Catching lights at night

Last week we had a bi-annual art exhibition in Frankfurt in which art students and some international artists showcase art pieces based around light in the city. I always love this opportunity to do some long exposure images, even if it is a lot of guessing and testing for me.

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Long exposure: when your automatic modes will hinder you

First things first: here you really will want to have sturdy tripod. Long exposures mean no hand-holding the camera because the exposure times will be just too long. Additionally, if you have an image stabilized lens, turn off the stabilization – with a tripod it might actually cause unsharpness. Also, you should definitely turn off your flash.

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After you have done this, it is important to understand that you will definitely want to step outside of your automatic modes for this. Most automatic modes I have encountered will try to make your image as bright as possible (since it will be relying on the histogram) – which you will not want in most instances. This unfortunately also means Aperture Priority is out. Shutter priority usually will not work either because you will be stuck with the widest aperture the lens has. This is also due to the fact that the automatic modes will always try to get a setting that you can still hand-hold – it doesn’t know you are shooting on a tripod. So it is time to go full manual!

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ISO Speed, Aperture and Shutter Speed – find the right mix

When you go into manual mode you have several things you can play with: ISO Speed, Aperture and Shutter Speed. Since you will be shooting on a tripod, set your ISO Speed to 100 or 200 (Fuji recommends 200 for its camera lineup since apparently you lose color vibrancy at ISO 100 with their cameras, with most others I would go with ISO 100). This will give you nice sharp results without noticeable noise in the image (the little off-color points you will see in a lot of your hand-held night shots).

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This of course means that you will have to take longer exposures and/or open up the aperture more to get the same amount of light into your image (higher ISO needs less light). So now we are down to two factors: your aperture and your shutter speed. Keep in mind for this discussion, that a low f number means a wider aperture. A wide aperture has two effects: more light can come into the camera (since it will be open) but also you will get a shallower depth of field – meaning less of the image will be sharp (though at long distances this might be unnoticeable in some instances).

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If you are taking images involving lights, you also need to be aware that a small aperture will lead to “sun-stars” – which are a matter of personal preference. I really enjoy them but a lot of people dislike them.

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So the smaller the aperture you chose, the longer your exposure time will have to be. This can get tricky with colored lights at night: the longer you expose them, the higher changes are that they will loose their color and turn white – especially if they change color. Also longer exposures might mean a moving light will form a line of light and people will “vanish” from your images since they are pretty dark and don’t leave enough light in the image to stay in it (which can be a blessing ;) ).Which is the moment in which experimentation enters the picture: take a bunch of images at different combinations of aperture and shutter speed to see which gives you the best results.

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If you want to see mine, see my three albums from this year experimenting with light. If you click on the image, you will see some of the exif info for them so you can check the aperture and shutter speed settings I used. Here they are: Winterlichter, Luminale in the Palmengarten, Luminale in Frankfurt

New Gallery: A visit to the zoo in Frankfurt

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This weekend we had super stunning weather and I took the chance to test my Fuji X-E2 even more and took my new 55-200mm lens with me (which is ideal for taking pictures in the zoo) and also the 60mm Macro for images inside the aquarium and to exotarium.

I’m still getting used to the Fuji but I really enjoyed using it for the day and not feeling the weight of the second lens in my bag felt really great. It felt like I didn’t have a camera with me at all in terms of weight and I am starting to customize the buttons to fit better with my needs, which the Fuji lets you do very easily (you have 4 programmable buttons).

You can find the whole set in the gallery.

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Does size matter? First impressions of the Fujifilm X-E2

DSLR cameras get bigger, the more high end they are. In some respects this is great: larger hands have a better grip on a big camera, for example, but at the same time that size often comes with an increase in weight, too. Add to that the sie and weight of your lenses and your travel bag becomes heavy just from all of that stuff already. Some of the mirror-less cameras have become very interesting. Some offer great picture quality and low light results that are inching every closer to the results of a big DSLR, especially if you are not shooting full frame (FF). I’ve been especially interested in the Fujifilm cameras that are taking a different approach and also favor a very retro design that I just adore. For a long time I was debating if and which Fuji to get. Last summer I decided to get the X20 as an addition to my DSLR and really enjoyed the results. This winter I decided to take the complete plunge:

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I bought a Fuji X-E2, which only has an electronic viewfinder (EVF). Something I was very hesitant about but after working with it for a bit, I have to say: I really enjoy using it even though it feels a bit like cheating at times… With the Fuji you have an eye sensor which is used to switch between using the back display for framing your shots and using the EVF to frame your shots. This feels much more natural when you come from a big camera since you are used to an optical view finder. The EVF shows you the results as the camera sees them and interprets them. The X-E2 EVF is pretty fast and accurate and absolutely adequate for my needs (the new X-T1 has an even better one). Now about that cheating: The first night I went out for a night shoot and this is an instance where an optical viewfinder is really not helpful at all. Sure you see everything through the viewfinder but it gives you no info on how you should do the exposure. The EVF on the other hand changes the view based on your settings…Of course you still have to deal with shutter speed and such but I was shooting with the 35mm f1.4 lens from Fuji and this gave me really great feedback on when i still had enough light for a shutter mode or needed to switch to Bulb. Bulb here is great, too – while you hold the shutter button, a timer will appear on the display letting you know exactly how long you are exposing your shots. Pretty nifty.

The Fuji is also all about manual controls – of course you can do everything on Automatic but you can also do everything manually very easily. Much easier than on my Canon 7D at least. You have a dial for setting the exposure compensation, as well as a dial to set the shutter speed and each lens has a manual aperture ring on it, giving you the full possibilities of doing everything manually without having to go hunt into menus or using two or three buttons at the same time to change something.

In addition you can focus manually and this is the area where I really like the Fuji: You have three different manual focus modes. Do it yourself without digital help, like you would on a DSLR, or you can use the Phase Detection Focus Mode where you will see flittering lines surrounding the part of the image that is in focus and as a last option they have included a view that is reminiscent of Rangefinder Cameras: in the middle of the frame you get three grey blocky lines which only align when the object you are focussing on is in focus. I think this might come in especially handy in Macro shots where the Phase Detection might not be precise enough.

Of course you switch focus modes with a manual dial, too. These manual focus modes also work with older manual lenses, so i have bought adapters to use my old Canon FD and M39 lenses with the Fuji, giving me more options from the get go.

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One area where I was concerned before picking  up the camera was the Macro capabilities of the Fuji. Smaller sensors usually produce not as shallow a depth of field as larger sensors and the Fuji currently only offers one Macro lens (the 60mm f2.4 Macro). So before buying the Fuji and lenses I decided to test the Macro in a store. The Auto-Focus is very slow on the lens but the results are okay for me and I am saving up on the Zeiss Touit macro that is coming soon which hopefully should give me even better results.

Another cool aspect about the Fuji cameras: they do a ton of firmware upgrades, both for the camera and the lenses. This also brings some of the flagship features of newer models onto older models meaning that your camera will be up to date for much longer than it might be traditionally. For example the X-T1 has much higher continuous shooting results than the X-E2 but since both run the same processor and such, Fuji has already announced that they will bring this feature to the X-E2, too.

So far I have only been able to play around with some lenses for short bursts of time but I have been really enjoying both the camera and the results (especially the sharpness) and cannot wait to really take it out for a longer photo shoot.

 

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New camera and new photo album

So last weekend I did something I have been thinking about for months now: I picked up a mirror less interchangeable lens camera. I bought the Fuji X-E2 and the 60mm Macro lens as well as the 35mm f1.4 lens. So overall i spent a small fortune but so far I really love the images and the picture quality.

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I’ll write a longer post with some impressions soon but for now you can find a new album with pictures from a nightly photo shoot with the 35mm lens in the galleries section.

Best of 2013

Another year, another end of year review of my favorite images from the year for submission in Jim M. Goldstein’s blog project. This year has not been much of a photo year for me, I was unable to take a long vacation and generally was so involved in work that I did not find the time to take many photos. But still I have some I would like to share as my favorites from the year. As always, I have had a very hard time deciding on the best ones, so categories it is.

If you are interested in the last few years of results, here are 2012, 20112010 , 2009 and 2008

First of two images, while not technically perfect I just love for the story they tell:

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That sleeping Fossa was just too funny to pass up and the tiger pub was too cute for words and it was most likely the first day it was out in the enclosure with mommy – so she was hiding it very well and making sure it was comfortable.

Animals

These first two images already allude to it, I spent some time at the zoo this year so of course I once again have a lot of animal pictures that I took and that I really like. All of them were taken in the Zoo in Frankfurt, I did not have the opportunity to visit another zoo this year.

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Architecture

I spent less time on HDR this year and more on Architecture in general. A lot of the images are HDRs but many of them are not. I also did not take many film photos last year. I just did not have the drive behind it that I did the years before.

The images you see below are from a range of places: my hometown, Frankfurt, Würzburg, Bordeaux and Kassel.

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Nature

Of course I also spent some time in nature with my beloved Macro lenses to get some shots. I went to the botanical garden twice and also experimented with the Fuji X20, which is surprisingly good at macros, even though I would never take it along to the botanical garden while I have my DSLR and a macro lens at my disposal.

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iPhone

Like I said, I didn’t have much time for photography this year, so my iPhone became my constant source for creative outlet and I have a number of images to show from it. I will add a blog post soon about the apps I currently use but most of them were treated with VSCO Cam and taken with the standard iOS Camera app.

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Misc.

As always I have some images that don’t fit any category. We visited an old car rally during the summer which featured some stunning old cars and I took one street photo while out with the Fuji X20 that I really enjoy.

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Statues

Last but not least, my favorite images from the year. I spent a very relaxed day in the cemetery in Frankfurt (really) and spent some quality time with the statues there. All images have some form of treatment but I think this best brings out the individual statues. It always sounds funny to say you went to the cemetery to take photos but I like the quiet and the contemplative mood it puts me in. There is also something very beautiful about the old graves and the beautiful statues placed there by the loved ones of the dead. I think they are a great display of the different faces of mourning.

photo taken on the Hauptfriedhof (main cemetery) in Frankfurt, Germany photo taken on the Hauptfriedhof (main cemetery) in Frankfurt, Germany photo taken on the Hauptfriedhof (main cemetery) in Frankfurt, Germany photo taken on the Hauptfriedhof (main cemetery) in Frankfurt, Germany photo taken on the Hauptfriedhof (main cemetery) in Frankfurt, Germany photo taken on the Hauptfriedhof (main cemetery) in Frankfurt, Germany photo taken on the Hauptfriedhof (main cemetery) in Frankfurt, Germany photo taken on the Hauptfriedhof (main cemetery) in Frankfurt, Germany

 

A trip to Bordeaux


I’m a huge football fan (soccer to the Americans) and my team is currently playing in the Europa League, which is a pan-European soccer championship and a pretty big deal because we haven’t played in it in almost ten years. A friend and I promised ourselves that if we made it to the Europa League, then we would go to at least one away game. We ended up deciding to go to Bordeaux, which was an idea we were not alone with… In the end 12,000 Frankfurt supporters made the trip to Bordeaux (which is over 1,000km and there is no direct plane connection). It was a real experience!

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Since we would spend 12 hours driving there, we decided to make it a weekend trip (the game was Thursday) and stay for the weekend. So not only did we visit a soccer game but we also got the chance to see Bordeaux. If you haven’t been, Bordeaux is a very beautiful city that got its riches from the trades with the French colonies. It is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, not for a single building, but for the complete inner city, that is mostly still intact and from the mid—18th century. It was interesting to see a city where really the whole inner city was build in the same building style and with the same materials.

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I especially fell in love with the Place de la Bourse, which holds a very large, almost castle like building structure with a large area in front of it so you have ample room to really see the buildings. But in recent years – and this is very awesome for photographers – on the other side of the train station, they added a water sculpture, which serves only one purpose: reflect the building on a very shallow layer of water!

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Usually they also do this at night but since this was late November and the water was not even a centimeter high, they apparently decided to dry it up at night. So I only have an image at night without the reflection *sad*

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Another really fascinating landmark was the Cathédrale Saint-André de Bordeaux, which is the main cathedral in Bordeaux and absolutely stunning. Both outside and inside (I don’t like taking photos inside churches, but you can find some on the official website).

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One interesting detail about the cathedral – which I had never seen like this before – is that the bell tower sits separately from the church itself (it was added later), so that the vibrations from the bell would not disturb the structure of the church.

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Nowadays they allow visitors to the top of that bell tower, which is 231 stairs high and when you stand at the bottom you think: well, 231 stairs is not that much, no problem… Let me tell you, it becomes a problem… The staircase is inside the outer high beam on the left side in this image. so it is a spiraling staircase that, the higher you get, the narrower it becomes – and it starts out not being very wide. And since this is a bell tower, it only has one stair case, meaning while you are trying to climb up and not hold everyone else back since you cannot overtake anyone on it, there are people climbing down – and there is no room to pass on the stairs (in the upper areas the stairs were not long enough for my foot) so you have to either climb back down or back up to one of the few places where there is a small alcove set into the wall to let others pass. Of course you will usually hunker in that alcove with at least two or three other people.

 

But it is worth the climb (though I don’t want to do this ever again…) because the bell tower is still the highest building in all of Bordeaux so you have a beautiful surround view over the city and have also a very interesting view on top of the cathedral itself.

 

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I have taken a whole lot more images, too many to feature in this blog post, but you can find them in the gallery I set up for the trip. All images were taken with my Fuji X20 and it really was an ideal small travel companion. I turned off the display on the back and only used the optical viewfinder so my battery lasted all weekend!

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Image Galleries: Zoo & Old Cemetery + More insights into the Fuji X20

I have not been out photographing much this year but now that I have the Fuji X20, I had to take it out to really try it. Because that is the thing: it takes time to get comfortable with a new camera and to learn the controls. Take that time and go out shooting for a day – not just a few minutes but really a longer stretch of time.

Zoo Frankfurt - July 5th, 2013

Zoo Frankfurt – July 5th, 2013

That is what I did on Friday. I took the day off work and decided to first visit the Zoo in Frankfurt that had the grand opening of their new bear enclosure on the weekend (which is really great) and still has the little tiger cub that is cute beyond words. For the afternoon I decided on doing something different. In Atlanta I fell in love with the Oakland Cemetery and I knew that the main cemetery in Frankfurt is almost as old. So I decided to have a look around there too see what I might find.

For the whole day I only took my X20 with me, restricting my options on purpose. No fancy DSLR, just a small camera with a small zoom. In the zoo I would have liked more zoom capabilities but since you have 14 MP at your disposal so you can crop in later due to the sharpness of the lens. Otherwise it performed great. I was especially impressed with the auto focus in the aquarium. The aquarium in Frankfurt is very old (I think built in the 50s or 60s) and has super thick glass that clearly distorts your vision (even your eyes will have some problems from certain angles). My Canon’s all so far worked ok in some of the lighter tanks but had trouble in others so I had to use the manual zoom. The Fuji actually did the job and got me very sharp results even at an angle. I don’t know how it did it, but I am impressed.

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One thing that took me a while though was figuring out the display. With the X20, as well as its bigger brothers, you have an eye sensor so when you use the optical viewfinder the display gets turned off. I was unable to get that to work at first (I wanted to switch the display off completely to preserve battery life) but then found the answer in a forum: the X20 has a “super macro”-mode you can turn on and it will not show that icon on the display anymore and it will stay on even after restarting. Turns out, as long as the mode is on, you cannot switch to the optical viewfinder. When you turn it off, you can switch between the three modes again.

On the cemetery I was fighting the lighting meter a bit and ended up shooting most of the images at -1 exposure. When I got home all the images turned out too dark (well, d’oh). I think it had to do with the fact that I had turned on the “sun” modus for the display so you can see it better when you are in daylight. That might have caused the images to appear too bright on the display – I did not take that into account while shooting but now know about it.

photo taken on the Hauptfriedhof (main cemetery) in Frankfurt, Germany

Overall the camera was a lot of fun to learn and play with for the day. I will have to spend some more time with it to really get comfortable (the focus modes and I are not friends yet) but I can really see myself leaving my DSLR at home some of the time from now on. Which is a huge deal for me.

But of course, now you want to see some images, right? I have added a Gallery section to the website where I will be sharing whole albums again (something I had years ago, too) and there you can find an album for the zoo and one for the cemetery already. Enjoy and feel free to leave some comments :)

My newest toy: Fujifilm X20

When Fuji announced the original X100 I really loved the design and the features it offered and the pictures I saw in the reviews but reviews were really mixed on the actual camera so I decided against getting the camera. This was two or so years ago and Fuji has added several other models to their X-Series cameras and improved the quality of their Firmware. When they released the X100S i wanted that even more than I did the X100 before it but it is relatively expensive at 1,200€. So I decided to save up for it. But this week I got to thinking: do i really need another camera for that amount? Wouldn’t the smaller X20 also be enough for what I wanted? Which was mainly a smaller digital camera that I could take with me a lot more than I do the bulky DSLR.

The silver Fuji X20

Last night I went into the store to have a look at the X20 and in the end decided to buy it, too. Today, of course, I decided to take it out with me for some initial tests and I have to say, I really like the results so far. That is why i want to share some of my initial impressions in this blog post today. Fuji, for the X-Series, changed the Sensor and how the Red, Green and Blue parts of the pixel are distributed on the sensor. If you want to know more, you can do so here: http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/fujifilm-x-e1/3

The Fuji has features on top of features, which coming from a Canon DSLR is something to get used to, but some of them really fascinate me. For example the Multi-Exposure ability or doing 360 panoramas – or it taking three images to get a better background bokeh! some of it just boggles my mind – in a good way – though it also gives me a lot to learn about and with the camera.

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Normal Image

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With background blurring

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But of course, in the end it is not about the software functionality but about the sharpness and color of the images and I have to say, the sharpness is really great for a zoom lens (it has a 4x zoom) and for such a, comparatively, small sensor. You can really see it in the image of this leaf backlit by the sun and my first shot with it, taken while the sun was setting and the battery was about to die on me :D

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EDIT: After playing with it some more, click here for some further thoughts.

And of couse, in the end I have to show off my favorite images that I have taken today.

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Film Photography and Scanners: First impressions of the Canon 9000F Mark II

In my last blog post I hinted at a longer story coming forth about my problems with my scanner. Today is the day to write this down.

Years upon years ago, I bought a HP G4010, which has a backlight unit to scan 35mm negatives. At the time my only goal was to digitize some of the old images my family had taken before there was digital photography. For this it worked pretty good. Then I bought the Diana F+ and suddenly I needed a scanner that was able to scan those medium format film strips. I ended up getting the HP G4050 since I had liked the G4050. Since hindsight is 20/20: this was a mistake!
The G4050 has been around for a lot of years now and HP has updated the scan software it uses for all its scanners but the G4050 did not get the updated utility but stuck with the old one. In addition to that, I had trouble scanning with lines running cross my images (digital lines) a lot of the time. I got into contact with the support of HP, who offered to send me a replacement top part of the scanner so I could try if that would help. It got a bit better but I still got the lines most of the time when I used the Lomography Scan Holders instead of the ones the HP came with. In addition oftentimes it would preview color images as black and white or the colors where completely off. Basically anything that was more advanced than a ISO 200 or ISO 400 color negative film was beyond its capabilities (which is the film I am least likely to shoot…). These results, btw, were the same when using VueScan instead of the build in utility.

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The final straw was a few weeks ago when I started scanning the first results from my Belair X6-12, a medium format camera. The first film was a ISO 200 (or 400, cannot remember) 120 slide film – meaning I saw the image itself already on the film strip, so I KNEW that the images had good exposure. The HP though only gave me completely blown out shots. I was able to get a bit better results using VueScan but still not ideal. In the end I put the film strip on my iPad on a white background and used my iPhone to share some results.

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Then a few weeks later I shot a slide film and crossed it with it. In the end I spent about an hour in Photoshop on each image because the best i could do was take the raw image from vuescan and invert myself using photoshop and then using curves etc to clean up the colors.
If this sounds frustrating to you: welcome to my world. I have cursed more often at this device than I can imagine…

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But not only did I get a Belair recently but Canon announced a new scanner. Scanners are notoriously slow to be updated (especially those which can scan film) so I was interested in this new one since it uses a LED backlight and can scan both 35mm and 120mm film and uses a new software utility Canon built from scratch for this scanner.

So after this last debacle with the HP, I decided to take the plunge and buy the Canon. It took a few weeks to arrive since my photo store had to order it for me but on Saturday I was able to pick it up and started testing it right away. At first I used VueScan (which has an update out that can utilize the Canon) but somehow I still have not fully grasped VueScan – but i got okay results already with it and the scanner was super quite and fast compared to the HP. Then I decided to install the scan utilities that came with the scanner and see how they work and I have to say: i am impressed. It has a lot of options for improving your results and is relatively easy to understand and use and the results turned out great in my opinion. Even the cross processed slide film worked right out the box with results that look like I imagined they might. All without shouting and cursing! (Images where I show two here, the HP is the first, the Canon the second, the HP ones have several hours of post-processing, the Canon ones have not been touched after scanning)

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My next step now is to re-scan some of the films from the last two years to see if I can get better results. The Lomo scan masks, btw, work without a problem with it – meaning I can finally fully scan the sprocket holes!

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Short Review of the Lomography Film Scanner

In January Lomography opened up a Kickstarter project for a Film Scanner that they developed for 35mm film that works with your iPhone. Kickstarter is a way for companies and individuals to collect money to bring a product or project to market and Lomography said the Scanner itself was already finished, they mainly did the project to get additional funds for the smartphone apps that were needed (which i can understand, those are expensive and outside their knowledge). I was one of the first people to back it and was able to get in at 40$ for the Scanner.

I got it a few weeks later but without the software at first because that was not yet finished. Regardless I tried it and was rather puzzled at first, I was only able to see 1/4 of a negative – which did not really make sense. Of course, if I had read the manual first I would have seen that the Scanner comes with a Mask for LomoKino films (short films done on 35mm film) and that was installed in the Scanner.

Last week the iPhone app was released and I downloaded it and did some additional tests – now without the mask installed :P You install your phone into a holding mechanism at the top that you can move so that the camera is above a hole through which you take the image. at the side of the bottom there is a slit where you enter the film strip and then you have a small knob you turn to advance the film. In the scanner you can turn on an LED light over which the negative will be shown and you can take your image of it.

The iPhone app allows you to chose which type of Film you have (Negative, Slide, Cross, Redscale & None) and you can zoom into the part you see on your iPhone so that ideally you will not have to crop the output at all and then you have a button to take the image. It couldn’t be easier or faster to take images. The good thing: smartphone cameras get better and better so the “scans” you take this way will only improve over time.

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But the question of course is, how to the results look! Let me start of with some images using the Negative setting (these images were taken using a LC-A+ and 200 ISO Color Negative film).

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Not to bad (and all above 1.3MP) but the colors are rather washed out. So I decided to do another test (since I had been battling my scanner all weekend, too, but that is another story for another day) and this time I chose the None option to get the negative straight from the scanner and do the invert in Photoshop. The first image, is also done using the Neg option (no other processing was done) and the other is from the negative in Photoshop.

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As you can see, the difference is striking and the Photoshop one wasn’t optimized beyond using the Curves Preset for Film Negatives either, so there is probably a lot you could still do. Overall, the scanner is really great, especially for the price, since it gives you a way to digitize your negatives fast – which can especially be great as a first step for seeing what you got and then only using the “big” scanner for the best images you might want to upload to Flickr or something. It can also scan the sprockets and can do Panoramas, which my big scanner is refusing to do (that rant is forthcoming). The one thing right now that could be better is the conversion within the app – but really, that is all software and can become better in the coming months, especially since Lomo is actively looking at user feedback to make the app better. An android version, btw, is also on the way.

You can buy the Scanner on the online store of Lomography or in their stores.