Lightbox Wednesday #16

Lightbox Wednesday Blog Post...one day late. Hey, it's been a really busy week at work.  :-)

A few years ago, I took on the project of scanning hundreds of Kodachrome and Agfachrome slides my Dad shot many years ago with his Kodak Retina IIc camera. These very old chromes held up really well, stored in old Argus metal slide trays. This was one of my first scans. I was still getting the hang of the scanner and having dust issues. I'm not sure when this was taken. The 1950s for sure. I used to fuel up my 1969 Camaro at this same gas station when I was in high school in the late 1970s. That's my Mom in the passenger seat!

Lightbox Wednesday #15

This little lightbox project I have undertaken this year has been a good reminder for me of which cameras and lenses I have used most often and really gotten my money's worth from. One of those is the fabulous 55mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor lens. I've had more rainy day fun shooting stuff around the house with this lens. Here's a shot from a  few years ago. Taken with one of my Nikon F2 cameras on Kodak Tmax 100 film, this is the dial on my old rotary dial telephone.

The Planar Killer

Once upon a time, Asahi Optical Company (Pentax) had a dream that they could design and build the finest standard 50mm prime lens in the world. It was a daunting task in a time when Leica and Carl Zeiss dominated with their Summicrons and Planars. The Japanese threw money at the project. Lots of money. And cash was no object, because pride was at stake. Knocking the German lens manufacturers out of the top spot would forever cement Pentax's reputation for fine optics. So it was that in the early 1960s, the first Super Takumar lens was born. Design and development costs aside, the 8-element 50mm f/1.4 Super Tak was so expensive to build, Pentax lost money on every one sold. The press raved, Pentax took the crown and this special lens faded away, replaced by a less-expensive-to-build 7-element version.

I took my 8-element Super Tak out for a spin on a recent Sunday walk through Stillwater Cove State Park, not far from where I live. I used Kodak Portra 400 film exposed at half the box speed in my Spotmatic SP camera.

This lens is sharp and renders colors wonderfully, just like all the Super Takumar and Super Multi-Coated Takumars I've tried. There is a subtle increase in sharpness over the 7-element version, at least to my eye. What intrigues me is the interesting swirly bokeh this lens produces. I want to experiment more. Any photographic tool that encourages you to get out and shoot more is worth the price of admission.

The 8-element Super Takumar 50/1.4 does not boldy announce itself to the world. The only way to tell it from the 7-element version is to look for the infinity focus tick mark, which is located to the right of the number 4 on the lens barrel rather than the left as is the case on 7-element versions. The rear element also protrudes noticeably.

This lens was produced for only two years (1964-1966), making it somewhat rare. Collectors have driven up the cost, but if you enjoy browsing on eBay like I do, you might come across one being offered by a seller who has no idea they're selling a legendary lens. This is a lens that is worth the hunt.

Lightbox Wednesday #14

Going through all of my old images reminds me that I've taken many shots on film stock that has since been discontinued. A bought a couple dozen rolls of Kodak Plus-X black and white film from the very final runs. I only have a roll or two left in the fridge.

Kodak Alaris has announced that they are bringing back Ektachrome slide film later this year. They are also kicking around the notion of a return of Kodachrome. With TMax 100 film filling the Plus-X void, I doubt they'd start making this venerable 125 speed film again, but...

This shot was taken the last day of 2015 with my Contax RX and Zeiss Planar 50. Film was developed in Kodak D-76 developer.

Pentax 645n: First Thoughts

Of all the classic 35mm cameras I have tried over the past seven years, I can say that there are at least eight or ten that I really love. And any of those eight or ten would be good enough to shoot as my only camera. I can't say the same about medium format cameras. Haven't shot one up to this point that I'd put an exclamation point after.

My first MF was the Mamiya 645Pro. I actually liked this camera a lot when I was just fooling around with it in my house and yard. One day, however, I took it out for a day of shooting. By sundown, my neck and back were sore from lugging this behemoth around. There's nothing to complain about with the camera itself or Mamiya's fine lenses. This camera is just not meant for street shooting, hiking or even just walking around. It was designed for wedding photographers and studio work; areas where it excels.

Next up was a Rolleicord I inherited from a friend. Fine camera. Superb lens. I had never shot a twin lens reflex camera before. And because this camera had sentimental value, I wanted to love it. I didn't warm to the Rollei. It was fiddly and I found myself always using the magnifying eyepiece trying to get my shot into precise focus. Bending my head over to look down into the eyepiece and then looking up again aggravated my vertigo (a condition I have suffered with for years). It's bad enough I'm old and shooting an ancient looking camera. I really looked funny stumbling around with dizziness after focusing.

Next up were two rounds of Hasselblad 500-series cameras. To eliminate the viewfinder issue described above, I tried various versions of pentaprism finders for the Blads. The one I liked the best with built in metering was huge and heavy, turning the 500c/m camera into almost a Mamiya 645Pro. Again, the Hasselblad is a beautiful camera and the Carl Zeiss lenses will blow you away. And I loved the removable film backs. The Hasselblads just weren't my cup of tea.

I had almost resigned myself to being content as a 35mm shooter when a friend sent me an email and asked if I'd like to try the Pentax 645n. He had a nice, lightly used one for sale complete with 120 insert and SMC FA 75mm f/2.8 lens. We made a deal and I traded my Mamiya for the Pentax.

Pentax 645n with Pentax SMC FA 75mm f/2.8 and collapsable lens hood

Pentax 645n with Pentax SMC FA 75mm f/2.8 and collapsable lens hood

One of the things I do when I get a new camera is pay attention to the way it feels in my hand the first time I take it out of the box and peel away the bubble wrap. If it feels good then...that's a good sign. Don't get me wrong, the Pentax 645n is a big camera and it's not light, but it's well balanced and the hand grip is designed perfectly. This camera felt immediately satisfying. Because the 645n uses film inserts rather than removable backs, it's smaller and lighter than the Mamiya or the Hasselblad. The removable 120 film inserts are the easiest to load of any of the medium format cameras I have tried. The 645 format gives you 16 shots per roll.

The Pentax 645n uses removable film inserts

The Pentax 645n uses removable film inserts

The 645n shoots just like a 35mm SLR and offers matrix metering which allows you to shoot in aperture-priority, shutter-priority, manual and fully automatic professional/program mode. Wanna see something cool? Look how smartly designed this Pentax is: Green Means Go! Set all of the controls on the top of this camera to green and the camera is in full auto-exposure mode. Easy peasy!

I was surprised at how quickly the SMC FA lens snapped into focus with no hunting and pecking. There's a little beep that sounds when the Pentax finds it's focus, a feature you can disable if you want. For a classic film camera, the 645n has an impressive autofocus system! The only 120 film I had on hand was some Ilford HP5+, not my favorite emulsion, but it would have to do. I spooled up the Ilford in the Pentax without having to read any instructions--nice! Now the real test...a long walk with the camera. 

First up, the sun on my patio furniture.

A wine barrel and my collection of golf balls that fly into my yard from the nearby course.

An intersection near my house.

The side of my neighbor's house.

Pride of Madeira, which grows like crazy here on the coast.

The beach.

And when I got back, the cat...right where I'd left her.

The 645n automatically advances the film on to the take up spool at the end of the roll. Open the back, remove the spool, seal the film up and you're done!

My walk lasted just over an hour and carrying the 645n around was no more tiresome than a modern DSLR. I probably wouldn't want to take it on an 8-mile hike, but this is a medium format camera I might use a lot more often. I think my results in the "auto-everything" mode turned out ok and the Pentax SMC glass rendered Iford HP5+ in a more pleasing way than with past gear I've used it in.

I've picked up some 120 format Portra 400 and am going to shoot the wildflowers, which are in big time bloom here in Northern California. The Pentax 645n is a smartly designed, easy to use and comfortable to carry medium format SLR. It might just be a keeper! (Oh my...exclamation points!)

Lightbox Wednesday #13

My project this year is to go through all of the images I've taken since re-entering film photography in 2009. I'm keeping the ones I like and jettisoning the ones I don't.  Revisiting my work has been a good exercise.

Autumn, 2014...I was learning my way around a Rolleicord TLR. Here are some shots from my first roll. I was shooting Portra 400.

It's hard to beat medium format negatives. I've struggled however to find a medium format camera that feels right. The Rolleicord didn't. I traded some gear recently for a Pentax 645n. Full report on that soon.

I just might be turning into a Pentaxian

I gotta tell you, the more I shoot with Pentax gear, the more I fall in love. From the M42 screw mount Takumars to the K mount SMC-M and SMC-A primes, the lenses are simply amazing. And amazingly affordable! I haven't yet found a Pentax lens that has disappointed. Or a Pentax camera that I didn't gush over. My current rush of enthusiasm for the brand made me bold enough to pack only Pentax gear on my most recent trek to the photographic holy lands of the Monterey Coast. And if that's not adventurous enough, of the two Pentax bodies I packed, one was an un-film-tested MX I picked up off of eBay just before my trip!

Pentax MX 35mm SLR with SMC Pentax-A 50mm f/1.4 lens

Pentax MX 35mm SLR with SMC Pentax-A 50mm f/1.4 lens

First, the camera. The MX is a nifty little K-mount 35mm manual everything body from the 1970s. I'd compare the MX to Nikon's FM/FM2/FM2n bodies; TTL center-weighted metering that provides the photographer with exposure information which is then set manually. The MX has a very nice viewfinder with a unique circular display of shutter speeds and a series of LEDs that let you know when you're good to go. This camera is a little bit like a Spotmatic that has been shrunken down a size or two with all of the controls feeling very familiar to any Spotmatic shooter. The MX is small, well balanced and very light. I carried it over my shoulder for hours on end without issue. My MX came with a SMC Pentax-A 50mm f/1.4 lens.

I shot mostly black and white (Tmax 100 in my Pentax LX) during my four days bopping around Carmel, Carmel Valley and the Santa Lucia Highlands. Before packing the MX in my camera bag, I loaded some fresh batteries and tested the metering. It seemed to agree with my digital meter. I dry-fired it through its shutter speed range and it sounded close enough. 

Here are my first two shots with the MX on day one; an old John Deere in front of a winery in Carmel Valley.

Carmel Valley Road begins as a busy four-lane at the Pacific Coast Highway. Over the next 30 or so miles of its length, it narrows to barely a lane and a half while twisting and turning through some dramatic scenery before depositing you into the Santa Lucia Highlands wine growing region. It's far enough inland here to think that they would grow Cabarnet or Zinfandel, but the cool coastal breezes sneak their way up the gap allowing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes to thrive here.

The buds were just beginning to break at Hahn Vineyards.

It was such an overcast day. If the sun were shining, I can only imagine how well this lens would perform.

Odonata Winery was my favorite! I bought several bottles of their wine to take home. This is the view from their parking lot.

Later in the day, back in Carmel, the clouds began to break up and finally, some sun!

The old MX revealed a shutter capping problem towards the end of the day, one of the risks of traveling with an untested camera. It's an easy and cheap CLA fix, but it spoiled my sunset shot.

I woke the next morning to sunshine and the sound of the Pacific. I snapped this shot out of my hotel window. I was impressed at how well the MX's meter performed here. Hey, who needs matrix metering?

Later that day, relaxing with an Arnold Palmer.

I enjoyed using the MX enough to spend a few dollars and have Eric Hendrickson service it. It's a simple, inexpensive camera that is robust enough to throw into the car and take anywhere. And these Pentax lenses...oh my! I'm toying, seriously toying with the idea of selling off all of the rest of my cameras, throwing the funds into my retirement fund and just shooting Pentax from here on out.

Lightbox Wednesday #12

Besides the camera in my iPhone, my Leica M9-P is the only digital camera I own. I often consider selling the Leica as I only shoot it occasionally. I eased myself into this expensive camera gradually, trading several other cameras and a bit of cash for it, but it's still an extravagance.

One thing I like about the M9-P is its ability to allow me to mount all of the old Leica lenses I own. Leica lenses have always been stunning performers. Here is a shot I took in the little market in Pt. Reyes Station, CA with an ancient Summicron lens.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lightbox Wednesday #10

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

Moss on rock/Boho Cottage, Freestone CA 2014

Moss on rock/Boho Cottage, Freestone CA 2014

Lightbox Wednesday #9

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

Half Dome from Yosemite Valley, Olympus OM-2n

Half Dome from Yosemite Valley, Olympus OM-2n

Yosemite Valley, Olympus OM-2n

Yosemite Valley, Olympus OM-2n

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

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

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

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

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

Changing Times

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

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

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

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

Lightbox Wednesday #8

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

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

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

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

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

Lightbox Wednesday #7

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

Bodega Bay Surf Shack, October 2014

Bodega Bay Surf Shack, October 2014

Reunited

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pentax Spotmatic F with SMC Takumar 55mm f/1.8

Pentax Spotmatic F with SMC Takumar 55mm f/1.8

Camera serial number

Camera serial number

Lens serial number

Lens serial number

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

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

Lightbox Wednesday #6

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

Shooting the Canon F-1n

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

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

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