Week 14 – Intermediate Photography

My first roll of Eastman Double-X.  I bought two 36-exposure rolls from Cinestill more than a year ago, but I needed the right occasion to bring it out, and I think this was it.  I still have one more roll left that I’m planning on using in the next week or so, plus a 100ft roll on the way from the Film Photography Project, probably the easiest way to deal with this particular film.

Developed in D-76 1:1 for 10mins at 68F.

Initial impressions?  It’s not bad, but I don’t know that it would replace Tri-X for me.  I can’t say it’s handled high-contrast situations all that well, I had read that the highlights can tend to block up quickly and I agree.  That said, I’m still using the Olympus Trip 35 and underexposed about half the roll, and there seems to be a fair amount of latitude, so I need to work on getting my development technique down, I’m sure.

A few weeks back, I talked about Herman Leonard’s jazz photos.  Well, here are more jazz photos, this time by Lee Friedlander, whom I knew primarily as a street photographer.

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Unknown and Joe James, 1958 – Lee Friedlander

Friedlander was also working in NYC, about 10 years after Herman Leonard, and became a photographer with Atlantic Records making many album covers, including John Coltrane’s Giant Steps, Ray Charles’ What’d I Say, and the Ornette Coleman Quartet’s This Is Our Music.  He published the book American Musicians on this subject, as well as The Jazz People of New Orleans.

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The Read Headed Zombie virus has been eradicated

Bittersweet.  The last Read Headed Zombie show ever was back on Halloween. It’s something that I’ve played sets in, I’ve been part of their art/music contests, and have generally hung out with a lot of these people for years now.  My roommate was one of the performers that night, and he’s one of the first people I met when I moved here from Ohio.  I think he’s singlehandedly responsible for me knowing the people in these pictures.

As this was a special occasion, I broke out my last two rolls of Cinestill 800T and put those through the Spotmatic, plus some more of the expired Tri-X through the Trip 35 (those were mostly so underexposed that they were unusable, even though I tried developing at 3200…the usable ones are the last two shots in the series).  I’m really pleased with the Cinestill, considering I shot it 1200-3000 and didn’t push.  They did start getting pretty grainy, but it didn’t bother me to make some black & white, the grain looks just right, then.  They really turned the lights down low for most of the show, I was shooting wide open at 1/30 and 1/15 almost the whole time, handheld.

Here’s to you, guys.  Whatever comes after RHZ, I’m sure it’ll be fantastic.

Just a few posts from the Colorado Springs scene:
https://resurrectedcamera.wordpress.com/2015/09/13/week-3-intermediate-photography/
https://resurrectedcamera.wordpress.com/2015/03/26/little-canyons/
https://resurrectedcamera.wordpress.com/2014/11/10/learning-curve-with-cinestill-800t/

Week 11 – Intermediate Photography

Halloween marked the final Red Headed Zombie show, which I have been a part of for several years now.  I’ll have a full post coming on that soon, but wanted to pick out three of my favorite images for this week’s assignment.  I even tried printing some to my black & white paper, it didn’t turn out all that well, unfortunately.

I broke out the Cinestill for this concert, but the lighting was so poor that I was shooting 1200-3000 and hoping the film’s latitude would come through for me.  It did, in fine style, but with the more underexposed shots, the grain (and colors) were a bit too much to deal with; they look fine as black & white, though!

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KENNY CLARKE New York, 1948 – Herman Leonard

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DEXTER GORDON New York, 1948 – Herman Leonard

When people think of jazz imagery, it’s hard not to think of a Herman Leonard picture.  I first noticed his work this summer when taking a jazz history course.  Our textbook was Jazz by Gary Giddins & Scott DeVeaux; Leonard’s images are all over the place in there, and so striking.  He got his start in post-war New York using his camera to gain free admission to jazz clubs, and over the years ended up hanging out with (and taking pictures of) some of the great jazz musicians of all time, including Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, and so many others.  I picked out two of my favorites to show here.  If I had thought of it soon enough, I would have chosen a master’s study of Herman Leonard, considering that I’m myself a musician and spend so much time around musicians.  Too late now, I suppose…

Week 3 – Intermediate Photography

Here’s my stuff.  I walked around all week with a new lens on my Spotmatic, the Chinon 55mm f/1.7 macro.  Or is that “macro?”  There seems to have been some discussion over whether or not this is merely a close-focusing lens or a true macro lens.  I’m still learning the difference myself, so I won’t comment here about it, but I think the lens has plenty of character, and I like the look, plus the price was right.  Since I’ve carried around with me one of three normal primes over the last few months, each with their own pros and cons, I was wondering if the Chinon might give me the best options of being sharp, fast enough in low light, and with the ability to focus closer than I usually need.  The jury is still out, but I’ll say that it’s hard getting used to focusing the opposite direction after spending so much time with the Takumars; that is my biggest gripe, but if it means missing the shot, it could be a big one.  So far, I’ve been more than happy with the 1.8/55 SMC Takumar as my everyday lens, but the Chinon is at least an acceptable alternative.

It occurred to me after I posted a week ago, that as far as waiting for the perfect shot, there’s another really iconic photograph that should be talked about, especially in the context of concerts since that’s what I shot a lot of the last week, that also has a pretty good story behind it.

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The Clash’s Paul Simonon – Pennie Smith

From what I remember reading off Smith’s firsthand account, Simonon had been having trouble with his bass for a few songs at that point and had had just about enough.  Smith had one last exposure left on her roll of film before she’d have to rewind, and instead of snapping something quick, rewinding, and loading a new roll, she sat on that last exposure.  She could feel that something was about to happen, and it did; she was in the perfect spot to take a critical shot because she was attuned to what was going on around her, and decided not to waste a critical exposure on any lesser shot.  And it paid off in a big way, becoming the cover to London Calling and one of the most iconic rock ‘n’ roll pictures of all time.

I can think of no photograph that better encapsulates the punk era’s rage and frustration, a teenage angst-driven rock ‘n’ roll for a new generation, as well as its level of naivete and penchant for destruction.  It truly is a thousand words.

Little Canyons

My friend’s album release party.  I seem to be doing more and more of these, and as long as I have access to the school darkroom, it’ll probably be in black & white.

Just as soon as I send my ESII off for repair, I find out that my ES is screwing up on me.  It’s nothing too drastic, just having problems with the mirror sticking, but I haven’t had the opportunity to take it apart and clean it out yet. Thankfully, the exposure is good, but the mirror problem was so annoying that I never got around to shooting the main event.  I don’t know which is worse, being able to shoot a whole event but losing half your shots to wildly varying exposures, or losing half your shots because your mirror is stuck up and you can’t focus, get frustrated, and decide you’d rather enjoy the rest of the show as part of the audience.

As well as that, there are spots on a few of the images.  I was continuing the experiment of pushing Tri-X 2 stops in a D-76 1:1 stand development, which could be part of it, though for some reason, it only affected the first two exposures and the last three.  Strange…

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.

Cinestill 800T, before and after

I’ve been thinking about Cinestill 800T again recently, mostly because of seeing how other people are using this film, and I wanted to chime in a bit more.  Going back to my writeup from last month, I just wanted to make it clear that a lot of the time, this film doesn’t look very good right out of the scanner, so be encouraged.  I’m seeing a lot of people posting Cinestill images raw, and they just don’t look right.  Remember: adjust the curves.  Here’s what I mean:

01AA025  01AA025a
before                                               after

Just a bit too much blue.

I almost never get images I like right away with this film.  It’s not so much of a problem, as long as I’m willing to take a few minutes to adjust some things in Post.  What it means however, is that knowing ahead of time that I’m going to have to tweak it after scanning, I’m only going to shoot it for projects where I’m willing to put in that extra time to get it looking right.

One more thing: this entire roll needed adjustment except for the absolute last exposure.  For some reason, that one came out looking fine, despite the fact that the shots right before it, taken literally one foot from each other, are as blue as everything else.  Out of the entire roll, this one was fine:
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Too bad I fudged the focus

The guy at the camera store said maybe the color temperature of the lights was different, I don’t think that’s right.  I think it has to do with this camera (Pentax SF-1) having a plastic window on the back that I forgot to tape over.  If that’s the case though, just look at how well I was able to salvage those shots!  If you’re shooting the 800T (or any of the Kodak motion picture film being repackaged by Cinestill or other companies) and it doesn’t look right, don’t be discouraged with the results you’re getting!  Pull it into Photoshop, Lightroom, whatever you can get a hold of and start adjusting curves or color balance, add some contrast maybe.

That’s all I have for now.  Merry Christmas to everyone, I probably won’t be back on until next year.