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.



can I buy a variable


vivo barefoot desert boots, size 15

I found myself last week describing my efforts to roast coffee to a friend who’s successfully made the transition from home brewer to pro. He watched me go from a Nikon FM2 and a flatbed scanner to a Leica & Coolscan 9000 while he was on a parallel path learning to brew beer. He reminded me of something that I eventually learned from photography; in any process based craft, at some point, you spend money to control variables. This is true whether that craft is photography, coffee roasting, beer brewing, or fly fishing. When you are just starting out, when the frustrations of failure are most apt to derail you, is, unfortunately, when you need to spend the most money. Before you know what you are doing, you never know if your failures are due to bad luck, poor knowledge, crappy equipment, entropy or any one of 1000 other things, so eliminating whatever variables you can becomes vital. Of course, very early on, you barely know what variables you need to control, so it’s hard to know where to spend the cash.


drinking coffee and eating pastries at All Good Things in Tribeca

It was a well timed discussion, as I’d just bought a new roaster, and by roaster, I mean a better pop corn popper. Controlling temperature with the whirly pop was proving to be difficult. Luckily, I don’t just know brewers. A correspondent in the coffee world suggested a hot air pop corn popper. Early results are promising. Since the hot air popper is either on or off, that’s one variable set aside for the moment, although I’m sure I’ll need to deal with temperature eventually. For now it’s just the bean, the time, and the sun spots, which is enough for the moment.


think safety

In other news, I’ve switched almost entirely to the glass carrier for my Coolscan. The results are so much better in terms of both resolution and tonality, that I can’t quite bring myself to post a few of the comparison frames I tried early on; if I think about the differences too long I’ll want to go back and rescan things. If you are curious, compare the corners of the full size images attached to this post against some from a few months back. Check out the difference in grain resolution. Pretty amazing, huh? What’s even more interesting is that the tonality is different. Vuescan seems to be able to calculate exposures much better with the glass carrier. I’d noticed this when scanning MF, but I’d kind of the thought it was just the extra tonal resolution available with the larger negative. Apparently that’s not the whole story.



The only downside to the glass carrier is the speed. The time scanning is the same per frame, but the operations between scans are much slower. Instead of loading up twelve frames, and hitting scan, now I’m loading up single strip, previewing manually to find the frame I want, repositioning manually etc etc etc. It’s slow. Good thing I’m not shooting as much as I was a few years ago.

What does this have to do with any of the photos in this post? Nothing.

Scanning Medium Format with the Nikon Coolscan 9000

Useful bits for scanning B&W negatives with the Nikon Coolscan 9000 & VueScan

  • The Apple Thunderbolt/Firewire adapter works without any problems on Macs that don’t have Firewire.
  • The standard Nikon carrier will hold negatives flat enough for sharp scans if you follow the instructions & Dante’s advice, but the FH869G glass carrier is a little less fussy and provides slightly better resolution.
  • Those little strips of thin black plastic that came with your 9000? Those cut down on stray light bouncing around the scanner. If you get darkened frame edges on your MF scans, particularly in denser areas of the negative – like the sky – place one of strips along the effected edge of the negative. The glass carrier comes with ones that are pre-cut for various formats, but just a thin strip is usually easier to place, and you rarely need them on more than one edge of the frame.
  • Scan to raw if you must, but the following settings work just as well for me with less post work. You may be tempted to set the white & black points to 0. Don’t. You’ll just get flat scans that you have to adjust in PS later. .1 and .05% won’t clip in a material way, but they seem to help VueScan draw a realistic curve.

Screen Shot 2013-01-01 at 1.48.40 PM

  • The frame # feature of Vuescan doesn’t work with the 9000 without you dialing in a frame offset. The following table shows frame numbers for both 645 and 6×6 along with their corresponding offsets. Assume the negative is aligned to left edge of the carrier. You don’t need to adjust frame spacing. You’ll still need adjust the crop manually, but this gets you close enough to do so:

Screen Shot 2013-01-01 at 2.02.49 PM

Happy scanning.

Watching the grass grow (05750027)

M6TTL, 50 Hex, TMY2, Xtol Stock, Coolscan 9000

M6TTL, 50 Hex, TMY2, Xtol Stock, Coolscan 9000

Nothing like a 30 inch monitor to completely isolate you in the world of work. You can just fall right into that thing.