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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

Common Misconceptions: High ISO Noise


The Misconception:

Digital noise caused by a high ISO setting will ruin the image.

Why This is Wrong:
Alright here’s the deal, high ISO noise is not nearly as big a problem as people make it out to be. True, higher ISO settings result in more digital noise. No doubt about that. But it is very unlikely to ruin your shots. The final presentation size must be taken in to account when determining whether or not digital noise is something to be worried about. Sure, the maximum ISO on your camera will exhibit quite a bit of noise when you look at the image magnified 100% on the computer. But that’s not an accurate representation of the image. How often do you print that big? And even if you do print that big, how often will you view that print from just inches away like you do on your computer?

It’s tempting to judge photos at full magnification on the computer, but resist the urge. Everything looks bad that big. Don’t believe me? Take a headshot of yourself then see how you like critiquing the image at that high of a magnification (look at those pores!).

This is why when I analyze film negatives on a light table, I don’t use a 10x magnification loupe even though they do exist. I use 4x for most viewing and an 8x only if I want to really critique a negative. If the loupe magnifies the image too much, the negatives just start to look soft and grainy. And it wouldn’t be a realistic critique of the image because it’s not like I’ll be blowing up the image to those magnifications, and even if I do, people won’t view it from inches away.

High ISO Noise

Below are 100% magnification crops from the original 12-megapixel image (above)
On the left is ISO 100 on my first-generation Canon EOS 5D,
on the right is ISO 3200 (the max ISO).

The noise is, of course, noticeable in these magnified views, but how big is the image
really going to be viewed? This noise won't be noticeable except for at very large
print sizes. Plus, newer cameras will have much better high ISO performance
than my out-dated 5D.

High ISO Noise

The Truth:
Unless you print really big, high ISO noise ain’t going to ruin your shot. And if you do print big, it still won’t be as big of an issue as you think. The bigger the print, the further away you view it from. And besides, most people’s pictures end up on Facebook barely bigger than a greeting card. Noise won’t show up on an image that small. You may see it because you know it's there when it's blown up, but others won’t see it.

Yes, you should use the lowest ISO you can in any given situation just so you don’t have needless image noise, but sometimes you need an ultra-high ISO to get the shot. If you do, don’t worry about the noise. Know that it’ll be there, but don’t let it prevent you from taking the shot. Like I tell my students, “better to have the image with some noise than no image at all.”

My Thoughts and Rants:
As far as I’m concerned, high ISO noise is basically a non-issue today. Every new generation of camera is getting better and better at reducing digital noise. Today’s cameras are so good at high ISOs that it’s practically not even worth talking about. Plus, no one prints anymore (which is a tragedy in its own right). It’s all Facebook, Flickr, email, slideshows, photo books, iPhones...all great ways to share photos, but they simply don’t show the images blown up very big. So why are we even talking about noise?

And remember that no one else will ever notice the digital noise in your images. Your family, friends, clients - they won’t see it. Other photographers will, but who wants to impress them anyway? Other photographers are un-impress-able.

There are a thousand things that will ruin your photos. Digital noise is number 999. Good technique, good light, good composition, good subjects...Focus on that.

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.