On Living with a Samurai, Part 2

When last we left our Yashica Samurai Z, it was out for a bit of a test to see just what this slightly odd piece of 1980s technology was capable of, in the hands of Your Humble Filmosaur. Well, after considerable delay (mostly due to the 74 exposures I managed on the roll, but also some issues with the processing) the results are in.

The biggest issue with getting decent photos out of the Samurai seems to me to be that the sheer number of exposures available promotes – at least in me – a considerable amount of impatience, which in turns tends to lead to rather haphazard shooting. I was so focused on finishing the roll that by the time I got to around 60 or so on the counter I was just blasting away at anything.

Yashica Samurai Z, Kodak Gold 400
Yashica Samurai Z, Kodak Gold 400

This was made worse by the fact that I was experimenting with the double-exposure function, so I probably ended up clicking the shutter a hundred times in the course of the roll. Using the double-exposure randomly  – taking the first exposure then waiting a while before taking the second, with no specific connection between the subjects – occasionally results in something interesting, but more often than not doesn’t really amount to much. Choosing two related subjects and applying one over the other makes for a better hit ratio, but obviously requires some planning.

Yashica Samurai Z, Kodak Gold 400
Yashica Samurai Z, Kodak Gold 400

The shot below mimics one in the Yashica user’s manual.

Yashica Samurai Z, Kodak Gold 400
Yashica Samurai Z, Kodak Gold 400

The one-handed operation and full automation makes is pretty easy to shoot on the fly; you really don’t even need the viewfinder with the lens set wide. Color rendition is fairly accurate and exposure control seems consistent. Sharpness is frankly lacking under close examination, but this really can’t be considered a surprise given the half-frame format. A little post-processing (all of the shots here have been tweaked a bit for sharpness) does improve things, but you always have to keep the small size of the negative in mind.

Yashica Samurai Z, Kodak Gold 400
Yashica Samurai Z, Kodak Gold 400

Still, you can get some decent images out of the Samurai (as ever, it’s the poor craftsman who blames his tools), and if you know you’re going to be shooting a lot of frames and you don’t need to blow up the photos too far, it’s a good and flexible choice if you insist on shooting film. Regardless of how impressive they were twenty years ago, however, the advanced features do seem rather diminished when you consider that digital can replicate them pretty easily in most cases. It’s a fun camera to use, and a capable one, but not without its limitations.

Film: Lomography Redscale

Think what you will about the whole Lomography movement, but you have to give them credit for doing their part to keep film photography alive. While Kodak struggles for survival, Lomography has managed to take an outdated technology and get people enthusiastic about it again, and do so with a successful business model. You may not like the photos, you may not like the hipster vibe, you may not like the overpriced plastic cameras, but if it helps film photography to stay viable and even vibrant, you can’t say it’s all bad.

The Lomography folks have put out a bunch of different films under their own label. Some of these are simply standard print or slide films, while others have unique characteristics that produce unusual and unpredictable visual effects. One of these is their Redscale film, an ISO 100, C-41 color negative film that (as the name suggests) produces photos with intense red tones. This is achieved, simply but cleverly, by winding the film backwards in the canister, so that when exposed the light travels through the red layer of the film first rather than last.

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Rollei 35, Lomography Redscale 100

The effect is – as I suppose is intended, given Lomography’s stated love of unpredictable outcomes – rather hit-or-miss. When it works, the images can be quite effective; this seems to most often manifest itself in a very vintage look, and seems to be best achieved by very slight overexposure. When it doesn’t, the pictures seem overly dark and lose all shadow detail, or washed out and very grainy. It’s apparently quite sensitive to exposure, particularly underexposure, so you really want to make sure you’ve got your settings correct in a manual camera. It may be best suited for a camera with a metered auto-exposure (which is rather anti-Lomography, I suppose – try not to think about it) if you want to maximize your chances of usable images; based on my experience, I’d say overexposing by a half to a full stop is probably a good place to start. Even when you get the exposure right, there is not a lot of range; expect blown highlights and/or blacked out shadows in high contrast scenes. Ironically, to get good pictures with this film, you really need to pay quite a lot of attention to both the camera and the scene. Hipsters may not like the idea of putting that much work into their photography – it smacks of effort – but they can certainly appreciate irony.

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FED-2, Lomography Redscale 100

It is a novelty film, to be sure. No one should expect the normal rules of color photography to apply here. It actually behaves more like a black and white film, except that you’re dealing with shades of red instead of gray. Depending on the colors in the scene, you may end up with very vibrant photos or rather muted ones, but they will always be at least predominantly reddish. Stick to outdoor photography with the Redscale; given the film’s intolerance of underexposure, at ISO 100 you’ll need either a flash or a fast lens to get much out of it indoors.

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Rollei 35, Lomography Redscale 100

It’s fun to play with on occasion, maybe for fun holiday pictures or at a summer backyard barbecue, if you’re not too concerned with making sure you get everything out of every frame, and you don’t mind some unusual and unpredictable images. It certainly does give you new perspective on things, and you might just end up with one of those “happy accidents” the Lomography people are so fond of. It’s oddly freeing in a way; you know the results are at least in part out of your hands, so you just shoot and hope for the best. It’s also mildly irritating when you get your film back only to find that half the roll is useless.

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Rollei 35, Lomography Redscale 100

I should note that the 35mm Redscale seems to be unavailable at the moment (late Jan 2013), but the 120 and 110 (yep, Lomography has revived 110 – more on that here in a future post) sizes are listed. There’s also a ISO 50-200 Redscale XR that behaves differently depending on exposure; this may be an effort to give the film a wider exposure latitude than the original. Apparently the idea of film emulsions that produce deliberately imperfect color rendering has spread: AGFA/Rollei are now marketing ISO 400 “Redbird” and ISO 800 “Nightbird” versions under their “Creative Edition” label, and Adox is selling their new “Color Implosion” ISO 100-400 film. None of these are going to achieve widespread popularity, but if you’re part of the fringe group (as if film users weren’t a fringe group already) that wants to experiment with new and different types of images, and you aren’t put off by the Lomography association, give one of these films a go. What’s the worst that could happen?

Have you tried Redscale or other novelty films? Tell Filmosaur about it!

Meet the Camera: Yashica Samurai Z

This is a surprise new entry in the line-up. I was recently handed this camera by my father, who purchased it new on a trip to Asia way back when. It needed a new battery, but other than that everything seems to work just fine. The test roll is in there now, so I’ll find out soon enough what kind of pictures it takes. It may take a little longer than usual, however, as this is a half-frame camera. Seems a little silly that such a large camera takes such tiny photos, but it does.

The first thing you have no doubt noticed (you’re an observant one, aren’t you?) is that it looks more like a 90s-era camcorder than a film camera. Once you get past the oddball look of the thing, however, it’s a pretty standard 35mm camera underneath. It’s an autofocus SLR with a fixed 25-75mm (that’s a 35-105mm 35mm equivalent) f/4.0-5.6 zoom lens that takes standard 43mm filters. Operation feels rather agricultural compared with modern digital cameras; the zoom is loud, the autofocus is loud, the shutter is loud, and you can feel their actuation through the whole camera (though to be fair this may be due in part to the way it fits in the hand). It can be easily operated with one hand.

Controls for the zoom and shutter are placed as they would be on a camcorder. Film loading is on the bottom, with the film feeding upward. The on-off mechanism is a bit peculiar: the pop-up flash acts as the power switch – up for on, down for off. The user can control the flash actuation on the back panel LCD, along with a host of other functions. Some of these are truly unique and offer lots of possibilities for taking unique photographs. Frames can be exposed multiple times, including an automated mode that takes five shots in a quarter-second on a single frame. Time exposures can be automated up to 24 hours. The high-speed motor drive allows continuous shooting at 4.5 frames per second. Several flash modes are available, as is exposure compensation. This is an extraordinary feature set for a camera built in the late 1980s.

It’s a funky camera. Very non-traditional, simple to use but full-featured. I’m more of a manual control sort of a guy (OK, fine, control freak), but this is a very good camera to just screw around with. Blast away – it’s half-frame, so you’re able to get lots of pictures on a single roll of film. Want to play around with unusual effects (I’m looking at you, Lomography…)? The camera does all the work for you. Really, what’s not to like?