On Experimentation and Consistency by Michael Jin

Ilford FP4+, and Ilford HP5+

Kodak HC-110, Adox Rodinal

Photographer’s Formulary TF-5 Fixer

HEICO Permawash

Kodak Photoflo

These are the film stocks that you will constantly see in my refrigerator and the chemicals that sit on my shelf. The reason? They provide affordable, consistent, readily available, and provide excellent results.

This doesn’t mean that I do not enjoy other emulsions or chemicals as I am constantly experimenting with new emulsions, chemistry, and techniques. I do, however, base all of my analog photography work off this foundation and I think that this is important. With analog photography, it’s so easy to get mired in the numerous possibilities. Despite the very much exaggerated “death of film”, there are dozens of options and hundreds of combinations available to you in regard to commercially available film emulsions and chemistry. Start going down the rabbit hole of reading opinions on the internet and you’ll quickly find yourself extremely confused. This confusion is only exacerbated these days with the inevitable hype that surrounds newer film releases such as JCH Streetpan, Street Candy, Ferrania P30, etc. many of which could be considered in the “boutique” category in terms of their availability. The same applies to chemistry with the recent release of Cinestill’s monobath. When these things get released, everyone wants to hop on the hype train and try them and frankly, I think you should. Don’t get too carried away, though.

If all you’re doing is experimenting with this and that, it not only becomes more difficult to focus on your actual photography since you’re spending so much time researching the newest thing that you want to try out, but it’s highly likely that the quality of your work is likely to suffer as well. Aside from the issue of your photographic vision, analog photography is a tactile art that involves the manipulation of physical materials. That manipulation requires an understanding of those materials. Refined control over those materials means a refined understanding of them as well. Understanding here is the result of practice and experience. It’s one thing to read on the internet that a certain film is “high contrast”. It’s another thing entirely to shoot ten rolls of it and reflect on how the settings you used in particular lighting situations translated to that particular emulsion. It’s one thing to read a general line about how agitation schemes will affect the development process, but it’s another to experiment over and over again with the same chemical and film emulsion using different agitation schemes to see the impact. This may sound incredibly obvious, but many people underestimate how important this intimate understanding actually is when it comes to developing consistent results across a body of work.

This is not to say that certain film emulsions naturally lend themselves better to certain purposes or that certain developers are not better or worse for particular results such as softer grain or higher contrast. Every single variable that you have (film emulsion, chemicals, techniques) are tools. Much like tools, however, a tool that you use extremely well that might only be 70% good for a particular purpose will probably get you better results than a tool that you’ve never used before that’s theoretically 99% good for that purpose. I can’t tell you how many times people have asked me “What is the best film for ___________?”. My follow-up question is almost always, “What are your go-to films at each speed?” because when you don’t have a specific stock in mind, those films are what you should be turning to.

While I certainly keep the Ilford duo in my fridge at all times, I have other films there, too. These are films that I bring out for particular purposes when I know that I’m going to do something specific. If I need to push a film to 3200, I prefer Tri-X over HP5+. If I want moody street shooting at 400, I think that JCH Streetpan is an awesome film. If I’m taking a portrait in good lighting, I find Fomapan 100 to be a magnificent emulsion. If I want to throw something in my Holga for added “retro” style, then Retropan 320 Soft gives some really nifty extra-lo-fi results. If I really want tons of tonality on a bright day with some classic-looking grain, then Adox CHS II 100 would be my go-to (unfortunately, it’s been sold out for a while now). For a real cinematic look it’s Eastman XX all the way.

It’s actually quite rare at this point that I think that FP4+ or HP5+ are the IDEAL film for any particular task. If you dig through every possible combination of film and chemistry, there’s probably something that will work a bit better for the desired result. They are, however, some of the most versatile emulsions at their particular speeds, producing great results no matter what I’m looking for at that speed. They are emulsions that I know will not let me down and if I have only these two film stocks in my bag, I feel confident to take on just about anything.

When you start out, you will inevitably experiment and I think that the first thing you should try to find is your personal “go-to” film stocks at different speeds. What are the standards around which you want to build your body of work? As you experiment, you will begin to notice certain trends in your preferences. For instance, I realized early on that I simply was not partial to T-grained films. They have excellent tonality, amazing sharpness, and ridiculously fine grain, but to me they just felt too sterile and I felt that if I wanted that type of look, I could just shoot with my digital camera and convert it to black and white. So I moved toward more traditional cubic grain stocks and my desire for a great tones to serve as a versatile base led me to Ilford FP4+ and Ilford HP5+. Tri-X was a bit too high contrast for me at box speed (although it produces some great results), Acros 100 was a dubious proposition given Fuji’s status as a film manufacturer as of late, and companies like Adox and Rollei were not only nearly double the price here in the USA, but they were often out of stock for months at a time and I definitely wanted my “go-to” films to be something readily available that was probably not going to go away anytime soon. You might feel differently about any number of these things and arrive at a different conclusion in regard to your standard film stocks, which match your own personal style and ethos.

On the chemistry end, after having used Ilfosol-3, XTOL, D76, and other developers that either required mixing or fell to oxidation, I just wanted a highly concentrated developer that didn’t oxidize quickly and could be mixes on demand straight out of a bottle. Rodinal and HC-110 were natural choices for me and they behave differently enough at a range of dilutions that they give me a number of options with just two bottles rather than having a bunch of different developers slowly oxidizing. Again, availability, affordability, and reliability. I personally think that commercial chemistry is a bit easier than film stocks if only because there are less of them out there and quite often, there are only a handful that will be readily available in any area. Sure, the internet changes things a bit, but there’s nothing quite like being able to make an emergency run to your local camera shop to pick up chemistry in a pinch. For many, D76 or ID-11 is their standard developer with something like Rodinal or HC-110 taking a more specialized role. It’s all about personal preference.

Once you’ve settled on your standards, these will become the barometer by which you measure everything else. When you experiment to discover new tools, change only one element at a time. If you’re usually developing in Rodinal with Tri-X, use Rodinal with JCH Streetpan or D76 with Tri-X. Jumping from Rodinal+Tri-X to D76+JCH Streetpan won’t really tell you much about Streetpan or D76 individually, even if someone on a forum might have posted a nice image using that combination. Experiment in a deliberate and systematic manner and you will greatly increase your understanding of new tools that you can add to your creative arsenal. I think an important point to add about experimentation is to take your time getting to know the new thing you’re using. Shooting Retropan 80S today and then moving onto trying out Ferrania P30 tomorrow gives you little time or sample size to develop an understanding of the behavior of Retropan 80S in a variety of lighting conditions. So when you decide to pull it out later down the road, you might encounter unexpected results because you’re assuming that it’ll behave a certain way despite the shooting environment being different. Remember that being an analog medium, film stocks are subject to all sorts of different variables from lighting conditions to the ambient temperature. Take your time with each new thing and develop a good feel for it before moving on. When I try a new stock, I will usually buy 10 rolls at a time because it’ll generally take me that long to form a decent opinion about it.

I’d like to encourage everyone getting started in analog photography to find their fundamental tools first and foremost and then begin to explore the wonderful universe of possibilities from that anchor point. If you’ve found your own standard tools, feel free to let me know. I’d love to hear them.

Fuck People, Fuck Their Opinions, and Fuck Their Ideals by Michael Jin

You that saying about opinions being like assholes? It’s true. Everyone has a god damned opinion about everything—myself included. Sometimes, such as in the case of your employer’s opinion of you, these opinions matter. Other times, such as in the case of the opinion of some random passerby you don’t know, they just don’t. Regardless of whether they matter or not, we work so hard to cultivate our self image so that people form positive opinions of us, don’t we? Be it our personal image or business image, managing social perception is a very real thing that we all engage in on some level.

We buy certain clothes, we cut our hair in certain styles, we listen to certain music, we drive certain cars, etc. Businesses conduct focus groups to determine which shade of purple gets the most positive reactions or which programs get aired. The fucked up thing is that it all makes a great deal of sense to manage your image because you never know what kind of situation might arise and there’s no second chance to make a first impression. That random passerby that you flipped off might be the person conducting your job interview later in the day. Some guy you pulled up to and swore at might end up being the waiter at a restaurant that you visit. It’s only natural, then, that we would hedge our bets and try to be the best version of ourselves that we can be at all times—or at very least the most socially acceptable version of ourselves.

I’d like to preface the rest of this by saying that I don’t believe that we ought to be complete assholes to one another. There’s room in this world for civil discourse when it comes to areas of disagreement and whenever practical, I believe that physical conflict is something that should be avoided. That having been said, I do believe that this practice of social image management has led to the repression of something very critical to all of us: our very humanity.

Somewhere along the line, we’ve decided that this ideal social image that we’ve created for ourselves in the process of managing our social images is the way people ought to be rather than understanding that far from our default human nature, it’s merely a facade that we construct as an act of enlightened self-interest. We then denounce those who deviate from this fabricated ideal as crude, rude, crass, unenlightened, or whatever other negative term we can come up with to codify them as lower forms of the human creature. Then we apply social penalties in the form of hiring practices, housing practices, boycotts, etc.

Of course there certainly exists a contingent of people who probably belong in these categories and certainly deserve to be demonized. I’m not going to argue that everyone is somehow good in their own fucked up way. Some people are just horrible human beings and a blight to society. This is not meant to be an apology for murderers, rapists, burglars, or drug dealers (that deserves its own post). This is about people who might swear, make an off-color joke, or hold views that are not popular. It’s about the guy on the football team that likes to sing Taylor Swift songs in the shower or the cheerleader that wants to get a face tattoo. It’s about people being who they are and accepting reality for what it is rather than the idyllic vision of it that we hold in our minds.

You see, we are not these perfectly manicured creatures that we expect ourselves to be. The fact that we so often have to suppress our urges to gain social acceptance means that we are effectively being told that we are not good enough for society as we are. Our anger is not acceptable for society. Our lust is not acceptable for society. Our greed is not acceptable for society. Hell, we have 7 Deadly Sins that are codified that pretty much cover the gamut of our base urges. Whether it’s by parenting, a religious institution, the legal institution, academic institution, or just the confluence of plain old everyday interactions, we are told that the person we desire to be is unacceptable and that we must, instead, desire to be somehow “better” than our real selves. So we create these masks for ourselves and we become chameleons, adjusting out behavior and language to different situations. In the process, we often lose sight of who we are on the inside and, in doing so, lose the ability to empathize with those that choose not to play this game.

How does any of this relate to photography? There are a number of ways, but I suspect that if you think about it, you’ll know them. Photography, like fashion, has its trends that come and go. Photographers, like country club members, have their own manners of interaction. Photography communities, like political parties, so often become echo chambers of people voicing the same ideas, patting each other on the back, and hounding anyone who dares to disagree. As for why I started to think about this issue, I’ll leave you with this.

Recently I began to handle some rudimentary social media posting for a company. A big part of the company identity and branding involves embracing the heritage and spirit of New York City. There wasn’t much going on in terms of prepared content so I decided to put up some photos that I wasn’t really doing anything with to fill any void. I was told that the black and white film photos that I was posting were “too depressing” and that I should remove the hashtag “#thirtyfivefuckingmillimeter” that I had attached to one of the 35mm film photos that I took. Obviously this is a case of paid work so I went ahead and made the requested adjustments, but it really got me thinking….

I am a photographer who captures real moments that exist in front of my eyes. The fact that the vast majority of my photography is some form of street photography means that these are moments that happen in front of not just my eyes, but the eyes of hundreds or thousands of people everyday. I am not a painter, creating imagery on canvas that only exists in my mind. While we can argue to what degree the scenes that I capture depict reality and how they are presented further affect the narrative, if there is a store with its gate down because it went out of business in my photo I think we can all agree that it’s highly likely that it’s a store that’s out of business.

Yes, New York City has many beautiful sights. It has a beautiful skyline, beautiful bridges, beautiful parks, etc. But for every fucking derivative copy-cat photo of the Manhattan Bridge from DUMBO, there are a million photos of graffiti on walls, buildings in disrepair, homeless people on the street, bustling outdoor markets, people waiting for a subway, etc. The real New York City is not the shit that you see in post cards. It’s the fucking Halal stand underneath the 7 Train. It’s the guy walking down a row of cars stopped at a red light asking for spare change. It’s some dumbass kid doing his little hat/pole dance on a moving subway car. It’s people buying fake Prada bags from some shady street vendor with a cardboard sign. It’s a crowded subway platform filled with sweaty people that look miserable after a day of work and just want to get the fuck home. The New York City that most New Yorkers experience is not the well-manicured greenery of Central or Prospect park. It’s not the pinks and purples blanketing the beautiful Manhattan skyline. New York City is people often cramming themselves into dirty century-old apartments, being dwarfed by gigantic gray buildings, being surrounded by blinking lights and tacky advertising, and endless construction sites. For others, it’s living on a residential street not unlike plenty of featureless suburbs with plenty of parking and not an ounce of character to distinguish it as anything close to what comes to mind when people think of the city.

So if my photography in this city is depressing and it’s nothing but a reflection of things that we walk by everyday, maybe the problem isn’t my photography, but the city that I’m photographing. Or maybe, it’s depressing because the reality of our city doesn’t match the glamorous image that most people have of it. To me, New York City is not glamorous and beautiful nor is it dark and depressing. It just is… No, I don’t find East New York to be a particularly pleasant place to walk around, but it’s no less a part of our city than the Upper East Side. The thing is that I’m a lazy person by nature so I just photograph the shit that I see. I can’t be bothered to fabricate something that isn’t there for me. I don’t live in Central Park. I live near Jamaica Avenue. I don’t drive down Madison Avenue. I drive down Queens Boulevard. I don’t visit Prospect Park. My travels take me to Nostrand Avenue. So I’ll take my photos in color, but fuck if I’m going to run around taking pictures of a city that, for me, doesn’t exist.

So fuck people, fuck their opinions, and fuck their ideals… because people are fucking twisted and have lost sense of reality, whether it’s the reality of themselves or the reality of their environment. Be honest with yourself and accept the honesty of others. Maybe when we stop being a species of fake Ken and Barbie dolls, we’ll start being human again.

 Apparently a really depressing image. | #thirtyfivefuckingmillimeter  © 2018 Michael Jin. All Rights Reserved.

Apparently a really depressing image. | #thirtyfivefuckingmillimeter

© 2018 Michael Jin. All Rights Reserved.

A Bad Camera is Still Probably More Than You Need by Michael Jin

There have been a flurry of recent announcements in the camera industry and it has resulted in a lot of discussion. Nikon and Canon finally entered the market with their MILC offerings. Panasonic, Sigma, and Leica announced their “L-Mount Alliance” to present a united front in the face of increasing competition. Part of this has included Panasonic announcing its own jump into full-frame digital cameras. Fuji has taken the route of continuing to focus on APS-C and Medium Format cameras, but announcing a Medium Format camera that is more or less the size of a full-frame digital camera from many other brands, causing further confusion. In the midst of all these announcements and product releases has been headed debate and downright animosity between the fans of each respective system.

Listen, I’m not going to pretend that I’m all high and mighty or somehow above all of this. As my last post pointed out, I clearly have my own opinion regarding the state of the industry at the moment and I’ve made my decision for now in regard to where I’m willing to put my money. I’m obviously keeping up to date on news regarding all of the different systems, reading reviews, watching test videos, viewing sample images, etc. As it stands right now, every camera is a compromise of some sort and there are certainly some systems that perform better than others in certain aspects.

The reason for this post is not to suggest that all cameras are somehow created equal—they’re not—but, rather, to point out that even the worst cameras today are still probably way more than the average photographer will ever need. We’ve gotten to a point where we’re bitching about which camera has 15 stops of dynamic range vs. 14 stops or which camera performs better at ISO 12,800. People will debate ad nauseum about “color science” (I hate this term) or how well a camera autofocuses in near-complete darkness. We do this because when it comes down to it, we’ve gotten to a point in camera development where it’s only at the extreme ends of the user experience that we can start to notice any differences in the abilities of these cameras.

There are, of course, people who live in these extreme ends of the photographic spectrum to whom these specs are very meaningful. We have sports photographers, event photographers, photojournalists, and a plethora of other types of photographers that each have their individual needs, whether it’s intense weathersealing, lightning fast AF, or superb low-light performance. How many of us can honestly say that we fall into this spectrum, though? I can definitely say that I’ve never filled my buffer once in the course of my photography, nor have I shot at the max burst speed of my camera for more than a second or two at a time. I have never had to push my ISO beyond 6,400 even on the street at night thanks to the ambient light provided by street lamps and signs in the city. I’ve never taken my camera out into a monsoon to test the weathersealing and I’ve never needed to track an Olympic sprinter in the dark with my autofocus.

I well aware that my usage is not necessarily representative of the entire photographic community, but when you start watching these videos, reading these articles, or getting engaged in the pissing war, take a moment to think to yourself how much any of it honestly matters to your photography. The chances are that even a bad camera today is still probably more than you need. If you really get down and think about it, it truly is a wonderful time that we’re living in.

My Response to Nikon's Mirrorless Announcement: Goodbye, Nikon by Michael Jin

Like many, I'd been waiting with bated breath for Nikon to announce their entry into the MILC arena. The teaser campaign was fantastic, the form factor promising, the new Z-Mount was full of potential. It seemed as though Nikon was going to really make a statement in the world of mirrorless cameras. Then came the official announcement of their Z6, Z7, and their first native lenses.

We're now about two weeks removed from the announcement and it's taken a while to really collect my thoughts and let it all sink in. The conclusion that I've come to is not just that Nikon missed a huge opportunity, but they are just incredibly out of touch with the modern camera consumer. What they actually announced at the end of a weeks-long teaser campaign can be described as nothing other than the result of hubris. I can come up with no other explanation for the asinine decisions that went into this entrance into the MILC market.

Let's be fair in saying that it would have been impossible to satisfy everyone. No matter what they did, they were bound to upset somebody, but as long as there is a clear target market, this can be fine. However, in this case I do not understand who exactly the target market is. Nikon made clear their intention to target the higher end of the market rather than the consumer end. The Z7 will be the fist camera released—seemingly designed to compete with Sony's A7R III—while the Z6 will go head to head with eh A7 III. Given the fact that the A7R III prior to this was considered direct competition to Nikon's own D850, one could say that the Z7 is also competing with the D850 to some degree.

Given the fact that the Z7 and Z6 are the same exact body and I believe that they share the same inherent weaknesses, I will limit my argument to talking about the Z7. Read the spec sheet and it quickly becomes apparent that the Z7 is essentially a mirrorless D850 with a slightly better processor. Read the news release and it's apparent that the Z7 is more expensive than the D850 (and several hundred dollars more expensive than the Sony A7R III at the time of this writing). Despite the camera coming in north of $3000, it boasts only a single card slot, which is a problem since both the A7R III and Nikon's own D850 boast dual slots. All early reports also indicate that the Z7 suffers from focusing issues, which is not something that can be said about either of the other two cameras in this comparison. Granted, these previews are done with pre-production models by the hands of industry influencers, but we're talking about a camera that's less than a month out from shipping. How much time is there to change these things?

The battery is the same EN-EL15 as the D810 and D850, which is good for owners of those cameras who are looking for a mirrorless camera that shares batteries. However, MILC's due to their use of an EVF use far more battery than a DSLR so what you gain in convenience of sharing batteries between devices, you lose in the fact that you're getting far less shots on each of your batteries than a comparable DSLR or MILC counterpart. This is a decision that I frankly do not understand because Nikon had plenty of time to develop this camera and they had enough time to test the battery usage to see that it could be problematic.

Let's get over the deficiencies of the body for a moment, however. Nikon went out of their way to announce this revolutionary Z-Mount, which is absolutely huge and opens up tremendous potential for light gathering. Despite this, their first lenses are slated to be f/4 zooms and f/1.8 primes. WHAT. THE. FUCK? So on the one hand, the first body Nikon decides to release is a high end $3400 body, but they are thinking that people who shell out that much on a body are going to be wanting to shoot with f/4 zooms and f/1.8 primes? Who the hell is making these decisions?

I get that you can adapt Nikon's current F-mount lenses with an adapter that will be $100 off initially, but for fuck's sake, a quick look at the lens roadmap that Nikon released shows that there's absolutely NOTHING exciting coming down the pipeline in terms of native glass for at least the next 3 years. They initially made a splash about a 58mmm f/0.95 NOCT as a successor to the famous AI-S model, but then it came out that this will be a MANUAL FOCUS lens, be absolutely HUGE, and on top of that, people are estimating that it's probably going to cost well over $5,000! Aside from the Leica crowd, who the hell is going to buy a lens like this and who is going to want to manually focus at f/0.95 even with focus peaking? Better to have released a 58mm f/1.2 with auto-focus because it would have actually been useful. Seriously, though. Look at the Nikon lens roadmap for Z-Mount and ask yourself what they're actually doing with the new mount? f/2.8 zooms? We already have those. f/1.4 primes? We already have those. Why not leverage the potential of the mount to really differentiate yourself in the marketplace?

As the title says, this is my goodbye to Nikon—at least for now. I've given it some long hard thought and I don't see DSLR technology continuing to advance at any significant rate as R&D money gets pushed to MILC's by all of the major manufacturers. Because of this, I find it difficult to rationalize continued investment in F-mount auto-focus lenses. At the same time, the situation in the USA with the D850 continuing to be sold out means that it's probably not going to be any more valuable in a trade-in than it is now and with Sony offering extra money off their bodies with a trade-in, it's time to take the hit and make the switch for the next 5 years or so.

I've held out on purchasing a Sony because I had hope that Nikon would release a competitive entry. The fact is that they simply have not and their lens roadmap shows that the Z-mount system will not be looking interesting to me for the foreseeable future. Perhaps in a decade, Nikon will have gotten their act together because I do believe that the Z-Mount has the most potential of all of the existing mirrorless mounts for being a platform for amazing lenses. However, if Nikon doesn't right the ship pretty quickly, I really do wonder if Nikon will even still be around as an independent camera manufacturer in another decade—Z-Mount or not.

Why am I going to place my bets on Sony at this point? The heart and soul of the digital camera is the sensor. Sony is currently the #1 company by a large margin not only in the manufacturing of imaging sensors, but also R&D. Numerous other camera companies go so far as to rely on Sony to fabricate their sensors or they straight out buy Sony-designed sensors for their bodies. So long as this holds true, Sony will always have the advantage in in-body sensor technology. Sony's major weakness is the fact that they are not an optical company at heart, but by opening the full specs of their E-mount to everyone (something hat neither Nikon nor Canon have done), they've essentially turned every third party lens manufacturer into an OEM producer of lenses for the Sony system in that they should all be able to produce lenses that perform natively on the platform without any quirks or performance issues caused by having to reverse engineer protocols. Simply put, Sony's ability to make optics matters little when a company like Zeiss can produce auto-focusing lenses on Sony's platform.

I'll admit that this all breaks my heart some and I do hope that Nikon becomes an interesting option later down the road. I've shot exclusively Nikon the entire time I've been using digital and my film camera is still a Nikon (I am keeping those lenses for that camera). In the end, however, these are all tools and I will not sacrifice my money supporting a company if I do not feel that they are releasing products that cater to my interests. As of right now, Nikon is off playing in Narnia with their ridiculous MILC offerings and in business, your wallet is unfortunately the only way to really get any message across.

Goodbye for now, Nikon. It's been real. I guess we'll only see each other in analog land for a few years...

The March of Technology by Michael Jin

Nikon's big Mirrorless Interchangable Lens Camera (MILC) announcement is right around the corner and I'll fully admit that I'm very excited to hear what they they will be bringing to market. Whenever any news about MILC's pops up, there seem to inevitably be an argument that brews across commend threads on photography websites. Generally speaking, it's an argument between people who are satisfied with their current DSLR experience and those who are excited by the prospect of new technology and products becoming available. These arguments will always get heated and it will probably devolve into name calling. I know because I'm just as guilty as any other party out there.

I know there are very few of you out there who will read this blog—it seems that all of my traffic is people reading my ES-2 test that I did a while back—but for those that do, let me make a few things very clear.

Whether you take advantage of it or not, you should be happy that companies are invested (and are able to invest) in bringing new products and technologies to market that increase the capability of the device that you are using for your craft. As an artist, I believe that it is really important to remove as many technical barriers as possible between you and your pre-visualized end result. For many of us, we learned how to do this through education and training. This wasn't a virtue so much as a necessity in order to take control of our craft. If you are among the group of people who can already achieve your desired vision for an image, then good for you. Understand, however, that there are people out there for whom the technical aspects of photography represent a barrier between them and their potential enjoyment of the craft.

I know that there's a feeling of unfairness one feels when you've gone out of your way to master something and a bit of software comes along later to essentially make all of that training obsolete. People who feel this way are often the people who complain that each technological advance is simply "making photography too easy" and because of this, it is somehow devaluing photography as a whole since anyone can now make a good image. If this is your stance, then I would suggest that you take a moment to consider how you are defining yourself as a photographer and why you feel it is necessary to maintain a technical barrier in order to maintain your own status. Even if a theoretical AI were developed to choose the correct exposure every single time for someone else, it's not the exposure of an image that should be defining your photography.

As a photographer, you should be defined by your unique vision. If you're just a cookie-cutter photographer does the same snapshots or same common images as everyone else, then yes, you will probably be adversely affected not through the fault of any technology, but because you are bringing nothing of yourself to the table. If you're into commercial headshot photography, you've probably read Peter Hurley's book, "The Headshot". I've seen so many images that feel like they could have been directly ripped from that book. I get that Peter Hurley is an extremely successful commercial headshot photographer, but if all you're doing is following the formula that he set forth in the book, how can you possibly think that you're NOT going to get replaced at some point, whether it's by a younger photographer following the exact same formula for a lower price or a photo booth designed to follow that exact same formula?

If your solution to the growing market share of MILC cameras is to bitch and moan on comment threads and forums about how it adds nothing, then not only are you deluding yourself, but you're publicly showing your own insecurity. Tell me, do you think that a person that's confident in their own ability and position is going to take the time out to complain about technology that's designed to brings others up? No, they're going to feel happy for the people that need it and will be benefiting from it while continuing to do their own thing. I've seen all sorts of accusations that these products are only for amateurs or people that are too lazy to learn how to do things "properly" and it's frankly mind boggling—especially when you consider that there are a number of professionals who have made the switch to newer technology for their own legitimate reasons. Why would you even say such a thing? What do you get out of putting others down like that?

The hilarious thing is that these are often the same people that will drool over every new DSLR announcement and celebrate that the new camera will be bringing an extra 1-stop of high ISO capability that they will never use because they only shoot in a studio or during the daytime and that they clearly don't actually need since they're performing their jobs just fine without that (just like MILC users were performing their jobs just fine with a DSLR just fine before making a switch). They'll rave about the superior autofocus when they don't shoot fast action; they'll hail random things like automatic focus stacking or an in-camera negative digitizing mode. As soon as this new DSLR is released, they'll sell the old one that's been serving them just fine and doing everything they need and buy the new one because.... why? The answer is because it's newer. It's the latest and greatest in DSLR technology and they want to own the latest and greatest technology even if they might not use the extra 10 megapixels or 9FPS burst rate. Of course there are some people who will legitimately benefit from these things whether they be macro shooters, landscape shooters, or high action shooters, but you get what I'm saying... the majority of photographers don't actually benefit from most of the new features that these cameras come out with.

There are several truths here. One is that you're not going to stop the march of technological progress so just stop. Fighting it is like fighting the tide. It's inevitable and it just makes you look like an idiot. The second truth is that a lot of those that bitch and moan about new technology do make some valid points. It's pretty rare for a new technology to offer something that we really NEED. More often than not, it offers efficiency or convenience. This is because technological progress tends to be incremental. It's 5 megapixels here, 10 megapixels there, and suddenly within a few generations you're looking at 50 megapixel cameras vs. 12 megapixel cameras. If you already own the latest and greatest gear, the very next thing is probably not going to be a huge leap from what you own right now so it makes sense to consider this before going ape shit over it. There are still professionals out there using cameras that are well over a decade old now just fine because it happens to fit the criteria for what they need.

In attempting to defend MILC's and their real benefits, I've been accused of having GAS, being an amateur (which I am), being uneducated, being unskilled, not knowing what I'm talking about, and all manner of things. Live exposure preview and all that stuff is a bonus, but let me make it very clear that there are exactly two reasons why I am considering purchasing a MILC (I don't currently own one and I'm not a "Sony fanboy" by any stretch of the imagination, although I respect the technology they're bringing to market.):

1. Focus Peaking - I shoot manual film cameras along with my DSLR and I would like a digital system that is not simply compatible with my manual focus lenses, but actually helps me shoot with them. I don't enjoy looking for the confirmation dot on my viewfinder nor do I want to have to stare at the back of my D850 to be able to use focus peaking. I know that focus peaking isn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination (I'd rather have a matte screen), but it beats both of the current options available to me on my D850 by a mile.

2. Silent Shooting - I would like to be able to take photos in quiet places without being a distraction and there are plenty of situations where "quiet" is not quiet enough. There's a difference between SOME sound and NO sound and once again, I know that the D850 is capable of this, but I'm not a fan of shooting while staring at the back of my screen because it decreases stability and introduces unwanted camera shake.

For me, personally, the rest of is just there. I don't particularly care about Eye-AF (I intend to use manual focus lenses) or live exposure preview. If I can nail exposure on my rolls of film, I'm pretty sure I can nail exposure with a digital camera regardless of what make and model it is and these cameras have such ridiculous dynamic range these days that you don't even need to be accurate with your exposure and you'd still be fine... The possibility for compact lenses would be nice as well as the possibility to adapt lenses from other SLR systems, but those are less important to me than the two things that I've stated.

Anyway, this has been a bit of a ramble so I'll end it here. I'm excited to see what MILC Nikon has to offer, but I'm not going to recommend hopping on the bandwagon just to hop on the bandwagon. Think about how the actual benefits that the technology would afford you and see if it's even worth it. And if it afford you absolutely no benefits, do us all a favor and just shut the fuck up so that the rest of us can enjoy something that's clearly not made for you.

Me and Mother Fucking Nature by Michael Jin

© 2018 Michael Jin

I'm not a morning person. I'm also not really a "nature" person. Don't get me wrong. I heart the environment and all, but I'm generally most comfortable with my feet on pavement and the elements outside some sort of barrier that I can choose to close.

For some stupid reason, I decided to wake up at 5AM to go out and shoot photos. It appears that Mother Nature might be hinting at me to just sleep in and leave photographic the pretty stuff for all of the people that actually appreciate getting up early in the morning to see it.

Anyway, the sunrise shot that I was thinking of wasn't looking like it was going to work so I turned my camera is the other direction and this is pretty much the fruit of my effort. Yeah... Should have stayed in bed.


Lesson of the day: Before you decide to wake up at some ungodly hour to go out and take photos, check a fucking weather app.

Thought of the day: Sunsets and sunrises look the same... maybe I should move to the West Coast...

Struggling with Depression, Anxiety, and Low Self-Esteem as a Photographer by Michael Jin

© 2018 Michael Jin — Ilford HP5+ 35mm Developed in Rodinal 1+50

A while back, my wife asked me why I never submit any of my images to gallery exhibits at my school. I certainly believe that while my work may not "wow" anyone, it doesn't really fall short when compared to the peers that I've had in my photo classes so far. My response was to put on a bit of an arrogant act and say that I felt that it would be a waste of my time (I do actually believe this, but for different reasons.) because I don't care what anyone in school thinks of my work anyway. In truth, however, the bigger reason is that I seriously struggle with low self-esteem and I tend to be my own harshest critic. Couple this with fear of failure or fear of rejection, and the thought of displaying my work for others to see fills me with complete dread. This dread and anxiety is one of the reasons that it took me this long to even create this website for myself and if I'm honest, I feel that it helps to know that nobody is really visiting it.

A while back, I wrote an entry about Impostor Syndrome and it's something that I do suffer from a lot. The fact that I suffer from clinical depression probably doesn't help the cause either because I have a tendency to get stuck in some deep ruts that either hinder or outright derail my efforts at consistently producing work. These are the times I tend to spend on the web endlessly reading articles or tutorials about this or that—all the while lying to myself that I'm just looking for new techniques or inspiration.

© 2018 Michael Jin

For those that suffer from these issues, the grind to be productive is very real. Once I get into the swing of things, it tends to be fine, but building that initial momentum up is incredibly difficult. One thing that I think helps this somewhat is picking up my Nikon FM2n.

I know tons of people talk about how shooting film forces them to slow down or some shit like that. For me, shooting film is not about slowing down so much as it's about being able to shoot and avoid the instant feedback loop. I can shoot a roll of film and develop it a month later. I'm not constantly looking at the back of my LCD screen and scolding myself for producing shit photos while I'm out there. It lets me just enjoy the process without worrying too much about the results. Yeah, the vast majority of them do suck, but I can deal with that when I'm in a better state of mind. For me, it's just building up the routine of going out and pushing frames.

 

© 2018 Michael Jin   |   Adox CHS 100 II Developed in XTOL 1+0

It could just be shooting random scenes on my commute or walking around my block or something. Regardless of what ends up on the negative, I can definitely say that it helps. Of course while I'm shooting I try to take it seriously, whether it's people standing around waiting for a subway or a random flower in someone's garden. I'm not saying that a person should just go out and waste film just for the sake of wasting it, but just loosen up a little and allow yourself to enjoy the craft without the burden of results. If you can do it with digital, then great. For me, the temptation to look at the back of that LCD is just too great so I turn to film. Besides, the development process really is it's own therapy for me as well.

This was a bit of a ramble on my part, but if there is anyone out there who suffers from depression, anxiety, or low self-esteem, I do encourage you to find a way to change the mentality with which you go out to shoot. It's not like you have to show anyone the results anyway.

For me, I think the next hurdle really will be to create some prints and put them out for people to see—not just people that I know, but complete strangers. I enrolled for Advanced Photography this coming semester and it seems like at least some of the students' work ends up on the bulletin boards in the hallways so it's entirely possible that I might just not have a choice in the matter. Regardless, it would be a nice step to be able to do something like this of my own volition. Maybe I'll enter a photo or two when I see the flyers asking for submissions... How bad can it be, right?

© 2018 Michael Jin   |   Adox CHS 100 II Developed in XTOL 1+0

Test and Review of the Nikon ES-2 Adapter Set w/ Nikon D850 and Nikon Micro NIKKOR 55mm f/2.8 AI-S Lens on Ferrania P30 by Michael Jin

I came home tonight to find a box from B&H waiting for me. I was very confused at first because I don't recall having ordered anything from them in the past week. Upon opening the box, however, I discovered that my Nikon ES-2 Film Digitizing Adapter Set had finally arrived! I had pre-ordered this thing a while ago! What a pleasant surprise!

Before I go further, however, I would like to bring attention to something.

 This is the box right after opening.

This is the box right after opening.

 This is the box with all of that air shit removed...

This is the box with all of that air shit removed...

What. The. Fuck?

Anyway, without getting into a whole thing about unnecessarily large packages, the contents are pretty straight forward. There is the ES-2 Adapter itself, which serves to hold the film carrier in place in front of your lens with a piece of plastic on the opposite side to diffuse any light so that you get even illumination.

The ES-2 Adapter can also telescope back and forth, allowing you to adjust the distance of the negative carrier to your lens. This is a pretty important feature as it lets you essentially set your lens to focus for 1:1 reproduction and then adjust your adapter itself to come into proper focus. The ES-2 Adapter has a 52mm thread diameter, meaning that it will mount directly onto any vintage Nikon macro lens that has a 52mm filter thread such as the Nikon Micro NIKKOR 55mm f/2.8 AI-S which I intended to use.

In the box are also two adapters that convert that 52mm thread to 62mm in order to mount onto Nikon's newer 60mm lenses. Depending on which version of the 60mm lens you own, you will have to use the corresponding adapter due to the different minimum focusing distances. There are also two negative carriers. One is a two-slot carrier for 35mm slides, which I will not be testing as I do not have any slides and the other is a 6-slot carrier for 35mm negative strips.

 

 This is pretty much everything that comes in the box minus the bubble wrap.

This is pretty much everything that comes in the box minus the bubble wrap.

One thing that doesn't come in the box, quite obviously, is a light source. You have to provide that yourself. I've seen some people use flashes, but I prefer the continuous light of a light pad or light box. Since I was already set up for digitizing negatives, I decided to use the light pad that I already owned.

 Here is the set-up I used. Basically a copy stand and a light pad. You don't actually need either of these things, but I used them just because I happen to have them.

Here is the set-up I used. Basically a copy stand and a light pad. You don't actually need either of these things, but I used them just because I happen to have them.

As I mentioned before, the lens that I own is a Nikon Micro NIKKOR 55mm f/2.8 AI-S. It's a pretty old manual focus lens, but when it comes to macro photography manual focus is just fine more often than not and the optics of the lens seem fine so I didn't feel a need to upgrade. The only real weakness of using this lens or any other of Nikon's 55mm lenses is the fact that the maximum reproduction ratio is 1:2 so I used a Nikon PK-13 extension tube to allow the lens to reach a 1:1 reproduction ratio.

After initially attaching the adapter directly to the lens, I felt that it needed a little more distance so I also added a Nikon K4 extension between the lens and the ES-2 adapter to make the whole thing work to my satisfaction. Enough about the setup, though. It's results that you really want to see, right?

Since I wanted to test not only the adapter, but really put the old Nikon lens to the test on my Nikon D850's sensor, I decided to use some Ferrania P30 film that I developed in Kodak HC-110 (Dilution B). It's about the finest grain film that I have that isn't Ilford Pan F+, but I couldn't find an image taken on Pan F+ that I was willing to put out into public for this review. I will go take some later, but for now, Ferrania P30 will have to suffice. I also decided to do two tests. The first test was with the Nikon D850's built-in "Digitizing" function, which automatically spits out a JPEG image and the second test was to take a straight RAW shot and process it in Adobe Lightroom.

Without further ado, here are the results.

Image straight out of the D850 using the built-in "Digitizing Mode"

Image processed from RAW file taken with the D850

So obviously there are some stylistic differences right off the bat, but I can say that I'm not incredibly fond of Nikon's built-in "Digitizing Mode" both in the fact that you can only get a JPEG from it—they should have very least allowed it to produce TIFF files—and the fact that it seems to produce a very flat image out of camera that most people will probably want to process in some manner. Doing so with a lossy JPEG format, however, will result in degradation of quality so I would highly recommend that you just ignore the automatic function on the D850 (at least for black and white film) and shoot RAW to process the images to your own tastes.

Obviously, the files on Squarespace are compressed and won't do justice here so below are the full files that you can examine yourself. I've provided both JPEG files, the NEF file from the D850, and also a DNG file for those of you who might not be able to process D850 NEF files. You can fiddle with the files as you please, examine them as you please, and draw your own conclusions.

JPEG from Nikon D850 "Digitizing Mode"

JPEG processed from RAW file.

NEF from the Nikon D850

DNG File converted from Nikon D850 NEF via Adobe Lightroom

 

Conclusion

In truth, the Nikon ES-2 adapter is just a thing that goes in front of a lens. It has no intrinsic ability to do anything nor is there anything that would suggest that it is only compatible with Nikon cameras. Theoretically, with the right combination of adapters and extension tubes, anyone with a macro lens should be able to use this with any camera system.

Obviously doing so will require you to shoot in RAW and process the files manually, but I believe this will lead to the best results anyway as I found nothing special about the Nikon D850's built-in "Digitizer Mode" that would warrant going out and purchasing a D850 just to use this adapter.

The quality of the resulting file will be entirely dependent on your camera's megapixel count, its dynamic range, and your lens's ability to resolve detail so in this sense, I would try to use a high megapixel camera and the best optics possible to get the most out of this system.

All in all, the ES-2 is pretty well designed and it makes digitizing 35mm film so much easier and quicker than scanning or using a DIY solution. Is it worth the price? I guess it depends on how much film you have to digitize and how much the convenience of the ES-2 is worth to you.

As for the lens, I think that the old 55mm f/2.8 AIS performed pretty admirably and I'm not really sure if the newer 60mm G-series lens would have resolved more. Given the price difference between the two lenses, I would say save yourself a couple hundred bucks and pick up the older lens, but that's just me.

I hope this little test and the files above will help you in making a decision as to whether the ES-2 is right for you. I wish I could have done it with a more modern lens and also tested some slides, but I guess I'll have to leave that to other people who have these things.


*UPDATE 07/24/2018

I got around to doing a quick test on Ilford Pan F+ that was developed in Rodinal 1+50. I wanted to not only test the ability to resolve granular detail, but since this was an exposure with a good amount of dynamic range, I thought I'd also do a 9-Exposure HDR capture of the negative.

JPEG (D850 In-Camera Conversion)

Original NEF File from D850

DNG File from D850 (Converted in Lightroom after Tone Curve Inversion)

9-Exposure HDR DNG File from D850 (Exported after Tone Curve Inversion)


*UPDATE 08/19/2018

Since the last two files were from fairly high contrast negatives, I'm adding a DNG file from something with more subtle tonal values. This is Adox CHS II 100 developed in Kodak XTOL (Stock).

DNG File from D850 (Converted in Lightroom after Tone Curve Inversion)

Enjoy!