Monday, April 30, 2012

The Same Yet Different - Toy Cameras

Those of you who know me well know that I never really grew out of my childhood.  I read comic books, I still watch cartoons, I occasionally eat ice cream for dinner, and I still like to play with toys.  I do have a few children's toys lying around (He-Man figurines, etc.), but the majority of the toys I spend time with are in camera form.  I am not speaking about all cameras here.  Although, every camera I shot for this project could be considered a grown-up toy.  No, I mean actual toy cameras.  Cameras that are a crappy piece of plastic with some sort of lens on it and it takes pictures on the film you have loaded (or, at least, you hope).

Toy Camera Gear:
Lomography Supersampler
Holga 120N
Kodak Disposable
Lomography Fisheye No 2 Ripcurl

Molly with the Supersampler
Stacy and I have a picture on our wall that has four pictures in sequential order on a single shot.  I have always wondered what the camera was that our wedding photographer used.  A few months back I figured it out.  It is the Lomo Supersampler.  I was psyched to finally find it and even more psyched that it was only $50.  That seems like a small price to pay for awesomeness.  This camera takes four pictures using four separate little lenses over the course of about two seconds.  It is a super fun camera to shoot while you are out with friends doing active stuff.  With this particular camera you don't even have a viewfinder.  You just kind of point it toward your subject and hope they are in the frame.  Seriously, order one and shoot a roll.  You will be glad you did.

The team with the Holga
The Holga was my first toy camera.  Stacy bought it for me for my birthday a few years back and I still keep it in my camera bag almost all the time.  It was actually my first Medium Format camera, too, but this camera is different.  This is a piece of plastic loaded with 120 film with the world's worst camera back system.  I don't think I have shot a roll with this camera where the back has not fallen off at some point and overexposed a section of my film.  Case in point, see Molly's picture above.  The back fell off after advancing to the next frame and made half of her picture completely exposed.  Oh, well.  That is one of the things I love about this camera.  The lens sucks.  The body leaks light like it is its job.  You only have two light options - sunny and cloudy.  Your focusing options are one person, three people, group of people, and mountain.  Seriously, what is there not to love about this?  Every time I shoot a roll of film on this I can't wait to get it back from the lab to see what gems are on it.

Ryan with the Kodak disposable
Disposable cameras were a staple in personal photography when I was growing up.  If I were going on a camping trip, vacation, to the pool with friends, whatever, we would have one of these with us.  They were perfect for capturing a moment and telling a story.  They really do kind of suck at taking pictures, though.  The bonus about this particular disposable was that it had been in Ryan's glove box for the past five years and have a few exposures left on it.  The lights we were using weren't quite bright enough for this camera and the flash only fired on the shot of Ryan, but you still get the idea.  Keep some film in a hot car for several years then take some pictures with it.  The shots will have a look straight out of 1970 and you will be able to post to Instagram without adding a filter.

The group shot with the Lomo Fisheye
This camera was new to me.  However, it was fun to play with.  I think this one would be best outside, as well.  Probably in the water, having your subjects get super close to the lens.  Yeah, that would be the right place for this camera.  It is interesting to see the reaction for my models here, though.  Just pulling out a silly, brightly-colored toy camera brought out a different reaction in all of them.  Awesome.

I don't think any of these are the right cameras for studio portrait photography, but the beauty of toy cameras is that none of that matters.  They are just supposed to be fun.  Go shoot whatever you want with them.  They are toys.  They are meant to be fun.  I actually do see some commercial opportunities here with these cameras.  This type of look, feel, and attitude would fit well with a lot of brands.  I would love to be hired to shoot an entire campaign on toy cameras.  That would be a blast.  Then if they could also pay me to watch some Scooby Doo with my son and read the latest adventures of Swamp Thing I would be able to get back at all those who have told me to grow up over the years.  Toys 'R' Us was right.  Growing up isn't something one should want to do.

*Thanks to Ryan Wells and Jimmy Bunting for the camera loans

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Same Yet Different - Point & Shoot

I have shot a gun only a few times in my life.  And each time it has been nothing but pointing and shooting.  Someone else set everything up for me, launched the clay pigeon, reloaded, etc.  That is why these posts have not been about guns.  Instead, these posts are about cameras.  I have shot a lot more cameras than I have guns, but the point and shoot camera fills a need for someone who wants someone or something else to set everything up for them.  However, the standard point and shoot camera is becoming more and more obsolete so I have chosen not to even feature one of those cameras here.  Instead, I shot some other cameras that grouped together nicely under this title.  

Point & Shoot Gear:
Sony NEX 5N
Nikon J1
iPhone 4s

Ryan, Ben, and Mike with the NEX 5N
The first camera in this category is the Sony NEX 5N.  I was excited to shoot this camera.  The specs of this look really impressive.  APS-C sized sensor, 16 megapixels, up to 10 frames per second, etc.  Then I shot it.  My first impression... meh.  The pictures it took were fine, but nothing special.  They are clean nice photos, but I feel like I could get that for less than $600 (body only) price tag.  The key here, though, is that I only shot this camera in this one situation.  I still would like to take it out with me again.  I think this camera could shine in the mountain environment.  But in a studio portrait session, I wouldn't suggest it.

Ben, Mike, and Molly with the Nikon J1
You know when you go to movies that you are expecting a lot from and they're not quite there so you think they suck?  That may have been what was happening with the NEX 5N.  And the next camera may be similar to when you go to a movie you are not expecting anything from, it turns out to be pretty good, and you can't wait to tell everyone to go see it.  Either way, the Nikon J1 impressed me.  Please don't take this as me just being a Nikon fanboy.  I am trying to be objective here.  I just really liked how this camera shot and the pictures it took.  Maybe its just the Nikon tones I am used to or something like that, but I definitely prefer the J1 picture set to the NEX 5N set.  I know a lot of people thought Nikon missed the boat when they released this camera, but I enjoyed shooting it and think it is a great solution for a camera this size and price.

Ryan, Ben, and Molly with the iPhone 4s
Then we come to the reason I think the traditional point and shoot camera is dying, the cell phone camera.  Cameras have been on cell phones for a while now, but until recently they have not been good enough to want to take real pictures with them.  The iPhone 4s, however, is a real camera.  It takes great pictures, has a lot of capabilities built in and available in app form, and is always with you.  This is what the point and shoot always wanted to be, but never quite achieved.  I wouldn't start using this in commercial jobs or anything, but this is pretty great at capturing a moment and sharing with the world.

I can see ways that I would use all of these cameras.  I probably won't be using them for paid work, but for fun and for recon missions these cameras are excellent.  You don't always want to be carrying around 30+ pounds of camera gear, but you do want to be able to take a good picture if you get the right light.  I know people that are really into guns.  They probably have guns for every type of shooting.  I will probably stick with letting them do everything for me when we go out shooting, and I have some great recommendations for a camera if they are in the market.

*Thanks to Tim Kemple, Scott Asay, and Ryan Wells for the camera loans

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Same Yet Different - DSLR

The Digital Single Lens Reflex camera has become ubiquitous amongst professional photographers and proud mothers everywhere.  You will see it on the sidelines of every pro football game you watch on television and every kids soccer game where you cheer simply because the kids look so adorable in their little uniforms.  And for good reason.  The DSLR is the most versatile piece of equipment in a photographer's bag.  Modern cameras shoot video, work well in low light, have fast frame rates, have quality sensors, etc.  And you can throw on any of a number of lenses to fit your specific need.  These are just a few of the reasons DSLRs are the go-to camera for most working photographers these days (myself included).

DSLR Bodies:
Nikon D3S
Nikon D300
Nikon D7000
Nikon D90
Nikon 3100

DSLR Lenses:
Sigma 150mm f2.8 Macro
Nikon 85mm f1.4
Nikon 85mm f2
Nikon 85mm f2.8 PC
Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 Macro
Nikon 55-200mm f3.5-5.6
Nikon 50mm f1.4
Nikon 50mm 1.8
Nikon 24mm f2.8
Nikon 24mm f3.5 PC
Nikon 18-200mm f3.5-5.6
Nikon 18-55mm f3.5-5.6
Tokina 11-17mm f2.8
Nikon 10.5mm f2.8 Fisheye
Holga Toy Lens

Molly, Mike, and Ben with the D3S / 85mm f1.4
I knew I was going to like shooting these cameras.  These are the cameras I am most comfortable with.  But I do have to say that the D3S stands on its own here.  The way it feels in my hand, the crazy fast frames per second, the full frame sensor (equivalent to 35mm film), and a number of other things add up to making this camera and others in its field (the D4 for example) worth the money.  Now, am I saying that everyone can justify the cost to go out and buy one?  No.  But I am saying that you get what you pay for here.

Mike, Ryan, and Molly with the D7000 / 85 f1.4
One thing that impressed me while shooting this particular part of the project was how much I fell in love with the Nikon 85mm f1.4 lens.  This thing is gorgeous.  It is a beautiful piece of equipment and takes such great pictures.  Both of the image sets above were shot with this lens - the top image set on the D3S and the other on the D7000.  I have used both of these cameras a lot in my work, and I think this lens brings out the best in both of them.

Ryan, Mike, and Ben with the D3S / 50mm f1.8
Probably the best $100 you will ever spend in photography will be on a fast 50mm prime lens.  This was one of my first lenses and it still is one of my favorites.  Even after shooting the 50mm f1.4 as much as I have I still love to shoot this lens.  I love how clean everything is and how natural it looks.  There are no tricks with this lens.  You have to shoot a great picture with it in order for it to be noticed.  But it is definitely capable of taking great pictures.

Mike and Molly with the 85mm f2.8 PC tilt shift lens
There are lenses, unlike the 50mm f1.8, that can create interest simply by what they do.  Tilt shift lenses are in this category.  These types of lenses are used to create a more realistic image by architectural photographers, landscape photographers, and more.  But many others use them in other ways to create something different.  And that is what I have done here.  I had never tried to shoot portrait photography with a tilt shift lens before this shoot.  I guess I assumed it would have been gimmicky (and some of you may still think it is).  But to be honest, these are two of my absolute favorite images from the entire shoot.  This lens has the ability to draw your attention to the eyes in a way that others do not.  There is so much story behind these images.  If I had only shot these two images in the whole project I would have been happy.

Ryan, Mike, and Molly with the D3100 / 18-55mm f3.5-5.6
When you really dive into the files from the D3S (or other full frame cameras) you can see why it costs so much.  It holds a lot of detail.  However, I was honestly impressed with the D3100 among the DSLRs that I shot.  This camera is positioned the lowest in the Nikon DSLR line that I shot for this project.  I am not saying that it is better than any of the others, but this camera did hold its own.  It is a nice little camera and even with the kit lens I think we got some good images that I would be happy with.  I would definitely suggest this camera to someone buying their first DSLR (or the new D3200).

I could go on and on about DSLR stuff.  We took a lot of pictures with these cameras and lenses.  And that is one of the benefits of them - you can take a lot of pictures in a short amount of time.  But I have chosen to stop here.  I wanted to highlight some of the things that stuck out to me while shooting these.  Within these cameras is a great solution for the pro sports shooter, the landscape shooter, the portrait shooter, and the mom who wants something more than her iPhone (which we will cover tomorrow).  As much as I love shooting Large and Medium Format, the DSLR just makes more sense in many of the situations in which I shoot.  I will continue to shoot it and hopefully add a new D800 to my kit if I play my cards right.

*Thanks to Garrett Smith and Ryan Wells for the camera loans

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Same Yet Different - Medium Format

Medium is a weird size.  When you order something in a medium size at a restaurant, what are you really saying about yourself?  I would get a small if I were cutting back or a large if I were throwing caution to the wind, but I can't really make up my mind... meh, I'll have a medium.

Medium Format Gear:
Hasselblad 501cm
Mamiya 645
Rolleiflex 55mm f4

Medium Format film, however, doesn't exactly fit within this idea of being the undecided man's camera.  The beauty of medium format is that you get a ton of image quality in a much smaller package than the Large Format stuff.  Your film size is considerably smaller than LF, but considerably larger than a DSLR sensor.   Plus, medium format cameras are just cool.

Ben and Mike with the Rolleiwide
The Rolleiwide was fun to shoot.  It is a twin reflex camera, meaning it has two lenses - one for looking through and one for taking the picture.  This camera has great color and picks up light in a very timeless look.  If you want to shoot medium format and have it look like it was shot in the days of old this is a great camera.  It looks like you can pick up one of these for a relatively small amount of money, too!

Molly and Stacy (and Miles) with the Hasselblad
The Hasselblad 501cm.  What a beautiful camera.  Just hefting it in your hands brings a smile to your face.  The sound and feel of the shutter is sure to remind you why you love taking pictures.  The color film we shot turned out great.  I love the tones this camera gives.  Both of the pictures above have such emotion behind them.  Plus, I just love the square format of the Hasselblad (and most medium format cameras).

Molly and Ben with the Hasselblad
I do have to say, however, that I think I prefer shooting black and white when I shoot medium format film.  Is that weird?  I like that I know I am shooting black and white.  I like to plan my shots accordingly.  Occasionally, I like to take my DSLR out and shoot with black and white in mind, but it is not quite the same.  I can always stick with the color if I like that better.  I like the restriction of black and white film.  I like that there is no going back.  

Ryan with the Mamiya
And then there's the Mamiya 645.  This camera was a gift to me.  When I received it I expected to enjoy shooting it occasionally when I felt like it.  Turns out, I feel like shooting this camera a lot.  I do wish it had the square format of other medium format cameras, but the image quality, the feel of the camera in my hands, the contrast levels in black and white, etc. all make for a very enjoyable shooting experience.  And I think my subjects pick up on that, and we begin to feed off each other.

Mike with the Mamiya and some old film
One of the rolls of film I shot with this camera was old.  You can tell.  However, I think it is rad.  I love the scratches on the images.  I think it adds to the raw nature of black and white film.  Is it just me?

Molly with the Mamiya
Overall, I would say that I love Medium Format.  I love the way it feels.  I love the way it looks.  I did my best to secure a loaner digital medium format Hasselblad for this project, but alas, it was unavailable.  But they are saying the new Nikon D800 is getting pretty close... but we will talk more about that tomorrow.

Medium Format is not quite the image size of LF.  It doesn't quite have all the features and amenities of a DSLR.  But for some projects the MF is just right.  The next time I go into a fast food restaurant and approach the counter I will look the cashier in the eyes and tell him I am not looking for small nor big today.  Nope, a medium is just right.

*Thanks to Jimmy Bunting and Kate Austin for the camera loans

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Same Yet Different - Large Format

Remember when you would buy a new CD, drive home (in your car with a tape deck), go directly to your bedroom, shut the door, then listen to it all the way through?  Now you buy a song here or there and they automatically upload onto your phone.  You forget you even bought it until it comes up on shuffle.  Because of the convenience of modern technology we have lost some of the romanticism that surrounded our music buying experience.  The same could be said about taking pictures.  I do not mean to imply that iTunes or modern digital cameras are a bad thing.  I think they are great.  But everything has its place.  And large format film holds the most romantic of places in the hearts of anyone who has had the pleasure of shooting it.  There is just something so intimate about the process - the time involved in setting everything up, the steps ensuring the correct exposure, draping yourself with the dark cloth,  the meticulous composition knowing you only have one shot, the darkroom, etc.  

Large Format Gear:
Kodak Master Camera 8x10 with Schneider 210mm f5.6 lens
Cambo SC 4x5 with Schneider 90mm f8 lens
GraphicView 4x5 with Wollensak 190mm f4.5 lens

Jimmy and Mike with the Cambo on Kodak Portra 400 film
The first of these cameras we shot was the Cambo SC.  I set it up to get more of a complete upper body portrait and give the composition a little more room.  The shots turned out fine, but not great.  I needed to use the camera's strengths and really get some detail and emotion out of my subjects.
Ben, Stacy, Molly, and Ryan with the GraphicView on Kodak E100S film
Then we set up the GraphicView.  Such a beautiful camera.  I got super tight on the models with this one which did a few things - it showed off the super shallow depth of field these cameras are capable of, it gave more detail into the people themselves (look at Ben's eyes in the shot above... almost captivating enough to take your attention away from the brownies in his teeth), and it brought more interest and emotion out of the models as they were so close to this beautiful, large format process.  I love these images and want to shoot more like them.

Ben with the Kodak 8x10 on Kodak Ektachrome 100 film
Later we set up the Kodak 8x10.  Wow.  After spending many years pressing my eye into a little viewfinder on an SLR, it is definitely refreshing to place a cloth over your head and compose your image on an 8"x10" piece of glass.  I would not consider this camera "practical."  The camera is big and heavy, the lens is expensive, the film is massive (and way expensive), the tripod is big, etc.  But man, does it take great pictures.  Each of these images just had me looking over and over at the detail therein.  

Overall, the Large Format stuff was a blast to shoot.  The 8x10 was fun, but I have a hard time seeing justification for it too often in my workflow.  However, I definitely want to shoot more 4x5 in both my commercial and personal work.  The process is long and involved, but it brings a lot of interest out of your subject that you may not get with a DSLR that they have seen so many times.  In essence, photographers are storytellers.  If it takes a 4x5 camera to draw out the extra bit of story from my subject then so be it.  I really just want to find the right tool for any given project.  

Molly with the Kodak 8x10 on Kodak Ektachrome 100 film
I don't remember the last time I went to the record store and bought a physical CD.  And to be honest, I am a little ashamed of this.  I miss the process that is involved with experiencing new music.  Spotify can only do so much.  I need to take note from the guy who has his collection of CDs, Vinyl, and MP3s.  I need to put forth the right amount of effort to get what I want out of my photography and discover something new every time I click the shutter.

*Thanks to Jimmy Bunting and Rodger Newbold for the camera loans

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Same Yet Different - Intro

I don't know what I expected to discover by doing this project.  The concept was to shoot essentially the same picture with the same lighting with as many cameras as I could get a hold of.  I wasn't trying to do a spec comparison between one camera system and another.  I wasn't trying to prove that film is better than digital. Nor was I trying to prove that digital is better than film.  I really just wanted to shoot a ton of cameras in a given scene.  I wanted to see how each of them felt, the shooting process for each, the post process for each, how models respond to them, etc.  I just wanted to see what happened.

I will feature a few different posts on the project - Large Format, Medium Format, DSLR, Point & Shoot, Toy Cameras, and a conclusion.  I hope you enjoy it.

Below you will see a sample of images of each of the four main models that helped.  They were so awesome to help me out with this project.  You will also occasionally see my wife (and son) and photographer, Jimmy Bunting, but I didn't get enough pictures of them to highlight here.  Can you tell what images were shot with what camera/lens/etc?