ORWO Wolfen NC 500

The heavy grain and muted colours disappointed.

ORWO, short for "Original Wolfen," is the trademark of ORWO Net GmbH, a company based in Wolfen. They're well-known for their black and white film products, crafted in Germany and sold under the ORWO brand.

ORWO recently introduced a color-negative film called Wolfen NC500, an ISO 400 film. This film lacks a remjet layer, which can be processed in any standard C-41 colour film processing lab and is available in 35mm canisters of 36 exposures.

I wish I'd come across James Tocchio's experience report on ORWO Wolfen NC 500 before I used it. Sadly, I stumbled upon James' post several months after I had already loaded this film stock into my Nikon N2020. James' thoughts on his ORWO Wolfen NC 500 experience closely align with mine, so I'll let his words do the talking.

... let’s look at the grain structure. It’s heavy and exaggerated, and it does tend to diminish some of the detail of the film. Color films from Kodak’s Pro line certainly render sharper and cleaner images, and even ORWO’s own Wolfen NC400 has finer grain. Recall, however, that sharpness and cleanliness are not the intended goals for Wolfen NC500. Wolfen NC500 is not a true-to-life film. Not even close.

The de-saturation is certainly a "vibe". Colors are muted across the range, but especially so in the blue tones. Believe me when I say that the skies of Florida and the waters of the Gulf are all far bluer than images from this film indicate. Plants are greener, too. For those seeking to simply document the colors of the world as it is, Kodak’s color films are much better in this regard.

I'm with James on this one. I scanned the negative myself. I thought I'd messed up somewhere when I first saw the scans. So, I went back to Vuescan to check my settings. I also tinkered with the white balance for the images I brought into Adobe Lightroom. The images were not to my liking.

But it finally hit me after I checked out some sample photographs on the Lomography website. I had had a bit of a misconception about how this film stock would turn out. Personally, I'm a fan of the fine grain and more true-to-life colours you get with the Kodak Porta 400 film stock. ORWO Wolfen NC 500 doesn't do it for me.

Lastly, ORWO’s new color film is not cheap. Pricing ranges from shop to shop, but NC500 typically costs in the area of $17 per 36 exposure roll. Compared with some other color films, ORWO is pricey.

I burnt through the whole roll in just one day. Most of the shots were taken outside at the local farmers' market on a sunny July day.

Over at Analogue.Cafe, Dimitri thinks that if you're willing to put in extra work, you can find a use for this 35mm film. ORWO Wolfen NC 500 is pricier than Kodak Portra 400 film stock, and honestly, it doesn't look as good. Why bother?

ORWO is gearing up to release a new 200-ISO color negative film called NC 200. Hopefully this will be better than ORWO Wolfen Color NC 500. I can't recommend the ORWO Wolfen Color NC 500. I have zero plans to use it again.

Saturday 22 July 2023 · Nikon N2020 · AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8
Saturday 22 July 2023 · Nikon N2020 · AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8
Saturday 22 July 2023 · Nikon N2020 · AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8
Saturday 22 July 2023 · Nikon N2020 · AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8
Saturday 22 July 2023 · Nikon N2020 · AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8
Saturday 22 July 2023 · Nikon N2020 · AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8
Saturday 22 July 2023 · Nikon N2020 · AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8
Saturday 22 July 2023 · Nikon N2020 · AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8
Saturday 22 July 2023 · Nikon N2020 · AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8
Saturday 22 July 2023 · Nikon N2020 · AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8
Saturday 22 July 2023 · Nikon N2020 · AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8

Rediscovering Vinyl with Schiit Audio SYS and PYST Snake Oil

The Schiit Stack enhances the music experience, bringing back cherished memories.

I thoroughly enjoy the listening experience from my Schiit Audio Modi 3+ and Shiit Audio Magni Heresy. I noticed that the "Schiit Stack" sound is better and more enjoyable than my Mac’s 3.5mm headphone jack or the iPhone 11 Pro over Bluetooth headphones or via the pigtail adapter.

I want to sit in a chair, my eyes closed, and imagine Dad is with me, both of us quietly enjoying the moment. Dad had a large vinyl collection. I have none. Correct, I had none. Let’s back up a bit.

I felt nostalgic for the final weeks of my last year (1986) of school. It was June and Carnival time in St. Vincent, and Kingstown was excitedly buzzing. Carnival attracts thousands of tourists and is a colourful and vibrant celebration of music, dance and Vincentian heritage. Towns nationwide come alive with street parties, calypso and steelpan performances, costume parades and much more.

I had just completed my A-levels, and my brother Shane, our close friend Andre, and I were excited about Carnival. We encouraged David, our exchange student from Los Angeles, to come along. David didn’t know what he was in for.

Carnival starts in the middle of June, culminating on two special days, a Monday and Tuesday, at the start of July. The Monday is called J’Ouvert, a contraction of the French term Jour Overt, meaning "early morning". A fete1 runs from midnight to dawn. A large band then takes to the streets of Kingstown, waking the residents to enjoy the penultimate day of the carnival. J’Ouvert is followed by Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday). In Vincy Mas, a band of the year competition is followed by a final parade of the mass bands to signal the end of the festival.

That last J’Ouvert morning in St. Vincent, we got up early, around 4 AM, piled into Andre’s Peugeot, and headed into town to meet the band. Andre parked the car at Barclays Bank, and we joined the celebration.

The street is filled with human beings, jam-packed like sardines in a tin. A large truck with enough speakers to sink a boat moves slowly through the street, inching forward at one mile/hour. The dancing, writhing crowd surrounds the truck, the truck and people moving in perfect harmony. The air is filled with the sound of the year's calypso anthem, "I want soca". The music is infectious. The DJ is playing this seven-minute song on a continuous loop. The party never stops, and neither do we.

Oh, man! I miss it.

audio-technica AT-LP60X
audio-technica AT-LP60X · Monday 28 August 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR

Unfortunately, most of the calypso music from my youth, including Alston "Beckett" Cyrus’s hit, I Want Soca, never transitioned to digital. I spent hours searching Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, SoundCloud, Tidal and others. If I wanted to listen to the calypso of my youth, I would have to get vinyl pressings.

A quick Google search and I discovered multiple vinyl copies of the single on discogs. I bought a few other recordings. But I didn’t have a record player. The sleeved black disks sat on my desk while I dreamed of turntables, phono cartridges, pre-amplifiers, amplifiers, and speakers.

Schiit Audio claims their products are "designed and built in California". When they say "designed and built in California," they mean that most of the production costs for their products—including the chassis, boards, and assembly—are allocated to U.S. companies that manufacture within the United States. The chassis and PCBs (Printed Circuit Boards) are manufactured nearby or in Northern California. In essence, Schiit Audio is a product company deeply rooted in local production.

About a year after I bought the [Schiit Audio Modi 3+ and Shiit Audio Magni Heresy] while searching for more vinyl, I walked into Princeton Record Exchange. I was looking for records. I walked out with an Audio Technica AT-LP60X.

Audio Technica AT-LP60X
Type Belt drive turntable, fully automatic.
Motor DC servo-controlled
Drive Method Belt-drive
Speeds 33-1/3 RPM, 45 RPM
Turntable Platter Aluminium
Wow and Flutter Less than 0.25% (WTD) @ 3 kHz
Signal-to-Noise Ratio >50 dB (DIN-B)
Output Level Pre-amp “PHONO”: 2.5 mV nominal at 1 kHz, 5 cm/sec Pre-amp “LINE” 150 mV nominal at 1 kHz, 5 cm/sec
Phono Pre-Amp Gain 36 dB nominal, RIAA equalised.
Accessories Included Dust cover, Felt mat, Platter (with drive belt), 45 RPM adapter, RCA audio cable (approx. 1.2 m. (3.9')), AC adapter (approx. 1.5 m (4.9'))

The AT-LP60X is a basic turntable. While the Wirecutter and others will recommend a [starter combo] with "an affordable turntable" and powered speakers costing over $600, the AT-LP60X was just $149. I had no speakers. I remembered that Shiit Audio offered a product called SYS.

Schiit PYST by Snake Oil
Schiit PYST by Snake Oil · Saturday 26 August 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF27mmF2.8 R WR

Schiit Audio often markets their products humorous and irreverently, but the company is serious about audio quality. SYS, which Schiit Audio says is short for "Switch Your Stuff", is a 2-way switch and a potentiometer. The SYS allows me to switch between two audio sources or control the volume for a single audio output without adding active components to the signal path. Being a passive preamplifier means it doesn't require power and won't amplify the signal. This is often seen as beneficial for audio purists who want to maintain the audio signal's integrity without introducing additional noise or distortion that active electronic components could bring.

Schiit Audio Stack, Schiit Audio Modi 3+, Schiit Audio SYS, Schiit Audio Magni Heresey
Schiit Audio Stack · Saturday 26 August 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR

I bought some RCA PYST Snake Oil branded cables with the SYS passive switch. Snake Oil is a start-up from California. The name PYST is a playful acronym for "Put Your Schiit Together". These cables connect various audio components, e.g. [Schiit Audio Modi 3+ and Shiit Audio Magni Heresy]. However, they can also be used in other configurations. The PYST cables are typically well-received for being high-quality interconnects that provide reliable performance, although, like any other brand, user experiences may vary.

Schiit Audio SYS
Number of inputs 2 (stereo RCA)
Number of outputs 1 (stereo RCA)
Input impedance 10k ohms
Output Impedance 5k ohms maximum
Size 5 x 3.5 x 1.25”
Weight 1 lb

I easily switch between the Schiit Audio Modi 3+ DAC or AT-LP60X, feeding into the Shiit Audio Magni Heresy headphone amplifier and using the potentiometer to adjust the volume in my Grado SR-60s headphones. Listening on my Grado SR-60s, I easily switch between the AT-LP60X for vinyl and the Schiit Audio Modi 3+ for Apple Music streaming. The total cost of the SYS and PYST was $69. This kit is not the vintage system I had imagined, but the system's compact size and minimalism are better suited for my small home listening room space. This solution works for me.

Schiit Audio Stack, Schiit Audio Modi 3+, Schiit Audio SYS, Schiit Audio Magni Heresey
Schiit Audio Stack · Saturday 26 August 2023 · FujiFilm X-T3 · XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR

At some point, I would like to get some powered speakers. Schiit Audio makes powerful amplifiers, but they are not budget-friendly (at least not for my budget). The Magni Heresy has an RCA output that can connect to the input of powered book-shelf-size speakers (aka monitors) from JBL or Klipsch. My "Plan B" is to connect some used Bose 901 speakers to an old Sony AV amplifier I found in the basement. I’m not sure which way to go.

I'm thinking of grabbing some powered speakers at some point. Schiit Audio has some pretty awesome amplifiers, but they're a bit too pricey for me. The Magni Heresy has an RCA output that could hook up to some compact powered speakers, like the ones from JBL or Klipsch. My other plan is to get some old Bose 901 speakers and the Sony AV amp collecting dust in the basement.

  1. Fete is a word of French origin meaning a celebration or festival. But in the English-speaking Caribbean islands, a fete means a Carnival party. 

Experience Report: Minolta XD-11

A "new to me" Minolta X-700 camera made me fall in like with 35mm film photography again. A "new to me" XD-11 made me jump for joy.

The Minolta X-700 was the pinnacle of Minolta's final manual-focus SLR camera series. Minolta made X-700s for 20 years starting in 1981. Minolta aimed the X-700 at the advanced amateur, giving it aperture priority and program autoexposure. The novice photographer twisted the lens until the viewfinder image was crisp and then pressed the shutter button. The X-700 took care of the rest.

A used Minolta X-700 camera reignited my passion for 35mm film photography. It's funny how certain cameras click with you, pun intended. My Pentax SP II and ES II were nostalgic buys, but using them felt more like a chore than a joy.

In the summer of 2020, I took my X-700 for a day trip with Bhavna down the shore, and I had an entirely exciting experience. The X-700 just felt right in my hands, and the shots I got were some of my favourites.

That experience sparked my curiosity to dig deeper into the world of Minolta cameras. It's incredible how the right camera can inspire and motivate you to explore your craft further. Now, I'm on a journey to learn all there is to know about Minolta's gems. Who knows what photographic adventures lie ahead?

While aperture priority shooting is my default for any camera, I was concerned that there would be action shots where exposure priority would be needed. Did Minolta have an exposure-priority 35mm film camera that was as fun to use as the X-700? My search discovered that Minolta had created a professional-quality modern multimode Minolta "X series" SLRs mostly made of metal- the XD-5, XDs, XD-7 and XD-11.

Minolta had some interesting naming conventions for its products, making a point to have distinct names in the Japanese, European and US markets for almost everything. The XD-7 is the European and Japanese market version of the XD-11: same camera, different badge. The XD-11 was sold in silver and black models. I found many silver-bodied XD-11s for sale online, but I prefer the black body. The black model was more expensive, and consequently, fewer were sold. Thus, the black XD-11 body is much more costly and desirable in today's used market. After several weeks of searching eBay, Etsy, KEH and anywhere else that sold film cameras, I found an XD-11 body on Facebook Marketplace. After a quick negotiation on price and an agreement that I would pay shipping instead of collecting in person, my "new-to-me" camera arrived from Pennsylvania.

The X series uses Minolta MD and MC mount lenses. Unlike MC lenses, MD lenses have an extra coupling arm for use with multimode metering. The older MC (Meter Coupled) lenses can be used on "X series" cameras but not in the exposure-priority mode.

Minolta XD-11
Minolta XD-11 · Friday 1 January 2021 · FujiFilm X-T2 · XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR

My XD-11 camera was sold as "body-only", but this was not a problem since I already had a standard MD Rokkor-X 50mm f/1.7 and a JC Penny 80-200 Zoom that came with the Minolta X-700. The MD Rokkor-X 50mm f/1.7 is a superlens, but I prefer a field of view closer to that of the human eye for general use. A few months later, I purchased an MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2 lens, a versatile manual focus lens often hailed for its solid performance and compact design. Its 45mm focal length falls within the "normal" range, making it great for everyday photography. This became my primary lens for the XD-11.

Released in 1977, the XD11 was the world's first camera with aperture priority, shutter priority, and a fully metered manual mode.
Minolta developed the XD-11 in conjunction with Leitz, with some websites claiming that the body was the basis for the Leica R4 and, later, as the chassis for the Leica R5, R6 and R7. Leica introduced a more advanced metering system into the body (including spot metering). Still, most other camera features are evident in both bodies.

Inside the film bay, the take-up spool and rewind crank are about as vanilla as possible. Pull up on the crank when loading film, and the door opens. The take-up spool grabs the film leader with authority and pulls it around and into place without hinting at a missed load. Unlike the X-700, the XD-11 has a film load indicator, a minor but delightful feature in a few other era cameras.

The XD-11's fresnel, micro prism spot viewfinder screen is about efficiency. Metered manual mode conveniently displays your chosen aperture and shutter speed, so you don't have to look away. This keeps you immersed in the shot, helping you maintain your creative flow and ensuring accurate settings simultaneously.

Minolta XD-11
Minolta XD-11 · Friday 1 January 2021 · FujiFilm X-T2 · XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR

The XD-11 camera features a Silicon photocell TTL centre weighted meter, which uses silicon photocells to measure light for exposure accurately. This metering system prioritises the central part of the frame when calculating exposure, striking a balance between accuracy and simplicity. This technology made the XD-11 a reliable choice for photographers.

The ASA range of the XD-11 camera typically spans from ASA 25 to ASA 1600. Remember that these are traditional film sensitivity settings, as digital cameras nowadays use ISO to indicate sensitivity. While I have exposed a 35mm roll of RPX 25, I'm not fond of grain, so I will likely never expose 35mm film at ASA higher than 400.

The Minolta XD-11 uses two 1.5v silver button (S76/SR44) batteries. It can be used without batteries but will lose automatic exposure and light meter functions. You'd need to set exposure manually using your knowledge or an external light meter. If you're comfortable with manual settings, it's feasible; otherwise, having fresh batteries would maintain the camera's automatic features.

The Depth of Field (DoF) preview button on the XD-11 camera lets you check how much of your scene will be in focus at the selected aperture. It's a helpful feature for adjusting focus and composition before capturing the shot.

The "safe-load" indicator on the XD-11 is a valuable feature that helps users load film accurately, minimising the risk of misalignment or incomplete loading. It provides a visual confirmation that the film is securely in place, assuring the overall reliability of the camera during the film-loading process.

Minolta XD-11
Minolta XD-11 with MD Rokkor-X 45mm F:2 · Friday 1 January 2021 · FujiFilm X-T2 · XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR

The Self-timer on the XD-11 offers a delay option for hassle-free self-portraits or group shots. It's a handy feature that lets you compose your shot before the shutter clicks.

Shutter priority mode on the XD-11 lets you choose the desired shutter speed while the camera handles the aperture. It's handy for controlling motion in your shots, whether freezing action with a high speed or adding motion blur with a low one. It strikes a nice balance between manual control and convenience.

The XD-11 camera has a Seiko electronically controlled metal focal plane shutter with step-less speeds from 1/1000 to 1 second in automatic and stepped speeds, including "B" in metered manual mode. Flash sync operates at 1/100s with the "X" shutter dial setting. The XD-11 offers full mechanical operation at settings "O" (1/100 sec) and "B." In shutter priority mode, it provides electronic automatic aperture control and a final check metering system. This ensures exposure accuracy by stopping the lens down for assessment, a feature shared with the Minolta X-700. The XD-11 combines electronic innovation with mechanical reliability for precise photographic outcomes.

The Minolta XD-11 offers an exposure compensation range of around ±2 EV in 13 EV steps. This allows you to adjust brightness by up to two stops in either direction for creative control in your film photography.

The Minolta XD-11 weighs about 620 grams (1.37 pounds) and measures around 142mm (5.6 inches) in width, 92mm (3.6 inches) in height and 48mm (1.9 inches) in depth. Minolta balanced a solid build and manageable weight for that era.

I've had experience with 35mm film SLRs, so using the XD-11 was old hat. However, I took the time to review the manual to ensure I was using it correctly. Unless mentioned otherwise, all the photos were taken using the aperture-priority mode.

Brick Farm Tavern July 4th BBQ
Brick Farm Tavern July 4th BBQ · Saturday 3 July 2021 · Minolta XD-11 · MD Rokkor-X 45mm F2
Beneduce Vineyards Gewürztraminer
Beneduce Vineyards Gewürztraminer · Saturday 14 August 2021 · Minolta XD-11 · MD ROKKOR-X 45mm F2
Race Street, Frenchtown
Race Street, Frenchtown · Sunday 19 December 2021 · Minolta XD-11 · MD ROKKOR-X 50mm F1.7
Bhavna · Saturday 22 January 2022 · Minolta XD-11 · MD ROKKOR-X 45mm F2
Asbury Park Boardwalk
Asbury Park Boardwalk · Sunday 24 April 2022 · Minolta XD-11 · MD ROKKOR-X 45mm F2
Asbury Park Boardwalk
Kingston Locktender's House · Sunday 5 March 2023 · Minolta XD-11 · MD Rokkor-X 45mm F2

If you like Minolta SLRs, you might also enjoy my reviews of the XD-11, the X-700, and the XG-1. Or check out all of my camera reviews here.