First impressions: Galaxy Photographer’s Planner & Handbook 2016

Galaxy Photographer's Planner and Handbook 2016
The Galaxy Photographer’s Planner and Handbook 2016 arrived today. The red leather cover and overall construction is lovely and luxurious. (Daniel J. Schneider)

On July 5, 2016, my Galaxy Photographer’s Planner and Handbook finally arrived, after the Kickstarter campaign was funded on Dec. 24, 2015. Here’s my first look.

Background

Galaxy sprang into the analog photography scene in the fall of 2015 and has already made quite a splash. Their Hyper Speed Direct Positive Paper was funded in September and started shipping to backers before the end of the year. The response so far has been largely positive (no pun intended — really!), though there was some early criticism that the reversal development method required wasn’t adequately explained. This paper is an attempt (a successful one, from what I’ve seen so far) to revive a paper type that was discontinued by Kodak in the 1970s.

With the success of the sheet version of Hyper Speed paper, they also recently proposed a version of the paper rolled on 120 film spools for medium format cameras, which was just funded a few weeks ago. They’ve also got current campaigns for dry plates and plate holders. The plates have already met their funding criteria.

Shortly after the original positive paper was funded, they launched the campaign for the Photographer’s Planner and Handbook, and launched a website called dark-room.org. The site appears to basically be a forum, but it has not taken hold in the community at all, despite a simple design and straightforward purpose.

The papers and plates haven’t captured my imagination, but the Planner definitely did — I went ahead and funded it about the same time I funded Let’s Explore Magazine.

I actually got a bit disillusioned with the whole Kickstarter thing during the long wait. I told myself I should’ve known better after all the high-profile delays and failures of other photographic campaigns, such as the much-delayed Travelwide 4×5 camera and New55 instant film.

Delays should not be unexpected with crowdfunding campaigns these days, but honestly, my single biggest complaint with the Planner has been the long wait and a relative lack of communication about the reasons and resolutions. The estimated shipping date was January 2016, but delays with the China-based printer piled up over and again, according to project updates from the company.

My 2016 planner finally showed up a few days past the midpoint of the year, but Galaxy did toss in a couple of rebate coupons that will ease the cost of next year’s edition, for which I hope the printing process begins very soon…

The Planner

I got the red Planner (obvious from the photos, no doubt — black was also available) and the first thing I noticed upon opening it was the rich feel of the leather, and the nice embossing and attention to detail. The elastic closure strap that wraps around the front cover fits into a nicely stitched channel which lends a sleek profile to the book when closed, and there’s a nice page-marker ribbon and an elastic pen holder that fits my Cross Century pen perfectly.

Galaxy Planner creased pages
Some of the calendar pages have these odd creases that, while not a functional hindrance, undermine the sense of quality that the cover conveys. (Daniel J. Schneider)

The cover material is firm but flexible, but not totally hard, so it’s comfortable to hold and will probably mold itself to whatever pocket it’s kept in. It’s still more than stiff enough to write on solidly while holding the book in your hand.

Inside, past the title and copyright pages, is an “If found, please return to…” page with enough room for a name, telephone number and more (I added my Twitter handle there, just in case). I noted at this point that the paper is a little on the thin side, and feels kind of soft. Writing my contact information on the first page left visible impressions on the following two pages, though the pen loves the paper and writes very smoothly upon it.

Curious about the printing and paper quality, I allowed a few drops of coffee to fall on the pages of the preface. It stayed beaded up and didn’t soak in too quickly, and allowed me to brush it away without smearing the ink. I let one drop sit for a full minute and it barely soaked in at all. When I blotted it off with a napkin, the ink was very slightly faded, but had not run appreciably and remained very legible.

The preface discusses the history of the idea and design, and does a little work to sell the book. In future editions, I’d hope to see the history in a more condensed format that fits on a single page (front and back would by okay) rather than taking three leaves.

After the preface, the calendar section begins with a page of quick-reference calendars for 2016, 2017 and 2018, before the Important Dates subsection. The selection of dates considered important seems rather arbitrary, including major awards competitions like Pictures of the Year International and much smaller shows such as the Tallahassee International juried competition, as well as a few conventions and expositions in the photo world.

Very little of what’s listed is limited to film photography, or even very inclusive of it, and it seems like a much better selection of relevant events could’ve been researched. Additionally, the formatting of the information provided isn’t very consistent, and a few of the descriptions need some copy editing. Lastly, 14 of the 18 listed events have already passed (or, at least, the entry deadlines have) as of the day I received my Planner.

The Monthly Planner section has a two-page spread dedicated to each month of 2016 and 2017 (so at least the 2016 edition is good for more than just the next five and three quarters months). They’re nicely designed and look like they will be quite useful. A few of them were stuck together with little globs of what looked like gum, and several are strangely creased (though not in a way that precludes using them).

Zone System records in Galaxy Planner
The Zone System records pages in the Galaxy Planner are based directly on the original Ansel Adams Exposure Log pages from the 1960s-70s. (Daniel J. Schneider)

The next section is Zone System records. It dedicates a dozen pages to explaining the Zone System before providing 20 pages of Ansel Adams’ Zone System exposure records. Since I do not use the Zone System often (or really do much with large format at all), I don’t really have a good frame of reference to determine if this is enough record pages to be useful. Each record takes two pages.

Next up are 20 pages of Large Format Exposure Records, each one a full page with spaces for camera, film holder, emulsion, subject, etc. Again, I have no real frame of reference for how useful these are, nor if there are enough to last a year, or a month, or whatever.

These last two chapters (and the next few) begin with nicely designed chapter title pages featuring gargoyle heads and unicorns from the early-twentieth-century photographers’ planners that inspired this project, but other sections are missing these cues. The title pages, when present, have photographs on the left-hand facing pages, though they are all rotated 90 degrees, which looks a little weird next to the vertically-aligned title pages. I feel like the design inconsistencies are likely the result of rushed production since this project was posted, funded and sent for production in rather short order. I hope these issues are addressed in the next edition.

135/120/220 records pages begin after the next section title page, and are single-page lists with space for a single roll of film and up to 12 exposures. Once again, there are 20 pages here, which will equate to 20 rolls of 6×7 (10 frames per roll and two lines unused or repurposed for additional notes).

Galaxy Planner roll film pages
The Galaxy Planner’s roll film records pages list only 12 frames each, but that means 2-3 pages work for 24 or 36 exposure rolls of 135 film. Medium formats will fit on a single page for 6×17 6×12, 6×9, 6×7 or 6×6 formats. 6×4.5 format will require a page and a half, unfortunately. (Daniel J. Schneider)

I can say with certainty that this is nowhere near enough for a year of shooting for me. Or even a month, probably. If I used this book religiously for each roll of film for just my one current ongoing project, I would exhaust all the pages in just 3-4 days’ worth of photographing. My biggest suggestion for next year: break this into multiple editions — at least one completely dedicated to roll film users. Give me 100 or even 150 pages of these records, and throw in the Monthly Planner and Location Scouting (more below) sections, and some lined pages for project ideas and notes, and I would be set.

Next up are the In-Camera Medium Processing Record pages, which are introduced with a title page, but come with no explanation. There are 20 pages of these records with five to a page, and each offers spaces for project, date, media type, process/chemistry, push/pull, time and notes. Are these just film developing notes? Did they use the word “medium” because it could be direct positive paper, glass dry plates, wet plate collodion, or Film Washi paper?

Following these enigmatic records are 20 pages of “Darkroom (print) Records.” Did they put “print” in parentheses because they think people interested in film photography planners could possibly not know that prints and darkrooms are kind of made for each other? Three records to a page here, with most of the same form fields as the Medium Processing pages, plus size, aperture, and exposure time, as well as color enlarger settings slots.

The Location Scouting Records section that comes next was one of the things mentioned in the Kickstarter campaign that seemed like a brilliant addition to me. I can’t even guarantee I’ll be using them, but I really hope I do. There are so many places I’ve thought to myself that I really should go back and photograph with different equipment or at a different time of day, or even just at some point in the future when I’m not doing whatever I’m doing when I notice them. If I kept a good record of all of them, I’d never run out of ideas for what to photograph when I want to spend a day behind the lens.

The Scouting pages are back to the 90-degree rotation and include slots for type, location, description, highlights, cost, permits, contact information and notes. The arrangement on the pages seems like it could be a little better, as the Notes space is the full height of the form and only about one and one quarter inches wide.

Immediately following the 20th page of location records, with no introduction or explanation, are twenty pages of dot-gridded memoranda pages. I prefer lines, myself, but this still is twenty pages of great note-taking space.

Once again lacking introduction or explanation, the Memoranda section shifts to a sort of Resources section, beginning with a one-page Sunny 16 Rule cheat sheet that is extremely minimal in comparison to some of the simple printable exposure calculators floating around. The next, unlabeled, page uses pictograms to demonstrate the effects of aperture, shutter speed and film sensitivity (depth-of-field blur, motion blur and grain/noise).

A title page then introduces the General Info section, which has lists of stock photography portals (no Getty, though), portfolio review events (another seemingly random selection), publications (mostly print magazines), and photo equipment and material suppliers (which, strangely, omits both Freestyle Photo and the Film Photography Project).

The penultimate section, Chemistry, promises that each edition will feature a different variety of chemistry recipes. This edition is packed with formulae for 30 Ansco film and paper developers and replenishers, reprinted from Morgan and Lester Publishers’ Photo Lab Index of 1938. With study, I imagine it could be very informative about developer formulation in general.

Finally, the About Us section is a 4-page quick history of Galaxy’s start and the Hyper Speed paper reversal process. The book ends abruptly on page 256, and the inside back cover features a nice expanding pocket for … whatever.

Suggestions

I think the biggest problem with the product, now that’s arrived, is that it’s trying to be too many things at once. I would suggest that, in the future, photographers would be best served by breaking the Planner into several versions.One for large format shooters, one for roll film users, and one for the darkroom (including film and printing stuff) might be the best array.

Film books should definitely get the Locating Scouting section, too, and the resources might fit well with the Darkroom notebook. Calendar sections and cheat sheets (though these could be more useful than they are) fit well in all. The Zone System instructions (in the sheet film book) and cheatsheets might work best as appendices rather than being at the front of the data sheets’ section.

The resources sections could stand to be slimmed down through editing and typography. Speaking of typography, the layout is a bit schizophrenic. There are quite a few formatting inconsistencies that could stand to be addressed, such as choosing one paragraph spacing, one amount of paragraph first-line indent, and even typeface leading. Consistent use of title pages and formatting of listed items would help, too.

Physically, I’d like to see the next edition printed on slightly heavier paper. Making the section title pages a nice 60- or 80-lb. paper with a tab sticking out might also be useful to a lot of photographers. The dimensions and overall construction are excellent and I hope they don’t change much in future versions.

If the events and “General Info” sections’ lists are going to be included in future editions, they should be made more comprehensive and their formatting improved.

My final word, though, is that the Galaxy Photographer’s Planner and Handbook is really a brilliant product with a ton of potential. I can definitely see myself ordering next year’s edition, as long as it’s actually here in time for the year to begin. I’d love to have a line of these loaded with notes and details on a shelf ten years from now.

I backed the project for US$35 and got the planner, plus Galaxy made a $5 donation to the Antarctic Heritage Trust. You can get your own 2016 Planner from Adorama if you missed the Kickstarter campaign.

Galaxy Photographer's Planner and Handbook 2016
Galaxy Photographer’s Planner and Handbook 2016. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Review Summary
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Galaxy Photographer's Planner and Handbook 2016
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  • I received mine yesterday. When I started thumbing thru the monthly calendar, I thought, “Great. January, February, etc.” But was relieved to see that the monthly calendar goes well into 2017. I won’t be using the large format and zone pages. Like you said, too much of all things. Overall, a nice size, color, and useful tool.

    • Agreed on all points. I’ve looked at a few other similar products, but his one has the most potential I’ve seen. Now we just need a v2.0 for roll film folks! :D

  • CRAusmus

    I got mine just the other day too. I like the fact that I can have all my photography notes together, and not bundled in with my daily notebook or my daily planner or my software notes.

    I feel like they also tried to do too many things at once. I like your idea of splitting up roll film and large format, but I would like them to see keep the darkroom section in each planner. Taking notes in the darkroom can be so spare and I usually feel like I have to start over with each print, I’d like to have this to refer back to each time.

    Over all, I’m very impressed with the quality. I’ve already made the decision that I plan to purchase next year, which if they learned anything, they should be already getting ready to submit it to the factory. As a graphic designer who does 3-4 catalogs a year, you need to allow quite a few months for printing and binding, and that’s printing and binding here in the US, that doesn’t even include the month on the water (if that’s how they are shipping).

    Over all, this is a great review. Thanks for posting.

    • I wouldn’t be opposed to having darkroom records in each, but I feel like shooting and developing/printing are kind of separate activities, and I’d be happy to leave the weight and thickness at home when all I’m focused on is shooting.

      I definitely, totally, really hope they are on top of the next edition and prepping it very soon. Hopefully they’ll update backers on Kickstarter, since we all have discounts for next year.

      Appreciate the feedback. You keep reading ’em, I’ll keep writing ’em. :D

  • Adam Paul

    Got mine as well. They did a great job on the fit and finish, but I completely agree that this tries to be too many things and as a result, the exposure records tend to be too few. Even still, shooting 645 isn’t really accommodated by the Medium format pages. Hopefully they are open to some tweaking for future releases.

    I also agree they really went silent through the delays.

    • Yeah, not perfect. But I have a feeling it will have some competition in the not-too-distant future from others inspired by it but with similar complaints. Heck, I’ve considered making a competitor of my own with all I learned reviewing it. Still — I’m not sorry I ordered it.

  • johnmeadows

    At least you got yours. A large number of non-US backers of the Kickstarter got nothing, and now Galaxy seems to have gone silent online. :-(

    • John, I’m really disappointed to hear that! I and several others I know who were backers had all received ours, so I assumed shipping was working out okay and stopped looking at the comments on the last update. I’ve just gone through the additional comments posted since I published this review and it is very bad form on the part of Galaxy to be so quiet. Sadly, I felt their communication was lacking through the entire process and will definitely not be backing any more of their projects. I’m hesitant to even use the discount coupons I got for the 2017 edition of this book. If it were free, I’d toss my name in the hat, of course, but if I have to fork over any actual money I’m going to have to think hard about it. Perhaps I will add a note to the end of this post. I wonder if any international backers have received heirs yet?