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.

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!

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.

Probably Okay: The Pie Problem

Here’s the latest video from my sketch comedy YouTube series Probably Okay. My writing partner Michael Golus and I have been stepping up our game lately with more complex ideas and polished cinematography, and it’s helped to elevate the material, which is, as usual, entirely mad. Probably Okay is all about jokes without punchlines, and this video is no exception. When Mike and I write these scripts, with occasional help from the rest of our fluctuating team of actors, we like to play the “what if” game and go as far as we can with it, which ends up generating some pretty bizarre ideas. This alternative humor isn’t for everyone, and I’ve encountered plenty of of people who just scratch their heads when they see our videos, but from those who understand the humor, we’ve been fairly well received. We’ve been making these video for 7 years now and we’ve never really generated a large audience, but for Mike and I it’s never been about the amount of views or the likes. We just enjoy creating funny videos that surprise and hopefully delight the viewer with their unexpectedness, and if we’ve done that for even just a couple of people, we feel like we’ve succeeded.

Chicago, Ice and Holga Lenses

Frozen Michigan and Figures

Even though I generally shoot with Full Frame Sony cameras now, there’s just something about lo-fi video. One of my favorite lo-fi digital setups is my trusty Canon Rebel T2i paired with my Holga EOS mount lens and Holga Wide Angle adapter. The images this lens/camera combo creates are dreamy and lo-fi filmic, reminiscent of the Super 8 home video look, and I find they work well for short video essays like this one.

This setup also works well for strange/experimental shorts like this, which we shot on the same day as the video above.

I keep telling myself that one day I’m going to actually take the plunge and shoot a feature short with this kind of lo-fi digital setup. For now, it’s a great way to play around visually.

Star Wars Holiday Special 2: My Homage to the Strange Side of Star Wars

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What I loved about Star Wars as a kid was the vastness of it’s universe. I read the Thrawn trilogy and all of the encyclopedias, concept art and source books I could get my hands on when I was 13, and then proceeded to dive into the dizzying array of Star Wars comics, cartoons, toys and video games thereafter. It felt like such a big place to explore, and what I liked most was the weird stuff: the off kilter design elements on the edges of the frames in the movies, the weird characters and creatures from the cheapo 80’s cartoons and Ewok movies, and all the ditched concept art and strange pixelated video game characters and locations. To this day I still love to try to find new details in old Star Wars Playstation and N64 games, read old drafts of scripts and even books on the designs of such bizarre Star Wars detours as Shadows of the Empire and the much maligned Star wars Holiday Special.

hs-18

This short film is my love letter to the strangeness of Star Wars: the most terrible homemade sequel I could possibly conceive to the original Star Wars Holiday Special, a DVD bootleg copy of which I foist on my family every December and end up watching alone after they’ve all managed to escape. Gary Fraptious, a recurring character on my comedy sketch channel Probably Okay played by my friend Scott McElroy, was the best character to star in this film due to his joyfully incoherent madness. We envisioned the sequel that Gary would create to be a chaotic fan fiction mess, filled with ships and characters played by my vintage Star Wars toys and music and visual effects lifted from classic Star Wars video games. We also included a cameo for our friend Rebecca, who plays a recurring character in our other Gary Fraptious shorts.

I shot the entire video on a low-fi digital camera–the Digital Harinezumi–in Scott’s garage to get the homemade VHS look and sound I wanted. We used a a small pop-up green screen and a single light, and the resulting footage was blown out and almost impossible to key–perfect. The footage still looked and sounded too good, so I added some damaged VHS tracking overlay and that distinct VHS hum in post. It’s still not the most convincing looking VHS effect but at least it’s reminiscent of the medium. If I ever do a project like this again I’ll either use this app or shoot with an actual VHS camera and tape.

Here’s the finished product in all it’s lo-fi incoherent glory. Happy Space Christmas everyone!