Film: Fuji Superia Xtra 400 – Update

I’ve now shot a couple more rolls of this film (following the initial usage, chronicled here), and I think I can now draw some more conclusions.

The first roll went through my Rollei 35, a camera I’d just recently acquired. I felt it would be good to try it in both my Olympus PEN EES-2 and my Pentax SFX; both cameras are metered, so this should remove the human factor to some extent. The Pentax in particular has always benefited from accurate TTL metering, and I left it at ISO 400 to see how it would behave at box speed. The Olympus uses an older selenium meter which has been OK, but occasionally produces some odd results; I shot this roll at ISO 320, figuring that going over by a third of a stop might mitigate the underexposure problem I documented in the first round. The results were interesting, but generally tended to confirm my initial assessment that this film is pretty darn touchy about exposure.

First, the good. The Pentax did pretty well. Most of the shots on this roll were macros, so the lighting was pretty straightforward for the meter. The vivid colors really showed up well here, but there was still a rapid fall-off in shadow detail. (These pictures are straight off the scanner with no processing whatsoever in order to show as close as possible what the film is recording.)

Given the subject matter and near perfect exposure, the results are nice. As I’ve said before, I like vivid colors, and the loss of shadow detail is not a major issue here. This is all well and good if you’re shooting an entire roll under ideal conditions, but this is often not the case.

On to the Olympus. This camera has much less precise metering, and the photos were taken over a much wider range of conditions than those with the Pentax. Still, as a half-frame I was able to get a lot of examples to see just how much latitude there was in this film.

The answer, I found, was not much. Shooting at ISO 320 obviously allowed a little more light than if I shot at box speed, but a lot of exposures appeared quite washed, much moreso than I would expect from a third of a stop of overexposure.

These photos show well the washed out look. The actual colors were considerably darker than what is shown here. While the shadow detail is good, the highlights are way overexposed. Both were taken at roughly the same time on the same day, in direct sunlight. The light situation is not complicated here, which suggests that the meter should not have had too much trouble.

Some brightly-lit indoor shots from the same roll were better exposed; perhaps the meter is too sensitive in bright natural light. I may try a UV filter on this camera to see if that produces better results. Nonetheless, latitude of the film seems to be quite narrow. If you use it in a camera with excellent metering, or have an accurate hand-held meter, you may do well. I’m very hesitant to use this film in any camera with which I employ “sunny-16,” as the potential for blowing an exposure with a relatively minor error seems quite considerable.

Musings: Digital manipulation

The profusion of tools for altering digital images has made it impossible to know whether a photo is as-shot or improved. While this raises all sorts of questions regarding journalistic ethics and skill as a photographer versus skill as a software operator, this represents only one aspect of digital manipulation. Another is the use of the same set of tools to obviously alter photos into something that lies between photography and digitally-created art. The latter could be considered controversial, I suppose, in the way that art can be controversial, but no one is going to mistake a heavily-altered photo for as-shot, barring the introduction of heavy hallucinogenics.

My own vintage-prone tendencies led me to explore digital alteration to try to recreate the look of old film photos. I’m not sure where this lies on the spectrum of art versus correction; it could be mistaken for actually being an old photo (assuming the subject matter doesn’t give the game away), but I’m not really sure that counts as art, and I can’t think of any reason why someone would try to pass off a digitally-aged photo as authentic. I’m sure there are ways to figure out if it’s been manipulated if that ever became an issue.

Anyway, I rather like the look of old film photos. The grainy, color-shifted look of Kodachrome slides from fifty years ago has a certain nostalgia about it. The ability to give recent photos this look is sort of a neat party trick, nothing more, as far as I’m concerned. If applied to photos where the subject matter is appropriate, it can generate a fun illusion of times gone by when, in all likelihood, the subject would have looked exactly the same. To wit:

This is the original. It was shot at the Lime Rock Park Vintage Festival (year unknown, but probably in the late 1990s or early 2000s) with my Pentax SFX on Kodak Gold 200 (a poor choice of film for the subject, but I was young and stupid. Well, not-so-young and ignorant, to be more precise, but still…). It was scanned but was not altered in any way.

This version was modified using the Film Imitation Lab plug-in for GIMP, specifically the Vintage option. I also added light grain and a little vignetting. Already I think it looks much more interesting and atmospheric, and as a bonus nicely disguising the fact that the original was slightly blurred. But other options await.

This process comes courtesy of Picnik, a site that offers quite a lot of photo editing tools via a browser interface, many of them free. This one is called Cinemascope, which one presumes is intended to mimic the look of old films shot using that film process. You can even letterbox the photo with a single click, if you like.

Picnik also offers a setting called 1960s; you can see the results above. Rounding the corners is supposed to make it look like an old slide, I guess (it’s optional if you don’t like it).

Finally, my favorite. This is another FIL effect in GIMP, specifically Photochrome. Grain and vignette settings remained as with the earlier example from this program.

As should be obvious by now, this type of alteration tends to reduce detail and render colors in somewhat less authentic ways than might be considered ideal in this age of pixel-peeping photographers armed with DSLRs with more processing power on board than Apollo 14. But to me the changes can create photos that are more evocative, have more character, and are simply more interesting. None of these alterations took more than one minute to accomplish, so it’s certainly not too time-consuming to mess around with a few variants and find what you like for a particular photo. Not for everyone perhaps, and certainly not to be applied to every sort of picture, but with the right subject, an entertaining little exercise.

Archives: South Carolina

With the 150th anniversary of the first shots of the American Civil War having just passed, it seemed only appropriate to point the Filmosaur Way-Back Machine at South Carolina, site of those fateful shots and, more recently (though no less auspiciously), a Filmosaur vacation. All of these were take with my first digital camera, a Canon A60, which is still functional more than eight years after purchase, thanks to Canon recently replacing a failed CCD image sensor free of charge. They did this on my S1 IS as well. This is why I have become a Canon loyalist; now if they would just release Linux drivers for the 8800F scanner…but I digress.

The South is not a place that takes too readily to change. A brief stroll around the town of Conway, near Myrtle Beach, showed up ample evidence of this.

Trim back the roots? Nope. Move the wall? Nope. Come up with a temporary solution that can’t possibly become permanent and does nothing to resolve the underlying issue, and perhaps makes things that much more complicated in the process? Sure, why not. As far as I can see, this is the brick wall equivalent of the Compromise of 1850.

Not big on the accommodation of new ideas, either. To wit…

Try as I might, though, I couldn’t find any “Whites Only” water fountains. And I was thirsty.

Still, I don’t mean to be unnecessarily difficult. Well, I do, but only to a point. After that it seems gratuitous, and that’s just unbecoming.

This bridge is apparently famous, or so I was told. It is rather striking, though as you can tell by the throngs of visitors, it is perhaps under-appreciated. The parking lot of the nearby Hooters was, by contrast, full to overflowing. Bloody Philistines….

Heading south to Charleston, we first stopped at Fort Moultrie, overlooking Charleston Harbor and Fort Sumter, site of the first shots of the War of Northern Aggression. Yes, the South fired the first shots in the War of Northern Aggression. I don’t really think I need to elaborate any further. But where are my manners…

You can just make out Fort Sumter in the background. Lest someone claim false advertising, the first shots were not fired by these cannon, which I believe post-date the war.

Charleston itself is lovely. Antebellum homes, gardens spilling over with flowers, and a subtle, welcoming charm. Even a poor misguided Yankee could come to feel at home. Well, almost. It’s still a fine city.

Wandering its back streets, one feels that the past is not quite as distant here as it is elsewhere. Of course, the Stars and Stripes flying proudly there outside an ivy-covered gate just down the road does tend to suggest that the past is not quite as close as it once was. It took a fair bit of ugliness to get to this point, but at least this little corner of the South seems to have settled comfortably into the modern era, having lost little of its charm.