Leon Rose tests two unconventional pieces of equipment and finds they might be just the ticket for some outside-the-box creative photography
This month, I’m looking at a couple of interesting little devices: the Lomography Smartphone Film Scanner and the Lensbaby Sol 45 f/3.5. Both of these are a lot of fun and very useful in their own way.
Let’s look first at the Lomography scanner. These days, most of us spend our time playing with our smartphones and sharing stuff on social media, so it makes sense for the people at Lomography to have found a way to integrate their filmbased products into the digital realm. This little smartphone scanner is the perfect way to achieve that.
Like all Lomography products, it is proudly low tech, made of plastic, and relatively affordable. This being said, it’s a fun way to share your 35mm film creations, whether it’s stuff you’re shooting now for experimentation or your images from the past.
This guy is effectively a box sitting on a small lightbox that is powered by way of two AA batteries, with a top plate that holds your smartphone snuggly in place on a foam-rubber cradle. The centre parts are three graduated boxes that clip together to give you the necessary distance between your camera lens and the roll of film. The base section is the light box and battery compartment incorporating a basic, easy-touse manual film-roller mechanism, which allows you to scroll easily from one frame to the next.
I downloaded the Lomoscanner App, which is, of course, a free download from the App Store or Android sites. It’s a great little app that offers Regular 35mm, Panoramic, or Lomokino formats (the hardware comes with a Lomokino mask to drop over your film). Within the app, you have the choice to scan Neg, B&W, Slide, XPro, or Reds. There are exposure, contrast, brightness, and temperature controls that you must play around with to get the desired amount of data from your film scan. You don’t have to use the app; you can use the camera feature on your phone or any third-party capture app to grab your scan.
For my test, I used my iPhone 7 and scanned a whole lot of old stuff from back in the film era. I travelled through Africa and Asia back in the early ’90s and shot a mixture of C-41 and E-6 (slide) film, and, later in that decade, I got caught up in playing around with Kodak EIR colour infrared film. I got out the old ring binder from my early years and got scanning.
First, I have to warn you not to expect top-quality scans. This is going to give you some interesting effects and a file big enough for a 6×4 print. If you have high dynamic range (HDR) capability on your phone, you can increase that by about double with slightly better detail in the shadows/highlights. The thing is, you are only using a small portion of your sensor, so the bigger the sensor on your phone, the better. Interestingly, I got the best results from the E-6 variety of films.
Both the Fuji E-6 and the Kodak EIR gave me a clearer image than the black-and-white or the C-41 stock. The thicker the density of the emulsion, the better.
I found that the other emulsions tended to block up, with very little detail in the shadows or highlights, but, as you would expect, you end up with a Lomographic feel to your scans. I did find that when I used my favourite camera app (Camera+, available from the App Store) on the macro setting and had a little play in Lightroom, I was able to get a better size file, and it gave my Taj Mahal image a painting effect.
The ease of use was awesome. It’s really quick; just snap, roll your film forward, and snap again. From within the app, you can share directly to your social-media platform of choice, save your image, or even
AirDrop straight to your downloads folder and store them on your hard drive.
The great thing is that the Lomography Smartphone Film Scanner is small and light, making it very portable. Keep it in your bag and pull it out at friend’s house to enjoy sharing all that old stuff that they have stashed in boxes and kept for that rainy day. Keep it in its packaging though — its plastic may crack if thrown around.
It’s also really affordable. It’s yours for about a hundred bucks. What a great, inexpensive way to enjoy memories from long ago. I, for one, have drawers full of negatives. I used to shoot plenty of personal stuff on negative, and I still have it all carefully stored away.
This scanner is not designed for archiving, though. If that’s what you’re after, then you need to spend the money and get the right scanner for the job. But it is a great way to get your stuff up on Instagram or Pinterest to share ideas, or just to remind your mates (or your Dad) what they looked like when they still had hair!
On to the Lensbaby Sol 45. This is a great innovation from Lensbaby. It’s an inexpensive option that really delivers. Priced at around NZ$300, it is less expensive than the other Lensbaby options currently on offer. Lensbaby has consistently created a series of lenses with different amounts of movement that simulate the bellows effects of the old large-format 5×4 cameras.
The Sol 45 is a fixed 45mm lens with a fixed f/3.5 aperture. The lens can lock in a straight position or be unlocked to allow it to pivot around on a balland-socket-style mount. It has two bokeh blades on hinges located in front of the lens element that can be moved in and out of your frame to simply add extra effects. This lens was designed specifically for DSLR and mirrorless cameras and is available for Canon EF, Nikon F, Sony A, Pentax K, Sony E, and Fuji X mounts.
I did a few tests with my Sony α7 in both still-life and portrait situations. The still-life test was a good way to show the different effects in a controlled setting. I then grabbed a friend of mine, Craig, who has been sporting an impressive beard for some time now, and shot a few portraits.
I found it easy to use. Set your camera to manual and use the ISO and shutter speeds to balance your exposure (remember, it is a fixed aperture at f/3.5). There is a manual focus ring that moves freely and is easy to focus accurately. But, if you are used to autofocus, don’t forget to check that your iris is set in your viewfinder. Focus on the area of your subject that you wish to remain sharp, then unlock the lens to allow it to swing and tilt on its ball axis. Move the lens around until you are happy with the level of fall-off. Now, move the bokeh blades into your frame and observe the characteristics of the fall-off until you obtain the desired effect, and that’s it. It’s that simple.
Given a bit more time to practise and play around with the movements, I could really get some interesting results with one of these. The still-life images show how the lens movements, coupled with the blades, can really distort your fall-off, and I found that using one for a portrait can allow you to isolate areas such as an eye, or Craig’s beard.
For a relatively small sum of money, I think you could really have some fun with one of these and get some great results. I wouldn’t mind having one of these in my bag for those times when I need to add a little point of difference to my images.
So, there you go. Two very different pieces of kit that allow for some great experimentation. It’s this kind of gear that can really get your creative juices flowing and force you to experiment. I have always spoken of the ‘happy accidents’ that can happen in photography when you push the boundaries, and these two items will allow you to do that, so get out there and create.
LEON’S GEAR LIST