Back to the future – with film!

I have always recommended shooting a roll of film every now and then. Film – that stuff they used like in the 1800s. And if you are artistic, black and white film.

So I shoot a roll of film every now and then. Because it’s cool. And because I remember to respect the click. Every time you shoot, you spend a few dollars. And you need to get it right: no feedback, no second chances. So you think about photos.

I use my Nikon FE:

And that’s why in my store we also develop film – and in the case of most black and white film, we even do this in-house, right in the store. Here’s some of the equipment, and today’s film drying (35mm as well as 120):

But you don’t need a pro camera… sure, hipsters use cameras like mine, but young women instead love single-use cameras, or better, the simple brightly coloured Kodak snapshot cameras (yes, and we sell them):

And here’s why:

Bring back the past: by popular demand

I tell all my students to shoot a roll of film every now and then. Because you have to think. And you value that click. And it’s fun to see “what you got”.

Young people have realized this too, which is why these are so popular all of a sudden, and why I now carry them in my shop:

Kodak M35: Re-usable (not single use) film cameras, in fun colours. And since I imported them directly from, um, yeah, China, they are affordable too.

Who’d have thought: back to film!

Spare time…

…of which right now I have quite a lot. My store/studio (www.michaelwillemsphoto.com) is still open, but only for passport/ID photos and curbside delivery/pickup, so the days are super slow.

So I get to do some hobby stuff. And my hobby intertests are wide. They also include electronics and computers, and the other day, I bought an Arduino-based Altair 8800 simulator kit (from www.adwaterandstir.com). An excellent kit, by the way, highly recommended.

The Arduino is a modern microcontroller, and the Altair 8080 was really the first personal computer, way back in 1974.

After seeing that article, a couple of young students from Harvard decided to write a BASIC interpreter for it, and the rest is history – you may recognize the names in the Altair BASIC manual:

Anyway, the Altair looked like this…:

And the simulator I built looked like this:

And then it looked like this:

And now, after seven hours of soldering and constructing, looks like this:

And it works! So now I can watch blinking lights (loom up “blinkenlights“). And I can program some BASIC to calculate primes:

..and I can rum CP/M, play Othello and Star Trek and Zork, and in general, do the things you could do in 1977.

Why on earth would I want to do this?

Because it’s a cool conversation piece. And it looks super cool: the Altair with its lights and data/address switches was based on the Data General NOVA.

And because it’s a special thing to run the original Bill Gates/Paul Allen Basic (even “Micro-Soft” did not exist yet) – the project that made Gates $100 billion, and that is responsible for most computer stuff you have now. And to type the same “PRINT 2+2” command that Paul Allen typed in New Mexico to demonstrate the project to MITS, the makers of Altair, and to see the same “4” appear that impressed them enough to buy this BASIC, is quite an experience too.

And above all else, because just like photography, this takes me back. Back to the 1970s and 80s. I feel like I am 20-odd years old again!

And it’s always handy to know prime numbers. I guess.

To Crop or Not To Crop

One of the most important things to do in photo composition is to decide the crop.

A tight crop can be good, like here in my dinner last month:

That tight cop makes it simple, and simplicity is everything in photos – and it draws attention to the subject win a clear manner. So that’s a good crop.

Other crops are less obvious. For example this photo:

That’s all good – except if you were to frame it. The frame’;s mat would cut off the photo very close to, or even on, the top of the head.

Also: you need to crop for the frame. And a 4×6 has a different shape from an 8×10, for example.

So the wise thing to do is to shoot a little wide, so you can crop the image to size later. Do not have your subject touch the edges of the photo, in most cases!

We can often add extra sides to your photo that we fill in to look natural, by the way. Like when you ask us to print a 4×6 as an 8×10! But if you shoot wide ion the first place, it isn’t necessary, and that saves you money!

Nope.

You know, I though I’d found a good photo sharing site in YouPic. Not American, not Puritan, a good way to share some of my work. Even the work that American platforms do not allow: violence is ok, but the human body is not. Yes, the American excuse for morality is skewed, and wrong.

But at least they’re honest.


As for YouPic: Puritans they may not be, but tacky East Europeans, they are. My advice: stay away from these people. They send messages from aliases, people without surnames – God knows if they actually exist. If you send emails to the addresses they send email from, these emails immediately bounce. A sure sign of a scam. Even on their web site you can’t send them a message without allowing all sorts of “compulsory” nonsense. And no phone numbers you can call, obviously. All giant warning signs.

And if you ever sign up for a paid account, then without warning, they charge you double the next year, without warning – and refuse to refund if you ask, quoting agreements, rules, and policy. Apple may be dictatorial, but they’re hones5 and would refund. As would I: it is inconceivable to me that I would have an unhappy customer and I would force them to pay against their will. I guess the ex Soviet nature of whatever Baltic state these people are from shows its history.

Do I sound pissed? Yes. And that is because I am. Because these cheap kind of scams annoy me. This is 2021. You don’t tell customers that this is allowed, that is compulsory, or such-and-such is “forbidden”.

These people seem to think that they are doing me a favour by publishing my work. It is the reverse. I’m doing them a favour by being on their platform, obviously.

All right, so the search is on for the next platform. No Puritans, but also no scammers. Any ideas welcome. As long as they’re not YouPic.

And otherwise we’ll set up our own!

Opening Again Soon!

While I have been working non-stop, the mall has been closed since Christmas, so the only business my store has been able to do is curb-side, and emergency passport/ID photos.

But on Tuesday Feb 16, the mall is re-opening, and we’ll be fully open to the public again. In this quiet period we have been doing much to further improve our efficiency and workflow, to serve you even better at Michael Willems Photo.

At the same time, I see how COVID-19 is hurting everything. Not just in the obvious way of disease and death, but also the business environment, especially in logistics. Items that would arrive in days from China now arrive in weeks or even longer. Even in Canada – essential supplies that I had sent “expedited delivery” via Canada Post ten days ago from Toronto have not yet arrived in Ottawa – a four hour drive.

Prices, too – photo frames that we buy for resale, for example, as well as paper and pigments: everything is going way up. Some $20 frames now go for $85 – seriously.

But as much as possible, we have tried not to have things affect our customers: in most cases we have been able to keep prices the same. We even have new initiatives for students and members of the military: see here.

So while the supply-issues may mean I may not be able to do all of the prints you want the same day, they will be done with the usual care and attention. See you in the store Tuesday and beyond!

Buy a used lens, or not?

Jim asks:

Hi Michael just wondering about your advice on a used camera lense….. I am looking at on Facebook market place …. it’s a canon wide angle zoom 10-22 for my canon 70D …. I am a little leery about buying a used lense and also buying and having it shipped sight unseen …

I understand the hesitation. The world is full of cheats and thieves.

But there are also at least as many honest people. Here’s my thoughts on buying a used lens.

  • Lenses tend to work practically forever, so I am generally in favour. You get a great lens for less than the new cost: why not? DO not expect a really really big discount though: lenses keep their value for decades.
  • Always ask the seller to promise that the lens is undamaged and in fully working order. Communicate via email or some other way that keeps a record.
  • Make sure you agree some course of action if that should not be the case.I am not talking about a full warranty, but what if after three hours the lens dies?
  • Ask for history: why are you selling, what did you use it for, do you have the box, etc. A good reason to sell would be “I am upgrading to full frame and this is a crop sensor lens”, for example.
  • Always ask for full contact details. I check them, and if it’s an expensive lens I have been known to take a copy of the seller’s driver’s license. After all, the lens could be stolen: it’s no more than a sensible precaution.
  • I am weary of Kijiji, so this caution doubly applies there.
  • As does this caution: “meet in a public place”.
  • eBay has warranties, so that is a little safer.
  • I like Facebook marketplace too: much fewer ‘flakes’ than on Kijiji. Check how long the Facebook user has had an account. If that’s “one week”, then you know there are alarm bells ringing.
  • When looking at a lens, take some photos at the extremes: fully zoomed in and out; lowest and highest f-number.
  • Check the prices on eBay – only look for “sold listings”!

Of course always keep in mind the old adage that “if it seems to be too good to be true then it probably is too good to be true”. But there are many good lenses to be had. So if the above all checks out, you should be fine. And there’s nothing like a new lens – fun!

For a flow, go slow.

I have a useful mnemonic for you: “For a flow, go slow”.

Meaning if you are picturing something that happens as a continuous flow, you should use a slow shutter speed, to capture it as that flow.  Like this, a few years ago:

To do this I did the following:

  1. Defy death by climbing down an unofficial trail.
  2. Use a tripod.
  3. Use a wide angle zoom lens (16-35mm, on a full frame camera).
  4. Put a variable neutral density (ND) filter on the lens, set to its maximum darkness.
  5. Camera on manual. Use 100 ISO and a high f/number; in this case, f/20
  6. Now see what shutter speed I need (20 seconds).

And that’s it!

Notes:

  • You do not always need a slow shutter. For the waterfall, 1 second would have been fine too. But the river looks better at that slow speed.
  • At small apertures you will see sensor dust if there is a blank surface, like a sky, in the shot.
  • Use the 2s self timer, or you will shake the camera by pressing the shutter button.
  • Do not damage your equipment; it’s easy enough!

And you will get great pictures.

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This is a repeat post – because it’s still true.