endings and beginnings

M6TTL, CV 35 f1.4 SC, TMY, DDX, 72F, 6.5min

First with the beginnings: after much clumsy web administration and wordpress tomfoolery, this site is back. On a new URL and at a new host with I think at least 95% of the content. This blog has bounced around a lot over the years. It started as a WordPress v1 site hosted on GoDaddy. That was something like 11 years ago. Over the years, I’ve upgraded wordpress numerous times, moved it out to wordpress.com hosting, changed URLs, moved it back to GoDaddy, etc etc. The site had accumulated a lot of cruft over the years and through those moves. GoDaddy has been threatening/promising to upgrade me for at least a year, but I’ve been putting it off because I knew all that accumulated cruft was going to take some sorting through. When I finally contacted to support to say “OK, let’s do this shit” somewhere in the process leading up to upgrade, the posts table got dropped from my wordpress database. Not much of a site without that. GoDaddy’s response was less than satisfactory, so I started looking around for alternatives and ended up here, on A2. I pieced the site back together from old SQL backups and exports from an orphaned wordpress.com instance. GoDaddy did eventually come through in part, but by that point, I was already most of the way done with moving. There’s still a bit of clean up to do in the database, and there’s a registrar move still pending, but it’s done enough to start using.

TMY2, DD-X, 72f, 6.5min

And now, for the endings: everything photographic around this place is falling apart. This weekend, my 15 year old Patterson tank slipped out of my hand and cracked itself on the bathroom counter taking a big chunk out of the lip in the process. To the extent that it was ever water tight, it is no longer. A replacement arrived from Amazon in less that 24 hours. If only everything were that easy.

This weekend, I also discovered that a little bit of plastic had broken off one of the film carriers for my Coolscan 9000. The carrier that holds two strips of six 35mm negs is a hinged affair in which the two pieces of the carrier are held together – and thereby the negatives held somewhat flat – by two plastic clips. One broke. I went back to using this carrier earlier this year because batch scanning 12 frames is way faster than doing five at a time in the glass carrier. The quality difference isn’t massive with 35mm, and I’m getting lazy in my old age. That particular carrier now goes for more than $250 on eBay, which is nuts for something that cost $60 back when these things were new. I think I paid less than $200 for the glass carrier originally, so $250 for plastic one is absurd.

Accept that it isn’t really absurd in the context of how expensive all the Nikon scanning equipment has become. The Coolscan 9000 itself now goes for something close to $6000, if you can find one. I bought mine for $2K shortly after Nikon started discontinuing film scanners, but before the 9000 itself was officially be discontinued. I think it’s the only time I’ve ever timed an ‘investment’ correctly.

I’ve had nagging concerns about the 9000 for years. The FireWire interface, while better than SCSI, has always required a bit of voodoo to keep working. I really started to worry when Apple started dropping FireWire ports, but adapters seem to work fine so far. I’ve also worried about the mirror getting dirty, but frequent resolution tests don’t show any degradation, so I seemed to have dodged that bullet. I didn’t think about the plastic fatiguing. Or the power switch failing (last year). I crudely fixed the power switch, and the carrier still works with only one clip, but as Dante Stella recently noted, the mortality of film cameras is ever more apparent, and I’d argue that extends to the whole system of production. I’m starting to get worried. When the Coolscan dies, all the alternatives are pretty unappealing.

So, broken scanner, broken development tank, and my XPAN is still making that noise that started during our trip to Louisville earlier this year. Like the Coolscan, the XPAN would be hard to replace, and I’ve recently come to realize, that’s its what I do the work I like best with. It’s really all about that aspect ratio. A number of 120 cameras have similar aspect ratios, but the weight and size makes those unsuitable for my preferences. Nodal point options like the Horizon don’t really do the same thing. Really, the only option for shooting wide aspect ratio 35mm is a Mamiya 7 with the adapter kit. That’s not a terrible option, but it’s not quite the same aspect ratio, it’s supposedly clumsy to use, and by the time I buy into lenses, I’d probably be in for about the same amount as another XPAN. And I’d still be at the mercy of the Coolscan, or perhaps one of these.

XPAN, Delta 400, DD-X, 72F, 6.5min

There is one another option, albeit one that makes me uncomfortable to consider. The GFX 50s has an XPAN mode. And yes, I realize I could crop on any sufficiently high res digital, but .  . .  I need to see the aspect ratio in the VF. As far as I can tell from the limited mentions of the feature in online reviews, the GFX VF shows the aspect ratio. And the GFX has traditional dials. I didn’t even like the infinitely spinning control dials on film SLRs, and the multi-modality of them on digital hasn’t made them any easier for me to us get on with. I don’t totally hate the available GFX lens options, although the only way to get the same angle of view as the XPAN’s 45mm would be get the Fuji zoom. I’d prefer a prime, but as long as we are dreaming, I could consider going wider (with the 21mm equiv) or narrower (with the 35mm equiv). Or just get both.

A GFX with a few lenses isn’t cheap. In fact, I probably could buy another XPAN and a replacement Coolscan 9000 for about the same amount of money. If anyone reads this, I’m sure they’ll point out things like film and developing costs. Those incremental costs don’t mean much at the volume I shoot, so I’ll ignore that.  Assuming near cost equivalence, how does one choose between two radically different systems?  How do I balance my worries about the reliability of the XPAN/9000 against concerns about the size/weight and digitallyness of the GFX? How much, if any, would my photography benefit from a more modern, flexible option? Not something I have to decide today, but I can see the time coming where I’ve either got to reinvest in film gear or make a switch to digital.

In other news, I think my iPhone died in the rain today. So yeah, everything is breaking around here.



2 responses to “endings and beginnings”

  1. Aaron Avatar


    We thought we’d lost you for good. The blog had flat lined for so long…
    What a wholesome, juicy post to return to.
    The faithful (if slightly crazy) fanbase are delighted. 🙂

    You do a lovely job of capturing the tension of the film equipment legacy sitting on a precipice; how long will things carry forward and at what price?
    The electrical stuff has always been known to be finite; even the best made stuff.
    In light of this it’s hard to comprehend the current price of things like a Coolscan 9000; that’s a lot of money to gamble on something that should, mostly be ok. But that becomes recycling if the wrong thing inside decides to stop.
    Oddly, the other end of film (thankfully!) also remains alive and well. The cheap, giving it away side that acknowledges this stuff is risky and could stop working; could happen never, could happen tomorrow. I recently came into a drum scanner, complete with Mac G3 etc. etc. for free. Super fun! If it works awesome. If it dies, I’ll only cry a little bit.

    I’ve often wondered about all the (now old) techs that were factory trained on Leica and Hasselblad etc.; what happens to the cameras when they’re gone?
    Just look to buy a new functioning unit?
    Repair it yourself? Not freakingly likely for most of us….
    Send it to Japan? Possibly.
    Always get a lift to see a new post from you.
    Hope for more; more frequently and with a healthy smattering of your writing to accompany things…XPan review anyone?!
    Coffee crawl, captured on film?

    Best to you and Kate!

    1. matt Avatar

      Dude, you scored a drum scanner, and a working computer to drive it? That’s awesome.

      On the subject of how long the electrical bits will all last, a fellow XPAN photographer, who also happens to be a digital collections librarian, tells me that they now do most of their “scanning” for the library – of which there is lots – with DSLRs on copy rigs. That seems a way to go when all else falters. Or to the other extreme; buy an enlarger and rebuild a wet darkroom.

      I’ve actually repaired the XPAN once already, shortly after I got it. The shutter release was finicky. The issue was completely mechanical as a gap had developed between the part of the release visible from the outside of the camera and the actual switch on the inside. I built the face of the switch up a bit with some tape, which seems to have held for the last few years, although I have wondered if some loose bit of that tape is the source of the advance noise.

      As always, good to hear from you. Hope all is well with you.