Revival

Dear fellow photographers. As you have noticed I was not very active on the blog for quite some time now. Unfortunately it was not only the case with the blog but with my film photography in general. This had many reasons including shifting priorities, too much stress and work and the need for a creative break.

But I am not here today to be negative, in fact quite the contrary. There are many things to share and many things which made me super excited. There is new software which I love, new cameras to review, awesome youtube channels I have discovered and more. Essentially I have got motivated again and I hope this new energy will revive the blog as well. There were some not so positive events to talk about as well, but eventually I think they all collectively pushed me to shoot more and hopefully vitalize this blog.

So let’s get started and see what made me enthusiastic about film photography again.

Negative Lab Pro 

The software I needed to get control over my scans.
https://www.negativelabpro.com/
For a long time I was set on the journey to find a consistent high quality home scanning and processing pipeline. I was testing and tinkering with a lot of software and I ended up using Vuescan with an Epson V700. This is a great combo which I would recommend to anyone, but I was never truly satisfied with the result. The TIFF files I was getting were not very flexible compared to RAW files from digital cameras. Many things like curve settings were baked in the files at the time of scanning. It was very difficult to color match multiple images as bigger changes required re-scans which takes a lot of time.
I am aware that my skills are probably the main issue here, but I always lusted for a scan once edit freely type of solution.


Negative Lab pro gives me what I needed. It is a Lightroom plugin which converts the negative images itself by generating a Ligtroom settings which can be reverted or adjusted non destructively. Essentially taking away the responsibility of the inversion of the negative image from the scanner software and bringing it into Lightroom. Not only that but it works fantastically simulating popular lab scanner profiles and giving me colors that I absolutely love. Now I can match series of images together more easily and I can even benefit from new versions of the software later as I can reconvert any negative at any time.

The only catch is that the software is not exactly cheap with a 99$ one time charge. But if I factor in how much money I burn on film, chemicals and how much time I invest into my photos it is actually quite fair. I would also mention that Negative Lab Pro is a creation of a single person. He is actively maintaining the software and working together with the community to develop it further. There is a dedicated Forum and a Facebook page where support can be found for any related issues in no time.
As a software developer myself I deeply sympathize with the project which was yet another reason to support it. I find it very motivating that a single person can have such a massive and positive impact and bring new life into (certainly into my) film photography.

The king is dead, long live the king!

Unfortunately my old trusted Pentacon Six TL has stuck on a single shutter speed. I asked some local camera shops if a repair would be possible. But I got very little hope after my survey. At one place they told me that they don’t service such low quality cameras because it is impossible to adjust their shutter speeds anyways. At the end, I attempted to open the camera myself to see if, by any chance the issue is something so obvious that I could spot it. Needless to say that I managed to do more harm than good and currently the P6 sits in a box partially disassembled. Since then I have got a repair manual and I hope that one day I can get it back together and use it again. To put more salt to the wound, most of my Pentacon Six lenses got stuck aperture syndrome including the 50mm, 120mm and 180mm lenses. So, I would need a full CLA on pretty much everything I own in the system except the 80mm standard lens.

E with Pentacon Six TL and Sonnar 180mm

After many said months of not shooting any medium format film, I decided that I look for a replacement camera. Something totally different, something reliable and simple. It also had to be relatively manageable in size because I like to carry my cameras everywhere and shoot hand held. I was eyeballing the 645 system cameras for quite some time but then I ran into a wonderful Fuji GW 690 III which had recently a fully CLA. Needless to say that I could not resist. Best of all the seller is a really nice guy with a freezer full with film and with a really cool portfolio . You can check out his work here.

Fuji GW 690 III

I love rangefinders for many reasons, mainly because I can manage precise focus with them. The camera is a beast, it shoots 6×9 frames yet it fits into my messenger bag. It feels lighter to carry than the P6 kit. The built in lens makes it even more rugged plus I will not be tempted to get additional lenses to satisfy my GAS. Last but not least the lack of the mirror means I can still confidently use it handheld for the kind of pictures I usually take.

Needless to say that I am very excited because of this new addition to my collection. I have already shot 3,5 rolls with it although only 1 is developed and scanned so far.

I am really curious if it will be such a good fit as I think now. But in any case, it motivates me to shoot and develop more and brings new impulses into the game.

Lab torments

I have been always developing my black and white work because it gives me full control over the process, allows quick results because I don’t have to wait for the lab and last but not least it is a lot of fun. On the other hand I have never done color film development myself. I was conditioned to believe that it is extremely difficult and best to leave it to professionals.

But recent events have made me to take a deeper look on the C41 process and as it turns out it might not be that difficult after all.

But what pushed me over the fence on this matter? I brought 4 rolls of color film to my preferred camera shop in Graz. They told me that development will take about 2 weeks because of COVID . I had no problem with this as it usually takes 1-2 weeks anyways. I have received 3 out of the 4 rolls relatively quickly (in 10 days), cut up and flattened nicely, ready to be scanned. But the 4th roll was not there. In fact it was not there after a month despite my repeated calls. It seemed that no one knew where it was and I started to be worried that it really got lost. To make it worse, that roll was the most important in the bunch. A friend of mine asked me to take some photos of his family before his kids leave the house for the first university year.

In the end, the lab found the film and the story ends without big harm. The camera shop says that there is only 1 lab available and I was not the only one who went through the same torment. The timestamp on the index print was 3 weeks old when I got the film.

I know that the low demand and the current situation does not support film labs. I have no problem to wait even several weeks if I know that my film is in good hands, tracked and I will get it in the end. But my trust is shattered.

I will develop my color film myself. You will surely see some posts about my journey with color process. I am also very open for suggestions. I need to figure out how to do this economically. Batch sizes, shelf life and similar topics are all on my research list.

YouTube

I am quite addicted to YouTube which I need to get into check somehow. But at least I discover from time to time a channel which inspires my film photography. I am not sharing my full list of photography channel subscriptions at once, but here are some of my top pics without any particular ranking or ordering among them.

grainydays

The guy who runs the channel is completely crazy in the best possible way. If it is strange for the first time keep watching he has a special humor, a big punch of self irony and great photos. I like especially his night shoots.

Kyle McDougall

Kyle has fantastic camera reviews and I really enjoy his medium format architectural work. He is not only showing his work but also his way of working including, scanning, archiving and behind of scenes of his videos.

T. Hopper

Great moody videos with beautiful pictures and a lot of info about film stocks. She also makes great essays about photographers, film and art in general.

Jamie Windsor

Very informative educational videos mostly about digital photography and editing. But also very well thought through and intelligent video essays about art and photography.

This is all I had in mind for now. I hope you find this new type of post interesting and perhaps my enthusiasm makes some of you go out to shoot some film too. If so, please wear a mask and I wish you all good light.

Olympus OM 4-Ti black

So far I have been writing mostly about classic cameras with full mechanical construction with only one exception the Cosina CSM with an electromechanical shutter. It was because my collection fundamentally consists of such mechanical beauties.

But time goes on and my camera count is also increasing in many unexpected ways. My last camera in the row is still using film and being my camera it is naturally having only manual focus, but it is an ultra-modern professional beast in every other aspect. Ladies and Gentlemen let me introduce to You the Olympus OM 4-Ti!

Olympus OM 4-Ti
Olympus OM 4-Ti

Olympus OM 4-Ti (black) Datasheet

  • Type TTL auto-exposure 35 mm. Single Lens Reflex Camera.
  • Produced 1989-2002
  • Film type 24mm x 36mm ISO/ASA 6-3200.
  • Weight 540g (body only)
  • Dimensions 87 mm height, 139 mm width, 50 mm depth
  • Construction weather sealed titanium alloy body
  • Lens mount Olympus OM Mount
  • Shutter horizontal cloth focal plane shutter, electronically controlled
  • Shutter speeds 1s-1/2000s, B, 1/60s can be used mechanically without batteries
  • Sync speed 1/60s but with Olympus F280 Full Synchro flash  up to 1/2000s
  • Viewfinder dioptric correction; dioptric correction range from +1 to -3 diopters; viewfield: 97% of actual picture field; magnification: 0.84x at infinity with -0.5 diop. (50mm lens)
  • Exposure meter dual concentric segmented silicon photodiode, Center-weighted and multi-spot-meter (2% of view; 3.3˚ with 50 mm lens) up to 8 points
  • Batteries   Two 1.5V silver-oxide batteries SR44 (Eveready EPX-76) or alkaline manganese batteries LR44
  • Self-timer 12s delay electronic self-timer
  • Hot shoe with contact for T series flash; 5-pin connector for T series flash; PC synchro socket.
  • Motor drive optional motor drive 1 or 2 can be attached, up to 5 frames per second

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What is it really?

This camera is the latest model of the one digit (upper grade) line of Olympus OM cameras and in addition, mine is the last sub-version. While the OM 4 was introduced in 1984 my version shown up around 1990. Apart from some extra controls, the body design is pretty much the same as the original OM 1 (1972) which pioneered a new trend of really compact sized SLR bodies. Therefore this camera is one of the smallest reflex cameras ever made taking the 35mm film type.

Focusing

While other manufacturers introduced autofocus in their cameras Olympus stuck to the traditional manual focus design. There is a debate on why, but eventually, to me, the important point is that the lack of AF allowed keeping this wonderful classic shape.  The lenses are also very small, there is no need to place a motor into the body, not into any lenses.

Metering

So why is this metering so legendary? Well, apart from the fact that it is reliably accurate it leaves the control in your hand. Other brands like Nikon developed metering systems where the camera compares the scene with a database of stored situations and tries to figure out the best exposure for you. It is convenient and most of the time satisfactory approach, but you have low control over it unless you switch to full manual or you guess what the camera thinks and you can compensate accordingly. It must be said that it is an issue only among challenging lighting conditions.

In contrast, the OM-4 allows you to select up to 8 points of measurements and then the camera calculates the exposure. In other words, you can select what is important for you and what are your priorities. For example, if you take to measurements on the same area and one on another than the first is more important to you than the other.

A back-light situation where both the subject and the background is measured for correct overall exposure. (OM 4-Ti instruction manual)

I know it sounds strange for first, but believe me, it is so much intuitive and joy to use after you tried once. Of course, if you don’t want to get bothered with such evilness,  you can still use the traditional center weighted automatics, which just works well in most common situations.

multispot metering
Olympus OM 4-Ti metering and controls

All in all, for someone like me, who works with a very low frame-rate, prefers to think and focus instead of the machine but sometimes likes to get some precise support, this camera is the ultimate choice for 35mm photography. It is worth to note that (as far as I know) some professional medium format cameras also used a similar metering system.

Finally, the OM4 features a highlight and a shadow mode. It is useful in some cases where black or white surfaces are dominating on the frame. Normally if you take a photo with an auto-exposure camera of a gray, black and white piece of paper, it is likely that you will get middle gray on all frames (even instead of the black and white). It is because the metering system tries to achieve an averaged exposure which is good in most cases, but causing troubles when there is no reference. For example, a landscape covered by snow, or documents on white papers are typical cases.

To overcome this, you can use manual exposure, exposure compensation or in this case the high-light and shadow functions. You select the brightest (supposed to be white) or in other cases, the darkest (supposed to be pitch black) area on the frame, push the respective button and you will get the correct exposure with correct white or black representation. In fact, these buttons are doing simply programmed over and underexposure correction.

Flash control

Another interesting aspect is that this camera is one of the first ones able to use flash with very fast sync speeds (up to 1/2000s) when appropriate flash is coupled (like the Olympus F280). The problem of low synchronization speed was common of this kind of cameras due to the construction of the shutter and the very short burst time of typical flashguns. The OM 4-Ti solved this issue by continuous pulse bursts of the flash during the whole exposure which allowed to expose the entire frame correctly, although for the price of limited range.

Durability

This camera is very well made, it is weather sealed and indeed feels solid in my hands. All buttons, switches, and knobs work really definitely and smoothly at the same time.

But how though it is exactly? I have found a really exhaustive description about a crash test done by the Camera magazine 4/’89 (Germany) translated by Wiliam Wagenaar.

The methodology was:

  1. The OM4Ti is stored in the freezer overnight at -20C  for 8 hours.
  2. The OM4Ti went into the oven for one hour at a  temperature of 75C (Only 50C allowed according to the  manual)
  3. The OM4Ti is hung in the grid of the air outlet of a sand blasting company for 2 hours, so that dust, dirt and  sand can intrude deep into the mechanics.
  4. The OM4Ti went into a steaming hot shower cabin for on  hour.
  5. The OM4Ti went into the shaking machine for a certain time.
  6. The shutter is operated about 15.000 times while the aperture is set at f8.

This camera survived the torture very well, only the cold caused some temporal problems with the shutter. Here are the summarized test results:

Shutter speed  error: + 15% for the long times from 1/15
 Meter error: none (< 0.1 EV)
 Spot meter: deviation of 0.5 EV
Defects during test:  none, except jerky manual film advance
 Battery use of camera and drive:  normal.

Maximum points for each item : 10.
A total of 70 points gives the qualification of  “CAMERA MAGAZINE PRO-CAMERA”
Item:   Points:

  • cold test   7
  • heat test   10
  • dust test   9
  • moist test  10
  • shock test  10
  • internals   8
  • price quality       9
  • ease of use 8
  • design      8
  • equipment  8

 Total :         87

In comparison, the Leica R6 received 88 points in the same test. If you want to read the full review, please follow this link.

Conclusion

So here is the answer to my question “What is this camera really?”. To me, this camera is a lightweight, compact tool with sophisticated metering and flash control but with the maximum control over exposure and focus possible in an admirable classic shaped yet durable body. It is unlikely that I will take advantage of the flash features, but I can clearly appreciate the excellent metering.

The lenses are very well made and with nice performance as well. Last but not least these cameras are affordable, they used to be called by many as “poor man’s Nikon” in the USA. Nowadays in the digital era, you can definitely find a good deal of an OM camera.

My Olympus OM 4-Ti

I always adored the OM cameras because of their small size, stylish design, good lenses, and reliable construction, but until now I have never even touched one. I came close in dimensions with my Cosina CSM which is really similar at first look, but clearly not in the same league at least with the professional OM cameras.

Olympus OM 4-Ti vs Cosina CSM
Olympus OM 4-Ti vs Cosina CSM

How did I get it?

I was not really wanted to get an OM since I had no lenses for the system, plus I was happy with the Cosina as my light travel companion. But one day I walked into a small optics shop which I didn’t know before but I was attracted by the old photo commercials on the front of the building. As it turned out they don’t sell cameras or any photographic types of equipment anymore (they focusing on eyeglasses), but I spot a few old cameras in the cabinet behind the desk.

This OM 4-Ti was among them without a lens, only the body cap was mounted. I asked it out for some inspection and I immediately knew, this camera has a place in my bag. There was no price though, so we had to call the owner of the shop who is around 80 years old and collects cameras as well. We had a nice chat but he couldn’t tell me a price neither. So we agreed to talk about the camera in a few days as he can look after a bit.

Of course, this made me struggling a lot in the proceeding few days as I was not sure that I can afford this camera at all especially because I had no lens. After a few days of hell, I went back to the shop and asked again if they decided the asking price of the camera and they had. The offer was so generous that I bought the camera right away along with some film. The man told me that he likes that I am collecting and using film cameras and I will probably have a good use of it, that is why he is selling the Olympus to me. Of course, I went back to show the camera as soon as I have got this great lens I have mounted on it right now.

Olympus OM4-Ti

Hunting for the lens and focusing screen

Because the camera is in an incredibly good condition and because it is the last evolution step of the professional OM cameras, I decided to get a lens which is matching both in capabilities and cosmetics to the body. I wanted something behind the standard 50mm f/1.8 Zuiko (which is a great lens by the way) especially because I have many f/1.8 fifties for other systems and I really preferred to have something different. On the other hand, I like standards when I have only one lens and naturally, I had a strong constraint on the money to spend.

In the end, I have gone for the Zuiko AUTO-S 50mm f/1.4 lens and I did some research which serial number to look for. It was not an easy search, but I have got my lens on e-bay in perfect shape in the original box with the serial number I was looking for (greater than 1,100,000) that marks the latest design and best coating. For more information about the different variants of this lens look around here.

After I received the lens I had to realize that my focusing screen is good for anything but normal use. The type I had in the camera was made for microscopy and other extreme macro purposes. So I had to look for a replacement focusing screen, but it was not an easy ride. I found many of these on e-bay, but on the price that I started to think if I really did a good deal with this camera. After a few weeks of desperate research, I have managed to find a screen in Hungary at a reasonable price.

Almost 2 months after I first saw the camera in the cabinet I have managed to get a working set which takes photos while I am capable of focusing with it. It cost me way more than I thought when I bought the body, but undoubtedly worth it. This is really an amazing camera to use and hold and I don’t think I would have considered getting one in any other ways.

The way it looks

Personal experience

Until now I shot only 3 rolls of film, therefore it is hard to claim that I master the camera. Nevertheless, the start is very promising as I feel very comfortable and natural to use and the initial results are encouraging as well.

Ergonomics

The ergonomics are really good, although due to the classic shape it is not as convenient to hold as more modern cameras. The bright side is that there is an optional grip available, but honestly, I don’t feel it is necessary. The layout of the buttons and other controls are nice as well, maybe the “highlight” and “shadows” buttons are not the easiest to hit blind, but I don’t think to use them often. The most interesting part of the controls for me is the OM-style shutter speed ring on the lens mount, which is unusual but also brilliant at the same time. You can set both the aperture and shutter speed at almost the same place with the same hand. Of course, it is probably not for everyone, I personally like it.

As I have mentioned already, the camera is really small even with modern standards. It is bigger than mirrorless cameras but it is definitely smaller than any budget DSLR- If you consider that it is a “full-frame” camera than it is quite an achievement.

Olympus OM4-Ti

Operation

Focusing is really easy, smooth and accurate with my fast f/1.4 lens and so far I am very happy with the metering system as well. Most of the time the normal center-weighted metering mode was fine for me with aperture priority mode. Note that aperture priority is the only automatic mode available on this camera, but in fact, this is the mode I prefer on digital cameras the most also. I have tried the spot and multi-spot metering as well with success, but I need more time to gather greater experience with them.

Battery life

I basically I took out the batteries from the Cosina CSM and put them into the Olympus. These batteries were in use for more than a year from now and so far I had no problems. Considering how tiny and cheap these batteries are and how long they last I think this camera is very economical in this respect. I have heard that the regular OM 4 was eating batteries, it seems the Ti version has corrected this issue

Test shoots

I have a Zuiko AUTO-S 50mm f/1.4 lens which has a good reputation in terms of overall image and build quality although it has some barbell distortion. I can confirm all of these statements. The lens is sharp, contrasty, not too prone to flares, the bokeh it produces is also pleasant to my eyes. Indeed the distortion is there, but it is not disturbing unless you shoot brick walls or other well defined geometrical subjects. I may make some measurements and create a lens profile in order to correct this digitally, but as I said this is a minor problem you won’t even notice in the 90% of times. The coating works great and flares are not really threatening you, I think a lens hood is generally a good idea, so I will get one soon.

As for other lenses, I really wish to get some exotic ones most notably the Zuiko 80mm f/2 is my greatest wish for portraits.

Márk (Gyöngyössolymos, Hungary), Olympus OM 4-Ti, Zuiko 50mm f/1.4, Fomapan 100, Kodak 76, Canoscan 9900F

Eszter (Budapest, Hungary), Olympus OM 4-Ti, Zuiko 50mm f/1.4, Kodak portra 160NC expired, Canoscan 9900F

Eszter (Budapest, Hungary), Olympus OM 4-Ti, Zuiko 50mm f/1.4, Fomapan 100, Kodak 76, Canoscan 9900F

Temps de flors Girona 2012, Olympus OM 4-Ti, Zuiko 50mm f/1.4, Kodak portra 160NC expired, Canoscan 9900F

(Budapest, Hungary), Olympus OM 4-Ti, Zuiko 50mm f/1.4, Kodak portra 160NC expired, Canoscan 9900F

Some other OM 4-ti shoots of mine in this post.

Recommendations

This camera is for:

Everyone who loves 35mm film photography and needs a light, reliable and stylish companion. It is for everyone who likes to focus manually and prefers full control over metering yet likes to have a sophisticated system to aid the evaluation of exposure times. Last but not least this camera for those who do not mind to keep a pair of small knob batteries in their pockets.

This camera is NOT for:

I don’t recommend this camera for automation junkies, action or sports shooters or in contrast for more conservative people who prefer full mechanical constructions. In the case, if the electronic operation would be the problem, there are plenty of full mechanical choices in the OM series such as the OM 1 or the very rare mechanical counterpart of the OM 4 the OM 3.

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