The Northern Light Surf Shop in Bodega, CA is one of my favorite camera/film-testing subjects. Be it in black and white or color, the little shop is a wonderful subject. As I was sorting through all of my images, I had forgotten just how frequently I had photographed the shop.
Of all my vintage lenses, I've used my 8-element 50mm f/1.4 Pentax Super Takumar lens probably more than any other this year. This Super Tak is considered one of the best normal lenses of its era. My copy continues to dazzle me with its sharpness and unique color signature. It's a wonderful lens to use, with buttery smooth focus action and definitive, clicky f/stops. When I transition between this lens and others, they feel crude by comparison.
Mounted on a Spotmatic SP body, protected by its leather half case and slung over my shoulder on a leather 1901 Eggleston strap, this is a kit I really love shooting.
One weekend, one roll of Kodak's Portra 400 with the camera set at ASA 200.
Saturday. Here are two shots at the beach. Shutter was set to 1/500. I was trying to get waves crashing against the rocks. I like how the Super Tak rendered the spray.
There are always plenty of birds that'll pose for you in Bodega Bay. This image shows the sharpness of the Super Tak. Subtle color too.
Close focus is a hair over 17 inches on this lens, allowing you to fill the frame if you desire.
The next day was totally overcast. I headed over to the Russian River wineries to buy a few bottles and get some shots in the vineyards before the grapes were picked.
The close-ups were all hand held. I think this lens could really do some damage with a tripod-mounted Spotmatic.
I will continue to sing the praises of these Takumar prime lenses. I haven't tried one yet that has disappointed. And the 8-element 50/1.4 might just be the best of the bunch.
I've been cleaning up my archives of images taken over the past 7 years, saving some, deleting many. Every Wednesday, I post interesting images I've revisited over the past week.
Coastal wireless station KPH at Pt. Reyes is one of my favorite spots to visit and photograph. It's quiet, desolate and lonely out there. A perfect break from my noisy, always connected work life.
KPH, first a Marconi Wireless property and later owned by RCA, was once the main radio relay point between ships in the Pacific and the mainland. The National Parks Service owns the property now and a dedicated team of volunteers maintain the station and its aging transmitters and antenna fields.
KPH was a high power Morse code only facility. The receive and transmitter sites are located some miles apart to reduce interference. The receive site is at Pt. Reyes and the transmitters are south in Bolinas.
The place really lends itself to black and white film photography. I shot these with my Leica M2 on Acros film.
There is an abandoned phone booth in the parking lot of KPH. Wireless telegraphy and public phones; two communication forms from a bygone era.
Random notes, thoughts, whatnot...
It's been a busy Summer, allowing far less days for photography than I had hoped for. But Fall on the Sonoma Coast is a delightful time and I look forward to getting out for lots of fresh air and picture taking.
A few weeks ago, I sent my Polaroid SX-70 camera in to Matt Widmann at 2nd Shot SX-70 Service. We've been emailing each other back and forth since and I have already learned things about my Polaroid I never knew. A complete report on my SX-70 refurb is coming soon!
One of my two black body Pentax Spotmatic SP cameras is in Eric Hendrickson's shop now for CLA. Once I get it back, I'll have two good serviced SPs to shoot. Maybe keep color in one and black and white in the other? And wow do I love the 50mm 8-element Super Takumar lens!!
I can't say enough good things about the repair folks at Blue Moon Camera & Machine. They did a CLA on my Minolta XD and that little camera is just a joy to shoot now. My little XD is packed with features including aperture and shutter priority automation and full manual control. I have some black and white film in the Minolta as I write this. Blue Moon also did a CLA and battery upgrade on my Canon original F-1. The Canon came back all spiffy and smelling really good. I wrote Blue Moon to ask what that wonderful smell was and Sophia wrote me back and said it was probably the Pliobond adhesive they used on the new seals. Didn't know glue could smell so good!
I've also had a roll of Acros in my new-to-me Leica M7 for several months now. After shooting my way through most of the Leica M film cameras, I believe I have finally settled on the M that I want to keep. I know that Leica purists will hurl rocks at me for saying this, but I really like aperture-priority automation in a Leica M body. First impressions on this camera soon and full review to come.
I hope to get back to San Francisco for one more street photography photo walk this year. I learned so much the last time and even had an "a-ha moment" that I'll be writing about soon.
Any time I think, even just for a moment, that one of my 35mm cameras or even my medium format Pentax 645n is too big or too heavy, I think back to the chap I came across on the Bluff Trail overlooking the Pacific Ocean near Timber Cove a few weekends back. I was shooting my Pentax MX. He had hiked a mile in with an 8x10 view camera!
Life is good.
My Lightbox project this year has coincided with an effort to reduce the number of film cameras in my collection. Through this process of reviewing almost eight years of work, I am realizing that I've made my most satisfying images with the simplest of tools.
It was a nice evening on the beach in mid-February when I caught this kid playing in the surf with my Pentax Spotmatic F. Open-aperture metering on the SPF and a minimalist user interface contributed to capturing the decisive moment.
You know it's a busy week when my Lightbox Wednesday post comes on a Thursday.
I didn't expect to get much photography done on this November day four years ago. A heavy, dense fog settled in on the Kortum Trail along the Sonoma Coast as I hiked on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. There was so much moisture in the air, I kept my Leica M4 under my jacket to keep it dry.
As it turned out, I got a number of satisfying images that day even with the fog. This one was my favorite.
One of the nice aspects of having a collection of old film cameras is picking up one that you haven't shot in a while and falling in love all over again. After several months of using more modern cameras, I've just loaded some Acros in my Pentax Spotmatic SP. Whenever I shoot this camera, I marvel at its thoughtful design. Simple. Mechanical. Metal. Gears. Levers. Beautiful!
The SP was the first in a long line of Spotmatic cameras which would introduce a legion of photographers to through-the-lens light metering. Introduced at Photokina in 1960 as a prototype, the first Spotmatics hit store shelves in 1964. Pentax would produce several variations of the Spotmatic over the next ten or twelve years before giving up on the screw mount M42 lens mount in favor of the K bayonet mount system in the mid 1970s.
The SP did not have a built in flash shoe. Pentax sold an accessory slide-on cold shoe for this camera. I have always felt that flash shoes on cameras were ugly necessities and the absence of one on this camera highlights the beautiful sculpted lines of the pentaprism. The SP is a handsome camera! The finish is beginning to wear on my black body SP revealing a stunning patina of brass. The more I use this camera, the better it looks. I can only imagine what my iPhone would look like in 53 years!
Several manufacturers made M42 screw mount lenses that will work on this camera, but the original Pentax Takumars were some of the finest lenses ever manufactured for 35mm SLRs. Pick up most any 50mm f/2, f/1.8 or F/1.4 Takumar and you will have a lens that will just dazzle you. I was lucky enough to stumble across a rare 8-element 50mm f/1.4 Super Takumar and this lens is absolutely amazing!
Since Pentax made so many Spotmatics over the years, these cameras are widely available on eBay. I have seen decent Spotmatics offered for as little as $10. Since the Spotmatic is a fully mechanical camera with a battery that only powers the light meter, you can easily find one that works just fine without any kind of service. If you do need service, for a very reasonable fee, Pentax master repairer Eric Hendrickson can CLA (clean-lubricate-adjust) your Spotmatic and return it to you in almost like new condition.
Spotmatics originally used 1.35v mercury batteries and those have long since been banned. However, some forward-thinking Pentax designer included a bridge circuit in the Spotmatic that allows you to use modern batteries. I use the Renata 387s in mine.
Making photographs with a Spotmatic is a very simple and straightforward affair. Load your film, set your film speed in the little window on the shutter speed knob, compose and focus. Metering is a bit tricky in the Spotmatic because almost all of these cameras use "stop down metering." To meter, flick the little switch on the side of the lens mount up and then adjust shutter speed or aperture to center the needle in the viewfinder. It's a little fumbly at first, but half a roll in, it'll become second nature. I do it now without even thinking.
If you are considering getting into film photography, a modest investment in a Spotmatic body and one or two Super Takumar lenses will provide you with a kit that will tackle most any photographic adventure. Add an Eric Hendrickson CLA and your Spottie will provide pure simple joy for many years.
You can find Eric Hendrickson here: www.pentaxs.com
Here are some shots from earlier this year with the SP and 50mm f/1.4 Super Takumar 8-element lens:
My photography is, for the most part, a solitary endeavor. A man with a camera, taking pictures of things or places. I don't believe there is anything wrong with this, especially when I spend most of my time in the busy, noisy, people-filled environment of retail automotive marketing. I can really recharge my batteries by getting away and standing alone on a windswept cliff trying to get the perfect exposure of a Pacific coast sunset.
I am aware however that this kind of photography is a very safe space for an essentially reclusive person like me. Unless it is work-required, I avoid social gatherings and crowds make me uneasy. And as much as I could probably spend the rest of my days happily clicking away on some desolate stretch of beach waiting for the waves to splash just the right way or the sun to glint perfectly off the surf, there is an insistent nagging within me to photograph people.
I realize for me, this is a 12-step program. As much as I'd like to immediately sign up for a workshop where professional models pose as I hone my portrait skills, I know I need to move through this process slowly and methodically. And so, I am starting with street photography. My tool is the Leica M rangefinder and my classroom is San Francisco.
Through two sessions this year and last, I've challenged myself to learn the craft of the street photographer. You'd think this would be an easy process. Grab a camera. Go somewhere where there are people. Take a bunch of pictures. As the world passes by your lens, you might get a good shot. As luck would have it, sometimes this works. This shot I took last year in Chinatown is an example.
The man with the sunglasses, the woman reacting, the parade dancer, bystanders with their smart phones. A slice of life moment on the streets of this fascinating neighborhood. This had all the potential of being a really good street shot. I clicked this off as I was practicing zone focusing, which is critical if you are going to capture "the decisive moment" with a manual focus camera. If I had moved in closer and concentrated on my composition, this would have been a stronger photograph. As it was, I was oblivious to my subject, obsessed with the markings on my lens and just happened to get what little I got by pure luck.
What is zone focusing? Essentially, it means setting your focus and aperture in such a way that whatever you shoot within a pre-determined distance will be pretty much in focus. Once you are out on the street and start shooting, this will enable you to react quickly, making only small focus adjustments rather than fumbling around like I was. Becoming skillful at this also requires you to spend a lot of time with one camera and one lens. Cartier-Bresson shot almost exclusively with a Leica rangefinder and a 50mm lens. I know this is an over-used expression, but when you shoot one camera and one lens over and over again, I can imagine that the device does begin to disappear and become a true extension of your own eye.
Another thing I have learned in street photography. Move in close and then, move in even closer. This is the concept of street photography that will be difficult for me to master. It requires some interaction with your subject and the possibility of getting a negative reaction. I made several shots of the man in this fish shop from some distance away. They all looked like vacation snapshots. Finally, I moved in closer.
I liked the interaction of the shopkeeper and his customer. The attention of the man passing by and the blurred motion of the people in the foreground all combined to accurately depict daily life on the streets of Chinatown. I nailed the focus here and was pleased that the exposure revealed good detail inside the shop without overexposing anything outside on the street. While I was taking this photograph, I was worried that the shopkeeper might be upset that I was taking pictures of him. Ultimately, after this shot, he saw me and smiled. I wished I still had the camera to my eye.
Some of your subjects might not be so gracious. I was trying to get a good shot of the two kids in the left of this next frame. They were lighting small firecrackers and enjoying the startled reaction of passers by. The facial expressions of the young girl were priceless but right after this shot, as I moved in, she became aware of me and my camera and ran inside.
I've done all of my street photography so far with my 35mm Summicron lens. In this case, if I had been using my 50mm Summilux and stepped a few feet to my right, I might have captured a nice slice of life before the girl fled for the safe confines of the produce shop.
My 50 would have helped in this next shot as well. Using the 35 and my reluctance to leave the comfort of the recessed storefront resulted in ordinary when it could have been extraordinary.
Sometimes, all that is required in getting a satisfying street shot is to simply be patient, wait and watch the world go by. I got this next shot outside the Ferry Building on San Francisco's Embarcadero. So San Francisco...mother on her smart phone and kids being kids.
I was trying to get a good shot of this meat shop in Chinatown when the woman walked into the frame and peered through the glass. She paused for only a moment and then went on her way.
Late on my most most recent shooting day, I settled back into my comfort zone and photographed the clock on the Ferry Building in the setting afternoon sun. I'm still far better at this kind of shooting. When I posted this on Flickr, it showed up in Explore and has over 5,500 views.
I am hoping to get better at this and get more comfortable shooting on the streets and eventually, maybe...even doing some portrait work. We shall see.
Up next: Street Photography With The Leica M & My Ah-Ha Moment!
Over the course of this little lightbox project of reviewing, deleting or keeping images from the past seven years of film photography, my instant shots are mostly throwaways.
Coming to that conclusion, I have decided to send my Polaroid SX-70 off to Matt Widmann of 2nd Shot SX-70 Service in Upstate New York for a complete CLA. Matt is going to rebuild my Polaroid and has agreed to share the process here; photos and narrative.
Perhaps shooting a properly functioning SX-70 with the latest Impossible Project film will finally provide a satisfying instant photography experience.
As I work my way through hundreds of film images I have shot since 2010, I never quite know what to do with the small number of photographs I have made on slide film. While color print and some black and white films are forgiving of exposure errors, slide film isn't. Knowing how to meter for shadows or having a camera with TTL matrix metering is almost essential in getting fine quality chromes.
I don't think I have ever really made a satisfying image on slide film. Mostly, it's because I don't shoot enough of it to work my way through to exposure competency. Almost all of my recent work has been on Velvia 50 and 100, films that just gush super saturated color. When I shoot these films, I seem to always get color that just seems, well...off.
Kodak is bringing back Ektachrome later this year. Maybe I will try some of that.
I've just about edited and cleaned up my archives of work from the past seven years. It's interesting revisiting photographs you took years ago. How many you keep and how many get deleted.
This one is a keeper and the only image I have taken so far that has earned me money. A local company licensed this for use on collateral materials for an internal sales incentive trip. Does that make me a professional photographer? I don't know, but it sure is nice when someone appreciates your work enough to want to pay for it.
With apologies to David Letterman, my "Top Ten" Reasons to Shoot Film in 2017...
#10: You'll look cool. When I got back into film photography in late 2009, walking around town with an old film camera just kinda made me look like a goofy, old luddite. This past weekend on my photo walk in San Francisco, I was amazed to see so many hipsters shooting with their Rolleicords, Holgas and Canon AE-1s. Now, I'm retro-cool.
#9: You'll understand how and why things work. Working with software (film) with a set ISO/ASA, you really begin to understand how aperture and shutter speed effect your exposure. You'll learn about "pushing" and "pulling" film and how different film stocks can give your work different looks.
#8: Anticipation. Without the ability to stare down at a little screen and look at the image you just made, anticipation and excitement will build as you wait for your film and scans to come back from the lab. Sometimes, a shot you didn't think was going to be anything turns out to be truly something!
#7: If you don't want to anticipate, process it yourself. Developing your own black and white film at home is easy, fun and quite inexpensive. With a few chemicals, plastic developing tank and changing bag, you can control the photographic process from start to finish. There are even kits for home processing color (C-41) film.
#6: Drive a BMW for the price of a Chevy. When digital photography pushed film cameras to the brink of obsolescence, equipment became ridiculously cheap. Amazing film cameras that originally cost thousands of dollars can be had for next to nothing. A pro level Nikon F2 with a 50mm f/1.4 Nikkor lens sold new for around $3500 in today's dollars. I bought one at my local camera store in 2015 for $125. This was state of the art photography in the 1970s. The F2 is still amazing to use and makes first rate pictures.
#5: Lower your pulse rate. Film photographers talk about how film "slows you down." Of course it does. The whole process of removing a roll of film from its package, winding it on and adjusting film settings is a slower and more deliberate process. When you're limited to 12, 16, 24 or 36 exposures on a roll, you tend to take a breath and think before firing the shutter. There's something incredibly cathartic about a slow Sunday walk with a camera.
#4: G.A.S is fun! Almost all of us in this hobby have varying levels of G.A.S. or Gear Acquisition Syndrome. And at one point or another, we have too many cameras and start talking about "thinning the herd." As soon as we do and the PayPal balance swells, we're hitting the BUY IT NOW button on eBay. Truth is, buying and trying old camera gear is loads of fun. I love unboxing a new/old camera for the first time. And I love being pleased by a camera I didn't expect to like.
#3: Film isn't going away. Just a few years ago, film manufacturers were killing off film types right and left. For a while, it looked like the end of analog photography was near. Today, the future looks bright. Kodak Alaris is vibrant and healthy, reintroducing Ektachrome slide film later this year and kicking around bringing back several legacy film stocks. Ilford over in the UK reports film sales are up. Fuji continues to make several kinds of color print, slide and black and white films. Film Ferrania is selling black and white film and soon will introduce a color slide film. The Impossible Project continues to improve their recipes for Polaroid instant film and niche films like CineStill and JCH Street Film are fun to shoot! Want to live dangerously? You can find tons of expired film for sale online and the results can be extraordinary!
#2: Find your artistic inner-self. I follow several photo hobbyists, either through their blogs or their Flickr posts and it has been rewarding watching them grow from buying and trying a few old film cameras into artists with developing, unique, personal styles. You can literally see the moment that they find just the right tool, the right film and choice of subject matter that clearly shows a signature shooting style.
And the #1 reason to shoot film in 2017...The people. Since late 2009, I have met and become friends with some of the most amazing, kind and generous people. Film photographers are so giving with their time and expertise. You're never made to feel foolish for asking a question. Can't figure something out and can't find the answer on Google? Post your question on a film photography blog and everyone will be pitching in to help. I've found camera repair people who work on most every brand of classic camera, who do excellent work at reasonable prices and share our passion for keeping these old machines alive and relevant. The Flickr community is wonderful, the feedback from fellow photographers helpful and the occasional praise is encouraging. eBay sellers in the film community are, for the most part, honest and fair. Online retailers like B&H Photo and Adorama are well stocked, ship fast and stand behind what they sell. The last remaining nearby brick and mortar photo shops; my local Shutterbug Camera and the The Leica Store in San Francisco, always welcome me in by name and with a smile.
There you go. My Top 10 Reasons to Shoot Film in 2017.
I am so fortunate to live within walking distance of the Pacific Ocean. With a photographic subject so grand literally on my doorstep, it's no coincidence that coastal images dominate this site.
Living in the Arizona desert for most of my adult life, I had no idea how much a beach changes day to day and even from high to low tide. I can visit the beach one day and it's a vista of smooth, windswept sand. On other days, the water has washed it all away, revealing the rocks below.
I made this photograph on the last day of 2015 with my Contax RX and Carl Zeiss 50mm Planar lens. The film stock was Kodak Plus-X.
I've altered my strategy a bit this year. Rather than buying more cameras, I'm investing some of my photo hobby funds into servicing the cameras I've grown to love. Most have just needed a CLA (clean, lubricate, adjust). Some have needed minor repairs. One of my two Pentax LX cameras suffered from the dreaded Pentax sticky mirror syndrome, its meter was twitchy and infinity focus was off.
For this LX, I decided to try Robin Gowing at Harrow Technical, the Pentax film camera specialists in the U.K. Communication was excellent, his price was very fair and his work exceptional. Outside of having some issues with inbound Royal Mail customs on the U.K. side, I loved dealing with Harrow and highly recommend them for any Pentax film camera. Robin took his time with my LX, even letting it set a few days after fixing the sticky mirror to give it additional bench testing. He wanted to make certain all was well before shipping it back to me. Here is the link for Harrow: http://harrowtechnical.co.uk
It's always fun to get a camera back from service. Sparkling clean viewfinder, buttery smooth film advance and satisfying shutter sound, not to mention the confidence of knowing your classic camera is performing back to factory specs. I hadn't shot Kodak Ektar 100 film in a while, so I loaded up the LX, mounted my 50mm F/1.2 SMC lens and headed out for a walk. I had just finished planting some new flowers in the hanging planters on my deck, so one became my first shot.
I got the neighbor's flowers on the way down to the beach.
It was such a beautiful day, I was surprised to see the beach mostly deserted.
Except for the birds...
Like I said, literally no one on the beach but me that day.
These flowers growing between the rocks seemed an interesting subject.
The next day, I finished off the roll of Ektar in Fort Ross. These kayakers were out fishing.
This was my first outing with the 50/1.2. I really want to play around with the lens more as I think it is capable of some interesting bokeh. Close focus down to 1.5 feet is pretty cool too.
That evening, my patio lights
I used to shoot a lot of Ektar 100. It was my "go to" color print film. Lately, I've been using Portra 400, exposing it at half the box speed. Portra's colors are more muted, but when you overexpose it, there's just enough saturation to make it pleasing...at least to my eye. I have a few more rolls of Ektar and when they're gone, I think I'll stick to Portra 400 exclusively and work on getting it to really sing.
I've written before about how much I love my Pentax LX and having one serviced really makes it a satisfying camera to shoot. I love the LX viewfinder, with its stunning yet simple analog display and LED lights. The meter seems to be able to handle most anything I throw at it and I could play around with Pentax SMC glass for the rest of my life and be happy as a clam. I'm starting to really appreciate small cameras like the LX, Olympus OM2-n, Nikon FM2n, Minolta XD and Leica M bodies. Small, light, simple cameras that you can have with you all day and not weigh you down.
As I get my beloved cameras serviced this year, I will share those experiences with you here. I highly recommend Robin at Harrow Technical if you need any Pentax film camera work. They're in the U..K, so the wait is longer and you might have to pay customs fees as I did. In the U.S., I have used Eric Hendrickson, the Pentax master, many times. His work is exceptional and reasonably priced. If you have a Spotmatic, he is definitely the man, but he works on Pentax M bodies and the LX as well. He did my other LX. You can find Eric here: http://pentaxs.com.
I'll probably continue to gush praise on the LX. It's just a wonderful little SLR. And I do need to spend more time with this fast Pentax 50. As for color print film, I think it's Portra 400 from now on.
I haven't printed many of the photographs I've made. I'm content to look at them on my laptop or iPad. This is one that I did have printed and mounted because it contains two things I love; horses and the Sonoma Coast. I have this hanging in my living room at home.
I shot this in 2013 on the beach near Bodega Dunes. Camera was my Nikon F2 Photomic with 50mm f/1.4 Nikkor lens on Kodak's Tmax 100 film.
I am seriously committed to the process of reducing the number of cameras in my collection to only the ones I love and use regularly. There's nothing worse than a mechanical camera sitting on a shelf. Like a BMW, these old machines need to be driven. I've been true to my commitment so far this year, selling off at least a dozen to date, along with related accessories. The PayPal balance is in nice shape.
One camera I can't seem to get myself to put on the block is my SX-70. I bought it because I wanted to try this legendary camera and was curious about shooting instant film. When I got it, The Impossible Project had just released early batches of their instant film. Even though you had to take out a mortgage to shoot 8 instant photos with this film, I was anxious to try Ed Land's masterpiece.
Polaroid cameras were all around me growing up, but I never used one during the days when the company was still making film for them. I have childhood memories of one of my relatives taking black and white shots at Christmas using one of the old Land cameras that took peel apart film. After you took a shot and ripped the film from the camera, you had to coat it with this icky smelling goo.
The SX-70 was different though. Integral film packs with a built-in battery and a little pod that contained all of the chemicals for development and fixation. Frame, focus, shoot! The SX-70 whirred and spit out a little framed marvel. In 90 seconds or so, a beautiful color image appeared.
I found my SX-70 on eBay. I seem to recall that the seller was a pawn shop somewhere. The camera in the photos looked nice and it came with the original box. The seller said it was film tested, something that today I realize means absolutely nothing.
My SX-70 was on the doorstep a day or so after a shipment of Impossible Project film arrived from B&H Photo. I was anxious to try this camera. I have to say, that first photo ejecting from the front of the camera was quite exciting! The SX-70 was truly a marvel. Polaroid's SX-70 film developed in front of your eyes pretty quickly and that was part of the magic. Impossible's film took longer and they recommend turning the photo upside down top shield it from light during the process.
I took a few photos around the house and placed them on my chopping block. I used my iPhone to take a picture of the picture.
An old flash cube/flash bar was included in the box with the camera, but none of the flash pictures I took with the SX-70 came out right. I put the SX-70 on the shelf after the first two packages of film and the camera mostly sits there. Once a year or so, I get the itch to shoot instant and out comes the SX-70 again for a pack or two. The camera is especially fun when Baby Boomer friends come over--everyone in our age group fondly remembers Polaroids. Once, I even brought it to the office where it amazed the Millennials when a finished print popped out of the front of the camera.
I'm thinking that my SX-70 needs a CLA and there are a few companies out there that will bring these back to factory specs. And Impossible's film is getting better and better.
Sell it or keep it?
I'm on the fence.
I've flirted with several medium format film cameras over the past seven years, struggling to find one that feels good to me. I owned the Mamiya 645Pro system the longest, but it was a big and heavy beast. I can see how this camera would be great in the studio or on a wedding shoot, but for an avid hiker like me, it was just too much to lug around. I recently traded it for a Pentax 645n, which is smaller and lighter than the Mamiya.
I did make some pleasing pictures with the camera. Here are some Portra 400 shots taken a few years ago in Freestone, CA.
Sorting through 7+ years of images I have taken since re-entering film photography...
Some of the photographs I've taken that have given me the most satisfaction were created with simple old cameras and very inexpensive lenses. The 55mm f/2 Super Takumar cost next to nothing. Screwed on to the front of a Pentax Spotmatic SP with ancient stop-down metering, I got these shots on Portra 400 film.
I've been learning my way around a Leica M-P Typ 240 that I just received last week from Ken Hansen in NYC. I've been so busy at work, all I've had time to do is skim through the manual, charge the battery and hold the camera in my hands. This afternoon, I finally had some time to pop on my 35/2 Summicron and take a little walk to the beach. I didn't fiddle with much, just left everything on the factory default settings. It was a nice day.
After working my way through most of the Leica film bodies: M2, M3, M4, M6TTL and MP, I've settled on the Leica M7. I think I can safely say that I have finally found my personal favorite film Leica in the M7. I'll be writing more about the M7 here soon and why, after shooting all of these legendary M body Leicas, the M7 was the one I liked best.
Likewise, on the digital front, I've owned the M8 and M9-P. The "something missing for me" in those two cameras I have finally found in the M-P Typ 240. Of course, I'm only one day and a few shots in. :-)
Upcoming very soon:
- My thoughts on the Leica M7
- Why, after lots of research, I chose the Leica M-P Typ 240 for my only digital camera
- The most unique and amazing Leica dealer on the planet
I never would have been able to afford a Leica if it weren't for a Nikon S2. More on that in a moment.
I have a memory of seeing a Nikon S2 in a "how to" photography book I borrowed from the library of my junior high school. It's funny how one little memory like this can stay with you all the way into adulthood, but it did. I don't remember the name of the book or the author. I do remember that it was written in the 1950s by a woman photographer and that she shot with the S2. I learned how set up a darkroom from reading that book. And how to develop black and white film. I wish I could remember, because it would be fun to try and find a copy and revisit it today.
Early in 2014, I got to thinking about that old book and the Nikon rangefinder that was burned into my memory. I began to look for one. All of the eBay examples were well over a grand and way out of my budget. One night in April, scanning the San Francisco Craigslist photo listings, I saw a pretty nice example with 5cm and 8.5cm lenses for $500. The camera, advertised as belonging to the seller's grandfather, was located in South San Francisco and the ad said that the camera was jammed and was being sold as is. I called the seller the next day and told him I lived in the North Bay. After some back and forth, he agreed to meet me half way in a Safeway parking lot in San Rafael. It felt a little like a drug deal.
Once we found each other in the grocery store lot (the seller turned out to be a nervous young man who now seemed very irritated about having to drive half way to meet me), I inspected the camera. It did indeed seem to be D.O.A. The film advance wouldn't budge and the shutter release did nothing. I checked the lenses, which looked and operated just fine. There was even a little clip on viewfinder for the 8.5cm lens. The seller seemed to be more interested in whomever he was texting on his iPhone than what I was doing with his camera. I opened the back of the camera and moved the film advance gear with my finger and I heard a couple of clicks. Whatever I did unstuck the camera and the film advance began to work. As I was about to let the seller know that I think I got his camera working again, he told me that he really had to go and did we have a deal? I asked him if his price was firm, he shot me an angry look and he said "four bills is as low as I'll go." Based on my research, I was getting a pretty good deal, even if the camera needed repair. And the seller seemed a bit less irritated now with four one hundred dollar bills in his hand.
It was obvious that the seller wasn't a photographer and had no attachment to his grandfather's camera, if indeed it even was his grandfather's camera. And if he hadn't been such a disagreeable person, I might have felt badly when later that night, after a little exercise, the old Nikon came nicely back to life.
I put a roll of Ektar 100 and a roll of Plus-X through the S2. It was a camera I did not enjoy shooting. I didn't take to the viewfinder and the focusing wheel with razor teeth was like finger torture. The camera was fiddly to use, not intuitive at all. Perhaps it was because Nikon wasn't really in the camera business at this time. They were an optical company and what really shines in this system is the glass--these old rangefinder lenses are astonishingly good. Here are some Ektar shots.
Two rolls was all it took for me to realize I wouldn't be loving this camera. I listed the kit on eBay and during the last minute or so of the auction, a frenzy of bidders drove the price up netting me a profit of almost $2300! More than enough for my first Leica M camera and lens.