A Sunday Walk on The Beach

During the nearly three decades I lived in Arizona, it was common each Summer for the multitudes of desert dwellers to make a seasonal trek over to the beaches of Southern California to escape the heat. In San Diego, they even had a name for us--Zonies. Just like the "Snowbirds", those Winter visitors from Minnesota, Illinois and other snowbound states who stream into Arizona around Thanksgiving each year to flee the cold, the Zonies would flock to San Diego, Orange County beaches and Santa Barbara to frolic in California's near perfect Summer weather.

SoCal beaches are packed during the Summer, so it always amazes me when I can take a Sunday stroll on one of the beaches close to my home on the Sonoma Coast and hardly see a soul. Such was the case on a recent Sunday. The sun was out and the temperatures were warm (by Northern California standards). A perfect day for a Sunday walk on the beach.

Pentax Spotmatic SPII with 50mm f/1.4 Super Multi-Coated Takumar

Pentax Spotmatic SPII with 50mm f/1.4 Super Multi-Coated Takumar

I'm still getting to know my Pentax Spotmatic and decided to load it with some Ultrafine 100 black and white film. I bought a stash of this film a few years ago and each time I have used it, the results have not been satisfying. The Ultrafine I bought came in 24 exposure rolls, which I thought would be perfect for a Sunday stroll. And with so many rolls of this stuff staring at me from the refrigerator shelf, it was time to start using it up.

As you can see, I had the beach pretty much to myself...

I've found that a bright day on the beach with sand, water and rocks can mess up some in-camera meters, but the old Spotmatic's TTL meter did a decent job I think.

Some spot metering on the rocks in this next shot would have helped me bring out the detail on the rock faces, but it's not bad as is...

I came across a couple sitting on the beach, letting their little dog play in the waves. I had a good time watching this pup dart in and out of the water, running for his life as the big-to-him waves came slapping back against the shore.

My results this time with Ultrafine were pleasing. There's nice tonality, sharpness and relatively little grain. Perhaps this film just finds it's sweet spot through these Super Takumar lenses. Maybe the light was just right. 

I grabbed one more shot of this guy, contemplating the sea before the sun set.

I've really been thinking a lot that I should find one black and white film and use it exclusively. Really learn how to expose it correctly. Start processing it at home and find a developer that really makes it sing. Just about the time I think that film is Tmax 100 or Acros or Tri-X, I shoot a roll of something else and it makes me pause. I've pretty much settled on Kodak's Portra 400, exposed at half the box speed, as my color film. The clear choice in black and white emulsions in still elusive.

The Spotmatic

There really aren't a lot of advantages to getting older. The "with age comes wisdom" thing is overrated. Your hair thins or turns gray or both. You put weight on more easily. Your knees hurt, your joints ache. You find yourself saying the same things that made you cringe when your father said them..."Things were certainly a lot better, simpler, quieter, easier back in my day."

I suppose one advantage to being around this long and living during the five decades that the world transitioned from analog to digital, is that the expensive cameras that I looked at as a kid through the window of the local camera store or stared for hours at in the pages of photography magazines are now readily available, inexpensive and serviceable. Better yet, the affordability of analog cameras has given me the opportunity to try some that I never would have if they weren't dirt cheap. And several of these have pleasantly surprised me.

One such camera was the Olympus OM-2n that I wrote about a while back. More recently, it's been the Pentax Spotmatic. This is a camera that I have mostly always ignored for its quirky stop down metering and reliance on Mercury batteries. Recently though, I've been reading up on the Spotmatic years at Pentax and the incredible Takumar lenses that they were making for these cameras. I was surprised to learn that Asahi Optical Company (Pentax) was the first camera manufacturer to put through-the-lens (TTL) metering in a 35mm SLR. Now back in 1963, TTL metering was space age stuff! This new method of metering made it simple for photographers to take better pictures more consistently. The Spotmatics sold like hotcakes!

This was also a time when Japanese camera and lens manufacturers were striving for high quality. Asahi Pentax was set on outdoing Leica and the story goes that the 50 and 55mm Super Takumars cost more to make than the company could competitively sell them for. The more I read, the more I wanted to try some of this great Pentax glass. And what better platform to shoot them on than the cameras they were designed for.

It took me a while to find a decent Spotmatic. While there are lots and lots of them for sale on eBay, many of them have been used hard and not stored properly. The first one I bought for $24 arrived with corrosion around the lens mount which was not evident on the photos and not disclosed by the seller. The second one I bought seemed to work ok at first, then the mirror locked up. Once I got it unstuck, oodles and oodles of black specks of mirror foam and other nasties came pouring out of the camera. In addition, upon close inspection, the battery chamber had some corrosion which had crept deep into the camera body. I'm only $32 out of pocket at this point, so I decide to try another route. 

Sometimes, the best place to buy an old camera is from the few people left out there who are servicing them. I found Eric Hendrickson on the Web. Eric specializes in restoring Pentax film cameras and I wrote and asked him if he had any Spotmatics for sale that have been CLAd. A few emails back and forth and a freshly restored Spotmatic SP was waiting for me at the Post Office! 

The camera I received from Eric worked as designed. I also picked up a 50mm f/1.4 Super Takumar on eBay. The Super Tak I bought is one of the "radioactive" Pentax lenses. Lens manufacturers were using the radioactive element Thorium on lens elements in those days. It's what causes the yellowing you see on lots of old Takumars. I don't know what effect the yellowing has on photographs. I imagine it acts as a mild yellow filter in black and white photography and perhaps adds a yellowish cast to color photos. I'm not sure. I haven't shot any color film in my Spotmatic yet, only some expired Kodak Plus-X. Here's a shot of a really expensive bottle of wine I decided to open one night. The Pentax lens gave this a buttery, dreamy feeling.

One of the issues I have with lots of cameras is the ability to focus correctly with my eyesight. I wear +1.75 readers and on my Nikon cameras I use a +0.5 diopter. Some of my cameras, like the Nikon F4, Contax RX and Olympus OM-4 have built in adjustable diopters. The Spotmatics don't and without having a split-image focusing aid in the viewfinder, I had some difficulty knowing if my shots were in focus. I've since picked up a little +1.00 diopter lens that slides over the Pentax viewfinder and presto--clear focusing! Out on my deck, I snapped a shot of a fishing buoy that I found on the beach. I hung the buoy up and I like looking at it, wondering where it's been. I think the old metering cell in the Spotmatic did a good job here.

The Spotmatic arrived a few days before a planned trip to Yosemite. I tossed it into my bag along with the Nikon FM2n (loaded with Portra 400) and the Olympus OM-2n (loaded with Tmax 100). I thought it might be fun to shoot some vintage Plus-X in the park.

The porch light outside my room at the Ahwahnee Hotel.

And one of a million shots I took of Half Dome.

I found the Spotmatic to be a pleasant camera to use. I liked it a lot more than I expected. The stop down metering is a bit awkward at first, but after a while it becomes second nature. This is a camera that can teach beginners quite a bit about the fundamentals of photography: exposure and depth-of-field. It also turns out that the 1.35v Mercury battery thing is a non-issue. The Spotmatic has metering circuitry that works just fine with 1.5v button cell batteries. The Mercury cells were a little larger than the 1.5v versions, but Batteries+ sells one with a rubber grommet attached and it works just great! Once I got my hands on a Spotmatic that was working properly, I found myself wanting to shoot it more and more. I have quite a few rolls of film yet to develop. 

I went looking for another Super Takumar lens that didn't have the yellowish tint and that lens came attached to a Spotmatic SPII. I also picked up the last in the Spotmatic line, the ESII. ES stands for Electro-Spotmatic. This final camera in the series features aperture-priority automation and open-aperture metering. I also bought a 28mm Super Tak on eBay and that lens came with the H3v body, which is the father of the Spotmatic series. This entire Pentax adventure has cost me less than one of my Nikon F2 bodies.

The Spotmatic is a well made, minimalist camera that mates with very a impressive arsenal of fine optics. There are also lots of M42 Pentax screw mount lenses from other manufacturers that work on the Spotmatic. I'm looking forward to trying some of those as well.

I need to get to know this camera system better, but for right now...it's a keeper!



My Continuing Adventures with the 55mm Micro-Nikkor

I've gotten more use out of and had more fun with my 55mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor lens than any other piece of photographic equipment I own.

Nikon F2AS with 55mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor Lens

Nikon F2AS with 55mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor Lens

As I've been sorting and archiving some of my photography to back up cloud storage, I am realizing how many pleasing images I have made with this lens. Mostly just shooting around the house on an otherwise boring and unproductive day. Here are some of my favorites.

Prices on these lenses go up and down. I've seen them as cheap as a buck a millimeter and as high as $200. They are readily available. Since the front element is recessed, the glass on these is usually scratch free. And the 55 Micro-Nikkor is from the metal and glass Nikon lens era, so they're virtually indestructible. If you shoot Nikon F mount, this is a fun macro lens that you can also use as your walk around normal.

Rainy day selfie, Nikon F2AS, 55mm Micro-Nikkor

Rainy day selfie, Nikon F2AS, 55mm Micro-Nikkor

Reel to Real

When it comes to developing my own film, I've never become proficient at loading film on to stainless steel reels. I tried it 40 years ago and fumbled around in the dark so much that I ended up buying the Paterson ratchet-load plastic reels and tanks and have used them ever since. They're easy...super easy to load.

That doesn't keep me from admiring and buying a few stainless steel tank sets every now and again. I use one on my desk to hold odds and ends. And over the years, they've become favorite subjects of mine for close up photography.

Nikon F2 with 55mm Micro-Nikkor

Nikon F2 with 55mm Micro-Nikkor

Nikon F2 with 55mm Micro-Nikkor

Nikon F2 with 55mm Micro-Nikkor

iPhone 5s

iPhone 5s

A few shots from a Sunday stroll...

Each time I load a roll of Kodak Plus-X 125 into one of my cameras, the importance of the moment is not lost on me. I'm down to just a handful of rolls of this iconic film. Yeah, I know...it's just film...but Plus-X, along with venerable Tri-X, were the films I cut my photographic teeth on. I like shooting it, both for the nostalgic pleasure and the satisfying results it provides.

Spooling some Plus-X into the early 1960s vintage Leica M2 with same vintage Canon 50mm f/1.4 LTM lens and I've got a retro and fun kit for a beach stroll. It was a Sunday afternoon and the sun began burning through the marine layer, so I headed out. Here are some shadows on my deck...

Some foam on the beach...

As is typical along the Sonoma Coast, the marine layer obscured the sun not long after I started walking the beach. Not a great day for a slower film like Plus-X, but still okay...

Of course, by the time I returned home, the sun was again poking through the gray. Here's a closer shot of shadows and light on my patio furniture.

The Leica M2 is my favorite M body. It's simple, small, feels great in your hand and I think it has the most satisfying shutter sound of any Leica. I just love using it! The Canon 50mm f/1.4 is a mate to my Canon P rangefinder, but with the M to LTM Leica adapter, the screw mount Canon lens mounts nicely to the M2 and brings up the 50mm frame lines perfectly. And I think this vintage lens renders nicely on Plus-X.



My photography life is sort of a trilogy.

1970s -- I started dabbling in photography when I was 13 or so. A friend had an Argus C-3 and developed film in his basement darkroom. I thought that was cool. I borrowed my Dad's Kodak Retina 35mm rangefinder and started shooting lots of Plus-X and Tri-X. As a teen, photography kept me out of trouble...mostly.

The Nikon N90s with vertical grip.

The Nikon N90s with vertical grip.

1990s -- After high school, I hardly took a picture at all for the next couple of decades. Even after I got married and had kids, those little drugstore disposable cameras seem to be what I used the most, especially on family vacations to Disneyland. One day, I happened to be sitting in a doctor's office and picked up a copy of Popular Photography. Flipping through the pages, looking at the camera ads, I got wispy-eyed and realized how long it had been since I had taken a serious photograph and how much I missed that. I had a few bucks at this point and decided I needed a hobby. When I was a teenager, I dreamed of someday owning a Nikon F2. By the mid-90s, Nikon's newest offering was the N90s, an electronic, matrix-metering, auto-focus, motor-driven marvel. I saved for few months, pulled some money out of the bank, headed down to Lewis Camera Exchange in Scottsdale, AZ and bought myself the N90s with the add on vertical grip and a 50mm f/1.8 AF-D lens. As I recall, all in for this kit was about $1400. More money than I had ever spent on any hobby, ever. The N90s was a truly fabulous camera and it got me back into photography in a big way. I even built my dream darkroom in my suburban Phoenix home. But, as someone once said to me, life is a silly old bird and as the flat gray paint was barely dry on the walls of my new darkroom, my marriage began falling apart. The N90s, the cool and very large Omega Pro-Lab enlarger, print washer, tanks, trays and all my photography stuff was sold for pennies on the dollar to help pay for divorce lawyers.

2016 -- It took a decade for me to clean up and pay for my divorce. Ten years of mostly just survival. After relocating to California in 2010, the photography bug bit again. A Nikon FE2 I picked up on eBay started me on the third part of my photography journey. I'm enjoying this one the most. Digital photography has made once expensive and unaffordable cameras affordable.

This week, I dropped off a few rolls of Portra 400 for processing at my local camera shop. When I am there, I always check their used camera case. Sitting there on the top shelf, I saw an old friend -- a decent looking Nikon N90s with 50mm AF-D lens and vertical grip. Sale tag: $39.95. My what a difference 20 years make.

Out of my comfort zone: Street photography with the Leica M.

As a hobbyist photographer, I take pictures and fiddle with various cameras because it gives me pleasure, relieves stress, relaxes me, provides a creative release and is fun. Because I enjoy it, because it is fun, I do it often. The benefit of doing something often is that you get better at doing it. Your understanding of it and your skill at doing it improves. It's like exercise. If you enjoy walking and walk every day, your health will improve...unintended or not.

I think my technical skills have improved over the last six and half years. I'm getting better at seeing, composing, exposing. I'm feeling more confident in my ability to use the equipment properly. But I've mostly limited myself to a solitary pursuit of subject matter. I shoot landscapes, buildings, relics, interesting patterns, objects. And I take a lot of photos of my cameras and related accessories. I've avoided most photography which requires interaction with other people. The type of photography I've done so far is that which I find the most enjoyable, fun and...comfortable. And while there's nothing wrong with that, there is a part of me that admires photographers who can take great portraits or who are good at street photography. Because I've never found people photography or street photography fun, I've avoided it and have never grown my skills.

I wrote in an earlier post, that I bought my Leica M9-P as a learning tool. A digital platform to give me faster access to my images so that I could grow as a photographer. It occurred to me several weeks ago that the M camera and my 35mm Summicron was the perfect kit to venture out and try some street photography. Maybe I could practice some of the street photography skills I have read about and conquer my fear of photographing around people. 

The Leica M system really shines for this kind of photography. The small, light rangefinder would be easy to carry and the 35mm lens is the perfect focal length for shooting on the streets. I wanted my images to be in black and white and the M9 provides a very cool feature that allows you to create a black and white JPEG and a raw (DNG) color file at the same time.

I live just an hour from one of the great street photography cities of the world, San Francisco. So last weekend, I headed to the city, M9 in hand, a fresh SD card in the slot and an extra battery in my pocket to push myself out of my comfort zone. I cranked the ISO up to 1000 so I could shoot most everything at f/11 or 16. I used zone focusing for all of the shots in this gallery, making good use of the well marked depth-of-field scale on the top of the Summicron lens.

My hotel was in Union Square, so it was a short walk to Chinatown. At first, I settled into my old habit of avoiding people.

I became aware of a few things while shooting the Leica on the streets. First, there really is an advantage to using a rangefinder for this type of photography as you watch the world move into and out of your frame lines. In a way, the camera sort of becomes invisible, more an extension of your own seeing. I never feel this way shooting one of my 35mm SLRs. With my Nikon F2, for instance, I feel much more like I am looking at the world through a tube. There is also a bit more connection with what I am shooting using a rangefinder. I suppose it is because you are looking directly through the viewfinder at your subject rather than at an image reflected off the mirror of an SLR. Lastly, my vintage looking digital Leica rangefinder did not seem to intimidate anyone at all. I've tried this type of photography with my Nikons and my Contax RX SLRs and it seemed people were far more aware of those cameras. Or at least, that is how I perceived it. With a bit more confidence, I started shooting some people.

I watched this woman gazing at the food through this shop window for some time before she moved to the left side of the frame, which I thought made an interesting shot.

Just down the street, a busy fish market.

I lost my nerve while photographing in this alley. Just to the left, out of frame, three guys were huddled doing who knows what. The saw me with my camera and gave me a look that I read as "back off." I did, but grabbed this shot of some cool urban art before disappearing with my Leica in the crowd.

There was a parade of some sort. Too many people to get anything really good here. I clicked off several shots and liked this one best.

I am fascinated with the dark alleys and back spaces off the main streets in San Francisco. I'd love to come back and spend just a day shooting in these places.

I stopped and watched this woman folding old cardboard boxes neatly into the back of a truck for recycling I suppose. I tried to get a good shot of her, then a shot of her and the Transamerica Tower in the background and then a shot of her and her helper on the ground. It never worked out for me and towards the end, she noticed me and started waving me off. My only negative interaction of the day.

I made my way out of Chinatown, back towards Union Square. Couldn't resist stopping at the Leica Store and picking up a soft shutter release. In typical Leica fashion, it set me back $75. There were plenty of people milling about Union Square and along Powell Street as I made my way towards Market.

The sun was starting to set as I crossed Market to make my way back up Powell to Union Square. I clicked off this shot which like a lot.

I like the way the M9 renders in black and white mode and even at a high ISO setting, I don't think the images got grainy or gritty looking. And even if they did, for urban street photography, this might be just fine. Zone focusing, especially with the 35mm lens, worked just like I read it would, freeing up my attention to getting a good shot rather than worrying if I was in focus. With practice, this might even be faster than autofocus, at least on the AF cameras I have used. I can see why so many accomplished street photographers, past and present, use the Leica M. It's just a perfect tool for this kind of shooting. Most importantly, I had fun this day which grew my confidence level. 

On the way out of town, crossing the Golden Gate into Marin County, I looked up and the bridge towers were, as is so often the case, disappearing into the fog. When traffic slowed to a stop, I grabbed the M and shot this through the condensation of the front window of the car. It was a good day of photography.

Nikon's FUN Lens

I've probably had more fun using this lens than any other lens I own. It's also the lens I've made some of my most personally satisfying photographs with.

Around 1979, Nikon introduced the manual focus 55mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor Ais lens. It was an instant hit. In the Nikon world, "micro" and "macro" mean the same thing. This is a lens which serves double duty as a reasonably fast normal lens with the added benefit of being able to focus down to about nine inches. These lenses were being built by Nikon at the very pinnacle of their manual focus lens manufacturing process. Focus is smooth and sure, f/stops click into place perfectly. The 55 Micro-Nikkor is very, very sharp at most every aperture. It's so good, it was considered a benchmark lens at the time. There was even an autofocus version of this lens in later years.

This lens lives on my Nikon FM2n body most of the time and I feel confident taking it out for a day of photography without worrying about carrying another lens. F/2.8 is fast enough for most everything I do and if I happen upon a flower, spider web or some detail worth getting up close to, this lens does an amazing job. One of my favorite things to do is spool up a roll of film and shoot things around the house. Here are the keys on my Royal Quiet DeLuxe typewriter...

I bought an old 8mm movie camera at a flea market. Didn't realize it still had film in it. I should have checked first. Might have been interesting to see what was on it...

I found this buoy walking on the beach...

My Brownie Hawkeye...

A reflected selfie from my kitchen sink faucet...

My favorite whiskey. Obviously :-)

Rain on the window...

A classic camera...

Memories of some wines I've enjoyed...

My images would be even sharper if I mounted my camera on a tripod. All of these were shot handheld and sometimes with shutter speeds as low as 1/30th of a second. At some point, I really should put the camera on sticks and give this lens the opportunity to show what it can do. Honestly though, it's just so much fun grabbing the Nikon at the spur of the moment and shooting an ordinary household object up close. I'm always very satisfied when my shots come back from the lab.

I often hear people say things like "if I was stranded on a desert island with only one camera or one lens, this would be it." I don't want to be stranded on a desert island and it wouldn't be that much fun to shoot just one lens the rest of my life, but if I had to do it, I could probably keep myself occupied with the 55 Micro-Nikkor, an f-body that didn't depend on batteries and a big stash of TMax or Tri-X. If you shoot Nikon and want a versatile lens, get one of these. It's Nikon's FUN lens!

Knowing a place

Four decades ago, sitting in the public library in Endicott, New York, flipping pages in an Ansel Adams book of images from Yosemite, I remember wondering how a man could spend so much time in one place. Photographing one place. The concept of returning to a place over and over, during different seasons, of setting up a camera and waiting for the light to be just right, of maybe not even taking the photograph at all, packing up your gear and coming back again another day...these were all concepts I just could not get my head around. Not as a teenager. And only now am I beginning to understand "knowing a place."

Lake Tahoe had been on my bucket list of places to visit and photograph for as long as I can remember. When I lived in Arizona, I had a subscription to Sunset magazine. Every once in a while, they'd do a spread on Tahoe and I'd be fascinated with the images of the blue alpine lake with snow covered mountains in the background. After relocating to Northern California in 2010, Tahoe was closer, but I kept putting it off for another day. It wasn't until the HR director at work called to remind me of the alarming amount of unused personal holiday hours (I work too much) that were stacking up, that made me decide that I should take a long weekend and do something. Tahoe! I went online and found a hotel, packed an overnight bag, grabbed my Leica and headed up into the Sierras.

Climbing up I-80, I was excited about seeing a place for the first time and in making some satisfying photographs. I have been in somewhat of a creative slump recently and was convinced that this little trip would snap me out of that. A new place. Fresh air. Take lots of photos. As the road tumbled out of the trees and my car wound around the first curve that revealed the lake, I got that same feeling that one gets when a roller coaster hurtles you about a loop-de-loop. I felt it in my gut then head to toe. Lake Tahoe simply took my breath away!

For the next 24 hours, I was so splendidly amazed by the scenery that all I could to was just soak it in. Be part of it. Let it wash over me. And all I could take were...snapshots. Yes, snapshots. The kind of photos you take while vacationing with the family in WallyWorld. Here is my first one at the lake, taken from the beach, in front of my hotel.

It was too windy for lake activities that day. No kayak rentals. So I snapped the stacked up kayaks.

No one using the SeaDoos either...

As you might imagine, Lake Tahoe is a busy place on the weekends. The road around the lake was packed with cars, bikers and gawkers. There was some sort of marathon going on too, requiring me to watch carefully for runners on the road as I navigated my way from Incline Village to South Lake Tahoe. Cars, bikers, runners, a twisty two lane road all competing with amazing vistas. Visual overload! I stopped where I could, pulled over and took more snapshots.

Around the other side of the lake, Emerald Bay was supposed to be amazing. This section of the road requires 100% attention to the wheel--no shoulders and drop offs that could send you over a cliff. Most every available overlook was packed with parked cars. The few places I found to pull off the road didn't provide good places to see the bay or take a proper photograph. More snapshots, but they still reveal the majesty of the place.

I knew Squaw Valley ski area was not far away and on my way home, so I decided to stop there. Squaw Valley was the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics. A resort has grown up around the original Olympic Village.

There's a gondola that takes you from the Valley floor up to the top. It costs $44. That's a lot, but from where I was standing, it looked pretty awesome up there. It was and I am glad I spent the $44. I spent a few hours at the top, breathing the thin air at 8500 feet and clicking off some of my better shots of the weekend.

The entire Lake Tahoe area was simply gorgeous and my images really don't do the area justice. It was just too grand for me to take in all at once. The amount of visual data was overwhelming. I kept spinning around and shooting because I just wanted to photograph...everything.

Upon returning home, popping the memory card into the reader and scrolling through my images, I was disappointed in myself. I was hoping to make some great photograph in the Sierras and all I had were a bunch of vacation snapshots. Then I thought about Adams in Yosemite and I started to get it.  To make great photographs of a place like Tahoe or Yosemite or Yellowstone, you have to take your time and get to know a place. Go back. Again and again. Lake Tahoe was that amazing. Next time, I'll grab an extra day or two.

Remembering Peter Thomas

Off topic today, I want to pause and recognize the passing of a remarkable man.

Peter Thomas

Peter Thomas

His name may not be familiar, but if you hear his voice, you most assuredly will recognize the distinctive sound of Peter Thomas. Peter passed away this past weekend at his home in Naples, Florida. He was 91. Most recently, Peter narrated Forensic Files on TruTV. You can also hear his voice on episodes of the PBS series NOVA. He narrated documentaries, recorded promotional announcements for NBC News and did countless TV and radio commercials. Over the years, he also became my friend.

I met Peter while I was working at an advertising agency in Phoenix in the late 1980s. I was a young copywriter who had just been promoted to Copywriter/Producer. The promotion did not include a raise in salary, it simply meant that in addition to writing commercials, I now had the added responsibility of producing them as well. I had been given the assignment of writing a 60-second radio commercial for one of our clients, a local art museum. Our Creative Director had selected Peter Thomas to record the spot. Peter would record from a studio in New York City and I would direct him over the phone. I was told that Peter was a national voice talent and was charging a lot of money to do the commercial. And we were paying by the quarter hour for the New York City studio. Nothing like putting the pressure on a young advertising guy.

The copy included a number of Native American Indian names which were difficult to pronounce. I wrote them out phonetically on my script so I could effectively direct Peter. When the session started, I dialed into the New York studio. The session engineer answered the phone and told me he would begin to set up the "phone patch" which would allow me to talk directly to Peter through his headphones in the announce booth and direct the session. This was my first time doing any of this and I was plenty nervous.

The engineer introduced me to Peter. He asked me a few questions about the client, where the commercial would air and a few questions about me. Then he asked how I wanted the copy delivered. Geez...I really didn't know. This producing thing was harder than it looked. Peter sensed my inexperience and said "Why don't I give you a read or two and you can see if we're on target?" Peter read through the copy, in exactly 60 seconds I might add, and his delivery was amazing except...he mispronounced one of the Indian names. I walked him through the correct pronunciation and he asked if I wanted to give him any additional direction on his delivery? I thought maybe I should produce and direct a little but all I could think of was "purple mountain majesty" and I blurted out "How about a more mountainous read?" The engineer cut in "Mountainous? What does that mean? Peter? Mountainous?" Peter, sensing that I had no idea what the hell I was talking about or at the very least, could not communicate it clearly, responded "I think I know exactly what John wants here. Let's roll tape."

Peter recorded the spot again, pronounced the Indian name correctly and delivered the most majestical, mountainous, magical read possible. After the playback, Peter told the engineer that I was brilliant and that my direction was "spot on." Over the years, I have worked with less experienced, less talented voice over and on camera talents, who treated advertising agency people as a nuisance. Peter was one of the best in the business and he took the time that morning to make a young, inexperienced ad guy feel big and important. That was a defining moment in my career. And I never forgot it. The client, by the way, loved the spot and the campaign was very successful.

I worked with Peter many, many times over the years. Some of the projects were big and some were quite small. Even when I did not have a budget for national voice talent, if the campaign seemed perfect for Peter's voice, I'd call him. He would ask me what the client could afford and I'd be honest with him and Peter would do the work. No matter how much he was being paid, he was always professional, courteous, gracious and...amazing.

Peter served in World War II in five major campaigns including The Battle of Normandy and The Battle of The Bulge. He was issued a Battle Star for each of his campaigns and a Bronze Star and Purple Heart. He was married to Stella Barrineau Thomas, the love of his life, for 68 years until her death in 2014. 

A great voice has been silenced and I will miss my friend.

Here is a Peter Thomas narration if you care to check it out.



Why the Nikon F2 is my favorite camera.

I was a child in the 1960s, but I grew up in the 1970s. While I was aware of The Beatles, The Byrds and The Mamas & The Papas, I adored Boston, Fleetwood Mac, Steely Dan, The Eagles and The Doobies. The soundtrack of the 1970s is imprinted on me, indelibly. When I hear songs from the 70s, they still make me feel good.

The generation before me had The Ed Sullivan Show and Jack Paar. I had the Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, Carol Burnett and Johnny Carson. The Tonight chair has changed ownership twice since Carson ruled late night, but those old clips on You Tube still make me laugh.

The women of 1970s rock-n-roll stirred the hormones of a young teenager, sitting on the floor of his Upstate New York bedroom, listening to their music on his Technics turntable. They're older, grayer and a little less petite today, but I still find Stevie Nicks and the Wilson sisters sexy.

I got my drivers license around 1975. The Arab oil embargo was in full swing. People were dumping gas guzzling muscle cars for pennies on the dollar, trading them in on Datsun B210s and Toyota Coronas. The 396 cubic inch 69 Camaro SS was within the reach of a high school kid with a little financial help from his old man and I wanted one! I settled for a tamer 302 cubic inch version in Kelly Green--but my old 69 Camaro remains my favorite car ever.

AM radio was still vibrant in the 1970s. Album rock on FM was up and coming, but AM Top 40 ruled the airwaves. With it's 50,000 watt clear channel signal, I could listen to New York City's Musicradio 77 WABC pretty clearly three hours away in my little upstate town. Harry Harrison, Ron Lundy and the amazing Dan Ingram were the jocks that me decide that someday, some way, I wanted to be on the radio too.

Didn't have an internet in the 70s. We read magazines. Popular Photography, Shutterbug and Modern Photography. Modern was the coolest of the three. Herb Keppler wrote great gear reviews with humor and passion. Couldn't afford a single camera he wrote about, but it didn't stop me from dreaming. That's where I first read about and drooled over the Nikon F2.

It was in the pages of Modern that I first saw ads like this one. This was the camera every young photo freak wanted in the 70s, but only pros could afford them. 

I was shooting with my Dad's Kodak Retina rangefinder at this time, developing and printing Tri-X Pan and Plus-X Pan in our basement darkroom. One Saturday afternoon, I needed more chemicals and convinced my Dad to take me to Tuthill's--the "big" camera store in Binghamton. They had a new F2 in the display case and I asked the salesperson if I could look at it. Knowing that I probably had scraped together my lawn mowing money to buy the D-76 and KodaFix I had in my hands, he humored me. Holding the Nikon F2 that day solidified forever in my mind everything a camera should be. Metal, glass, gears, substantial, designed and built by hand, long lasting. They say lots of things get imprinted on you when you are young. The F2 sure did that day and stayed with me a lifetime.

It would be four decades later before I actually owned an F2. After many life changes, I finally had some time and a little money and started looking online for a good, sturdy, easy and fun to use film camera.

I've owned and had restored about a half dozen F2 variants over the past few years. I've sold one to buy another and gave one away to my blogging friend Jim Grey, but most of them I still have. Use often. And smile every time I do.

You can read just a bazillion online reviews about how great this camera is. How photographers beat off muggers by hitting them with their F2s or how the camera survived after tumbling down a mountain. There are places where you can read in finite detail about the various finders that turn an F2 into an F2SB, F2S, F2A or F2AS. There's a passionate Facebook group and dedicated Flickr pages.

I too have written some posts, both here and on a previous blog, about the wonderful technical aspects of the F2. But as I purchased my seventh...I think...F2 a few weeks ago...I decided that maybe, just maybe it was time for me to throw out the bullshit flag. Sure, the F2 is a fine camera. A really fine camera. The reason I like it...ok...the reason I love it...is that it makes me feel good. Just like listening to Deacon Blues off of vinyl, watching an old clip of Johnny cracking up as a marmoset pees on his head, Stevie Nicks, Ann Wilson, muscle cars or remembering the echoing monster sound of WABC...holding and shooting a Nikon F2 just makes me feel good. And for me, that's good enough.