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Doing analog-film photography with the Olympus OM-2n / En argentique avec l'Olympus OM-2n


danielm

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(A personal tribute for more than 100 years of Olympus photography) 

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 Once upon a time there is a fondamental uncertainty of doing photography because you never have been guaranty to get good picture results at the end. It was part of a technology that was involving in fact many different sciences such as optical physic and specific chemistry. Over that you can add the influences of external factor like temperature, humidity and time of conservation. So doing film photography was a kind of gambling even if you know most of the rules involved. Repetitive results were hard to reach and require deep experience of the medium and strong discipline of application.

But it was fun, creative and rewarding for the most persistent and talented photographers. Moreover the still film cameras used at that time were very distinctive between the manufacturers and their different models. Each combination of photograph-equipment-technique observed during that era was offering its original signature. Today the limitless of the digital age have erased most of the bias of the film era.

I don't like to go back on something most of the time since I have discoverer in many cases it conduct you to reproduce flatly the past without no new true personal advancement. So bring back the film era to my agenda was asking me a different reflexion. Instead of redo the past simply I have decided to address this challenge like a complete new venture like a new photographic technique. For sure I cannot simply ignore all my past amateur and professionnel experiences working with traditional film. But I concentrate myself to the picture taking aspect of doing film photography. All negative once developed were  scanned and then digitally post-treated. In fact I didn't want to reintroduce myself to darkroom work since I can easily reproduce many of the traditional manipulations through an actual image post-treatment software with a much lower cost, less time involved and a far more ecologic way of doing.

 
 
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Choosing a still camera was another challenge. I didn't want to spend a lot of money with some classical cameras of my past like the Leica M4P or M6 or the Nikon F3 HP. So I have selected an Olympus OM-2N equipped with a standard Zuiko 50mm F1.8 lens which represent a very compact 35mm model for that time doted with a good internal exposure meter. The OM-2N give you the choice to work fully manual à la OM-1 or in a semi-automatic aperture priority mode. Focus should be done manually in every circonstances so prefocus or using hyperfocal aperture setting can be a good help.

Using a film camera will ask you a strong sense of anticipation in many ways. Selecting and positioning the subject, analyzing the light, adjusting the exposure parameters like shutter speed and aperture and knowing their respective effect like the deep of field or the panning of the action without not forgetting the choice of the film (Type, ISO, Processing) and further choices have to be done in film photography. With time some decision reflexes can help you to mastermind these technical tasks with more ease.
 
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Slow down the pace
This is may be the best advice that you can follow in traditional film photography. Since most of the operations are done manually, it is easy to get foul by a missing or wrong technical choice without knowing ituntil the the film processing (when it is too late!). With film you are becoming a technical decision maker on photographic aspects that are automatically treated with digital cameras. That safety doesn't exist anymore. A bit like a painter who select its canevas, its brushes, its colors, etc.

Analyse your subject
Its position (posture), its relative distance from you and its perspective, its color or its gray tonal distribution and contrast, its deep (using the deep of field phenomena), its context and attitude if necessary. The subject is the purpose of your creative expression through photography. So it needs to be properly explored and experimented. And be persistent to redo your subject as long it is possible to refine your photographic research.
 
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Evaluate your results
You have to progress since film photography is asking you a stronger learning curve to be mastermind. The only sure way to do this is by evaluating your picture results and be critical. Is the final image correspond to your expectation? That can be hard sometime to comprehend and move ahead again with a proper attitude. Technical errors will be on your own responds. So you have to understand and manage them.

Do some prints
The final act of film photography is producing a print of your final image. That is the classical essence of the medium since its very fondation. Doing prints and especially larger one can be the most rewarding fact about doing film photography. Don't prevent yourself to print in anyway your pictures ... and showing it. At the end and on a much longer run photographic prints may be the last living témoignage of the subject because most of the digital forms of archives tend be obsolete in a fast rate. Over the past two centuries photographic print proof to be more reliable than any other image representation.

Film photography will never be a substitute of the modern digital photography that supplement it in a world of instant and multilateral communication. But film photography stay a art creative technique that deserve to be preserved and cultivated.

All film pictures presented here were taken on Ilford XP2 Super 400 film (C41 Process) with an Olympus OM-2n camera & a Zuiko 50mm F1.8 lens. The Olympus OM-2n is a fairly primitive camera by today photographic standards and has been technicaly surpassed in every senses by even basic ILC models. Its approximated exposure metering system reveals some basic propension to falsely interpret a more critical lightning situation. Manual focusing is accurate although it requires a good eye appreciation through the excellent optical reflex viewfinder but with a limited eye relief. Film advance is classical performed with a smooth wind lever and motorization is only offer as an option. Front shutter speed ring is a particularity of the Olympus OM system and can be at first a bit misleading. The grip (without optional winder) is simply non existant compare to the modern design. If you are familiar with digital photography you may need to train yourself to work with this type of camera before really get use to have satisfactory results.
 
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Here are some advantages to use the Olympus OM-2n film camera. First the OM-2n is doted of a very good and luminous optical viewfinder that it is a real pleasure to do focusing with and to appreciate your deep of field. Secondly it is very easy possibility to select your exposure fully manually or to choose the automatic option. That way you don't omit to check your selected parameters (aperture and shutter speed). The film advance is very smooth to operate and the lever can be positioned beside your thumb for fast operating. Indications inside the viewfinder are minimalist giving you a plus/minus signs for exposure control in manual mode and s shutter speed scale with a pointing needle in the aperture priority mode. A flash confirmation light is also part of the info available.
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Shutter speed and aperture (on lens) control rings are located surrounding the taking lens. You have to get the habit to check these parameters visually prior to look into the viewfinder. After a certain time you may memorize the value associated to the position of those control rings. In a whole the Olympus OM-2n is a very simple camera to operate once you have assimilated the fondamental of its use.


Working for several years with electronic products I am amaze to find a photo device like the Olympus OM-2n that is still able to fulfill the bill and delivers very decent results surely at the level of many more modern digital products. Sure the technical limitations are obvious in particular in regard with the exposure latitude and the very narrow capacity of color adaptation if any (Sorry but no automatic white balance). But using a black and white film such as the Ilford XP2 will help to exploit many interesting possibilities.

 

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En argentique avec l'Olympus OM-2n

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Parler du film traditionnel (et argentique) relève maintenant d'un faux débat qui tente d'établir une comparaison dépassée des vertus réciproques du support argentique versus le numérique. Car ce débat est inexistant puisque dans la vie de tous les jours le numérique a supplanté largement l'argentique par ses avantages inhérents au monde actuel de la communication multilatérale et instantanée. La photographie numérique est maintenant une norme universelle médiatique qui rappelle l'évolution rapide de notre technologie d'expression et de diffusion.

Alors qu'en est-il de cette vague à caractère nostalgique qui prône un retour à la photo argentique? Deux éléments surtout: un souvenir tenace évoquant une époque révolue qui a culminé il y a maintenant plus de trois ou quatre décennies déjà mais aussi une curiosité légitime de découverte de ce médium d'expression si à contresens de la photographie numérique actuelle. Par une sorte de déni de l'automatisation et de l'intelligence artificielle d'interprétation technique, la maitrise de l'argentique est une forme de ré-appropriation de la sélectivité créatrice de l'image fixée.

Cependant il ne s'agit pas d'un exercice facile particulièrement sur le plan technique. Son apprentissage peut être difficile surtout si l'on recherche une latitude similaire  celle de la technique numérique. Car l'argentique impose de limites frustrantes en particulier pour ses nouveaux adeptes. Elles peuvent s'apparenter à celles imposées par d'autres média artistique comme la peinture ou la sculpture. Enfin il y a une certaine forme de credo concernant la maitrise de l'argentique qui renvoie à des recettes de certains anciens photographes reconnus et qui regroupent des cercles d'adeptes qui peuvent restreindre la pratique plus créatrice de l'argentique.
 
 
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Notre point de départ reste le support argentique d'enregistrement de l'image initiale. Ce support assimilé fréquemment au film (acétate) possède des caractéristiques uniques et non modifiables de sensibilité et de palette de couleur ou de tons (noir et blanc). Il est donc invariable ou quasi-inflexible. Sa manipulation implique des préventions d'exposition accidentelle à la lumière ou à d'autres types de rayonnements, aux températures et aux niveaux d'humidité extrêmes. Enfin si l'on exclut le cas du film inversible pour diapositive, le résultat final du traitement du film propose un négatif de l'image fixée. Il y a donc un processus d'inversion nécessaire à la permutation de ce négatif en version positive similaire à celle de notre vision habituelle.

Tout ceci indique bien les caractéristiques inhérentes du support argentique et son relative manque de latitude surtout en comparaison avec les capteurs numériques modernes. Mais toutes ces contraintes contribuent fortement à créer une signature typique du photographe qui l'emploie. Car aux choix initiaux du sujet, de sa position, de sa profondeur, de son expression s'ajoutent la sélection du point de focalisation, du temps de pose et de l'ouverture du diaphragme de l'objectif qui sont autant d'éléments discriminants de l'image finale fixée sur pellicule. L'improvisation et le hasard occupent une part moins grande dans leur contribution du résultat enregistré.

Aujourd'hui la photographie argentique prend toute sa place à titre de technique particulière de création et d'expression artistique. Ce n'est donc pas un retour vers un passé révolu mais la continuité d'un art visuel bicentenaire.
 
 
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(Source: Ilford Photo)
Toutes les photos argentiques présentées dans ce texte ont été réalisées sur film Ilford XP2 Super 400 (Développement C41) avec un appareil Olympus OM-2n et l'objectif Zuiko 50mm F1.8. Étant un utilisateur régulier d'appareils photo numériques à objectifs interchangeables de la marque Olympus comme les OM-D de différentes versions il est facile de réaliser tout le chemin parcourue entre la série OM argentique d'il y a trois ou quatre décennies et la production numérique actuelle. Les différences sont énormes et déterminantes pour l'efficacité et le facteur réussite entre ces deux types d'appareils. L'Olympus OM-2n reste un appareil photo assez primitif dans son mode d'opération malgré la présence de certaines innovations pour l'époque comme la lecture de l'exposition OTF en mode priorité ouverture et la lecture TTL en mode flash électronique. Sa visée optique réflexe est très lumineuse mais le manque de relief oculaire est un peu handicapant pour l'appréciation complète de l'image captée.

 
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Au début des années 1970 l'apparition de l'Olympus OM-1, d'abord appelé M-1, a causé une commotion en proposant un véritable appareil photo 35mm à visée réflexe et objectif interchangeable plus compact et plus léger doté d'un viseur plus lumineux. À peine deux ans plus tard l'OM-2 fait son entrée en proposant un mode automatique (priorité ouverture) et un système flash TTL dans un même volume réduit. Les concurrents ne pourront réagir qu'avec un certain retard à cette nouvelle tendance à la diminution des boitiers. À l'époque le tarif nord-américain d'un modèle Olympus OM-2n dépassait les $500CAN qu'on peut traduire en dollars de 2018 à $2375. Il s'agissait donc d'un équipement de très haut de gamme. Aujourd'hui on peut se procurer le même appareil en bonne condition pour environ $150CAN y incluant l'objectif F.Zuiko 50mm F1.8

Une check list bien commode: 
Ton film est-il bien amorcé dans la bobine de réception de l'appareil? (Y a-t-il un film dans l'appareil incidemment?!) 
Ton indice ISO (ASA/DIN) est-il bien réglé? 
Quelle est ta vitesse d'obturation?... et ton ouverture sur l'objectif? ... et surtout ta mesure d'exposition confirme-t-elle la pertinence de ces choix? 
Ta mise au point est-elle bien choisie pour ton sujet? ... et ta profondeur de champs, est-elle suffisante ou trop grande? 
Ton appareil est-il tenu de façon stable à la main ou sur trépied? Ou bien ton mouvement de suivi du sujet est-il suffisamment fluide? 
Ton déclenchement s'effectue-t-il en douceur? 
Enfin n'oublies pas d'avancer ton film à la pose suivante après ta prise de vue!!! 


En guise de conclusion
Certains lecteurs pourront se demander si l'Olympus OM-2n aurait pu être mon choix professionnel sachant que j'utilisais les appareils Nikon F2/3/4 ou les Leica M4P/6 à cette époque du film argentique. Rétrospectivement peut-être car même aujourd'hui je reste impressionné par la qualité du design et de construction des boitiers et des objectifs Olympus OM, l'étendu du système OM et la finesse des résultats obtenues. Malheureusement la norme professionnelle de cette époque pour la gamme Nikon prévenait une plus grande disponibilité du système Olympus.
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A trace of light that survive a little further than the actual moment of flash.

photodanielm.blogspot.com

Daniel M on Flickr

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Daniel - Wow, what a story. (In French, too!)

 

Yes... the old days of really paying attention to what you're doing, your technique, the uncertainty until you get it developed, are forever gone. Unless you go back to film, which according to a camera store employee here in San Diego is happening quite a bit - he said that film sells like hot cakes. But with development at about $15 a roll, not counting the cost of the film itself, err... it's hard to make the case.  I still shoot my Mamiya 645 on occasion, 120mm film, but only about 1 or 2 rolls a year, and mostly for night shots (it has a mechanical B setting).

 

I did lose a few rolls back along the way, once when the exposed film got too warm and fogged, and another time when I somehow didn't place the exposed roll inside it's black plastic case before placing into a small cooler with melting ice: the film got soaked and had a underwater, wavy look to it, effectively ruined. I've also misloaded film and it never advanced - that was before I learned to rotate the left side knob to know/ensure that it 'caught.' I've also turned in a few rolls and slides to stores for development or printing, then got the dreaded "We don't have any record of that" from the clerks a week later, the film never to be seen again... :(

 

And then there's the development and printing labs. That was its own separate universe, full of surprises and challenges.

 

Anyway - thanks for posting here. I also shot a lot of B&W film, mostly while in Europe.  I still have the prints.

 

Gb

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6 hours ago, GB111 said:

Daniel - Wow, what a story. (In French, too!)

 

Yes... the old days of really paying attention to what you're doing, your technique, the uncertainty until you get it developed, are forever gone. Unless you go back to film, which according to a camera store employee here in San Diego is happening quite a bit - he said that film sells like hot cakes. But with development at about $15 a roll, not counting the cost of the film itself, err... it's hard to make the case.  I still shoot my Mamiya 645 on occasion, 120mm film, but only about 1 or 2 rolls a year, and mostly for night shots (it has a mechanical B setting).

 

I did lose a few rolls back along the way, once when the exposed film got too warm and fogged, and another time when I somehow didn't place the exposed roll inside it's black plastic case before placing into a small cooler with melting ice: the film got soaked and had a underwater, wavy look to it, effectively ruined. I've also misloaded film and it never advanced - that was before I learned to rotate the left side knob to know/ensure that it 'caught.' I've also turned in a few rolls and slides to stores for development or printing, then got the dreaded "We don't have any record of that" from the clerks a week later, the film never to be seen again... :(

 

And then there's the development and printing labs. That was its own separate universe, full of surprises and challenges.

 

Anyway - thanks for posting here. I also shot a lot of B&W film, mostly while in Europe.  I still have the prints.

 

Gb

Thank you for your kind appreciation!
Your description of the old film-analog days reminds me a lot of good and not so good memories. I must add to that the smelling of working in dark and mostly red lit (if so) areas to process the films and do the prints. Not a very ethical ecologic activity but, at the time, we never really asked ourselves...
There is always a nostalgic attachment for the past experiences we have that we often are forgetting the worst aspects of them just to remind us their particular taste of the moment. Why not? On the other side, I fully agree to not "getting back" for the retro actual trend.
My only regret of this golden analog days is the print almost obligation that, in my sense, stayed the best way to preserve and share our photographic memories. But this is another debate...
I hope you still enjoy working with your I am sure beloved Mamiya 645 in monochrome and with those 2 1/4 inches size negative, just doing a contact sheet is very rewarding.
Mes meilleures salutations et bonne journée!

A trace of light that survive a little further than the actual moment of flash.

photodanielm.blogspot.com

Daniel M on Flickr

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Back when I still had my two Leica M bodies (circa 2006/7) I thought I would buy some Kodak Tri-X and shoot it on those bodies. The film got shot and has been living in my refrigerator ever since. I always wanted to learn how to process it myself, but never got around to it. There is a lab who still does it locally, or so I'm told, but it is quite costly and I don't know if I want to pay a large amount only to find the film is beyond development, or that my patch focusing was off. :)  

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 During my days working as an in-house photographer a the Montreal Olympic stadium, we use to manually process daily 5 to 10 of 35mm film cartridges or of 120 rolls of black and white films (mainly Ilford Pan-F, FP-$ and HP 5 Plus) using a variety of different Paterson tank sizes. It was a routine that allow us to listen music or let our mind to think freely. In six years stay (1988-1994).

I did so many film processings that I have decide with the introduction of the digital photography to never came back to the traditional darkroom premised. For print, we were better equipped with the latest Ilford llfospeed processor, a marvel that was able to do a lot of different print sizes in a complete and safe processing (except for the environnemental issue with the dumping of the expired chemicals!).
Now Dallas, we can appreciated fully your own "laboratory" in an open space with a nice outdoor view. What a beautiful evolution of photography, isn't so?🌳

 

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A trace of light that survive a little further than the actual moment of flash.

photodanielm.blogspot.com

Daniel M on Flickr

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I do enjoy the digital process, but it was film that got me interested in photography. I still need to experience a full darkroom process, especially the printing aspect. That has always fascinated me. But yes, for the commercial work I do, I can only imagine the pain involved in using film to achieve the same results. 

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Posts like this together with Alan's keep making me think about shooting film again.  Perhaps over the coming holidays, but that might mean buying some F mount lenses again.

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7 hours ago, Dallas said:

I do enjoy the digital process, but it was film that got me interested in photography. I still need to experience a full darkroom process, especially the printing aspect. That has always fascinated me. But yes, for the commercial work I do, I can only imagine the pain involved in using film to achieve the same results. 

In search to improve my technique during those analog-film days, I have followed additional photographic school courses of "fine printing" that helped me a lot to understand not only the process and the material involved in but also the artistic approach to print a picture like in painting. 
Three books that definitively influenced me are from the master Ansel Adams: The Camera, The Negative and the Print. Time Life's Library of Photography have had also an important influence over me. As a daily reference I have used also this small guide 35 mm Photographer's Handbook from Julian Calder & John Garrett. Even today all those books are pertinent.
Doing film-analog photography is still pertinent as a technique that have its special signature and its different creative approach, no doubt about it! 

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A trace of light that survive a little further than the actual moment of flash.

photodanielm.blogspot.com

Daniel M on Flickr

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4 hours ago, crowecg said:

Posts like this together with Alan's keep making me think about shooting film again.  Perhaps over the coming holidays, but that might mean buying some F mount lenses again.

Ah the magic of photography! I can remember vividly the first time I have printed a picture in black and white at school. That "traumatic revelation" have changed all my life and have determined all my priority interest on many subjects by privileging the visual approach and its material recording. 
In all we love photography and some might say and proclaim they love "real" photography (analog-film)! 😉

A trace of light that survive a little further than the actual moment of flash.

photodanielm.blogspot.com

Daniel M on Flickr

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