Tag Archives: camera

Relay for Life 2013

Hobart Relay for Life 2013

The 2013 Hobart Relay for Life might have been the first time I cracked 10,000 steps on my Fitbit One (and probably the one and only time I’ll crack 20,000), but it was also a time of realisation.

The vast majority of my recreational photography these days is film photography. If I had to put numbers to it, I’d probably say I do 85% film, 15% digital (which includes my iPhone, as well as my digital SLR). There’s just something about film photography that appeals to me — maybe I like it because it’s different to every other Joe who has a digital SLR, or maybe it’s because the photos taken with film all have their own unique character. Maybe it’s just because I haven’t experienced the very best digital photography has to offer, but these days — for whatever reason — I prefer film.

It was during a trip to Melbourne last year when I realised I could do all my recreational photography solely with my film camera. I only took my film-loaded Bessa over there, and it was perfectly adequate for my street photography and random snapshots. I missed focus on a few photos, and didn’t realise what my shutter speed had fallen to (resulting in a blurry mess) in another one or two, but apart from those random three or four photos, the photos I captured were totally fine1. After the trip, I looked back at my photos, compared them to the ones I took the last time I was in Melbourne, and realised: hey, this camera does a damn fine job of capturing the image I want it to, and, not to mention, it’s also a lot more enjoyable to use.

Relay for Life just affirmed that realisation.

I took my film rangefinder along to Relay because it presented a unique opportunity for me: a chance to take photos of people I actually knew and in reasonable light conditions, instead of the usual street photographs of complete strangers. I took my DSLR along as well, expecting it would get used during the night, when my film Bessa had been retired in favour of the selectable-ISO of my DSLR — I even borrowed my friend’s Speedlite, like I had done the previous year — but as it turned out, I took a total of zero photos using my DSLR this year at Relay.

Straight out of camera, would you believe, in the early hours of the morning.

Straight out of camera, would you believe, in the early hours of the morning.

To be fair, the weather didn’t exactly help; it rained for much of the afternoon and evening, preventing any serious photography from taking place. Had the weather been nicer, like it was last year, then maybe things would have turned out differently, and maybe I would have experimented with long exposures. I had intended to do long exposures during the day, even bringing along my 10-stop ND filter to try my hand at daytime long exposure photography, but alas, the weather had other plans.

All of the above should give you a pretty good idea of where I think digital SLRs and film rangefinders stand. Like I’ve said before, there’s still a place for the digital SLR in my photography endeavours, it’s just that that purpose is becoming more and more specialised where the role of the film rangefinder is expending. Don’t get me wrong: there are occasions where I wouldn’t choose a film rangefinder over a digital SLR, but those occasions are getting fewer as I gain more and more experience with film.

Like I’ve been saying all along, one format isn’t better than the other, and there’s room for both formats in my life. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. But when it comes down to which format takes the better photo, or which one I prefer for any given task, the answers to those questions are a little harder to come by.

Pram Cam 2013

In any case, Relay for Life was good. Not great, because it rained so damn much, but good. Like last year, we put the GoPro on the Team Radi8 mascot (a pram adorned with our names and stick figures), only this time around I turned it around so it faced the people pushing the pram, and recorded a mix of video and time-lapse footage. The video was kind of a mistake as sitting through 7 hours of people pushing a pram around a track isn’t the most exciting thing in the world, but I still managed to capture a few nice moments here and there.

Unlike last year, though, that was pretty much all I did photographically. No time-lapse camera in the grandstand. No separate point-and-shoot for later tilt-shift intentions. All the digital frames that were taken were taken on the GoPro (with perhaps a panorama or two on the ol’ iPhone), but apart from that, it was analog all the way.

And honestly, if I was going to do it again, I would have done exactly the same thing the second time around.2.


  1. I’m tempted to add a qualifier here along the lines of “for a film camera”, but you know what? When a friend asked me (incidentally, at the Relay for Life) if my film camera took better photos than my digital SLR, I replied “I wouldn’t necessarily say better, but it does a pretty damn good job”. 
  2. I can’t share any of the (better) photos here for privacy reasons, but if you know me in real life ask to see them sometime and I’ll happily show you. 

Shots from the camera roll, 2012 edition

2012 was a pretty big year. Well, as big as any other year. Here’s what happened through the lens of my iPhone. I’ve linked most of the stuff I’m describing about below, but you can check out the archive for all posts from 2012. This’ll be pretty long, so instead of clogging up the front page, you’ll have to click through to see everything.

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Does it make you a better… ?

There’s a scene in The Unit — one of my favourite TV series of all time — where one of the lead characters asks another soldier who’s about to make a life changing decision: does it make you a better soldier? In that scene, Jonas asks Mack whether what’s he’s about to do will make him a better soldier, and it’s a good question: if killing your superior officer (who slept with your wife) doesn’t make you a better soldier, you have to ask the question: what does?

It’s the kind of question I ask myself all the time; what can I do that will make me a better person?

A while back I was asked if shooting film made me a better photographer. At the time, I didn’t really have an answer for the guy who asked, because I hadn’t really thought about it myself.

But thinking about it now, the answer seems pretty clear: sure it does, if only on a purely technical level. When you shoot film with a manual-exposure camera, when you’re guessing exposures, you learn about apertures and shutter speeds in addition to thinking about all the other aspects of your shots. A lot of shooting film is also the experience of not being able to look at your photos immediately and having to wait for it to get developed. That teaches patience, which, last time I checked, was a pretty good attribute to have.

With film, you’re limiting yourself to only shooting a certain number of frames. It means you can just spray people at 5fps — 12 if you’re lucky enough to have a 1DX — and it means that you value your shots more because you’ve got less to work with.

And you know what? At the end of the day, maybe taking photos with film cameras doesn’t have to be about if it makes you a better photographer. Maybe it will, and maybe it won’t — but if you’re having fun doing it, then I guess that’s okay too.

Point and Shoot (feat. Olympus mju-II)

A roll of film: $10.

A new camera: $70.

Realising that the above title could have meant that this post could been about DayZ, or about a new film camera: priceless.

As much as I enjoy shooting film, using cameras from the 60s (and especially at the sub-$100 price range) mean you do without some of the modern niceties such as autofocus and autoexposure. In the beginning, that was okay — even without a working in-camera light meter, it was okay. Guessing exposures was pretty educational at the very least, and photos that turned out “good” were all the more satisfying because I know I had more input that I would have had if I had used a modern DSLR.

I’m not saying that you get sick of setting the exposure, then manually focusing the shot, but after a few rolls it starts to get a bit old. I wanted something that was easy to shoot film with, something with good enough optical quality, and something that was much more compact than the behemoth of my Yashica Lynx.

Cue the Olympus mju II. Also known as the Stylus Epic in the US, it’s a small film camera that features autofocus and autoexposure — even the text printed on the back describes it as an ultra-compact 35mm camera. It fits into basically any pocket, has a super-fast startup time, and best of all, shoots film. You’ve probably seen one of these before, and for good reason: it was an extremely popular camera, back in the days when film was much more popular than it is now.

My only complaint about the mju II is that the viewfinder is… tiny, to put it nicely. It’s perhaps half the size of your thumbnail — which is minuscule compared to the viewfinder on your typical DSLR, and if you don’t put your eye up to it at exactly the right point you’ll see nothing. Once you get over that, it’s a nice film camera which seems to want to fire the flash more often than is truly necessary. My version also has one or two issues with loading film, which means loading a new roll takes a minute or so longer than it should, but it’s really a non-issue because everything else is perfect.

The Olympus mju II has a fixed 35mm lens that has a maximum aperture of f/2, and I’ve heard quite a few people rave about how good it is for its size, and especially compared to some of the higher-priced point-and-shoot film cameras. Maybe if I had a few thousand spare I might have gotten a Konica Hexar AF instead, but for now, the mju II was the better choice. It came in a zoom version as well, but apparently the prime version has better optics…

And it’s such a blast to shoot with.

Instead of lugging around the ol’ ball and chain around your neck, you’re simply reaching into your pocket, sliding back the cover, and taking the shot. You think less about the technicalities of taking the shot, and actually take the shot.

It’s easy. Effortless. It means that good pictures as easy to capture, because all you’re doing is depressing a shutter button — and sometimes, that’s exactly what you need to do. Sometimes it’s about the shot itself, rather than setting up the aperture, shutter speed, and then focusing the lens.

But why not do the same with digital, you might ask. After all, there are plenty of good point-and-shoots available for the digital format, some vastly more capable than this little Olympus. That, my friends, is a question for another time.

Form vs Function vs Intention

image design history

Some people give Apple a hard time about having a similar design language from Braun products from the 60s. The thing is, Apple isn’t simply copying visual cues from the past like Olympus or Pentax. Apple is taking what Dieter Rams has learned from Braun and implementing those philosophies into a modern product with a modern approach. Through this process, Apple is not only producing beautiful products but is also pushing the boundaries of materials, like aluminum and glass. Great artists steal. Stealing isn’t the same as copying. The OM-D’s equivalent in Apple’s world would be the next iMac looking like the first generation Bondi Blue iMac just for nostalgia sake.

via Coffee Time: Form vs Function vs Intention  – journal – minimally minimal.

The actual article describes how the new Olympus OM-D pays homage to the humble OM from which it takes many of its design cues, but there’s a nice paragraph about Apple I just had to quote.

Film (is not dead)

yashica lynx 14

For about a fortnight now I’ve been experimenting with film photography. Truth be told, I don’t even think I’ve touched my DSLR in that time, and here’s why: film is not dead.

Far from it, in fact.

Our story today starts with an old 35mm rangefinder I bought off a guy recently. It’s a Yashica Lynx 14 from 1965, one that comes with a super-quiet leaf shutter and a huge, 45mm f/1.4 lens that completely dominates the camera. 58mm filters are gargantuan compared to normal rangefinder lenses, and big even compared to some of my DSLR lenses. There’s also a self-timer that runs for “approximately 8 seconds”, in case you were thinking of taking selfies without a mirror or something.

Not that you would want to, of course due to how incredibly awkward it would be at first: it’s manual everything: manual focus and manual exposure, featuring manual shutter speed and manual (stepless!1) aperture. The built-in light meter didn’t work when I received it, but I imported a few Wein cells which fixed fixed that up (mercury batteries are a little hard to come by these days, so mercury replacement batteries are the next best thing). Other than that, one of the greatest things about this camera and so many others like it is that it’s completely mechanical: the only reason you need batteries at all is for the light meter, which isn’t that big of a deal as you can always guess exposures or use a stand-alone light meter (or your iPhone, or your DSLR). The ability to take photos without batteries, is a pretty big deal.

yashica lynx top

Why a film rangefinder, I hear you ask? I guess between a film rangefinder and a film SLR, the decision was pretty simple. They’re both about the same in terms of availability, and more or less around the same price range. Buying something like an EOS-type SLR body wouldn’t have been all that different to my current digital SLR. A later-generation EOS film body might have allowed me to use my current glass, but I wanted to shoot film mostly because it was different to digital. That meant I needed something much more different than my current DSLR, and for that, I needed a rangefinder. If I’m being honest, I just wanted a smaller, more discreet camera for street, a topic for another time.

Taking photos with a rangefinder is different to what you’re probably used to, as well as being much the same. One of the main differences is how you focus: there’s a small patch in the viewfinder that you place over your subject, at which point you focus your lens using the “overlapping” image that appears. When the two images overlap perfectly and are superimposed over one another, then you’re in focus. It’s really quite cool, and makes for a unique way of focusing. There are downsides to this method though, the main one being that it doesn’t work well with low-contrast images/subjects. For the most part, it’s perfectly okay.

For two weeks, I used my Yashica rangefinder almost exclusively, and how I shot  during the first week was by metering shots using my iPhone or on occasion, my DSLR, translating the same aperture and shutter speed to my Lynx, framing, and taking the shot. The batteries for the built in light meter didn’t arrive until the second week, so for the first week I’d meter my shot, use the same shutter/aperture on my Lynx for that speed film I was using, and take the shot. Sometimes metering the shot was too time-consuming and pretty unwieldy having to get out my iPhone/DSLR and consult its superior metering (actually, now that I think about it I’m going to have to go with it was unwieldy most of the time), so for the first two weeks I guessed a fair few exposures based on the light conditions of the previous shots.

I more or less started and finished the first two rolls of film in an afternoon in the first week, all without an in-body light meter. I decided to get them developed as prints-only, as they were mostly just “test shots” to see how things would turn out if I was guessing exposures (not to mention one of my first real experiences with manual focus).

kodak gold 400 and ektar 100

These first two rolls turned out okay, surprisingly. I was guessing exposures for much of it, and only one or two were grossly over- or under-exposed. Most could have done with an extra stop (or minus) here and there, but mostly they were pretty good. Focus didn’t seem to be an issue either, but I think that could mostly have been attributed to the higher apertures I was shooting at, upwards of f/8 or so.

After the success of my first two rolls, I was excited to do another two, centered around what I would normally be shooting (i.e. candids of people on the street).I got them back last week, and imagine my disappointment when they turned out worse than the previous two rolls. Quite a few shots were out of focus and exposures were all over the place. Suffice to say, my manual focus skills could definitely be improved — but I was kinda expecting that with film that was two stops more sensitive (and thus needing slower shutter speeds/a wider aperture for the same light).

Taking photos with a rangefinder is incredibly good fun. If you’ve never experienced shooting with a film rangefinder, you’re missing out one of the best shooting experiences you can have. Part of it has to do with the fact that you’re doing exposures manually according to what your iPhone light meter says, or trying to do the whole “match needle” thing for every new lighting situation. The other part of it is the entire feeling of film photography: without getting too hand-wavey, depressing the shutter then manually advancing the film using the film advance lever every time you take a shot is something special, as is rewinding the film back into the cassette when you’re done with that roll.

The truth is, I’ve been wanting to try film for a while. Ever since getting a digital camera I’ve wanted to give film a go: not because there are any inherent advantages in film vs digital, but because it’s just something different. Plus, the barrier to entry is relatively low, with a few exceptions (ongoing cost of film and developing). Film has always held this kind of special aura for me, and that might have been to do with the fact that most of my childhood pictures are from an electric film camera (auto-advance and rewind, wow!) that’s still floating around, incidentally.

And you know what? I think I like it. I like it a lot, in fact. I don’t think I’m quite ready to ditch my digital kit entirely as that still has advantages of its own (on-demand, selectable ISO up to 12,800 without having to change film is more of a plus than you would think), but I’m warming up to the idea of shooting predominantly film. There’s something appealing about film photography that can’t be quantified in words, something that can’t be explained except in pictures. It’s just good fun. I’m not saying digital is cheap or anything, but shooting film gives you a whole different appreciation for photography, even more so if you’ve only shot digital thus far, and even more so again if you have an all-manual camera and you’re doing exposures manually.

Now, if only I had a better film camera…


  1. where I mean that while apertures are marked on the lens barrel, you can also have crazy apertures like f/3.1415, if you really wanted to. 

Relay for Life 2012

Another year, another relay.

After seeing a great tilt-shift time lapse by a guy in Melbourne, I thought it would be time to try my hand at time lapses, and what better event to do it at other than the Relay for Life 2012?

The original plan was to do a tilt-shift time-lapse in the same style, but then I found out that a lot of the work would have to be done in post. The way the guy did it in the video was with his Canon S95, a great little point-and-shoot. Turns out, the S95 does it pretty much automatically… Not fair!

With only a DSLR an still wanting to do time-lapses, I decided to acquire some gear.

First on the list: a GoPro. Truth be told this could have been anything with a built-in intervalometer, but I wanted to try a GoPro. In past years we’ve had a pram going around the track for close to 24 hours straight, so I thought making a time lapse of the event that way would be kinda cool. I borrowed a GoPro from my boss, and that was that.

During testing of the GoPro a few days before the event, I discovered it only had about 3 hours of battery life. I wanted to do a continuous time lapse of 24 hours, so I needed a way to power it. Cue external USB battery pack with massive 10,600mAh capacity and 2.1A output. The GoPro has a battery capacity of about 1,100mAh, so I was covered there.

The GoPro would cover me from ground level, but I still wanted to do some kind of a tilt-shift one lapse. Or at least another time lapse from another vantage point. To that end, I borrowed a time lapse camera from a friend, a dedicated time lapse unit that was designed specifically to take time lapses of plants. The plan was to mount this unit somewhere up high, looking down on as much of the area as possible.

Finally, I borrowed a smaller point-and-shoot with a built in intervalometer from a colleague for even more time lapses, just in case things went pear-shaped with either of the other cameras.

With four cameras (three for time lapses and my own DSLR), I think I was ready for whatever was going to happen at Relay.

So, how did it all turn out?

Hobart Relay for Life 2012 Time Lapse

The GardenCam got knocked about a little. You can see in the video above, it changes angle a few times, the quality isn’t great, the focal length is too long, yada yada. The positioning could have been better, but then mounting it would have been a pain. As it turns out, the GardenCam has a very slight (completely unintentional) tilt-shift effect — but I think that’s more the camera being completely crap at focusing rather than anything else.

The GoPro worked out pretty much exactly as I thought it was going to, but the end result wasn’t as spectacular as I thought it was going to be. Maybe a photo every ten seconds was too long in between shots, but the resulting time lapse has parts where things just shoot by at a rapid pace.

For a time lapse to look good, you’ve got to have a nice connection between the shots. If the camera itself is moving (as mine was), then maybe shots more often is a good thing. I have a hunch that less FPS during the final movie (the 10-15fps mark, slower playback speed) in the final movie works better for time lapses with a fixed camera. Take more photos with a moving camera, speed up the FPS in the final movie (24-30fps). But then again, a lot of this is just pure guesswork on my part — you’ll just have to experiment to see what looks good1. Next time I would probably err on the side of taking more photos and varying the speed of playback in post — you can’t go back and re-take photos on the day, but you can cut out stuff in post.

Definitely worth looking at again.


  1. I hate posts on creative subjects that say “just do what you think looks good”. “Just play with the sliders until it looks good.” “Just tweak the exposure until you get it just right.” WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN? Give me direction any day: “play with the exposure until you get something that isn’t too overexposed, but at the same time brings out the colour.” If you’re going to say “just play/experiment”, give the person a little direction as to what they’re aiming for, and what they’re trying to avoid.