The Olympus AF-1 Infinity - The good, the bad and the meh.

The Olympus AF-1 is a point and shoot that came out around 1986. It's boxy as hell and sports a sliding lens cover, similar to the XA. It also has a 35mm f2.8 Zuiko lens which is purportedly sharp, though I'm not sure mine has convinced me that it is. More on that, later. As the "AF" in the name implies, it features auto-focus and everything on this camera is totally automatic, including the flash, which you cannot turn on/off. For more specs, visit Camerapedia

I've only put one roll through this camera and it was largely a test roll. It hung out with me in the car for a couple weeks and made a couple of trips on my bike during my morning workout. So here are some first impressions. 

The Good

Aesthetically speaking, I love the look and "chunk" of this thing. It has a very 80's vibe going on with its sliding lens cover, bulbous viewfinder, and boxy physique. Also, it doesn't hurt that it kind of matches my Dodge Charger. 

It also manages its flash decently well. It doesn't seem to blow things out. Even when it went off and I thought that I had enough available light and I didn't agree with the flash being triggered, it seemed to manage the flash just fine. That said, it's still a point and shoot flash, but a decent one at that.

It's capable of getting a well-exposed shot*. Why an asterisk? Well, in order to achieve this well exposed shot, there are a few situational factors that must line up. More on that in the "Bad" section of this review. 

The portability of this camera is fantastic, it slips in a pocket, car console, and it even fits perfectly in my bike's saddle bag, ready for an early morning ride.

The Bad

Unfortunately, there's a few things about this camera that are less than rave-worthy. Let's start with the biggest issue I've had with this camera - lens flare and glare. 

Yes, I know. I'm shooting into the sun here and that's a big no-no but I have plenty of other cameras where I can do just that and still get a serviceable image. You cannot with this guy. In fact, you need by very conscious of sun rays hitting the lens because, even when not shooting into the sun, even reflected light can wreak havoc on the exposure.

Here, the sun was basically directly above me, and not in direct line with the lens. Even still, I had to heavily rely on the "Dehaze" tool in Lightroom to recover this photo from being a washed-out mess. 

Lastly, I just haven't experienced this lens being all that sharp, and it's overall optics are in question. 80% of the roll had significant vignetting and about 50% had noticeable softness - though I'm not sure if that's attributable to the lens optics or the AF.

The Meh

The AF is reliable, for the most part, however, I had about 3 or 4 exposures out of 36 where there was a clear center subject in the photo and it just missed focus, usually, only slightly.

The other issue, which is more of a user error than anything, is the amount of times I put my finger in front of the lens. Because of the sliding lens cover, I tend to leave my finger on that piece when I take the photo. If your finger overhangs even in the slightest, you're screwed, and there's not a ton of phalangeal real estate there.

The Final Verdict

This little guy is too convenient and too funky not to keep around for at least a couple more rolls before I decide if it stays or goes. It's my only point and shoot at the moment and I'm not convinced that it will be the one I hang on to. But I will give it a fair shake at impressing me, though it hasn't yet. 

Have experience with this camera? Let me know what you think of it in the comments!

Photo Set | Ilford XP2 Super 400 with the Horses

This is the second outing at St. James Farm with the Olympus OM2N and Ilford XP2 400. 

Zine Review | "My Kind of Town" - Nick Mayo

I become familiar with Nick Mayo by stumbling across his YouTube channel one day, then realized I had been following him on Instagram for some time. Nick is a film photographer from Grand Rapids, MI who recently hosted a Chicago film meet up that I was unfortunately unable to attend. Nick also operates a film apparel site called "Two Stops" where you can find t-shirts, stickers and other cool film related stuff, including the zine in question. Here are my thoughts on Nick's Chicago-centric zine, "My Kind of Town".

1. It’s so Chicago, and I love it - As a native Chicagoan (okay, I’m from the suburbs, but still) I have a love for the city. I don’t experience the city enough quite frankly. However, Nick has done a great job of capturing what a panning shot of the city or a landscape will never capture. The architecture shots are not the typical, but feel like the kinds of things one sees when they’re out in the heart of the city, along a daily route, or morning jog. Not to say they’re ordinary… no, they resonated with because I very often take for granted the amazing buildings and angles while just moving from point A to B. Nick seems to have taken notice where most don’t. 

2. Contrast and bleed - the photos have such a lovely, heavy contrast in them. I’m not sure what most of these were shot on, but feel like Tri-X to me. I very much enjoy where some of the photos completely bleed into the matte around the edges, in either black or white - especially in the car photo and, what I think is a photo of lower Wacker. 

3. The jazz - the opening quote mentions jazz. I think this series feel like what a dark, smoky, and gritty jazz nightclub might feel like… if it were Chicago. If the series were set to music, I think jazz would be fitting - heavy on the sax and sizzle.

Pick up Nick's zine here.

Photo set | Jam Night @ Jesse's Tavern

This is my second time now having been able to shoot here. I used only one lens the entire time, my new Olympus G. Zuiko 50mm 1.4. With the super fast lens, I was able to bump my shutter speed faster and reduce motion blur. Post processing the concert lighting is always tough, balance between desaturating  the highlights and not losing color in peoples' faces. I tried not shooting @ 1.4 the entire time to increase some sharpness, but I'm okay with some softness in concert photography, I think it's a bit fitting. 

Camera: Olympus E-PL7

Lens: Olympus G. Zuiko 50mm F1.4

Photo set | Party Like a One Year Old | Minolta X-700

Minolta X-700 with Lomography Color 800

All photos taken with the Minolta 50mm f1.7 lens

This was my first outing with Lomography Color 800 film. I was shooting indoors on an overcast day without a ton of available natural light so I thought it'd be good to give it a go. Overall, I'd say it did fairly well. Able to shoot at faster shutter speeds, I didn't have to worry much about a flailing child or missing a glance. That was nice. However, the film isn't without a few issues, namely high grain and low saturation. Both of which I was able to make some corrections on in post. And, I didn't really mind the low saturation on most of the photos. I can't say it's my favorite color film that I've shot but it did the job for some indoor color shooting. 

a human mop

a human mop

"You lookin' at me?" 

"You lookin' at me?" 

sisters help out

sisters help out

daddy / daughter

daddy / daughter

fun with cake

fun with cake

cake time

cake time

can't sit still

can't sit still

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what's a party without tunes? 

what's a party without tunes? 

New Camera Alert | Minolta X-700

Well, I certainly wasn't looking for another film camera but this one found me. This past weekend, I was digging through some old memorabilia at my mom's house - basement boxes and bins replete with school short stories, old cassette tapes with kid-hosted radio shows, and baseball cards galore. Having recently picked up my Epson V550 negative scanner, I asked my mom if she still had all the negatives for the hundreds of photos in her photo books. She said she most certainly did but couldn't recall where they were. She never did find the negatives, though she swore she would keep looking and let me know when she did. However, she did find this gem and my jaw dropped when she pulled it out of a box in her room.

She had, in her possession, a pretty pristine Minolta X-700 with a Albinar 87 TTL flash and MD 50mm F1.7 lens. I'd be lying if I said I hadn't fawned over this camera in the past. However, I didn't want to get into another lens system, as I've gotten quite cozy with the OM mount. Already, though, there's a number of things that I'm already really digging about this SLR. 

  • Blacked Out - this is my first all-black camera. All my other cameras are some mix of black and silver... except for my toy Jazz Jelly... that is legitimately "blueberry" colored.
  • Program Mode - the X-700, in Program Mode, will attempt to get the fastest shutter speed in any lighting situation. I still can't fully wrap my mind around when I would use this versus it's alternative aperture priority mode. But, nonetheless, cool to have as an option. It offers full manual, as well, which is critical, IMO.
  • The viewfinder - I have to say, the viewfinder rivals the OM1 and OM2n that I have. Everyone touts the OM cameras as having great viewfinders, and I don't disagree, but I was really impressed when I first peered through the X-700. A a great, clean focusing screen, as well. 
  • MD / MC Lenses - The amount of quality MD/MC lenses available and for very reasonable costs is exciting. I have already ordered a 45mm f2 pancake lens for $25 shipped. I have my eyes sent on a few others, as well. Of course, this ultimately means that I will have more lenses to adapt to my Olympus E-PL7, too. 

Anyone have any experience with this camera, either positive or negative? Stay tuned for my first roll!

This week’s learnings - film photography

Clean my negative scanner regularly… all of it

I have been getting these lines across all my scans for those that were in the bottom row of the 35mm negative tray for my Epson V550. I was sitting there writing to Epson support, having cleaned the document bed numerous times to no avail. Then it dawned on me… there’s the window on top of the scanner lid. I cleaned that real quick… and, no more lines!

With a wide-open aperture, I risk missing focus at a higher rate

I still have to remind myself of this and I still disregard it too often. I know this goes for digital as well, but with film, I rely on the focusing screen and not such technological tools as focus peaking or enhanced zoom. Even when there’s enough available light that I can be at f4 or f5.6, I still make the mistake of shooting at f1.4 or f1.8 – and if my focus is not dead on, I pay for it. My goal for the next two weeks is to not shoot at those low apertures. Here’s photo evidence of big miss.

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Don’t judge a film based on one roll

My first roll of Kodak ColorPlus 200 came out very… meh. I shot it on an overcast day with a lot of flat light. And, quite honestly, the subject matter of my roll just wasn’t that interesting, in retrospect. However, I was not really looking forward to shooting it again. But yesterday, I got back my second roll of Kodak ColorPlus 200 and it was night and day. Nice, even, natural color without being too saturated and it even held up in the shadows okay.  

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giveaway | minolta al-e

Let's face it. I need to boost the awareness of this blog. And I think a good, genuine and beneficial way to do that is to do a giveaway.  

Entry to win is super easy. Simply fill out the newsletter form below and you're good to go. I promise I won't spam you relentlessly. I may spam you unrelentlessly. Ok, fine. That's even a real word. I will, however, send you information about new content on occasion. 

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Now for the important stuff. Up for grabs is a rare rangfinder - the Minolta AL-E from about 1968. This Cds controlled, shutter priority camera sports a Rokkor QF f1.8 40mm lens. I'll even throw in a roll of film to get you going.  This camera is fully functional and will come with a fresh battery installed. Metering works and is accurate!

The winner of this giveaway will be drawn, at random, and announced on March 19. Only one entry per email enrolled in newsletter.  I will foot the bill for shipping for continental US. International winners will have the option to pay shipping. 

Enter Here! ***Be careful some have reported that the confirmation email is hitting the spam folder. MailChimp requires you confirm in order to be added to the list, and this, added to the giveaway***

discovery | going manual for concert lighting

This past Thursday night, I went to a southside Chicago bar to watch my brother play (he's a drummer) with a couple of guys that lead an open jam night. It was great to see my brother play. He and the guys he was playing with seemed to have a great time. I thought it'd be a prime opportunity to shoot in a lighting situation that I have no familiarity with... concert lighting. The stage overall was pretty dimly lit and there were about 3 or 4 overhead colored lights that filled the stage area. I was able to get a sense of the setup prior to picking out which gear I was going to bring, thanks to the help of the business' Google Places page. So that was definitely helpful. Here were some decisions I made along the way.

Digital vs. Film

Since I'm still getting acquainted with film, and more specifically, the appropriate film speed for different lighting situations, I figured I better not push it (no pun intended). I decided shooting digital would allow for the greatest margin of error and adaptability on the fly. Whether or not that's true, is certainly debatable. 

Lenses and Focal Lengths

I settled on a mix of lenses. I figured I wouldn't need anything super wide, since I didn't want to have to be on top of the stage, in their faces, in order to get good shots. I brought:

  • Sigma 30mm f2.8 DN Art - This proved to be okay. The focal length was good for getting shots of the whole group on stage. I was about 15 feet from the stage. The place was smaller so moving around a lot and getting close wasn't really an option without annoying people. So, I shot most my photos from my immediate seating area. 
  • Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm 1:4-5.6 R - The intent was to be able to use the zoom for close up, detail and action shots. However, the lighting being as dark as it was, this kit lens was basically useless due to the much smaller aperture. I would have had to push the ISO beyond it's breaking point (about 3000 ISO) to get a serviceable shutter speed. I ditched using it early on. 
  • Olympus 50mm f/1.8 OM F.Zuiko - Goddamn does this lens never cease to prove its usefulness. I wound up using this lens 80% of the time. The focal length, 100mm on the 2x crop sensor, was perfect for framing up individual portraits and even pairs of band members. I kept the aperture at f1.8 in order to get the most out of the light in the room with this decently fast lens. Even though this is a manual focus lens, I had no problem pixel peeping on the LCD real quick to get focus and zoom back out to compose. I used focus peaking a bit too. No problem focusing this lens, since I'm pretty familiar with the throw of the focus ring now. 

Camera Settings

Normally, I shoot aperture priority with my Olympus E-PL7, and the camera usually does a great job of picking a good shutter speed in most lighting conditions. However, I was finding that because there was such a drastic dynamic range in this setting, that it kept choosing much too slow of a shutter speed - usually about 1/30 of a second with an ISO of 2000 (this is the max ISO I have the Olympus set to, I don't like going over 2000). This was causing the highlights to blow out pretty badly, especially on peoples' faces where the colored lights were hitting. This was also causing a lot of motion blur, since rarely do musicians play motionless. So, I went full manual, keeping my ISO at 2000, and after some trial and error, found that 1/50th or 1/60th of a second wouldn't blow out the highlights and would still retain enough detail in the shadows. It also cleared up 90% of the motion blur I was getting previously. Once I figured out this recipe, I barely had to tinker with exposure settings the rest of the night and I was free to focus on focusing, timing and composition. I was really glad I didn't just rely on aperture priority for this scenario, I would have been much more frustrated with my shooting experience. 

Here are my results. I am quite pleased with them. Feedback welcome!