

Examples Shots

Links The Land List Option8 Polaroid FAQ

Review : The Bare Bones Bag Stealth

I have collected a lot of camera bags over the past few years and have bags from Domke, Lowepro, Crumpler, Tamrac as well as a host of no name bags I have picked up on my travels or in the bargain bin of a going out of business camera shop. Each bag has something I like but none are what I would call "the ultimate bag". The bag I use the most is a messenger type bag I picked up for €12 in a clothing store in Finland. It has no padding and is not really designed for holding camera gear but it is very discrete and doesn't look like it would be holding anything of value. I have used Velcro to temporarily attach a smaller camera bag inside to hold my Canon 40D but for the most part, I just use it to carry my Voigtländer rangefinder and for that purpose the bag is a little bit too big.

So when I saw the Bare Bones Bag from Indian Hill Image Works, I decided to see if yet another bag would work for me. I actually decided to go for the latest evolution in the BBB called the Bare Bones Bag Stealth. I'll get into the "Stealth" part in a minute.

First of all some background: Indian Hill Image Works is run by Stephen Schaub in Vermont, USA and provides various services to photographers and artists. In addition to those services, they have been creating some innovative products for photographers and the Bare Bones line of bags is one of those products. I suspect that these bags came from a desire to also find "the ultimate bag".  The bags are actually hand made by nearby Courierware who have been making courier bags for over 20 years.

Bare Bones Bag Stealth

The BBB-S is the medium sized bag in the range and is 9 inches deep, 10 1/2 " long and 3 1/2" wide. There is one main compartment surrounded by 4 smaller compartments on the inside. On a recent jaunt around town, I used these pockets to carry the following:-

  • Voigtländer Bessa R4A rangefinder with Nokton 35mm lens in the main compartment.
  • A Color-Skopar 21mm lens in one small pocket.
  • 8 rolls of 35mm film in another small pocket.
  • My "backup camera" (Olympus XA2) in a small pocket.
  • Two filters in their boxes in the 4th pocket.

None of the pockets were completely filled and there was plenty of room for more gear or film if I needed it.

Bare Bones Bag Stealth

The bag also has two pockets on the front under the flap that could be used for carrying a notebook or a phone and there is a large flat pocket on the back of the bag that would be perfect for maps, or even tickets if you were traveling somewhere.

The reason the bag is called "bare bones" could be to do with the padding or lack there of. There is a 1/4 inch piece of neoprene at the bottom but that's it. If that frightens you then this is not the bag for you but the lack of padding really cuts down on the weight and bulk and is what attracted me to the bag. The neoprene is accessible from the back pocket so could add more padding if you wanted.

The adjustable shoulder strap is unpadded and 1.5 inches wide. For what I was carrying, the strap was fairly comfortable but for heavier loads the optional shoulder pad may be a good purchase. On the top is a small and discrete handle. This handle is never in the way but is right at hand when you need it. Inside is a piece of webbing with a small metal carabiner for holding keys.

The most interesting part of the bag for me is the closure mechanism. One of the complaints from users of the original BBB was that the Velcro closure was noisy when opening the front flap. So this "stealth" bag does away with the Velcro and instead has a strap that goes across the front to hold the flap in place. This is a very effective method for keeping the bag closed but is not as secure as other closure methods. But, as long as you are not turning your bag upside down and shaking it, it feels secure enough for normal use. So you don't miss any photo opportunities, opening the bag is very quick - just slide your hand down and pull up the flap.

Other features include:-

  • Two D-Rings for clipping on other items.
  • Discrete all black color.
  • No name tag or logo on the outside.
  • Weather proofing.

But there's more...

I have discovered that the BBB-S is also prefect for my Asus 1000HE netbook with a 10 inch screen.

Bare Bones Bag Stealth

There is room for the netbook, power cord, mouse and also my XA2 or some other compact camera.

So is this the ultimate bag I have been searching for? Since I have just got the bag it may be too early to tell but I will say that the signs are very, very promising.

For more information, check out http://www.indianhillimageworks.com/ or see a video of the bag at http://figitalrevolution.com/2009/09/04/the-bare-bones-bag-stealth-bbb-s-and-bbb-s2/

Update: At the weekend I tried out the Bare Bones Bag Stealth with my Canon 40D DSLR. Attached to the camera I had the stock 17 to 85 IS Lens and the bag performed admirably. I was also carrying my Olympus XA and a few rolls of film and there was plenty of room for a few more extras. Good to know I can use this bag when I want to go digital too.

Update: If there was one thing I'd like to change it would be to make the flap about 1 inch longer. When the bag is full, the end of the flap is very close to the strap across the front and I feel the closure mechanism would be more secure with one more inch of flap.

Massive Development Chart iPhone App Review

Almost everyone who develops their own black and white film at home is aware of the Massive Development Chart from Digital Truth. I regularly consult this vast database for development times for the various film / developer combinations I use. But for the past few months I have added a new tool to my developing kit and that is the Massive Dev Chart iPhone application from Martin Man based on the Digitial Truth database.

The app works on both the iPhone and iPod touch and is real easy to use. First you select your film from the huge list of available films.

Massive Dev Chart 1

Next select the ISO you shot at.

Massive Dev Chart 2

You then choose the developer and concentration you are using.

Massive Dev Chart 3

Once all of that is done you are ready to start developing.

But unlike the web version of the database, this app also provides a timer to ensure correct developing times. Just press the "Start" button and off you go.

Massive Dev Chart 4

In addition to the development time, the timer also has 1 minute of stop time, 5 minutes of fixing and 10 minutes of rinsing. These values can be edited by making the film/developer combination a favorite and then editing that favorite.

Massive Dev Chart 5

What's real nice about the app is that there is a visual and audible cue for when agitation is required. Just before the end of the minute there is a sound which then changes for the duration of time you need to do the inversions. The font also pulsates during this time.

The amount of time you agitate for is also editable for favorites but from what I can tell there is no way to change the frequency of agitations which is set at every minute. For Rodinal I agitate every 30 seconds so I need to keep an eye on the app when using that developer but that's not a big deal.

Other nice features include the fact that it keeps on counting even if a call comes in but to stop me being distracted I usually set my iPhone to airplane mode when I am developing. Don't want to miss the agitation time.

One feature I haven't used yet is the ability to change the development temperature and the app will work out the time. I also haven't used the split time feature for developers like Diafine.

The Massive Dev App currently costs $5.99 and in my mind is well worth it. I highly recommend this iPhone app.

The iPhone can be purchased on iTunes.

Holga 120 WPC 6x12 Mask Test

My first post on the Holga 120 WPC (Wide Pinhole Camera) was done using the 6x9 cm mask. Now I have developed a roll I shot on a walk about in San Jose using the 6x12 cm mask. The first thing that is noticeable about this wider mask is that there is some mechanical vignetting apparent in the photos. Also, the vignette is asymmetrical with the right side being more pronounced than the left hand side.

200901040051

200901040041

200901040031

200901040011

Compared to the 6x9 cm mask, I think I prefer the wider format of this mask so that is what I'll be leaving in the camera for now.

You can see my original review of the Holga 120 WPC (Wide Pinhole Camera) in this post.

LOMO LC-A

I first heard of the LOMO LC-A camera on a rock climbing discussion website in the summer of 2005 when someone posted that the LC-A was the perfect camera to carry climbing. It was compact, they said, took great photographs and was very cheap. The camera is compact (kind of) and it definitely takes great photographs but cheap it is not. At least, not when compared to similar compact cameras. LOMO LC-A

Originally, the 35mm Lomo LC-A (a.k.a. Kompact Automat) was produced by LOMO,  Leningradskoye Optiko Mechanichesckoye Obyedinenie (Leningrad Optical & Mechanical Enterprise) in Russia in 1984. It bears a striking resemblance to the Cosina CX2 which LOMO copied to create the camera for the masses in what was then the USSR.

The lens has a focal length of 32mm with focusing done by moving a lever on the side to focus at either 3 feet, 4.5 feet, 10 feet or infinity. The lever on the other side controls exposure with an "A" setting for auto exposure and apertures between f/2.8 and f/16 which use a shutter speed of 1/60s. The camera accepts film with speeds of 25 to 400 ISO. (Older versions of the camera do have the speed setting in the GOST standard however.)

LC-A 1s

The camera became a bit of a cult phenomenon after two Viennese students discovered the camera in 1991 while on a trip to Prague. They went on to found the Lomographic Society International (LSI), coined the phrase "Lomography" and successfully marketed the camera with a lot of hype.

But with all hype aside, this camera truly is a nice camera to use. The lens is sharp and there is a nice vignette to give that old time vintage feel. There is also something cool about the sound of the shutter going off - a nice "ping".

LC-A 2s

LC-A 3s

LOMO stopped producing the LC-A in 2005. To fill the gap, LSI created a remake called the LC-A+ which was made by Phenix Optical Company in China. Originally, all LC-A+ cameras came with a LOMO produced lens but in July 2007, most LC-A+ cameras started to be made with Chinese lenses with only a few cameras still using LOMO lenses. Those LOMO lens cameras then became known as LC-A + RL (for Russian Lens).

LC-A 4s

While I can think of better cameras to take rock climbing, the Lomo LC-A is one of my favorite cameras and you can see more of my Lomo shots in my '35mm Snapshot' set on Flickr.

Holga 120 WPC (Wide Pinhole Camera)

The Holga 120WPC is a wide angle pinhole camera from the same people that brought the iconic toy camera, the Holga 120. Holga 120 WPC

Like it's older brother, the 120WPC takes 120 medium format film and comes with two removable masks. The first is a 6x9 cm mask which will result in 8 shots on a roll. The other mask is 6x12 cm and results in 6 wider shots on a roll.

The camera has no viewfinder but on the top of the camera, there are guide lines which can be used to roughly compose the shot . Also on the top is a bubble level which is useful for ensuring you don't have a tilted horizon.

Bubble Level

Because it is easy to get camera shake during long exposures, it is a good idea to make use of the threaded shutter release and use a cable release. There is also a tripod socket provided on the bottom of the camera.

Cable Release 2

The pinhole itself is stated to be 0.3mm with an aperture of f/135 (f/133 in the manual) and there is an exposure table on the back of the camera.

Pinhole

Camera Back

During my tests, I used a Sekonic L-208 light meter to meter the scenes and then used the exposure guide on Mr Pinhole's website to convert the metered values into pinhole exposure times.

The times I measured were vastly different from those on the exposure table on the back of the camera. In some cases, those times were 5 times the values that I metered so the use of a light meter is recommended.

When a shot is taken, the film is then wound on to the next odd number frame so for example when using the 6x12 cm mask, you would shoot at frames 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 & 11 or at frames 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13 & 15 when using the 6x9 mask . Multiple exposures are possible by not winding on between shots.

Here are a few photos from the first roll. For these I used the smaller 6x9 cm mask.Click a picture for a larger version.

s-wpc1

s-wpc2

s-wpc3

s-wpc4

For this roll I used a small amount of tape to keep the camera back on but I deliberately did not do anything to reduce light leaks. There was a small amount of leakage around the edges of the film but nothing appeared in the image areas.

The user manual has an interesting section under "optional extras". The "FA135-120WPC" is a 35mm converter kit that produces 24 frames 108 mm wide. Unfortunately the section is written in strike-through font so I have to assume this option is not available currently.

The Holga 120WPC can be purchased from Freestyle and currently costs us$50.

Update: I have taken a few photos using the 6x12 cm mask and you can see them here.

Lomography Diana+ Pinhole Test

When the Lomographic Society International released the Diana toy camera remake, the Diana +, one of the improvements they made over the original was the addition of a built in pin hole feature. Even though I have had my Diana+ for a long time, I have never really tried the pin hole. Last week, I decided to give it a go. Accessing the pin hole feature is easy. Just twist off the lens.

Lomography Diana+

The pin hole on the Diana+ is supposed to have an aperture of f/150 and you set it by moving the aperture lever to "P"

Lomography Diana+ Pinhole

Since pin hole exposure times are relatively long, the Diana+ needs to be set on bulb mode. There is a "shutter lock" (really a small plastic wedge) attached to the camera strap that can be inserted into the shutter lever slot to keep the shutter open for as long as required without holding it down. I found the shutter lock to be a bit finicky and it would sometimes take a few attempts to get it to stay in place.

Lomography Diana+ Shutter Lock

The Diana+ also has a tripod attachment on the base which helps when taking long exposures.

To determine the correct exposure, I created a table on the Mr Pinhole website. Here is an extract from that table showing the values I used most often.

f 8 f 16 f 150
1/500 Secs 1/125 Secs 1/2 Secs
1/250 Secs 1/60 Secs 1 Secs
1/125 Secs 1/30 Secs 3 Secs
1/60 Secs 1/15 Secs 6 Secs
1/30 Secs 1/8 Secs 11 Secs
1/15 Secs 1/4 Secs 22 Secs

I then used an old Sekonic light meter to determine the correct exposure for f/8 or f/16 and read the f/150 value from the table.

Because it can be difficult to keep the shutter lock in place my method for taking the photos was to first hold the lens cap in front of the pin hole. I would then open the shutter and insert the lock. Once the lock was in place, I removed the cap for the necessary time and replaced it when the exposure was complete. By doing it this way, I reduced the amout of time I had touch the camera hopefully lessening any camera shake.

And so the results...

Most of the roll was exposed pretty well. I did end up with a light leak which was caused by the roll not being wound tightly onto the take up spool. This is a common problem with the Diana+ because of the mechanism used to keep the film in place. It just doesn't keep the roll tight enough. (See this Figital Revolution post on how to get around that.)

Another thing I don't like about my Diana+ is that there is a square outline around every photo. This appears to be a internal reflection from the mask but it could probably be reduced by using a matte paint inside the camera. I've seen this on other people's Diana+ photographs too.

Overall, I think the pinholes came out pretty good. You can judge the results yourself below.

Lomography Diana+ Small-1

Lomography Diana+ Small-2

Lomography Diana+ Small-3

Camera Review: Holga 120

History In 1982, Mr T.M. Lee, founder of Universal Electronics Ltd in Hong Kong, wanted to release a medium format camera to supplement the companies flash products which were increasingly facing competition from cameras with built in flash made by competitors. The original target market was Mainland China so to be affordable, the camera had to be made cheaply and be fairly reliable. The result was the Holga.

In the 1990s, the Holga saw a huge increase in popularity. First of all, art schools and photography classes started to use Holgas to teach the basics of photography. Also, camera retailer, Lomographic Society International (LSI) started to market the camera as part of their Lomography movement.

In addition to that, the toy camera movement was gaining momentum and the Holga quickly became one of the mainstays in that genre of photography.

Holga

Specifications The Holga is essentially a plastic box with a plastic lens. It uses medium format (120) film and there is minimal control over exposure and focus. The lens is a simple meniscus lens with a focal length of 60mm. Focusing is achieved by turning the lens barrel. Distances are judged using symbols which represent 4 different distances from 4 feet to infinity.

Shutter speed is listed as 1/125 and there is a switch which allows you to do bulb exposures. The "specifications" for the Holga also state that the apertures are  f/8 and f/11 but due to a design flaw, many Holgas have only 1 usable aperture which may really be f/13 depending on who you talk to. It is possible to modify the camera to get two working apertures and the camera in the photo above has been modified to have actual apertures of f/8 and f/11.

Taken with a Holga

Image size is determined by a mask inside the camera. The interchangeable masks come in the 6x6cm square or 645 (6x4.5cm) portrait style formats. When 6x6 is used, a roll of film will yield 12 photographs. When the 645 mask is used, there will be 16 images on the film. The camera can also be used without any mask which results in an approximately 6x6 square image extending beyond the intended image area. Some mechanical vignetting may also occur when the mask is not used.

Holga Models There are many variations of the Holga 120. The 120S (now obsolete) and 120N are the most basic but do have a hot shoe to attach an external flash. The 120FN is a built in flash version and the 120CFN is the color flash version that allows the photographer to use the flash with 1 of 4 colored filters. All of the recent models come in a glass lens version and those have a "G" in the name (e.g. 120GFN). There also exists a variant called the WOCA. This is no longer made and has been replaced by the 120G series.

Holga

The Images Because the lens is a simple plastic lens, the resulting photographs are not tack sharp and have a slight blur to the them. Many times that blur becomes more pronounced towards the edges of the images and, depending on the lighting conditions, there may be some vignetting.

Some Holgas will have light leaks. Some users like the leaks but for those who don't they can be minimized by spray painting the inside of the camera matte black and taping up the seams of the camera.

Because the film transport is decoupled from the shutter, it is possible to easily take multiple exposures (sometimes unintentionally).

Holga

Modifications The good thing about the Holga is that it can be modified with only a small amount of effort. It is possible to convert the camera to take 35mm film or the lens can be completely removed and replaced with a pinhole.

Where To Get A Holga Sometimes, local independent camera stores will sell Holgas especially if there is a college or school nearby that uses them in their photography courses.  But the easiest place to get one is online either in one of the main online camera stores or on eBay (sellers in Hong Kong sell new Holgas on eBay).

Lomographic Society International also sell Holgas normally as part of Lomographic packages. The packages typically come with extras but many times the don't warrant the increase in price that LSI sells at. LSI also distribute cameras through "trendy" clothing and accessory stores such as Urban Outfitters in the US.

holga

Holgamods.com sells modified cameras and is worth checking out.

My Opinion The Holga is a great camera from anyone wanting to get into cheap plastic toy cameras. In today's world, this camera is a vast and welcome contrast to mega pixel'd digital cameras with auto-everything. I like the softness of the images and the atmosphere of the photographs. The camera itself is easy to use and is fairly robust. If it does break, you can probably glue it back together or buy a brand new one for less than $30.

If you are going to shoot 120 film it is a good idea to make sure it is going to be easy for you to develop. Black & white film is easy to process at home and if you have a scanner you don't even need a dark room. For color, you will probably have to drop it off at a lab. Some consumer labs don't develop 120 so check before hand.

All in all, I recommend the Holga 120 so go check it out

Links My Holga photos on Flickr.com Squrefrog - lots of Holga information Wikipedia Camerapedia Lomographic Society International

Noise at high ISO...

Point and Shoot cameras are notoriously noisy at high ISO settings to the point that they are practically unusable. This is especially true of my own Canon SD800IS. Recently I discovered DFine 2.0 and decided to put it to the test. The photo here was taken in my kitchen at ISO 1600 with no flash. The left side of the photo is unprocessed. The right side has been run through DFine 2.0 in Photoshop. I used all the default settings and did no other processing in Photoshop. Even with minimal work I think the result is quite good.

DFine Test

At $100 DFine is pretty expensive but it does a good job at rescuing such photographs.