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5 Crucial Thoughts on the New Nikon Df. Does It Deliver?

ChaseJarvis_Nikon DF_1
Wow. Two new cameras on my blog in one week (here’s the other one). I’ve never been a gear whore and don’t like dedicating too much real estate here to it, but I do like me some of these compact cameras. So here we go – quick like.

Nikon got the aesthetics right, that’s for sure. If it does nothing else, the new Nikon Df is going to make you look like a legit photographer from the 70′s. Even more so perhaps like a photographer shooting film (but you won’t be.)

Specs: Within the tasty leather, chrome, and gunmetal exterior of this Nikon Df hides…

// the legendary sensor from the Nikon D4 – my favorite still camera sensor of all time
// Nikon’s latest + greatest Expeed 3 processor
// Optical viewfinder with 100% field of view (thank god – not having this sucks)
// Full wireless capability [requires WU-1 wireless adaptor].
// We’re still waiting on the side of french fries, but this full-meal of a camera may just satiate even the hungriest of critics.

Yeah, but does it deliver?

Before we can answer that question (because I can’t – haven’t used it), I want to set my expectations. Because they are (were?) high for this little bugger. But when the hype is this big, the goods had better follow. So here’s what it has to do to get my five stars:

1, Ergonomics. I like how all the dials for shutter speed, exposure compensation, and ISO give you the option of being really hands on with setting your exposure. Shooting this way really increases my connection with what you’re creating with the camera. The Nikon DF looks like it’ll do a nice job of recreating (or perhaps simulating) that experience of “making” pictures like the cameras of old… That feel helps me be connecting to the art just a little bit more–ie slowing down a tad– than some of my other tools in my shed.

2. The size. The size is nice. Or rather, the size is nice compared to a D4 or pro body. Don’t get me wrong, when I’m on a gig I need the pro body to lean on, bang around, pound nails and otherwise be tough and sturdy. With this little guy? I prefer the portability, sorta. It’ll make a great vacation camera for jet setting photographers….unless you also like to capture video of your travels like I do. If you want video you need another camera, or an additional camera, and then the whole compact selling point is thrown out the airplane window with no parachute. So what gives here? I dunno. They made up a nice advertising story about “back to basics” with a “real camera” but rumor has it they couldn’t keep the guts cool enough to shoot video because mechanically that stuff takes up space. Jury is out. I like the purity angle, but it’s 2013…

3. The sensor. It has the same 16.2-megapixel sensor as Nikon’s pro-focused D4, which is the best still sensor of all time. There, I said it. It has ISO range up to 12,800 and expandable to ISO 204,800!! You can basically shoot this thing in the dark – let’s just hope it (or you) can focus in the dark. What good is the sensor if you can’t pull the trigger in focus?

4. Focus. It better be decent. Nikons have historically kicked everyones ass in this department. This better not be a let down. I hope the focus is fast and accurate. (Speaking of fast…we know it’s not fast in frames per second department. 5 ‘n’ change. Not bad. But not fast. Who cares really – that’s not what this camera is for.) We really do want the focus to be fast, however, if it’s to stand out from it’s peers. BTW, how is the manual focus mode? It better kick ass. I’m curious to see if there are any features to assist with this. There’s a lot of marketing around this camera pimping its ability to use all the old non-AI lenses, but the cameras from that time had focusing screens built for manual focus. Without tools like focus peaking, a split image screen, or a microprism screen, shooting with manual focus lenses might just be a pain in the ass. Let’s hope they get it right

5. Pro shit. I’m excited to see how “professional” the camera can be. Can I pound nails with this thing? Is it heavy and durable? We use a ton of different cameras for video, but the D4 is my go-to camera for EVERY SINGLE commercial photo shoot we do. Could the DF could come along on our shoots as a good BTS rig? Even in our BTS stuff we expect pro quality That would be nice if this delivered. I will always have a couple D4 backups, but for the solo photographer, the DF could potentially save pro photographers some weight and coin if (and only if) it can produce professional results in a pinch.

All this said, I can’t wait to get my hands on the Df and take it for a rubber-burning test drive. Good pals like McNally are oogling over it, but Joe would have to use a Nikon mobile phone if they had one, so take that with a grain of salt. Anywhooo. Stay tuned for a more meaty pile of feedback when I get my paws on this thing.

The Df is available for pre-order in four options. Check out the goods here:

/// Black body w/lens
/// Silver body w/lens
/// Black body
/// Silver body

ChaseJarvis_Nikon DF_1

A Hot Minute Hands-on Review of the Sony A7r

The field of affordable mirrorless cameras is widening, even as the gulf in quality between said cameras and DSLRs narrows. I’ve gone so far as to call them DSLR-killers in the past. A little tongue in cheek there, but wrapped in a nice dose of optimism. On the whole these rigs are lighter, more compact and pack a decent punch. They’re definitely the bomb for for street photographers and the kick the shit out of any point-and-miss er…point and shoot that is…without a doubt.

To that end, the not-yet-released Sony A7r [or Alpha 7r] and A7 magically fell into my hands last week prompting a brief but meaningful walk/shooting/note-taking session with my crew, the results of which I’m sharing here. Given that this little beauty doesn’t hit the market until December, what you’re about to read is one of the first true hands-on reviews. I can’t go into hand wringing detail about everything w the camera (save that for others), but this is rather my first quick impression. (And seeing as the bulk of my time was spent with the A7r, I’ve limited my notes below to that model.)

FIRST, THE UPSIDE:

1) The Tactile. The ergonomics are great and the grip is the perfect size. I carried it the whole time without a neck strap and never worried about it slipping out of my hands. Camera ergonomics are vastly under-appreciated IMHO – really important. I’m a stickler for it and this camera delivers on it.

2) Presence. The A7 is light, but not cheap feeling. It feels similar to the Olympus E-M5 in weight and dial placement, but easier to grip with better spacing in the button layout. Good lines.

3) Design. I dig the placement of the exposure compensation wheel. I could make adjustments easily and intuitively without taking my eye away from the viewfinder.

4) Focus. Focusing speed is acceptable but nowhere near groundbreaking. Norton’s E-M5 and Erik’s Panasonic GX7 a both seem to focus faster (this might be different on the A7 vs the A7r).

5) Image quality. Image quality is really nice, though we were only able to view and edit the Jpegs since Lightroom doesn’t support the A7′s raw files yet and only had the camera for a qwik spin. (also we can’t share our images since the camera is technically a pre-production model…sorry) The shallow depth of field on the 2.8 lens is dreamy. Getting a nice shallow depth of field in a camera this compact feels like cheating.

6) Looks. Aesthetically, the camera is very inconspicuous. In a short walk in a part, people stopped and commented about Norton’s silver retro looking Olympus E-M5, but nobody asked about the A7r. The murdered out black finish on the A7/A7r is stealthy for sure. This will be a nice nod for the street photographer in you, but will work against you if you’re one of those kooks who is trying to be …er…”impressive” with gear.

NITPICKS ON THE NEGATIVE:

1) Shutter. I’m not crazy about the shutter button. This is super nit-picky, but it’s sorta gummy. It takes a little too much pressure to fire the shutter. It feels to me like it’s likely to cause unnecessary camera shake, which could hurt photos taken with a slow shutter speed. AND…speaking of the shutter…it’s damn noisy. This camera is not sneaky.

2) Battery. The battery life is wack. I only had one, and I had the feeling right away that it wouldn’t last. I had to keep turning the camera off between shots, and that’s no fun. Hopefully Sony addresses this quick-like.

4) Boot-time. The start-up time overly slow. I seriously thought the camera might have had issues when I first turned it on. (this might be because the camera I was using might be a preproduction model???)

OVERALL SIDE OF THE EQUATION:

Anybody thinking about getting into the world of mirrorless cameras, or even mid-range DSLR’s, should take the Sony A7r and A7 into serious consideration. If you by chance have a NEX-7 then this upgrade is really really desirable since your glass can migrate with you.

Both models are available for pre-order here and here.

Scroll down for a more detailed look at the Sony A7r:

Underwater iPhoneography – The Gear I Used to Find Nemo

While in Belize a couple months ago, I took the opportunity to field test a new iPhone case designed for action sports photography + video. (I’m a big fan of field testing new tech/gadgets; see my out-of-the-box successes with the DJI quadcopter—> here).

Without getting in the weeds here, let’s be honest. We’re not aiming for the Oscars with this footage, but I’m not gonna lie… I quite frequently need a little breather from all the high end work that I’m focused on doing. Not everything needs a $150,000 Phantom camera to be good or fun. You with me? Good. Then ENTER—>The Optrix XD5 — a waterproof housing for the iPhone 5 that gave me a nice 175 degree wide-angle lens and control functionality while coasting from reef to reef. It couldn’t have been easier or more chill to use… I’d recommend this to family vacationers and pros alike who dig the occasional goofing around with some gear. Watch through the end of the video to see a few super basic stills I was able to take on one very very short swim about the reef.

Note: the video above was shot on an iPhone housed in the same XD5. Totally passable, in my opinion. And an idiot-proof design, as the video reveals.

Check out the Optrix line of iPhone housings.

For more behind-the-scenes action from my Belize assignment, you can go here, here + here.

Music by Small Face.

GoPro Hero3+ is the Fairest of Them All

GoPro’s Hero3+ dropped like a bomb today, splitting atoms and shattering computer screens with some of the most bad-ass footage yet seen. The new Hero3+ is GoPro’s sexiest iteration to date, with some notable improvements over its predecessor. Lest you Hero2 or Hero3 owners think this money ill-spent, consider these upgraded features that you’ll get with the Hero3+:

_20% lighter + smaller (case)
_30% more battery life
_4x faster WiFi (built-in)
_Auto Low Light feature, which automatically adjusts frame rate to maximize quality
_sharper lens
_SuperView movie mode allows you to shoot 1080p (1920 x 1080 video resolution) w/ the Ultra Wide field of view, so you can capture more of yourself and the beautiful landscape. Or a lion’s face.

There’s been some chatter from folks who feel wrong-done by GoPro’s “Apple-like” upgrade, but the truth is they’ve been pretty consistent in the time + release of new products and it’s not their fault if you just bought a Hero3. [Note to those who did: If you bought it from GoPro.com less than 30 days ago, the company *should* honor your return requests so you can get in the "+" game.]

Will I be adding the Hero3+ to my OCD-inspired GoPro travel bag? Definitely. I’m thinking I may need a re-do of my GoPro aerial footage experiment, too.

I Will Give You $50,000 + a VIP Trip to NYC + I’ll Be Your Mentor For Life

I’m not much known for just dipping my toe in the water. And this is no exception.

“It’s gotta be real money and real access” I said.
“How about $50,000 cash, plus a trip to NYC to receive your mentorship and spend some quality time with you.”
“Um. DEAL.”

An that’s how it went down on the phone with my friends at Shopify, the powerful e-commerce website solution that allows you to sell online by providing everything you need to create an online store. In short I will be giving one winner — one of YOU — a check for $50,000 and a promise to be a mentor for life if you start an online business using Shopify and earn more money than anyone else in the Art & Photography category. I’m not getting a cent from this. This is all about firing up our community of creatives and helping make shit happen. So join me by entering.

Even more news? Since this is a diverse readership, let’s say instead of Art & Photography you prefer Music, Electronics & Gadgets, Jewelry & Crafts, Health & Beauty, Food & Beverage, Fashion & Apparel, Sports & Recreation, or…hell…anything else! Then you’re in luck because the competition extends to you too. But if you win one of these other categories you will be assigned another mentor… How bout billionaire Mark Cuban? Or Tim Ferriss? It’s THAT good. In fact here’s the complete list of my peers with whom I’m working on this project for you to choose from:

_Lil Jon (hip hop legend)
_Tim Ferris (4 hour everything)
_Tina Eisenberg (aka swissmiss)
_Selita Ebanks (model & health star)
_Gary Vaynerchuk (wine & food guru)
_Damond John (founder of FUBU – star of shark tank)
_Mark Cuban (billionaire entrepreneur/owner of Dallas Mavericks
_Arianna Huffington (media maven)
_and yours truly

chase jarvis mentor build a business shopify

Never before in history have creativity & business come together in such an obvious, simple and radiant fashion. Like Gary V says in the above video, “This is the most practical time in the history of time to be an entrepreneur. If you even have 1% of a thought about doing it [starting a business], do it.”

YOU’RE SAYING RIGHT ABOUT NOW…

SO HOW DO I WIN? The short version is that you if you start a business with Shopify and have the most sales in your category over a particular window between NOW and MAY 2014, then you win. The longer, more detailed version of all that is here on the Shopfiy site. There is plenty of time to kick ass and sell your heart out, but the time to start is now.

AND WHAT DO I WIN AGAIN?

You win a check for $50,000 USD. Shopify will fly you to NYC to join me & the other mentors and winners (that’ll be a nice gathering), and then I will be your business mentor for life. (Or if you’re in another category, you’ll get mentorship from THAT categories mentor).

Boom.

Again, YOU have the tools and vision to win this sucker, it’s all about focusing on your passion, using your business skills, and making shit happen. I’m doing this purely out of love and a desire to see creative businesses thrive. I’d appreciate your helping me spread the word by linking, pointing, RT’ing FB’ing whatever you can to contribute to this cool contest. I’ll be doing lots of talking about this over the next several months, so get used to it. This might just be your big chance. All the details can be found here.

19 Behind-The-Scenes Photos from a Land of Endless Light – Iceland

chasejarvis_cover What I remember from elementary school about Iceland is my teacher telling me, “Iceland is green and Greenland is ice.” While I have not yet been to Greenland I can attest to the fact that Iceland in August is definitely green.

Iceland – the well-known film and photo destination at the confluence of the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans – has been on my list of locations to visit for seemingly forever. Finally had the chance to check out last week on a sizeable commercial production. On one hand, I was surprised to learn how many Hollywood features have recently been shot in the harsh landscape (Ridley Scott’s Prometheus and Oblivion starring Tom Cruise are two of the big budget examples…). On the other hand, it makes complete sense – the landscape is bonkers-cool, the quantity of light (18 hours or so of it each day this time of year) and quality of that light truly makes Iceland a dream destination location for photo and film work.

Some fun facts about Iceland:

// as a country of just over 300,000 people they have the highest per capita number of golf courses, hot tubs and trampolines.

// most of the Iceland population believes in elves – or will certainly not deny their existence (we tested this and found it to be the truth)

// 30 post-glacial volcanoes have erupted in the past two centuries, and natural hot water supplies much of the population with cheap, pollution-free heating

// the Icelandic horse has a “5th speed” or gait that other breeds do not possess

// the size of Iceland is roughly the same size as Pennsylvania in the US.

// the people are lovely and warm, but good luck learning the language – the mutha is tough!!

As always, local knowledge was key and we had some incredible local producers through ProFilm. Marteinn Ibsen and Arnaldur Halldórsson drove us all over their country in the short 5 days we had in-country – and knew exactly where to take us and when. Having local knowledge is always key.

We scored some especially high quality offerings from the air (we chartered helicopters again this trip and flew some cameras on affordable drone quadcopters too ) and along the south coast… So many rolling green hills abutting glaciers with rainbows, I expected to see a Unicorn at any second.

Of course knowing what to do with it comes down to your ability as a photographer/filmer. (TIP: check out Corey Rich’s outdoor photography workshop over at creativeLIVE for more on the skills: here.)

Below are some BTS moments with my crew snapped on iphones and point & shoots. We’re all passionate about the work – and despite some brutally long 16 hour days we won’t soon forget the trip.

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chase jarvis surfing photo

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Behind-the-scenes photo by Yours Truly, my man Erik Hecht and homeskillet Christopher Jerard

chase jarvis TECH: Complete Guide to Aerial Photography & Video

Although I’ve mixed a whole lotta R/C helicopters into shoots, there are many more times in my profession when climbing into a real A-star is essential to get the shot. A recent assignment in the Caribbean presented another on of those lovely occasions…and while I’ve touched on shooting film + photos from a helicopter in some past posts, I’ve never gone deep on the how-to of shooting from a heli.
chasejarvis_aerial_photography_howto
And before you dismiss this and say “This is so outrageous, when will I ever get to shoot from a helicopter” …I’ll just say that every photographer who has ever shot from a chopper has said those same words, only to find themselves ripping heavy G turns and shooting from blue skies at some point in their career. So stick with me. And one other note – yes flying around can be expensive, but it can also be done relatively affordably depending on how long you fly, what chopper, and of course…who’s paying ;)

Here’s a few teasers of some of the stuff I cover in this video:

// Helicopter safety. It is critical that you understand how to navigate your way safely in and around this machine. There are two hard and fast rules that all helicopter people live by when it comes to helicopters: 1) Never walk around the tail-end of the helicopter while its on the ground and 2) the pilot is always in charge. Always.

// Personal safety. Strap in! There are a couple of ways to get this done and the video runs thru several of them… If you walk away with one piece of advice, it’s if you’re hanging out of the helicopter – always be connected to it by at least two (2) connection points.

// Gear + settings. In the vid I lay out exactly what gear I take up with me (it includes the D4 and D800), but for the sake of driving some points home I’ll repeat… here two of my gear guides:

1) Remove the lens hoods – this will prevent excessive movement due to rotor downdraft as well as your forward motion, and 2) keep the gear well attached to yo and always pass or move gear with both hands when the door is off. 3)I always shoot manually, mid-ISO 400 range, and a minimum of 1000 shutter speed (I really like 1600 or greater). 4)Shoot with large volume cards to avoid having to change cards while hanging out of the bird.
….and many more in the video

Good luck – hope this helps those of you who are just getting into it, have a fantasy of flying that you’ll someday realize, or hell maybe even a seasoned pro will pick up a tip here and there. And as always if you’ve got other tips to share – please do.

Music by the one and only Big Chocolate.

Flying Cameras On a Budget — My First Flight With Affordable Drone Helicopter + GoPro

Because there are few establishing shots that can compete with the one you get above 250 feet, I frequently take my shoots airborne. Whether it’s yanking the doors off a Bell Ranger traditional style or the…ahem…new school way of sending an 8-bladed octo-copter to do the dirty work, if it’s outdoors these days, aerial footage is, well, the new black.

Neither option mentioned above is cheap, however. I’ve been paying thru the mega-schnoz to rent A-Stars ($2000 + per hour) and such for years. And then was superduper excited in 2010 to go remote aerial at about half the cost of a real heli for this project launching the Nikon D7000 (here’s some more BTS with the same flight crew from a commercial i shot in Telluride…). But it’s still pricey. $2k – $5,000 per DAY or more. And although going the R/C route is the lesser of two budget busters, it’s still a rough lump to swallow, particularly if you’re just getting in the game.

ENTER the DJI Phantom, (picked mine up at Dronefly.com) the out-of-the-box R/C quadcopter.

Now before y’all jump into a tizzy that this thing isn’t close to the same quality – doesn’t do X and Y…I know those things. It’s ok that it can’t fly an Arri Alexa or do this or that other thing. BUT damn this is a great entry product that A) allows budget conscious folks the ability to fly a camera; B) makes some pretty solid footy for web videos and such; and C) is a helluva lot of fun to fly. All at fraction of the cost of any previously mentioned option.

Designed to fly the GoPro (you know I love ‘em in this video), this little rig comes in at under $700. Nothing to sneeze at, but chump change compared to what was available just 5 years ago. My crew has two of these little buggers now — and within 5 minutes I had achieved a comfort level great enough to try the stunt at 0:45, terrorize the other people at the GasWorks park in Seattle, and even chase a seaplane.

Although it’s not suitable for high end work (yet?), this is a nice budget breakthru. And truth be told it’s a fricking blast — I’ll be doing more soon. Perhaps…ahem… even on my next photo shoot in Iceland…

chasejarvis TECH: How to Pack, Prep & Travel with GoPro Cameras (<—bonus, also works for almost camera system)

I’ve been shooting religiously with GoPro cameras since they came out way back in the day. Love those little monsters. At a minimum, I travel with three or more Hero3′s for any shoot – I’ve just found they just come in super-duper handy for all sortsa great stuff. BUT…. taking into account mounts, memory cards, chargers, spare batteries and all miscellany associated with the GoPro and you’ve got yourself quite a load of gear to keep track of.

That’s why I’ve come up with a pretty tight little system for packing & traveling with my GoPros. The above video really gives the full insight, but all cooked down into a tasty little reduction, it smells something like this:

1. Find ONE bag/pack that can carry everything (for Belize I brought a Dakine Mission)

2. Separate gear & accessories into smaller pouches (ThinkTank little pouches described in the vid work nicely here)

3. Clearly label said bags (make the labels moron proof – and really visible in low-light / bleary eyes / tired person can read them without question)

4. Take EVERYTHING in this bag with you every time, regardless of shoot location – you never know when the need/opportunity for a funky mount may arise. (I know this might not sound like good advice, but trust me, it is. Take it from me, this is the only way you’ll ever NOT forget something random.)

5. Get creative. There are tons of ways you can mount a GoPro (see the egg-timer and scuba mask mounts in the vid), as well as clever ways to extend battery life. Use them all.

This vid above comes at you pretty fast, so feel free to ask questions and I’ll jump into the comments and answer. Got GoPro tips / thoughts / hacks of your own? Do share ‘em.

Super Camera — Arri Alexa is the Pro’s Best Friend [plus how I shot the Samsung video ]

You may recall a few weeks back I released a video of the behind-the-scenes action for a cool gig I was asked to create for Samsung around their Series 9 Color Premium monitors. It was a dream job in a lot of ways. For one, I got to literally photograph a re-creation of my dreams; for two, on jobs like that I get the opportunity to rub elbows with the best crew —cinematographers, editors, filmers, sound technicians, art directors, stylists, producers and beyond — PLUS the best gear too.

When I laid out the earlier blog post detailing everything about my Samsung shoot I took a question from a guy named “Ben” off the ol’ innernets:

“Great cinematic look in your Samsung behind-the-scenes vid, Chase. What camera did you shoot it with?”

So I thought I would take this opportunity to a)highlight our primary cine camera on this shoot– the Arri Alexa; b)introduce my fav DP, Chris Bell, who shot that camera on my Samsung job (and a lot of my other stuff); and c) refresh that Samsung video in case you missed it the first go round.

So in reverse order, here’s the Samsung vid shot primarily with the Arri Alexa (below). And then – in addition to our video review (above) I asked him to share some more knowledge & opinion and he breaks it down quite nicely… all of which you’ll find after the Samsung vid here. Thanks Chris!

First of all, Chris, thanks for slaying it for me on the Samsung gig. Second, thanks for the quick interview – really appreciate the time discussing the Arri Alexa. When did you first pick up the Arri Alexa and what were you using previously that it replaced?

The Alexa replaced a lot of cameras. My background is as a film shooter (16-35 mm). And we had various cameras to get a particular look. Panasonic had various cameras. The HBX200. There were cameras like the Canon 5D and even the Red One. I had a shop full of cameras and each was there to satisfy a specific client’s need. Alexa came along and, in a way, became the swiss army knife of cameras. It replaced a lot of those cameras. Everyone [clients] wanted the big chip look. Everyone wanted the shallow depth of field look. For one reason or another the cameras that I mentioned could not satisfy all parts of the workflow in a consistent way. Red was a raw camera – which is nice, but it needs tons of post production attention. That’s a challenge. And no one wanted to shoot tape anymore.

arri alexa chase jarvis blogThe Alexa came along and answered a lot of producers, editors and cinematographers desires – all at the same time. It does a great job emulating film…and film is still state of the art in many ways. It is still the benchmark that cinematographers use to compare against. The Alexa was really the first to mimic the dyanamic range of film. It appeals to so many because it has a look clients love – that filmic “look”.

Prior to the Alexa someone in the workflow — the cinematographer, the editor or the producer, had to compromise on something. These other cameras, while amazing in some way, had very limtited range. They had lots of compression issues and color source issues. They had very challenging workflow issues. Then the Alexa comes along and all of a sudden – the cinematographer is happy, the producer and editor are happy. That it shoots files that are ready to edit right out of the camera –and require no conversion–makes workflow a snap.

arri alexa chase jarvis blog 2And it’s super simple in lots of other ways too…It has great time coding for instance. These are little things. But on big productions – on the big budget work that demands reliability, it is the little things that add up for the professional. And ultimately, this camera can be relied upon. It’s been used on major Hollywood productions like Skyfall and Life of Pi. It’s increasingly found on the set for TV commercials worldwide. It’s being used for wildlife docs. For me, I work on a lot of different types of productions – from commercials to sport, to big brands like Microsoft and Samsung–and beyond, and it always does me right. In short, I think that Arri has done a magnificent job listening to its users when developing the product.

What is your favorite piece of completed work (–ahem besides our Samsung video–) using the Alexa, that you could show off with?
Here are two:
12th Ave Iron Film:
National TV Spot for Acer

What’s the best thing about the Alexa from a usage standpoint?
The best thing is that its a camera that makes a beautiful image without compromise – for anyone involved with the workflow. It’s a swiss army knife that works on any type job. ESPN shooters are buying Alexa. The networks love it because the files are immediately edit-ready. It’s SO easy to use. And it has become a standard. I figured I’d get a three year usage (digital has a short shelf life), but I’ll get at least five years out of this camera. Arri has these very long product cycles. That’s very important. It means I can go on a shoot and no matter who’s shooting – we are all shooting the same quality image. This is super important from the business standpoint. We need to have time to recoup investment – b/c its not a cheap camera [$90,000]. My criticism of digital is that it all turns over too fast. It’s getting silly. Every six months there is a new “must have” camera.

arri alexa chase jarvis blog 3How does the average joe get to play with one of these bad boys? Or do they…
The average Joe could go to the Arri website – there is a simulator. They update it every time there is a software update. You can learn the menu system online. If you want to see it in person – call local rental houses and ask if there is a good time to come in and look at the camera and play with it. They might be up for that to get a new customer. Some rental houses have workshops too. You could go to the trade shows. There are lots of ways to do it without dropping the $90,000 cold turkey. Most rental houses are open to educating people.

What’s coming next in this class of camera in your opinion? How can it get even better?

Moore’s law is always in effect. Digital imaging tech is moving very quickly – there is going to be a day where there is a base camera with ISO 5000 and it will shoot 5000fps and it will cost $5000. On your very high end – everyone is going to continue to attempt to emulate the benchmark: motion film. Dynamic range, how they handle highlights, lights and dark and how accurately they are able to reproduce color space. These are the Model T’s of digital cameras. There is a big revolution coming with color and contrast. We’re getting away from a lot of the compromise. Heavy compression, limited colorspace, limited dynamic range. Manufacturers are hearing it and producing new cameras. But I really wish they would slow down a bit and not reinvent the wheel every nine months. Having a standard is important too. It’s rather dizzying.

Thanks Chris! More details on the Arri Alexa here via the Arri Group.

Camera Geek Alert – Sony RX1 Hands-On Review

Small cameras with big sensors are clearly an important part of the future. From the shockingly affordable cinema cameras from Blackmagic Designs to my beloved Olympus E-M5, it’s clear to see that camera manufacturers are responding to a demand for compact camera systems. Sony is up there toward the front of the “big sensor/small camera” charge and seem to be pushing the technology forward, with last years Cybershot RX100, and now this years Cybershot RX1, which packs a full-frame 35mm sensor into a camera body that could almost fit in your pocket.  

All that goodness comes at a price though. When the camera was first announced, my studio geeked out a little since we often get advanced or first run versions. Such was the case with the RX-1. Being camera nerdy we dug into the thing as soon as it arrived via pals at BorrowLenses

My first comment? “Interesting form factor.”

Erik’s first comment? “I just can’t see myself dropping nearly $3,000 for a fixed-lens camera, no matter what kinda guts it has.”

Norton’s first comment? “Gotta give this a chance since its got 24 MegaPixels, ISO 100-25600, dedicated focus, iris and macro rings, and 5 fps burst mode”

Fair ’nuff. We were heading into an intense month of work and travel ahead, so Erik carted this thing around for a few weeks (Thanks E)… Initially it arrived just in time for our Chase Jarvis LIVE broadcast with Julien Smith and the badass band My Goodness.  During our setup/soundcheck day, between directing duties, we snagged a few of our first shots with the RX1.

James Franco (or Norton. I can't remember) standing in for lighting before the band arrived.

My Goodness

Erik’s Notes. The RX1 feels great in use.  It’s much smaller than I expected it to be, but the sizable lens, with it’s manual focus and aperture controls built-in, give it just the right amount of grip.  The layout of the rest of the controls are great too.  Just about every function I care about has a dedicated button, and I love the exposure compensation dial on the top.  My only problem with the build of the camera is the lack of a viewfinder, which can be purchased separately for a billion dollars.  Quick personal note to camera manufacturers… Stop skimping on built-in viewfinders.  I’d MUCH rather have even a POS viewfinder than the nicest pop-up flash you can make.  The Olympus EM-5 got it right by building the viewfinder into the body and including an add-on flash with the kit.  I use that viewfinder every time I shoot with the camera and I have never once used the flash.  Sorry, back to the RX1…

My thoughts: The fixed 35mm Zeiss Sonnar f/2 lens is pretty dope, though for the price of the camera it would have been nice to seen that lens be able to come off the body.  It’s a tasty beast, but the inability to swap lenses is going to be a big turn off for people. Concession: luckily Sony picked a sweet-spot of a focal length to stick us with.  So while the camera has no zoom, I’ve got legs – the best zoom in the business. So shooting both wide shots and closeups isn’t that big of a problem.

My Goodness

Joel from My Goodness

After the Chase Jarvis LIVE broadcast, we tidied up the studio and packed our camera bags for a commercial shoot in Belize.  Since Erik would be shooting video primarily with a main kit consisted of a couple of Canon 5D mkiii’s with a handful of lenses (ie a handful) any other cameras would pretty much only be used for casual snapshots while we weren’t working.  It would be a perfect setting to test the RX1. Erik’s confession: “I still brought my Olympus E-M5 kit.”  Seemed he just couldn’t fully commit to being stuck with one lens in such a beautiful place.  That plain ol’ 35mm lens just couldn’t keep him covered, and here’s a good example:

Blue Hole Belize

Flying over the Great Blue Hole, E had to time my shots just right to get the composition I wanted.  I was focused on hanging out of the helicopter and directing the pilot, so it was catch and catch can for Erik’s personal photos. His gripe: ”This shot would have been exactly what I wanted if I could have zoomed out just a little bit.

Back to Erik for some more details: When the days calmed down and the mood was more casual, the RX1 became a delight to shoot with. The camera is really small and unobtrusive, yet still totally sweet looking.  It’s a great conversation starter, and you feel like a Rockefeller when the inevitable “so how much does that cost?” question rolls around.

Let’s talk about the leaf shutter, which is built into the lens, thus saving space inside the camera body and aiding the RX1 in retaining its slender girlish figure.  It’s also slightly quieter than a butterfly hiccup, and I hate it.  I’m genuinely curious to know if anyone agrees with me that a quiet shutter is super unsatisfying.  I know this is entirely superficial, but I like my camera to make a little noise when I take the shot.  I wanna feel something mechanical move.  It should be a point of praise for the smooth functionality of the camera, and it must be great for those weirdos who want to discreetly take pictures of strangers, but I can’t get behind it.  I want motor-driving to sound like a motor driving.



My overall reaction (chase):
The image quality is all fine and good.  The above image was shot by Erik at ISO 2500 and still looks pretty clean.  It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a relatively spendy camera that doesn’t produce a nice image at high ISO’s, so image quality in new cameras isn’t nearly as much of a concern to me – especially since it’s not my “pro” camera.  I’m much more interested these days in the experience of using a camera.  Is the camera fun to shoot with?  The RX1 is pretty cool, but the lack of a built-in viewfinder (ala Erik’s point earlier) made me miss it. Also like E I found myself reaching for my Olympus E-M5 instead of the RX1 on several occasions.  I will say that I am interested to see what the future holds for this camera line and I hope Sony continues to push the compact camera envelope. We all win when that happens, regardless of camera choice.

Erik’s roundup. So is it worth the nearly $3,000 price tag?  For my money, no, but here’s my recommendation; everyone who’s reading this should go buy it.  Create a huge market for compact full-frame cameras and give Sony the motivation to develop an upgraded version of the RX1 with interchangeable lenses.  Now THAT’S something I’d buy.

ISO 1600 - f/2.0 - 1/100 sec

ISO 800 - f/2.8 - 13 second exposure

The Fuji X100s Review: Brutally Simple & Highly Effective (Even If You Didn’t Want to Admit It)

I was onto the rush of mirrorless cameras pretty early – mostly from manufacturers sharing with me what was “coming soon”, but I admit that I didn’t really “get” it, until I started receiving early versions, prototypes and demos from the marketing folks at all your fav manufactures. Only then did I truly understand the punch that these little cameras pack – because they’re good. I loved the concept, but hated the tiny sensors and the poor performance. Well, those days are gone, and now these cameras are really good. I’ve highlighted mirrorless a bunch in the past, but those were just my initial impressions… In this post, I tapped my tech homie Sohail to sound off on a proper camera review for the Fuji X100s. He’s tackled the Nikon D7100 in a past review that received high marks from this community, so we’re gonna keep it rolling. The dominant view is that this camera is pretty hot. So hot in fact it’s a wonder Fuji kept the name X100 name because it’s so amped up from it’s predecessors. You’ll find a better autofocus, improved manual focus, and a number of other upgrades that suggest Fuji is intent on keeping the pace. But alas, I’ll let Sohail take it from here.

Thanks, Chase.

The Fuji X100s has been my main carry-around camera for almost a month now, during which time I’ve used it for a number of shoots, ranging from a test with studio lights to simply pointing it out of my car window and hitting the shutter release. Truth is, it’s brutally simple and highly effective.

During this time, I’ve had the opportunity to put this little thing through its paces, and I’ve come out quite impressed. Fuji has come a very, very long way from the days when it produced cheap point-and-shoot cameras from the consumer crowd. Chase’s pal, photographer and educator Zack Arias sees Fuji gunning for the Leica crown, although that may be a little far reaching. But certainly Fuji are giving them a run for their money at a fraction of the cost.

In the beginning

Fuji’s first attempt at a large-sensor compact was the X100, a camera that received glowing reviews that were punctuated by incessant complaints about the camera’s quirks. Slow autofocus, an almost unusable manual focus system, and other quirks made it a difficult camera to wield. Despite those quirks, it gained a die-hard following of photographers who loved the images coming out of it.

The X100, the camera that started it all for Fuji.

The X100, the camera that started it all for Fuji.

Fuji followed the X100 up with the X-Pro and X-E1, both of which shared some of the quirks of the X100, but have upgraded sensors that, to be perfectly honest, are flat-out amazing. Those sensors did away with the Optical Low-Pass Filter most digital cameras come with these days and they featured a new array of the pixels on the sensor that randomizes the location of the red, green, and blue pixels.

The result is that images are sharper since there’s no low-pass filter in front of the sensor, and moiré is minimized thanks to the random array. Fuji says this arrangement is inspired by the natural random arrangement of the fine grains of silver halide film which is a nice bit of marketing-speak. To their credit, whatever they’ve done to this sensor was definitely cool. When the X-Pro1 was released, it had the best low-light performance of any crop-sensor camera I’d ever seen. That camera had incredibly clean images at ISO 3200, and the noise present at that and at higher ISOs was gorgeous and film-like.

Fast-forward to today

When they came up with the X100s, Fuji basically took the sensor and graphics processor from the X-Pro1, vastly — by an order of magnitude, actually — improved the autofocus, added in a few key features to aid in manual focusing, changed a few other things and put out an update that is far, far more usable and powerful than its predecessor.

The Fuji X100s. Better, Faster, Stronger.

The Fuji X100s. Better, Faster, Stronger.

Where the X100 was a quirky camera that took a number of firmware updates to get to a point where it was reasonably reliable, the X100s was a well-oiled machine right out of the box. The difference between versions is surprisingly vast, and that’s to Fuji’s credit as well.

Appearance and Form Factor

Looked at from a distance, the X100s is almost indistinguishable from its predecessor. It has the same look and feel, right down to its dimpled faux leather wrapping.

Close up, there are a few things that set it apart, and one of those things is a long-requested feature: The “Q” button.

This button is a carryover from the X-Pro1, and pops up a quick menu screen where you can adjust a number of things, from ISO to Dynamic Range, to film emulation choice, and more. X100 users have been pretty envious of this feature, and speaking as one, I’m really glad to have it.

There are other small improvements, too. The button to activate the Auto Focus point selector mode has now been moved from the left of the LCD to the 4-way rocker/scroll wheel, making it easier to shoot one-handed with this camera. Also, the knob to set exposure compensation is a lot stiffer, and therefore harder to move accidentally.

X100 on the left, X100s on the right.

X100 on the left, X100s on the right.

Handling

The X100 takes a very manual/mechanical approach to shooting. Aperture, shutter speed, focus mode, viewfinder mode, and exposure compensation are all adjusted via hardware dials and switches. In this regard, the retro design draws heavily from film rangefinders of the past, and that’s a really, really good thing.

In my hands, the X100s (and this is true for the X100 as well) has the feel of a rangefinder. It’s solidly-built; no squeaks or creaks in the manufacturing are evident. The dials have been somewhat reinforced and are therefore (thankfully) stiffer than those on the X100, and the slightly changed layout of the buttons makes it easier to get to the some of the most important functions one-handed.

The X100s, like its predecessor, is also equipped with a threaded shutter release that takes an old plunger-style release cable. This is both good and bad — good, because those releases are ridiculously cheap, and bad because that precludes using the X100s for time-lapse photography (if anyone knows of electronic cable releases for the X100s, please sound off in the comments).

One slightly major quibble I have is about the location of the screw for tripod plates. Mounting a tripod plate on the X100s still partially blocks the battery and SD card slot door, which is a pain. I have to take the tripod plate off every time I need to dump the card, which is, to say the least, not ideal.

Performance

Autofocus

The one bit of performance information that everyone is looking for with this camera is this: How fast is the autofocus?

The thing that everyone who got the X100 complained about so darn much was the terrible autofocus performance of that camera. Sure, it took great pictures, but only if the autofocus worked. Which it didn’t more often than it did. And forget about achieving focus in dark areas; it would hunt and hunt for several seconds before it would just fail to lock on.

Worse was the fact that manual focus on the X100 was simply unusable. The flat, pancake nature of of the 23mm f/2 lens meant that the focusing right was pretty thin to begin with. Manually focusing that lens would involve spinning that ring through what seemed like an eternity of revolutions before you could get it in the ballpark of your subject.

Subsequent firmware updates improved focusing on the X100 a lot, to where it’s actually usable now. Manual focusing is still a pain, but at least the AF is far better than it was at launch.

So how good is the AF on the X100s? Much, much, much better than the X100’s AF. On par with most mirorless/Compact System Cameras out there, in fact. The only one that I’d confidently say is way better is the Olympus OM-D E-M5’s AF, which is just plain scary-fast.

The X100s' AF had no problems keeping up with dark situations. DNG processed with VSCO Film. © Sohail Mamdani

The X100s' AF had no problems keeping up with dark situations. DNG processed with VSCO Film. © Sohail Mamdani

Even better is the fact that the X100s will achieve focus in some pretty dark conditions. I haven’t yet found a reasonable situation where it wouldn’t lock on at all, though sometimes it does take a second try in some really dark and low-contrast areas.

Manual focusing is a pleasure as well. The X100s includes two focus-assist modes for manual focusing, a “peaking” mode, which outlines areas in focus with a white highlight, as well as a digital “split image” mode, which is reminiscent of the old split-image focusing screens used in film SLRs.

I didn’t spend a lot of time doing manual focus with the X100s, as the AF was dead-on for me almost all the time. In the few minutes I spent in manual focus, I noticed two things: the focus ring has a much shorter throw (i.e., you don’t have to spin it as much) and the focus peaking highlights could be a bit stronger. Sometimes, they’re a hair too subtle.

Image Quality

The X-Trans sensor from the X-Pro1 is an awesome bit of technology, and in combination with the X100s’ gorgeous 23mm f/2 lens, produces some impressive shots with deep detail.

Flesh tones and colors are rendered beautifully, with no nasty color casts or any other such problems. The camera does have a tendency to over-expose images, so I normally shoot with the exposure compensation dialed in at about −1/3 to −2/3rd’s of a stop. This tends to still keep shadow detail while preventing highlights from blowing out.

The camera just kills it when it comes to high-ISO performance. Like the X-Pro1, this thing will give you more-than-usable shots at ISO 6400 (see below). Noise reduction for in-camera JPEGs can be a bit overdone, but the RAW files hold a surprising amount of detail at ISO 6400. I’m confident enough of the X100s’ capability in that regard that my camera is set to Auto ISO with an upper limit of 6400 all the time.

Transamerica Pyramid Building. JPG shot in B&W straight out of camera at ISO 6400. © Sohail Mamdani

Transamerica Pyramid Building. JPG shot in B&W straight out of camera at ISO 6400. © Sohail Mamdani

Dynamic range is also better than I expected. I was, in a crunch, able to push my exposure by as much as 3 stops to retrieve detail in shadows. There was some loss of detail as well as some luminance noise when I did that, but it was more than I had thought I’d get out of a compact camera.

Highlights retained detail and color pretty well too; I think there’s a latitude of about 3–4 stops in the highlights. In the image below, the sky totally blown out (as shown by the red clipping warning) till I did a global adjustment of about −2 stops to pull some blue out of it; at −4, the blue is a nice, deep color that I can bring back selectively with a brush later on.

The X100s holds details in the highlights pretty well. Image on the right has a global exposure adjustment of -4 in Lightroom.

The X100s holds details in the highlights pretty well. Image on the right has a global exposure adjustment of -4 in Lightroom.

All said and done, there’s really nothing to complain about with this camera’s image quality. I don’t even feel like quibbling over its tendency towards overexposure, as most of that highlight detail is retrievable in post.

Conclusion

I’m off to Hawaii in June for a vacation, and the X100s is the only camera I’m taking with me. With all the gear at my disposal, this is the only thing I feel like I need. I will, no doubt, occasionally wish for a telephoto lens, or a super-wide, or some other bit of kit, but despite that, this is the camera I’m taking.

What the X100s excels at doing is helping me distill the process and experience of photography down to its barest essentials. For someone used to lugging three bags worth of gear to every other shoot, moving and shooting with the Fuji is like shedding several pounds of dead weight; it’s just you, the camera, and your subject. I won’t be shucking my DSLR and assortment of lenses, mind you, but I also won’t be carrying them around with me all the time.

The X100s is all the camera I need for everyday shooting.

PS from Chase: There’s a gallery of cityscape shots Sohail has taken with his X100s on his 500px page. Some are straight out-of-camera B&W others were treated with VSCO Film.

Gear provided by BorrowLenses.com - where still photographers and videographers can rent virtually everything.

5 Great Film Cameras on a Tiny Budget

You know I love film. Just shot my Polaroid 600E yesterday and loved it. Shot the Hassie the week before, and just loaded a roll into my Lomo ‘Sardine’. That said, seeing that damn near everything has (obviously and justly) gone digital, film cameras are dirt cheap. And whether you’re a seasoned pro or an iphone snapper, a good dose of shooting actual film would be good for you. Trust me on this. So that’s why I’ve taken the time to wrangle five great cameras for under $300 that you can use to re-invigorate your film shooting, even if it’s just for a little flirt with nostalgia. … (and I know that there are a lot of sweet cameras OVER $300…i’ve listed a few of my fav’s in the comments. Please share yours there too….)

Canonet QL17 GIII. Image courtesy Wikipedia

Canonet QL17 GIII. Image courtesy Wikipedia

This camera, in its heyday, was known as the “poor man’s Leica,” and with darned good reason. The fixed 40mm f/1.7 lens is sharp as all heck, producing images that, with the right film, will produce incredibly crisp negatives. My go-to setup has a 58mm step-down ring on the lens to accomodate a modern Canon lens cap (which is important as these old cameras don’t usually include a lens cap).

The nice thing here? The metering system still works on most copies you can buy today; all you need is a 1.35v battery (Wein Cell makes a nice replacement for the old mercury batts) and you’re good to go. You can shoot in shutter-priority only, and since the metering sensor sits directly above the lens and inside the filter ring, it compensates for ND filters if you use one.

Shot with a Canonet QL17 on Kodak Tri-X. Image © Sohail Mamdani

Shot with a Canonet QL17 on Kodak Tri-X. Image © Sohail Mamdani

The best part, though, is the price. Depending on condition, the QL17 GIII can be had for between $75 and $150. Mine cost $110, and is in excellent condition. Make sure you check the seals on the unit you’re buying, however, as these wear out easily and can cause light leaks (but are also easily replaced).

Info:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canonet_G-III_QL17
Price: $75-$150 depending on condition.
Where to Buy: eBay is your best bet on this.

Nikon F3

Nikon F3 with HP viewfinder. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

Nikon F3 with HP viewfinder. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

Though Canon, Nikon, Pentax, and other manufacturers made excellent SLRs, I like the Nikon F#-series of cameras as, in most cases, they have the most flexible lens mounts. This camera will take just about any Nikon lens made in the last several decades (with the notable exception of “G” lenses, which have no manual aperture ring). Plus it doubles as a hammer or a weapon if you’re in need. These things are tougher than dirt.

The F3 is a manual-focus camera, but has a metering system and allows for aperture-priority metering. It uses 2 SR44 button cells for power, which are easily available. Stick a 50mm f/1.8 lens on this puppy and you’ll be good to go.

Info:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikon_F3
Price: About $200 depending on condition.
Where to Buy: KEH.com has some great deals on them. You can get an Excellent-condition body for about $189 and a 50mm f/1.8 lens will set you back about $80.

Medium-Format

Cameras in this category used to cost thousands of dollars — and still do, in some cases. But don’t let that dissuade you from experiencing the joy of holding a 4.5×6 — or larger — negative. Here are two cameras that will let you shoot those big, fat, negatives for an affordable price.

Mamiya C33 TLR

Mamiya C33 Professional. Image courtesy Rémi Kaupp/Wikipedia.

Mamiya C33 Professional. Image courtesy Rémi Kaupp/Wikipedia.

Though its younger sibling, the C330, gets all the attention among Twin Lens Reflex camera afficionados, the C33 is actually a very, very respectable body. Mine has travelled thousands of miles with me as I trek all over the state of California, and has helped me make some of my favorite images.

Bixby Bridge. Delta 100/Mamiya C33. Image © Sohail Mamdani.

Bixby Bridge. Delta 100/Mamiya C33. Image © Sohail Mamdani.

It’s also generally cheaper than the C330 (or the more famous Rolleiflex TLR), and has something pretty cool for TLR cameras – the ability to swap lenses. From the wonderfully sharp 80mm f/2.8 that sits on my camera, to a somewhat comically long 250mm f/6.3, these lenses are usually available for around $200.

Info:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mamiya_C
Price: About $200–300 depending on condition.
Where to Buy: KEH.com had one until just recently for just under $300. Between the lens and camera, expect to spend around that. Mine was an eBay purchase for $187.

Mamiya 645 1000s

Mamiya 645. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

Mamiya 645. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

I know – two Mamiya’s in one article – it’s a bit lopsided. Gotta love Hassies, but Mamiya tends to deliver some pretty outstanding quality for the price, and the 645 1000s is no exception. It was built to be used with the ease of a 35mm SLR, and renders a negative 6cm X 4.5cm (hence the 645 moniker). You’ll need to buy three separate pieces for it – the main body, a viewfinder, and a lens. All in all, you can come in with all three for about $250.

The Mamiya 645 is set to take 120-size medium format film, which is the most common form sold today. Top it off with an AE prism (the viewfinder) with a built-in meter and you get aperture-priority operation, with a center-weighted pattern. Using one of these outfits, my friend Andrew Kim has done some outstanding street photography.

Street artist in NYC. Taken with a Mamiya 645. Image courtesy/© Andrew Kim.

Street artist in NYC. Taken with a Mamiya 645. Image courtesy/© Andrew Kim.

Info:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Mamiya_products#Mamiya_645_manual_focus_series
Price: About $250 depending on condition.
Where to Buy: KEH.com is the place to go for these. They have a lot of them, in varying condition.

Bronica ETR-S

Bronica’s ETRS will look somewhat familiar to Hasselblad owners, in that it’s a simple, modular box. I call this the Hassie Hack. Throw on a viewfinder, lens, and back, and you have a complete system for under $300, depending on condition.

Bronica ETR-Si system. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

Bronica ETR-Si system. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

Introduced in 1979, the ETR-S will shoot 6×4.5cm film with a standard back, but you can also swap that back out to shoot standard 35 and panoramic 135-format film as well. There’s a wide variety of lenses available for it, both fixed-focal length and a few zooms as well – a rarity at this price range.

Info:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bronica
Price: About $250 depending on condition.
Where to Buy: KEH.com and eBay.

These are just five of the many options you have when considering a return (or a first-time visit) to the world of film cameras. What are your favorites? Sound off in the comments – you’ll see some more of my favorites there…


[thx for the research help Sohail!]

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