review

My 2018 EMULSIVE Secret Santa Experience by Michael Jin

© 2019 Michael Jin. Pentax Super Takumar 55mm f/2 with Sony A7RIII

For those that don’t know, the EMULSIVE Secret Santa is an annual event within the film photography community organized by EM of emulsive.org. The idea is that a bunch of participants all around the world sign up and get paired with a partner to send a gift to so that we can all open our gifts together on Christmas day. Like many of these types of events, the person that you’re sending to is usually not the person who is gifting to you (except in a few rare scenarios) so it’s all a big surprise in the end. When you sign up, you can either choose to ensure that you’re shipping domestically or say that you’re open to ship internationally. Despite the fact that the EMULSIVE Secret Santa is pretty much talked about on every film photography podcast that I listen to, 2018 was the first year that I decided to actually participate.

The thing is that I’m not really a “holiday” type of person. I don’t find any particular joy in the whole tradition of gift exchange and I pretty much want to claw my ears out whenever I start to hear Christmas music all day everywhere I go. I’ve never participated in a Secret Santa simply because I’m a grumpy grinch. I’ve always been of the opinion that we’re all better off just keeping our own money in our pockets and buying the things that we actually want rather than getting sweaters or socks that we’ll never wear and pretending to be happy about it. I guess I’m just not really sentimental in that regard. This year was a bit different, though. I’ve been making an active effort to try to open myself up and be a more social person in general. I figured that the EMULSIVE Secret Santa would be a good way to connect (even if just in a limited fashion) with another person. So I went on to Elfster, which was the site that the event was using to organize, registered as a participant, and waited to be paired.

It took a while, but I finally got my pairing and it happened to be someone in Georgia. Now while the minimum gift value is $20 and all registrants get to create a wish list, we are encouraged to find out a little bit about the person receiving the gift via an anonymous Q&A mechanism built into the Elfster platform. While some people simply ignore this and send whatever rolls of film or camera that they have pre-determined regardless of which recipient they get paired with, EM emphasizes that the idea is to strengthen the community and encourages us to tailor our gifts by using these Q&A exchanges. Figuring that since I’ve gone out of my way to participate, I decide to flow with the spirit of the event and proceed to send a bunch of anonymous questions to my recipient. Then I hear nothing back.

Now I’m left with a choice. Do I just send whatever since my recipient is not responding, or do I wait it out a bit longer to see if he eventually responds? The days keep passing and the Christmas Day deadline looms ever nearer as I keep logging into Elfster to see if there has been any update. I’m seeing all of these notifications in the activity board where people are thanking their Santas for their gifts—some of them cheat by opening the gift early—and there I am feeling like a dipshit for not having sent my gift out yet. Finally, just as I’m about to break, I get a response from my recipient who says that he simply hadn’t been checking his Elfster account. We have a brief back and forth and I get an idea for some film stocks that I think he’d like. I put the order into B&H and I end up shipping it via UPS 3-Day to ensure that it arrives on time since it was all so last minute. Thankfully, I get confirmation through Elfster that my gift was received and I breathe a sigh of relief. Then it hits me. Nobody ever sent me any questions to answer.

So I know I’ve done my part, but now I’m wondering what going on with the other end of this exchange as it pertains to me. Is my Santa one of the people who just have something that they already have in mind to send? Is something on the way? It doesn’t seem like it since Elfster does have a button to press once you send your package to let your recipient to know that something has been shipped (and a separate button for the recipient to press to confirm receipt). I check and there’s nothing to indicate that anything has been shipped and my Santa has been completely silent. My next thought immediately goes to, “Is my Santa one of those dead beats that I hear about who just enters to receive something and never sends anything out on their end?” A system like this is ripe for abuse, after all. It would seem a pretty dick move, but as Christmas gets closer and closer, it looks increasingly common.

Finally I check my Elfster account one day and there’s a message for me.

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OK. I can understand that shit happens and I know how stressful finals can be. What’s more important? Personal circumstances or a gift exchange? Of course I tell him to take care of whatever he needs to take care of. Clearly, I’m going to be getting SOMETHING even if it’s not on time. All he has to do is drop it in the mail at some point. Right?

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RADIO SILENCE…

This is a screenshot that I took today as I write this post on January 19, 2019. It’s been nearly a month since Christmas. There’s been no further communication, no confirmation of a package sent, and no package received. Because of this, I’m going to go ahead and put my grumpy hat back on. You see, even if it was part of an exchange, this would have literally been the only gift that I received this past Christmas. I know that I am not the only person to experience this as it is a known problem and it seems like EM and his assistants are working in the background on their contingency for these scenarios, but frankly speaking, they shouldn’t have to have a contingency because people should be decent enough to either abide by their word or withdraw if circumstances prevent them from fulfilling their end of the agreement.

Some people have posted about how their joy has simply been knowing that the person that they gifted to enjoyed their present and I certainly feel the joy that my own gift was well received by the person to whom I was assigned. I suppose I feel rather ambivalent in that I also feel betrayed and angry at myself for allowing to feel this way because I allowed myself to have enough faith in a stranger whom I knew nothing about to get my hopes up. I think I would have almost preferred complete radio silence altogether than that single message that made hope briefly blip on my otherwise jaded and cynical radar.

Whatever the final resolution to this will be, I have already decided that I am not going to participate in this event again. I commend EM for doing his utmost to rally the film photography community around this event and doing his best to organize it—even going so far as to have contingency plans in place for situations like mine. That having been said, my experience will be that in an event that was specifically designed to strengthen the bonds in this community, someone entered to take advantage of it and I simply don’t want to lose what little faith in people that I have left.

Good luck, EM. Thanks for trying.

© 2016 Michael Jin. NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4D with Nikon D810.

Micro-Contrast and Other Nonsense by Michael Jin

Even though I don’t exactly have money pouring out of my orifices, I’m always on the lookout for new (and sometimes old?) and interesting camera equipment. One of a biggest benefits of switching from a DSLR system to an MILC system has been the fact that I can find an adapter to fit just about any DSLR or SLR lens ever made onto my Sony A7RIII. Sure, I had by Helios 44M, Helios 40-2, and a few Jupiter lenses back on my D850, but it was much harder to find lenses to fit that camera since they had to be specifically modified to achieve infinity focus and even when you got one that was, manually focusing on a modern DSLR was just not a very fun thing to do.

Because of this, I’ve found a whole world of vintage lenses that has opened up to me since getting my new camera and this is nice because a lot of older lenses tend to be cheaper than the new stuff. How does one go about sorting out good lenses from bad ones, though? As I’ve said, I don’t have tons of money so I’m constantly reading lens reviews so try to get an idea of their characteristics and performance… and so begins my rant.

© 2019 Michael Jin. Pentax Super Takumar 55mm f/2 (M42 Mount) on Sony A7RIII.

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. As I read these reviews for lenses, I really start to get that feeling. Going through essay after essay of people driveling on and on in their efforts to describe the visual characteristics of these lenses quickly begins to feel like listening to Food Network hosts describing whatever garbage that they’re munching on for the camera. I’m not sure where the language originated from (and I admittedly don’t care enough to go looking), but you start to see the same fucking words over and over again applied to EVERY SINGLE LENS. If you’re at all interested in photography, you’ve probably seen them, too. How many lenses have “CREAMY BOKEH", “BUTTERY SMOOTH BOKEH”, or some variation of this? How many lenses “DRAW WELL” or “RENDER IMAGES WELL”? And, for fuck’s sake, how many lenses have “GREAT MICRO-CONTRAST”?

WHAT THE FUCK IS MICRO-CONTRAST?

© 2017 Michael Jin. NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G on Nikon D810.

More importantly, however

WHY THE HELL SHOULD I CARE?

Unlike most things in life, I’ve actually taken the time to try to look up what the hell “micro=contrast” is simply due to the ubiquity of the term’s use in discussions of lenses and the fact that people constantly talk about it like it’s the most important thing in the world. As far as I can tell, there doesn’t seem to be any universally accepted definition of what this term means nor have I found an unequivocal method of testing for it. It seems more like bullshit jargon made up by people and thrown around in discussions to sound smarter than other people or simply as a catch-all term used to quantify all of the shit that people can’t actually describe with other words.

On the one hand, I get it. If you put me on the spot and asked me to describe how any given lens renders, I would have an incredibly difficult time explaining it to you. If you asked me to start comparing lenses to each other, this would only get more difficult. For you, the reader, this might be disappointing if I was positioning myself as some sort of expert in these matters so I need to find SOME way to describe what’s going on even if I can’t quite put my finger on it. I think “micro-contrast” is pretty much the photographic version of “umami”. You can’t point out exactly what the hell it is, but you “know it” when you encounter it. It also happens to be the universal fallback for any argument that involves justifying the price of a really really expensive lens when every quantifiable metric favors the cheaper lens.

© 2019 Michael Jin. Mir-1 37mm f/2.8 Lens (M42 Mount) on Sony A7RIII.

Whether it’s Bokeh, Micro-Contrast, Peceptual Megapixels (an even more egregiously coined term), or whatever else, I find that I’m really tired of reading about this crap. Here’s an idea: WHY NOT JUST SHOW ME? Considering that all of these reviewers actually have their hands on the lenses that they are reviewing, it’s pretty amazing how much crap some of them can write while not showing a damned photo other than some test charts or the occasional plan gray shot to show the vignette at different apertures. Does anyone seriously care about this shit? If you show me some nice photos taken with a lens, I’m not going to ask you what the MTF chart looks like or how many “perceptual megapixels” the lens resolves.

Sure, tell me what the lens feels like. Describe how well the focus ring is dampened or whether the lens suffers from focus breathing. These are all things that are an essential part of the use of a lens that you can’t convey through an image. But by God, why the hell would you bother trying to describe the visual rendition that a lens creates when you can just take some damned pictures and post them?

© 2017 Michael Jin. Zeiss Milvus 50mm f/1.4 ZF.2 on Nikon D810.

Anyway, I just felt like letting loose after a round of reading through some vintage lens reviews. If you’re a reviewer and you happen to be struggling with how to describe a lens. Do us all a favor and just go out and take a fucking picture.

© 2017 Michael Jin. Helios 44M 58mm f/2 on Nikon D810.

Oh, and the latest lens that I’ve been eyeing? It’s the Jupiter-9.

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/2.9 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 "Negative Digitizer” 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 "Negative Digitizer" 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 "Negative 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!