Tag Archives: Fuji Velvia 50

New camera, new challenges

I’m just back from two weeks’ holiday in the Highlands and Islands.  Before going I was beginning to toy with the idea of a pinhole camera, but something else has come up…

New camera

Last year I went on a large format photography day workshop – a kind of taster to see if this kind of thing might be of interest to me.  It was… and soon after that I was nearly tempted into buying one of Mark Banks’ view cameras that he was selling, but I couldn’t quite afford it at the time (have a look at his website, by the way – wonderful images!).

Whilst on holiday near Inverness a couple of weeks ago I found myself in Ffordes – a fantastic camera shop selling all kinds of new and second-hand camera equipment.  I was there to buy a spare plate for my tripod head (which I did, second-hand, at £7, and my bank balance would have been very happy had I just walked out of the shop at that point).  But I also asked about prices for wide lenses for my Mamiya MF camera, and somehow the discussion then moved on to other things… and before long a Chamonix 4×5 view camera was mentioned…

Chamonix view camera

Chamonix view camera

Almost completely unused and on sale at a pretty good price, I went away to think about it, consult some Twitter users of 4×5 cameras, and the next day, I went back to buy it. Gulp!

Chamonix view camera

Chamonix view camera

So now I have a rather beautiful view camera!  It is one of the cameras that Dav Thomas and Tim Parkin recommended when I was on their large-format workshop last year, and I know that other photographers like Tim Smalley have used Chamonix cameras after being on Dav and Tim’s workshops.  I don’t yet have any lenses for it, nor do I have any of the other accessories I’ll need, but I’ll be working towards acquiring these just as soon as I have paid off the credit card bill for the camera! 😉

Chamonix view camera

Chamonix view camera

The Chamonix is very light, and folds down to become fairly small and rather elegant.  I don’t really get very excited about modern cameras: my digital Nikon is a great camera and does the job well, but it is pretty soulless.  However, there is something absolutely exquisite about this view camera, which is partly, I think, to do with there being no plastic – it’s made of metal, wood, and glass, with board for the bellows.

Chamonix view camera

Chamonix view camera

This makes handling it a very tactile experience, even before it’s seen any usage.  I also like the attention to detail in the construction of the body, which makes me want to touch it and use it right away.  I know that a modern digital camera is designed and made with amazing attention to detail: every component is precisely formed within fractions of a millimetre so as to squeeze in every last little bit of technological wizardry, but still… this is somehow different.  I never thought I’d be this sentimental and romantic about a camera, but it really is a beautiful piece of equipment! 🙂

Chamonix view camera

Chamonix view camera

Of course, it’s all very well being excited about the tactile nature of the camera – I need to use it properly and create images with it that work for me and communicate something of what I understand and see in the landscape.  Given that I don’t have any of the necessary accessories yet, that might take a little while, but it will come… I would hope that I’m able to start working with it in a couple of months’ time at the latest (afore-mentioned credit card bill being a key factor…!).

New challenges

Calanais, taken on my iPhone the previous evening

Calanais, taken on my iPhone the previous evening

A few days after buying the Chamonix I was on the Isle of Lewis – an amazing experience, of which more another time (my films are being processed at the moment and I won’t get them back until later this week).  The house we were staying in didn’t have much of a mobile signal, but I was out one afternoon photographing the second and third group of Calanais standing stones where the mobile reception was pretty good, and Twitter chatter from a few days before that confirmed the news that Fuji are withdrawing Velvia 50 and 100F in 4×5 format – just as I buy myself a 4×5 camera!  As it is for many other people, Velvia 50 is my favourite colour film for landscapes, so I found that news rather depressing, and I even found myself wondering if I had made a mistake buying the Chamonix if my favourite colour film was being withdrawn.

At the time of writing, I’m not sure whether this means Fuji UK are no longer importing 4×5 Velvia 50 to the UK and therefore it might still be available elsewhere, or if it is going to be discontinued globally.  I’m not bothered about the 100F being discontinued, which has always seemed to me to be a pointless film, but it seems odd that the 50 is being discontinued and the Velvia 100 is being kept (for now) – if Fuji thinks cutting down the Velvia range is necessary, then ditching both the 100 and 100F would seem more sensible to me.

Anyway: there’s not much I can do about decisions by a global company like Fuji (beyond signing this petition – I’d encourage you to do likewise!).  My first reaction on Lewis was to come home and try to buy lots of 4×5 Velvia 50 so that I have a stock of it to use with my new camera.  I did look into different suppliers in the UK, but they are mostly out of stock (other photographers – clearly not on holiday at the time of the announcement! – seem to have bought up everything they could).  I even checked some suppliers abroad: it appears to still be readily available in Germany, for example.

But now I am beginning to think that I should just leave it: I think that perhaps the challenge for me should be to look at doing something new with the 4×5 camera and to keep the Velvia 50 for my medium format Mamiya (it is still being produced in 120 size).  My thinking just now is that perhaps I should be photographing landscapes on the Chamonix using black and white film – I love Ilford’s FP4+ film, for example – at least to begin with.  There are two good reasons for this:

  • a practical one: FP4+ is wonderfully forgiving about exposure errors in a way that Velvia is most emphatically not, and perhaps this will stand me in good stead as I get to grips with a new process;
  • a process one: I want to engage more with my composition and I can imagine that photographing in black and white on a view camera could enable that, not least since the image on the ground glass is, of course, upside down!  This means shape and form and tone are more accentuated when composing, at least, that was my impression from the workshop I participated in last year.

So my sadness at the apparent loss of Velvia 50 in 4×5 format is turning into a further kind of challenge.  Again, I’ll have to see how I get on with this, and I’m sure there will be plenty of ‘misses’ – but I hope the ‘hits’ to ‘misses’ ratio improves over time!

Chamonix view camera

Chamonix view camera

More about this camera and my trials with the image-making process to come over the next months.  And yes: the pinhole will now have to wait a little longer…

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A couple of ‘new’ images and some thoughts on patience

I’ve started to have a bit more time – not much, but a bit! – for processing images from last year that in part I hadn’t even had developed, never mind scanned.  However, a few weeks ago I took a substantial number of films away for processing (the fridge door is now half-empty again!), and I’ve been scanning film ever since.  The images here – added to the Assynt gallery – are both from the same bay, made an hour or two apart (at most).  The first image is on Fuji Velvia 50, and is actually the later of the two:

Ardmair/Cul a' Bhodha

The sea in the evening light, after the storm clouds lifted; Ardmair/Cul a’ Bhodha

I think I’m not finished with the processing of the second image, but I want to include it here since it represents a bit of a personal triumph (yes, this may seem slightly pathetic to you!), in that I feel I have finally managed to process Kodak Portra 160 the way I want it:

Ardmair/Cul a' Bhodha

Incoming storm clouds; Ardmair/Cul a’ Bhodha

What is interesting about this on a personal level is that I had tried using Portra quite a bit last year, in part because great photographers like Dav Thomas rave about the tones and dynamic range that it offers.  However, I spent much of my processing time fighting to get anything like a semi-decent image from the film scans: everything had subtle but unpleasant greenish colour casts that I couldn’t seem to get rid of: terribly frustrating.  Attempting to get skin tones on portraits right was impossible, and landscapes were no better.  I should add that this is very subjective: I felt I never managed to get them quite right for me.

Part of this, I now think, was about trying to force myself to get it right too quickly.  The key issue is in part simply a matter of white balance and temperature adjustment, but there is much more to it as well, and I just couldn’t get it right.  I stopped engaging with Portra last autumn, but in about March of this year I read this detailed article by another enthusiastic Portra user, Tim Parkin.  Whilst I didn’t think of this article yesterday when I had my Eureka moment, now that I look back at it, I realise that I had indeed begun to incorporate some elements of Tim’s processing technique.  I feel I can go back to the article in detail and work through the parts I really want to use on my images.  It’s as if I’m befriending Portra again.

What is key to this development is that it comes in several stages: firstly there was an initial enthusiasm which rapidly became an experience of frustration, eventually leading me to abandon Portra altogether.  However, subconsciously the wrestling with Portra was still going on, for why would I have read Tim’s article unless I had intended to use it?  Much later, when I had some time and what I loosely call ‘brain-space’, I found I could return to a Portra image and incorporate sufficient key elements of Tim’s techniques to make it work for me.  This image here happens to be the one that I started playing with, and at some point I need to finish working on it.

None of this process should come as a great surprise to me because in my academic work this happens regularly.  I will often read a book or an article, but struggle to fully understand or engage with it and then simply ‘forget’ about it and read something else.  However, I then find my subconscious has been working away at the first text, perhaps with the help of the second, and when I need to write something that would benefit from the first, it simply ‘works’.  I go back to it, for sure, but the key arguments and opportunities it offers to develop an argument are already clearly delineated and internalised.  I know that it just needs time and patience to let it seep into my system – at least, that’s what it feels like!

Now I can observe that my engagement with photographic techniques seems to follow a similar pattern.  I need to cultivate more patience, which those of you who know me will realise is something of a challenge! 🙂

New old images

I finally took a whole lot of film away to be processed, and have started scanning some of it.  This is a slow process, as I am also very busy with work things at the moment, but it will gradually result in more and more images appearing.  It is perhaps particularly appropriate that I’m able to post these things just now, when I’ve not been able to get out to make photographs for the last four weeks because I’ve been unwell.

I had thought I would try and keep to Alan Ross’ ‘PostAPhotoFriday’ idea, but it’s been more like ‘PostAPhotoEveryFortnightIfIHaveTheTime’!  Still, this is my offering for today, some autumn colours from the Isle of Mull:

Ardalanish Bay; Paps of Jura on the horizon

Ardalanish Bay; Paps of Jura on the horizon

The Paps of Jura in the distance were remarkably clear.  This was made with my Mamiya medium format camera, on Velvia 50 film, and slightly over-exposed (deliberately, I mean!).  I love that the film doesn’t dramatically blow out the highlights except for the area of the sun itself.  Rather it just gracefully moves off in lovely soft tones into complete whiteness.

I think this one is going on my wall…!

A couple of new images (continued)

Regarding the second image in my blog posting from earlier today, I here have a black and white version of the image.  The crop is almost 3×2, which I felt didn’t work too well in the colour version, but oddly enough does seem to be ok here (I think): it has the advantage that it cuts out the stray out-of-focus grass in the bottom right corner, but has the disadvantage that the curve of the lake has almost completely gone.  One of the other things that the conversion to black and white has enabled is the application (in Photoshop) of a colour filter that takes away the rich green from all the vegetation and leaves: this richness was a bit distracting compared to the tree as the main focus, and the relatively long exposure needed in the early morning light meant that the ever-so-gentle breeze moved them.  That is almost imperceptible in the monochrome version, and makes it better, I think.

Interestingly, I realise I’ve just there argued a case for the monochrome version, which I had created at the same time as editing the colour one!

Ratzeburg, lakeside tree, summer 2011

Ratzeburg, lakeside tree, summer 2011

Comments, as always, are welcome!

A couple of new images

I have not posted any landscape images for a while.  I’m aware that some of what I am doing in the landscape is changing and that has made me reluctant to put anything up.  There will be more considered reflection on that another time, but here are a couple of new images that I identify as part of this process.  Both were taken on Fuji Velvia 50 film using my medium format camera and the 150mm lens.  Click on an image to see it a little larger (800 pixels across).  Comments are most welcome, either below or by email – thanks.

A early morning view onto one of the lakes in Ratzeburg, Schleswig-Holstein, in northern Germany:

Ratzeburg Lake, summer 2011

Ratzeburg Lake, summer 2011

This next image is from the same lake:

Ratzeburg, lakeside tree, summer 2011

Ratzeburg, lakeside tree, summer 2011

I look forward to hearing what you think – thanks!

[Added later: following the comments from Rob Hudson below, I created another blog posting with a monochrome version of the second image.]

Working with the Epson V700 scanner

I’ve been busy scanning lots of images with the Epson V700, trying out all sorts of software settings.  The scanner comes with Epson Scan and SilverFast as the two software options.  I was gradually getting the hang of these, but was never completely satisfied with the results.  Looking at transparencies on my lightbox with a magnifying glass, I felt I saw more detail in the slides than in the scans (especially in the shadows).  My first transparencies with the medium format Mamiya were all on Fuji Provia 100F, which I was given with the Mamiya camera, but although I prefer Velvia 50, I’m sure that hasn’t been the issue here. With black and white film the results were a bit better, and I was gradually working my way through recent films and mostly liking the results, though for reasons I can’t explain, they were not always consistent.

But I think I’ve now cracked it – and this is largely due to a change of scanning software.  Yesterday I downloaded VueScan (in part on the recommendation of Tim Smalley, who bought the V700 shortly before me and from whom I’ve been learning a lot!), and the results are amazing.  Transparencies look just the way I think they should, with incredible detail in all areas, and my first scan of a black and white image has worked well too.  The interface is a bit clunky, but SilverFast is much worse (it looks as if it hasn’t changed much since Apple produced OS9!), and although I need to ensure I get to grips with all the settings, I’ll be upgrading to the full version at the beginning of the week.  The VueScan images are simply better.

Chicken house ruin, Kiesby, Schleswig-Holstein

Chicken house ruin, Kiesby, Schleswig-Holstein

For example, here’s a section of a ruined chicken house in a village in northern Germany, shot on Velvia with the Mamiya and the 80mm lens, and scanned using VueScan – the rich colours are a combination of early morning sun and Velvia doing its bonkers colour thing… believe it or not, I’ve toned down the colours a bit in Photoshop.  Even in this small jpg image, I think it’s possible to see that the shadows have considerable detail; the full size image is great.  Clicking on the image will take you to the version on RedBubble, where clicking on that version will make it appear almost full-screen.

I find it really quite surprising that the scanning software can have such a huge impact on the end result, but going by my experience of the last few weeks, VueScan is definitely the way to go with the V700.  I’m not quite there yet, but I think I’m now getting there.