Labor of Lomoknio

A test video of bass player Marcus Heffner shot with the Lomokino Super 35 Movie Maker. The hand-cranked camera shoots motion pictures onto traditional 35mm still photo film rolls.

When I stumbled upon the Lomokino Super 35 Movie Maker while combing through photography tags on Instagram before bed a few weeks ago, I immediately knew it was a camera I had to have! With my recent plunge into the traditional photographic darkroom (and return to shooting onto film), the camera seemed to offer the perfect marriage between the discoveries I was making about photochemical developing versus everything I already knew about video and film making.

Using the camera is a breeze. 35mm film is loaded pretty much the same way it would be in a still camera (don’t worry, if you learned on 35mm like me, handling the 35mm cartridge and leader will come back to you very quickly). From there, as fast as you can crank the Lomokino’s handle (typically around 4 times per second), you’re off to the races making a film! I was really surprised at how quickly I blew through my first roll of 36 exposure Kodak Tri-X 400. So quickly, in fact, that I thought the film had jammed in the camera. Alas, I indeed shot the entire roll, so make sure to pace yourself.

Lomography even makes a companion scanner and app for the camera (the Lomography Smartphone Film Scanner and Lomoscanner, respectively) to allow you to use your iPhone to quickly and easily “scan” your developed negatives, transforming them into motion pictures for all the world to enjoy. The scanner cradles your iPhone above the negatives, and uses an LED backlight to illuminate them. As simply as shooting any other iPhone photo, you photograph your film frames one by one, using a small crank on the side of the scanner to advance your frames. When you’re all done, you click the export button, and a movie is supposed to be created.

Unfortunately, the Lomoscanner app is very buggy. In addition to problems with image adjustment sliders within the app not working correctly, the app only seems to export movies around 25% of the time. The other times, it says the movies have exported, but none are to be found on the iPhone’s camera roll. You can imagine my frustration the first time I scanned all 143 frames of my first test roll (taking almost 30 minutes), only to have the app refuse to export or do anything else with them.

The other issue I’ve found with the Lomoscanner app is the small size of the movies it does manage to export. Despite 35mm film having more than HD resolution, and despite the iPhone having an HD capable camera, the app has to crop in on the negative quite a bit within the app, due in part to the height the iPhone has to sit above the negative within the scanner to achieve focus. This leaves you with a little under 400 pixels in width on your exported movies (that’s about a quarter of the frame size of standard definition video).  This resolution might be okay for sharing with friends on Facebook, but for integrating into an HD timeline with other media, say, for a music video, it falls quite short.

I realized that, instead of the Lomoscanner app and iPhone scanner, I could go about creating much, much higher quality Lomokino movies using the other tools I work with frequently (an Epson V700 transparency scanner, Adobe Photoshop CS6, and Final Cut Pro 7.0). Here’s how I created the 1080p HD quality film shown above of Marcus Heffner on the bass:

After developing my Lomokino film and letting it air-dry overnight, I carefully cut it up into strips to fit into the 35mm holder for the Epson V700 scanner. The black tape strip seen here on the work bench was my reference mark for how long to cut each negative (to a length to fit into 35mm archival binder sleeves that they’ll ultimately be stored in).

Loading the cut negatives into the sometimes-temperamental holder for the Epson V700 scanner. I wear nitrile gloves during this and the cutting process to avoid getting my fingerprints all over the film.

Within the Epson Scan software, I set each strip of film to be scanned into its own file. I set the resolution so that each negative, once cropped, would have at least 1920 pixels in width (the width of a 1080p HD video frame). 2400 dpi resolution was the number I arrived at to achieve this width.

In Photoshop, the first thing I did after opening each negative strip was to crop in on the left and right to where I wanted the frame to stop. Following the crop, I re-sized the file to 1920 pixels in width at 72dpi. (Click for a larger view.)

Next, I used the rectangular marquee to select each frame by hand on the negative strip. I made a preset to keep the rectangular marquee the exact same size for each frame (1920 x 679 pixels). From there, I recorded an action that copied the frame within the marquee, created a new document, pasted the frame into the new document, changed the color space to sRGB, saved the frame, and closed the frame. Within the action, I kept the toggle on the save dialogue box turned on to allow me to manually name each frame incrementally as I saved them. Otherwise, the action overwrote each frame being saved in the destination directory as I went. There are scripts that can do this incremental naming for you within actions, but that is a bit advanced for me. I also assigned the action to a function key on the computer (F5, because it was free) to allow me to establish a rhythm, knocking out each frame as quickly as possible. (Click for a larger view.)

Once all the frames were created, I imported them into Final Cut Pro 7.0 (with 6 frames for stills duration set in the user preferences before importing). I made the stills 6 frames in duration to allow me to achieve four frames per second (my hand crank speed on the Lomokino) on a 23.98fps sequence. Since the stills were numbered incrementally in order, all I had to do was drag them all at once onto the sequence. You can see here I’ve elongated the first and last frames to allow me to apply a transition in and out of the movie. Once everything was in place, I saved the entire sequence out to a 1080p ProRes LT Quicktime movie. I brought that saved movie back into a new sequence, where I color graded it just like any other file, saving out the final version, once again, as a ProRes file. (Click for a larger view.)

This is another Lomokino film I created using the method outlined above. Unlike the bass player film, which was shot on a tripod, this film was shot on a monopod. You can see the action of me cranking the film through the camera (it takes some effort to do so) rocking the image from side to side. Some have said they dig this look, but I’m not sold on it. One thing I am sold on is leaving the large pieces of dust from my scanning process on the frames. While I could easily clone them out during my separating and saving process, it would probably add a lot of time to what is already an hour and a half scanning process. Plus, I think the dust looks cool.

After staring at my Lomokino images in strips during scanning for hours in Photoshop, I started to appreciate the collage look the frames have when they’re together on the negative. It’s a nice study of things that were in motion, outlined step by step by step on the film. I decided that I could get some extra mileage out of the Lomokino negatives by creating abstract prints from them at a large, 16×20 inch print size.

Loading select Lomokino negatives from the bass player movie onto an enlarger negative carrier meant for 4×5 film. I printed this collage onto Ilford 16×20 resin-coated paper, using a piece of glass in the enlarger head to flatten the negatives out.

Washing one of the large, abstract prints.

A scan of one of the final prints. At smaller sizes, this appears as nothing more than a contact sheet. At 16×20, however, it becomes what I think is a really interesting study of motion. After making these prints, I discovered that the Lomokino camera might be useful for more than I initially bargained for!


Posted in Experimental, Photography, Tips And Tricks, Video Production by Guy Rhodes on August 9th, 2013.

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