During our Easter trip to Phuket, I shot a lot of film. had taken one roll of Velvia 50 as well. While I really like Ektar and also Portra and Fuji Pro, there is something special about slide film as opposed to color negative film. True, there’s almost no exposure latitude. So if you’ve blown a highlight or your shadows are too dark, bye bye. But when you do get it right, it is just beautiful.
And there is simply no other film like Velvia. Yes, its not everyday stock. And just don’t try and capture people with it. For landscapes, it is like magic. Too saturated? Yes. A bit removed from reality? Yes. But nothing else can make something boring relatively interesting like Velvia can.
So, what film would I take to a desert island?! It’s a really tough question but I guess push comes to shove, I would choose Kodak Ektar 100. I love b&w but end up capturing in color more often – there’s so much color in life, it would be shame to lose them. After all, one can always convert from color to b&w but not vice-versa.
My favorite film has got to be Velvia 50. But shooting with slide film is not always the best option. Exposure latitude is razor thin and the whole process is also quite expensive. So color negative film is the way to go more often than not. Then its usually a face off between some of the Fuji films, Kodak Portra and Kodak Ektar. I love Fuji and my favorite medium format film is Fuji Pro 160. But for 35mm, I prefer the Kodaks. If I know I will be shooting mainly portraits, then I will take the Portra (160 or 400). For everything else, its the Ektar.
I love the vibrancy of the film. It can make ordinary situations come alive in a really pleasing ways. The way it handles reds is very appealing to me. And greens too. It is almost Velvia like in many ways. Sometimes the vibrancy can get too much but a little bit of saturation/ vibrance reduction usually solves the issue.
In a prior post, I had posted some photos taken with a Zeiss Ikon rangefinder at a fair that had come to Hong Kong. I had also taken a Mamiya 7ii medium format film camera with a Mamiya 7N 80mm f/4L. This is an absolutely amazing camera – 6×7 medium format, yet very portable (as far as cameras of this ilk go). Like all medium format film photography, its a bit expensive to use given only 10 exposures can be made from a 120 roll of film.
But there’s something about the results derived from this camera and its lenses that is just very very pleasing. The sharpness, pop, contrast and smoothness of bokeh is something just not possible from any 35mm camera. And the Mamiya 6 or 7 are right up there with the best medium format cameras ever made. Like all tools, the results really depend on the artist and I would not recommend this to any beginner. Its just too expensive a way to learn. Learn film photography with a 35mm camera.
These photos were really just snapshots and my first real experience with this camera since I bought it. But now, I feel confident to use this on a more regular basis. All these photos were shot on the Fuji Pro 160 NS color negative film, which is brilliant. It may not be as accurate as the Kodak Portra 160 but its not wild and I prefer the vibrancy of the Fuji Pro 160 NS to the more neutral portra.
I love shooting with film! There is a certain charm to the photos that’s hard to describe but you know its just there. Add to that the fact that there’s no way of reviewing the photos and one can only see the photos a few days or sometimes even weeks later. The whole surprise factor adds that special something.
I bought the Zeiss Ikon some time back. The first roll was a disaster because I did not know how to load it properly. My only previous experience with film cameras was the Contax G2. And in the Contax you don’t need to slot the film into the spool, just around it. Did not realise that loading the Zeiss Ikon was like loading medium format cameras. This happened a couple of time and so I got kind of frustrated and put it away. Returned to it a few weeks back and loaded some inexpensive Kodak Gold 400 film in it.
Now, to my eyes, there is no such thing as poor film. Yet, I was not expecting this film to be all that nice. But I was really quite pleasantly surprised. The colors are quite vivid and contrast is pretty good. To get the best contrast I rated the film for 200 when I shot (much easier to to pull highlights from film in Lightroom) than push shadows.
I used the Zeiss Biogon 35mm f2 lens for Leica M mount cameras. It’s such a wonderful lens. While, I love my Leica 35 Summilux ASPH, I think the Zeiss does have slightly higher contrast and pop.
So, how did I find the Zeiss Ikon? In a nutshell, wonderful! I bought it because I really did not want to spend a lot more on a Leica M6 or M7 and a few reviews said that the Zeiss was just as good. I still have not used either the M6 or M7, so cannot comment on those but the Zeiss is very good. The rangefinder patch for focusing could perhaps be slightly better defined. In very bright light or in darker conditions with low contrast, I sometimes struggle nailing focus but in general it works out ok and its probably my own inexperience.
The shots above are really more like snapshots since I was just trying to make sure that the camera works! I am now looking forward to loading some more film in the camera and go out and try to make some better photos.
The Contax G2 has got to be my favourite camera. Small size, outstanding lenses and easy to use – what’s not to love?! Well, there are a couple of frustrating things but that’s for another day. In the end, despite these minor annoyances, it is my favourite camera.
The Velvia 100 is an underrated and under-appreciated slide film. Perhaps unfairly and almost definitely because all the attention goes to the Velvia 50. Some time back, I had a mix of Velvia 50 and 100 in my bag. I shot a roll with the Velvia 100 before moving to the 50. This was my first encounter with Velvia and I was surprised that when I got the scans back from the lab, I found it really hard to see any difference between the two! All these shots were taken in Bali, Indonesia.
The Tonle Sap lake is a good excursion from Siem Reap. We went in late December 2014. I carried my Sony A7R as well as the Contax G2. The Contax was loaded with Kodak Portra 400, which I rated at ISO 100. Now, that’s a tip for any newbie to film. Overexpose by 2 stops or so because color film (not slide film!) as a lot of latitude in the highlights but very little in the shadows. So just overexpose and then pull back the shadows in Lightroom or similar software.
One fascinating attraction connected to the rivers that drain into the Tonle Sap is the Floating (or Flooded) Forest. These are flooded mangrove forests surrounding the cluster of Kompong Phluk villages. You visit them on small boats rowed by local villagers. These small boats are owned by separate families and is often their only source of income.
We visited Cambodia in December 2014. And it was a wonderful vacation. The people are extremely friendly and generally the country is reasonably well set up for tourism. And its really inexpensive. All of this makes for a great combination but most people really visit Cambodia for Angkor Wat, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is truly remarkable.
We visited Angkor Wat during the afternoon and it was truly stunning. This was taken with my favorite film camera, the Contax G2, loaded with Velvia 50 film.
But to truly experience the beauty of Angkor, one must go in the morning. I had done my research on when to go and which pond to stand in front of to get the sunrise reflection shot – exactly the same position from where the day photo above was taken. So, three of us woke up at 4:30am and left the hotel to go to Angkor. As expected, there were tons of tourists ahead of us but I knew that patience was the name of the game and the tourists would be gone as soon as the light became interesting from a photographer’s point of view. Luckily, my opportunity came soon enough and I got a position right in front of the lake.
I had taken my tripod, Sony A7R with Zeiss 16-35 FE lens and the Contax G2 with the Zeiss 28mm. I started taking shots with both cameras. The one below was taken with the Contax G2 loaded with Velvia 50.
This was going to be a once in a lifetime opportunity (ah well I may come back to Angkor Wat but its surely not going to be frequent occurrence). And the clouds were wonderful. Much as I love film, when you want to shoot tons of images, digital is obviously the way to go. Also, given the huge contrasts and fast changing light, multiple exposures were called for.
This one below is an exposure blend of 3 photos taken with the Sony A7R and Zeiss 16-35 FE just before sunrise.
And this one is again a blend of three exposure but this time taken just after sunrise.
Amazing isn’t it, how light and photography medium shape such different looks from the same subject.
And by the way, I spoke of exposure blend for 2 of the photos above. I think High Dynamic Range imaging is a great technique for fulfilling photographic vision given the limitations of sensors compared to our eyes. However, I do not like most of the garish HDR stuff we see on the internet. There are lots of examples of HDR done “right” that I hope to compile some day. In the meanwhile, if you are interested in the concept, this free tutorial from B&H is the perfect place to start.