Thursday, October 23, 2008

Toy Pano: WIN! plus *bonus* Salton Sea footage.

About a month ago (actually, exactly one month ago), I built a toy panoramic out of a Chinese Holga clone and a Japanese stereo pinhole camera.

I took a short vacation to Palm Springs and the Salton Sea area and was able to run a roll of black-and-white Fuji SS, as well as a roll of color Kodak Portra 160NC (that I got for free from Kodak as part of some promotion), through it. The results are in! I'd have to say...mostly positive! First the Fuji SS, developed with D-76. I'll just shut up and show some pictures, the babble for a few lines.

And one very tall shot...

Nice, heh? Focuses great, no worries on the focal length. Has the fall off I expected. Less, actually. And the fall-off varies depending on how far I focus the thing. Has the soft toy camera thing but still sharp enough to show detail.
How about color? This was Kodak Portra 160NC home developed with a Unicolor C-41 kit.

I have to say that overall I prefer the black-and-white film, but I didn't try all that hard. The color roll was very boring, almost all distant horizon shots. But I think the fading at the sides fits better with the bw film. Still, I'm very happy that it worked! Now that I know it does, I can play around a bit more.
Problems with it? The only real issue I had was with the viewfinder. It's just a plastic square and I basically just tried to line up the horizon or something straight along the crosshairs by holding the camera about 8 inches from my face, so everything is pretty much centered in the frame. I'd like to make some kind of "real" viewfinder, maybe from a crappy cheapo goodwill panoramic. Speaking of, these are shots from my crappy cheapo goodwill panoramic, for comparison.

The image size of the homemade pano is about the length of two 35mm shots, plus the space you would have between the frames. The cheapo pano just has a mask that makes a smaller image from a single 35mm frame, so basically you are getting 1/3 of a 35mm shot. Here are some shots taken with Fuji Provia 100F, home developed in the same Unicolor kit.

And a couple older bw shots from the same camera...

While they have their own charm, the difference in quality is obvious. Aside from the green color from cross-processing, they are very grainy and much lower in detail. Compare these to the homemade pano color shot of all the windmills in the distance. While soft, you can see every single one of them in detail. But the image size on the homemade pano is at least six times larger than that of the cheap pano.
If you want one of these cheapo panos, I see them all the time at Goodwill, Savers, etc., for one or two bucks. I plan on grabbing another to see if I can rip it apart for the finder. If you want a homemade panoramic like mine, you'll have to build one yourself! A Diana pano? Hmmm... gears ticking and clicking.

A few words about Salton Sea (this should be a separate post, but while I'm in the mood). It really is a beautiful mess. I highly recommend the documentary Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea. Towards the end someone comments that nobody knows about the Salton Sea and nobody cares, until you visit it. One visit is all it takes and then you care. That's all it took for me. I've been to SoCal quite a few times and been through the Palm Springs area and didn't realize how close it is. I mean it's like 15 miles south of the freeway! With a length of 35 miles, how can anyone miss it? But most people do. I HIGHLY recommend checking it out. Totally fascinating. Beautiful and disgusting at the same time.
The FLIES! I mean, seriously. I just had to turn off my senses, because as soon as I pulled over the first time in North Shore, my truck filled up with flies. Just your basic housefly, so nothing that bites...but they were thick as...well, as flies.
The smell? A lot of people complain about it, but I didn't really notice it. Maybe having grown up in the Midwest, I'm already used to odd, damp smells, like ponds and mold and stuff. And the ocean smells way stronger. It was just kind of a brine smell, with some sulfur stench in some areas where there is more activity like mud volcanoes. Didn't really phase me. Though it's probably best I was alone, as I can't imagine most people putting up with it all day like I do. It was an amazing area, though. I really want to go back soon. As soon as I left, I was thinking about places I wanted to spend more time exploring...the dead beaches, the salt flats, the abandoned motels, the funky trailer towns. So I leave you this time with a few shots of the Salton Sea area. I'll try to describe them a bit.

This was on the east shore in the Niland park. All that white stuff is basically salt mud. I have it all over my truck. It was pretty dry while I was there. I think a lot of pictures I see, this is usually covered with water.

This is the same are with the mud volcanoes. This green pit was bubbling!

Looked like toxic waste to me. This was shot in the same area with a Holga 120GN. Just salt and mud.

Did I mention it was hot? Like above 100 hot? But that doesn't phase me after living in the desert for 11 years. Here's a shot of a typical beach on the eastern shore.

It's not strictly sand...mostly seashells and fish bones, and the fine desert sand/dust we have out here. Everything is bleached white from the brine and sun. Lots of abandoned buildings, as well. A couple more shots of the seashore.

A nice, beautiful emptiness. This is looking down the eastern shoreline, a shot I particularly like with the train going by.

Another shot of from the Holga of an abandoned beach building (these Holga shots are self developed as well).

No shortage of abandoned stuff to shoot. Nobody seems to live there. And even where people do live (mostly in Bombay Beach and Salton City), there is still tons of junk just left behind.

Don't think it's all trashy and desolate, though. It's still a sea and surrounded by desert. It's quite pretty, and peaceful. Rarely do I feel so alone in a populated area. And the birds are amazing. Pelicans and herons and such everywhere. A bit more skittish than those I've seen at the ocean, where the pelicans just kind of sit and watch you walk by. These would fly away if you walked up to the shoreline and they were 150 feet away. Still neat to see, though.

And the southern end of the sea is all farmlands and preserves, and some factories.

Well worth the trip. I recommend it to anyone who is interested in photography, and anyone else for that matter. It really has to be seen...and i can't imagine anyone visiting it and saying "It doesn't matter, let it dry up." But that seems to be what has happened. I'm not telling everyone to go out and save the Salton Sea (I don't live in California, but water politics are the same throughout the west...waste and divert), but don't hate it! Enjoy it while it's there. I know I'm going to go back, more than a few times.



  1. Interesting about the Salton Sea. Thanks for writing about it otherwise I would've never noticed that big blue blob on the map.

  2. great article! seriously. I like your photos a lot. looking forward to your next post.

  3. You are a genius, I actually prefer the colour shots from the home-made pano, but that's me...
    One day when I come over to visit I'm going to ask you to show me to the Salton Sea (please) with toy cameras in hand of course!

  4. Kaometet3:52 AM

    Love the toy pano b&w third photo from above..

  5. Anonymous3:49 AM

    I love reading your blog. It's so exciting to see all the different cameras you use. Keep up the inspirational work.


  6. Thank you for this post :-)

    I too am experimenting with goodwill panoramic cameras. I didn't realize they were so widespread. I am working on modding the shutter on mine to always stay open (they have that shutter cover on the front anyway), and building a translucent backplane. I want to use the panoramic lens from the camera to shoot video with. There is a very dreamlike--verging on melancholic--feeling about the images shot with one of those. I plan on going to Old Orchard Beach in southern Maine next summer, capturing some good seaside footage. If you haven't been, I highly recommend you go one summer. It's like something out of a dream.

  7. Anonymous8:29 PM

    inspiring work.
    i'm going to try and head out that way this week.

    thank you

  8. very cool article and great photos. can you tell me what the name of the Chinese Holga clone is I would like to try to find one.

  9. no idea what the name is...i got a couple of them from china a couple years ago.

  10. How have I seriously missed this post???
    As always, so interesting! Thank you :)