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


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.


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.

Walking the dog.jpg
Two at Sunset.jpg
Love On The Beach.jpg
Warning Sign.jpg

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!


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...


And it delivered one of my favorite seascapes...


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!


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.


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


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 me. This is the Pentax you always saw Paul McCartney carrying around back in the day.


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!


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.


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.

Lightbox Wednesday #38 and a Rant

I'm the odd man out, I know that. I have an iPhone, but I mainly use it to take photos of my old cameras for this blog and for Flickr. Whenever I take a photo with my iPhone, the image automatically appears on all my Apple devices. It's convenient and I like that.

My iPhone is a 5. I got it in 2012 from a friend who worked at Apple and I paid $100 for it. I don't ask questions. It's unlocked, so I am not tethered to any one service provider. My previous phone was a 3 and I bought it new because, at the time, I was just starting to need readers too see up close and I liked the big, illuminated numbers on the key pad of that first iPhone. I'd still have it if I didn't forget that I had set it on the roof of my car one day at work while I was loading some stuff in the trunk. Last I heard of my iPhone 3 was the sound of it bouncing off the trunk as I accelerated southbound onto the 101 Freeway.

I rarely talk on my iPhone. The one I have now has a total of just over 7 hours of total talk time in the 5+ years I have had it. I've sent 11 text messages this month. I found a service provider who will sell me a minimum data plan, like 30MB and I think I use about 1.1MB of that each month. That's probably just the amount needed to keep the phone's heart beating...I don't know. I have cellular data mostly turned off and only use wi-fi.

My current phone looks like new because I never carry it with me. It used to be that cell phones were getting smaller and smaller. You could easily slip a Motorola Razr flip phone in your pocket. The latest smart phones are like the size of a piece of toast. I've never felt comfortable with an iPhone in my pocket, so I leave it, mostly, in my briefcase. From Friday afternoon to Monday morning, I rarely even look at my phone. If people need to get in touch with me, anyone who matters knows that email is best.

But I love the iPhone for taking photos of my old cameras and until recently, it's performed admirably. Lately though, the phone's camera seems to be consistently under-exposing images and they all look milky and hazy. I thought there might be a smudge on the lens, but cleaning it did not resolve the issue. On top of that, the battery will hardly last a day without charging. And that's a problem when the owner isn't even really using the darn thing.  I'll probably stop in at the Apple Store and see if a Genius can look at it. I'm sure it's coming to the end of its life and undoubtedly they'll ask why I don't upgrade to the 6, 7, 8 or X. I just looked at the price tag of the latest iPhones...OMG!

I'm thinking that I might just look for a digital point and shoot with built-in wi-fi capability, if such a thing exists. That would allow me to take photos of classic cameras, the only thing I am really using my current iPhone for anyway.

In the meantime, one of my favorite iPhone camera photos, an image of my first Nikon F2 from about 6 years ago.


Lightbox Wednesday #37

The Northern Light Surf Shop in Bodega, CA is one of my favorite camera/film-testing subjects. Be it in black and white or color, the little shop is a wonderful subject. As I was sorting through all of my images, I had forgotten just how frequently I had photographed the shop.

Nikon F2 Photomic, 50mm f/1.4 Nikkor-S Auto, Kodak Tmax 100 

Nikon F2 Photomic, 50mm f/1.4 Nikkor-S Auto, Kodak Tmax 100 

Olympus OM-2n, 50mm f/1.4 Zuiko, Kodak Portra 400

Olympus OM-2n, 50mm f/1.4 Zuiko, Kodak Portra 400

Lightbox Wednesday #36

I've been cleaning up my archives of images taken over the past 7 years, saving some, deleting many. Every Wednesday, I post interesting images I've revisited over the past week.

Coastal wireless station KPH at Pt. Reyes is one of my favorite spots to visit and photograph. It's quiet, desolate and lonely out there. A perfect break from my noisy, always connected work life.

KPH, first a Marconi Wireless property and later owned by RCA, was once the main radio relay point between ships in the Pacific and the mainland. The National Parks Service owns the property now and a dedicated team of volunteers maintain the station and its aging transmitters and antenna fields.

KPH was a high power Morse code only facility. The receive and transmitter sites are located some miles apart to reduce interference. The receive site is at Pt. Reyes and the transmitters are south in Bolinas.

KPH Receive Site at Pt. Reyes

KPH Receive Site at Pt. Reyes

Feed lines out to the HF antennas at the receive site.

Feed lines out to the HF antennas at the receive site.

The place really lends itself to black and white film photography. I shot these with my Leica M2 on Acros film.

The transmitter building at the KPH site in Bolinas

The transmitter building at the KPH site in Bolinas

There is an abandoned phone booth in the parking lot of KPH. Wireless telegraphy and public phones; two communication forms from a bygone era.

PacBell phone booth at KPH

PacBell phone booth at KPH

Lightbox Wednesday #35

My Lightbox project this year has coincided with an effort to reduce the number of film cameras in my collection. Through this process of reviewing almost eight years of work, I am realizing that I've made my most satisfying images with the simplest of tools.

It was a nice evening on the beach in mid-February when I caught this kid playing in the surf with my Pentax Spotmatic F. Open-aperture metering on the SPF and a minimalist user interface contributed to capturing the decisive moment.

Pentax Spotmatic F, 50mm Super Tak, Portra 400 film

Pentax Spotmatic F, 50mm Super Tak, Portra 400 film