Author Archives: sean

Exacta in Chicago: Retro Lens + Canon Rebel T2i

Last winter I found a beautiful Isco-Göttingen Westar 100mm f/4.5 Exacta mount lens at my local thrift store for only seven dollars! I did some research and found out that it’s a fairly high quality vintage lens, and a lucky find for such a low price! I took it to Chicago for a photo walk, mounted on my trusty old Canon Rebel T2i, and here are some of my favorite photos I captured.

Here are some other photos I’ve captured with this lens, mounted on various cameras.

The Lawn Chair

Summer Stories: Penguinarium

Here’s episode 2 of my new miniseries Summer Stories. In this episode I wanted to capture the essence of 1940’s and 50’s horror with silent film storytelling. I shot the entire episode on my new Sony A7S II with a vintage Canon FD 20mm lens for a slightly surreal, off kilter look, and I chose a penguin to be the antagonist because they are inherently funny. Actually, this is an example of a prop inspiring a script. I found a retro plastic penguin statue at my local antique store this spring and the script just kind of fell into my head.

Prepping for Episode 8: My Star Wars Saga Viewing Plan

Star Wars Episode 8 is only a month away! To prep for it, why not follow my elaborate and exhaustive Star Wars saga viewing plan?

1. Star Wars: Episode I – the Phantom Menace

Come for the podrace, stay for the final lightsaber fight. This was one of my favorite films growing up, and though the acting and screenplay are pretty rough, it’s probably the most beautifully detailed Star Wars film to date and the most Flash Gordon-esque of the series.

2. Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones

Um…some of the action scenes are kind of fun? You can just skip the creepy romance scenes though–they still give me the creeps. I remember going home after seeing this film and crying because I was so disappointed.

3. Clone Wars Miniseries I

Genndy Tartakovsky’s little 2D animated series that no one talks about is some of the most fun and well-paced storytelling in the Star Wars saga. If you can find it, watch it!

4. Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Movie)

The film that kicked off the 3D animated TV series. It’s not particularly good–the plot involves rescuing a baby slug nicknamed Stinky–but the series would go on to become a much more nuanced take on the characters of Anakin and Obi-Wan than we ever got in the prequel films. I would recommend watching the entire series, especially the later seasons, but that would be a little too hardcore for this list.

5. Clone Wars Miniseries II

Genndy Tartakovsky’s second 2D animated series. It came out before the 3D film and TV show, but it’s set hours before the opening scene of Star Wars Episode III, which is why I place it here. It’s just as good as the first miniseries, but with longer episodes so the story can breathe a little. The General Grievous scenes are some of the coolest animation I’ve ever seen!

6. Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith

A lot of people like this one but I sure don’t. It feels wooden and and forced and spends a lot of time planet hopping to random battle scenes for no discernible reason. Ian McDiarmid’s hammy performance is fun to watch though.

7. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

The first of Disney’s Star Wars stand alone films. It’s a fun ride but the magic wears off soon after, kind of like eating cotton candy. That being said, the art design is beautiful and I like how the film takes a different tone from the rest of the series. It doesn’t blend into A New Hope as much as the filmmakers wanted it too, but the ending is still well done

8. Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope

What can I say about this film that hasn’t already been said? It’s the most fun you’ll have watching a Star Wars film and it contains the best moments of the saga. It’s also a perfect movie in the way it stands on it’s own. The world of A New Hope doesn’t need to be explained by exposition or a cinematic universe of other films–it plays on such elemental human storytelling beats and emotions that you just get it.

9.The Star Wars Holiday Special

I said this list was going to be exhaustive! After the cinematic gem that is A New Hope it’s hard to watch our heroes trudge through this badly written TV variety show made up mostly of wookiee grunts, but it’s also hilarious. I try to make my family watch this abomination around Christmas every year, but they all leave the room after a couple of minutes. Hidden in all the bantha poodoo though is a fun little 2D animated short featuring a trippy alien planet made of red jello and Boba Fett riding a dinosaur! If you can’t get through the whole mess, at least seek this bit out.

10. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back

My favorite Star Wars film! It’s dark and cold and muddy and scary and thrilling, a great counterpoint to the shiny optimism of A New Hope. Also it has robot dinosaurs fighting WWI trench soldiers in the snow–an image that impressed me greatly as young child! It’s actually how my Dad convinced me to watch it with him.

11. Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi

Cover your eyes during the bikini scenes kids! I’ve never understood why this is such a polarizing film for some people. Yes, another Death Star was a bad idea, but the music, editing, visual effects, small moments between the characters and the final fight between Luke and Vader are so well done! Partying on a human-eating teddy bear planet is kind of a strange way to end the trilogy, but I like the originality of it.

12. Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure

I really liked this film growing up, but I guess I was starving for anything Star Wars related. It’s really bad, but it does have that nostalgic Jim Henson workshop charm to it.

13. Ewoks: The Battle for Endor

Ditto for this one, but at least it added a Sith-like witch and stop motion lizard monsters to the mix. For a kid who watched the original trilogy on VHS hundreds of times, this film scratched a Star Wars itch.

14. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens

I still have to pinch myself sometimes to make sure I’m not dreaming and that there’s actually a new Star Wars trilogy in the process of being made! This film is light on plot and pretty derivative of A New Hope, but it has some beautifuly crafted sequences and introduces engaging new characters to the saga. You don’t watch The Force Awakens for the story–you watch it for Rey and Finn and Kylo and the way they work off each other. Also Harrison Ford makes a grumpy appearance.

Well, there you go. I really doubt any of you are going to have the time or energy to watch all of these films before Episode 8 comes out, but if you do give it a try, let me know what you think. May the Force of others be with you etc. etc.

Summer Stories: Make Films Until They Don’t Suck

Prolific indie filmmaker Jay Duplass once said “Keep making shitty short films until one of them doesn’t suck one day.” So I took his advice and earlier this year my friend Jeremy and I began shooting a series of shorts film scripts I had written. Originally I intended these shorts to be self contained, but as I looked over them I realized they all had some basic elements in common: they were all set in the Midwestern suburbs in the summer, and they all involved slightly paranormal occurrences. Now I’m releasing them about bimonthly on YouTube as Summer Stories, my first ever miniseries! Summer Stories is a loosely connected series of short films about the strange and mysterious things that can be found just around the corner in the summer suburbs. It’s also been a great learning experience for me, and I plan to continue writing and shooting the series into the winter, although I suppose I’ll have to change the name to Winter Stories at some point.

Here’s the first episode in the series, which I released last week, just in time for Halloween.

And here’s the trailer for the series, containing clips from some upcoming episodes.

Making a Magnifying Glass Lens

I’ve always wondered what using a magnifying glass as a lens would look like, and this summer I decided to give it a try. I’ve seen people online hold a magnifying glass up to an exposed camera sensor or lens for trippy freelensing experiments, but I really wanted to see how close I could get to building an actual lens. The build was super simple: all I did was tape a magnifying glass to a macro tube and attach it to my camera. Here’s a tutorial video I made for my company, showing my process.

I took my new homemade lens on a trip to Greenville, South Carolina last month and captured some video with it, which I then graded with a black and white film LUT. I’m pleased with how easy it was to get the footage to look like an ancient and weathered roll of motion picture film, mostly due to the crazy soft, single element of the magnifying glass optic.

I’ve shot photos with this lens too. Here are some of my favorites.

Backyard

Shooting with this lens has been a fun challenge. The super lo-fi look it creates makes everything feel weightless and dreamy and forces me to think about composition, light and the emotional meaning of objects and poses. I don’t see myself shooting with it every day, but its a unique tool to have in my camera bag.

Grayslake Pinhole: Shooting Pinhole Video with a Homemade Body Cap Lens

Pinhole imagery has always fascinated me. I own a Zero Image medium format film pinhole camera that I shoot with occasionally, but other than my weird pumpkin camera obscura, I’ve never tried shooting pinhole photography with a digital camera. I find the precision made digital pinhole lenses that you can buy online just a little too expensive for the results you get, so the other day I finally did the homework and made my own pinhole lens from scratch. Here’s a video I made for Fotodiox showcasing my build process.

And here’s the footage I shot on a Sony A7S, which is the perfect camera for shooting pinhole video because of it’s amazingly sensitive sensor. Pinhole lenses are notoriously hard to use for video in anything but bright daylight, but with the A7S I was able to shoot footage with my pinhole lens even at dusk!

I learned some valuable things working on this project, namely that you need a very tiny pinhole to get sharp images and that your pinhole need to be extremely close to your camera’s sensor to get that wide angle look that most people associate with the style. My next body cap pinhole lens build is going to incorporate both of theses changes, so stay tuned!

iPhone Fisheye In The Garden

Japanese Bridge

One of the most peaceful places I know is the Chicago Botanic Garden. I spent an entire day there last summer, walking slowly through the palatial grounds trying to take in all the wonderful designs, colors and smells around me. I had a Sony A7R II and some nice vintage glass with me, but I found myself having way more fun shooting with my iPhone 6s and a little snap-on fisheye lens my friend had recently given me.

Rose Garden Framed

The Japanese section of the Garden has some lovely little pathways in it, and the fisheye lens I was shooting with created some very weird lens flare. Together they made for a pretty cool image.

Japanese Garden Path

The Garden also has some beautiful indoor exhibits, including rain forest and desert plants that require careful climate control.

I call this one “ATTACK OF THE GIANT TOPIARY KIWI!”

Attack of the Giant Topiary Kiwi!

I found that the fisheye lens attachment gives iPhone panorama shots a very unique look.

More and more I’m realizing how unimportant the quality of a lens is to me when compared to it’s character. In my book, a lens with a quirky or strange character will always trump an optically pristine lens with none, even when that means I end up keeping the $3000 camera in its case and shooting with my phone most of the day. If you’re looking for a way to spice up your phone photography, I’d definitely recommend trying out a fisheye adapter!

Crappy Cookie Lens: The Loreo Lens in a Cap

I can only think that the company Loreo got it’s name from their flagship product, a body cap sized lens that has the look and shape of an Oreo cookie. I recently picked up one of these Loreo Lens in a Caps and I was pleasantly surprised by it.

Lunch Break

The Loreo Lens in a Cap only costs around $20 and its been harshly criticized by online reviewers for it’s softness, distorted edges and lack of contrast, all things that I get a kick out of. I re-ignited my interest in photography in college with a lo-fi plastic junk camera that I picked up at a Goodwill, so it takes a lot worse to keep me away. Not only do I enjoy the lo-fi look this lens brings to any camera you mount it on, but also enjoy the challenge: shooting with a crappy fixed focus 35mm lens means you have to get creative. The quality of a photograph taken with this lens rests entirely on the strength of the composition and subject matter, the lens does none of the lifting.

No Swimming or Diving

But that’s not to say that the Loreo Lens in a Cap has no charm. The soft edges lend a retro feel to the images, and the fixed focus throws the foreground out of focus at f/5.6, which creates a unique look. You can shoot at f/64, which turns the lens into a sort of optical pinhole, and with the spin of a junky plastic wheel you can also shoot at an aperture of f/8, f/16 and f/32, but I preferred to stay at f/5.6 for it’s softness and shallower depth of field. At any aperture the lens gives you a flat, faded look, but it’s easy to add contrast in post, especially if you shoot in RAW like I did with these shots.

Early Spring Mud

The lens comes in several mounting options and I went with the Canon EOS mount. I used this lens on both my Canon Rebel and a Sony A7R II with a Fotodiox Canon EOS to Sony E-mount adapter. I enjoyed shooting with both cameras but the A7R II’s full frame gave me a much nicer field of view and revealed more softness on the edges of the lens. 35mm just seems to pair nicer with the full frame format, even though I probably committed some kind of photographic crime by mounting such a crappy lens on such a beautiful high end camera.

Spring Beginning

Finally, I have to admit that I just like the look of the dang thing. It’s light, tiny and, as previously mentioned, Oreo cookie shaped, and it just looks cool mounted on my camera. I’m a hipster at heart and I like to shoot photos and videos with unique and obscure gear, and the Loreo Lens in a Cap, if not much else, is definitely unique and obscure!

Sony A7R II at the Shedd Aquarium

Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium is a beautiful and relaxing place to visit, and last week I was able to take a camera there to shoot some video. I used a Sony A7R II, two Canon FD lenses–a Vivitar 20mm f3.8 and my Dad’s old 50mm f1.4–and a Rokinon 7.5mm Fisheye lens, all mounted on the camera via Fotodiox adapters. I shot half the video is 24fps and the other half in 60fps for the slow motion effect. I was going to shoot in a flat profile but I really love Sony’s built-in color science so I ended up going with the standard picture profile and layering on a film emulsion LUT in post. Here’s the video I shot:

After shooting with the A7R II for a little over a year now I’m still regularly surprised by how beautiful it can render photos and video. It’s not great in low-light, but if you have a fast lens mounted on it and stick at ISO 800 or lower, its powerful little imaging device. I guess it should be for the price. I’m so thankful that my work lest me borrow it so frequently!

 

Fisheye In The Bog

Bog Boardwalk

I grew up going on hikes with my family at Volo Bog State Natural Area, and it’s still one of my favorite places to visit in Illinois. A bog, especially in the vanilla Midwest, is a magical place, and when you get out in the middle of it, after crossing acres of quaking ground and floating dwarf trees on a narrow boardwalk, you feel like you’re in another world. This January we had an unseasonably warm stretch that felt just like Spring, and one Saturday I couldn’t help but grab a camera and head out to Volo to check up on an old friend.

To keep things simple I generally take just one camera and one lens when I go on a photo walk, and this time I decided to go with an unconventional pairing: my Rokinon 7.5mm Fisheye, which I just recently discovered I could mount on my work’s Sony A7S with the help of a Fotodiox MFT to E-mount lens adapter. Here’s what the camera/lens combo looks like.

My Rokinon 7.5mm is made to cover a Micro Four Thirds sensor, so I had to use the APS-C crop mode on the Sony A7S plus do a little cropping in post to remove the vignette caused by the len’s built-in tulip hood. I love working with wide angle and fisheye lenses because they give me such a unique, dramatic view of the world. Here are some of the photos I captured during my day at the bog.

Big Blue Winter Sky

Dock on Frozen Pond

January Leaf

I also shot video on my walk, and here’s a short film I made with the footage, trying to capture the essence of the day. I had shot footage of other hikers and my own feet walking along different parts of the boardwalk, but I realized that the strongest elements of my footage were shots of the sky and the bog’s relationship to it, so that’s the direction I took with the final edit. You can check out the video below.

Here’s an additional video I made for Fotodiox about the adapter I used.

Limiting myself to a fisheye lens for an entire day of shooting was a rewarding challenge, and I definitely plan on using this lens on a full frame camera again. Volo Bog is even more beautiful in the Spring and Summer, so I may be heading back to capture more images soon.