Monday, December 31, 2007

Fuji Natura Classica: The "black and white" trials

While I'm not a big 35mm shooter, for a couple years I've been wanting some kind of simple, yet nice (and cool) 35mm point and shoot. I'd considered the Ricoh GR-1, but the price is a little bit high, and I'm just not that keen on buying something for that much that is used and is all digital (aside from the film), meaning I have no way of fixing it myself. I don't expect anything to last forever (except maybe my Snappy, even if it is built entirely out of tape with a shutter and a lens), but I at least wanted something new out of the box, without any previous, possibly emotionally damaged history (oh, wait, that might be my dating preference). So, finally, I decided on the Fuji Natura Classica. There is also a Fuji Natura NS available, but the Classica is nicer looking, and has a couple extra features. These are only available in Japan, so you have to export it if you want one. It's actually fairly difficult to find new, decent 35mm cameras in the US nowadays. I was looking for a middle of the road 35mm PAS for my mom. You can't really find them. There are typically refurbished. I found a 'new' Samsung that got good reviews, but even that has a warranty card from 2001. Commoners just don't care about film's digital all the way. In Japan, film almost seems to be making a comeback. There are tons of film cameras available. Even 110 has regained popularity. So these nice cameras, like the Classica, will probably never be produced outside of Japan.
The Classica isn't the first in the Natura line. There is the original Natura Black, which featured a 24mm lens with a base f-stop of 1.9. Then came the Natura S, which I think is pretty much the same thing, except in pretty colors, probably to cater to women. There is also another version with ugly patterns on the front, available in black (not shown on the Fuji site) and lavender, again probably for women. These are no longer produced, and are actually quite collectible. That was another reason I chose the Classica. It's always nice to buy something that actually increases in value, or at least maintains its value, as opposed to many 35mm cameras that sell for $20 five years after their initial $400 price tag. I figured if I didn't like it, I could probably make my money back. But I do like it, so it's a keeper.
So, anyway, the camera. What's so special about it? A 35mm point and shoot? Who cares, right? Well, before I get into all of that, here's a little camera porn...

(Foxy whistle sound) A very attractive camera, I think. Also small and very light. Plastic body, nice grippy leatherette skin. So, besides looking nice, what makes this stand out from other point and shoots? Well, the secret lies in the Natura name, and the little NP logo. It was pretty much specifically designed to use Fuji Natura film, which is a 1600 speed color film. What's the big deal? Well, it's built to take shots indoors and at night...without a flash. Whaaat? Yep. 1600 is just very light sensitive, and while I'm sure this can be done with an expensive SLR (I've never actually used 1600 before), there aren't any PAS cameras that do this, except for the Natura. And it not only works with Natura film, it works with any 1600 speed film. And it also works with 800 speed film. Below that, NP mode doesn't work, and it meters for normal speeds, so you'd have to use the flash. The purpose of the NP mode with fast film is that you get more natural colors and light without the harsh flash. Does it really work? You bet it does. More on that in a bit. First, let's look at the camera and some of the settings.
The Classica features a wide 28mm lens with a base f-stop of 2.8. Not as low as the 1.9 of the original, and not at wide as the 24mm of the original. Not sure what difference the small f-stop change makes for these PAS cameras. The manual is in Japanese. I've translated a few pages. Some of the stuff is a bit 'duh', like the viewfinder, but the counter window on top deserves some explanation. It's easy to load and if that's difficult for you, or this is your first camera, you probably won't be buying this camera outside of Japan. So I'll skip the really basic stuff.

Because this is a Japan-only camera, it is a Japanese camera. English. Even the buttons on top are Nihongo.

This is probably the only confusing part when using this camera. It is a point and shoot, after all. There are a few adjustable settings, but, for the most part, the camera does all the work. Here is a translated explanation of how to change the menu settings.

Slightly convoluted, but I assume that is to make it difficult to accidentally change the settings. So, you press the red button to turn the power on. The lower left button enters 'menu change mode'. The item will be flashing rapidly. You press the arrow button to cycle through the different settings on the window (as seen in the above window guide). Then when you are at the setting you want (say, nighttime slow shutter, or the little guy with the moon), you press the upper right corner and cycle through the options for that setting. It will blink slowly when the option is selected. Then you push the lower left button to set it. If the item is rapidly blinking, it will turn that setting off when you press the lower left button. Sounds complicated? Not really, once you know the pattern. It's a head scratcher at first, though.
The first thing you probably want to do is turn off the date stamp, as it is on by default. Just cycle through the window with the arrow button until the date is selected. Then use the right upper button to cycle through the date options until it says "off". Then set it by pressing the lower left button.

The other thing you might want to do is turn off the beeping sounds the camera makes. It's a very quiet camera without the can't even hear the shutter fire. You just hear the film advance to the next shot. This was a bit tougher to figure out. While holding down the lower left button, press the upper right button until the sound menu appears. "boff" means no sound.
I'm not going to go over every feature of the camera, as most of it is obvious. We all know what red-eye reduction and landscape means. Most point and shoot and even digital cameras have the same settings. You can adjust the exposure up and down a few stops. I haven't messed with this yet, as I wanted to see what the camera would do by itself. My digital camera has this option, too, but I rarely use it. One thing you may have noticed from the above illustrations is the "remote control". This must be something you buy separately. But it has a timer, so I think the remote is just more fun gadgetry. I suppose if you want more time to set up your reunion shot, or you want to set up the camera outside and wait for that squirrel to get right up close to the camera, it might be useful. I don't have it, though. What comes with the camera is a case, battery and strap. The battery is, fortunately, a fairly common 3V CR2 camera battery. I say fairly common because I went to Fry's to find one for my mom's camera, and they said "Oh, we don't usually carry batteries for old technology." This is the same place that had a pile of beat up, overpriced, refurbished Konica point and shoots as their only film camera stock (Konica Minolta is no longer in the camera business). Best Buy had the batteries.
On to the other, more important setting...NP mode. I'll let the manual explain the basics.

I have no idea how 1600 speed film acts in a regular point and shoot. This is, quite honestly, my first PAS since my Kodak Disc camera I had when I was 12. I should say my first automatic PAS, as most of my toy cameras are 'point' and 'shoot'. But, I have to say, not really knowing what to expect, I was amazed. I'm used to just giving up shooting when the sun goes behind a building or the clouds are too thick. And inside? Only if I can do a 10 second exposure. I have a flash on my Holga, but it almost burns a white hole in the center of the film, it's so harsh. And it only reaches about 3 feet in front of the camera. So, this is seriously a very new experience for me.
As I'm not much into color film, I loaded a roll of Fuji 1600 Super Presto black and white into the camera (and developed with D-76 1:1), and took a short road trip with sol exposure to the mountain towns northwest of Phoenix. Let's start with some daylight shots. What I gathered from the manual is that the camera is smart enough to know when to use NP and when not to (as evidenced by the all caps SHUTS OFF in the instructions...and sorry I missed an extra comma in my translation). Makes sense, as your pictures would be blown out if the exposures where the same as a night shot. These were taken in full sun.

Nice. I love the contrast, It almost borders on overexposure. Detail is tremendous. This is literally just framing the picture and pressing the shutter button. I love easy. So, we are out in the desert. This was around 3:30, in December, so the sun is creepy down the sky. By the time we got to Yarnell, the sun was low and behind the mountains. Not dark, but dusky. I could have used my Stellar, but I know from experience that the photos would have just come out too dark. How about the Natura? No problems.

Again, no flash. This is natural light. And I'm not changing anything on the camera. Just aim and shoot. The last shot of the windows was behind a building, sun setting, full shade. I actually darkened it a bit in Photoshop as it looked like full daylight. The camera almost overcompensates a bit when exposing. For comparison, this is the same area shot with my Stellar (Diana clone).

That was with 200 speed film. Has its own charm, for sure, but there is a slight exposure difference, eh? The same building had a truck inside. So it's getting dark, this is an abandoned building with no lights inside. I stuck the camera to the window and fired the shutter.

Wow. The camera saw more than I could see with my eyes. The contrast is a bit lower, as the shades inside were more even. I also shot through another window, and it picked up what was inside, as well as the reflections outside.

As we began heading back, I took some shots from the top of the mountain as the sun was setting and behind some clouds. As I really had no idea how my shots were going to turn out, I took the same shot with and without the flash to see how they differed. This is with the flash.

And without the flash.

Looks better without the flash, for sure. The sky is a bit brighter without the flash as it compensates for the foreground. But the flash washes out most of the detail in the grass, as flashes tend to do.
We moved on to Wickenburg to grab something to eat. It was dark when we arrived. We ate at the Cowboy Cafe.

This was an opportunity to test its indoor capabilities without a flash. This is sol's arm.

Not sure what the focus range is for the camera. I don't know if the arm would have been in focus if the AF had been aimed there instead of the chair. I'll have to test that sometime. Another from the inside of the restaurant.

Crazy. It just does no wrong. Or does it? I took this shot outside as we were leaving.

This was the only time I got a red light for the exposure meter. It was red when the center was not on the sign. When I aimed the center of the viewfinder at the sign, I got a green light. The sign is a bit overexposed. I guess darkness only goes so far before there just isn't enough data for the camera to read. Still, pretty amazing what it does do.
So, my final initial review? I think it's a fantastic camera for what it does. Sure, it's a little low on the feature list. The only manual control you have over your photos is to turn the NP mode on and off and some minor exposure adjustment. You can do the same things you can do with most PAS and digital cameras. like meter a different area (by pressing partway down on the shutter button), reading a different focal point and then shooting something else, etc. But that's about it. The camera does such a wonderful job by itself, though...none of that really bothers me. It really is the ultimate indoor/low light camera. I can see this as a great all-around camera. I can use for my artsy shots, and I can also use it for travel/family shots. I can't wait to go on vacation and shoot indoors without a flash. Imagine going inside castles, churches, temples, etc., and getting perfectly exposed shots all the time? And it's so stealthy and quiet, you can shoot without disturbing others, or shoot where you aren't supposed to shoot (not that I ever would...Ghibli Museum, here I come).
And just to prove that I take silly, everyday shots like everyone else, and not just artsy farty photos, here are a couple of kitty snaps. First, without the flash, the "Ooh what's that? Pay attention to me! Me, me, me!" kitty.

And, with the flash, the "What the hell is that? Geez, don't do that to me!" kitty.

Those were the last two shots on the roll (36 and...37! Yay, a free shot!). Next I'll take it out with a roll of Natura color film. Again, not that into color film, but I want to see how it works and report it back to you. Check out the Flickr Natura Classica group for shots by others, mostly color.
I leave you tonight with almost 60 years of Fuji history in one shot. The smart-ass "I can do it all" nephew and the "Shut up, kid, I'm too hip for you" grand-uncle.

On a side note, if anyone wants to let go of a Great Wall 120 SLR camera for somewhat cheap, let me know. Have a happy New Year! Last post until next year. Jeez, I hope 2008 is as worthwhile as I'm working on making it.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Happy Holidays and all that hullaballoo.

Merry Christmas to those that do that thing, and happy whatever else you may celebrate. Haven't been doing a lot recently. Working two jobs between semesters, so it's keeping me busy. I did make a day trip with a photog friend, Sol Exposure, a couple weeks ago. We had planned to check out this place north of Phoenix called Castle Hot Springs. I complained about this place once before, just because it's this huge hotel out in the middle of the mountains and desert. I couldn't get there in my truck. Sol has a 4WD, so it was no problem. You have to drive about three miles of river to get there. Well, we get there, after stopping at a few cool photo ops along the way...

...and there is no way to get near it. All fenced off with a caretaker living there. Funny, they had red Christmas ribbons all along the fence, next to the "no parking" and "no trespassing" signs. Merry Christmas! Go away! Anyway, I got one kind of crappy Polaroid of it from above. Expired. Dunno what's up with the white area.

Nothing too exciting. We keep driving, and about a mile further up the road, we see this building. The area was very similar to the hotel. Large grassy area surrounded by giant palm trees. Looked kind of abandoned. I ran up to the house and glanced in. Empty. Sweet. We went in and took lots of shots. Creepy and ugly. Some long exposures with the Banner.

Really neat buildings surrounding the house, too. Probably had something to do with the hotel at some point. There was what looked like an old garage or firehouse, along with a 'cold room' next to it. Really thick door with some old refrigerators inside. These are using the 195 with Type 665, negative scans.

Also took my Sabre 620, which is the same camera as the Valiant, except cream colored, and called Sabre, not Valient. Duh. Scratches the film very nicely. Horror movie quality photos.

Arizona Chainsaw Massacre, eh?
ALSO, I took my pinhole Polaroid and wasted some shots. Kind of interesting, but needs some work. Maybe some people shots would be better, and get really close up. Have to mess around some more. 665 again.

This Bud's for...some litterbug idiot.
Was that it? Of course not. I also took my new plastic Gakken pinhole/stereo pinhole camera to test out. I promise I will write more about this camera when I've used it a bit more. Need to get a cheap flexible tripod to get it up off of the ground. Neat camera, though. I didn't use the stereo setting, but the pano setting makes a really wide shot on your 35mm film...a little over two normal frame sizes.

The two inside shots are "artistically cropped" because of all the dark area. The last two show the actual width of the photos. Looks to be lots of fun! and only cost about $30. You can get them in Japan, or you can get them here. Took about six weeks to arrive. I think they raised the price. Again, neat camera. I'll cover it in detail soon enough. Or not soon enough.
I plan on at least one more day photo trip before the next (and last semester) begins. When I'm done, I'm looking at a couple opportunities to leave the country for a bit, or at least be a travel RN in the interim. Ready for a change. Just getting burned out a bit by the area and a bit disillusioned here. I love the desert and really do like this city...just had my life on hold for long enough now (and had kind of a crappy year) that I'm ready for some changes, and then I'll come back. Five more months of this madness. Anyway, too much about me.
I leave you with this, this night:

I'm really going to miss 665. At the current going price of a pack, I think that's about $5 wasted. Too rich for my blood. That was my last pack. I have a couple packs that expired in the 80s, but I doubt they work. I still have, I think, three packs of Type 85, the square version. Then it's

Check out Sol Exposure's flickr page for some of her shots from the drive. Some neat color shots of what I lovingly refer to as murder house.
And I have no problem following the words "murder house" with "have a great holiday and be safe!" And Happy next year if I don't write in the next few weeks. Seeya homies. Oh, and, really, thanks for checking this silly blog out. I'm getting like 1000 visitors a week for some reason. Dunno who all you people are (probably mostly searching for Diana+ info), but...thanks. Makes me want to keep doing this.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Evolution of a Polapinhole, Part 1

Last summer a few of you may remember I built a Polaroid pinhole camera from a broken ProPack with a silly short focal length. I've been wanting to build a legitimate pinhole with a wider angle, and finally got around to it. Should be studying, so that's probably the only reason I decided to work on the project. That, and these killer shots by Beck that she took with some Polaroid pinholes a friend built for her. Sweet stuff. Really short focal length with a fairly large pinhole, I think. Mine isn't as fancy or well built as that one, but it will work. Initially, I'm going for getting the focal length I want, so looks aren't that important. Once I'm done, I may spruce it up a bit and build a proper swing shutter or something. Paint it black, whatever.
Okay, so I started with my ProPack back, which I had previously carved down to the bare bones.

I use only the highest quality materials when I build stuff. For this project I used a FedEx box. I know, you say, How can I afford such expensive materials? I do my best. So I cut out the sides and top for my pinhole body from the cardboard, marked out the center and cut a hole for my pinhole to sit on. I'd say I spent maybe an hour total building the camera.

Taped it all together with blue tape and then sealed the edges to prevent leaks. I used a real pinhole plate that came with a "build it yourself" 35mm pinhole camera.

You can see the focal length compared to the original. I think the lens sits at around 110mm. Mine was around 60-65mm. I figured it was better to start longer and I could reduce it if i didn't think the angle was wide enough.

Here is the "final" test model. I taped it all up. Ugly, but effective, I hope.

Time to take it out back and try it before I buy it. I used Fuji FP-100B. The first was exposed at 10 seconds.

Washed out. Second exposed for five seconds.

Hmmm...looks like a leak to me. I guess I should have checked that before I took it out. Using a flashlight in a dark room, I did find a spot where the blue tape wasn't covered, so there was a faint light shining through it. Retaped it and outside again, exposed for three seconds this time in full sun.

Zoinks! An image! And perfectly exposed. How exciting! I took one more test shot.

Definitely not wide enough. I was fairly close, maybe two feet from the camera and I'm not even in the picture. Back inside to make some adjustments. I decided to knock off about 15mm, making it closer to 45-50mm.

And back outside. Still at three seconds, since that seems to be the sweet time. I know from previous experience that making the focal length shorter usually requires shorter exposure times, as it tends to burn a hole in the middle if you expose for too long. But, whatever. Three seconds it is.

Zoinks again! Much nicer. I was the same distance away and I'm in the frame this time. A few more test shots. Something besides boring me. How about a boring fence? A bit shadier, so exposed for around six seconds.

Works well, I think. It doesn't particularly look wide angle, as the edge distortion isn't very strong, but when I aimed through the viewfinder, all I saw was fence with no surround environment. Three times as much shows up in the photo frame. Okay, one last shot in the shade of my patio, exposed at 10 seconds, I think. I held the camera about three inches from my nose.

Hmmm...enough for today. I may cut it down by another 5mm or so. I'll have to take it out and shoot something besides me and the boring area surrounding me. Looks good so far though. Look for part 2 sometime in the near future. I really need to do some school type junk...blah.