A forgotten view

I was going back through all the pics I’ve ever uploaded and found something I’d never published:

It was shot on my trusty SPII back in the days when all I had was the 1.8/55 SMC Takumar and I think I liked it because it just has that Takumar look to it–I must have shot wide open or close to it.  I’m not sure I remember where I took this, except that it’s from inside and maybe a house belonging to one of my mom’s neighbors.

This was uploaded January 1, 2014, the day I started The Resurrected Camera.

Why I love Tri-X

It’s Thanksgiving, so what am I most thankful for?  Tri-X, of course.

I suppose it’s all about the mood.  There’s a lot of darkness in these photos, perhaps because I tend to use Tri-X where there isn’t a whole lot of light, and it always gets the image.  You can push it, pull it, overexpose or underexpose it and still get results.  It’s the most versatile film I know of, the best damn black and white film ever made.

You will notice that most of what I have here are people.  I suppose that with larger formats it would work great for landscape photography (which I don’t do a whole lot of in black and white), and I was experimenting a bit with caffenol back in the day, pulling film a stop and using a semi-stand development to reduce grain.  Fuji Acros 100 seems to be the king of black & white landscape photography these days, but I’ve always said it’s Kodak for black & white and Fuji for color (and I’ve always said that I’ve always said).  One of these days I’ll mix it up.

I’m not the only person in the world to love Tri-X, it does happen to be the best-selling black and white film in the world.  Because of its latitude and forgiving latitude in not only exposure but also development, it’s used in a lot of photography programs (including mine).  It was used by newspaper photographers from the 1950s to the 1980s, used by combat photographers in Vietnam, and countless street photographers to this day.  Think of a famous black and white photo and chances are it was shot on Tri-X.  Classic Americana.

The power of the latent image

I was helping my mom rearrange some things in her house and came across a roll of film that had been in a basket just lying around the house.  I thought it might have been a roll that I shot when I first moved to Colorado, maybe a good 7-8 years old now, as I still have one roll unaccounted for.  It turned out to be something much more precious:

This was our home in Ohio which we had to sell back in 2002 which means that these pics are at least 15 years old, and judging by the way my brother looks, are probably closer to 20.  While mostly different angles of the front of our house, I also managed to capture our dog Pinto that my mom brought out to Colorado, and who sadly didn’t survive long after that.  Also in the background is a straw barn that we spent many an afternoon playing in back in the day.  These were taken by me, with my Kodak Cameo Focus Free point & shoot camera, picked up at a thrift store at some point and probably still in my top drawer in the chest at my dad’s.

I bumped up the contrast a bit but that was all, and am pretty impressed with how good the images held up, even if they do now look a bit vintage.  Knowing from experience how reluctant people are to drop off old film at a camera store these days, I recently had a single-use camera processed for a friend of mine and they were at least this usable.  If people you know have film lying around undeveloped, please encourage them to make a trip to their local camera store, or barring that, offer to do it for them: it’s a nice favor and can bring back some great memories.

NAC customer example gallery

Back in the Spring 2013 I had my album manufactured by the National Audio Company out of Missouri.  They were supposed to be working on a customer example gallery, so I sent in a few promo shots…three years later the gallery is finally up and can be viewed here.  I’m happy to see Lacrimosa among them.

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I seem to be one of the only ones not using the standard white background.  I can’t decide if that’s good because it will help pull people’s eyes toward it, or bad because it now seems less professional.  Hmmm…

I posted this picture before, way back when.  But this one is new:

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(my friend John held the camera for me)

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Why I Love the Pentax Spotmatic

Back in Spring 2010 I didn’t have any notion of what the good camera brands were, I couldn’t even name but one or two.  I’d grown up using my mom’s Minolta XG-A, but it had been years since I’d used it, and I came out to Colorado with my grandfather’s TKC Kalimar which had seen better days, but since it was manual I ended up learning some things with it.  The first SLR I ever bought though was the Pentax Spotmatic SPII, at a garage sale for a whole $5.00.  What a deal.  It came with the 55mm f/1.8 SMC Takumar lens which, besides being a superb example of mechanical precision, takes more beautiful pictures than anything else I’ve ever seen on this Earth.  When I bought this camera, I knew nothing of Pentax or their pedigree of fine optics; I was just thrilled that it had a built-in light meter.  I used that camera exclusively from 2010 to 2012, and while I did have a brief affair with Minolta during my Intro to Photography class (and Canon as well), Pentax is still my first love.

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Since acquiring a taste for Pentax screw-mount glass, I decided I’d make this my main camera system.  To that effect, I picked up both an ESII and ES bodies, and have added the 135mm f/2.5 Super-Takumar, the 28mm f/3.5 Super-Multi-Coated Takumar, the 50mm f/4 Super-Multi-Coated Macro-Takumar, and the 135mm f/2.8 Auto-Chinon lenses.  Just a couple days ago I picked up two more Super-Takumars, the 50mm f/1.4 and 200mm f/4, plus an original Spotmatic body.  Adding everything up, I’ve paid just a little over $150.00 for my system so far.  Not bad.

01AA020aAn outdated family portrait

The novelty for me when I bought the Spotmatic was the light meter.  It was fun to learn how to use it; Pentax was actually the first company to put a through-the-lens light meter on an SLR camera if I recall.  A manual camera with a light meter is probably the best tool for learning how to expose film properly, and is probably why just about every photography course recommends just this type of camera.  The Spotmatic line was exceptionally well-engineered in this area (not that it wasn’t in others!) because the meter has a bridge circuit that takes only the needed power from the battery, which means that voltage isn’t an issue.  It was designed originally for 1.33v mercury batteries, but works perfectly with the new 1.55v silver-oxide S400PX battery that is available for it today.  Other cameras (like Minolta) didn’t have this bridge circuit, and the different voltage causes their light meters to give faulty readings, which Wein Cell was able to address with their zinc air batteries.  I love that they do what they do and their battery has saved me before, but it’s very short-lived, only 3-4 months.  I’ve had this same Exell silver-oxide battery in my Spotmatic for 4 years now and it still works perfectly.  Score one for Pentax.

I hear so many gripes about stop-down metering, but honestly I don’t find it as annoying as others have.  Perhaps it was just that I didn’t have any other choice or anything to compare it to back in the day, but it hasn’t been much of a problem for me.  Things started getting complicated when all the camera makers went for open-aperture metering, because the M42 mount went from being the Universal Mount to being proprietary for each manufacturer.  All the last-generation lenses from Mamiya, Pentax, Yashica, Ricoh, etc. only work with their own cameras, and God help you if you try to mix and match your brands, you’re likely to have trouble removing a lens.  They require some permanent modifications to be able to fit, with the effect that they no longer allow open-aperture metering afterwards.  I suppose for those that really want open-aperture metering, they pick one brand and stick with that for all their bodies and lenses.  I’d rather be able to pick up just about any M42 lens and use it, which is why the stop-down metering Spotmatic and SPII come in handy.

The ES/ESII bodies offer this capability as well but are just a bit annoying in that way because I have to remember to flip this switch on the side to use stop-down metering or it won’t give the correct shutter speed, and it’s so easy to forget sometimes.

135mm lens taken at 1/60 or below (forgot to stop down the lens on the ESII, and when you don't it doesn't give you the right shutter speed as well as shooting at full aperture)

which is where things like this happen

I’d like to stick with the SMC lenses as much as possible when it comes to those bodies, but I keep finding more non-SMC lenses.  The ES/ESII is quite usable in manual mode as well, for which no stopping down is required to shoot, but metering is a bit more complicated.

One thing I would really have liked to see on one of the Spotmatics is a mirror-lock-up function, but sadly it was never added.  Supposedly there is a way on the ES/ESII which involves pushing the shutter release halfway, but I’ve never gotten it to work on mine.  Something like that might make it just that much better for landscape and macro work, but sadly it was never to be.  I know there are M42-to-Pentax-K adapters, but it would have been nice if Pentax had offered their LX professional camera in M42-mount as well, let us have just one more camera with open-aperture metering and aperture priority…hmmm, I wonder how hard it would be to modify one…

All those little gripes aside, what it really comes down to is that the lenses are nothing short of spectacular, and that’s the reason to use a Spotmatic.  It’s a look I love more than any other, and I’ve had quite a bit of good luck using these lenses and cameras over the years:

Most of my favorite work (and the majority of the above) has been done on one lens: the SMC Takumar 55mm f/1.8.  If I had to shoot with just one lens (and many times I did back in the old days) it would be that one.  I talked in an earlier post about the alchemy between the Takumar and Fuji Superia.  I’m happy to say it also works just as well with Tri-X.  There’s just something magical about those kind of combinations.

Prices on Takumar lenses aren’t exactly cheap at the moment, in fact a lot of manual-focus lenses are being snatched up by people who shoot digital video, so I understand.  On one hand, it’s nice that people are appreciating the quality of old lenses, especially those made by Pentax, but what it really gets down to is that all these people are trying to reconcile themselves to shooting digital any way they can, doing everything except the one thing that will improve their work the most: going back to film.  Not only that, but the prices on these lenses are stupidly overinflated now.  The saddest part for me is going on the Bay and seeing all these wonderful screw-mount camera bodies being sold without lenses; those cameras should be taking pictures, not separated from their lenses and sold as scrap.  I look, but I don’t compete in the rat race myself, I just practice patience, and as the saying goes, “Good things come to he who waits.”  Thankfully, fair prices are still out there, for the moment, if one knows where to look.

While I do prefer the look of the screw-mount Takumars, I’m also a fan of Pentax’s later K-mount lenses, especially the SMC Pentax-A series and so even though they’re not Spotmatics, here’s a recap of pictures I’ve taken with Pentax’s later K-mount cameras and lenses:

Anytime in the 1970s was an awesome time to own a Pentax.

Why I love Fuji Superia

This is my favorite product coming out of Japan, over even Nintendo or Studio Ghibli.  It may just be a cheap consumer film to a lot of people, but the colors it gives me are just fantastic.  That affordability really is an asset to me, especially when I was just starting to shoot film.  I had no job, no money, and I really took my time with my shots.  It was a great way to learn, but I’m glad I was paying $2-3 a roll instead of $10.  One of the bargain marts down in Colorado Springs used to get expired Superia in from time to time so that really helped me out, and it’s readily available at Wal-Mart as well, in 4-packs that might have gone up in price a bit, but still don’t break the bank.

Using this film almost exclusively for my first 3 years as a photographer, in a lot of ways I grew up with it.  I certainly cut my teeth on it, I learned more about film using Superia than I did in my photography class with Tri-X.  I’ve used it indoors, outdoors, in all different kinds of weather, overexposed, underexposed.  The results I’ve got just make me so pleased.  In saying why I love Superia so much it could almost be why I love the Takumar lens so much as well.  I counted: there are exactly 3 shots down below that are taken on a non-Pentax camera and lens.  I’ve read on other sites about alchemy as pertaining to film, and I can say without a doubt that I believe every word, because I found it here with the combination of Pentax’s SMC lenses and this film.  It’s how I create gold.

A few months back I came across this post from Cinestill regarding a comparison test between 800T, Fuji Pro400H, Portra 800, and Fuji Superia 800.  I was a bit surprised to see Superia on that list, it didn’t strike me as a film that pros would fall back on (maybe they used it after Fuji discontinued Pro800Z).  Looking at the results, it’s obvious that Cinestill 800T comes in first, but what came in second?  That’s right, according to their test, Superia 800 comes out looking better than either Pro400H or Portra 800.  i was so proud to see my beloved Superia perform so well compared to films that cost 2-3 times as much.

Superia 400 (as well as Reala) was originally available in 120 size as well, a fact I only found out after Fujifilm discontinued it, sadly.  I’ll bet it looked wonderful in medium format, but there doesn’t seem to be many examples posted on the net.  Other products in the Superia line that have recently been axed are a 1600 speed film and Reala 100.  Back in the day there was also a line called Fujicolor Press that was really just Superia that had been cold-stored since its manufacture, and they say it gave some really vivid colors.  It’s really sad to see the line dwindling, and sometimes I wonder just how long Fuji’s going to keep making film at all.  The only new film Fuji’s come out with lately has been Natura 1600 which I have yet to try.  Hopefully Fuji’s stabilized enough that they’ll start adding new films now, not taking away the classics.

I’ve used all four variants of Fuji’s consumer film line, Fujicolor 200, and Superia 200, 400, and 800.  Below are examples of all of them in no particular order.  They’re all great, so enjoy this collection of my favorite shots taken with this wonderful line of films:

Well done, Fujfilm.  Long may this film be made.

Contemplation

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From the first roll of Tri-X I ever shot

This is from one of the rolls from Summer 2013, and the first one that I sent through my Minolta F-2400 scanner.  It took a hell of a long time to get a routine down on that scanner, and while the results are good enough, the hassle just wasn’t worth it in my book, especially when the scanner sensor accumulated dust that started leaving lines on the scan.  And after that the Windows 98 machine I’d been using with it decided to stop working.  It wasn’t too big of a deal for me because I’d been pretty happy with the scans I’d got from the local camera store.  Just look at this.  Hopefully I’ll be getting a new scanner in the next week or two.

By the way, I really wanted to love the Minolta Hi-matic 9, but mine ended up being pretty trashed.  The shutter only ends up firing about half the time, so out of a 36-exposure roll, I got a little over 20 actual pictures.  What really killed me is that I paid more ($25) than for any other camera I’ve ever bought.  I was really looking forward to getting into rangefinders but now that’s been put on hold.  While the 1.7 lens it has is nothing to sneer at, I learned of the Yashica Lynx 14 which is a fixed-lens rangefinder with a 1.4 lens, so that’s the one I’m looking out for now, but it isn’t a huge priority, I’m still loving the Spotmatic.

edit: back in December 2015 I gave this camera away to my classmate Reggie.  He has a big thing for rangefinders and some experience fixing leaf shutters as well. I told him that if he ever got it fixed I’d take it back from him, but I have a much nicer rangefinder camera now and don’t miss it much.

Looking up

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an update:
It’s hard to believe I’ve been doing this for almost a year now.  I’m running out of pictures from my back catalog (that I’m OK with people seeing, that is) and it seems a bit like I’m running out of steam, but there’s still more to come, it will just be a bit of a transition from what I’ve been doing the last few months.

I’m planning on investing in another film scanner early next year and will be able to show a bit more of my work from the Intro to Photography class, primarily done with a Minolta SRT-MCII.  I’ve also signed up for another photo class, Alternative Processes which I think will cover things like pinhole photography and things like caffenol.  There’ll be a lot of black & white coming next year.

Besides that I have one more roll of film to get back from processing, and I also received a commission to make some family portraits.  It’s not going to get quiet any time soon.

Successful experiments in slow shutter speeds, handheld

Every now and then as photographers we just don’t have the light we could have hoped for.  The general rule of thumb is that your speed should at least equal your focal length (for a 50mm lens, at least a speed of 1/50 sec, etc), but sometimes your camera will tell you to expose for 1/30 sec or less; what to do then, push the film?  What if you’re in the middle of a roll?  If it’s just one stop you need, you might get away with underexposing without pushing.  However if not, you might just have to expose at a far slower speed than recommended.  Do you have a tripod on you?  No?  Then the choice is to either skip it or take a gamble and hope for the best.  I’ve become quite comfortable with doing this myself and it is my wish that people reading this will consider it as well.

All the above were taken with SLR cameras.  I’ve read that leaf-shutters are incredibly steady and one can get even slower shutter speeds.  I don’t have too many rangefinders and don’t use them often, but here’s one slow shot I like:
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Rangefinder camera, 45mm lens taken with the Bulb speed.  Steadied against a tree

Then there are a few shots which have obvious blur.  They might not be razor-sharp images, but they turned out extremely well in my opinion, and I’m proud of the effect that they create:

Finally, a few failures on my part:

Overall though, I’ve been pretty successful with slow shutter speeds, enough that I don’t sweat it if my camera’s telling me I need more light and I’m already at 1/60.  I just let my breath out, hold steady, slowly pull (not jerk) the shutter release, and then move on.