April 2015

30 April 2015

Making lemonade



I got the Minolta Autopak-8 K11 in the mail today, and I'm a little underwhelmed. The camera is in okay shape; it runs—which is a major plus considering all the lemons I've sampled lately. I think it's been dropped or bumped. The optics seem just a tad off—mostly noticeable in low-light areas, but it appears to be okay in daylight. The automatic zoom is busted (the motor whirrs, but I suspect the lens housing is bent), and it's missing the manual focus lever.

At this point, I need to start shooting film, otherwise my wife will shoot me for wasting money on junk! Thrift stores are always an option—but like I said: needle/haystack.

I've just purchased two cartridges of Kodak Tri-X Black & White Reversal super-8 film from BHphotovideo for $22/roll. Unfortunately, I'll have to wait until Wednesday of next week to test some footage, and then it will take a week or so to process it. This is going to take some time, but it will be worth it.

In the meantime, I'm reacquainting myself with film itself. I dug out my trusty old Vivitar 35mm SLR camera. This sucker is old but still trustworthy. It has a k-mount lens with a 50mm f2.0 lens on it. I paid $10 this hefty metal bodied camera at the thrift store 22 years ago and it still works like a charm. Yesterday, I bought a four pack of Fuji 400 24 exposure film from Walmart for $12. It's a tad more than the 200 speed film which runs at $9 for a four-pack, but I really want to test some low light stuff.

In the end, Ithink that's why I'm a little disappointed in the Minolta. It doesn't perform nearly as well as the Leicina Super in terms of optics and low-light. If only the Leicina Super worked!!

Oh well. Tests soon. I'm continuing to write, and I even have a short in mind.

26 April 2015

Kissing Many Frogs


As I continue on my journey with super 8, and trying to acquire a decent camera to do the job, I am kissing more than my fair share of frogs.

Kodak Instamatic M12- identical to mine.
My dad’s old Kodak Instamatic M12 is busted. Has been for years. I keep it more for sentimental reasons, but obviously there’s not much I can do about that.

My trusty old Revere 8 Model 88. 75 years old and still works like a charm.
I dug out my old Revere Model 88 but remembered that it takes Regular 8 film… which is fine, but most stocks have been discontinued. The only one available through BH Photo Video, FOMA, is backordered until May. The price is reasonable, but trying to find a processor that a) handles black/white reversal film and b) won’t cost an arm and a leg makes it a little difficult.

Argus 804- mine is identical except it's missing back battery cap.
I first found an Argus 804 at a local thrift store for $20. When I first got it, the battery compartment was severely corroded, but I managed to clean it out with q-tips and white distilled vinegar and replace the contacts with tin foil... and it ran! I threw in the one test cartridge that I have and it chattered away like music. It’s missing a small battery cap for the exposure—it works but I don’t want to shoot film in it until I can get power to that exposure cell.

But despite early luck with the Argus, trying to find a super 8 camera in Utah thrift stores is the legendary equivalent to a needle in a haytack. Utah culture is known for their bargain and treasure hunting, and that makes for slim pickings. The classifieds are just as bad.

Bolex Reflex P1- identical to the one I looked at.
My first attempt at looking at a private seller was a Bolex Reflex P1. A regular 8 camera- it was beautiful, I ALMOST bought it until I discovered the wind up motor was busted. No sale.

Bolex H-16, identical to the one I looked at but with a different lens.
My second attempt was advertised as a Bolex Reflex H-16. It wasn’t a reflex, and although it worked it wasn’t well taken care of from the amount of dust on and in it. I couldn’t trust it, and besides I really wanted a reflex lens. No sale.

Minolta xl-400 (not the one I found, but identical)
My third attempt was a Minolta xl-400… but the seller has been hard to pin down and I’m not thrilled about the price for a camera that only shoots 18fps-especially with the run of luck I’ve been having. I figured I already have a low end 18fps camera with the Argus, so I decided to write this one off.

Leicina Super, mine- the picture is from the listing.
Then, because of my frustration, I decided to really take a gamble and get a Leicina Super (super 8) off of Etsy. I’ve read so many great things about Leicina- they’re made by Leitz after all! It came, and worked for thirty seconds. I really believe there are some wiring issues in there, and it won’t work correctly. I contacted the seller who will replace it with a Leicina 8sv (a regular 8 camera) which I am fine with- I love regular 8, and it will be better than the old Revere, but it puts a crimp in my future plans and it will probably only be regulated to the occasional hobby use. The lenses are beautiful (Leitz, after all) but again, I lost a little bit of money on this gamble. At least with the 8sv, the lenses are removable.

Bauer C3 with bag (Not mine, but identical)
Back to the classifieds: this time a Bauer C-3. Met the couple downtown at a campground. The lady had some beautiful minty looking cameras including a Kodak Brownie with the three-lens turret and a Montgomery Ward super 8! Those weren’t for sale, but the Bauer looked beautiful and the case looked brand new. They only wanted $20. I felt like it was a great deal. I took it home, put some batteries in it and… nothing. I KNEW I should have tested it. Then I noticed that there was a dent on the side of the lens, and that the optics were just off alignment that I realized this had been dropped and it was no good to them. Yes, it was a gamble that didn’t pay off. I can’t fault the couple, though. She looked like she may have needed some medical attention and they were probably just doing what they had to do. No point in going back after them. I’m chalking it up as another shelf piece/camera prop.

Minolta Autopak-8 K-11. Photo from the listing that I purchased!
Feeling dejected, most intelligently sane people would know to give up at this point. I’m neither; so now I’m attempting another Etsy buy. A Minolta Autopak-8 K-11. It has the variable frame rates, and only takes AA’s. The seller says it’s immaculate, and that the motor does indeed work. Fingers crossed. My run of luck has been bad, but I’m optimistic it will be fine. I am determined to make a go of this.

What have I learned from this? I should have simply saved my money and gotten a refurbished camera from Pro8mm. I took bad advice from forums saying that Pro8mm was too overpriced and you can get a better deal from an online auction. This might be true, but here’s the flip side to that: most sellers don’t know what they have. Sometimes you can find a treasure, more often you’ll find that it really is junk. Also, with something refurbished, it is tested and guaranteed. The down side to that is the initial cost. I think I’ve put in well over $300 into finding some sort of decent camera through thrift store/classifieds/auction finds. That’s $80 shy of their entry level camera… which only does 18fps and that’s what I don’t want. I want my 24fps, damn it! The next ones up from there are $800… but at that point you are getting what you need to get quality pictures. Regardless, I am definitely paying for my education.

All this has involved much research on buying film stock, processing, and telecining/scanning. I’ll talk about my findings in a future post.

It all comes down to this: I want to shoot film.

Yes, it’s a pain in the ass.

Yes, it’s hard to find equipment that works and won’t cost the month’s rent.

Yes, despite the film stock being available, you can’t find brand new, affordable super 8 cameras.

Yes, I’m aware that it could all go extinct in the next couple of years. I’ll always have my digital cameras.

But… I can’t ignore the organic, the artistic, magical feeling I get when I see this come together that no plug-in can truly emulate. Film is gorgeous, and it tugs at my soul.

18 April 2015

Buyer Beware


Revere Model 88 Double 8mm cameraRevere Model 88 Double 8mm camera

I've always loved film... and by film, I mean the actual physical medium of celluloid. I own a couple of Super 8mm cameras (a recently acquired Argus 804 which I've restored, and a Kodak Instamatic m12 that belonged to my dad, and an old Double 8mm Revere Model 88 pictured above). I haven't used them since I was a teenager. When I started creating movies, I had considered shooting film but the cost always seemed prohibitive.

Then I got to thinking- high end cameras quickly become obsolete within two years, and those that are new are trying to emulate film. The video-enthusiast would argue that "film stock is expensive; digital can reuse the same cards over and over". This is true, but the costs are far more hidden with video. How are you going to archive it? Lots of external drives. Drives fail. Multiple copies? Okay, but upkeep to transfer to the newest stable drive means additional costs. Keep it on the cloud? Power outage or worse- hacked servers, or your in a place with little service (I live out west- this is a bigger problem than in the east... though the power-grid is shaky out there- just scenarios that I've come to realize). In the end you may have plenty of backups, but ALL of those cost money... and require power to use. I guess the same goes for film- though you could power a projector running off a car battery if need be- or better yet, a solar panel!

That's not to say film can't be destroyed. It's very flammable. My concern is that the technology and support for a video production company is reliant on commercializing it. PLUS, while newer cameras can "emulate" film to get the holy grail of "the film look", why not just shoot on film? Achieving the film look requires a lot of forethought and work. Film forces you to think in a creative, crafty way; it's intuitive. Video, to me, is so technical and is simply not intuitive.

I like digital video. I cut my teeth on it. It was a great medium to experiment and keep me from going broke. It's also very versatile for commercial applications and capturing memorable situations. But I LOVE film. There's a certain inherent organic feel to the medium that video is desperately trying to emulate. Super 8mm is comparable to 720/1080 High Definition. 16mm is comparable to 3K, Super16 to 4k. 35mm to 8k... the best prosumer cameras are coming out with 4k sensors... and others are just barely getting to 8k.... but you're spending tens of thousands of dollars for those investments.

So yes, film stock is expensive up front. But it's MUCH cheaper in the long run... and it has proven archival capability of over 100 years.

Will I leave digital video? Hell no—I can't afford to. Will I shoot films on film? Hell yes—when I can afford the upfront costs.

How does this play out to the "Buyer Beware" title of this post? Trying to find a decent used film movie camera in the classifieds. I had discovered two Bolex cameras in the local classifieds- a Bolex P1 Double 8mm for $100 and a Bolex H16 Reflex for $300. I decided to give the P1 a go. When I checked it out, despite looking really clean and no noticeable wear, the spring motor was broken- so it couldn't be wound... basically that makes it a decoration piece. So I proceeded to go for the 16mm- with dreams of making a real 16mm film! The camera worked, but it was missing pieces, plus no case, and it was dusty. And it wasn't a Reflex camera. Reflex cameras have the viewer built into the camera with a prism that lets you see through the lens. This one had a separate viewfinder... and I rely on sight to shoot. I decided to pass on it. Needless to say I have been severely disappointed both times. I really wanted them to be in good condition because I want to shoot with something better than I have.

In the end, I felt bad saying "pass" to both sellers. There's disappointment on both ends, but that's what happens. I'm thankful I know a thing or two about this stuff.

Well, it looks like I'm going to buy some double 8mm film stock and shoot with my Revere (pictured above). I should get some sort of practice in before I commit to any larger projects with a larger format. And in the end, I will have fun doing it!


11 April 2015

Humble Pie


Being humbled is never easy.

It’s great to know that I write compelling stories, but it’s better to know I need to work on story structure, character arcs, and, well, putting a sentence together.

It’s the opportunity to look at my previous work with a more critical eye. It’s easy to become complacent in anything you do- whether it be writing, drawing, or keeping up the yard. We tend to look for the easy way out, and to look for things we find familiar. When the familiar draws us, we get stuck into patterns and years pass by without anything of value to show.

I am planning some major changes in my life... some pretty severe ones. As you know, I’m trying to get back into filmmaking, but talking and dreaming isn't enough. There are no excuses to NOT PICK UP THE CAMERA AND BEGIN SOMETHING.

I came across a few ideas online, and the one that really lit the long idle tinder was a site devoted to one-minute short films called Filminute. What can you do in a minute? Well, look at any commercial- they do it in thirty seconds. So, in the interest in not getting caught up in a large production and just the simple act of getting a move on, I’m going to do a series of one-minute shorts with as high production value as I can get out of them.

My near future plans include a couple of mini-shorts (1 to 3 minutes), the Salt Lake City 48 Hour Film Project competition in June, and a longer short film later in the summer. I do have a few feature film script ideas I’d like to explore and perhaps even begin pre-production this fall- it depends on which script pulls me in the most.

Upward and onward!