The Filmosaur Year in Review

Your Humble Filmosaur managed to make quite a large number of photos this past year, which seems a bit of an accomplishment in itself, and knowing that no good deed goes unpunished, it seemed only fitting to do a little wrapping up before 2016 plunges into bitter disappointment and abject failure.

Looking back at my photos from the year just ending, I noticed a few trends, so I’ll organize this post around them.

Medium Format

I expanded my collection of medium format cameras considerably in the past year, adding 6×9 to the repertoire as well as collecting a few more options for the ubiquitous 6×6. I’m only just beginning to explore the 6×9 format, but it does have real potential, I think. The negative is enormous, and the longer focal length of the lenses (105mm in both my Super Ikonta and Bessa II) can create an almost-large-format look in certain circumstances.

Zeiss Super Ikonta C 530/2, Ilford HP5+ in Caffenol C-H(RS)
Zeiss Super Ikonta C 530/2, Ilford HP5+ in Caffenol C-H(RS)

The square remains a favorite, however, and I ran a fair number of rolls through my various 6×6 cameras. I find it a very flexible format, which seems perhaps a bit counter-intuitive, as with a rectangular format you can use either portrait or landscape, but with a square you’re stuck with 1:1. Nonetheless, I find the square fairly easy to use, and this past year confirmed that it is my first choice medium format, um, format.

Mamiyaflex Automat A, Ilford FP4+ in Caffenol C-H(RS)
Mamiyaflex Automat A, Ilford FP4+ in Caffenol C-H(RS)

Composition

I began exploring more graphical composition in the past year, sometimes to the point of abstraction. The compositions are simple and direct, and generally head-on. While I’m fairly pleased with these initial efforts, there’s a lot more work to be done in seeing how these can be made more interesting by changing the perspective and adding depth to the composition while preserving the clarity of the subject and without cluttering it up.

Certo Super Dollina II, Ilford FP4+ in Caffenol C-H(RS)
Certo Super Dollina II, Ilford FP4+ in Caffenol C-H(RS)

To a significant degree, I find it easier to construct this sort of photo in B&W. Color adds a fair bit of complexity to the equation, partially by the nature of it and partially because I still tend to see better in monochrome. Finding subjects that lend themselves to color photos of this sort is not always easy, and there is always the temptation (for me, anyway) of allowing the color to dominate the photo to the detriment of other aspects.

Konica III, Kodak Gold 200
Konica III, Kodak Gold 200

Film

My conversion to Ilford for my B&W film needs is essentially complete. I shot Tri-X when I went to Arizona at the beginning of last year, but after that I started moving to HP5+, which gave me similar results with a little more tonality in the middle (easily controlled with development) and slightly less grain. It also dries completely flat and costs half of what Tri-X does in bulk. It is a perfectly acceptable substitute that has a few advantages to boot.

For slower films, I tried a few rolls of Pan F+, but I haven’t really been able to wrap my head around it. The results can be good, but it’s slow enough that it really requires specific conditions or a tripod to work well. I just haven’t shot enough to get to know it. Out of curiosity, in the spring I got a bulk roll of FP4+, and I was in love. It’s buttery smooth in every way. Within a few rolls I knew I had my new everyday film. It’s not really fast enough for flexibility in the winter months, or for street photography generally, but when I can get away with the slower speed, I will have FP4+ in my camera. I need to buy more.

Cars

Regular readers will not be at all surprised that I chased old cars around. Still, there was a slight shift in my approach this past year. While I did take some photos of them on the track, I concentrated my efforts on photographing them while static, and especially on photographing the details. I tried some different angles and compositions; this was encouraged by using my Rolleiflex fairly extensively, which allowed a lot of low-angle work, the results of which were generally positive.

Rolleiflex Old Standard, Kodak Ektar 100
Rolleiflex Old Standard, Kodak Ektar 100

B&W was not neglected, and the results I got with FP4+ in particular only served to further my adoption of it as my standard three-season film.

Leica IIIc, Summitar 50/2, Ilford FP4+ in Caffenol C-H(RS)
Leica IIIc, Summitar 50/2, Ilford FP4+ in Caffenol C-H(RS)

The Year of the Leica

When 2015 began, I did not own a Leica. Through good fortune, happenstance, and lack of willpower, I now own more than one. While I may have been initially drawn to them because of the history and the mystique, I quickly found that they fit my photographic needs and wants remarkably well. I ended up using them more than any other cameras this past year, and I see no reason to think that this trend will change in 2016 or beyond.

The body is only half of the camera equation, of course, and the accumulation of Leica bodies leads inevitably to the accumulation of lenses for those bodies. The Summitar that came with one of my IIIcs is really a spectacular lens. I finally found a good example of the Canon 100/3.5, which matches the signature of the Summitar pretty well and makes a nice companion. At the wide end, I picked up a Voigtländer Snapshot Skopar 25/4, which is of course a much more modern lens; the results are very good, and the ergonomics are nearly perfect, but I’m still slightly torn over the modern high-contrast rendering. I also hacked together a couple of lenses in LTM, the Nikon L35AF 35/2.8 in a chopped-down Industar-50 body, which I consider a near-total success, and just for fun the Praktica M60 26/5.6 fixed-focus, fixed-aperture body cap pancake.

So there we are. 2015 is on its way to the door, and 2016 is lying in wait behind the shrubbery. I need more film.

On Sharpness

If you’ve ever spent any time at all reading reviews of various lenses online, or even worse seen some forum discussions on the subject, you will see the word “sharp,” or grammatical variants thereof, time and time again. One lens is sharp, another isn’t. One is sharp in the center, one stays sharp all the way to the corners. Some are even considered too sharp (“clinically sharp” appears to be the favored term for this), but this is pretty rare. For most people involved in these exchanges, it would seem that one of the main factors in judging a lens is its sharpness, and the results of that judgement can usually be simplified down to “sharp=good, not sharp=bad”.

I have come to another conclusion: most people are really boring. For those of you who are fully paid-up members of the sharpness club, before you get yourself into a lather and start yelling at me through cyberspace, ask yourself a simple question: Sharpness is good, right? WHY?

That’s right, why? What is it about sharp images that makes the lenses that produced them so far superior to images that are a little soft in the corners, or that don’t quite measure up in terms of absolute resolution? Is the difference between 50 and 60lp/mm (that’s line pairs per millimeter, for those who haven’t drunk the sharpness Kool-aid) so great that you’d pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for that extra 10lp/mm? Would a great shot be rendered utterly awful because of the loss of some microscopic details? Is a very sharp lens capable of transmuting a boring scene into a fantastic photograph all by itself?

The worst offenders are the ones who do the least with their cameras and their photos. How many times have you had to hear all about someone’s great new camera or lens as they walk you through four hundred pictures very sharp photos of little Jimmy’s last soccer practice? And what are people doing with all these wonderfully sharp photos? Are any of them being printed? How big? No, chances are they’ll make it as far as Facebook and that’s about it. (Yes, I realize that none of these people are likely to read this, as they have no real interest in photographic equipment except for bragging purposes. Camera companies and retailers love them; I don’t.)

Let me put it another way: ultrasharp crappy pictures are still crappy pictures. Now, this is not to say that everybody should throw away their expensive equipment and pick up Holgas like an army of hipsters run amuck. But there’s a great big expanse of lens options in virtually every mounting system ever made that fall into the category of perfectly adequate sharpness for the vast majority of photographic endeavors. There’s lots more to consider, of course, but finding a lens that’s sharp enough is not difficult unless you’re enlarging on a massive scale or conducting an entomological study that requires photographic detail of fire ant testicles.

And not for nothing, but sharpness is not exactly desirable in all cases. I’ll provide an example from the video side to illustrate the point: back when HD video was first becoming more widely available, I read an article in a business newspaper that indicated that adult video producers were terrified that HD would ruin them. Why? Too much fine detail. Fashion photos are routinely airbrushed and edited to hide tiny imperfections. Is it really necessary to see every last cellular structure or be able to pick out individual atoms? No, and sometimes it’s actually detrimental.

Rather than taking out a second mortgage so you can afford the latest sharpest lens on the market, go out and work on being less boring. Take some pictures while you’re doing it. There’s a whole big unsharp world out there to be photographed.