Lightbox Wednesday #47

My Dad was always a General Motors man. Growing up, his pickups were always Chevy or GMC. And Mom hauled us around in a Biscayne wagon. After he retired, he bought a Cadillac. GM through and through.

I've always been a Nikon guy. Just as my Dad swore that a Ford would never grace our driveway, I couldn't imagine ever liking, let alone loving a Canon. Until I bought my F-1. Love that camera. And those old FD lenses...sweet! Here are some shots from my first roll through the F-1 this past February.

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Lightbox Wednesday #46

When my old MacBook started throwing fits last fall, I knew that sooner rather than later, I'd be paying a visit to the Apple Store and laying down some serious bucks for a new one. I really hate spending my hard earned money on technology because as soon as I buy something, it's outdated. But my laptop is a tool I use every day for work and pleasure, so I justified buying the most robust one I could afford; a new MacBook Pro.

This Lightbox project started out as a simple cleaning of my digital garage. I wanted to get rid of documents and images I'd clung to on the old machine rather than transfer all of it to the new one. Cleaning up my documents was a pretty easy process, accomplished over a couple of weekends. I decided to attack my images in a more methodical way, viewing them all on iPhoto's lightbox desktop, thinking about each one before I kept it or slid it to the trash can.

I've been at it for 46 weeks and the exercise has been cathartic. It feels good. The garage is almost clean. My images are organized for easy retrieval and the editing process has revealed my growth both as an operator of the equipment and as a photographer. I still have a lot more to learn and I'm excited about that.

One added benefit is that as I looked through my photos, it made me remember how much I enjoyed using a particular camera, or in some cases, didn't enjoy using it. I realized that I've written some thoughts here on the blog about certain cameras and then never really followed up down the road as to my feelings as I spent more and more time with the camera. I am not alone in this area. Occasionally, when I read a camera review online or watch a YouTube camera review, it's interesting to see a photographer gushing over a particular camera. Then, scrolling through the comments, I'll read that the photographer ultimately ended up getting rid of the camera for one reason or another. So I have decided to revisit some of the old cameras I haven't shot in a while and see if I still feel the same way about them. As I came across this image from January 2015, I realized I hadn't put any serious miles on my Contax RX in far too long. I have some Acros in the RX now.

Bookshelf, January 7, 2015 shot with the Contax RX, 50mm f/1.7 Zeiss Planar on Tmax 100

Bookshelf, January 7, 2015 shot with the Contax RX, 50mm f/1.7 Zeiss Planar on Tmax 100

Lightbox Wednesday #45: Should I get a zoom?

I've only shot one lens longer in focal length than 85mm in my photographic life; the Pentax-A 135/2.8. It was a lens I picked up on a lark this Spring and took it to a local college graduation ceremony.

Pentax-A 135mm  f/2.8 on Pentax LX body

Pentax-A 135mm  f/2.8 on Pentax LX body

Pentax-A 135mm f/2.8 on Pentax LX body

Pentax-A 135mm f/2.8 on Pentax LX body

Telephoto lenses really make you see the world differently and I've been thinking that maybe I should shoot this 135 more. I've also been considering a zoom lens. I've never owned one and really never had the desire to until now.

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I have so many different camera bodies, so the choices are vast. Manual focus or auto focus? Nikon? Pentax? Canon? Olympus? Minolta?

Right now, I am leaning towards finding an inexpensive Nikkor AF-D zoom and shoot it on my Nikon F4 body. Not sure. Suggestions are welcomed.

Lightbox Wednesday #44: Selfie Special Edition

I started taking self portraits with my classic film cameras for fun. As I became a more competent photographer, I used selfies for metering tests and close focusing.

My very first photography selfie was not with a film camera at all, but with my iPhone. I found a cool Kodachrome mirror on eBay and took a photo of myself after I had proudly hung it in my den.

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My second one was with my first Polaroid Land Camera. I shot this at the end of a very long night of doing some intense camera repair work to get this old camera to eject exposed film properly. I treated myself to a nice glass of wine after I got this image. Or was it two glasses?

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When I started this journey back into film photography, I wasn't very concerned with organizing my images. I was just shooting film and having fun. Earlier this year, when I started this Lightbox project of cleaning up my archives and labeling all of the images I wanted to keep, I realized that one of the unexpected benefits of shooting a selfie on many of the rolls I'd taken was that it allowed me to clearly identify the camera and lens I was using at the time.

Since that revelation, I have made it standard procedure to shoot one selfie either at the start or end of the roll to assist in future archiving. I am also considering adding a slate card in the shot to identify film used.

What started out as goofy fun became a benefit. Here are some of my selfies through the years.

Nikon F2

Nikon F2

Hasselblad 500c/m

Hasselblad 500c/m

Nikon F2AS

Nikon F2AS

Minolta XE-7

Minolta XE-7

Leica M3

Leica M3

Pentax Spotmatic

Pentax Spotmatic

Pentax LX

Pentax LX

Mamiya 645

Mamiya 645

Olympus OM-4

Olympus OM-4

Leica M9-P

Leica M9-P

Nikon F4

Nikon F4

Pentax ME Super

Pentax ME Super

Canon P

Canon P

Nikon F2AS Vertical Shot

Nikon F2AS Vertical Shot

Olympus OM-2n

Olympus OM-2n

Leica MP

Leica MP

Pentax MX

Pentax MX

Olympus OM-2n Black Body

Olympus OM-2n Black Body

Pentax Spotmatic Chrome Body

Pentax Spotmatic Chrome Body

Leica M-P typ 240 with EVF

Leica M-P typ 240 with EVF

Lightbox Wednesday #42

Fall is my favorite time of year, especially October. Four years ago, I had to move inland about 15 miles, renting a tiny cottage in the town of Freestone, CA for six months. The owners called the place "The BoHo Cottage" because it was located on the Bohemian Highway. 

The month of October was beautiful in the BoHo Cottage. Rays of warm sunshine sliced through the thick canopy of trees on the property, creating all sorts of photographic opportunities. I shot these one Sunday afternoon with my Mamiya 645Pro on Ektar 100.

My favorite place to enjoy morning coffee

My favorite place to enjoy morning coffee

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When fall turned to winter, the realities of living in a thin walled, uninsulated cottage became apparent. I've never been so cold as the winter I spent in the BoHo Cottage!

Lightbox Wednesday #41

All year long, I've been editing my archives of the images I have taken since re-entering film photography in 2010. Kind of like cleaning the garage, it's an exercise that you procrastinate over doing. Once done however, the results are deeply satisfying.

Just prior to buying my first film camera in 2010, I was snap-shooting with a Nikon Coolpix point and shoot digital camera. Most of my work with this camera is forgettable, but I like this one.

Seagull captured from the Alcatraz Ferry, San Francisco Bay, Winter 2009

Seagull captured from the Alcatraz Ferry, San Francisco Bay, Winter 2009

The Original Canon F-1

It wasn't supposed to happen like this. At best, I thought we'd be briefly cordial. Acquaintances for a few weeks or months. You'd come into and out of my life like the others before. Then something happened. I discovered there was more to you and the longer we spent time together, I realized something more meaningful and potentially longer lasting was developing. I didn't expect to fall for you like this.

The Original Canon F-1 with 50mm f/1.4 Chrome Nose FD

The Original Canon F-1 with 50mm f/1.4 Chrome Nose FD

My Canon Original F-1 camera came to me quite unexpectedly. I wasn't looking for one, not even thinking about one. I already owned the newest and last in the F-1 line, the AE-finder equipped F-1n and loved its aperture-priority automation and fine Canon FD lenses. But one evening, while browsing through the posts on the Facebook Film Camera Group I belong to, I saw someone who was looking for a Canon P rangefinder. I happened to have two and that was one too many. I shot a message to the guy and he instantly responded, asking me how much I wanted and would I be open to a trade. "Trade? What do you have?"

He responded that he had an original Canon F-1 with a nice chrome nose FD standard lens mounted out front. Sent me a few photos. The camera looked decent, although he told me he had never used the meter. Shot it only Sunny 16. I decided that it might be fun to try the original version of the F-1, so we made a deal.

I packed up my P and sent it off. A few days later, the F-1 arrived. She was a bit dusty and 46 years of photography had worn off some of her black finish, revealing a wonderful, romantic brass patina. As I always do when unpacking a camera for the first time, I ran her through the range of available shutter speeds. The shutter speed selector dial clicked firmly into place at each detent and the speeds sounded fairly accurate. Better yet, the F-1's shutter sound was sublime. Really sublime!

Despite appearing well used, the old Canon really seemed fully functional. The viewfinder was clean and clear. The self-timer worked. Film chamber was clean and shutter curtains looked good. She did need seals and new mirror bumper foams. And the old CdS meter seemed a bit erratic. The F-1 was interesting and felt good enough in my hand to invest into a CLA. I have had good experiences with Blue Moon Camera & Machine and knew they worked on this model camera, so off she went for some spa time.

Cameras usually spend 4-6 weeks up at Blue Moon and during that time, my life and my work got real busy. The F-1 came back from service and it would be many more weeks before I had a chance to take her for a test drive. During that time, I'd occasionally take the camera out, click the FD lens through its f/stops, focus on something in my living room and dry fire the shutter. Despite its size and weight, the F-1 is a wonderful camera to hold. And I know it's weird, but I love the way a camera smells when it comes back from service--almost like new. Blue Moon converted the F-1 to use modern 1.5v batteries and the light meter was now instantly responsive. The F-1's viewfinder is big...I mean big and bright and beautiful with only a simple, minimalist match-needle display.

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Once I had some time, I loaded up some Kodak Portra 400 film, which I always overexpose by one stop, and headed down to the beach.

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The Canon F-1 is big and heavy. Brass and glass. It's fully mechanical. No automated anything. You must slow down, think, focus, compose, dial up the proper shutter speed, open or close the lens, wind the film to the next frame. It requires everything of the photographer and in return, it offers an amazingly satisfying analog experience and very, very nice photographs. Love!

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Lightbox Wednesday #40

After 40 weeks of digital house cleaning, I'm nearing the end of my process of organizing all of the photographs I've taken since rediscovering film photography seven years ago. It's been a good exercise and I've opened up some space on the hard drive.

One of the least expensive vintage lenses I have purchased is my 50mm f/4 Super Macro Takumar. As standard lenses go, it's slow, but since I've enjoyed Nikon's Micro Nikkors so much, I thought it would be fun to try the Pentax version.

This lens blew me away! You can snuggle up nice and close to your subject...

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And it delivered one of my favorite seascapes...

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Honestly, if this lens was a bit faster, I'd leave it on my Spotmatic all the time. If you like using M42 lenses, keep an eye on eBay for one of these. They're a hoot to shoot!

Ok

Knowing that I live in Northern California, a number of photography friends have reached out to see if I am ok. I am. Our community is not.

I live in Bodega Bay on the Sonoma Coast and the fires have not reached our little town. My office is in Santa Rosa, however, and that community has been devastated.  The Tubbs fire burned down over the mountains and reached into densely populated areas of the city. Hundreds of homes and businesses were destroyed. As of this morning, 13 of my co-workers lost their homes.

There are 15 or so different fires burning in the Northern part of the state. Last I heard, over 100,000 acres have been lost. Homes, businesses and sadly, lives.

Firefighters and police officers from all over the state are here. We are so grateful.

People who live in Wine Country are resilient and we'll get through this. We'll be ok.

The Pentax ES

I've written previously how I had preconceived negative notions about Pentax Spotmatic cameras. I had always dismissed them as primitive SLRs using unavailable batteries. Still, they intrigued me enough to casually shop them online. Because many Spotmatics are nearly five decades old, finding a decent one takes some effort and patience. Indeed, the first Spotmatic I bought on eBay arrived totally dead, infested with fungus and with a corroded battery chamber.

Being the good classic camera geek that I am, I soldiered on and eventually found a decent copy. And in the process of buying and shooting and buying some more, I've learned that these cameras aren't anything like my preconceptions. In fact, they're really very, very good...outstanding even! I learned that the battery thing is a non-issue. The Pentax Takumar lenses that screw onto the front of these things are downright amazing! And, if you can't tell by now, I've fallen head over heels for these Spotties!

I've now acquired and used most every variant; SP, SPII, SPF and ESII. The SP500 and SP1000 are just sub-variants. Completing the Spotmatic "circle of love" is the Pentax ES.

Pentax ES with SMC Takumar 55mm f/2

Pentax ES with SMC Takumar 55mm f/2

In 1971, Pentax introduced the world's first SLR with an electronically controlled shutter. Built on the already successful Spotmatic chassis and sold only in Japan, this camera would be called the "Electro Spotmatic." Like the Spotmatic F, the Electro Spotmatic had TTL open-aperture metering with Super Multi Coated and SMC Takumar lenses. There were bugs in the circuitry of the first Electros that were worked out by the time Pentax rolled out the camera worldwide with a totally new circuit board in 1972, just in time for Christmas. The camera's name was shortened to ES. Unlike the other Spotmatics, the standard body color was black and chrome was special order. The ES and later ESII bodies are about a quarter of an inch taller and six ounces heavier than a standard Spotmatic to accommodate the improved electronic circuitry.

I had an ESII for a while and it had some issues. It was a capable shooter but after a week or so, used or not used, the batteries died. And it needed FOUR 1.5v button cells housed in a small compartment under the lens mount. The battery compartment cover on my copy kept falling off. Too many quirks for me. 

I acquired my ES from a friend who is retired from Pentax. It was a salesman's sample unit and probably never saw a roll of film.

The ES uses just one 6v #544 battery. I've shot three rolls of film with the ES and have had it for several months and so far, the battery is going strong. The battery compartment is on the front of the camera and to accommodate this, Pentax did away with the self timer. This isn't an issue for me. In 40+ years of photography, I've never once used a camera's self timer.

ES Top Controls

ES Top Controls

The ES features aperture-priority automation, which is my favorite kind of shooting. Set the shutter speed dial to AUTOMATIC, select your aperture and the ES will dial up the perfect shutter speed. It's a step-less shutter too, which means that if the camera computes the appropriate shutter speed to be 1/555th of a second or 1/112th of a second, that's what you'll get. This was razzle dazzle technology in 1972! 

The one odd quirk about this camera is that if you shift to one of the five available manual shutter speeds, it disables the TTL meter completely, so it's aperture-priority or nothing. Again, I love aperture-priority photography, so this is not a deal breaker for me.

Unlike all of the other Spotmatic variants, lightly pressing the shutter release button activates the meter.. This is a feature I wish they added to the SPF. The viewfinder display shows you the shutter speed the camera's automation is selecting for you and like all of the Spotmatics, it's big and bright and Pentax wonderful!

On the ES, Pentax relocated the ASA selector to the rewind crank and I like it in that location. Battery check is easier too. Rather than setting ASA to 100 and shutter speed to B like the other Spotmatics, the ES features a simple battery check button.

Honeywell was the US distributor of Pentax cameras at this time. There is no difference between Asahi Pentax and Honeywell Pentax

Honeywell was the US distributor of Pentax cameras at this time. There is no difference between Asahi Pentax and Honeywell Pentax

The extra height and weight didn't bother me at all. Like all of the Spotmatics, the ES is well balanced and fits the hand well. I like shooting mine with the camera body nestled into the bottom half of the OEM case. Pentax used some pretty decent leather on these cases and most I've seen have really held up well. The original Asahi Pentax straps aren't bad either. They feature a gripper pad that prevents the camera from slipping off of your shoulder.

For the first test drive of my ES, I mounted my 55mm f/2 SMC Takumar lens and loaded some Kodak Portra 400. Testing a new camera is always a good reason for a walk on the beach.

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Back home, a quick shot of my fireplace mantle in the late afternoon sun.

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I enjoyed shooting the Pentax ES enough to invest in an Eric Hendrickson CLA, although outside of a bit of a stiff film advance, this 45 year old camera performed pretty darn well. This is a testament to Pentax quality during the Spotmatic era.

If you're considering  M42 mount lenses, here's my overview of the Pentax bodies I've found most satisfying to use:

SP:  My favorite of the early bodies because I love the pentaprism without the flash shoe. Truly one of the best looking of all the film SLRs. I keep a 50mm f/1.4 Super Takumar on mine all the time. You'll get used to stop-down metering...trust me. This is the Pentax you always saw Paul McCartney carrying around back in the day.

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SPF:  As I mentioned above, if this camera's TTL meter was activated by a light shutter press rather than when it senses light over 2EV, it might just be my favorite film camera of all time. Keep the lens cap on between shots in bright light and you're fine. If you can find one with a split image focusing screen, grab it fast as they are rare!

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ES:  It's nice to have a Spotmatic body with aperture-priority automation. Yeah, I could buy the M42 to K-Mount adapter and shoot my screw mount lenses on my LX...but it just isn't the same. If you're considering one of these electronically controlled shutter bodies, stay away from the Electro Spotmatic. The circuit boards are finicky and no one I know still repairs them. Of the ES an ESII, the ES definitely gets my vote.

 

 

Things I Miss...

While going through all of my images for my Lightbox Wednesday Project, I came across these photos.

Once upon a time, film manufacturers used to put actual instruction sheets in with rolls of film. I followed these instructions as a teenager while I was learning to develop Kodak Tri-X, Plus-X and Panatomic-X films. Many of us also learned the Sunny 16 Rule from these instruction sheets.

Not sure when these went away, but I miss them.

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Lightbox Wednesday #39

So much bad news lately had me scanning images from a seemingly gentler time. Small town, middle class family. This Kodachrome was taken around Christmas, 1962. To shoot this slow slide film indoors in his Retina IIc rangefinder, my Dad used a flood light bar with four bright, hot PAR lamps. My Mom would hold the light bar while he exposed the shot.

The quiet wouldn't last long though. President Kennedy was killed by an assassin's bullet the following November.

Me. Christmas 1962.

Me. Christmas 1962.