Diana F+

December 25, 2012

Recently I was able to borrow one of the new Diana F+ cameras for a few weeks as preparation for a class I was teaching. I was aware that the Lomo people had produced this model but hadn’t had much interest in it as I already have two Holgas and a 1970s Diana. These are my thoughts after exposing about ten rolls of Tri-X. Overall I was pleased with the camera and would recommend it to anyone wanting to photograph with a Diana type camera. Of course you could buy an original Diana however I believe they fetch high prices and you may not be able to buy one right away. I got mine years ago, but from memory I was patient and watched ebay for months until I managed to get one at a reasonable price. The key elements of toy camera photography for me are the look of the images – the dreamy mix of sharpness and un-sharpness, as well their primitive nature that encourages a giving up of control and openness to chance; leading to the question – is the new Diana as suitable for this type of photography as the models it is emulating?

diana F jackets on bed blog

The photo above was made with Tri-X processed in Maco RO9. I used the N shutter, the cloudy aperture and fired the flash. The kit flash was one of the things I liked most about this camera. My ’70s Diana doesn’t have a flash or any way to attach or trigger one, although there was an old version that could. My Holgas don’t have integrated flash but they both have hotshoes that I can put any flash onto. The flash is important with these toy cameras due to their limited exposure controls. The shutter speed options are ‘N’ which is about 1/60 and ‘B’ which is bulb. Bulb is OK for low light but there will be camera shake if hand held and often I don’t want that. There are three aperture settings but they are all quite closed down – about f/11, 16 and 22. So the flash provides enough light for a properly exposed frame without shake. I also like the look of flash as well as the fact that it is a look that is particular to stills photography.

Another interesting flash option with this model is the possibility to detach the flash and in its place put a piece that has a hotshoe on top which then allows you to use any flash – I successfully triggered my Canon Speedlite with this. You could also put a hotshoe PC sync adapter in and fire studio flash with the camera, or use pocket wizard triggers, which opens up some interesting possibilities. Of course this can also be done with a Holga with a hotshoe – one reason why I recommend people to buy that version of the Holga rather than the one with built-in flash.

diana F summer opening sleeve blog

Above was made at a gallery opening, also flash at the cloudy aperture. The instructions say you should use the sunny aperture with flash but I found this gave underexposure. I pretty much used the widest aperture for everything except direct sun. For this frame I held the camera out and pointed it at the scene, rather than using the viewfinder to frame. As I mentioned earlier the simplicity of toy cameras can guide us into photographing with a different approach than that which seems to be encouraged by technically complex cameras such as modern DSLRs. With limited options there is less chance of over-thinking the photo, which I believe then opens up the potential for pleasant surprises. In this frame I like the odd geometry and the sense of depth from the big arm leading to the small legs – not something I would be likely to have done deliberately.  I also like the look of the lens, particularly the unsharp rendering of the shirt sleeve.

diana F summer opening legs blog

There are more possibilities with this model that I didn’t get around to trying, such as the option to use it as a pinhole camera. There are also extra bits you can buy to make the camera do other things such as expose 35mm film rather than 120, attach a cable release, and some add-on lenses. I did briefly try the Splitzer – a gadget that masks parts of the frame for multiple exposure and that seemed something that would be interesting to explore further. All of that depends how much you want to spend and how complex you want the experience to be. My main criticism of the camera is that it tends to wind the film loosely which is also a problem with the original model. In this case I think they should have done something similar to the modern Holgas and stuck a bit of foam in the take-up chamber to get the film to wind tightly – that would be the first thing I would do if I bought one. I’m not planning to buy one as I already have enough cameras but I would recommend one to anyone who wants to do this sort of photography. If you are on a budget you could probably do just as well buying a cheap Holga on ebay and adding a cheap 1980s type flash to it.

diana f car interior blog

110

November 17, 2012

A couple of 110 images from years ago, probably made with my Pentax. Of course these were intended to be printed without the rebate but I find that area interesting for technical reasons and as an integral frame. The ferris wheel photo was made with Ferrania Solaris film and the Manly ferry shot was Fuji.

When I had good access to a colour darkroom I had all my C-41 colour neg film processed at a pro lab and then made my own colour proof sheets. Losing access to the darkroom (it closed) caused me to shoot less colour as I can’t justify the expense of commercial proof sheets. I could get 4×6 prints from a minilab but I hate ending up with so many envelopes stuffed with prints of bad photos. Black and white is easy by comparison – I process and make the proof sheets myself. Proof sheets, or some way of seeing all the photos in sequence, are very important for learning which photos worked and which didn’t, and perhaps understanding why. Now that I’m processing my own C-41 for about $1.50 to $2.00 per roll I need a good system for making contact sheets, which is going to have to be done with a scanner. This is my current method and it is working quite well. I don’t claim to be an expert and someone who knows more than me might point out things I’m doing wrong, but this system is reasonably fast and serves its purpose. What I’m after is a contact sheet that shows all the frames from a roll together at a resolution I can view on screen at a decent size without the file being overly large.

I’m using an Epson V 700 scanner and the standard Epson software. The film in this example was Portra 400 120 exposed in a 1970s Diana that rolled the film loosely causing some light leaks. Fortunately the 4x4cm image size means the bulk of the leaks didn’t hit the image. I use the standard 120 film holders with two strips of film, emulsion side up. I choose 24 bit colour (same as 8 bit) at 300 ppi and do a preview scan on the Normal setting rather than Thumbnails. Thumbnails separates all the frames whereas Normal gives me a birds eye view of the holders so I can select all the frames on a strip.

The only adjustment setting I use on the Epson is the Histogram to get the density and colour reasonably correct. I say reasonably because ideally this would be done for one frame at a time, not multiple frames. However it works OK if the selected frames were in the same location with roughly the same exposure. With the Histogram window open I drag the output sliders to the edges, i.e. 0 and 255 – this stops the scanner from clipping any of the information in the film. Then I select each of the colour channels – Red, Green and Blue – and move the outside sliders until the points line up with the left and right edges of the histogram. Some fine tuning is often required here as the film rebate can play a part whereas I want to be adjusting for just the image. The screen grab below shows this for the blue channel.

Once this is done I scan the strip at 300ppi at actual size and repeat until all the frames are done. I open them in Photoshop, rotate if necessary and copy and paste them into a new document, flatten the layers and save as a jpeg with compression level 9. This gives a file around 3mb that can be viewed on screen with the potential to zoom in reasonably close to individual frames. I will then use this to study the roll at my leisure and to decide if there are any good photos that I might come back to in the future.

 

Old Instant Film

October 9, 2012

I could call it Polaroid as that was the generic name for all instant film, but these were made with the Fuji material, FP 100 C. These are all from the late ’90s – test shots made with a Polaroid back on my Rollei 6008 camera. The prints have been lying in the open in a garage for years, fading and getting progressively dirtier. There comes a point where you have to give up any hope of rescuing them, and embrace the deterioration.

1998. I was making B&W portraits of this guy around the block of flats where he lived at Double Bay. We took some in the laundry room on the roof and then he had the idea to do this pose, which was a stretch from when he was a swimmer. We just did the instant test and then his wife turned up wanting him to do something, so never got around to the film shot. Shame, because I thought it had some potential. Looking at it now I would have framed a bit wider and have him move closer to the camera to put some space between him and the wall.

1998, self portrait. I’d only recently bought the 6008 and was using it a lot to get used to it. It was my first medium format camera.

Interior detail of an old factory studio space I had in Redfern around 1999.

The Problem With Minilabs

September 11, 2012

I’ve been teaching art and photography for about 15 years. I learned on film and started lecturing in the days when everyone used film. There were some difficulties associated with learning on film – most people would only expose one roll per week which meant they were limited to 36 images, and if they didn’t make notes about their metering and exposure decisions at the time they would have no idea as to why certain frames had come out well or not. Because everyone was using film there were many professional labs and a multitude of minilabs and the quality was generally very good.

I’ve seen the rise of digital in the classroom – it started around 2004 in Sydney with the release of the Canon 300D, the first digital SLR that sold for under $1,500 in Australia. Within a few months at least a third of the students were using one and these days practically everyone uses digital. There is a small percentage who use both film and digital and a tiny amount who only use film. Digital has made the learning process easier. Students can now take hundreds of photos a week; they get to see the results immediately which means they can make adjustments; and the camera records the exposure details for them. Of course this has had an impact on the labs, particularly when it comes to film processing. I heard about one busy minilab in Sydney where film only makes up 3% of their revenue these days. When the students who use digital cameras get prints made for class they generally use the cheap 9 cent per print places, however students who want to learn on film have to find a chemical lab.

The problem that I see too often these days is that many of the minilabs that process and print film turn out poor quality work. Either they don’t care, because film is a minor annoyance, or perhaps they deal with it so rarely that they no longer have the skills to create a good result. The unfortunate thing is that when film students bring their prints to class they look dreadful compared to the 9 cent prints from digital cameras and it is hard to critique the content of the image when the physical appearance is so obviously wrong.

Above is an example of what I am writing about, from a student who took a class with me in August 2012. From memory the film was Ilford Delta 100 that she had processed and printed at a CBD minilab. The print she brought to class is on the left and this is an accurate reproduction of what it looked like. It was extremely high contrast and had a blue cast. Every print looked like this. It meant that rather than being able to talk about her photography I had to talk about the bad printing, and how it was not a realistic depiction of what was in the negatives. She had the negs with her and I could see they were well exposed and, to be fair to the lab, looked well developed, (although they hadn’t bothered to sleeve them.) As I was explaining this it occurred to me that none of the students knew what I was talking about as they had no experience with printing from film. Therefore I asked to keep the prints and negatives for a week so that I could show what they could look like.

I was easily able to make good quality traditional B&W prints in the darkroom from two of the negs that I selected. I also scanned the same negs and got good results with minimal post production. The image from the scan is to the right of the minilab print above and shows what the photo should look like based on the exposure and the detail available within the negative. It looks like a good photo with the correct contrast and without the blue cast. The print I made looked very close to this. I did the same for another frame as shown below with the same result. You can also see how much they cropped the image when applying the white border.

I’m sure the lab is scanning the film and printing in a machine, so I don’t understand why they can’t produce better quality, considering how easily I got it. I suspect they push the jobs through as quickly as possible, don’t really care about giving the customer a good result, or just have no idea what they are doing. It’s a shame because film can look superb when handled properly and I worry that garbage like this is turning people off film, as it makes it look lower quality than digital. That means the students might turn completely to digital and miss out on the quality and creative possibilities available from film, such as the interesting looks possible from medium format and large format film. All I can say to these students is that they need to find a good lab to work with, and if they want to use black and white film they should do a course somewhere so they can control the quality. I regularly teach traditional darkroom courses and every week I see excellent results from students who follow this path. Film is still a more difficult path than digital and you have to put in the time and effort to get the best results.

Civic Hotel, 1979

July 29, 2012

From one of the few rolls of film I can find from my teenage years. I never threw film out but I was not good at storage and organisation and also moved about a bit. This roll wasn’t even sleeved and was covered in dirt. I recently washed and sleeved it but still had to do a bit of cleaning on the scans. The film was Kodak Tri-X 5063, no idea of the developer. In fact I’m not even sure what year the photos were made but 1979 is a good estimate. These were made with my crappy old Praktica super TL at the Civic hotel on Pitt St, Sydney during the punk era. I used to go to a lot of punk pubs around 1978 to 1980. The first main one I went to was the Grand hotel near Central railway station, now demolished. After a while the scene moved to the old Chequers nightclub on Goulburn St and the Civic hotel which was just up the road. I think these photos were taken around the time the punks were starting to drink there.

The photo above makes me laugh a little as it brings back that era and the odd mix of old pub dwelling Aussies confronting the weird youth movement. I like how the elderly woman to the right appears to be looking on with disapproval. I’m not sure if she was a patron or a barmaid on a break. This was decades before pubs were gentrified, they were pretty much glorified public toilets in those days – everything tiled. This photo also gives a sense of the boredom of the scene; if a band wasn’t playing there wasn’t much to do but sit and drink beer, play pool and pinball. No one had much money back then. The block just down the hill from the Civic was interesting in those days. There was a variety of cheap accommodation such as the C.B. hotel (still there but now backpacker accommodation), the Peoples’ Palace (demolished for apartments) and the West End hotel (not sure, perhaps also backpackers.) There was also a big shop that was run by the Russian government and sold goods from the Soviet Union. In the other direction Pitt St had a range of second hand book and record shops such as Ashwood’s and Lawson’s.

I do wish that I had taken more photos in this era, also that I had better technique, a better camera and been more organised. Then I might have an interesting archive of Sydney in the late ’70s and early ’80s. My technique was dreadful back then. This roll is very underexposed and I was pleased to get this much information from the scans. I recall that I used to ruin quite a few rolls by forgetting to depress the rewind button at the end of the roll. I would turn the rewind lever and tear all the sprockets which made it hard to process the film. Looking at photos like the one above I think that I had the potential of a good eye but went about things the wrong way. You can click on the images to view a larger version. You might see yourself – or your dad.

Erskine Street

June 26, 2012

This photo was made in March 2012 while doing some street photography in Sydney. I had been photographing for hours in the afternoon, then went to Peace Harmony, the Thai vegetarian restaurant near Darling Harbour for dinner. I left the restaurant around 6.30 pm and there was a strong end of day light blazing up Erskine St. These people are sitting outside the pub on the corner of Erskine and York, getting some beers in on a summer Friday evening. The camera was a Leica M6 with 35mm lens, Tri-X ISO 400 film processed in Rodinal.