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First Impressions of Kodak Ektar

Kodak Ektar 100All images made on medium format Kodak Ektar film
Click any image for a larger view

I've historically been a color reversal film guy. I just haven't shot much with color negative film. I suppose that's a product of being a Galen Rowell fanboy. He was a Kodachrome and Velvia guy, so that's what I became (unfortunately Kodachrome was before my time, though).

But I decided to break out of my shell a little bit and give Kodak Ektar 100 a try because I've read great things about it and I've seen some beautiful colors from it. As far as I'm concerned, the biggest advantage to shooting Kodak Ektar over something like Fuji Velvia is the increased dynamic range and the ability to change the color balance after taking the shot. 

In the digital world, RAW and JPEG files have sometimes been compared to color negatives and color slides. That's because RAW files, like color negative film, have more flexibility in post-production than JPEG files. Much like a RAW file, I can change the "white balance" of my Kodak Ektar shots in the process of scanning. Also, I get a little bit wider range of tonality than on my trusty old Velvia. Velvia (and all color transparency films) are more like JPEGs - what you see is what you get, there's no doing drastic color changes after snapping the shutter, and the dynamic range is more compressed.

Having worked extensively with the "JPEG of film," I thought it was time to try the film equivalent to a RAW file.

So with my first roll of Kodak Ektar color negative film loaded up in my medium format Mamiya RZ67, I headed out to a local park at high noon. My goal was to create ultra-simplistic compositions of the overly-ordered suburban setting that is Irvine, CA. You see, Irvine is a master-plan community in Orange County, CA that might remind some of the Stepford Wives - the neighborhoods and parks are ultra-ordered, ultra-groomed, ultra-matchy, and ultra-artificial. Nice place to raise a kid, but it ain't exactly dripping with culture and variety.

These compositions aren't my usual high-contrast, high-detail landscapes that you might be used to, but that's the point. I wanted simple and ordered compositions to help highlight the artificiality of the community.

All in all, I felt that Kodak Ektar was a perfect match for this shoot. The wider-than-Velvia dynamic range allowed me to keep detail in the harsh shadows of midday and resulted in an overall softer contrast that suited this subject matter well. The vibrant yet soft color palette combined with the wide dynamic range helped me create the painterly look I was after.

I'm still working on testing this film on some of my more typical shoots - vibrant landscape photography - but I think it's safe to say that Kodak Ektar is a superb film that will forever remain in my arsenal of film stocks...well, at least until they stop making it.

Kodak Ektar 100

Kodak Ektar 100

Kodak Ektar 100

Kodak Ektar 100

Canon 70D vs 60D: Worth the Upgrade?

Canon 70D vs 60D

Canon recently announced a replacement to their successful EOS 60D DSLR: the 20-megapixel Canon EOS 70D. If you’ve already got the 60D, you may be wondering, is it worth upgrading? Well let me help you out by distilling down the most important differences between the two as I pit the Canon EOS 70D vs 60D.


Megapixels

Worth the upgrade? NO
The 70D has 20 megapixels compared to the 60D’s 18 megapixels. That’s only 2 megapixels more which is only an 11% increase in resolution. Aside from the fact that this really isn’t a big upgrade, you really don’t need as many megapixels as you think anyway. 18 or 20...you won’t notice a difference.


ISO

Worth the Upgrade? YES
The 70D has a max ISO of 25,600 compared to the 60D’s 12,800. That’s 1 stop higher, which means you’ll have access to shutter speeds one stop faster in low light. That may mean the difference between a sharp photo and blurry one.


Autofocus

Worth the upgrade? YES
The 60D has Canon’s old and pathetically out-dated 9-point auto focus system with essentially no customizability. They’ve vastly improved the AF system on the 70D with 19 AF points and more options. This improvement to the AF system will primarily be a benefit when shooting action - sports, wildlife, kids... So if you shoot a fair amount of action, the more advanced AF system alone is worth the upgrade.


Image Quality

Worth the upgrade? PROBABLY NOT
Okay, okay. So I haven’t done a side-by-side comparison of image quality between the 60D and 70D. I haven’t even used the 70D yet. But based on experience and the way technology is these days, I’d bet neither is appreciably better than the other. The 70D might have slightly improved image quality, but likely not enough to warrant upgrading. Besides, it’s very subjective anyway. When the replacement to the Canon 5D (the 5D Mark II) came out, people raved about how much better the image quality was. Now, years later, I’ve heard people saying the original 5D has better image quality than the 5D II. Image quality is subjective and it doesn’t vary as much as online forums would make it seem, so don’t worry too much about it.


Continuous Shooting

Worth the upgrade? YES
The 60D had a max continuous shooting speed of about 5.3 frames per second (fps). Pretty damn fast, but the 70D is even faster at 7 fps. This can be beneficial for shooting action. If you don’t really shoot action (shout out to all the landscape photographers), then nothing to write home about here.


Screen and Viewfinder

Worth the upgrade? EH, KIND OF
Both cameras have a 3-inch articulating LCD screen with the same resolution. Only major difference is that the 70D’s screen is touch-sensitive. The touch screen is kind of cool, but not a necessity. Every function you need can be accessed just as easily and quickly through the control dials and buttons. The viewfinder, though, is nicely upgraded with an optional grid and electronic level that can be turned on and off at will. Again, not a necessity having those options, but kind of cool.


Video

Worth the upgrade? YES
They really improved the usefulness of the 70D for video. The big news with the launch of this camera is Canon’s new “Dual Pixel CMOS AF” sensor. The technology behind this new feature is cool and more complicated than I care to explain here (visit this www.dpreview.com page for an explanation). But what it really means for shooting is that auto-focus in live-view mode and in video is much faster and more accurate. So if you do a lot of video shooting and you want better AF, get the 70D. If you don’t really do video or live-view (like me), don’t worry about this new feature.


Name

Worth the upgrade? NO
The Canon EOS 70D is a stupid name for a camera. I understand, Canon, you’re keeping the continuity with your camera names. But come on...the Canon EOS “seventy-dee?” It’s a mouthful. I can’t tell if I’m saying “seventy-dee” (70D) or “seven-dee-dee” (7DD).

 

So there you go, Canon 70D vs 60D. Other than the points addressed here, the rest of the functions, controls, features, and compatibility of the new EOS 70D are largely unchanged from the 60D. For a much more in-depth look at the 70D, check out DPReview’s Hands-On preview.

And if you want to preorder your 70D today, check it out at B&H.

UV Filter Use: Does It Degrade Image Quality?

UV Filter Use: Do You Need One?Ah, to UV or not to UV, that is the question. This can be a heated topic amongst photographers. Some argue that UV filter use will degrade image quality, others argue that it’s the best insurance you can get for your expensive lenses. There are merits to each argument and we’ll get to that debate in just a second, but first things first - let’s talk about the purpose of a UV filter.

The best UV filter on the market will do nothing for your photos. That’s the whole point. UV filters are used simply to protect the front of your lens. It’s nothing more than a clear piece of glass that you screw on to the front of your lens and then forget about. You leave it on all the time as insurance. Drop your lens or smack it against a wall when it’s hanging around your neck, the filter will break instead of your lens.

If you get a good quality UV filter, it will protect the front of your lens without affecting the image one bit. If you get a bad one, it might degrade image quality or create more lens flare. And why are they called UV filters? Well, it sounds better than “clear piece of glass to protect the front of your lens.” True, they are supposed to block UV light - and most of them probably do - but it doesn’t matter because UV light doesn’t have any noticeable effect on your photos anyway.

Now the argument in favor of UV filter use is clear (ha! puns...). Put a UV filter on the front of your lens and you got yourself a $40 insurance policy. Replacing a shattered UV filter is much more affordable than replacing a shattered front lens element. And believe it or not, they actually do protect the lens. When I first heard about the purpose of UV filters, I thought, “Come on...like a single piece of glass is really going to do anything to protect the lens.” But they do. Of course it ain’t going to protect against a 5-story drop from a hotel balcony, but it’ll protect against those really frustrating “it just barely slipped out of my hands” kind of mistakes.

B&W UV MRC Filter

My UV Filter of Choice is the B&W UV MRC
Click Here to Purchase Yours from B&H

The argument against UV filters is, shall we say, untenable. Anti-UVers say, “Why would you put a $40 piece of glass in front of your $1,000 lens? A lens is only as good as the glass in front of it. You want to turn your $1,000 lens into a $40 lens? Huh? Do ya, punk?” Alright, maybe they’re not that hostile.

This argument is based in theory, not practice. Sure, it makes sense in theory that another piece of glass is just another chance for image degradation. But I’m betting the people spewing this logic have never actually done a side-by-side shot with and without the UV. This also sounds like the logic of someone who has never damaged a lens before. It’s easy to say “don’t get car insurance” if you’re never had a fender bender.

And by the way, I did do a side-by-side comparison with and without a UV filter. Can you tell which one had the UV filter and which one didn’t? Neither can I...

UV Filter Use: Do You Need One?

Below is a 100% magnification of the above image.
One of the samples below was taken with a UV, the other without a UV.
Can you tell which is which?

UV Filter Use: Do You Need One?

The bottom line is this: If you get a really poor quality UV filter, like the $10 Sunpak ones, then yeah, it might degrade the image a tiny, tiny bit when examined at 100% magnification on your computer screen (but still, I’m betting you won’t see a difference). Buy a good quality UV filter, like those made by B&W, and there is basically no chance of it degrading your photos.

So I generally recommend the use of UV filters to my students. If you want the protection, use one. I do.