Month: February 2021

The Creative Camera > 2021 > February
Samyang 12mm F2.0 – Black Gold

Samyang 12mm F2.0 – Black Gold


I bought the Samyang 12mm f2.0 specifically to photograph my apartment as I wanted something wide, sharp and above all, cheap to help me create some marketing buzz. From everything I had read, the Samyang (or Rokinon as it also known) ticked all the boxes, both from it’s reviews and perhaps even more importantly the amount I had to pay to own one. From everything I found out, this was clearly a very good lens despite it’s low cost and while I am not generally known for my interest in ultrawide shots, I assumed that it could serve a purpose beyond interior photography. A few minutes walkabout with this lens confirmed that this was indeed the case, particularly the fact that at f8, everything was practically in focus from 1m to infinity. That makes it an invaluable street lens as you can simple set the focus on something within say, 2 metres away and everything closer and further away will be in focus too.

With regards my marketing shots, the images below are straight out of camera (SOOC) with no post-processing so what I saw through the lens is exactly what you are seeing now . For the record, the camera was a Fujifilm x-t1. Once lockdown is over and we are more freely able to move around I’ll take the lens out again soon and grab some shots, both landscape and local street shots. In the meantime, make you’re own mind up how good or otherwise this lens is from the images above.

Bad composition ruins good photos

Bad composition ruins good photos

The big problem with documentary photography is not so much catching the moment, it’s catching the right moment. I have lost count of how many times I’ve seen a great photo and simply missed the moment because I acted too quickly. Counter intuitive? Yes, in some ways, but with documentary shots i.e. street and candid you often feel like you have just a split second to act when in reality, your subjects aren’t going anywhere soon. Take this young couple sat on a wall enjoying the sunshine. They were so engrossed in their mobile phones that I could have danced naked in front of them and they probably wouldn’t have noticed. I literally had all the time in the world to compose the shot and fire off a few images. Stepping left and right to change my perspective and point of view would have undoubtadly paid dividends here. Fortunately, I didn’t screw things up completely and one of the three shots I took was marginly acceptable, see a little lower in the page, but the other two, dreadful.

So, what exactly went wrong? Well, in the example image shown above, I inadvertently placed my subjects exactly in front of two of the liners anchored in the bay.  All that space and I muddied an image I really wanted by not taking a few moments to look up, move left or right, and capture the perfect shot. This error is not alone though, another big boo-boo is that I was using the wrong focal length. The reason, I’d just taken a couple of close up shots where I wanted the subjects sharp against a blurry background. For these shots I’d set the 35mm lens to f1.4. That’s great for street portraiture but a real no-no for general street shots where typically you need to have a reasonable DOF for your images. For this reason I might choose anything between f2.8 and f8 depending on the light, shutter speed and what’s going on around me. Typically I settle on f4 as I feel it’s a good compromise but often I will walk around with the camera on f2.8 as I feel that if this was good enough for street photographers 40 – 50 years ago, Vivian Maier for example, it’s probably good enough for me today.

Sadly. I don’t have a good alternative to this shot as I didn’t check the image before walking on, at least not closely enough to spot my compositiona error. The only shot of the three that I felt was usable was the one below, which although at a different angle, kinda works for what I was trying to capture. Personally though, it’s not on par with the one I lost!

Finally, I just want to highlight, excuse the pun, the problem with shadows. Many a good shot has been ruined because we don’t check carefully enough for shadows encrouching on the image. This is especially true of our own shadows as we are often so engrossed in taking the photo that we forget to check on exactly how we are impacting on the image!! The golden rule of sun over the shoulder introduces a lot of shadow if you aren’t careful. Now, sometimes shadows can be awesome, even our own shadows but in many cases they are a distraction and they spoil an otherwise interesting image. Here’s an example of one such ruined shot through carelessness and poor composition as a lesson to us all!!

A Single Image | Feb 27th

A Single Image | Feb 27th

Gorgeously clear skies today so yet more opportunity to put the Fujifilm x-t1 and Viltrox 23mm f1.4 through it’s paces. This image, taken in the Geopark in Paignton, caught my eye purely for the colourful paintings on the sculpture against the bright blue of the sky. As usual, this image is a jpeg SOOC so no post-processing needed. It is based on my Superia 100 (Classic Negative) film simulation. The falloff at the top corners is not something I have noticed in other shots but here it is very apparent. I’m not too bothered by this as it’s quite reminiscent of the effect I have seen on film.

A Single Image | Feb 26th

A Single Image | Feb 26th

My mate Paul is a budding musician who’s been playing the saxaphone now for a couple of years. He’s been a great friend so I was really pleased to give him his first saxaphone, a student something or other, that I had from when I closed down my music shop a few years earlier. He’d mentioned his interest in learning the clarinet on several occasions and while I knew I had a clarinet knocking around somewhere, I couldn’t lay my hands on it at the time so I persuaded him to take the alto sax instead. Paul was somewhat reluctant but my way of thinking was, it’s free and you blow in to it so how different could it be!! Persuaded, he took on the challange.

Two years and a huge amount of practice later, Paul has without any doubt mastered the saxaphone, so much so that he recently asked if I would take a few photos for his facebook profile. Of course I said yes. Social distancing when taking photos is not paricularly difficult and current rules mean that we are allowed to meet one friend socially for some exercise and unusally, the sun was out so I felt that some nice colour shots might help him out.

The above shot is a one of a handful I took using the Fuji x-t1 with what I tend to call, a Superia 100 feel. Actually, looking at some old photos from the 90’s, I think it’s a cross between Fuji Pro 400H and Fuji Superia 100 but I’m quite happy with that. The Fuji x-t1 doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of let’s say an x-t4 or x-pro3 so achieving something as “film like” as this is a real bonus for me.

For the most part, this image is SOOC but for those pixel peepers out there, I did add a small amount of grain using On1 PhotoRaw 2021. Sadly, there is no way to add grain in the x-t1 which to my mind and experience is what makes film look so uniquely different to digital. Anyway, here’s the Fuji recipe for anyone who’s interested in recreating or improving on this look.

  • Camera: Fujifilm x-t1
  • Lens: Viltrox 23mm f1.4
  • Target Film Look: Fujifilm Superia 100
  • Film Type: Pro Neg Hi
  • Custom White Balance: Grey card -1B -1R
  • EV: +1/3
  • DR: 400
  • ISO 800
  • Shadows: +2
  • Highlights: -2
  • Colour: -2
  • Sharpness: +2
  • Noise reduction: 0

I have to say that part way through the shoot I did reduce the ISO to 400 which results in the dynamic range being reset to 200 in camera and I also reduced the EV from +1/3rd to 0. This was because it was an incredibly bright day and the camera was shooting at such high shutter speeds that the electronic shutter was kicking in. No problem with this but I just felt I was pushing the envelope a little and backing off on the amount of light entering the sensor might yield a bonus. I cannot in all honesty say then that the shot shown above was at the exact settings I have outlined, it could have been at ISO 400, DR200 and EV 0.

Before I finish, a word on the Viltrox 23mm f1.4. This lens is crazy good for the money. Fast, sharp and colourful and a great addon to the Fuji x-t1. I have shot this lens with a few film simulations now, for example classic chrome, astia and pro neg but I come back mostly to the custom settings shown above.

35mm Film Resurgence?

35mm Film Resurgence?

Harman Technologies Announces Point-and-Shoot EZ-35 Film Camera

February 24th, 2021: Harman Technologies, the company that manufactures Ilford-brand film, has announced the EZ-35 camera in what appears to be a nod to the days of film point-and-shoots.

The Harman EZ-35 looks similar to the classic disposable film camera but has a few features that make it superior. First, it is reusable which is not only more environmentally friendly but also allows the photographer to experiment with different types of 35mm film (though Harman recommends ISO 400 film). At purchase, the EZ-35 comes with a roll of Ilford HP5 Plus with 36 exposures.

The Harman is also motorized, which allows for automatic load, frame advance, and rewind functionality. The rest of the package is pretty basic, as it need not be particularly complicated. It features a “focus-free” 1 meter to infinity 31mm f/11 lens, a fixed 1/100s shutter, an over-the-lens viewfinder with 70% field of view, a built-in flash with a 15 second recycle time, and a lens cover that also acts as a shutter lock to prevent accidental exposures.

Introduced at a time where new cameras can take over a thousand words to scratch the surface of the features, the EX-35 is pleasantly simple. It’s marketed as a great camera for first-time photographers looking to simply enjoy framing, taking, and developing their own photos before stepping up to something more complex.

For those unfamiliar, Harman Technology is a manufacturer of analog black and white photographic film, papers, and accessories primarily sold under the Ilford Photo brand name. These products are still produced in Mobberley, Cheshire and Harman manufactures raw materials through to “shelf-ready” product on-site and has all the relevant equipment to enable it to be self-reliant in production.

That said, that brand is not to be confused with Ilford Imaging Europe, a separate company that is known primarily for its inkjet materials and has a line of cameras under that name. Harman cameras can’t have that name for brand consistency and legal reasons, hence why the EZ-35 is not an Ilford.

The EZ-35 was launched after the company found success with its original reusable camera that costs just £30. The EZ-35 is a bit more expensive at around £50, but still priced low enough to be a good starting point for new photographers.

SOOC – What, Why & How?

SOOC – What, Why & How?

Torquay Pier, February 2021
Torquay Pier, February 2021 SOOC Image

Spolier alert, this article is about using customised settings in your Fujifilm camera to create unique and interesting jpeg’s straight out of camera (SOOC). RAW shooters may want to turn away now 🙂

My interests in photography are coloured by the work of others, especially those involved in documentary, candid and so called street.  Photography of people doing everyday things in particular move me in a way that landscapes and formal portraits never have, despite the fact that I value them for the techical and aesthetic value they often bring to the table. This love of history and the photographers that trudged around the the streets 40, 50 and more years ago, push me inexorably to explore ways in which I can create my own style. This article looks at one such way.

While for the most part I’ve only been shooting digital for the past few years, my interests in photography go back to the 1970’s. My first serious camera was a Pentax KM complete with 50mm f1.8 kit lens although I also loved to play with Polaroid’s and instant film. Like most then I shot mainly in B&W, primarily because this afforded the opportunity to sit in dark cupboards and develop film but also because B&W was, and remains, enigmatic. It is as if by stripping away colour we are able to better see and enjoy the subject for what it is, rather than be confused by everything going on around it. Of course, I also shot in colour, why wouldn’t you, and although I preferred B&W as a medium for my photography, colour images of the day always offered a different take on the world primarily because of the limitations of the technology at that time and the vageries of the various emulsions on offer.

My first serious digital camera, apart from an old Nikon Coolpix from the mid 2000’s, was the Panasonic Lumix GX85 with a 12-32mm f3.5 kit lens. I updated the lens fairly quickly to the 12-60mm f3.5 although I have to say, that kit lens is a cracker. In fact, the GX85 was a great buy, technically capable of producing some great images despite its diminutive 16MP micro four thirds sensor. I still have that camera today but laterly, it’s been a little overshadowed by a move towards Fujifilm technology. It wasn’t supposed to be like this though, up until I bought my Fujifilm x-t1 I was looking to buy the Nikon Z6, newly released and getting excellent reviews. It was a chance article online where I learned about Fujifilm simulations, or so called straight out of camera (SOOC) jpegs that made me rethink that purchase. Although my GX85, and indeed my Nikon D600 and Canon G7 mkII all offered some interesting in-camera effects such as bleached bypass, monochrome, sepia, toy camera, vivid, subdued etc, none provided the tools to allow me to create my own unique style. Fujifilm did and that was a game changer for me because the one thing that I really wanted to do was to get closer to the tones and colours of my photography from the 1970’s. Fujifilm seemed the way forward to achieving that.

Although I could have waded in and bought the Fujifilm x-t3 or x-pro2, I decided to play safe and buy the older but very competent Fujifilm x-t1. My purchase, a 2016 model bought on Ebay, came boxed and still wrapped with all the extras for just £180. It looked brand new although how much use it had actually had I’ll never know. I also bought the 18-55mm f2.8-4 lens and a motor drive, to complete the setup figuring this would offer the perfect opportunity to explore SOOC without breaking the bank. If it was a success, I could always trade up or buy a second body, perhaps the x-t4 which was about to launch or even the x-pro3 which was an even better fit to my documentary interests.

So, what exactly is SOOC and why does it create so much interest? I don’t know about others but the attraction of SOOC to me is the ability to flavour what I capture through manipulating some of the key sensor parameters available to me. In the case of the x-t1 you start by choosing a base film emulation eg Classic Chrome, Pro Neg, Astia, Provia etc and then further modify this to provide a unique and interesting film intepretation. Factors you can control in the x-t1 include dynamic range (which is controlled by ISO), shadows, highlights, saturation, sharpness and noise reduction. Additionally, custom white balance with micro adjustments can be created to push or pull blues, push or pull reds. Changing any of these settings creates a new result SOOC giving the photographer access to literally an infinte number of looks to their jpegs.  

Of course to some people, especially those used to shooting RAW, why bother.  Jpegs after all have their colour and tone baked in and offer little scope for further processing without detriment to the original image. True. Fortunately, and like other systems, the Fuji is able to shoot both RAW and JPEG so you get the best of both worlds by choosing this option if you feel that the resulting output needs soem post-processing later. The primary difference to say Nikon or Sony is that, based on the ambient lighting and  your custom white balance, you are able to create a unique film-like jpeg SOOC plus you still have your RAW image to fall back on in post should you need it. The result of these manipulations to the jpeg is that they tend to have a milky, film like quality rather than the super sharpness you often associate with modern digital sensors. The image at the top of the page is an example of an unprocessed jpeg taken straight out of camera (SOOC) which uses various modifications to the tone curve as described above. I have also included a gallery of images at the end of this post that are created in a similar way, all SOOC from the Fuji x-t1. Later Fuji cameras BTW, such as the x-pro3 and x-t4 have even more features which provide for even better filmic experiences, for example the ability to add film grain.

The final part of this article is to look at the how in more detail. I mentioned that all of the images on this page have been created using a particular recipe. So that you better understand what this recipe looks like, I am going to outline the various parts in a little more detail. Importantly, this recipe is based on Pro Neg Hi, which pushes my jpegs towards Classic Negative or Fujifilm Superia 100 as it is better known. Superia 100 is a relatively unsaturated film stock pushed slightly towards blue and red. It has a harder tonality than say Pro Neg Hi which is can be achieved by adjusting the tone curve. Unfortunately, the natural start point for Superia 100 would be to start with a Classic Negative film emulation but this not an option on the x-t1 hence the reason I started with Pro Neg Hi and then modified the various parameters as explained above. So, here are the changes I made to the custom settings:

  • Film Type: Pro Neg Hi
  • White Balance: Grey card / B+1 R+1
  • Dynamic Range: 400
  • ISO: 800
  • Saturation: -2
  • Shadows: +2
  • Highlights: -2
  • Sharpness: -2
  • Noise Reduction: 0
  • EV: +1/3 – 2/3

This recipe is the base for all of the images on this page and as you can see, the ambient light conditions play a big part in what the final image looks like. Many photographers fall into the trap of labelling their images as Pro 400H, Superia 100, Portra 160 etc but in reallity I don’t feel that it’s possible to label a set of images in this way purely because as the light changes, so does the look of the image. I prefer to call my sets “like” Superia 100 as this is more appropriate in my eyes.

Fuji have in my eyes nailed the ability to take photography away from the pixel peepers into a whole new and exciting realm where the subject and composition matters much more that the sharpness of the image. Of course, my Sony shooting pals think I’m nuts but to me, it’s the imperfections in what I capture that make the image perfect for me.

The next phase of this particular “let’s get back to an analogue world” is to use my film results from the expired Superia 100 and Reala 100 films I have to help me fine tune my recipe. Although I love the Fuji x-t1 I fear that eventually I am going to have to upgrade to a later version in order to have access to some of the newer tweaks those cameras have with regards recipe formulation.

A not so nice day at the seaside!

A not so nice day at the seaside!

DSCF3340

The weather here at the moment is bloody aweful. Rain, rain and yet more rain. Oh, and grey skies!! While getting out and about isn’t a huge amount of fun at the moment, it does offer some interesting opportunities for photography, especially if you’re into street / documentary as I am. Normally I seek out umbrellas as I just love the images this prop creates but this photo is quite typical of others I search out. Here, i’ve gone for what is called SOOC (straight out of camera), a technique I have been leaning towards more and more recently as I’m a big Fujifilm camera fan. I’m also a big fan of analogue film so getting “non digital looking” shots is a pastime of mine. This puts me at odds with many of my Sony, Canon and Nikon friends who all seek pixel perfect shots of everything from daffodils through to mountains but even so, it’s a technique and a style I enjoy.  My most recent digital stuff also looks remarkably like the photos I have from the 60’s, 70’s and later so a big plus there.

This shot, taken with the Fuji x-t1 with Viltrox 23mm f1.4, is typical of the jpeg’s you can get SOOC with the Fuji. The recipe I’m using is based on ProNeg Hi with modifications to shadows, highlights, WB, noise reduction, sharpness and dynamic range (through manipulating ISO). Top end Fuji’s have even more options to play with such as more film stocks eg Classic Negative (Superior 100) and grain which adds to the analogue realism that can be achieved. Although this photo has not been processed in any way,  I might sometimes lift the shadows a little as well as add a little film grain but here I haven’t bothered as I just like the simplicity of the image. It’s quite nice not to spend hours on editing.

A Single Image | Feb 22nd

A Single Image | Feb 22nd

A quiet day today taken up mostly with paperwork. One bright spot was a short trip out to the park and a chance  encounter with two of our grand children who live quite close to us and who were down in the park playing. Ever willing to act as supermodels I was pleased to capture this one frame that I really liked.

The camera was the Fuji x-t1 with Viltrox 23mm F1.4,  a lens that I bought on recommendation but have had very little opportunity to use. My early thoughts that it lives up to the hype and for the price, it’s hard to justify buying more expensive Fuji glass. However, some additional time with the Viltrox will prove handy, especially if we get some better weather.

This image is SOOC jpeg and is based on a ProNeg Hi simulation recipe I created which is reminiscent of Fujifilm Pro 400H colour film. On older Fuji camera

DSCF3338

Hands on with the Viltrox 23mm f1.4

Hands on with the Viltrox 23mm f1.4

If you are thinking of buying the Fujifilm 23mm f1.4 then hold on a moment, there’s a new kid on the block and he’s not pulling his punches!! The Viltrox 23mm f1.4 is pretty much a no brainer when searching for the ideal 35mm equivelent street lens. With a full frame equivelent focal length of 35mm the Viltrox 23mm has to be one of the best bang for the buck prime lenses on the planet and an ideal companion lens for anyone shooting candid, street or documentary. Sure the Fuji version might be better optimised for use on Fuji equipment but I doub’t you’ll notice any difference whatsoever let alone anything significant. It’s an amazing lens at a steal of a price. I think mine cost me £230 here in the UK.

The Viltrox 23mm renders colour extraordinarily well, has very limited distortion and weighs practically nothing. Supplied with a lightweight metal hood, the Viltrox 23mm oozes class. It looks great, works great and feels great. It there is one tiny flaw it is that is has no detent on the aperture ring (distinct click) so you may inadvertantly open or close the aperture in use. Personally, I prefer a detent click but for £500 less that Fuji version, I’m not going to get too precious about that.

When I’m shooting lazy street I simply set the ISO to 800, aperture to f4 or f5.6, put the Fuji x-t1 on auto and start snapping. The autofocus is super quick so you simply can’t miss any shots with that setup. Why such a high ISO? It’s because I like to shoot SOOC and with the ISO set to 800 and dynamic range set to 400, the shots I get have maximum dynamic range. The photos above are from a while back when I had just bought the Fuji x-t1 so I think I was shooting classic chrome simulations then. Nowadays, I tend to use ProNeg Hi as the base film with DR400, ISO800 and EV +1/3 – 2/3rd but that very much depends on the light I’m dealing with. The images below are from today and these were taken at the same basic settings as above but with EV 0. I was using ProNeg Hi with a custom white balance based on the ambient light and a grey card. I set the WB at the beginning of every shoot as well as if the light changes throughout the shoot. If I was taking these images again now, I would use EV +1/3 just to lift the expsore a little plus I would probably softent the shadows. I suspect with this recipe I am using Shadows +2 whereas I think for this lens, +1 would be better. Something to think about for next time.

I personally don’t chase pixel perfection in my images. I’m a child of the 60’s so my earliest photographic moments were with a Pentax KM with manual everything. Nowadays, I prefer my images to look look like they were taken on an old SLR rather than a super sophisticated digital camera. If I wanted that I’d buy a Sony.

The Viltrox 23mm f1.4 is something every Fuji shooter should have in their camera bag, whether you’re into landscape, candid or documentary. I personally wouldn’t use it for portraiture as I prefer a nifty 50mm or 85mm lens but it renders colours accurately so no reason why you couldn’t, especially for candid / street portraiture. The Viltrox coupled to the Fuji x-t1 is also something else. The x-t1 can’t compete with it’s younger sibblings e.g. the x-t3, x-t4, x100v or x-pro3 but my gosh, what a sweet camera to have with you when you’re out walking the streets. It compares nicely to my other favourite street camera, the Lumix GX-85 which when coupled to the 12-60mm is a dream boat of a date. These two cameras are simply amazing for street work but either will equally excell at portraiture or landscape given the right lens combo.

So what does expired film look like?

So what does expired film look like?

Well, that depends on your perspective of course. You could argue that that’s it’s bloody amazing to get anything off a Kodak Gold 200 from 1997, especially since it was from an old Minolta all-weather / underwater camera and in 110 format. That’s almost 23 years sat in a drawer. On the other hand you could argue that they look crapand should be binned. Personally, I’m going for it’s bloody amazing as to be honest, my expectations were more based on hope than any level of success.

One of the most apparent features is the magenta cast which is evident in most but not all of the images. The other obvious feature is the crackling effect, again evident in some but not all of the images.

Overall, I was really pleased to have recovered some long lost memories of a sking trip to Whistler in Canada in about 1996 / 97. This was a time when my knees allowed me to play rugby and go skiing. Regrettably, those days have now long gone.

Processed by Nik & Trick, Folkstone, February 2020.