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Showing 7 posts tagged review

Yashica-Mat 124G: Medium Format TLR Camera Review

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Guest Post by Daniel Sawyer Schaefer. Daniel is a photographer and filmmaker based out of New York City and Los Angeles, currently spending time abroad in Florence, Italy. Find more of his work at his online portfolio, and connect with him on Flickr, Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr.

OVERVIEW   

    My beloved tank of a camera and constant companion for the past few years is my beloved Yashicamat 124G. She is by no means shiny - her last owner left her in the bottom of a closet for nearly a decade before she met my palm - but the moment I blew the dust from her eyes, I knew I was holding something truly solid.  

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(Photo: Daniel Schaefer)

    The Yashicamat 124G is medium format at its most effective, with an 80mm f/3.5 lens fixed to the body and a 6x6 setup. The 80mm is phenomenal as a portrait lens but still has enough breadth in frame to rock some street photography or even landscapes.

    The 124G also offers the convenience of 120 and 220 compatibility in-body with a simple sliding of the pressure plate, so the few of us left using Kodak Portra 220 can shoot without worry. Make sure to load the rolls tightly because a loose load can lead to light leaks, especially with 220.

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(Photo: Nick Parker)

ADAPTING TO THE TLR


    For those who are not familiar with the TLR (Twin Lens Reflex) the viewfinder can take some getting used to; images flip right to left and, as you pan, the mirror effect can be a bit disconcerting. Luckily it takes only a day or two to get used to the drift.

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(Photo: Daniel Schaefer)

    The focus pull on the throw wheel is very smooth, making accurate focus a breeze. If you happen to pick up a model with a sticky throw wheel, you can easily loosen it up by applying some alcohol with an eye-dropper.  Minimum focus is a tad more sensitive than the typical SLR user might be used to, but this will be true of any TLR system.

STREET & PORTRAIT SHOOTING


    For the portrait shooter, the square format is well worth exploring. Resolving the subject in a square frame offers both benefits and challenges; for inspiration on square framing and composition, check out the work of Richard Avedon - a master of the TLR portrait.

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(Photo: Daniel Schaefer)

    For the street shooter, the TLR setup will be a revelation. Between the waist-level finder and near-silent shutter which syncs effectively with flash through the whole range, you can get close enough for your subjects to fog the lens with their breath and not have them notice you shooting. Vivian Maier made phenomenal use of her TLR on the streets of Chicago and New York.

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(Photo: Aldo Altamirano)


    For the casual shooter, the large but lightweight body allows for a setup that is incredibly solid in-hand. The shutter speed and aperture dials fall comfortably under the fingers, making shooting with this camera a real pleasure.

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(Photo: Daniel Schaefer)

PURCHASING & POSSIBLE CONCERNS


    Selling used for between $125 - $250, this camera is a great candidate for a reasonably-priced medium format starting kit. The most common problem with the Yashicamat 124G is an inoperative light-meter, which, even when operable isn’t the most accurate option. Personally, I use my forever-trusted Sekonic L-308s pocket meter, which at $200 is well worth the charge for any photographer. I purchased mine three years ago, and it has literally not left my pocket since.

    Another problem which can occur frequently in either under-used or neglected models of the Yashicamat 124G is a lagging shutter. I’ve noticed this in three out of the ten models I’ve handled (my own and those of my friends) and in all cases, 1/8th of a second acts more like a full second. All other shutter speeds were unaffected on all tested models.

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(Photo Patrick Joust)
    

    All in all, the Yashicamat 124G is phenomenal camera for nearly any use. Paired with any medium format film, the camera offers a fantastic shooting experience for anyone who is lucky enough to have one slung over their shoulder.

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(Photo: Xavier Aragonès)


Pros

  • Good price
  • Solid build
  • Sharp lens
  • 120 and 220 compatible

Cons

  • Difficult to clean
  • Potentially Gummy setting dials
  • Inoperative meter

Base statistics:

  • 6x6 Twin Lens Reflex, Medium format film camera
  • Viewing lens -  80mm f/2.8 tessar
  • Taking lens -  80mm f/3.5 yashinon tessar
  • F-stop range -  f/3.5 — f/32
  • Shutter Speed range - 1 second — 1/500th & bulb
  • Shots per roll - 120 = 12, 220 = 24

See more photos shot with Yashica cameras

Zenit-E: Camera Review

Guest post written by Stephen Dowling. A New Zealander based in London, he is devoted to film photography. He also writes about music, current affairs and anything else that takes his fancy, and he’s never happer than when he has a film camera in his hands. See more of his work on his website, Flickr stream and Facebook Page.

History

One advantage for film photographers since the majority of the photo-taking world has gone digital is that there are some unbelievable film camera bargains to be had - with one of the biggest bargains being the Zenit E.

The Zenit E is a no-frills SLR, manufactured in the Soviet Union from 1965 to 1982. Millions of models were made and widely exported, giving the USSR much-needed hard cash while at the same time giving a new generation of photographers a cost-effective way to get into 35mm SLR photography.

In Europe, you’d be hard pressed to find a flea market or second-hand camera store that doesn’t have one of these on its shelves. Many photographers ditched their dirt-cheap Zenits as soon as they could afford something more sophisticated, making them surprisingly easy to find. When you bear in mind up to eight million of these sturdy beasts were made, that’s a lot of spare Zenits to go around.

Using the Zenit-E
 
Bells and whistles won’t be found on this heavy, roughly-finished camera. With a body made from a one-piece block of aluminium, the Zenit is much heaver than its contemporary counterparts. At the front is the meter window - the Zenit E doesn’t need batteries, instead taking its light readings using a selenium cell. Selenium cells die over time, and are very difficult to replace once they do. The shutter and advance are all mechanical, which means you’ll never have to worry about running out of batteries with one of these.

So how easy is it to use? Pretty easy, though to someone raised in a digital world, a few of the features might appear a little mysterious.

Opening the back is simple; pull up a latch on the back-left of the camera (from behind), and it swings open. Put the film into the left hand side chamber and pull the film leader out until the film sprocket holes catch on the teeth of the film transport on the right hand side (one on top, and one on the bottom), and tuck the end of the film leader under the metal strip which wraps around the take-up spool. Wind on, and if the film is loaded properly you’ll see the film start wrapping around the take up spool. Don’t worry if it takes a few goes. Practice is practice.

Once the film is loaded and wound (don’t forget to close the back!), you’re ready to shoot. Looking at the top plate from above, the meter readout is on the left hand side . Point the Zenit towards a light source and a needle will move in a little readout window - if your selenium cell is working. Next to it is a dial which allows you to set the film speed and turn the dial – this moves another needle with a circular head. When the two needles meet, they will then match a range of shutter/aperture combinations. There’s no exposure info in the viewfinder, which has the feel of an old TV screen – if the light changes drastically you have to recheck the meter and change the lens/shutter settings if need be. If your selenium meter is dead, consider purchasing an external light meter (always a good investment) or trying out the Sunny 16 Rule.

The shutter speeds on the right hand side of the top plate are pretty basic – 1/30th to 1/500th of a second, plus B – and you have to pull the speed selector up before you can select a different speed. The shutter button sits on the right hand side, inside the frame counter/wind on dial. When you’ve finished the film the camera won’t advance anymore. Pop the rewind knob up (it’s inside the exposure calculating dial) and press the button in between the shutter speed selector and frame counter. Turn the rewind knob in the direction of the helpful black arrow, and you should feel the film being returned to the cassette. There’s a definite “bite” when you reach the end.

Lenses

Most Zenit Es came with a version of the Helio-44 58/2 lens – which is capable of truly excellent results. (link to this pic: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stephendowling/5289827285/). The earliest version are preset – meaning you have to open the aperture up to the maximum to focus, then stop down to expose correctly. This can take a lot of getting used to, so it’s best to go with a later version, which doesn’t close the aperture down until you take the pic. Most Zenit E’s take the M42 mount, which means other excellent lenses for the likes of Pentax, Praktica, Fujica and Chinon cameras can also be used.

When I mentioned at the start of the post that the Zenit was a bargain, I wasn’t joking. My model – inscribed with the logo of the 1980 Moscow Olympics – was picked up at London’s Greenwich Market nearly a decade ago, for only £4. Simply putting a roll of slide film in it doubled its value. The camera’s is great nick – no dents, dings or bits missing. Paired up with a lens like a Pentax Takumar 55/1.8, this is an inexpensive intro into film photography which can still deliver decent results. Even the selenium meter is working perfectly – check out the shot of the scooter, taken in Amalfi last year on Fuji Velvia. That’s four pounds well spent.

Check out Stephen’s blog, Zorki Photo!

Review: Kodak Professional Film App for iPhone

Kodak released its free Professional Film app for iPhone earlier this week, and to be honest I was really excited about it. The app states it offers resources similar to what I post here on this blog, including film profiles, where to buy film and where to process film.

Upon opening the app you’re shown a welcome screen with the basic menu, which includes: Types of Film, What Film to Use, Film Formats, Where to Buy Film and Where to Process Film:

Okay, a little on the simple side… but still potential for good content right?

If we go into “Types of Film” the app provides a list of black and white and color film currently produces by Kodak. We hear about this and that line of film being discontinued but it doesn’t really hit home until you see the slim pickings on this page:

Black and White

Color

That’s right, Kodak now manufactures only 8 types of film and none of them are slide film. But I digress, because that has nothing to do with the app.

Tap a film to go to its Detail page, which includes a general overview and specifications. The overview is a snippet of text (less than 150 words) that reads more like an ad copy than an informative resource. The specifications are a seriously abridged version of what you would find on the website, including the ISO, contrast, sharpness, print grain index, pushability, formats and color saturation.

Here’s the Film Detail page for Portra 160:

Overview

Specifications

In case you can’t tell, at this point I was already disappointed by the app. The Film Detail pages don’t even include sample photographs, which is a huge oversight in my opinion. It would also be nice to provide a list of shooting situations that are suitable for each type of film.

Instead, the app has a “What Film To Use” option on the main menu which leads you to a list of shooting situations: Commercial Studio & Location; Long Lenses; Product Photography; Fast Action; Portrait & Fashion; Fine Art; Nature Travel & Outdoor. Each of these situations has a list of film types underneath, which you tap and (redundantly) return to the just mentioned Film Detail page. I have two major issues with this:

1. The “What Film To Use” could be included in the Film Detail pages, instead of listing the exact same content twice.

2. The shooting situations do not in any way help a beginning/hobbyist photographer decide on which film to use, and professional photographers already know which film to use. Commercial Studio & Location? So does this mean artificial light indoors and outdoors? Does it mean artificial light indoors and natural light outdoors? “On Location” can mean a lot of things, it depends on the photographer you ask. For me personally, it almost always means shooting outside in natural light. I believe Kodak is using the word “commercial” to imply that this scenario refers to artificial lighting, but I’m not sure the majority of people who download this app will get that.

Moving on to Film Formats, which is basically just a list of which type of film you can buy and in what format:

120

Sheet

Those of you who shoot large format should be pleasantly pleased to see the remaining options in sheet film, I know I was. However, again, tapping the film name takes you back to the Film Detail page. This function could be useful if it’s updated regularly, but available film formats are already included in the specifications on the Film Detail page and therefore falls into the repeat content category.

Let’s move on to the “Where to Buy Film” feature, which is something I also provide here on ISSF. First, you select your location from the available countries: Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, San Marino, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom and the United States. As to why this is such a short and simultaneously obscure list, I have no idea. What I can say is that this must be a list of “official” Kodak retailers, because it’s insanely short.

According to this app, there are only four locations in the entire country of France where you can purchase Kodak film, which I can confirm is not true:

And the U.S. has five (Samy’s Camera Warehouse is not visible in the screen shot:)

At this point, I don’t even know what to say. I think we all know there are more than five companies which sell Kodak film in the entire United States of America.

It almost pains me to move on to the next feature of the app, Where to Process Film. With this feature the country list is even shorter: Austria, Canada, France, Germany, Switzerland, United Kingdom and the United States. This feature also prompts you to enter a city (and state when applicable.) Mine, for those of you who are new here, is Paris:

Again, Kodak only lists official affiliate labs because I can assure you all there are more than 3 labs in Paris. My lab isn’t even on here and I know for a fact that they use Kodak chemistry. The listings are just as limited for the U.S., with only 3 labs appearing for the entire state of California.

As much as I want Kodak to succeed and don’t like saying it, they got this app completely wrong. If you know absolutely nothing about film and want to make an informed decision before buying your first roll, it might help you out. But as far as I can see for the moment, that’s about it. Let’s hope for a major update!

Blackbird Fly Review

First Impressions

The Blackbird Fly is a 35mm twin-lens reflex (TLR) camera made by Superheadz in Japan. It’s also super cute, comes in a choice of colors and, in my opinion, is everything that’s right about plastic cameras today.

When I first saw the Blackbird Fly, I was like: I want one. This doesn’t surprise any of you because, as we all know, I am seriously addicted to cameras. In fact, the Blackbird Fly immediately took me on a nostalgic trip back to college when I had a Seagull, which is a 120 format plastic TLR camera. I lost it somewhere along the way and to do this day, I have no idea what happened to my Seagull or where it is. It’s the only camera I have ever lost.

I have other TLRs, but they are pretty clunky - like my Mamiya C330. The thing that I love the most about shooting with a TLR is that people don’t necessarily know what you’re photographing and that makes street shooting much easier. Needless to say I was thrilled when the generous folks at Superheadz agreed to let me test out a Blackbird Fly.

When I took it out of the box my first reaction was, “Wow it’s so small!” It’s also incredibly light… so much so you could probably forget you were carrying it in your bag or even around your neck. It only weighs 210 grams, which is probably the equivalent weight of a lens cap for most of my cameras. It also comes with a little plastic bird cage to store it in, which I happen to think is adorable and clever. Plus, it protects from dust which is very important if, like myself, you live in an urban environment. Or if you have long-haired pets.

As far as aperture goes, you have a choice between f/7 for “cloudy” and f/11 for “fine weather.”  For shutter speed, you can choose between 1/125 or “B” for bulb. The bulb function leaves the shutter open as long as you hold it. Not unlike the Holga, you would probably want to use a flash with the Blackbird Fly if you were shooting indoors or at dusk.

Shooting Formats

The Blackbird Fly gives you the option to shoot in three different formats: standard 35mm (24mm x 36mm), square format (24mm x 24mm), or full frame with sprocket holes. It comes with two masks: one for standard and one for square. For full frame, you simply remove the mask. Obviously, you have to choose which format you want and change the mask accordingly before you load the film.

It’s also very easy to make multiple exposures with this camera because you can pop the shutter as many times as you want without advancing the film.

Loading Film

When I opened up the Blackbird Fly to load film in it, I suddenly realized that I have never loaded 35mm film into a TLR camera and it was a little weird at first. It feels as though you’re loading the film backwards, but in fact not. I would say it took me about 15 minutes to load and I am a person who can load film into a camera with a blindfold and two hands tied behind my back.  I have included some nifty instructions and a video from Superheadz, in case any of you need it (I know I did):


Let’s move on to actual shooting:

Shooting with the Blackbird Fly is pretty straightforward. The shutter release is on the front and the winding knob is on the side. In case you are not familiar with TLRs, one lens takes the picture and the other lets you see the picture in the viewfinder. This means that, like a with rangefinder, you don’t actually see what you’re photographing. This is important to keep in mind, especially if you’re shooting portraits.

I shot a roll of Kodak Ektar 100, which tends to give a decent amount of contrast on its own. Combined with the Blackbird Fly and a super sunny day, I got this:

This is the Jardin des Plantes, which is a lovely park/garden in the 7th. A certain amount of contrast disappeared when I uploaded this, because my version is super bright and poppy. The vignetting is also more pronounced. In fact, I got vignetting on almost every single one of my shots and I was not using a flash.

I am quite pleased with this result, especially when you take into account that the lens is plastic. Here’s some more shots from the Jardin des Plantes and around Paris:

I also tested out some double/multiple exposures, which I find come out really well with this camera:

Overall, I really enjoyed using this camera. I feel like it does a lot of the things you want a plastic camera to do but don’t always get… a little image distortion but not too much, high or low contrast, vignetting and an overall vintage feeling. Plus the format makes it a little more accessible for people who don’t  labs that develop medium format film in their area. If you’re looking for a fun little plastic camera, this guy is worth the money.

Warranty

A plastic camera that comes with a warranty: now that’s classy. In fact, the Blackbird Fly comes with a full year replacement warranty. That means that if for whatever reason it stops working, Superheadz will send you a new one.

Tech Specs:

Film Format: 35mm (135 for Europeans)
Lens: 33mm f/7
Shutter Speed: 1/125 or “B”
Aperture: f/7 or f/11
Focus: from 0.8 meters (2.6 feet) to infinity
Weight: 210 grams (7.4 ounces)

Official Site: http://www.superheadz.com/bbf/

Where to Buy It:

Superheadz provides a list of official vendors on it’s website here.

But you can also get it online at:

B&H Photo
Amazon
Adorama
Four Corner Store

Kodak Portra 160 Review: Part 2 - Plastic Camera

After my natural portrait test with the new Kodak Portra 160, I decided to see how it performs in a plastic camera. I have an original Holga 120S and a Woca (amongst many other plastic cameras), but I must admit I prefer the Woca’s glass lens. Ironic, no? So I popped a roll of Portra 160 into my Woca and headed out to the Jardin du Palais Royal. The first thing I am noticing about this film is that it basically reproduces the actual conditions you see. When the sun was out and everything was bright, I got this super vibrant result:

This has no adjustment for contrast for the sake of this review and as you can see the color is significantly more intense than the natural portraits I did for the first test (the sky was cloudy). To prove my point, have a look at this shot (also from the Jardin du Palais Royal) taken 10 minutes later when the sun ducked behind a cloud:

This is a lot more muted and flat compared to the first shot. Granted, the color palette is also muted compared to flowers, but this shot doesn’t quite pop like the first one. So far my official opinion of the new Kodak Portra 160 is that you definitely get what you see.

Up Next: I am pushing Kodak Portra to 3200 to see if it lives up to the Portra Push reputation.

*Now, as for comments about my current scanner, I test with what I have. That’s what a real test is. I think there are a lot of people who would like to know how this film performs with the equipment they have, as opposed to how it performs with top-of-the-line inaccessible scanners. That being said, if you would like me to use a higher quality scanner for future film reviews, feel free to buy me one :)

Kodak Portra 160 Review: Part 1 - Natural Portraits

Kodak recently contacted me about testing the new Portra 160 film which was released last month (yes, new types of film are still being manufactured); and because I never say, “No” to free film, I happily accepted. For those of you who are not up-to-date with the Kodak Portra line, Portra 160 will be replacing both Kodak Portra 160NC and Kodak Portra 160VC. I received 5 sample rolls (120) and decided to test it out several different ways.

For the first test, I figured it might be a good idea to try Portra 160 for what it was intended - portraits and natural skin tone. I opted to shoot a roll during my test shoot with the lovely Tamara P. from Trend’s By Metropolitan. This was shot with a Kiev 88 and developed normally, with a combination of natural and artificial light:


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First off, one of the claims of the new Kodak Portra 160 is that it has super-fine grain for  scanning. I must confirm that this statement is 100% true and I am scanning with a semi-obsolete CanoScan 8600F so I can only surmise that professional drum scans would give you insanely fine grain. Let’s take a look at a 100% view of a section from the image:


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I think we can all agree that this is some seriously fine grain.

Second, let’s talk about skin tones. I have never been big on natural skin tones (I loves me some serious contrast and poppy color) but there have been plenty of times where it has been imperative and essential that I achieve them for a specific client or project. Once again, Kodak Portra 160 delivers on its promise, giving incredibly natural skin tones. In fact, I can honestly say that the color and tone look exactly how they did when I was actually shooting. Now, it is important to keep in mind that your scanner settings will affect your color balance, so if you try the Portra 160 and feel the tone is off, check your scanner.

Here is another more super-soft shot of Tamara:

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Up next: How Portra 160 performs in a plastic camera…

Kodak Portra 160 Product Information Page

Fuji Natura Classica Review

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Ok, so I have now had my Fuji Natura Classica for about 6 months and have played around with it sufficiently to finally give you guys a decent review.

Let me start with the Pros:

  1. It’s small (easily fits in purse/pocket)
  2. It’s light as a feather
  3. It makes very little noise
  4. It’s great for dark interiors and dusk
  5. Generally it replicates the exact same colors and light as your shooting situation
  6. NP mode with 1600 film is fabulous.
  7. It’s easy to use.
  8. It has a remote. Sweet.


Now let’s take a look at the Cons:

  1. It’s expensive (for a point and shoot)
  2. It doesn’t like bright light. So far this is my biggest problem. The aperture on the Fuji Natura Classica goes from 2.8 to 5.4, which means that even with ISO 50 your shots are overexposed in direct sunlight. I would not use this camera at the beach, for example.
  3. Camera shake. This is not a “walk and shoot” camera. Not unlike a Holga, you have to stop moving and hold the camera really still for a truly sharp image. 
  4. No manual settings. You can tweak this guy a little bit (for example it has a slow shutter mode) but you’re mostly shooting automatic.
  5. Generally it replicates the exact same light and color as the shooting situation. Yes, I listed this as a pro as well, but I can’t decide if it’s good or not considering I use a lot of Fuji Velvia and Provia because I likes me some hot poppy color.


Overall, if you buy this camera with the intention of using it as you’re all around go-to camera for any situation, you will be disappointed. However, if you buy this camera with the intention of using it for what it was designed for, you will love it. This little guy is specifically for low-light, and that’s when it really shows it’s capabilities.

Let’s take a look at some of the shots from my wedding reception ((these were shot by az2dc aka Man Flame, because I was too busy briding-it-up): correction these were totally taken by my TWIN FLAME aka meauxwastaken on Tumblr)

This is the courtyard at dusk:

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and this is the same shot at 10:00pm

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I feel like both of these are really pretty, and I think I would have had a hard time getting natural light shots like these even with my FM2. Obviously, I could’ve cleaned up the dust a little more but let’s not get too demanding now…

Moving on, we have inside the tent at dusk (around 7:30-8:00pm):

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and inside the tent at night (around 10:00 pm)

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Keep in mind that there are no other lights besides the Japanese laterns and fairy lights around the tent. That’s why they call it the “Natura Classica”

and last but not least, this is my wedding cake, shot inside at night:

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Isn’t it pretty? (thanks Edna!) Notice how the shadows and highlights have a great tonal range… not one bit of white on that table cloth is blown out (hello, advantage of shooting film).

I get a lot of questions about where I bought my Fuji Natura Classica; it was given to me by my husband but he ordered it off of Japan Direct Shop: http://hovanfue.com/products/Fujifilm-NATURA-CLASSICA.html

More samples I have shot with the Fuji Natura Classica: http://istillshootfilm.org/tagged/fuji_natura_classica

Overall, do I recommend the Fuji Natura Classica? Yes!