How I started with a Mamiya C330s and some Ektar 100, then ended up with lomo pictures

Okay, so my intentions were good. Armed with my trusty Mamiya C330s and a roll of Kodak Ektar 100 film, I wanted to try and dome some realistic photography for once (realistic as in non-lomographic).

What I ended up with was… well, quite the opposite. You can find the pictures here on the project page.


Switchover (part 3): Polarr

Third part in this switchover series, today I want to talk about Polarr.

Polarr is a multiplatform web-based photo editor, loaded with features and with a very pleasant interface. It is technically a web-app, but done so well that you barely notice it. Actually, I had to read it online, otherwise I would have never discover that.

Workspace 1_001

Polarr on launch. It has a very clean interface (yes, I switched to standard Ubuntu and GNOME).

Polarr comes in two interfaces, User and Pro, the latter offering more options. I started straight away with the Pro interface having some experience with photo editing.

Workspace 1_002.png

There are several options for editing, masking, exporting, cropping, rotation…. the only thing it does not do is coffee.

The controls are superb, despite being unable to manually input numbers. These sliders show the effect that sliding in one or the other direction will have and they offer live preview, so you can see the effect as you slide (something that darktable still hasn’t and annoys me). The histogram is shown on the upper left corner, but it is possible to move it around the screen as preferred.


Curves are included and are very neatly implemented in a non intrusive way. It is possible to work on the general curve or on the single colour components.

There are several adjustments available, which can be applied globally (on the entire picture) or locally (through the use of masking). Masking can be elliptical, gradient or set manually with a brush tool.

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There is a huge selection of filters available.

There are also filters, available, although they are more like “presets”. Once applied, their settings can be completely altered and it is also possible to save your own presets/filters. Very handy as starting points or for quick fixes.

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Exporting options. Not a vast selection, but functional.

All edits can be undoed and restored, they are saved separately from the picture itself. It is possible to save a copy of the edited pictures via the Export function which shows the window above. It is possible to set custom metadata, apply a custom watermark, single and batch exporting. Batch exporting also allows for batch renaming and filter application.

Polarr is free to use, and can be downloaded from the official website (or used straight from there, as a matter of fact). There is also a subscription  (less than £30/year) that offers some more features and works with all versions. It is available for Windows, Linux/ChromeOS and macOS. I highly recommend this software!

Holga, the hol-mighty!

Okay, so let’s ignore the bad pun that is the title of this post and focus on the main topic.

The Holga is a rite of passage, a must for every film photographer.

Like the Diana, the Holga is a plastic “toy camera”, with a meniscus lens. Unlike the Diana, there are several models of Holga according to what they have as features. Holgas were produced until not long ago by Universal Electronic, Ltd. of Hong Kong, under the guide of TM Lee, creator of the original Holga. Production switched hands in 2015, when another company got hold of the original Holga moulds and tools and kept producing this legendary icon of film photography.

The lens is a basic meniscus type lens, 60 mm, in plastic or glass (according to the model), with apertures of f/8 and f/11, switchable by the user. Focus is done by rotating the lens barrel, in a four-zone focus system: portrait, small group, large group and infinite. As with the Diana, the pictures show vignetting and other aberrations, including light leaks. Also, every Holga is slightly different, so that even in the same setting, two Holgas will never produce the same image.

This beauty has experience a rise in popularity thanks to the Lomography movement, who distributed the Holgas in their store (they stopped, at present). Holgas are still VERY easy to find on eBay, and there are several different models to choose from:

  • 120S: standard model, plastic lens, no frills, only one picture size. This has been discontinued for a long time but remains the favourite of many photographers.
  • 120SF: the standard model with a built-in flash.
  • 120G: called “Woca”, is a 120S with a glass lens
  • 120GF: a Woca with a built-in flash
  • 120N: the new standard model (I assume “N” stands for “New”), tripod mount, bulb mode and the possibility to change masks between 6×6 and 6×4.5. Models produced before 2009 (I believe) have a non-functioning aperture switch.
  • 120GN: a 120N with a glass lens (still named Holga)
  • 120FN: a 120N with a flash
  • 120GFN: mix the two above and you get a Holga with a glass lens and a built-in flash.
  • 120CFN: a 120FN with four built-in colour filters for the flash, selectable with a wheel
  • 120GCFN: Again, mix the two above and this is what you get. This is the model I own.

There are also some other models, including a TLR Holga, a pinhole, stereo pinhole, 110 film format Holga and so on and so forth.

There are also several accessories for the Holga, including a 35mm film adapter (which does not have an exposure count, so you have to advance the film manually and kind of guess when to stop), cable release and instant back.

Of course it’s not perfect, there are several issues with each model, mainly affecting the metal clips that both hold the back in place and allow you to attach your camera strap, the film advance mechanisms that tends to loosen the tension thus creating artifacts and light leaks. Most of these issues can be fixed with a roll of duct tape and patience.

I have to admit, I am happy of the results I got with the Holga, it’s a fun camera and has character. I feel I need to know it better so to more appreciate what makes it different from my Diana.

All the pictures above where shot with a Holga 120GCFN on a Lomography Color 400 ISO film.

Switchover (part 2): Shotwell

After having introduced the world of GNU/Linux operating systems, it’s time to dig a bit into the specific applications.

The first one is Shotwell, the photo organiser for the GNOME project. Shotwell aims to be more a replacement to Picasa and iPhoto on Mac, rather than Lightroom, but it’s fast and does its job.

Shotwell exists as a precompiled binary package for most distros out there, so check your package manager. It’s highly probable that Shotwell is part of the default set of software already installed on the system, anyway. It is also possible to get the source tarball from the official Git repository and compile the software yourself.

Shotwell requires several dependencies, so have a look here to see the full list.


Shotwell and the main interface (together with my very confused photo collection)

On launch, Shotwell presents an interface very similar to iPhoto. You can import pictures into your photo library, categorise them and do small editing tasks on them. Extra editing requires launching an external editor.

It is possible to select multiple pictures, drag and drop into folders or events, add and remove tags, or just start a slideshow. It’s fast, quick and simple to use.

Shotwell 2

A picture is loaded, ready to get edited.

By opening a picture, it gets shown in the main window, with a toolbar underneath. From there it is possible to intervene with small tweaks such as rotation, cropping and straightening. There is also an option for red eye fixing.

The editing tools are quite easy to use but are limited. There is a curve preview, then sliders for settings such as Saturation, Highlights, Shadows, Contrast, Temperature and Tint. There is also live preview, but changes won’t be shown until the slider is released (unlike Lightroom which shows changes in real time, for some good fine tuning).

All in all, Shotwell is a good photo organiser. Its intended use is for everyday photo organisation and retouching, nothing major, but does its job pretty well. Plus, most distros have precompiled packages, so installation is a breeze.

Switchover: ditching Windows 10 for the Penguin – an overview (part 1)

This article is part of a series about what software I use to manage pictures in my new GNU/Linux setup. Further posts will get into individual pieces of software in more detail. The first bit is introductory and explains my history with GNU/Linux. You may want to skip ahead, if you don’t want to read me being nostalgic…

I have grown up with “bread and computer” – aka, I’m quite tech-savy.  I started my computing journey 18 years ago with Windows 98 SE and tried all major operating systems since then. From 2003, I always had a Linux distro installed on my main PC at home together with Windows (I switched versions of Windows many many times, mainly in 2001 I jumped several times from 98 to XP and back). I also had a MacBook from 2007 until 2014, when it died in the summer.

My experience with Linux started in 2003, I found a three CD edition of MandrakeLinux 9.2 “FiveStar” with a magazine. I tried and fell in love with it. It took a while to understand how the shell worked, but the operating system installation and administration was done completely via GUI. Struggled a lot to make my USB DSL modem work, so I was without web access on the Linux partition. At a certain point, I divided my 15GB hard drive in three, Windows 98, Windows XP and MandrakeLinux.

I also discovered just today, by chance, that Mdk 9.2 had a bug in which some LG CD-ROM drives had their firmware erased by mistake – my LG drive died on my first installation of Linux, but I though it was just random… today I found out it was not!

With Mandrake I started to learn about the kernel, the shell, how X11 works, KDE (3.1) and GNOME (2.4), LILO, the partitioning scheme and so on and so forth. And everything without a working DSL connection.


MandrakeLinux 9.2  and KDE 3.1. Oh, the memories…. Screenshot by Diego Gerlin from Wikimedia Commons

I was initially a KDE enthusiast, so all the distros I used I preferred to work with KDE 3. After jumping left and right, I settled with Kubuntu and then Ubuntu when they started to ship KDE 4 (never got used to it). I have been using GNOME/MATE and Cinnamon since.

The distro I currently have installed is Linux Mint 18.3 “Sylvia”, a distro based on Ubuntu Xenial LTS, which adds a few bits and bobs, some customised tools, a perfectly integrated desktop and Cinnamon, a desktop environment which is based on GNOME 3 but maintains a more traditional metaphor with a taskbar and a menu. Being based on top of Ubuntu, it is possible to use loads of Ubuntu packages, Ubuntu repositories and PPAs. And, of course, it is completely free of charge.


My MINT 18.3 desktop, with Cinnamon and a nice Japanese background. As you can see, even if you never used Linux before, the environment is quite familiar.

I decided to ditch Windows, forget about the antivirus issues, Office, subscriptions and so on and so forth and just keep Linux as my main OS. The time is definitely mature now.

The main issue with switching to Linux today, is software. There is loads of great software for Linux and a lot of popular packages that work on Windows are compiled also for Linux. Some others, unfortunately, are not. On Windows this is what I used almost daily:

  • MS Office
  • Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom
  • Google Chrome
  • Mailbird
  • Spotify
  • Steam (sometimes I need to play and distract myself, you know)

Steam, Spotify and Chrome exist also for Linux and are distributed from their official websites, so no problem there. They all work perfectly fine. Mailbird exists only for Windows, but on Linux I tend to use GNOME Evolution (more similar to Outlook but less bulky). A more similar alternative would be Geary Mail. Microsoft does not compile a version of Office for Linux, so an alternative is needed and that alternative is LibreOffice.
Also Adobe does not play well with Linux (it used to develop Flash Player and Adobe Reader for Linux, but that is no longer the case), so Photoshop and Lightroom require alternatives. I have installed a couple of packages to try and see what works best for me, but for the moment my software of choice is (of course) the GIMP and Darktable.

By the way, all these Linux packages I mentioned are also available for Windows, if you want to give them a try. They are part of the so called “Open Source” software. These programs have their source code public so everyone can modify them and redistribute them freely. Linux itself is an Open Source operating system (for most parts, but that gets really complicated) – despite everyone having access to its core components code, it is a very stable, solid and secure system.

In the next posts of this series, I will test different software and see how they behave and how they work for me and decide for which I want to keep and use for my daily tasks.


[The Unusual Library] The Authentic Guide to Russian and Soviet Cameras

51r5y49vfxl-_ac_ul320_sr228320_The Authentic Guide to Russian and Soviet Cameras
Jean Loup Princelle
1995, Hove Photo Books
ISBN 978-18-740-316-35

This is a book I had to sweat a lot to put my hands on.

The Authentic Guide to Russian and Soviet Cameras is a difficult to find book (I had some luck with an eBay auction from France), but it is also the Bible of the Russian and Soviet camera collector. I’m not a collector per se, nor I have a keen interest in buying all FEDs and Zenits and KMZs that I come across, but Soviet cameras have a certain charme, they have contributed to shape the camera markets of those years, despite often being inspired or cloned from existing western models.

For many people across the Iron Curtain, these cameras were the only option. For many westeners, these were the most affordable option (and you got a decent camera, too). Like the book about the Chinese cameras, this guide is divided by factory (starting from GOMP/VOOMP/LOMO and KMZ to more obscure ZAVOD GEODEZYIA and ZAVOD ARSENAL) and lists (possibly) every model produced together with pictures and technical details, when available. There is also the history of the factories themselves and put in context with the socio-political situation of the USSR at the time.

Overall, it’s quite a nice and interesting book, if you manage to find it grab a copy. Not essential unless you really like to collect Soviet cameras, I might add. There are also some details that appear to be wrong (I’ll consider them bona fide mistakes).