Lightbox Wednesday #24

Looking back through seven plus years of images, I realize that there are some cameras that I should have spent more time with. Such was the case with the Nikon D700. I only had my D700 for a few weeks before someone offered me more money than I had paid for it and it was gone. I should have gotten to know this Nikon better.

I did wander down to the beach near where I live on a late November day in 2014 and got this shot of some folks and their dog returning from some Sunday fishing.

Nikon D700 with 50mm AF-D f/1.4

Nikon D700 with 50mm AF-D f/1.4

Lightbox Wednesday #23

Looking back through seven years worth of images, I am reminded that I need to return to Fort Point in San Francisco. Built during the Civil War to protect the city, this historic structure sits directly below the Golden Gate Bridge. I arrived just a few hours before closing in late October, 2014. Once inside, I realized the abundance of photo opportunities.

Here is one shot taken with my Leica M6TTL on Kodak Tmax 100.

First Impressions: Shooting The Pentax ME

I really need to start setting aside my preconceived notions about certain classic cameras. I had always dismissed the Pentax ME as being a simple, entry-level and even cheaply made 1970s SLR. When I got the itch to try the M series bodies, I stepped right over the ME and bought the ME Super. The Super is a great little camera with aperture priority automation and manual modes. I chose the Super over the ME because I thought it was a better camera. Super = Superior...or so I thought.

A couple of months ago, the electronics in my Super started sputtering. The meter would only work in fits and sometimes not wake up at all. I checked the batteries and contacts. Even put a little piece of tin foil between the battery cap and battery--something I read might correct the problem I was having. One day, my little ME Super just rolled over and died. I was sad. I liked my Super. It almost always had film in it and I used it often. Repairing this camera would cost more than buying another, so I went browsing on eBay.

There, among all the chrome Supers, was a nice black body ME. You don't see many black body M series Pentax cameras. It looked nice and the "buy it now" price was very right. But I didn't want an ME. Too basic, too pedestrian. Amateur. Entry-level. I put it in my watch list and went to bed. 

When you're shooting Nikon F2s and Leica rangefinders, it's easy to become a photo snob and look down your nose at consumer grade cameras like the ME, but that little black body Pentax kept popping into my head. I checked eBay the next day. It was still there. I clicked the "buy it now" button.

Pentax ME with SMC Pentax 85mm f/1.8

Pentax ME with SMC Pentax 85mm f/1.8

When the ME hit camera store shelves in 1976, it was priced at $189.95. That's around $800 in today's dollars.  That's a lot for an entry-level SLR and you'd have to be pretty committed to taking good photos to plunk down that kind of cash. It's also a testament to the fact that Pentax was building really fine cameras. The ME might be basic, but it is not cheaply made.

The ME just feels really good in your hand. Like the little Olympus OM and Minolta XD it was competing with, the ME is small and balanced with thoughtfully placed controls. With one of the tiny Pentax 28 or 35mm lenses, or even the kit supplied 50/1.7, this is a camera you can wear on your shoulder all day long and almost not know it's there.

Loading film is a snap with the strange little Pentax finger things on the take-up spool. Set the button on top to AUTO and click away! Big, bright viewfinders are trademarks of the entire Pentax M series and the no-nonsense analog display tells you everything you need to know. Aperture-priority autoexposure, the only mode available on the ME, is about as close as you can get to point-and-shoot. I saw that as a deficiency when I bought the Super over the ME originally, but now I realize that this single shooting mode quickly reveals itself as the ME's allure. Mount your favorite Pentax lens to this camera, spool up some film and go out and shoot. The ME gets out of your way and lets you concentrate on making good pictures.

In the first ten days I owned this camera, it gobbled up two 36-exposure rolls of Portra 400. That means I liked shooting it a lot! I'll be dropping the film off at the lab next week and will share the results here soon. If you like aperture-priority shooting, you really can't want for more in a camera body. And with an amazing selection of readily available and very affordable Pentax K-mount lenses, you could build yourself a fine system that could handle about any photographic task you could throw at it.

I feel a bit foolish at my camera snobbery. This little ME put me in my place.

Lightbox Wednesday #22

Looking through, sorting, deleting and organizing all of the images I have taken since my re-etnry into film photography. This shot from 2016, taken in a hallway at the Cypress Inn in Carmel, is one of my favorites. Reminds me of "The Shining."

Hotel Hallway/Carmel, CA  Leica MP, 35/2 Summicron on Tmax 100

Hotel Hallway/Carmel, CA  Leica MP, 35/2 Summicron on Tmax 100

My First 135

There was a line at the counter of the photo store when I stopped to pick up some developed film a few weeks ago, so it gave me an excuse to browse the used gear case. Well...like I need an excuse.

Our little Mom & Pop camera store has a pretty decent selection of used SLRs and lenses. There's a community college in town that has a photography program that requires students to learn film photography first, so they do a good business selling simple film cameras. Naturally, the top seller is the Pentax K1000, so there's always a shelf full of Pentax K-Mount glass. I wasn't really looking for anything in particular when I noticed, popping up tall among the 50 primes, a decent SMC Pentax-A 135mm f/2.8. Doesn't it always seem when you see something in a display case that interests you, the price tag is always upside down? It was on this 135, so I motioned for some help. "How much for that K-Mount 135 there?" In my mind, I was thinking about a buck a millimeter, so I was surprised when the sales associate handed me the lens and I saw the price at $50. That's very affordable for a reasonably fast prime telephoto lens. 

I haven't found a Pentax film era lens yet that didn't feel expensive and substantial and this lens was no exception. I asked to try it on a K1000 body. Focus action was superb and the f-stops nice and clicky. The glass on this lens looked exceptional and after a few minutes thinking about what my Portra 400 processing and scans were going to cost me that day, I decided to pick up the lens too.

The first weekend I had to try my new lens consisted of attending a college graduation and oodles of errands I had been putting off. I did get to put the 135 through some basic work outs, mounted on my LX body and shooting Kodak Portra 400.

I mostly shoot standard primes, so this is a first for me. The only lenses I have in my collection that would be considered telephotos are my 85s. And 85mm on a full frame film camera seems barely telephoto. This is a nice lens though. It's not big and balances well on the LX and on my ME Super, making it a good walk about lens. And after this first roll, I am inspired to experiment more with this focal length.

Lightbox Wednesday #21

I rarely have my iPhone on me when I am out and about. It's just a nuisance to carry. And, for the most part, the only time I use its built in camera is to take photos of film cameras I am writing about and using. Those images appear here on the blog and in my Flickr feed.

On January 22, 2012 however, I did have my phone with me as I watched the San Francisco 49ers play the New York Giants in the NFC Championship game at Candlestick Park. I took the phone because my brother is a big Giants fan and I wanted to be able to text him and rib him when the 49ers beat the pants off the Giants. I could have left the phone home--the game went the other way and the Giants went on to the Super Bowl that year.

As it turns out, I am glad I snapped a couple of shots inside Candlestick as it would be my last visit there before the place was closed down and demolished. Besides the loss, it was a miserable evening at The Stick. Sheets of rain blew in cold from the Bay. I got soaked to the skin and recall eating a cold hot dog in a rain soaked bun.

Cold and Miserable at Candlestick

Cold and Miserable at Candlestick

Even colder and more miserable at Candlestick

Even colder and more miserable at Candlestick

Lots of football history unfolded over the years at Candlestick and long time fans here really miss the place. Looking back through all my old photos for the Lightbox project, I am glad I grabbed my phone that day and got a few shots of the grand old park before it disappeared.

Candlestick Park today (Image Courtesy of Google Earth)

Candlestick Park today (Image Courtesy of Google Earth)

Lightbox Wednesday #20

With all this nonsense about spending gazillions building a wall at the border with Mexico, I think people forget that there already is a wall there...well, sort of. More of a rusty fence with lots of holes.

During my three decades living in Arizona, I visited the US/Mexico border only a handful of times. Mostly, it was to take out of town visitors to Nogales, where you can park your car in the Safeway parking lot in Nogales, AZ and walk across the border into Nogales, Mexico. There's really not much to do in dusty Nogales other than buy colorful but itchy blankets or knock-off designer handbags. I heard you could also buy antibiotics there without a prescription, but I'm not sure I'd buy medication from some of the sketchy little drug stores I saw there. Each time I visited Nogales, I was always quite happy to pass back through the border station and into the US again.

My favorite near-border town is Bisbee in Southeastern Arizona. Bisbee was a copper mining town and at one time, the the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco. When the mines played out, Bisbee almost dried up and blew away. Today, it's an interesting community of artists and eccentrics. There are some excellent restaurants in town and a diverse selection of interesting shops and galleries.

While editing images for my Lightbox Wednesday project, I came across these shots I took during my last visit to Bisbee in 2008. I shot these with a Nikon D70s and 24-120mm Nikkor zoom.

You can spend the night at The Copper Queen Hotel

You can spend the night at The Copper Queen Hotel

Business District in Bisbee

Business District in Bisbee

Shuttered Movie Palace in Bisbee

Shuttered Movie Palace in Bisbee

Indian Motorcycle Shop

Indian Motorcycle Shop

Dial Hemlock 2-3842

Dial Hemlock 2-3842

One of many vintage vehicles I saw parked in Bisbee

One of many vintage vehicles I saw parked in Bisbee

Old Chevy Dealership

Old Chevy Dealership

Pool Hall

Pool Hall

Abandoned gas station, although it appeared a hot rod business had operated here recently.

Abandoned gas station, although it appeared a hot rod business had operated here recently.

Kilnes Trading Post

Kilnes Trading Post

There is an interesting motel in Bisbee called the Shady Dell. All of the rooms are renovated vintage travel trailers, a bus and even a boat!

Dot's Diner is adjacent to The Shady Dell. Great burgers!

The scars of open pit mining in Bisbee illustrate just how careless we have been with our environment.

Abandoned Open Pit Copper Mine near Bisbee

Abandoned Open Pit Copper Mine near Bisbee

Another shot of the open pit copper mine

Another shot of the open pit copper mine

The aforementioned US/Mexican border is just a short hop south from Bisbee. The "wall" here is solid rusted metal on the bottom with vertical grating on the top. Notice how it stretches all the way to the horizon. That's Naco, Mexico on the other side.

I feel pretty confident that my skills as a photographer have improved since I visited Bisbee almost a decade ago. It would be fun to return sometime with a film camera and see how much as changed and how I'd shoot it today.

Lightbox Wednesday #18

I've been reviewing, sorting and sometimes discarding images I've taken during the past seven years. It's been a useful exercise to review my progress and reveal how much more I need to learn about photography. Every Wednesday, I toss a few of these images onto my digital lightbox.

Since moving to Northern California, I've become fascinated with the micro-climates around the Bay Area and especially of the different kinds of fog that develop. Before I moved here, fog was more a nuisance than anything else. Here however, you learn to live with it, embrace it, love it and try to photograph it. My best results so far have been on a Sunday afternoon hike out at Pierce Point Ranch on the Point Reyes National Seashore. The day started out sunny, but as I made my way back to the trail head at the Ranch, a heavy dense fog dropped down hard. I clicked off these shots with my Leica M9-P. I think they accurately captured the mood. You can almost feel the moisture dripping from these photographs.

Lightbox Wednesday #17

I have discovered another positive benefit of my Lightbox Wednesday project. Revisiting your old images helps fight G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). As I've poured over hundreds of images I've taken over the past seven years with various cameras, it's reminded me on several occasions how I haven't shot a particular camera in a while. 

Such was the case when I came across this series of images taken about three years ago with my Nikon F4 and manual focus 85mm f/2 Nikkor lens. I was trying my first roll of CineStill 800T film. CineStill is Kodak's Vision3 motion picture film which has had the rem jet-layer removed so it can be processed in C-41 chemistry. It's a tungsten-balanced film, so it really shines under artificial light sources, but I got some decent results shooting it under natural light.

CineStil is a film stock that it would take a person awhile to get to know well enough to achieve consistently satisfying results. I suppose that's why I only shot this one roll back in 2014.  For almost all of my color work these days I rely on Portra 400.

Flipping through these CineStill shots did get me jazzed to use my Nikon F4 again and doing that has kept me off of eBay--which is a good thing for my wallet.

The author, his F4, shot on Kodak's CineStill 800T

The author, his F4, shot on Kodak's CineStill 800T

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.