As Mariah is being put back into cryo sleep the cave and the staff party hangover still hurts, let’s have a light hearted look back at the last 12 months in photography land and the gear I’ve tried
As ever we’ll start with the news, discuss what I though was good (and bad) this year and then my predictions
Photo News 2023
A race to the new compact
The film community wait for a new proper compact and then blow me two turn up in development. As mentioned in last year’s News review Pentax are working on new film cameras and it became clearer (a little) what we’re getting with 2 high end compacts hopefully in spring 2024 to be followed by SLR cameras down the line.
MiNT also teased a compact in 2022 and are also aiming a launch for next year hopefully. They have also released an estimate price in their last update of $650-800USD.
So 2024 could see 3 new higher end compacts.
Leica drop a new Instax but did anyone notice ?
The Leica Sofort 2, is Leitz second instax camera and is by some being hailed as the best looking Instax ever although I think both MiNT and Nons might have something to say about that. But really hasn’t gather much traction.
Like the original Sofort, this is a rehash of a Fujifilm Instax. This time it’s the Instax Mini Evo. These are hybrid camera basically a digital camera with a instax printer bolted on. You take the shot then decide if you wanna make an instax print or store and transfer. The sensor is quite low spec (4.3MP). and whilst I’ll admit Leica has done an incredibly nice job with this so did Fujifilm with the original which costs at £170-180 half the price of the Leica (£350). Still it is the most affordable new Leica by some margin. But maybe Leica might have a low end rival in 2024
Nons Squaring up
In one of the genuine could not see that coming moments of 2023 was Nons’s tease of a new camera. It not a new Camera that surprises (they have released quite a few), nor the fact its 35mm (kinda knew that’s where they would eventually head). But this is no tweaked SL SLR for 35mm. They’ve only bloody gone and made a rangefinder . Details are very sketchy as I discussed recently. And actually all we know beyond it is a rangefinder & uses 35mm film- it shoots in a square format as I discussed here
Big trouble in Little slide film
Gotta feel for Bellamy from JCH here. In 2022 he announced his new Fugufilm 400 slide film. 18 months later the project is defo on a hiatus as this vlog post explores
I’m less negative than this post about the future but there have been huge issues namely the price hike from the supplier and a certain company whom spent most of 2023 relying on rebranded Kodak C-41 film whom sent a cease and desist note likely due to the fact they make slide and are just one vowel different.
I suspect with another backer and supplier this might still see the light of day but not soon. But JCH wasn’t the only person to get lawyered up
JCH can change the product name but but names were a bigger issue elsewhere. Cinestill whom were for much of the summer of ’22, the only colour film out there. But to some, they moved from film saviour to pariah.
Depending on whom you read on this either Cinestil sent out emails to film makers and resellers gently reminding them that 800T was a copyrighted trademark. Or to some they threatened legal action, sent cease and desist letters and got resellers warned off eBay.
As ever the truth probably lies in between and much down to personal viewpoints as Molly Kate‘s excellent discussion on 35mmc describes.
Colour Film Renaissance ?
In 2022 you struggled to buy Colour film. There was a point in when actually the only C-41 you could get in Europe was Cinestil. That said when supplies flowed it was Kodak dominance with even much of Fujifilm sales being rebranded Kodak. And yup there were a few rebrands like Washi X but pretty much the bulk of stuff came from Kodak
But things began to change. There had been signs in 2022 with films like ORWO Wolfson NC500 and whoever was making Lomography’s metropolis films. It turns out the same people – InovisCoat GmbH based in Germany. InovisCoat are a spun off company from the fall of Agfa and have merged with Filmotec who are linked into ORWO. Not only do they make lomo’s and their own colour film but they also now make films for the likes of Reto making a market more buoyant. In addition Adox still hint at the return of their colour films
And turns out there’s another new colour film …
But first lets go digital.
New Story Runner up –
Love it or Loath it the rapid rise of A.I. Photorealistic images.
In the wider photographic media this one of the key stories, But it picks up a well deserved runner up slot as actually (a) I could have said about the potential back in 2022 and (b) I’m still a predominant analogue blog.
2023 kind started out as the year that digital artist fought back with lawsuits against companies like Stability.AI. These are still proceeding though the courts on both sides of the Atlantic. In the US in Andersen v. Stability AI Ltd which was taken on behalf of 3 digital artist. The judge has dismissed all but one claim for direct copyright infringement by Stability AI on behalf of just one plaintiff. That case may impact Getty Images lawsuit against Stability.AI in the US but here in the UK Getty’s legal team have had more success with a ruling 2 weeks ago allowing their case to proceed. Ironically Getty have spent much of the year bigging up their own imminent AI image creation system.
But something else happened at the start of the year. AI photo realistic images (aka promptographs) passed the photography Turing test . They won 2 photog competitions leading to much clamour as I discussed. Adobe leapt on board not only offering it’s firefly AI but embedding the tech into Photoshop allowing you to do generative fills or even add whole backgrounds. And the imaging has only got better.
-The Kandahar Giant, Trump’s arrest and Conflict image Oh my !
So much so that it can be hard to now to determine real photo. This has lead to some harmless fun photos like imagining Trump’s arrest. But there can be a sinister side. Some of those photo have been republished on SM as real. A case in point was the Giant of Kandahar. An image posted on the humorous Cursed AI FB group somehow got used by the advocates of religious races of historical giants as proof. AI images have popped up in politics and in conflicts too although you’ll also see real images conversely being accused of being AI generated
That said AI is not the only tool being used for misinformation. We’ve been editing photos since the 1800’s and it’s Orwellian use in places like the soviet union were well established decades before Photoshop was even a glint in Adobe’s eyes. You’re actually more likely to hear accusations of old photo, staged, media actors and other non image manipulative terms used.
But that wasn’t the biggest news to me
NEWS STORY OF 2023 – THE PHOENIX RISES
In my 2022 round up I predicted a new colour film in Europe and that Harman would make a new colour film. My Spidey senses were defo tingling as blow me – Did Harman not just go and launch a new completely new colour film ?
Well almost right I though it would end up being sold for rebrand .
But no we have a totally new film. It is an experimental film and a limited release. Harman are clear it is stepping stone to other colour films but it’s retro looks have excited the community. Unlike InovisCoat films which pull out the old Agfa formula book this is innovative. Early results have some of the colour palette of Ferrania Solaris FG+200 (aka Truprint FG+).
Anyway onto the awards
Best Cameras of 2023
As ever this is a series of minor awards building up to the best camera I tested last year
Alfie’s Kickstarter baby arrived this year. Wonderfully styled and capturing the current half frame trend plus the novel rotating lens turret, it certainly turned heads. Perhaps more importantly is it incorporated fully automatic exposure with a manual override. The camera was let down a by the weak disposable lens used in the standard version as main lens and the pretty high price charged to upgrade to the premium lens. Still a technological mini marvel for film photography
I like big frames, I cannot lie
The sprocket rocket gives you the biggest frame size short of the spinner in a more typical but retro body. Wonderful vintage cues with this lo-fi pleaser and negatives bigger and wider than a XPAN
Reto’s half frames win for a second year. It basically takes the looks of the H35 and very subtle tweaks it. I think on balance I prefer the original but certainly for this year it arguably is the best looking of the bunch although the Hippy model in Escura‘s Dubblefilm clone series the Snaps 35, is worthy of a mention as are the Alfie Tych.
Best New Film Camera 2023
Again 2023 we were a bit spoilt for test. We started with 3 new (well launched in 2022) plastic fantastics. The Agfaphoto Half-frame was a cunning reworking of it’s Dubblefilm clone big brother. In a average year it would have won this point but it would be eclipsed by Reto’s Kodak Ektar H35 which utilised the VUWS again in half frame guise. A decision between it and Lomography luxed out lo-fi of the LomoApparat should have been the choice for top slot.
But in the end it went to another Half Frame
Reto basically took the already good H35 and tuned up the spec. We get a hybrid version of the VUWS lens, 2 apertures, bulb, filter thread, built in filter and a whole lot more.
You already know it looks great. And in good light it can capture images that beguile this is half-frame and fixed focus.
And Digitals ?
I saw a few camera. The Casio QV-R61 was the technically best camera with typical late noughties swagger, more modes than you could shake atick at and reasonable image qualities. It was only let down by an odd relationship with batteries (rechargeables or high end only). The iON Cool-iCam S1000 was also not bad for a camera you can buy for under 20 quid that is water sealed making it a great near disposable but it eat batteries. It’s image quality was passable despite being fixed focus and way better than the worst cameras on test
But it was another near disposable that merits a mention
Designed for US/Canadian kids to take on summer camp, the Camp snap is unashamedly styled like a disposable. With no features and no LCD, the intent was to make your kids just take photos without dwelling. The provided 4GB micro SD card can be swapped out for bigger capcities but as it’ll store almost 2000 images
But it’s importantly got some lo-fi digital appeal and given it costs under half its nearest rival the Paper Shoot, it’s a budget new lo-fi digi.
And now the overall winner
Admittedly I didn’t shoot a lot of vintage cameras for test in 2023. But this was pro camera back in day and remains a pro camera today. But one you can get for sensible money
The second of 3 EOS-1 film cameras this still is as good to use today. It is geared for news and sports photogs. No mode dials and only 5 AF points only but it’s incredibly accurate and quick. The metering is top notch. ON paper it broadly out performs both it’s predecessor and the Nikon F4 it launched against. It reign would be short as Nikon would strike back with the F5 and in turn the 1N would be replaced by the EOS-1V, but you can pick these up to date for about £150. This makes it a no brainer for EF glass users.
And before we get onto the no so good time for something different
Hedeco were back this year with the updated lime II meter. I love the original and this was just a sensible upgrading of the best external meter I’ve tested. And mines was just a prototype.
The worst camera of 2023
Unlike 2022, I didn’t shoot quite as many slices of awfulness. The no brand children’s camera was not great as a camera but actually was way better as a gaming device and MP3 player and although it’s images sucked they were no where as bad as our winner and bar a little over egging of the specs did match what it said on the box. The Alfie Tych almost strayed into this group – build one of the most technically and stylistically interesting camera in years but then skimp out with a crappy standard lens. Another disposable lens turned up on the Agfaphoto Le Box Black and White, which I had the misfortune of using earlier this year (review pending) but even the horror of that was beaten.
But 2 cameras stood out. and one really stood out as perhaps the worst camera I have ever had the misfortune to use.
Frankly the Sintex had no real opposition to this (dis)commendation. On the plus it has it’s own Lo-Fi aesthetic in its images . When measured against the likes of the Holga 135BC or Dina mini are not awful. But fawk me, they wrapped the camera up in a fake camcorder body with an awful main viewfinder and a weird flip out mirror finder which is just useless. A nightmare to hold this is only for the seasoned lo-fi/crappy camera fanatic.
That said it could take a interesting Lo-fi image. The same cannot be said about our lying winner
I have shot a lot of crap cameras. There have even been cameras that are crap and scammy. And even cameras like our worst camera of 2020 winner, the No name 16MP camera from wish that was (a) Crappy (b) scammy and (c) frankly deceitful.
And I though that was it.
Granted I would potentially find cameras that were slightly worse in one or all 3 of those domains. But then something came a long to trump that by another factor.
This POS arrived from AliExpress. In fairness to them you can buy the same steaming turd on a range of sites from eBay to Amazon to Wish. But really don’t
It’s sold as a Vlogging camera but trust me your Dashcam could do a better job
It may have actually had the same sub 2MP sensor as the Wish camera. It certainly wasn’t 16MP (in fact shots taken on the 16MP setting are no better than shots taken on the sub 1MP HD setting). Final images look like a 8 year old applied a 2000 oil filter tool badly and then bizarrely decided to display said 4:3 images on an early widescreen telly which stretched it to fit. Oh !! the scammy level was so high with this one. All of the specs with the exception of the HD video seemed to be have made up by a bloke in the pub who was on his 8th pint of Strongbow.
Don’t get excited about the fact it does technically take HD video. Lets just say the image quality is perfect for those paranormal clips you see on YouTube or TikTok..
But hey that’s only slightly worse than the wish camera ? Yeah but much as it pains me to say., the wish camera actually worked.
This only got working because I used a recharge block in through its USB connector. For clarity this should have worked with AA batteries. It didn’t. This is just awful, scammy, mis-sold and frankly doesn’t work
Camera Blog Posts of the year
So many blog post and so little time this year to read ’em all. Notable for me were a few. Mike Eckman got addicted to a Drug (KMZ not the psychadelic variety). James Tocchio of Casual Photophile gave his suggestion of 5 high end digitals for high end film shooters. And Analog Cafe gave us the world first we never knew we needed. Move over your Christmas Gingerbread house. They made an instant camera with the stuff.
I learned a lot from Eric Enrico Jason of Aperture Preview with his well crafted and researched review of the Acro Model R which packed a lot of very interesting history in (and saved me time in my Sprocket review)
But there was one post or should I say video that actually moved me.
Winner of blog/vlog post of 2023-
Camp Snap Camera Review: The best dojo camera? by KenfuTV
KenfuTV isn’t a camera vlog. It’s a serious YT channel run by Kenneth Knight, a martial arts instructor and is largely focused on erm.. Martial arts. But that’s not what hooked me.
Kenneth got hold of the Camp Snap simple digital and let his students use it in his Dojo. Ken end up reviewing the camera but in some ways what was more touching was how he used it and the emotional connection. A good camera review by someone who doesn’t review cameras and one that showed an impact of photography on him and his students.
Predictions for 2024
So given actually I got a few things right last year, no pressure eh !!
- Pentax actually produce a retail film camera.
- MiNT show a protype film camera but you’ll need to wait until 2025 to actually get.
- Nons give us the new film rangefinder we never knew we needed via Kickstarter with the camera aim for shipping late 2024 but more likely arriving next year.
- Canon or Nikon cease dSLR production
- Harman give us an experimental 400 ISO colour film
- Reto take the H35N lens, but stick in a full frame compact. My crystal ball is too foggy to tell if this will be a VUWS+ or full frame version of the H35N. But if you’re listening Reto – either would be fine.
- Kodak Alaris is bough by a venture capitalist fund.
- Lomography explore SLR production with a Chinese partner
- A minor but significant film producer flings in the towel
- Bellamy finds a new partner and producer but the new (no longer called ) Fugufilm will be at least 2 years off from production