Lightbox Wednesday #11: A bottle of white. A bottle of red.

I've used the opportunity of moving my life over to a new MacBook to review the hundreds of images I've taken since my re-entry into film photography. The process has allowed me to really clean up and organize my "digital garage." It has had the added benefit of allowing me to relive some moments of personal photographic joy and sometimes even to ask myself "why did I take this photo in the first place?"

Today's lightbox image is a photo from four years ago and one that I got quite a bit of satisfaction out of when I first saw the scan. I had just picked up a very nice pre-Ai 50mm Nikkor-S f/1.4 lens on the cheap. I popped the lens onto a Nikon F2 Photomic body and shot a test roll of Kodak Portra 400...mostly just snaps of things around my house. For fun, I placed two bottles of Coppola wine on my window sill, moved in close and got this shot.

Wine bottles, Nikon F2 Photomic, 50mm Nikkor-S f/1.4, Kodak Portra 400

Wine bottles, Nikon F2 Photomic, 50mm Nikkor-S f/1.4, Kodak Portra 400

I remember how pleased I was with the sharpness and color rendering of this old Nikkor lens and how this shot inspired me to really get to know Kodak's Portra 400 film and to shoot my Nikon F2 more often. The joy of photography!

Lightbox Wednesday #10

I was shooting quite a bit of Ektar 100 in 2014. While Kodak's Portra films offer more muted colors and render skin tones naturally, Ektar is saturated and stunning. I shot this with my Nikon F2 and 50mm f/1.8 lens.

Moss on rock/Boho Cottage, Freestone CA 2014

Moss on rock/Boho Cottage, Freestone CA 2014

Lightbox Wednesday #9

Just like during my visit to Lake Tahoe in the Summer, I was photographically and creatively paralyzed while I was in Yosemite National Park this past September. I was humbled by the majesty of the place, reduced to taking touristy snapshots and standing around staring, in awe. It's hard to take a bad photo in Yosemite though, no matter what kind of camera you are shooting with. I had my Pentax Spotmatic SP and Olympus OM-2n with me, shooting Portra and TMax 100.

Half Dome from Yosemite Valley, Olympus OM-2n

Half Dome from Yosemite Valley, Olympus OM-2n

Yosemite Valley, Olympus OM-2n

Yosemite Valley, Olympus OM-2n

I wandered around trying to get the best black and white shot I could of Half Dome. In the end, the shot I was most pleased with was taken...from my balcony at The Ahwahnee Hotel.

Half Dome from The Ahwahnee. Pentax Spotmatic with 50mm f/1.4 Super Tak

Half Dome from The Ahwahnee. Pentax Spotmatic with 50mm f/1.4 Super Tak

Of course, I visited The Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite Village several times. Even bought a roll of film there. :-)

I want to visit Yosemite again. With all of the rain we've been getting in California this year, the falls should be roaring!

Changing Times

I love to browse antique stores. I rarely buy anything, but it's fun to look. Several of the local ones have stacks of old magazines. Among the piles of LOOK and Life, I'll occasionally find an old yellowed Popular Photography or Modern Photography. I was a subscriber to both for a decade starting in about 1973.

Forget a subscription, I realized recently that I haven't even bought a photography magazine or any magazine for that matter in...forever. My computer and the internet has taken the place of these printed monthlies.

Back at the antique store, flipping through the dog-eared pages, I am reminded of how I drooled over ads for the latest Nikon, Minolta, Pentax or Hasselblad. Reading and dreaming. It would be decades later and only when digital photography made film cameras nearly relics, would I be able to afford an Olympus OM-2 or Nikon FE. 

Times certainly have changed, but I am very grateful that I've finally had the opportunity to try some of these truly wonderful cameras and that there is still film to feed them.

Lightbox Wednesday #8

In the 1960s and 70s, my father shot lots and lots of Kodachrome of our family. On rainy or snowy days, he'd set up the Argus slide projector and screen in the basement and we'd watch a slide show. We saw those same slides over and over...even the ones that were in backwards or upside down. And it was always fun.

Right now, I'm sort of doing the same thing digitally; going through all of my images I've shot since I've gotten back into film photography. I'm keeping the ones I like and deleting the rest.

In 2013, I was finding my way around a Mamiya 645Pro medium format SLR. I was also living in a little cottage in Freestone, California. Near the back of the property where I lived, some kids had staked their claim to an old shed.

Pirate Fort/Freestone, CA/Mamiya 645Pro with 110mm lens

Pirate Fort/Freestone, CA/Mamiya 645Pro with 110mm lens

Lightbox Wednesday #7

85mm is one of my favorite focal lengths. I shot this with my 85mm f/2 Nikkor on a Nikon F2AS body. This is the little surf shop here in town.

Bodega Bay Surf Shack, October 2014

Bodega Bay Surf Shack, October 2014

Reunited

I'm always curious about the provenance of the old cameras I acquire. Unfortunately, many of the cameras I buy are 30 or more years old, so their history is mostly unknown.

I know a lot about my Retina rangefinder; it belonged to my father. He bought it in 1952 in the Army PX. He shot it for years and then gave it to me. I even have some of the original packaging.

I'm somewhat sure that there weren't many previous owners of my Leica M2. The Leica shop I bought it from said it came from a collector and when I sent it off to Youxin Ye for CLA, he told me it appeared to have been rarely used. Based on that, I imagine my Leica didn't change hands too many times or if it did, it belonged to collectors and not shooters.

I bought my Nikon F2S and 50mm lens from a camera shop here in town. The owner of the shop told me that the camera was traded in by its original owner. I asked if I could have the name of the owner and was told that they would ask him if it was okay to give me his name. California has pretty strict privacy laws. I haven't thought to ask again. When I sent this camera to Sover Wong for CLA, he told me that the camera had been well taken care of. The F2 was in production for over a decade and during that time, several different metered and un-metered finders were available. Lots of F2 owners swapped out finders, so it's common to find a 1972 body with a 1977 finder. Sover told me he was pretty sure that the camera body and finder on my Nikon came out of the factory together. Additionally, when I checked the serial number on the lens that came with the camera against Nikon's production dates, they were close enough for me to think that the photographer who owned this F2 might have bought the lens around the same time as the body.

Recently, I bought a Pentax Spotmatic F from a very nice man who used to work for Pentax. The camera came from his own collection and with its original soft case and warranty card.

When my purchase arrived, I was delighted with the condition of the camera and in having some original documentation, so I emailed the seller to let him know. In his response, he asked if I might also be interested in a Pentax SMC Takumar 55mm f/1.8 lens to go with the camera. That was precisely the lens I wanted to mate with the SPF to allow the open aperture metering to work as designed. His asking price for the 55 was fair and we transacted. Many cameras were sold in the 1970s as part of "kits." You got the camera, standard lens, soft case and strap. The 55mm SMC Takumar f/1.8 was a pretty common kit lens for the SPF. When the lens arrived, I mounted it on the camera and upon closer examination, noticed that the serial number on the lens and the serial number on the warranty card matched! This camera and lens left the Asahi Optical Company factory 42 years ago together! Cool! At least to a camera geek.

Pentax Spotmatic F with SMC Takumar 55mm f/1.8

Pentax Spotmatic F with SMC Takumar 55mm f/1.8

Camera serial number

Camera serial number

Lens serial number

Lens serial number

The history of many of the old film cameras I own is lost to the mist of time, but it's still fun to ponder their provenance. I like to think about a time when these cameras were brand new, sitting on the store shelf, an anxious and excited photographer handling the latest state-of-the art photo gear for the first time. Who was this photographer? What type of film was the first to be wound through? What kind of images has this lens seen? Where has this camera been? 

For the most part, I'll never know but it is fun when I can at least connect some of the dots and reunite this old Pentax with its factory lens.

Lightbox Wednesday #6

I was teaching myself the Zone System, using my handheld Pentax Spotmeter and ignoring what the center-weighted TTL meter in my Nikon F2 was telling me when I shot this propeller on a fishing boat at Spud Point Marina in Bodega Bay in May, 2014.

Shooting the Canon F-1n

The weather has not been optimal for photography here in Northern California these last few months. In the seven years I have lived here, this Winter has been the wettest. Huge storms, "atmospheric rivers of moisture" the weather people keep calling them, are dumping amazing amounts of rain here in the Bay Area and record snowfalls in the Sierras. Good for a dried out California. Not so good for outdoor hiking or photography.

That all being said, I did get out on a rare sunny day and shoot some Kodak Tmax 100 in my Canon F-1n. I really enjoyed shooting this camera. Big bright viewfinder, intuitive controls, well balanced body and a robust metering system. The Canon FD 50mm f/1.4 lens impressed me with it's sharpness. I set the F-1n to aperture-priority AE and let the camera do at least some of the thinking in these test shots.

The Canon F-1n closely resembles the Nikon F3 as far as features and performance. They were contemporaries in the pro photography world in the early 80s. Having owned and used both the F3 and this Canon, I would say that the F-1n edges out the F3 in feel and function, at least in my opinion.

Lightbox Wednesday #5

I am attempting an orderly transfer of the photographs I have taken over the past eight years from on old MacBook Air to a new MacBook Pro. In the process, I am gutting many, keeping the ones I like. It's fun to look back. Just like a song, a photograph can put you right back in the moment.

In September, 2013, I was shooting quite a bit of Tri-X film in a Nikon F2S that had just been serviced by Sover Wong. I took the Nikon to San Francisco for the weekend. Since living in the Bay Area, I had been meaning to go see the Painted Ladies, the City's famous row of Victorian houses made famous in the television series Full House.

I am not much of a street photographer, but I seem to be able to get my nerve up a bit more when walking the crowded streets of Chinatown.

Looking through the images I shot that weekend, I remember it was hot for September. I took the trolley down to Fisherman's Wharf, walked around a bit there and then started thinking about getting back to the car which was parked near the Ferry Building. San Francisco is a great city for walking but with the heat that day, I had about enough. I flagged down a bicycle taxi and rode back to the car in comfort. I got this shot of my driver as I neared the parking lot.

I feel like I used to re-visit my work more often in my pre-digital days. If I didn't print a photograph in the darkroom, there would at least be a contact sheet around somewhere. The lightbox always had negatives or slides on it and somewhere in the house; an old shoebox with snapshots. This transfer process has been a good exercise in looking through the pictures I have made since returning to film in 2009. It's helping me learn and grow. If, like me, you've not looked back through your digitally stored images in a while, try it. It's a healthy and fun process.

Lightbox Wednesday #4

Two years ago this month, I shot my first roll of film in a Contax RX camera I bought from B&H Photo in New York. I was a bit nervous taking a new-to-me camera out for a test drive during a weekend trip to San Francisco, but I shouldn't have been. The RX turned out to be a great camera to shoot and the Zeiss lens never fails to satisfy.

Contax RX, 50mm f/1.7 Carl Zeiss Planar with yellow filter, Kodak Tmax 100

Contax RX, 50mm f/1.7 Carl Zeiss Planar with yellow filter, Kodak Tmax 100

Canon F-1n: First Impressions

I've been dabbling in photography since the early 1970s and for as long as I can recall, there's been a Nikon camp and a Canon camp. I've always belonged to the former, never warming much to most Canons I've tried. I had a TL once. It was clunky. And none of the 1990s era plasticy blob-like Canons appeared interesting enough for me to try. A friend of mine, firmly rooted in the Canon camp, loaned me one of his pro-level DSLRs once to try, but its multi-function switches and fiddly menus turned me off. The only exception so far was the Canon P rangefinder, a circa 1960s Leica screw mount jewel that's a minimalist joy to shoot. But that's it; one lone photographic antique from a time when SLRs weren't even a glimmer in Canon's eye.

Until now, maybe. You see, I've been keeping a casual eye out for a Canon F-1 or F-1n ever since my photo-blogging friend Jim Grey matter-of-factly mentioned this camera to me a year or so ago. Jim knows I lean towards metal, gears, minimalism and great glass.  He was the one who suggested I try Pentax. It was a great suggestion. I've since fallen hard for the Spotmatics. So I trust this guy and when a fine, slightly brassy Canon F-1n presented itself, I took the plunge.

The original Canon F-1 was to the Canon camp what the Nikon F2 was to Nikon shooters; an overbuilt, heavy, metal, pro-level workhorse. The F-1 came out in 1971, around the same time as Nikon's second F. The F-1 was a manual focus, manual exposure system camera. Canon promised they'd keep the F-1 in production for a decade and they did. As Nikon closed out the F2 era with the introduction of the F3 in 1980, Canon debuted their "new F-1" not longer after, in 1981. The New F-1, soon to be called just the F-1n, offered several finder options including aperture-priority auto-exposure with the AE-FN finder. My F-1n came with this finder and a very nice Canon FD 50mm f/1.4 lens.

I've just loaded some Tmax 100 into the F-1n and here are some thoughts so far...

1.  It's a heavy camera alright, but it is well balanced and easy to handle. Canon seemed to really like putting those big 6V batteries in cameras of this era so, like the AE-1 Program, it has a raised compartment on the front of the camera to accommodate the battery chamber. Unlike the consumer-oriented AE-1 however, the battery chamber on the F-1n fits better, feels nicer and seems to be more part of the camera body rather than an afterthought. This compartment also provides a secure place to grip the camera.

2.  This camera has an unusal dark gray matte finish, similar to what you might find on a gun or rifle. It is very different than the black enamel finish on my Nikons and Spotmatic bodies. The camera I bought is starting to reveal some nice brassing on the top and bottom plates. The more I handle this camera, the more I like the finish. With use, based on how it's wearing now, it should develop a wonderful patina.

3.  The viewfinder is big and bright. Super easy to focus with the standard split image focus screen. In manual mode, the match-needle exposure information appears on the right side of the viewfinder screen. Switch to AE and the manual information disappears and the AE information appears on the bottom of the screen. Nice--you always know what metering mode you are in!

4.  Shutter speeds are from B to 1/2000th. This is a hybrid shutter. Electronics control the slower speeds and the rest are mechanical--good news if that big 6V battery hanging out front dies. 

5.  Shooting in either manual or AE modes is pretty intuitive, even for a visitor from the Nikon camp. The camera controls all feel nice, firm and clicky. The Canon FD lenses, which were phased out after the F-1n, are well built with a nice focus feel.

6.  Ever since I had my laser cataract surgery, I don't need viewfinder diopters any longer, but if you do, this camera will accept screw-in ones like the Nikon F2. There are also a number of different focus screens available.

I'm shooting my test roll in the F-1n both in manual and AE modes, carefully logging each shot in a little notebook. I bought this camera from a very reputable camera shop down in Marin County and their in-house camera tech checked this camera before I bought it, so the meter should be accurate, but it'll be nice to have good notes when I get the scans back from the lab.

Unlike the Nikon F2, you won't find page after internet page or oodles of YouTube videos gushing praise on the Canon F-1n. Nikon really dominated the pro photography world at this time, so I imagine a lot more F2s were sold than F-1s, meaning lots more survivors. Or the film photographers still shooting their F-1s aren't as vocal a bunch. I'm not sure. What I do know is that this is the first Canon SLR I've really liked right from the start. Thanks Jim!

 

Lightbox Wednesday #3

I am not sure why I get so much satisfaction from this shot I took two years ago in a little shop in Northern California that sells kitchen/cooking goods, but I do. My Leica MP was loaded with Kodak's wonderful Tmax 100 film. I was using the 35mm f/2 Summicron lens.

Lightbox Wednesday #2

Each Wednesday, I toss an image onto the digital lightbox. This is from November, 2011. Shot with my Nikon FE2 on Kodak's now discontinued BW400CN film. One of the few images I shot with this C-41 process film that satisfied me. 

Spud Point Marina, Bodega Bay, CA

Spud Point Marina, Bodega Bay, CA

New Years Day at the Pt. Reyes National Seashore

It's become somewhat of a tradition to take a New Years Day hike out to the tip of Point Reyes; starting the year with fresh air, exercise and photography. Last year it was Portra 400 in the Nikon FM2n. This year, black and white Tmax 100 in my Pentax Spotmatic SP. I've been shooting with the splendid 55mm f/2 Super Takumar recently, a lens I like a lot. This camera body was recently serviced by Eric Hendrickson.

Pentax Spotmatic SP with 55mm f/2 Super Takumar

Pentax Spotmatic SP with 55mm f/2 Super Takumar

I've done this hike in all kinds of weather, so I'm usually layered up for warmth with a water-proof outer shell. New Years Day 2017 was deceptively mild and sunny when I left the house, so it surprised me when I arrived at Pierce Point Ranch to find a fierce and biting cold wind blowing in off the Pacific. A half hour down the Tomales Point trail and the ocean blow was biting right through my North Face jacket. This wasn't fun at all. I decided to turn around and try and get some shots at the more wind-protected ranch and perhaps down at McClure's Beach; a short but steep hike from the ranch site. The trail was muddy and I found the beach full of big tide pools.

McClure's Beach at Pierce Point Ranch, Pt. Reyes National Seashore

McClure's Beach at Pierce Point Ranch, Pt. Reyes National Seashore

Conditions weren't much better ocean side. The wind mixed with the salt spray at the beach. It was cold! I only spent a few minutes there before heading back up the trail to the ranch. 

The house and most of the out buildings at Pierce Point Ranch were built in the 1870s. They are maintained by the Park Service and a Ranger lives on site. The ranch buildings are situated between several bluffs which form a very effective wind break. Making images around the ranch, while still cold that day, was far more comfortable than the trail to the point or the beach.

The ranch house at Pierce Point. 

The ranch house at Pierce Point. 

I've said before that I could wander around the Point Reyes National Seashore with a camera and film for the rest of my days and be quite content. It's a beautiful and inspiring place, even when you're freezing your butt off!

Quite unexpectedly, I am really loving these old Spotmatics and Takumar lenses. Simple cameras and great optics. Stop-down metering is the only hassle with these cameras, so I have a Spotmatic F in Eric Hendrickson's shop now for CLA. The F allows full aperture metering and should be an even more pleasant Spotmatic to shoot.

Lightbox Wednesday

Back in the days when I had a darkroom, I would routinely pull out sleeves of old negatives and throw them on my Portra-Trace lightbox. The Portra-Trace is a metal box which contains a cold light source inside and white translucent plexiglass on top. You place negatives or slides on top, the light would shine through them and you could decide which ones you wanted to print. I'd revisit old negatives and print them again or even discover negatives I hadn't printed before and give them a shot.

My lightbox and the darkroom are long gone, but I've been going through a similar process as I migrate my life over to a new MacBook Pro I bought over the holidays. My seven year old MacBook Air began dying a slow death in November, so rather than have a digital catastrophe, I began moving files to a G/Drive in anticipation of an orderly transition to the new laptop. In the process, I've been looking through lots of photographs I've taken sine re-entering film photography and it's reminded me of my darkroom light box days. Looking through these images again has been fun. So, in the spirit of the old analog lightbox days, I am launching a digital version every Wednesday here on the blog, sharing some of the photos I've shot since 2010.

Here's one from 2011 taken not long after I moved to Bodega Bay. I shot this with a Nikon F2 on Kodak Ektar 100 I think. One of the things this lightbox process has taught me is that I need to keep better notes on what camera, lens and film I use when I make photographs.

Miss Hailey, Bodega Bay CA, May 2011

Miss Hailey, Bodega Bay CA, May 2011