Frugal Film Project – April ’23

Have you ever gone somewhere, like a museum or garden or zoo, and tried and see everything except the main attraction? It’s weird, and depending on the venue, can be boring. With the right location it’s like a scavenger hunt. That was my goal for FFP 4/23, to make photos at the Memphis Zoo of the Memphis Zoo, but try not to make photos of the animals.

Just to add to the story, I’m shooting a 1961 Kodak Retinette 1A and a roll of Kodak 5213 (Kodak Vision3 200T Motion Picture Film). This time I even splurged for a chemical kit of ECN-2 motion picture developer.

The day was absolutely beautiful… when I got in the car to drive to Midtown. Of course, when I got there it was overcast quite a bit, but I had fast ISO 200 film and the latest in film camera technology, right ? Believe it or not the Kodak Retinette and ISO 200 film is just about perfect for a cloudy day. I was able to shoot many of the shots at f/4 1/60s hand-held without any issues, while the rest sat around f/8 1/125s.

I have to admit, I’m both impressed and not so impressed with ECN-2. I like that the colors don’t shift into a crazy green hue like C41 does with this film, but I was hoping ECN-2, by using some chemistry magic, would make the Rem Jet layer disappear without any intervention. Nope. It’s still necessary to do a final wash in warm water and scrub the support side of the film. I am going to shoot a roll or two of standard C41 film and try to develop it in ECN-2 before it skunks, and see if the color shifts are different or if there is little difference at all.

The Retinette, oh boy, I just really am enjoying shooting it. It was one of the first film cameras I ever bought, way back in like 2014. The Art Deco look, film advance on the bottom of the camera, zone focusing, and bright viewfinder make it damn near a perfect camera for outings. Literally, most of the shots were f/8 at 1/125s or 1/60s. Occasionally I’d dip down to f/4 for some subject separation, but I didn’t have the Blik rangefinder with me, so I didn’t really nail the focus right on those shots.

This shot was one end of the extremes with the lighting. Behind me a sun-bathed park and in front of me a giant storm cloud. I took some liberty with this photo since I was today years old when I learned Lightroom has a cool feature that allows me to separate the foreground and background. Thanks Omar Gonzales for showing me how to use Lightroom 8 years after I started using Lightroom! I was able to kick up the contrast on just the clouds in the background, making them a tad more ominous than they originally were.

The above photo was right after that set of storm clouds was passing. Did I mention it was super-windy, Sunday? Yeah, that puffy white cloud in the background is the same as the ugly dark cloud behind the water park. This is the entrance tower to the Panda exhibit — or China exhibit — at the Memphis Zoo. It’s star animal, Yaya the Panda, was flown to China to live out her remaining years in her home country. She was well loved here and will be missed.

This photo was taken at f/4, hence the very mild subject separation. As you can see, f/4 is soft on this camera lens. It’s the nature of the beast. I still like the shot. Again, I was attempting to photograph the Zoo but not the animals. It was just for fun. I love all the animals here!

I like the way reds pop on Vision3 film. Even when cross-processed in C41 the reds are great. The difference here with ECN-2 is the red is brighter as if it has a slight pinch of red-orange. I could have done some better dust removal on this frame. I am getting lazy, but also I forgot to add a drop of dish soap to the last rinse, so… water spots.

Ok, Ok, hear me out. I love this photo. Yes, it’s tilted, blurry, and isn’t even that great of a composition. However, together all three of those things make it a fun photo. This is me, though. I like blowing expensive rolls of film through plastic-lensed toy cameras. But I do like this photo and I’m sharing it for that reason.

Of course I took a photo (several) of the animals. I’ll share this one. It’s another favorite. This one and the first image (white tree, red wall) are getting sent off for big prints.

I shot 3 rolls on the Retinette and a roll on the Leica, Sunday, and I have to say I just had more fun with the Retinette. It’s a no-fuss camera that embodied the idea of making photography accessible to everyone, as this was a really, really basic version of the Retina series cameras. The camera lens has simple markings, all the controls are at the same location and easy to adjust quickly, and the resulting images are keepers that could be made by amateurs on a budget. I’m happy to have it and the Frugal Film Project is a great community in which to share the images I make on it!

Polaroid Week 2023 – Lomo’Instant

In anticipation of my film packs arriving today, I’ve gone ahead and fished a couple instant film articles from my archives.

As you might have already read, I’m not necessarily the biggest fan of Instant film photography. It’s expensive, and the results are so unpredictable I can’t justify the cost. But then again, I love Lomography. That, in itself, is unpredictable and expensive. So it should come as no surprise — or maybe it should — that I picked this new Lomography Lomo’Instant camera, and I think I’m starting to dig it.

The Specs

 The camera is stuffed full of interesting features, but let’s get the boring stuff out of the way. It’s an instant camera that uses Fujifilm Instax Mini cartridges. The picture essentially is the size of a business card, and you get ten shots in each cartridge. It runs on four AAA batteries (not included) and they’re somewhat of a pain to figure out which way they go in. I kinda looked like one of those gorillas at the zoo with a new pumpkin full of treats, trying to figure out how to get them. The camera has a built in flash and a 27mm equiv wide lens. It shoots with +/- 2 stops by a little wheel on the front of the camera above the lens. It allows you to over/under-expose by actually adjusting the aperture. It reminds me of the exposure setting on the Polaroid SX-70, except instead of a filter over the aperture, it actually has an aperture wheel that selects f/8, f/11, f/16, f22, f32, and you can see the aperture change in the lens.

Multiple-Exposure Mode

The camera has a switch on it labeled MX which allows you to make multiple exposures to a single picture. The upside is you can shoot some interesting shots. The downside is that guessing a stranger’s birth year might be easier than guessing correct exposure on this camera. The guide has a nice scale, but it’s not always reliable. I shot the below photo in a warmly lit room with the flash on at f/16 and 1/125sec (i.e. Auto mode). It’s really dark. I get it, f/16 indoors is just dumb, but I was taking into consideration it’s in Auto mode, and that it would compensate. It doesn’t. Even in auto, it’s manual. hah!

This next shot was taken outside, overcast day, with +1 exposure, and flash on 800 ISO film. Still almost unusable, but I’m starting to get better at judging exposure.

The other cool part of this feature is that it will keep taking exposures until you flip the switch away from the MX position. Then it ejects your photo!

Vignette, My Lovely Friend

Oh the vignetting in the corners is pure joy…if you are into that kinda thing. Even wide open with flash it’s going to give you some darkened corners, and if you drop one stop you’ll get this cool oval frame effect. Along with the vignetting, is the touch of exposed edges that are uneven like the camera doesn’t squish the chemicals all the way to the edge of the frame.

Along with the vignetting and edge issues, there is the soft focus of the lens itself. It actually has adjustments for 1m-Infinity and 0.4m – 0.9m for close-ups and portraits.  It does close-ups pretty well. In the photo below, I was 6 inches or so from the statue when I pulled the shutter release, and the photo is still pretty cool.

Creative Modes

The power switch sits on one side of the camera and it has 4 options: Power, Auto, Creative w/ Flash, and Creative (no flash). The Creative modes give you control over exposure time by allowing you to utilize yet another switch on the bottom, the infamous N/B switch (Thanks Holga!). Flip it to C on the power switch and B on the N/B switch and as long as you hold the shutter release, the lens stays open. There is even a lens release cable attachment, and some newer models have a remote in the lens cap.Speaking of creative modes, it also comes with flash gels in red, yellow, blue, purple, and green. These give a nice little hue change (see the Multi-Exposure shot at top) and give the camera even more opportunities to make interesting photos.

Worth It ?

Is it worth the expense ? The camera, new in box, runs between $50 and $150 depending on where you get it and what comes in the box. The film is about a dollar a shot (less, if you find a bulk sale), and producing multiple of the same photo requires a decent flatbed scanner. But yeah, I think it’s worth it if you like Lomography and think the Instax Mini is a little too Hello Kitschy bubblegum-looking for you. It maintains all of the traditional eccentricities of Lomography-style cameras (read Holga) with the vignetting, soft focus, rough edges and the plastic feel, but gives you instant satisfaction. It’s certainly something different to pull out on the next photo walk.

Polaroid Week 2023!

While I await the arrival of my SX-70 film and some Instax film, I’m digging up and sharing some older reviews of these cameras. Hopefully they’ll inspire you (and me) to get out and shoot some cool photos.

 Possibly the most expensive camera I own simply due to the cost of a photo: ~$3Meet the SX 70 II. This camera was produced between 1973 and whenever people realized instant film was godawful expensive. In its youth it was $180 new, and a 10-shot cartridge was $6. That’s 1970s money. You could fill your land cruiser’s gas tank cheaper than you could fill your land camera’s insatiable need to produce soft, over/under-exposed bulky single-shot images that couldn’t be duplicated. What a deal! Yet Polaroid somehow managed to keep the momentum going. Today the momentum has shifted to Fuji with their Instax line; Polaroid seems to kinda half-halfheartedly have one camera out there hanging in plastic packaging at your local retail chains. But I digress.This particular SX 70 came to me, as several of the cameras in my collection have, from my dad’s closet. I think this was my Grandpa Etzel’s camera. I have it on good authority that he became very fond of instant cameras. Regardless of the original owner, this camera had seen better days. The leather/leatherette covering had deteriorated to the consistency of stale chocolate chip cookies, and was crumbling into pieces…on everything. What a mess! I spent nearly two hours carefully removing the remnants of 1970s leather and adhesive. 

As it turns out, the SX 70 is a popular camera with the hipster crowd. A refurbished one will set you back a car note nowadays, and film… well I will get to that shortly. Being a popular camera meant new leather in the original color was readily available and inexpensive. for $21 shipped I had brand new clothes for my naked patient. 

 I re-skinned the beast and ordered some film for it. Being a bit on the conservative side with my money…just kidding, I shoot film so there’s no such thing as “conservative spending” … I only ordered two packs, sixteen shots, for $50. That’s right. $50. Let me math the shit out of this for you. $23.98 per pack + $6.99 shipping = $54.95 / 16 shots = $3.43 per shot. Three Fitty a shot, folks!Well, you can guess how that turned out. I loaded the color film in it and the first 5 shots: over-exposed. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t nail exposure. So $17.50 worth of shutter presses gained me nothing. After fiddling with the exposure compensation wheel, I discovered the camera can occasionally take a good photo. 

 So yeah, ouch. One magical shot out of 8. $23.98 + shipping well spent. Not willing to admit defeat, I ejected the spent color cartridge and reloaded with Impossible Project Black and White. By now I simply hoped to get something worth keeping for my investment. I realized that the exposure wheel on the camera is great for compensating when backlighting is harsh. Putting the sun behind Roman and cranking the wheel to 100% dark … the wheel I keep mentioning operates a little ND filter over the light meter which is totally not intuitive, Google it … and I got a shot I felt redeemed my faith in Polaroid and instant film. 

 Feeling better about my understanding of the camera, I took a few more head shots, only to realize I’m no good at this instant camera thing. 

 To say it was a disappointment would be an understatement, but I really shouldn’t have had much expectation. Instant cameras were expensive and limited when they were introduced, and they haven’t changed. Even the newest model Fuji camera is going to land you at a couple bucks a shot for something the size of a business card. The upside to modern instant cameras is some offer things like double-exposure, and bulk packs of film. However, this old dog of a camera, new skin and all, is headed for the display shelf. It was fun while it lasted.Ok, it sucked, but I’m over it now.

P.S. 2023 is here and I’m giving this another go for Polaroid Week. I’ll be shooting the SX-70 and the Lomo’Instant. I eagerly await photos to share!

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