Philadelphia & New York City - April 2015

Every April, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) hosts its annual meeting.  The size of this meeting (I.e. many, many thousands of delegates) restricts the location of the meeting to only the handful of cities that have conference facilities large enough to handle the meeting.  This year, the meeting was held in Philadelphia, which gave me the opportunity to visit a city I've never been to before.  It also gave me an opportunity to travel back to New York City (which is only about 100 miles northeast of Philadelphia) to take care of some business and, of course, do a little walking and make some photographs.

Gear-wise, I took my Domke F2 loaded with:

  • Leica MP + CV Nokton 35 f/1.4 MC
  • Canon 7 + Canon 50 f/1.4 ('The Japanese Summilux', if you'd like)
  • Mamiya 7 + 80 f/4 & 43 f/4.5
  • Tri-X (35mm)
  • Portra 400 (120)
  • Portra 160VC (220)
  • Ektar 100 (120)
  • Kodak 50D & 250D (5203/5207) motion picture film (35mm)
  • Provia 100F (35mm & 120)
  • Agfa Precisa CT 100 (35mm; actually rebranded Provia 100F)
  • Bilora Biloret tripod

I also brought my Billingham Hadley Small, packed into my carry-on bag.  The Billingham served as my day-to-day bag, and I never carried more than two cameras at a time.  I decided on the Mamiya 7 over the Hasselblad 500cm for this trip, for the simple reason that I've been shooting a lot of the 500cm lately, and I felt that the Mamiya deserved some attention.  Also, I wanted to do some shooting with the absolutely brilliant 43 f/4.5, a lens for which there is virtually no equal, on any platform.

I flew down to Philadelphia on Saturday morning (it's about 1 1/2 hours from Toronto to Philadelphia...thanks, Air Canada!) and spent Sunday in New York (first half of the day in meetings, second half walking and shooting).  After that, I had roughly 3 more days in Philadelphia, before flying home on Wednesday morning.  A quick trip, but a fruitful trip.  Philadelphia is a lovely city, full of charming back streets, great art, and terrific food.  What more can you ask for?

In the end, I shot the equivalent of 15 rolls of 35mm and 120 film; I say equivalent because I shot 1 roll of Portra 160VC in 220 format, which is equivalent to two rolls of 120.  I've had a bunch of 160VC 220 in my freezer for a while (with an expiration date of 2/2004), and I decided to give it a shot.  Shot it as I normally would any colour negative film (i.e. one stop over box - EI 80 here - metered for the emerging shadows), and processed normally.  Worked absolutely wonderfully, providing even more evidence that, if properly stored, expired film can provide excellent results.

Standard C41 processing was done at Toronto Image Works, while processing of motion picture films, B&W film, and slide film was done in my basement, using the Tetenal C41 kit, Diafine, and the Tetenal 3-bath E6 kit, respectively.  Scanning was via my DSLR method (Nikon D800), and all colour negative conversions were done with my new Photoshop/Lightroom-based method (and yes, I'm still working on part 3!), which worked mostly flawlessly, with the exception of the motion picture film, which required a little bit more tweaking than usual (but still far less than I'd usually be doing).  Nevertheless, the more I use this method, the more I love it.  It provides both fast results and high resolution, and has the added benefit of not requiring an additional piece of hardware (as long as you've already got the DSLR, of course).  I've also started using metal enlarger film carriers (I've got 35mm, 6x6, 6x7, and 4x5) to hold my film flat, and BOY do they work well.  MUCH better than anything else I've used, short of ANR glass (which has its own issues).  All in all, I'm very, very happy with my circa-2015 scanning rig.

Oh, one more thing: I shot one roll of Ektar 100, which has never been my favourite film.  And still isn't.  I just don't love the tonal palette, and I find it very susceptible to colour shifts that are difficult to correct in post.  I've seen some lovely work done with Ektar, but it's just not for me.

Anyway, enough words.  I hope you enjoy the photos.

The Anatomy of a Prank

I recently wrote a post describing a new camera I (along with 3 other photographers) have been testing.  Naturally, I've had a lot of questions about the camera.  So with that in mind, I'd like to write this follow up post.

First off, the camera doesn't exist.

I made it up.

Sorry.  Don't hate me.

Here's how it went down:

I decided I wanted to do a photography-related April Fools joke.  However, I've never been a fan of ridiculous 'jokey' pranks like this or the way-over-the-top stuff like this.  No; I wanted it to be semi-believable.  Something that would make the reader say, "That's cool and I can absolutely see it happening, but it does seem a bit out there".  And no one was going to believe me if I said that I'd been testing a new version of Kodachrome or a digital back for 35mm cameras, or whatnot.

I began to think about what people might really want in a digital camera; especially those who shoot film.  What, if anything, would make them consider abandoning film?  Do people who shoot film do so strictly for the 'look', or is there something else?  If there were a digital camera that perfectly emulated the look and feel of film (including the dynamic range), would people be tempted to switch?

The answer, it seems, is: it depends.

While a few people immediately caught on to the joke, some people seemed genuinely interested in the camera.  Frankly, I would be too.  One of the major 'features' of my imaginary camera was its ability to compress a wide dynamic range into a small range of tones on the sensor, which would then be expanded into a final image in a computer.  This is more-or-less how negative film is able to capture such a huge scenic dynamic range, and the linear response of current digital sensors is one of the key reasons that they still cannot match the DR of modern negative films.

Then there was the issue of making the output look like film.  That's when I came up with the idea of a digital camera that mimics film through the (very real) process of convolution.  I knew about convolution through my experiences in the pro audio world (where it is already routinely used to emulate halls and rooms in reverberation algorithms), and through my day job, where we use the inverse process (deconvolution) to improve the resolution and acuity of images from fluorescence microscopy.  Deconvolution is also used in photography (Photoshop's 'Smart Sharpen' is based on deconvolution, for example).

Frankly, I think this is a pretty damn good idea.  Shoot some film under a set of known conditions.  The response of that film is a known quantity that could, in theory, be mathematically modelled.  Then, apply that to the output of a camera sensor with a known output, and voila.  Frankly, I'm amazed that no camera company has ever thought of this.  Or maybe they have, and it's a ridiculously impractical idea.  Who knows?

Anyway, once I had those two ideas, the post basically wrote itself.  It was absolutely critical that I not make the camera too over-the-top flawless.  Hence the caveats about the requirement for a powerful computer, the limited availability of film stocks, and the 'just ok' high ISO performance.  Again, believable, but kinda crazy.  That was the goal.

In retrospect, two things almost killed the prank before it got off the ground: first, saying that 3 other photographers were testing the camera naturally raised the question of where their previews were.  I have to admit that I totally overlooked this.  On the plus side, Johnny Patience, who was one of the first people to immediately recognize this as a joke, volunteered to go along with the plan, and confirmed the accuracy of my review.  This was a huge step for the joke, because Johnny has a much larger following than I do, and thus lent the whole story far more legitimacy.

The second thing that almost killed the prank was my statement that I would consider buying this camera and giving up film.  I wouldn't do that.  Ever.  To his credit, Tom Welland picked up on this (since Tom has actually met me and knows my affinity for the process of shooting film, rather than just the end result).

Anyway, I am sorry to disappoint you all.  I hope you had fun with this and you won't hate me.  It was interesting to read your questions and comments, and hopefully it got everybody thinking a bit about why they choose to shoot film (or not), and what they truly value in a camera and in photography.

Happy April!