The Polaroid Image System

I recently acquired a Polaroid Image Première camera and have been having lots of fun with it.
The Polaroid Image System (known as Spectra in North America) was a new integral film format introduced by Polaroid in the 80s. Its main distinguishing feature is a wide image format instead of the square format of the popular 600 series. The Polaroid Image System also offered more features and better build quality than the 600 series. My particular camera has a 125mm f10 lens, an ultrasonic autofocus system, focus display in feet or meters, a 10 second self -timer, autofocus on/off, autoflash on/off and exposure compensation +/- 1.5 stops.
very expired filmEven though the Image System is more "professional" than most of the other Integral Polaroid cameras, it is still essentially a fully automatic camera. That said, once you learn how the camera operates, you can coax it into doing what you want most of the time. When you press the shutter button halfway, the camera meters at and autofocuses on an area in the center of the frame. Since this camera is a viewfinder, not an SLR, you can only tell if you have correct exposure/focus by reading the display line. A green light indicates exposure is good and a number is displayed to tell you the focus distance. If you want to focus on something that is not in the middle of the frame you can press the shutter half-way and then reframe. If you are working with a bright background or a spotlight situation you can use thebeautiful DOF, beautiful wife. exposure compensation switch. One thing that is a little strange is that the camera always flashes to some degree unless the flash is turned off.

In my opinion, the best thing about this kind of instant film is the size of the format. It is a medium format camera with an image area larger than the average (9.2 x7.3cm), which means you get great amount of detail. At this point I am limited by the resolution of my scanner and not the film. You can also achieve really beautiful shallow depth-of-field in the right situations.

This particular model of camera also has a trick that allows multiple exposures by engaging the self-timer. The film won't come out until you flip the self-timer switch back. If you close the camera half-way, the timer is re-engaged and the camera will expose the film again. You can see examples of multi-exposure here and here.

As opposed to the 600 series, which built special features into single-function camera, the Image System had many accessories built for it. The kit I bought came with a special effects filter set.
Now the big question: What film do you use with this thing? A few years ago I would have not bought this camera, because I would have feared that the film would soon cease to be available. That is different now thanks to The Impossible Project, who is manufacturing new film for integral polaroid cameras. In fact, when I got this camera, Impossible didn't make any Image/Spectra film. They only offered expired original Polaroid film, of which I bought several packs. I didn't know if or when they would produce new film for my camera. Thankfully they announced about 2 weeks ago that they have manufactured their first batch of PZ 600 Silvershade for Image/Spectra cameras. My first two packs just arrived. I look forward to them producing their new Colorshade film for this system as well.

Just a few years ago the future of instant film was doomed. Now it seems we are at a new beginning.


All Polaroids in this post were taken with either the very expired film that was with the camera when I bought it or the more recently expired Polaroid Image film from The Impossible Project.

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Three New Lenses

I recently picked up three new lenses for my Canon 550d. They are all actually old lenses, but they're new to me. All of them are manual focus lenses from the 70's and 80's and they are all from different manufacturers. This means they require lens-mount adapters so they will fit on my Canon.

The first lens is the only one that I truly sought out. I wanted a nice normal prime lens for the 1.6 crop factor chip on the 550d. I settled on a Nikon 28mm f2.8 Series E lens. It was quite inexpensive and is very sharp. Its 35mm equivalent focal length is ~45mm. This is my new standard lens.
Franz Liszt 28mmThe second lens I picked up when I was in LA earlier this month. My sister has possesion of my grandfather's Olympus OM-1 and attached to it was an F.Zuiko 50mm f1.8 OM lens. I already own the Canon 50mm f1.8, but since the Olympus is manual focus it is going to be much nicer for video work. I will post comparisons of the two lenses eventually. I am curious to see how they compare.
Franz Liszt 50mmThe third I picked up on a whim at a camera shop here in Zürich. It was in a bargain bin for CHF 30 and I thought I'd take a chance. It is a Minolta MD TELE ROKKOR 135mm f3.5. I was taking a chance on this lens because I was not sure if it was adaptable to Canon or not. Luckily it was. Unluckily I picked the wrong adapter. There are two different adapters for Minolta to Canon -- one has an optical element and the other doesn't. I went for the one without hoping it would be ok. Unfortunately the lens won't focus to infinity. It still makes a great macro lens though. May someday I will get the optical adapter. Does anyone know which minolta lenses focus properly with out an optical adapter?

Franz Liszt 135mmExpect to see these lenses used in my video work in the near future.
Thank you to my model Franz Liszt.

The Ultimate Flip Mino HD Review

I have shot with the entire range of HD cameras -- from HDV all the way up to Genesis and RED. The first thing that people should know is that the FLIP MinoHD does not compete with these cameras in any way. You can't get professional quality(or even prosumer quality) for 200 bucks. The MinoHD is basically a toy. However, there is something very charming and unique about having a HD camera that will fit in just about any pocket you have. This blog called the FLIP MinoHD the Holga of video cameras. I can agree with that. I have spent several weeks playing with this camera. Here are my impressions:

The Lens
Rear View of Flip Mino HDA camera's lens is one of the most important factors for image quality. If you take into account the cameras cost and that the lens is made of plastic, you can feel free to be impressed by this lens -- but it is still a plastic lens. The most impressing thing about this lens is it's speed. Flip says it is an f2.4 which is quite fast for what is basically a pin hole lens. The lens has a fixed focal length and fixed focus. Flip's specification page says nothing about focal length, but I have compared it to having the equivalent field of view of a 50mm lens on the 35mm format. The focus range is from one meter to infinity. Although, I have noticed that objects slightly closer than 1 meter are acceptably sharp due to the very deep depth of field of the camera.

The Sensor
From the specs page: The sensor is a 1/4.5" sensor with 2.2µm pixels. Compared to ther Standard Def Mino(5.6µm), these pixels are tiny. However, they claim that the HD has lower light sensitivity than the SD version. I am not the kind of guy to do technical tests, but I have been impressed by the low light response of the camera. However, a small pixel size will increase the signal-to-noise ratio of any camera. This is probably the main cause of compression artifacting that I will talk about later. The other thing I have notice about the sensor is its skew. CMOS sensors commonly use rolling shutters, meaning they record horizontal lines from the chip in sequence during a frame. If this read-reset time of the chip is too slow, you can get a 'jelly skew' effect on scenes with fast movement or pans. This is because the top part of the frame is recorded slightly before the bottom. The jelly skew effect of the MinoHD is quite noticeable, especially for such a small chip. But if you are careful, you can avoid it. (Hint: use a tripod, or stabilize the camera somehow)

Sound is record in Mono at 44.1kHz and encoded in AAC. The microphone is located just to the right of the lens and is fairly tiny. These aren't the best sound specs in the world, however actually listening to the sound is more than acceptable. It has a tendency to be tinny, and sometimes peaks out.

The Screen
Front View of the FlipMinoHDThe LCD screen on the Flip is probable its worst aspect. The 1.5"(diagonal) screen is tiny! It is squint worthy. Also, the screen resolution is 528 x 132, which is less than half of the recording resolution. The means you can't see all that you are recording. When filming a far off flock of birds, I was just guessing where they were. Also the viewing angle is pretty bad -- If you are not looking straight at it, its difficult to see what is happening.

The MinoHD is the size of a small cell phone. This is great for portability, concealablity and camera mobility. However, holding the camera is a little bit challenging for adult hands. You hold it by the bottom vertically like you would with a standard 'candy-bar' camera phone. The small size, low-weight and vertical format makes it difficult to keep steady while hand holding. The sensor skew can be noticeable with these little hand held shakes. A pocket tripod of some sort is very helpful.

The controls on the Flip MinoHD are minimal. They consist of 1 big red record button, 6 multi-purpose capacitive touch buttons, and the power button. The center button is solely for record and stop. There are 4 buttons around the center button. They are left and right arrows(used for navigating the playback menu) and plus and minus buttons(for volume control during playback and digital zoom during recording). The two buttons above the others are a play/pause button(used to play and pause playback and also as an "enter" button for some functions) and a trash button(used to delete individual clips, all clips and by holding it down for 2 seconds, locking and unlocking the ability to delete.) The power button is on the right-hand side of the device. A well designed feature of the touch sensitive buttons is they are back lit. The back lighting turns off for buttons that cannot be used at that time. For instance, while recording, the only the plus and minus buttons are lit because the other buttons have no function during recording.

On-Screen Menu
The flip MinoHD has 3 modes. Record mode, Playback and setup. You will probably only use setup once. It is accessed by holding the record button when he device is starting up. Here you can set the date, time and whether you want the device to make any sounds. Once the device boots up, it starts in record mode. You can do two things in record mode. First, record and pause a recording. While recording you can use the 2x digital zoom. You cannot use the zoom while the device is not recording however, which I find kind of lame. The second thing you can do in record mode is delete the last clip by pressing the trash button. You can enter play back mode by pressing the play/pause button. While in playback mode you can watch clips, navigate between them, delete particular clips, change the volume(with plus/minus buttons), and fast forward and rewind(by holding down left/right buttons). You re-enter record mode by pressing the record button.

The camera is powered by an internal lithium-ion battery. You cannot remove it. The Flip specifications page says that the battery lasts two hours of continuous use. I haven't done any scientific tests of this, but have found that you will probably fill the devices memory before the battery runs out. The device is charged via USB either by connecting it to a computer or by purchasing the optional AC adaptor. It charges in 3 or 2 hours depending if it is connected to a computer or to wall power respectively.

Computer Connection
The 'Flip' in the MinoHDI imagine the name "Flip" comes from the action of releasing its hidden USB connector. A switch on the left-hand side of the device causes a full-size USB connector to flip out of the top like a switch blade. The allows you to plug the camera directly into a computer -- no worrying about forgetting cables. When the device is plugged in, it will appear on your computer like any USB storage device. The Flip MinoHD comes with some basic editing software on its memory which you can install. This software is very basic and easy, I won't say much more about it as I don't find it very useful for my needs. For a absolute beginner to video however, it should work fine. The clips are stored in the DCIM folder which means that many software like iPhoto or Aperture will recognize them for importing. I prefer to manage the files manually though. The clips are named VID00001.MP4 in sequence as they are shot. I have found these clips are easily editable in iMovie, FCP 6 and FCP 5(with a little trick). In FCP 5, however, you will have to render the audio.

Video Format
Quicktime calls the flipvideo codec "AVC Coding", which I imagine is a version of Mpeg4 that has been modified by flip to work specifically with the camera. The bit rate is a healthy 10mbits/s. The pixel size is truly 1280x720 square pixels. Despite the decent bit rate, the video doesn't look that good when viewed in its full size. I think this has to do with a combintion of factors. The small pixels, the lens, and some in-camera sharpening all lead to a less than ideal image.


The FlipMinoHD is an awesome little toy video camera. The key word there is toy. If you are expecting to do professional work with it, prepare to be disappointed. If you just want to catch moments of your life in HD, or experiment with video -- it is an awesome gadget. That said, I can envision some professional implementations of it. It would be great for undercover journalism, shooting 'amateur video' for storytelling purposes, or getting a camera in a space that is not possible with a larger camera. I have also recently used to quicly pre-visualize an upcoming short film. I am sure there are more.  Am I happy with my purchase? In one word, Yes.

Flip MinoHD Initial Test

I bought a Flip MinoHD camcorder a couple of days ago. I haven't had a chance to really put it through its paces, but I put together a few of the clips I have shot while going about my day. I also tested some basic color correction and a few effects to see how the footage would hold up.
Overall, I am fairly happy with the video quality, given the fact that it is smaller than a lot of cell phones and only costs 300chf. There are some obvious issues with the video quality though. In the footage I shot out of the train window, you can see some serious image skew, but I guess you can't expect a really quick sensor reset time on such a small camera. The camera performs impressively in low light situations, but there is a noticeable increase in noise, which also exaggerates the compression artifacting. In bright light conditions, when the camera is still, compression is very minimal which is nice.

I will shoot some more rigorous test footage and make a more detailed review in the next week or so.