London - February, 2017

Another year, another trip back to London.

I can't fully express how much I love this city; despite all of its foibles, London draws me in like no other place.  I never get tired of visiting.

I really don't have anything new to *say* about the trip or London, or anything else for that matter.  Except perhaps to mention that I got a chance to spend an afternoon with the talented and all-around great guy Tom Welland.  Tom and I were supposed to get together during my last trip to London in October, but plans got altered and we weren't able to meet up.  I'm not sure we photographed much of anything, but we had a cracking good walk, spent some quality time in the pub, and generally had a terrific time.  Can't wait to do it again, Tom.

Anyway, the photos.  Leica M-E and Mamiya 7 w/ Provia 100F or 400X.  Simple.

Enjoy.

Tennis (or, 'Why I Use Leica Cameras')

I've always loved tennis.

One of my greatest memories is of watching Boris Becker win Wimbledon in the summer of 1985.  While it might seem odd to think of a 7 year-old remembering something like that, it really isn't; you see, my birthday is in July, and often coincides with the final week (and sometimes the final weekend) of Wimbledon.  School was out for the year and my birthday was near, and thus I was always a huge fan.  NBC's (late, great) 'Breakfast at Wimbledon' was a staple in my house.

I grew up a huge Becker fan.  Learned to serve and volley like him, hit big looping groundstrokes like him, and swear at myself in German like him.  Above all, I coveted his oddly-shaped Puma G. Vilas racquet.  Becker switched to an Estusa racquet in the early-90's, and it was then that I was *finally* able to afford one.

I loved that racquet.  I learned how to *really* play with that thing.  I still have it, and while I don't use it that much anymore, I'll never part with it.

I was away from the game of tennis for several years, and then picked it up again in the mid-00's, this time following closely the career of Roger Federer.  Not surprisingly, Federer played (and still plays) in a very similar style to Becker, though with far more skill, creativity, and self-control.  As I got back into tennis, I decided I needed a new racquet, and there was no question which one it was going to be.

The Wilson K Factor Six-One Tour 90.  The Federer racquet.

Now, if you're not familiar with tennis racquets, let me fill you in: this racquet is not for beginners.  The head is a comparatively tiny 90 square inches, which means you have to be extremely precise about where the ball hits the strings.  The frame is very narrow, which means the racquet isn't doing any of the power work for you.  Basically, the racquet will do whatever you tell it to; no more, no less.  Hit it right, and you'll be knocking out down-the-line backhand winners with gusto.  Hit it wrong, and you'll be chasing balls in the park adjacent to the courts.  Even as an NTRP 5.0, I've had my fair share of the latter.  I *know* I'd hit fewer unforced errors with a larger, more forgiving racquet.

But I simply don't care.  I'm good enough to tame the K Factor most of the time, and above all else, I simply *love* playing with it.  It feels perfect in my hand.  The sound of perfect contact with the ball is unbeatable.  Yes, I shank more than a few shots, but I know that I simply wouldn't enjoy tennis as much using a different racquet.

And that's why I use Leica cameras.

I've used cameras from Canon, Nikon, Fuji, Olympus, Sony, and others.  For the most part, they've all been excellent and, particularly in the last 3-5 years, produced images of superlative quality.  The lenses for these cameras are wonderful; sharp, contrasty, and quick to focus.  The Fuji X cameras, in particular, are amazingly capable cameras with incredible lenses.  They even comp the rangefinder vibe that I enjoy so much.

But none of these have provided me with the enjoyment that my Leica M rangefinder cameras have.

Do Leica's have faults?  Is the Pope Catholic?

First off, they cost a comparative fortune for what you get (as do the lenses).  They're also relatively fragile, have middling-to-poor low light performance, are slow, and can't be used effectively with lenses longer than 135mm (and even that is pushing it if you're not stopped down).  In fact, Leica M rangefinders are really suited best to lenses of focal lengths between 28-50mm, and to subjects that are at least 1 metre away.

Fuji X cameras, for example, are superior in virtually every single one of these areas.  They're weather-sealed (at least the most expensive ones are), they're excellent at very high ISOs, and they can be used with lenses from very wide to very long, including macro lenses.  They have autofocus.  They're also much, much cheaper than Leica's.

I've owned four Fuji cameras.  The original X100 was a remarkable camera; incredibly fulfilling and incredibly frustrating, all at once.  The X-Pro1 was a fuzzy implementation of a very clear concept.  The X100T was (and is) an excellent and mature iteration of the X100 series, lacking in virtually nothing.  My current Fuji, the X-T10, is a lovely little camera, mated to an excellent kit zoom lens, which I use for pictures and video of my (growing) family.

By any measure, each of these cameras is more than enough to sustain any photographer for the rest of his or her life.  Even the old X100, warts and all, is a more than adequate street photography camera. 

But none of these cameras - or the dozens of cameras that came before them - have ever satisfy me as much as my Leicas. I used the Fujis because they were cheap(er) and had better performance and so on and so on.  I made great images with them.  But I never really loved using them. 

Despite all of their faults, and despite the fact that I could take objectively better photographs with other cameras, I love using my Leicas.

This camera sucks. (image courtesy of Ben Fredericson, used under Creative Commons License)

This camera sucks.

(image courtesy of Ben Fredericson, used under Creative Commons License)

Take the M-E (a.k.a. M9 minus superfluous features), for example.  The Leica M-E has an 18MP full-frame sensor; 18MP hasn't been state of the art for FF sensors since about 2005.  It has an LCD screen that can charitably described as "a fucking terrible LCD screen".  It produces extraordinary images at ISO 160-400, and then quickly begins to shit the bed.  ISO 640 is ok.  800 is pushing it. 1600 is awful.  And 2500 is.  Well.  Not the best.

The M-E is rated for continuous shooting at a glorious 2 fps.  It has a rangefinder that requires calibration every year or so.  It has a sensor that will eventually corrode into a flaming pile of Wetzlar.  It doesn't take video or do live view.  It has poorer dynamic range than almost any camera made since 'Friends' was still on the air.  I have to manually tell the M-E which non-Leica lenses I'm using so that it doesn't produce nasty vignetting and colour shifts in the DNG files.  Even after doing this, I still have to pre-process the DNG files to get rid of residual colour shifts, especially with ultra-wide angle lenses like the Voigtlander 21 f/4.

In short, the Leica M-E is, with respect to the circa-2016 digital camera, laughable.  Oh, and it costs about $3000 on the used market.

And I wouldn't want to use any other digital camera.  Why?  Because I don't enjoy photography as much when using any other camera.  And if I don't enjoy shooting, what's the point?

I'll just go back to playing tennis.

A (literal) once in a lifetime offer.

I am offering a total of *one* 16x20 inch chromogenic silver gelatin print of 'Steamy', by far my most popular photograph, and the cover image of my book, 'IN/HUMAN'.

The cost is $50,000 USD.

Here's what you get for your money

  1. The 16x20 inch print, on Ilford silver gelatin paper, framed by a local master framer, with whom I have worked for nearly a decade.  Museum-quality non-reflective glass will be utilized, and double matting will be employed.  The print will be signed on the rear in permanent ink, and will be notarized by a Notary Public of the Province of Ontario, Canada.
  2. Personal hand-delivery of the framed print to you anywhere in the world.
  3. The original digital raw file from which the print was made.
  4. A certificate of authenticity, which will state that the print will be the only one produced, in any size and in any format, for the remainder of the artist's life AND that all known copies of the original raw file have been destroyed.
  5. A personal, one-on-one, 8 hour street photography workshop, in a city of the buyer's choosing, within 100 miles of the delivery site.  Lunch and dinner will be provided.

There you go.  This is your chance to make a real investment in real photography.  Oh, and there's one more thing:

I will donate 100% of the profits of this sale to the charity of your choice.  This will be included in the certificate of authenticity, along with a receipt for the final amount of the donation.

50,000.00
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New York, redux, redux

Whoa, how did I forget about these?

It's 0 degrees in Toronto today (that's 32 degrees for my Fahrenheit'ed friends), so I figured now was a good time to post photographs taken this past July in New York City - on some of the absolute hottest days I've ever experienced.

All shot on film, with either the Leica MP, Mamiya 7ii, or Wista VX.

England, Here I Come (Again)

Well, it's autumn again.  Queue the usual trip over to England (funny, that...).  Once again, work beckoned me to London and, much to my delight, Cambridge.  Well, I say Cambridge, though that's a bit of a stretch.

Hinxton.  Population 315 souls.  Also home to one of the largest genome sciences facilities in the world, and the host of a wonderful conference called 'BioData World'.  Now, I wasn't about to stay in Hinxton for the week (or Cambridge, for that matter), so I took up residence in my usual digs in central London and took the train in to work every day.

Wonderful, the National Rail service, innit?  Ahem.

Anyway, in addition to a very fruitful bit of work, there were a few other highlights on this trip.  After the last morning of the meeting, I hurried back to Liverpool Street Station, quickly made my way to St Pancras, and took the train out to Dover in Kent to do a bit of walking.  I made the ~4 mile trek from Dover to St Margaret's Bay, which provides some of the most stunning scenery you're ever likely to see.  What's more, I had absolutely stellar weather to accompany me.  This is a walk that I remember doing with my parents when I was about 10, and so there was some sentimentality to the trip, as well.

The second highlight was an absolutely smashing good time had with Andy Spencer and Daniel Cuthbert, roaming the streets of east London, drinking a few pints, and generally having a wonderful day out.  Thanks guys!  You made the trip very special.  And Tom, we missed you, buddy!

I took a little less gear with me this time; less than usual, anyway.

I shot the Leica M-E, primarily with the Voigtlander 21 f/4 or the Zeiss 35 f/2 Biogon (a bit of Canon 50 f/1.4 in there, too) and the Mamiya 7ii with the 80 f/4 and the 50 f/4.5.  Colour film was Fuji 400H or Kodak Portra 400NC; B&W was Ilford PanF+.

Enjoy the photographs!

The Last Order

This came in the mail today. 

 

Provia 400X.  A truly magical film. 

Provia 400X.  A truly magical film. 

This is, in all likelihood, the last batch of Fuji Provia 400X I will purchase and shoot.  I've already given up on 400X in 35mm; at $25/roll, it's just too expensive to use on a regular basis.  And while the medium format stock isn't quite as expensive, it's getting up there, and will likely continue to climb. 

400X has been an absolute pleasure to shoot, and will be sorely missed.  Incredible contrast and colour with remarkably little grain.  A truly wonderful emulsion.

Does an 80A filter improve DSLR scanning of colour negatives?

After I posted my DSLR scanning tutorial, it was suggested to me that better results might be possible if, instead of illuminating colour negatives using daylight-balanced light, that I use either a cyan/blue gel on the light source OR a similar filter (an 80A blue filter, for example) on the lens.  The rationale here is that in a colour negative scan (DSLR or otherwise), the blue channel intensity is less than green, which is likewise less than red; the post-processing then corrects for this by normalizing the curves for each of the RGB channels (i.e. bringing up the blues and lowering the reds).  By biasing the light source towards blue, the theory is that the blue channel intensity can be raised *in camera*, thus lowering the amount of noise in the blue channel of the scan.

Basically, by doing this, you are - in theory - "helping" the inversion process along by reducing the extent to which you have to boost the blue channel.

So, being the diligent sort, I went out and ordered a 55mm blue filter (80A) from B&H (along with some Portra 800 and Provia 100F, of course).  I then shot the same 6x7 film frame with the filter either on or off my Tokina 100 f/2.8 macro.  The film was an expired roll of Kodak Portra 400NC, which I shot at an E.I. of 100 in the Mamiya 7ii with the 80 f/4 lens.  This roll was from a pro pack that has been stored frozen since purchase, and is known to produce good colours with a *bit* more grain than one might expect from the modern Portra 400.

One thing to note: the 80A filter has a Wratten number of 4, meaning a 2-stop loss of light.  Thus, whereas I would normally image my Portra 400NC at ISO 100, f/8, 1/15 without the filter, with the filter on, the shooter speed goes down to 1/3.  The ISO and aperture settings on the D800 did not change, and thus no additional shot noise is being added to the blue filtered image.

Second, these are *in no way* what I would normally present as final images.  These are straight out of the scanner, as it were.  No contrast curves, local contrast, colour control, etc has been performed on these images.  Just the straight scan, processed by the same Photoshop action (see my tutorial link above for the links to the actions).  Both images were white balanced off of their respective blank film frame spacer, as described in the main tutorial.

Anyway, on with the test.

First, the full, unfiltered image.

And a 100% crop of the above.

Now, the version exposed through an 80A filter 

And the 100% crop of (approximately) the same region.

So what can we say?  Frankly, theres not much in it.  The 80A filter produces an image with a *slightly* bluer  initial conversion (look at the slight blue cast in the road), but there's really not much there to see.

Second, the overall noise is about the same in both images (see the 100% crops).  Because both crops were relatively light on blue features (where the biggest noise difference would be seen most), I decided to do a 100% crop of a region of sky.  The other reason the sky should be a good place to see any noise difference (if one exists) is that the sky is generally very bright, and thus in the darkest part of the negative; this is the region that needs to be boosted the most in post-processing (that is, negative film scans are noisiest in the positive *highlights*, rather than the shadows, as with positive film or digital files).

So...

The non-filtered:

And the 80A filter:

Exciting, ain't it?

I don't see a difference here, except (again) for the bluer tones in the sky (the non-filtered has more red in it, producing a more purple sky than the 80A filter version).

And what of the actual blue channels from each scan?

The un-filtered:

And the 80A filter:

Do you see a difference?  I don't.

So what can we take away from this?

There does not seem to be a compelling reason to filter the light used to illuminate (or capture) colour negatives when DSLR scanning.  Blue-filtered light produces no discernible reduction in image noise (even simply blue channel noise) relative to white light.  No doubt, this has something to do with the incredible noise performance of the D800; perhaps on cameras that do not perform as well, things would be different.

But I suspect not.

IN/HUMAN

At long last, I'm proud to present to you my first book of street photography, 'IN/HUMAN'.

IN/HUMAN contains 28 photographs, presented on gorgeous 8x10 inch 190 GSM semi-gloss paper.  The photographs roughly span the period of 2010 - 2015.  The first edition is limited to 100 individually signed and numbered copies.  Once those 100 run out, no other copies will be printed in this format.

I will leave it to others to dissect the meaning of the title and the thematic direction of the book, but suffice it to say I'm very pleased with the results.

The book is priced at $85 USD, including free worldwide shipping.  I'd like to take a brief minute to explain the pricing.

I am fully aware that $85 is a lot to spend on a photo book, let alone this photo book.  For that price, you can buy two copies of 'The Americans' by Robert Frank; an improvement in both quantity and quality.  You could also buy two pro packs of Portra 400 film, or see 5-6 movies, or get a jump on a new lens purchase, or just save the money for something else altogether.

I struggled hard with how to price the book.  This is entirely self-funded, and I'm not making a dime off of the sales.  My only goal here is to get some art into the world.  And not to get too melodramatic about it, but I think the world could use a little bit more art at the moment.

I completely understand that $85 puts the book out of reach for many people, and I'm truly sorry if you wanted to purchase the book but couldn't.  As I said, I'm not making any money on these, and I didn't want to provide a lesser product just to keep costs down; I'm offering free shipping in an effort to assuage some of the concerns about cost.  There is also a possibility of a second edition, which hopefully will allow for a reduction in price, but I can't promise anything at the moment.

Unfortunately, I cannot guarantee you a specific numbered book; number 1/100 will go to the first order, 2/100 to the next order, and so on.

The book can be ordered using the link below.  Please allow 3-4 weeks for shipping, depending on location.

IN/HUMAN
85.00
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The Definitive Guide to Scanning Film With a Digital Camera

Once upon a time, I posted a set of tutorials regarding my method for digitizing film photographs.  For a variety of reasons, I took the tutorial down.  However, I have noticed that there is still a huge amount of confusion regarding these methods, and a lot of disbelief that scanning film with a digital camera could yield results that are comparable to what can be achieved with a high-end desktop film scanner.

So, with that in mind, I have decided to resurrect my tutorials.  Now, instead of simply re-posting the old tutorials, I have completely re-written them, with all of the updated methods I have accumulated over the past 2 years of scanning film in this way.

But first, a little digression (skip ahead for the tutorial)...

To all of the naysayers who claim that this method doesn't work or cannot work in theory, I invite you to look at the results that I (and others) have achieved.  Yes, virtually all digital cameras use a Bayer array instead of individual red, green, and blue-sensitive sensors, like a scanner does; yes, most digital cameras do not record 16-bits/channel, like a scanner does.  None of this matters.  The results, I feel, speak for themselves.  Who cares if something works in practice but not in theory?

Another misunderstanding of DSLR scanning is that the dynamic range captured on film cannot be accurately photographed by a digital camera, even one with "only" 14 stops of DR, such as the Nikon D800/D800E/D810, and others.  This results from a complete misunderstanding of how film - particularly negative film - actually works.  Did you ever notice how low contrast your negatives look - especially your colour negatives?  This low contrast is real; during development, the dynamic range of the scene you photographed (which could easily be >14 stops on a bright sunny day) was compressed into a very small density range on the film; perhaps 9 stops (a density range of 3.0), which is more than adequately covered by any modern DSLR or mirrorless camera.  Those densities are then mapped to the appropriate 48-bit RGB value (or 16-bit luminance value, in the case of B&W scans) during post-processing.  And since an 8-bit JPEG is the most common output format, you will end up re-compressing those tones into the final image.

Anyway, the point is that a modern DSLR is more than adequate to digitize any colour or B&W negative, with respect to colour and dynamic range fidelity.

Scanning slide film is another matter.  Slide film is fundamentally different than negative film; it is not simply a positive version of negative film.  Slide film has a "baked in" contrast curve and the slide itself is the final product, whereas, as we've seen, the final contrast curve of negative film is established by mapping tones during post-processing.

Slide film is notorious for having a small dynamic range - the range of tones from pure black to pure white - that can be captured in a frame of slide film is very small; perhaps 5-6 stops.  Put another way, the film compresses the dynamic range of the scene (which, as we've seen, can be well over 14 stops) into 5-6 stops.  The photographer's job is to ensure that those 5-6 stops overlap with the important elements in the scene, and the tones outside the range clip to either white or (preferably) black.

Because the scene dynamic range is compressed into a very large density range, scanning slide film is a much more challenging affair than scanning negative film.  This is because with negative film, the scanner (or digital camera, as we will see) does not have to "dig" into very deep shadows on the film (highlights in the inverted positive) to extract the detail, while on slide film, the shadows are much, much denser.  The result of this is that lesser-grade scanners (like most flatbeds and even some dedicated film scanners) simply do not have the ability to extract any meaningful data from the deep shadows; this is particularly important in very dense film stocks, such as Velvia 50, which may have a maximum density of 4.0 (12 stops).  For a DSLR like the D800, where dynamic range exceeds 14 stops, this is not a problem as long as the exposure is set correctly.  I cannot stress this enough: scanning slide film requires patience and a lot of up-front work (on any system, scanner or DSLR) to ensure the maximum amount of detail is extracted from the source film.

Phew.  That was quite the digression.  Anyway, on to the tutorials.

1. The Tools You Will Need

The basic tools for my DSLR scanning method are as follows:

  • a DSLR or mirrorless digital camera, capable of live view and Raw capture (and preferably capable of tethered capture, as well).  Either APS-C or full frame are fine.  I use a Nikon D800.
  • a macro lens, preferably one capable of 1:1 reproduction.  Any focal length is fine; longer focal lengths require more working distance between camera and film.  An autofocus lens is also useful, but not essential.  I use a Tokina 100 f/2.8 Macro.
  • A sturdy copy stand.  I cannot overstate how important this is.  You need to keep the camera absolutely still and absolutely level (in both X and Y axes) to the film; without this, you'll get blurry images, either because the camera wasn't still or because focus was uneven across the film.  A good copy stand, such as the Kaiser RS-2 (which I use) will do this.  A poor copy stand will flex too much, and you'll be fighting to keep things level.  Do not skimp here.  If you're allocating a budget for this, spend more on this and less on your lens or camera.  Seriously.  One potential substitution here is to use a tripod with an inverted centre column (many Manfrotto tripods can do this).  This will keep things still, but the 'level' issue might still be a problem.
  • A bubble level.  See above for why you need this.  Get one of those small ruler-type levels that carpenters and plumbers use.  The hotshoe mounted ones are ineffective, because there is too much play in the shoe.  Ensure that the camera is level with the film holder.
  • A light source.  I highly recommend the Artograph Lightpad, which supplies bright, even, daylight-balanced light.  An iPad will work, but you'll need to diffuse the light somehow or get the film elevated well away from the screen, or else the pixels will be seen in the scans.
  • Film holders.  You can use the holders from a scanner OR (and I recommend this) find yourself some film carriers from a disused enlarger.  These are widely available on eBay.  Get one carrier for each size of film you will be scanning; I have 35mm, 6x6, 6x7, and 4x5.  These will hold the film much flatter than virtually any scanner film holder, except *perhaps* the magnetic Imacon holders.
  • A remote shutter release OR tethering software with remote triggering.  You need to release the shutter without touching the camera.  I use Smart Shooter, which allows for fully-remote operation of the D800 (and many other cameras), including aperture, shutter speed, ISO, shutter release, and tethered live view.
  • Image stitching software.  This is purely optional.  The idea is that for film formats larger than 24x36 35mm, taking multiple macro images and stitching them together provides additional resolution.  For example, a 6x7 negative has ~4.9x the area of a 24x36mm negative, and could therefore be covered by 5 individual images, which could then be stitched together to provide a very high resolution final image.  With only one exception, I do this for only very few negatives, and only when I want to print very large.  The one exception?  Large format 4x5.  The reason I stitch with 4x5 is that (a) I cant get sufficient distance above the film to fill the D800's sensor with the full image and (b) when I'm shooting 4x5, I'm doing it because I want maximal detail.  I use the built-in stitching function of Lightroom CC, which has never let me down.  The advantage of using Lightroom is that the product of your stitching is a DNG file (i.e. a raw file).  The other program I have used is AutoPano Giga, which is very good and offers advanced stitching capabilities, should you need them.  In practice, however, Lightroom is generally sufficient (and you probably already have it).
  • Photoshop or similar software capable of editing 16-bit TIFF files (if you're using Lightroom, I *highly* recommend Photoshop for its tight integration with Lightroom).  Sadly, Lightroom is not an appropriate tool for inverting and colour correcting negatives (it is sufficient for positives, though), so you'll need Photoshop or similar.

To be clear, you can accomplish much of what I'm about to discuss with simpler tools.  But - and I want to make this perfectly clear - your results will suffer.  You may be perfectly happy with your results either way, and that's fine, but the method below is the surest way I know of to achieve maximal quality from a DSLR scanning rig (and yes, I know about the $50,000+ Phase One repro system).

So, let's get on with it.

2. Scanning Colour Negative Film with a DSLR

First off, let's tackle colour negatives.  I suspect that for most people shooting film, this will be the section of greatest interest.

The first thing to recognize is that scanning colour negative film is not difficult.  At all.  The reasons why are discussed above (you didn't skip the digression, did you?).

What can be difficult is inverting and colour correcting your scans.  Fortunately, I have a workflow that is highly effective for this.

I'm going to assume that you've got everything set up something like what is pictured in Figure 1.

FIGURE 1 - D800, Tokina 100/2.8 macro, LightPad 920, bubble level, film holder, Kaiser RS-2 copy stand

FIGURE 1 - D800, Tokina 100/2.8 macro, LightPad 920, bubble level, film holder, Kaiser RS-2 copy stand

I'm also going to assume you have your camera set up in live-view or (preferably) tethered live-view mode, that you know how a histogram works, and that you can use a Raw editor such as Lightroom.

  1. Set your camera to f/8, ISO to the lowest native setting (ISO 100 on the D800, for example; ISO 200 on Fuji X-series cameras). Set metering to manual, capture quality to Raw, WB to auto.

  2. Position your film in the holder such that a piece of unexposed film is visible; this can be from the leader, the space between frames, etc, but absolutely, positively must be unexposed (Figure 2).

FIGURE 2 - A section of unexposed film is used to set optimal exposure for each film stock.

  1. Set shutter speed such that your histogram is pushed to the right, but is not clipping. With negative film, the red channel will clip first, then the green, then the blue; if your luminance histogram is not clipping, then you can be sure that the red channel is not clipping, and therefore that neither green nor blue are clipping, either. However, using the luminance histogram alone is not ideal, because you may actually be far away from clipping the sensor. A better way is either to make test exposures around the selected shutter speed and then test the raw files for red channel clipping, or to use an RGB histogram (such as the one in Smart Shooter). In this way, you can find the exposure (to within 1/3 stop) that maximizes RGB channel exposure without clipping. This reduces (digital) noise and allows for more effective pixel pushing in post.

  2. Once you've discovered this optimal shutter speed, write it down. You will image every single frame of this film type. You need to repeat step 3 for every film type you shoot, because the density of each film will be slightly different.

  3. Also, once you've discovered the optimal shutter speed for a given film, save the corresponding Raw file and create a Lightroom White Balance preset, using the WB eyedropper to select a region of the unexposed film. Name the preset after the specific film type (e.g. 'Portra 400 WB', 'Fuji 400H WB', and so on). Repeat for every film stock you use (Figure 3).

FIGURE 3 - Use the Lightroom WB eyedropper tool to select a region of unexposed film.

  1. Using the optimal exposure settings you've now established, image your film (NOTE: make sure you give your film a good once-over with a bulb blower to remove large dust particles). If you have a capable lens, autofocus on an area of the image with suitable detail (live-view AF generally requires suitable contrast, so don't try to AF on an area of pure blue sky, for example). Repeat for each image on the roll. For a roll of 36 24x36 images, this should take about 10 min. Each image should be saved as a Raw file, and then imported into your Raw editor of choice.

  2. Open the Raw images in Lightroom. Crop as needed and apply the appropriate WB preset. Also apply the 'Neutral' profile for your particular camera (bottom of the 'Develop' module; Figure 4).

FIGURE 4 - Apply the WB preset you created above (Portra 160VC, in this case) and crop the image as required.  I'm using a 4x5 ratio, which approximates the nominal 6x7cm frames I get from the Mamiya 7.

FIGURE 5 - Apply the conversion action in Photoshop.

FIGURE 6 - Remove residual dust using the 'Content-Aware Fill' tool.  NOTE: you MUST be in the Background layer for this to work.

  1. Open an image in Photoshop (CMD-E on a Mac; CTL-E on Windows) and run the "Colour Neg Inversion" action within this action set (Figure 5). Briefly, this action does the following
    Inverts the image to a positive using an 'Invert' layer
    Normalizes the red, green, and blue channels using a 'Curves' layer.
    Creates a second 'Curves' layer to allow for fine tuning of RGB contrast. This is sometimes necessary if the source image is particularly dark or (more commonly) bright.

  2. Switch to the 'Background' layer and remove any remaining dust spots with the 'Content-Aware Fill' tool (Figure 6).

  3. Save.

  4. Tweak the colours, contrast, etc to your delight in Lightroom. On occasion, you may find the auto colours are not as you desire. This is not a fault of the method; it's simply that over or underexposure, old film, poor development, or any combination of these can affect the balance between red, green, and blue channels. Fortunately, we can easily correct this.

And that's it.  Really.  Once you've got this workflow down, the whole thing is very, very quick.  I would estimate that it takes me roughly 10 min to 'scan' a roll of 6x7 negatives (10 images, total), 5 min to prep the images in Lightroom (WB, crop, etc), and about 5 min to do the colour conversions and remove dust in Photoshop.  Total time: 20 min.  25, tops.  And the end results?  See for yourselves.

3. Scanning B&W Film With a DSLR

Scanning B&W negatives follows virtually the same procedure as scanning colour negatives, the only difference being that for B&W, you use the "B&W Neg Inversion" action within the linked action set (see above), which, for obvious reasons, does not include any colour adjustment layers (Figure 7).  Adjust overall and local contrast in Lightroom, and enjoy.

FIGURE 7 - B&W negative film is handled exactly the same as colour.  Minus the colour, of course. 

4. Scanning Reversal Film With a DSLR

And now we come to the big one: reversal film.  Unfortunately, slide film is becoming something of a rarity these days; I say "unfortunately", because slide film offers a fundamentally different take on film photography vs negative film, and the results, in my opinion, are truly remarkable.  Anyway, if you are shooting slide film, or if you just have old slides you'd like to digitize, here's how to do it.

Figure 8 - An IT8.7 target for Provia 100.  Sexy, ain't it?

FIGURE 9 - White balance your IT8.7 on patch 11 and note the colour temperature.

  1. As with negative film, you'll need to establish the optimal exposure. Again, set f/8, lowest native ISO, etc, etc.
  2. Setting optimal exposure with slide film is harder than with negative film because of the steep density curve involved. The best way of doing this is to get yourself an IT8.7 target for your specific film type(s); I highly recommend the targets from Wolf Faust (Figure 8).
  3. Photograph the target that matches your film type (I shoot mainly Provia 100F, so I choose the Provia/Astia/Sensia target), using settings that bracket your best 'guesstimate' of the optimal shutter speed. I'd shoot +1 stop on either side, in 1/3 stop increments, giving 7 total images. of the target.
  4. Open these images in your Raw editor and white balance the image against the grey stripe below the "11" patch (NOTE: any grey stripe will do, but this one is actually 'middle' grey; Figure 9). IMPORTANT: Note this white balance value. You'll need it shortly.
  5. In the Lightroom develop module, move your cursor over the patches of black on the far right of the target shot at your 'guesstimate'. Lightroom will display the R, G, and B percentages immediately below the histogram. The black and very dark grey patches (patches 20-22 + black) should be distinguishable in their RGB values from one another AND R should (roughly) equal G and should (roughly) equal B (since this is a grey patch) (Figure 10).
  6. Repeat this on the white patches (1-3 + white), and ensure that these patches are distinguishable from one another.
  7. Once you've determined that you can distinguish the blackest shades from each other and the whitest shades from each other, repeat this exercise on the remaining images you took in step 3. If any of the images show clipping in the highlights of the pure white patch, that exposure is too high. You're looking for the brightest exposure that does not clip the test chart.
  8. Once you've found this exposure, you will be using it for every image shot on this film type. This will ensure continuity and consistency of colours and contrast throughout the roll (and between rolls).

(NOTE: The intended use of the IT8.7 charts are to generate calibration profiles for each film type. I have tried this with DSLR scanning, and it makes very little difference AND is a headache, because it requires converting your scans to linear TIFF format using MakeTIFF. No thank you.)

  1. Image your reversal film at the established settings, setting a custom white balance in your camera, based on the WB you established in step 4. Since you've used a target to determine the optimal exposure, you will be able to extract the maximum amount of shadow and highlight detail that your particular camera allows; any loss of detail at this point is likely due to over/underexposure of the film itself.
  2. Open the scans in Photoshop (ideally via Lightroom, as above) and apply dust removal, as necessary, using the 'Content-Aware Fill' tool.
  3. Create a curves layer (included in the 'Positive Film Processing' action) and apply a very slight "gamma-correction" curve, as shown in Figure 11. This will help to open up the shadows very slightly
  4. For most slides, this is the end of the process. From here, you can edit as necessary (local adjustments, sharpening, etc). For some slides, however, you may need to apply a bit of editing to get the scan to match the slide exactly. This usually affects particularly dense and/or underexposed slides. No one said shooting reversal film was easy, now did they?

FIGURE 10 - Ensure that the black and white (not shown) patches are not clipping and are distinguishable from the adjacent patches (22, in this case).

FIGURE 11 - Apply the White Balance preset you made and add a very slight gamma correction curve to bring out the shadows.  On very dense slides, you may need to get a bit more forceful with this adjustment.

And there you have it.  The results?  See below.

5. Advanced Techniques

One of the major advantages of DSLR scanning is the ability to stitch, to create very high resolution final images.  For example, the image below is a 9 image stitch of a 4x5 Portra 160 negative, yielding a 74 megapixel final image (Figure 12A).

FIGURE 12A - 9 image stitched DSLR scan of a 4x5 Kodak Portra 160 negative

And here's a 100% crop of the above image (Figure 12B).

FIGURE 12B - 100% crop from a 74MP, 9 image stitched DSLR scan of the image shown in Figure XA.

The fine detail here is absolutely remarkable; the scan has resolved detail in the sails, which are a tiny fraction of the overall image.  I have a large print of this over my desk, and the clarity is unreal.  Frankly, I think I could push this even farther, either by stitching more images (say, 12 total, with less overlap between frames) and/or by using an even higher resolution camera such as the Canon 5DSR (50MP).

Stitching is remarkably easy, especially now that Lightroom has a built-in stitching function.

6. Conclusions

So there you have it; my definitive guide to scanning film with a digital camera.

Let there be no doubt: scanning film this way produces truly excellent digital files, with the not-insignificant advantage of allowing editing on a Raw file, rather than on a TIFF or JPEG.

You'll note that I haven't said anything about cost.  While this method isn't expensive, it's not as cheap as, say, a flatbed scanner.  On the other hand, DSLR scanning gives you the potential to produce scans that rival the very best dedicated film scanners; my informal testing suggests resolution that is at least on par with a Nikon 9000ED (which regularly sells for north of $3000 USD on eBay) and very close to an $11,000 Imacon X1 (with stitching, this method actually out-resolves an X1).  In terms of dynamic range, this method is absolutely competitive with the X1 (which is itself noticeably superior to the Nikon).

So, no, this method isn't as cheap as many dedicated film scanners, but the results are outstanding, and the price is reduced drastically if you already have a digital camera (and, of course, you can actually use the digital camera for other things, should you choose to).

So my conclusion is this: DSLR scanning offers *by far* the best price:performance ratio available to film photographers in 2016.

Why Film? (Redux)...or, 'The Bond Between Process and Product'

Recently, I've been making a lot of camera purchases.

My black paint Leica MP - The last survivor of the great purge

My black paint Leica MP - The last survivor of the great purge

Now, you might ask "So what?  You're always doing that."  But this is different.  These camera purchases were actually re-purchases of much of the same gear I sold off in the great purge of early-2016.  Leica, Hasselblad, Mamiya.  All back in my hands, and for about the same price I sold them for.  I sold off the X100T and a few other trinkets to finance this, and I'm back to just a single digital camera and lens (Fuji X-T10 and the stellar Fuji 35 f/2).

Anyway, all of this buying and selling got me thinking a bit more about why I do this.  By "this", I mean 'film photography'?  Why is it that I choose to use an admittedly retrograde medium for virtually all of my photography?

Many people, myself included, have spent much bandwidth on this question, often coming up with responses such as:

"The dynamic range of film is just so good!"

"I love the colours that film provides"

"The fine detail is just incredible" ;)

"I love using old film cameras"

"Film slows me down"

Now, with the notable exception of the last point, I agree with all of these points to some extent.  Film does provide outstanding dynamic range (negative film, anyway), and the colours are remarkable.  Fine detail?  Sure, it's there.  And who *doesn't* love an old mechanical camera?

But the more I think about this, the more I settle on one particular aspect of film photography that draws me in more than any other: film, for better or worse, simply engages me in the process of photography more than digital photography does.  Let me explain.

When I use my digital camera, I go out, I shoot, I come home, I pop the SD card into my card reader, I edit - usually with the help of a number of Lightroom presets, and I post/print.  Now, before I go on, let me state clearly that there's nothing wrong with this process.  In fact, this is absolutely ideal for situations in which you absolutely, positively have to have final images ready in as short a time as possible.  But the downside is this: the images become a commodity; they become something that needs to be pushed out as quickly as possible.

When I shoot film, on the other hand, I am forced to take a much larger role in the entirety of the process.  I have to load the camera.  I have to wind and rewind the film.  I have to ensure that the exposed film is stored safely until it can be processed.  I have to process the film, or at least walk the film down to the local lab and then walk back to the lab to pick it up.  I have to scan (or print) the film.  I have to invert (for negatives) or gamma-correct (for positives).  I have to perform some amount of dust removal on the positive scans.  Once all of this is done (and this can be anywhere from a day to a month later), only then am I in the same place as I was when I returned home with my digital camera.

Now, you might argue that a lot of this is tedious, and it is.  No one likes removing dust from scans.  But in the tedium grows a much deeper connection to the final product.  Obviously, this is a luxury that arises from the fact that I am not on a timetable to deliver my images to anyone.  But still, the more time and effort I invest in the process, the more value I place on the final images.  Again, this is not to imply that digital photographs do not take effort or that photographers do not value their digital photographs.

But there remains a fundamental disconnect between process and product in digital photography that does not exist in film photography.  Yes, one could simply shoot film for all of the reasons stated above, and just send the film off to be developed and scanned.  And there's nothing wrong with this.  But at the very least, that photographer has had to go about the process of buying the film, loading the film, winding the film, storing the rolls before shipping, buying a stamp, walking to the mailbox, and mailing off the film.  There's still an effort being made that creates a bond between process and product.

I think this is fundamentally the reason that the traditional darkroom is so loved by so many; this is truly bringing process and product together in the most intimate way possible.  I personally don't make darkroom prints, but this is mainly because I don't shoot a lot of B&W film, and optical printing of reversal film (i.e. Cibachrome/Ilfochrome) is no longer possible.  I also think this is part of the draw I (and others) feel towards large format photography; again, the photographer must take a deep involvement in the process, in order to ensure the quality of the product.

So the next time you're shooting film, or even developing film or printing from film, be mindful of how involved you are in the process of making the final photograph. and consider how much of this process would be lost - and how much that loss would mean to you - if you were shooting in another medium.

North Tower

This is a shot I took last February in New York City.  I'm usually in New York about 2-3 times a year, and I always make it a point to go down to the WTC site.  The September 11 terrorist attacks were a huge event in history, of course, but they also represent a defining moment in my own life.

Sept 11, 2001 was my dad's 51st birthday, and was also my first day of graduate school; I remember the day vividly, and probably always will.  Without getting too far into political issues (which I'm happy to do - just not here), Sept 11 will always have meaning to me.

It's a very odd experience to be at the WTC site.  To me, it's a memorial and a grave site, and provides a wonderful contemplative environment.  I generally don't take photographs there.  However, on this particular occasion, I found myself alone at the northeast corner of the North Tower reflecting pool.  The sun had *just* gone down, and the atmosphere was particularly calm (and cold - it was mid-February, remember).  I had two frames of Provia 400X left in my Mamiya 7, which had the 45/4.5 mounted; the light was low, and fading fast (I believe this was f/4.5, 1/15).  I made this exposure and one other at 1/8, which wound up a bit blurry.  My initial intent was to highlight the flower on the front of the memorial, but in the final exposure, the names to the right became the central feature.

And I think that's probably fitting.

 

My Backup Workflow

Today I'm going to talk about perhaps the least sexy topic of all: backups.  Backups are an absolutely essential part of any serious photographic workflow, and as much as it's hard to spend money on boring stuff like hard drives and not on cool things like film and lenses, it's a necessary evil if you want to avoid serious headaches.  In fact, I'm writing this partly because I've just been through some serious headaches with a drive failure, and I'm hoping that this tutorial will help you avoid the headaches; or at least minimize the amount of Tylenol you need to cope. First, the basics.  All of my post-processing work - be it of film scans or digital raw files - is done in Adobe Lightroom CC 2016.  I've messed around with other digital asset management programs (Capture One Pro and others), but Lightroom just feels right to me.

The ins-and-outs of Lightroom are beyond the scope of what I'd like to deal with here today, but suffice it to say that I use a single Lightroom catalog for all images, be they current work or archives.  I know some people use different catalogs for different projects or for different years, and that's perfectly fine.  But using a single catalog allows me instant access to everything I've ever shot.  My catalog resides on an external OWC Elite Pro Dual Mini, which consists of two 256GB OWC Mercury 6G SSD drives in a RAID-0 stripe, giving me 512GB of blazing fast storage for my Lightroom catalog, Lightroom cache, and Photoshop scratch disk.  Frankly, this is overkill, but it does allow me to have very large cache and scratch disk files, which speeds things up enormously. (Ed. - this is the backup component that a lot of people forget about. Your images are important, of course, but backing up the associated metadata - including all develop settings, keywords, etc - is nearly as important.  Imagine having to redo edits for an entire year's worth of images...)

My work computer is a 2014 5k Retina iMac, with a 4.0GHz Core i7 (4790K) processor, 32GB of RAM, 512GB of internal solid-state storage, and a 4GB AMD Radeon R9 M295X GPU.  This machine is incredibly fast, and the 27" retina display is gorgeous.  I've got it calibrated using a ColorMunki XRite, and things look wonderful to my eyes.

I 'scan' my film using a Nikon D800 and a Tokina 100/2.8 macro lens, so all of my scans  are in .NEF raw format.  These are imported into Lightroom, along with raw files from my Fujifilm digital cameras.  All of the image files from the current calendar year live on a drive called 'MASTER'.  For this, I'm using two HGST 2TB 7200RPM drives, in a 4TB RAID-0 configuration, inside an Other World Computing Elite Pro Dual Thunderbolt enclosure.  I elected for Thunderbolt over USB 3.0 because, frankly, it's faster and, as you'll see, I'm a bit starved for USB 3.0 ports on my my 5k iMac. The OWC TB enclosure offers 10Gps bidirectional transfer, which is FAR more than two HDDs can put out, even in a RAID-0 stripe, so I'm basically delivering images to Lightroom as quickly as possible, without going completely mental with an all-SSD approach.

Image files from previous years are stored on another 4TB drive (an OWC Mercury Elite Pro) called 'ARCHIVE'.  Since it isn't accessed as frequently, this drive doesn't need to be as speedy as 'MASTER' does, so I've gone with a single 4TB drive, connected by USB 3.0.

On each drive, files are stored as follows:

YEAR/FILM/ROLL_ID*/

or

YEAR/DIGITAL/MM_DD

* - I name my film rolls sequentially as I scan them, not as I shoot them.  So 2016_0050 may have been shot after but scanned before 2016_0060, for example.

Each of these two drives ('MASTER' and 'ARCHIVE') are automatically cloned (scheduled at 12:30AM every night) using SuperDuper!, to two other 4TB drives (Seagate Expansion 4TB), connected by USB 3.0.  These drives are called 'MASTER CLONE' and 'ARCHIVE CLONE', respectively.  This protects against failure of my main image drives, and the nightly cloning ensures that no backup is more than one day old.

This isn't all, though.  While I'm protected against drive failure, I'm not protected against fire, flood, or theft.  For this, I have a second line of backup: Backblaze.  Backblaze provides 'always-on' cloud backup for both my 'MASTER' and 'ARCHIVE' drives as well as the clones of each.  It also clones the SSD RAID-0 drive which houses my LR catalog and LR/PS cache.  This cloud-based solution has one major downside: the initial backup is SLOW; even over my 10Mbps upstream connection, initial backup took on the order of two weeks.  Fortunately, I have unlimited monthly bandwidth from my ISP, so this was not an issue (Ed. - Backblaze does offer the option of sending in your data on an external HDD, which is a good option if you have a slow connection or limited bandwidth usage).  Once you've done the initial backup, however, the bandwidth requirements are quite small, since you're only uploading new files.

So I've got local backups of my images to protect against disk failure and cloud-based backup of everything to prevent against local catastrophes (floods, fire, locusts, rapture, etc).  Restoration from local backups is straightforward; simply reformat a new main drive, clone the backup to it, and point Lightroom at the newly populated drive.  Restoration from cloud backup is easy if it's just a few files (say, 20GB or less) that have been lost (just download a .zip file from Backblaze), but is a bit more cumbersome if you need to restore an entire drive.  In that case, it's best to have Backblaze send you the files on an external HDD, since downloading 4TB of data takes a very long time, even on a 50Mbps downstream connection.

And if my Lightroom catalog gets corrupted, I just restore from the cloud backup and I'm back in business.

This is what it looks like:

Backup
Backup

So there you have it.  16TB of local storage, all mirrored to the cloud.  Phew.  Now to sort out the cabling...

Back

(Note: I accidentally deleted the original version of this post, along with the rest of the site.  So I'm re-writing this from memory, because. I think it's important to have this out there and be open and honest about these types of things) I'm back. But things are different.  Or at least, I'm accepting that things have to be different.  Here's the thing: I have clinical anxiety and depression.  I've had it for quite some time.  As long as I can remember, in fact.

The thing about anxiety and depression is that they can strike you at any time, and in unpredictable ways. So for most of the time - almost all the time, in fact - I'm absolutely fine.  But very occasionally, and without warning, I get a bad episode.  This can manifest in many different ways, and similarly I react in very different ways.  Maybe I eat too much, or I drink too much, or I lash out at other people.  It's impossible to predict.

Well, a couple of weeks ago, I lashed out.  I did and said a lot of things that I am absolutely ashamed of having done.  I have already reached out to many of the affected individuals to apologize and ask for their forgiveness.  Amazingly, they have been uniformly understanding and forgiving.

The thing about depression and anxiety is that it's not just "worry" or "sadness".  It's unproductive, irrational worry mixed with - for me at least - distortions in my perception of other people's actions in relation to me.  An action that to most people would seem harmless or funny or not worth thinking about all of a sudden becomes overwhelmingly important and takes on numerous other meanings.  In those moments, I get angry very easily.  What comes next is where things get vague.  Sometimes nothing happens.  Sometimes I just get sad and suffer a lovely bout of anhedonia.  Sometimes I get angry at myself or the world, and stop caring about what I or anyone else thinks of me.

And then, as quickly as it starts, these episodes go away.  It's very difficult to explain the feeling when things are good; it's hard to remember how bad things can get.  Which is part of why I wanted to write this post; to have a record of what this affliction feels like, to establish a jumping off point, so to speak, for talking about this openly, and to remind me, when things do get bad, that they're not always going to be that way.

I have been receiving clinical and pharmacological help for this for several years, and that has helped enormously.  Medication is an important part of the therapy (since the problem is largely chemical to begin with), but it's not the only pillar.  Counselling is critical to develop strategies for coping.

But despite all of this, bad days/weeks happen.  Not as often as they used to, but they do happen.  And this time, in particular, my reaction to a bad week was completely inappropriate.  Once again, I'm very thankful for all of the understanding I have received, especially from those directly affected by my behaviour, who were under no obligation to forgive me - and could not have been faulted had they chosen to react differently.

Photography-wise, I'm good.  My Leicas, my Hasselblad, and my Mamiya 7 are sold.

I bought an X100T with all the trimmings to serve as my primary small format camera, although I still see a Leica M3 or M2 in my future.

I re-purchased a Mamiya 7(ii) and an 80 f/4, because that combo is just too spectacular.  I may add the 43/4.5 or 50/4.5 to that.  Or maybe not.  A one lens kit is awfully appealing.

And I'm shooting a lot more large format, which I find very meditative and calming.

So there it is.

Cheers,

M

New Adventures With the Family

The family and I recently took a much-needed break (especially for me, for reasons I've discussed) and flew down to the Dominican Republic for a week of doing just about nothing.  Ordinarily, I'm not much for these types of vacations; I very much prefer adventuring and discovering new things in new places, but with the family, it's great to just sit by the pool, laugh, eat, drink, and generally have a great time. This trip also gave me the opportunity to test out my new Fujifilm X100T.  I was an early adopter of the original X100, and I used that camera for 2 years, all around the world.  I lived through its considerable growing pains, and saw it mature into a very good camera.  The X100T is a better camera in every conceivable way.  I also brought along the Fuji wide angle and tele convertors, which allow for 28 and 50mm equivalents, respectively.  This makes for a very compact digital travel kit with lots of flexibility and gorgeous image quality.

Here is a small selection of images from the trip, all taken with the X100T.