Mike tests Fujifilm latest fast portrait prime, the XF 50mm f/1.0, and compares it to the XF 90mm f/2, both variations of XF 56mm f/1.2, the XF 50mm f/2 and the XF 35mm f/1.4.Continue reading →
The Nikon FM2 has built quite the reputation over the years as being a spectacular, no-frills get you through anything film camera. It’s fully mechanical, it has a center weighted 60/40 meter that’s quite reliable and it’s tiny! And of course, the feature that sets it (and its electronic FA and FE2 cousins) apart from other manual cameras? The blistering flash sync speed of 1/250th and top shutter speed of 1/4000th (!). Only one other mechanical and manual camera has matched those and maybe improved on it, and that is the rarer and more expensive Contax S2 ten years later.
The FM2 was made from 1982 to 2001, for 19 years. There was a few changes made over its lifetime, the most notable of which was the FM2n in 1984, which saw a faster flash sync speed and an improved titanium bladed, honeycomb shutter, which itself was replaced by a aluminum shutter in 1989. There was also a special ultra durable version called the FM2/T released in 1993, which has a lighter and stronger titanium clad body instead of the regular copper-aluminum alloy.
The FM2 shared the same basic architecture with the FE, FM, FA, FE2 and the great FM3a, which meant that this proven chassis was in production for almost 30 years. There is nothing wrong with this, as the compact and durable body also shares the same quality control and tight tolerances that Nikon used for their high end professional cameras like the F3 and F4. The FM2 might not be as small as the Olympus OM-1 or Pentax MX, but neither of those cameras have as fast a shutter speed or the smooth operation as the Nikons. And indeed, it is still quite small compared to the F3 or F4.
This meant that it was often used a lightweight, backup body for many professional photographers as it offered a barebones, no frills and mechanical alternative to other electronic cameras such as the other models made by Nikon. Steve McCurry used one with the 105mm 2.5 AIs lens to take his most famous Afghan Girl portrait on Kodachrome. Its reputation for toughness is partly why it lasted so long on the market.
The other reason that the FM2 outlasted its electronic contemporaries throughout the 90s is that it simply provides a great tactile experience. While yes, it was used by many professionals, it was also quite popular with advanced amateurs, or prosumers as they’re known these days. The advance lever is smooth while still giving feedback, the shutter speed dial turns with only a little force applied and the shutter itself feels and sounds light. Perhaps some parts are too plastic and feels cheap as a result, like the rewind and advance levers, but everything else is solid. If there is one disadvantage to this camera, it is its less than 100% coverage viewfinder. The FM2 only has a 93% coverage viewfinder.
Not to say that the viewfinder isn’t great. The 60/40 center weighted metering system is very reliable, if not perfect. It does a good job in most situations, but it does struggle in low contrast situations as it tries very hard to get an average light reading. 18% of the circle in the centre of the frame needs to be gray, otherwise you will not be able to get a proper exposure reading. Later Nikon bodies vastly improved on this or even ones contemporary to the FM2 like the F3HP and FA, but for the most part the FM2 metering system just works. The LED display is very straightforward as well, opting for three symbols (-, o, +) instead of a less accurate needle. I think the display is in fact better than the F3, even.
The F-mount the camera uses also lets you use some of the best vintage lenses any company has to offer. Make no mistake, it wasn’t like the major manufacturers like Canon, Pentax, Minolta, Olympus etc didn’t make equally great lenses but some of the Nikkors are famous for their quality. Lenses like the 35mm f/1.4, 105mm f/2.5, 180mm f/2.8 ED, 300mm f/2 and 55mm Micro- Nikkor f/2.8 are legendary for their resolving power. There were some stinkers too (ehem, the 43-86mm must be one of the worst lenses made by a big name) but for the most part the lenses are spectacular.
As a testament to how much we like it here at Beau, half the staff here owns or have owned a FM2n while I personally have the FM2/T. It has become my bad weather camera as it’s a lot more dependable than my other cameras when it comes to taking a few knocks (not that I condone that). If you already own an FM, I wouldn’t say that the FM2 will feel like a significant upgrade as the layout and feel is almost exactly the same. But if you’re a Nikon shooter of some other sort, digital or film, the FM2 is a worthy addition to your arsenal as it provides an experience few other cameras do these days – that of a camera that will confidently get you through any situation.
This week Film Friday is going to be an interesting one. It is going to be CatLABS x 80, a slow speed, fine grained 120 format black and white film.
A whattt? You might say. Yes, when this came out a few years ago we were equally confused. The film market these days is rather saturated with B&W films of all kinds, and it’s getting kind of difficult to tell them all apart. So many companies only makes one or two types of B&W films, like Bergger, Kosmo Foto, Ferrania and so on. So what makes this film so special? And what is it?
CatLABS is a lab and photography store in Massachusetts that specializes in large format and older camera gear that decided to release their own film stock. So what is it? There is a few possibilities as there’s very few factories in the world with the capabilities to produce film these days. Some companies contract the manufacturing out to another company, like how Harman in the UK manufactures a lot of unique film emulsions for Rollei and Fuji. Some companies repackage existing film, like Cinestill or Lomography. But as far as we can tell, CatLABS bears no similarity to any other film stock currently on the market.
The Shanghai GP3 backing paper gives a clue to where it is being manufactured. Shanghai GP3 is another unique 100 speed film stock manufactured in China. Surely this CatLABS film isn’t just GP3 overexposed?
Enough about the mysterious nature of this film, what about the film itself?
We’ve had different results and opinions on it. From past experience we’ve associated the film with low contrast with consistent gray tones across the board. But this past weekend, I shot a roll on the ferry and stand developed it in Blazinal late last night. The results was a lot more contrast than expected with a lot of detail in the highlights and shadows! This was all shot on the Mamiya C330 with the 65mm f/3.5. I shot it at around 80-100 ASA, metering by eye, on a very windy day. It could be that I underexposed some shots and that the stand development helped compensate for this, hence the contrast. Its not very high contrast like you might expect from say, Ferrania P30.
What I appreciate, however, is how “vintage” it looks. Yeah, yeah, that word gets thrown around a lot in relation to film and film cameras, but for example, the picture of the benches below have a certain softness to them. No doubt this is partly attributable to the lens used and the conditions, but the fine grained nature of it does contribute to the smooth texture. Its sharp, but not razor sharp. CatLABS state that the film was created in the spirit of Kodak’s classic Panatomic-X, which is an incredibly slow (32ASA) B&W film last made in the 1980s. Many have lamented the loss of Panatomic-X due to its gorgeous tonality so a film in the veins of that in this day and age is welcomed.
If there is one weird aspect about the film that I found, it is that it stinks! I mean that literally, as it smells like a old man’s abandoned attic when you open the package. The rough textured backing paper is simply hastily taped to keep it from unravelling, and after I was done with the film ready to unload, opening the back was like opening an old musty box as this less than pleasing scent wafts into the air and through your mask into your unassuming nostrils. Luckily it doesn’t stick on you or your camera like some smells, but it is unusual considering no other film has such a distinct or strong smell.
Since we deem it important to support smaller film manufacturers, we would like to encourage people to try CatLABS x 80 by stopping by our store! We only have it in 120, and the usual price is $9.70 a roll! But tomorrow and this Saturday only, it is 10% off at $8.73, so you have no excuse but to give it a go!
In the meantime, here are some pictures from the roll I shot this past Monday!
And Hunter shot it as well, but he pushed it one stop, shooting it at @200. It was shot in a Pentacon.
Rollei’s RPX 400 is the German equivalent to Kodak’s Tri-X or Ilford’s HP5. It’s cheap, it’s dependable and it has that classic tonality. Yet not many people are aware of its existence for many reasons.
The main reason is likely that its not as accessible as Kodak or Ilford films in North America. It is a lot more prevalent in Europe which makes sense considering its origin. More people are discovering Rollei’s great selection of black and white films these past few years, but it still doesn’t compare to the industry giants in reputation.
This feeds itself into another reason. It’s often not recommended as most people’s beginner black and white film. This isn’t because it’s a difficult film to shoot or anything like that, it’s just because it’s not on most people’s radar, especially older photographers who only know of Tri-X or HP5. Both those films have decades of reputation to stand behind, and are known to be proven commodities.
Because of this as well, a lot of black and white shooters are the kind of people that tend to stick to a select few stocks that they can rely on. Nicole, for example, shoots a lot of FP4 and HP5. If I just want something to shoot day to day, I will use HP5 with some Ferrania P30 every now and then. I know what I’m getting out of HP5, and I’ve shot it enough over the years to know its limits.
So what is RPX 400? Its a relatively new film having only been around for the last decade or so and its supposedly manufactured by Agfa Gavaert with the emulsion being based on the old Agfa APX emulsion. Some reports say Harman Technology produces it over in England. The Rollei name is licensed by Maco, who also respools Agfa aerial and surveillance film for their Retro line of films. As you can probably tell, there is no clear history or background to the RPX films.
Despite all this mystery, I wouldn’t say that RPX 400 is a special film. It offers a soft look, with little contrast that echoes back to days of yesteryear. The grain is nice and pleasing without being overbearing. The highlights and shadows maintain a lot of detail while having a good tonal balance.
Before my present day preference for gritty, high contrast and grainy black and white photos reminiscent of old school Japanese photographers (although maybe not as crazy), I shot a lot of RPX 400 for this vintage sensibility. It almost reminded me of old European films from the likes of Jean Renoir and F.W Murnau. Perhaps if you’re looking for this then RPX 400 is the film for you.
Just this Friday and Saturday, it will be 10% off in 35mm and 120 meaning it will be cheaper than ever. In the meantime, here’s some photos I’ve taken with it over the years as well as a few weeks ago:
This blog post is basically me lamenting about my favourite camera, my Rolleicord Va, and its demise. It is no longer with us due to a nasty fall (thank goodness it wasn’t me – it’s far easier to forgive a second party for the mishap than myself). That being said, it could always be worse – no bones were broken. The bottom corner of the front moving mechanism, that holds the lenses and moves back and forth on a track to achieve perfect focus, hit the floor. This effectively jamming it back into the camera unevenly, much like trying to push a square block in a square hole unevenly and getting it stuck. Feeling a bit lost without my precious Rolleicord I immediately went on the hunt for a new one and because I am extremely lucky, a customer I was whining to took pity on me and sold me their Rolleicord Vb.
What I loved most about my Rolleicord Va was how straight forward it was to use. Now you might be thinking… “straightforward? Aren’t ALL TLRs straightforward?!” No they most certainly are not. They aren’t difficult, but some require more steps than others when loading film. For example on top of loading the film and rolling it to the start line the advance and exposure counter need syncing so that the advance lever stops at every frame, fiddly things like that make it a challenge to remember if you don’t use the camera all the time. I loved my Rolleicord Va because loading was SO straight forward, you load the camera, turn film so its at the start line then shut the back and wind until the exposure window says ‘1’. It doesn’t let you make mistakes, like how it stops at one when loading or how to cock and fire the shutter. It did multiple exposure with the same ease I can multiple expose on a Holga (and on the Rolleicord I got good double exposures – unlike the Holga), I just cocked and fired as many times as I wanted, its extremely light weight, even compared to its classier relative the Rolleiflex!
In honor of my fallen friend I thought I would post photos from our last walk together….
I will soon be posting about my Rolleicord Vb when I get photos processed from it.
Testing out cameras and subsequently, croissants (because we always need a snack while traversing the city trying out cameras) has become a way of life for Meghan and I, as such a variety pass through the store. Everything from odd little ones to “higher end” sought after ones – we always find ourselves with an abundance of different cameras and curiosity about their performance. I acquired this latest bunch because a customer or two may have come into the store looking to consign….this particular Kodak Autographic style camera commonly turns up in 616 size, however I happen to spot one that takes 120 size film. Though its bellows were full of holes, I still had to try it. A 120 Kodak Autographic is too rare and convenient a find not to try and make work.
JoAnn and I decided on Iona Beach for our morning photo walk, much to my delight the sun was nuclear hot and bright but because of this I had two problems to solve:
1. The camera’s tattered bellows would need a temporary fix. Sticking to 2020’s on going theme and something I have plenty of – face masks! (thicker cloth & black), which conveniently wrapped perfectly around the bellows (which are quite papery) without adding more damage to them. I just kept my back to the sun and hoped for the best!
2. 1/50 is its only functioning shutter speed, the apertures were labeled 1,2,3,4…..whatever those are, so I closed ‘er up as much as possible and hoped my ancient TMAX 100 film was old and less sensitive….
Because my methods with this film were so dodgy, expired TMX, annoyingly slow shutter speeds, mysterious apertures, and leaky bellows I opted for a stand develop in Blazinal. Much to my delight I got some images! However, as with any foray into folder territory, getting a sharp image seems impossible. I blame myself. But you can draw your own conclusions from the photos below…
I asked around the store what comes to mind when people think Kodak Ultramax 400. Nicole said “the 90s!”. Meghan said “Kodak moments!”. Sean said “classic mom and dad with me as a baby photos!” Hunter was indifferent as apparently he only shoots professional films. Good for you, Hunter.
You can sense a common theme here. Nostalgia. Ah, nostalgia, that wistful yearning and overly sentimental longing for the “good ol’ days”. For many, Ultramax and its many previous iterations like Gold 400, and Kodacolor Gold GC represents their childhood as this was likely the film their parents used to take their photos as children. (Its funny how, as someone who spent the majority of their childhood in Asian countries Fujicolor Superia is that nostalgic film for me). Everyone remembers those flash filled prints that you would get from the drugstore of their vacation or birthday party taken with a point and shoot. For a lot of people who started photography back then or started analog photography in the past 5 years, Ultramax is likely the film they learned on.
So what is Kodak Ultramax 400? It is their consumer medium speed colour film that can be found in a lot of drug stores and photo stores. It’s cheap, it’s dependable, and it’s common enough that you can just grab one in a pinch if you find yourself out of film.
Sure, it’s not the most remarkable film out there on the market right now. That is why so many people are willing to pay more for the professional films like Portra 400. But if there is one thing that Ultramax has over a lot of other films, it is its relative versatility.
But Mustafa, you may ask, isn’t Portra 400 and Pro 400H pretty darn versatile as well? Well yes, but those films excel at portraits and they’re decent at everything else. Ektar or Velvia? Spectacular landscape films, but utter garbage for portraits. Ultramax 400 is the best general purpose, daylight balance colour film you can get, perhaps only rivaled by Fuji Superia 400. The differences between the two are minor at best, with the Kodak being warmer and Fuji being cooler in tone. Its all a matter of preference really.
The colours are punchy and contrasty, lying somewhere in between Portra and Ektar in terms of saturation. Perhaps if there is one notable weakness or major difference depending on how you look at it, it is the grain. It is grainy. It is not ugly grain thankfully, but if you come in expecting sharp images that will rival digital, you will be disappointed. And if only Kodak would make it in 120 format as well! One other thing for all those people that claim that Ultramax 400 is a jack of all trades, master of none type of film. Sure, but is there any other film that has the potential to do well in every situation that’s thrown at it for so cheap?
We’ve shot tonnes of it through all sorts of cameras from dinky point and shoots all the way to Leicas and Contaxes. It produces great images every time. Well ok, good to great images, with some terrible ones thrown in but that’s every film.
Did I mention already that it’s cheap? It’s under $9.77 a roll, making it almost half the cost of Portra 400! Tomorrow and Saturday only, it’s even cheaper at $8.79 a roll of 36 exposures! (Oct 2 & 3)
In the meantime, here’s some photos Meghan and I have taken with Ultramax for you to enjoy to get a good sense of what it’s like!
On October 23rd Profoto announced their newest addition to their off camera flash lineup. The Profoto A10. The Profoto A10 has been upgraded with their new Bluetooth enabled technology AirX. Meaning that you can download new firmware for your A10 wirelessly via the Profoto app. But even better, you can both capture and control the A10 using your smartphone. So from now on you can unleash the full power of the A10 no matter what camera you use. Making Profoto A10 a truly future proof product.
The Profoto A10 is like its siblings designed with light shaping capabilities. It has a round head that gives a natural light spread with smooth fall off and thanks to the smart magnetic mount you can be creative with the full range of Profoto “Clic” light shaping tools. “Clic” light shapers can easily be stacked for more creative options. The A10 also offers a built-in LED modeling light that makes it easy to position the light and understand how light and shadows work together.
It’s extremely easy to use. The user interface is large, clean and clear. Like all Profoto products, it’s intuitive to use and you don’t need to read a long instruction manual to understand how it works. AirTTL remote is also built in to the A10. With AirTTL and HSS you create professional results fast and easy and with the remote you can seamless connect to other Profoto flashes and control them easily from the A10.
Profoto A10 is not only an on-camera flash, it’s also very effective off-camera as a standalone unit. The A10 has its own Li-Ion high capacity exchangeable battery that lasts up to four times longer than AA batteries with no performance fade, and a facility to recharge quickly – so you can shoot for longer with confidence. And the A10 can keep up with you because it recycles four times faster than other on-camera solutions – that’s 1.0s at full power. Put simply, you’ll never miss a shot.
EI-PT901230 Profoto A10 – Canon $1495.00
EI-PT901231 Profoto A10 – Nikon $1495.00
EI-PT901232 Profoto A10 – Sony $1495.00
EI-PT901233 Profoto A10 – Fujifilm $1495.00
In Addition Profoto has announced the new A10 Off Camera kits which includes the Profoto Connect for only $100.00 more. It’s a great deal since the Profoto Connect regularly sales for $399.95
EI-PT901240 Profoto A10 Off Camera Kit Canon $1595.00
EI-PT901241 Profoto A10 Off Camera Kit Nikon $1595.00
EI-PT901242 Profoto A10 Off Camera Kit Sony $1595.00
EI-PT901243 Profoto A10 Off Camera Kit Fujifilm $1595.00
With the announcement of the new Profoto A10 there has been a price drop on the Profoto A1X. Now the A1X will be selling for $1195.00 and the A1X Off Camera kits will be selling for $1349.00
This week, we will be covering a legend in photography. A film that’s taken plenty of history’s most famous photographs in significant moments throughout history by some of the greatest photographers. Many today swear by it, as its versatility allows for people to get through any situation with good results. Go through a copy of Magnum Contact Sheets and you will see “Kodak Safety Film 5063” emblazoned through the pages up to the 21st century.
What makes it so prevalent and iconic? What made it a mainstay of various other black and white panchromatic films that came after it? In an era of high speed film being ASA 100, Tri-X coming in with 200 ASA and the potential to be pushed even further while maintaining detail and grain structure is what made it so popular among photojournalists. Even then, Kodak being the giant it once was, it was also available everywhere where Coca-Cola can be found. This meant, alongside Kodachrome, Tri-X is the film Kodak was most known for.
It was first released in 1940 as sheet film, only adapted to 35mm and 120 formats in 1954. It was trusted as the film that can handle it all, while still producing great images. What makes it especially wonderful is the contrast and grain. Fans of low gradient and fine grained images might be more interested in T-Max. I personally much prefer grain as it provides that classic gritty texture to images that is so lacking in black and white digital photography. It’s sharp in a different sense of the word, as it’s not rough like some other films, but instead it’s tightly packed together.
But don’t let all this gibberish fool you, as Tri-X is a very easy film to shoot. Due to its versatility, it allows for plenty of room for error – you can over or underexpose it by multiple stops before you see any significant loss in detail. No matter what you do, chances are you are able to recover an image from it as it retains a good amount of detail in the shadows and highlights.
I spent a whole year last year shooting Tri-X, and I especially loved pushing it to 800-1600 ASA. It provides a old school sensibility to it that few other B&W films do. Occasionally I will still grab a roll, just to be able to pretend I’m a documentary photographer from the 60s. And now that fall is here, its perhaps also your opportunity to try and channel that gritty outlook on things!
Fridayand Saturday only (Sept 25 & 26), it will be 10% off in 35mm and 120, so grab a roll or two if you can! In the meantime, enjoy some photos that I took last year through various cameras down below.
The 1990s was a different time, full of hope and optimism. The Soviet Union collapsed, the cinematic masterpiece Ghost was released, the Oslo Accords was signed, the Spice Girls became a worldwide phenomenon, and Fujifilm came out with the Superia line of consumer photographic film.
Fuji’s Superia line of consumer film have long been a favourite with many photographers. Its cheap, abundant and relatively versatile. You can find it at most major drugstores, (you can get it developed there as well) and it lends itself well to being used in a point and shoot.
Admittedly I was never a big fan of the film, opting rather to go for the Kodak counterpart, Ultramax, when I need cheap colour. When we compare the two to people, we always make a point of saying how the Kodak leans more towards warmth and the Fuji towards cool. Indeed, while the Ultramax tends to like its yellows and reds, the Superia seem to favour blues and greens.
I’ve shot it sporadically over the years, especially when I first started film photography 6-7 years ago. It was cheap for what amounted to a lot of experimentation over the years. I won’t feel as bad about some crappy photos if it was taken on Superia compared to Portra, right? I’ve pushed and pulled it just for the sake of it, even. And indeed, I’ve warmed up to it over the years as I’ve taken some great shots, and even photos that mean a lot to me.
The Superia line these days only consists of 400. There used to be Superia 100, 200, 800 and even 1600, and right now there’s also a Japanese market only Superia 400 Premium, which apparently offers better grain structure and more accurate colour reproduction. Superia 200 has instead been replaced by C200, an older emulsion. I wished they still made the faster speeds, we all could use another high speed colour negative film. But alas! The market has spoken, and these days Fuji makes a lot more money with its Instax cameras and film than it does making other films.
Fuji themselves is clear who this film is intended for. It works great in simple point and shoots, and it lends itself well to being enlarged into prints at the drugstore. The colour balance is neutral with the shadows slowly becoming green as its underexposed, and with flash, it looks like something straight from the 90s.
This is partly the reason why people love it or hate it. Its grainy, low contrast and imperfect. Its never going to compete with the professional films like Pro 400H, but it offers a taste of pre-9/11, peace loving 1990s optimism. And for that, Superia does the job very well.
If you just started film photography, then perhaps Superia is a great film for you. If you’re a veteran, why not grab a few rolls for some fun around the house as well? This Friday and Saturday only (Sep 18th & 19th), its 10% off, making it cheaper than its ever been anywhere in Vancouver. Stop by the store and grab some in 35mm!