Apple Orchard – Super Ricohflex

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Shot with my wonderfully ever-unpredictable Super Ricohflex.

I love nearly everything about this camera, including it’s swirly circular bokeh (see background of apple photo below) and odd focus problem that throws parts of the images into focus that shouldn’t be. Look closely at the bottom photo for one example of this — the image is focused right around the kids, but an area very close to the camera in the lower-left corner of the photo is also in focus. I see this in many images from this camera when focused in the distance. I’m guessing that the lens is slightly tilted, thus acting a little like a tilt-shift lens. The fact that the lens focuses by turning probably adds to the randomness of where in each image that odd focusing occurs.

These were shot on Portra 160 and developed and scanned by Precision Photo. Nice high-res 5000 x 5000 pixel scans.

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BWCA Star Trails by Rolleicord

I haven’t posted in a long, long time, so I thought I’d restart by digging through stuff I shot in the last year.  The two images below are the result of my first experiment with photographing star trails.  I made four attempts and came out with two nice shots.

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Shortly before going to a friend’s cabin last February on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota, I had read something online about shooting star trail images.  I found that my timing on this trip coincided well with a new moon, so the skies would be dark.  I was originally going to shoot with my new-to-me-at-the-time Mamiya 645, because I wanted to shoot in medium format with a good quality lens, but realized that long exposures are a problem with that camera because it relies on the battery to keep the shutter open (even more of a problem since I’d likely be in sub-zero temperatures).  So I decided that a totally manual camera was the way to go.  The Rolleicord fit the bill for this project, as it’s totally manual, has a very high quality lens, and is medium format.  The only problem was that I didn’t have a functioning lockable shutter-release cable (I had several broken ones for some reason) to lock the shutter open on the B setting.  So I tossed a couple of rubber bands in my camera bag to wrap around the camera and hold the shutter lever open.

I brought along my very heavy Bogen tripod, even though everything we bring to the cabin has to be hauled on foot across the lake to the cabin. I knew I’d need a very solid support for this to work, though.

I lucked out and had perfectly clear skies, and shot on two nights.  I think I set the camera to f/5.6 or f/8 for a moderate depth of field.  Focusing a twin-lens reflex (TLR) in the dark is impossible, so I prefocused inside the cabin for just short of infinity using the depth-of-field guide on the lens to make sure the f/8 range went well past infinity.  I wanted sharp stars for sure, but also sharp trees in the foreground.  Another advantage of using this camera is that it’s hard to accidentally change your focus when setting up the camera on the tripod.

It gets dark early in Minnesota in February, so I don’t really remember what time I started my first exposure, but well past dark, probably close to midnight.  I seem to recall trudging out onto the lake and starting one exposure before we gave up on the bottle of scotch for the night, and leaving that one go for about two or three hours.

Framing the photo was very difficult because with the dark skies I could barely see anything in the ground glass of the TLR.  I tried shining a flashlight at the trees to help see them, but it wasn’t bright enough.  I had to mostly guess at where I was aiming the camera and hope for the best.  After the first exposure, I advanced to the next frame, set up a new angle, locked down the tripod ball head, and carefully propped open the shutter lever with the rubber band.  I went to bed and set the alarm for about three hours later, I believe.  Boots, parka, balaclava, gloves back on and out to the lake to stop the exposure and bring the camera back in from the cold.

Two nights of  getting up in the middle of the night to go outside and stop an exposure and/or start another one had my cabin-mates wondering about my sanity, but a long time later when I saw these images, it was well worth it.

I’m surprised by the amount of color in the sky, and the varying colors of the individual star trails.  I’ve done no color correction or color changes to these scans.  I only adjusted the exposure and contrast a bit, as the exposures weren’t perfect.

These were shot on Kodak Portra 160.  I really wish I would have written down exposure info, but I believe they were around three hours at f/5.6 or f/8.  Surprisingly, the negs were a little thin, so I could have gone with even longer exposures or wider aperture or faster film.  I figure it’s a good idea to use a wide-latitude film like Portra to help forgive exposure errors.

I always look at the thermometer outside the cabin when I get up at night up there, and I recall that it was about minus 15 degrees F (about -26 C).  Here’s what my Rolleicord looked like when it came back inside the cabin:

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Don’t stick your tongue on that!


Celebrate Northeast

The ‘Celebrate Northeast’ parade always makes me feel like Minneapolis is a small midwestern town.  It’s classic Americana — marching bands, firetrucks, Shriners in go-carts, suburban beauty queens…  the list goes on.  It’s a fun celebration of the diverse population of Northeast Minneapolis (‘Nordeast’) and surrounding communities.

I shot these images with my trusty Yashica Electro 35 on Kodak Portra 160 film.  Scans are from Dwayne’s photo, and are straight from their scanner except for resizing and adding the watermark.

This camera never ceases to please me.  It is quick and easy enough to use that I can get fairly fast shots, even having to focus on moving subjects.  I’ve used it enough that I can reach for the focus ring quickly and know which way it needs to turn.  The rangefinder patch is big and bright enough to make focusing easy.  And I’m always more than happy with the sharpness of images, great color and contrast, and nice natural feel to the images.  And I love the 45mm focal length.

The fact that I’ve gotten to know this particular camera and am comfortable with it leads me to ponder one big problem that comes with collecting a lot of old cameras.  It really takes time to get to know a camera, but when I’m always trying out some ‘new’ old camera that I picked up, I seldom really get comfortable with many of them.  I have several cameras that I’ve only put one roll of film through, and when you shoot your first roll of film you spend a lot of time tinkering with the settings and dials and just figuring things out.  It can sometimes be hard to focus on the actual images you’re shooting, when figuring out the functioning of the camera is taking so much of your attention.  I think this is why many great photographers probably used a single camera almost all of the time.  I’m sure when Cartier-Bresson picked up his Leica, he never had to waste a moment of thought on how to operate it.  The camera likely became an extension of his eyes and his hands, and he could probably compose, focus and shoot an image nearly as quickly as someone today with an autofocus digital SLR (though he couldn’t fire off 12 photos per second, then pick the best image out of hundreds or thousands shot in one day).  He never had to decide which lens to put on his Leica, because I think he always shot with the same lens.  The images he captured and the compositions he created with such simple equipment stand up to anything created today, and I think some of that may actually be because of the simplicity of his equipment — he wasn’t weighed down with equipment to figure out, technical decisions to make.  Many people today focus so much on having the latest, best, hot new camera and so many lenses and accessories and gizmos, that they probably don’t have much attention left to give to the images they’re creating.  That’s certainly not true of everyone, but it’s an easy trap to fall into.  I’m guilty of that when shooting my digital SLRs, and when I’m using so many different old film cameras I tend to have the same problem.  I’m not going to stop collecting old cameras, because the cameras themselves are of such interest to me and I so enjoy fixing them, learning about them and using them.  But it doesn’t at all help my image making — in fact, it hinders my image-making.  This may merit further discussion in a later post.


Pillsbury A Mill – “A” for Automatic?

I’ve begun the expansion of my Kodak Retina collection, this time with a non-folding variety from the 1960’s. I’ve been so pleased with the performance of my Retina IIIc, that I’d like to collect more of these German-made gems.  This one is an auto-exposure rangefinder that uses a selenium-cell lightmeter to operate in shutter-priority auto-exposure mode, or may be operated in fully manual mode, with the light-meter reading available on top of the camera for reference.  A remarkable thing (to me, at least) about it is that it takes no batteries.

Kodak Retina Automatic III

It’s a fun camera to use, and I’ll be shooting more with it.  I’ve only shot one roll so far, so it’s hard for me to judge how well the lens performs compared to the IIIc, but the results look pretty good.  In the photos of the block wall, there appears to be very little distortion, and very little softness at the edges, though the sharpness is a little hard to judge as I didn’t get terribly high-resolution scans made.  The results look good to me, though.

More info about this camera

These were shot on Kodak Portra 400.


Architectural Details – Nikkormat

Shot with the Nikkormat FTn on Kodak Portra 400.  The top image was cropped square because a light leak in the camera caused a streak across the image.  It happened on several images, and I’ve determined that the light leak is from a deteriorated foam seal by the hinge of the back cover of the camera.  It lets light in at the right edge of the camera and fogs the film at the take-up spindle.  I’ll have to work on replacing the seal.  Looks like a pretty easy job.


SD Landscape

Yashica Electro 35 GS , on new Kodak Portra 400.


Repeating patterns in Nordeast – Nikkormat FTn

These were shot using a Nikon Nikkormat FTn single-lens-reflex camera, made somewhere between 1967 and 1971. It’s a nice SLR, but I have to get used to the shutter-speed dial that’s on the lens-mount ring. It has a nice bright viewfinder and very nice focusing screen that makes focusing a breeze. The lens I have on it  is the Micro-Nikkor-PC 55mm f/3.5.  I’ve not yet taken advantage of the lens’ macro capability, so I’ll have to try some macro shots on my next roll.

The light-meter system uses the old mercury batteries, so I had to use one of the expensive wein-cell zinc-air batteries to get accurate readings, but the meter seems to work well. It apparently was quite an advanced metering system for the time, the first to utilize Nikon’s later-standard system of 60/40 center-weighted metering. I’ll write more later about this camera when I get around to creating a camera page for it.

I’m getting some odd bright streaking happening on a few shots, seen faintly on the right side of the third photo above. On some images it’s very strong.  I was thinking it was something like the shutter-curtain hesitating while closing, causing the overexposure, but it’s running the wrong direction for that because the shutter moves vertically.  I did have one instance of the shutter sticking open after a shot, which led me to think it’s a shutter problem.  But maybe it’s something else.

Shot on Kodak Portra 400.