Sunday, August 11, 2019

New Series: Relationships

Relationships is a new series about how my loved ones shape me. It also pertains to the realization that I am a completely different person to everyone I know, and that my personality is only constant to myself. Each photograph is made with my Nikon Df and 50mm lens. I plan on continuing this series over the coming months.


Katie

MJ

Harper

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Spotlight: Nikon FG


First available in 1982, the Nikon FG is a compact, consumer-grade 35mm SLR. It functioned in Nikon's line-up as a baby brother of sorts to the more professional FE model. As their cheapest SLR at the time of release, Nikon's FG was intended for use by amateurs who wanted to deepen their knowledge of photography. This is made apparent by the inclusion of a speaker that screams at the user if they try to use incorrect settings (thankfully this can be turned off). The FG has manual, aperture priority, and program (full-auto) exposure modes. It accepts all AI and AI-S F-mount lenses, but non-AI lenses will not meter or mount properly.

The shutter on the FG is electronic, and requires two 357 button batteries in order to fire. In case you run out of batteries, the camera can still fire at 1/90th and bulb. Shutter speeds between 1 second and 1/1000th are available, and the selection dial is one of the best I've ever experienced on a 35mm camera. The dial is large, and hangs off the front of the camera for easy adjustment. In conjunction with the shutter dial, the internal light meter is one of the nicest I've seen; leagues better than the more expensive F3's meter. All of the shutter speeds are displayed on the focus screen, with a solid red LED next to the speed you currently have selected. Next to the speed the camera thinks you should use, a red light will blink. It's super intuitive and way nicer than a match-needle or over/under LED meter system.


One of the perks of the FG is that it's totally tiny! Its diminutive size is accentuated when the camera is paired with a Nikon 50mm f/1.8 E lens, as seen above. Thanks to its plastic build, the FG is also lightweight and easy to carry around all day.  If you want the camera to be even comfier, there exists an optional plastic grip that attaches to the front of the camera. The build does feel a bit on the cheap side compared to other cameras in its league; I don't think this camera could handle too many drops or other mishaps.

Besides the somewhat cheapy build, there isn't a lot to complain about with the Nikon FG. My personal gripe is that it can't perform multiple exposures, but that probably wont bother most people. The shutter is kinda loud and sounds like a dying robot. The camera is not modular like more expensive 35mm cameras (no interchangeable focusing screens or viewfinders), but most beginning photographers wont care about that. The FG gets the basics right, for a price that shouldn't set you back more than $125 with a lens. I highly recommend the FG for photography students who are taking their first darkroom course.


I took my FG out with me on a few bike rides to test it out. Below are some pictures I made with it. I used a 50mm f/1.8 E lens and Arista 400 film.













Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Spotlight: Kodak 35


Cameras don't get much more beautifully steampunk than Kodak's first 35mm camera, the Kodak 35. Released in 1938, the Kodak 35 is a simple, yet well-made viewfinder camera designed for amateur photographers. Though compact and easy to take with you, the camera's metal and Bakelite build feels solid in the hand. I love the symmetrical nature of the design.  It's essentially a heavy, functional piece of Art Deco jewelry. I had this camera sitting on my shelf for a few years as decoration, and just recently decided to put some film through it. 

By today's standards, the 80-year-old Kodak 35 is pretty clunky in operation. Advancing and rewinding the film is done by rotating the knurled knobs on top of the camera, which can be a slow process. A small button next to the advance knob has to be pressed before the film can be wound to the next frame. Advancing the film also cocks the shutter, so multiple exposures are basically impossible. There's a cool little red indicator on the lens that tells you if the shutter is cocked and ready to fire or not. Be careful not to advance the film too quickly; I ripped my film trying to wind it on because I was a bit too aggressive and impatient. 

Take note that you cannot fire the shutter without film in the camera, and the frame counter needs to be reset manually before each roll. 


The leaf shutter in the Kodak 35 is by no means quick. It tops out at a speed of 1/150th, so I recommend using a slower speed film if you plan on making pictures in bright sunlight. The only available speeds are 1/25, /50, 1/100, 1/150, and B+T. Available lens apertures depend on which iteration of the Kodak 35 you own. Mine is a later, post WWII model, and has an f/4.5 "Anaston" lens. Regardless of iteration, all Kodak 35 lenses have a 51mm field of view. 

Acquiring exact focus with this 51mm lens is a challenge, as the Kodak 35 does not have any kind of focusing aid. All you can do is guess, and there is no depth-of-field scale on the lens to help zone focus. Needless to say, close-ups can be quite difficult to pull off. 


While focusing is tough, composing works great, thanks to the Kodak 35's nifty folding finder. The finder is surprisingly bright and sharp, and it is even parallax corrected thanks to a little distance knob below the mechanism. For me, this finder is the Kodak 35's most iconic feature. 

Image quality is AWFUL. All of my pictures came out extremely soft, which surprised me, because most of my exposures were made at f/11 or f/16 with the camera's fastest shutter speed in decent light. At first I thought my focusing was off, but nothing in these pictures turned out sharp. I do not recommend using this camera, but it's still a cool camera to have on your shelf. Below are some pictures I made with my Kodak 35 using Portra 160 film. 













Monday, July 22, 2019

Friday, July 12, 2019

Spotlight: Mint Instantkon RF70


The Instantkon RF70 is a unique Instax Wide instant film camera made by the Chinese camera company, Mint. It was released in May of this year, though pre-order models have been out since 2018. What's so intriguing about the RF70 (and why I bought one new) is that it's the only Instax camera with manual aperture, shutter, and focus control. See, I was having a blast playing around with Fujifilm's Instax cameras, but longed for a something that offered more creative freedom. I ultimately bought into the RF70 hype and ordered one a few weeks ago. Was it worth it? Here is my take.

To begin, the RF70 is expensive. It's around $900 new. That's definitely a lot to pay for something most people will argue is a toy. Hell, you can buy Fujifilms top-of-the-line Mini 90 or Instax Wide cameras for around $100 today. So what does the extra money get you? As previously mentioned, the RF70 has full manual exposure controls, whereas Fujifilm's offerings are all completely automatic. All you can really change on Fuji's cameras is the exposure compensation, but if you want a specific aperture or shutter speed, you're out of luck. The RF70 has an aperture priority automatic mode with exposure compensation, but you are also free to use any combination of aperture (f/5.6 ~ 22) and shutter speed (1/500 ~ 1sec + bulb). While in manual mode, there is a light by the viewfinder that turns green when the camera believes you have the correct exposure, and red when you do not. This freedom of manual exposure gives you more creative power than with any other Instax camera.

The lens on the RF70 is a major step up from other Instax cameras, as it can open up all the way to f/5.6. My Mini 90's lens, by comparison, is a laughable f/12.7. This means you can make pictures in dimmer situations without having to resort to a flash. If extra illumination is necessary, the RF70 has a cute baby pop-up flash that works just fine. Along with being able to gather way more light, this also means you can achieve pleasant shallow depth-of-field with the RF70. The lens length is 93mm, which translates to around a slightly wide/normal field of view. If I had to guess, I'd say the viewing angle is equivalent to a 35-40mm lens on a 35mm camera. The lens is a definitely soft when used wide-open at f/5.6, but the effect is to my liking. It kind of gives off an 80's glam-shot vibe that I dig.

Photos at f/5.6 allow for blurry backgrounds and soft features


Cheaper Instax cameras typically have three focusing zones you can choose from: portrait, normal, or landscape. The RF70's focusing is completely manual, so you can focus precisely where you want. To aid with this, the RF70 features a built-in rangefinder, which is separate from the viewfinder. You focus through one window, and frame the picture through the other. If you've ever used an old Barnack Leica, this is the same deal. The lens focuses down to .75 meters, which doesn't seem so bad, but it's really not very close at all with the slightly wide lens. The above photograph was made at the minimum focusing distance. Straight head shots are impossible.


The top window is for framing, bottom for focusing. The rear LCD displays your number of remaining shots and battery life.


One of my favorite features of the RF70 is the advance lever. While other Instax cameras immediately spit your picture out after making an exposure, the RF70 waits until you trip the lever. As a result, you can make unlimited multiple exposure before ejecting the film. Super cool! This is the main reason why I bought the RF70, as I love making pictures that involve four or more exposures.

With the RF70 you can do cool dumb stuff, like this 64-exposure photo of my wife eating Cool Whip


Most of these specs and features look great on paper. And, while I applaud the folks at Mint for making an Instax camera that allows for deeper creative expression, there are some glaring flaws with the RF70 that you should to consider before purchasing one of your own.

Firstly, the build quality is not the best. Now, it doesn't feel cheap. The body is made of plastic, but it's good quality, solid plastic. There are simply a few areas of the build that don't inspire confidence. For instance, when I first took the camera out of the box, the hand grip was loose at the bottom. I almost pulled it off the camera trying to get the RF70 out of its tight packaging. It may need to be re-glued at a later point. The part of the build that worries me the most, however, is the folding aspect of the camera. The RF70's mechanism feels unusually fragile compared to folders I've used in the past. Folding the camera out is okay, but you do have to manually straighten the rails before use. Folding the camera back up, however, is pretty sketchy. Beforehand, you need to make sure the lens is at infinity, or else Mint warns in the instruction booklet that the camera could break. Then you need to geeeeeently depress a button next to the lens and sloooooowly push the lens back into the camera. The whole process makes me nervous and it seems like Mint could have designed a better system than the clumsy one present here.


These metal supports unfortunately seem very fragile

The second major issue I have with the camera is viewfinder/rangefinder. The rangefinder is okay, but it's not the sharpest. If your camera is not at the exact right angle with your eye, the twin rangefinder images will not perfectly overlap, instead one image will be slightly above or below the other image. My rangefinder also focuses past infinity, which seems odd, but my shots have been in good focus. The viewfinder is awful. My glasses probably don't help, but the framelines in the RF70's finder are damn near impossible to see. They're super faint, and do not at all give an accurate preview of what will be in your frame. The lines may as well not be there at all, since they're next to useless. Framing any subject less than 10 feet away is a bit of a nightmare. You can see in my photos of Katie how she's a bit awkwardly off to the side or too low in the final images.

I'm undecided on whether I will keep this camera or sell it to buy some new digital gear. I really want to love the RF70, but the lack of close focus, terrible viewfinder, and unwieldy folding design may be deal-breakers for me. The flaws simply make it difficult for me to make the images I want to make. Here are a few more photos I made with the RF70:



f/5.6 at 1/250


f/11 at 1/250


4 Exposures, each f/11 at 1/250


f/22 at 1/500


Two exposures, each f/16 at 1/125


Saturday, July 6, 2019

Collage: Meeting Under the Moon




Meeting Under the Moon, 10"x8", Collage on board.

All collage material was taken from Cats Cats Cats Cats Cats Cats, published in 1958.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Collage: "Sharenting"


Sharenting, 10"x8", Collage on board

All collage material was taken from The Life Cycle Library for Young People, published in 1969.