New Cameras

My odyssey in film photography these past short 8 years has taught me a few things about my preferences for cameras. Affordability has always been a factor. I also have a distinct prejudice in favor of medium format.

This stems from first my brother’s involvement where he left a distinctly favorable impression on medium format despite having shot 35mm and large format competently as well. He passed away well before the digital era.

I also decided that I wanted to avoid 35mm despite the obvious advantages in terms of cost, size and weight. I reasoned the advantages of film over digital was being quickly overtaken and medium format would remain relevant for a while longer. As I write this however it seems the technical advantages of film have been mostly if not completely over-run by advances in digital technology and cost. Never-the-less there are some attendant benefits to shooting film; among are not economy, simplicity, nor instant gratification.

So my first film camera that got me started was a Nikon F that I inherited from my Grandfather. Now you who are paying attention will say 'what happened to medium format?' Hang on we’ll get to that. A holiday in South Africa and my wife and son were traveling with DLSRs with big lenses. I had a little digital camera being convinced this was the future in terms of convenience. Indeed I got lots of mileage out of it in terms of snapshots and maybe a few notable photos.

So rather than spend a bunch of money to duplicate the equipment my wife and son had I dusted off the old Nikon F which I hadn’t used since my university days. My grandfather had 50mm and 200mm prime lenses which were perfect. It is a Photonic F but the meter was not working. I got an old selenium cell meter from my father’s wife. I then went to a photo store and bought the few old rolls of slide film they had stored in a freezer. I was all set.

In Africa, to some frustration for my wife and son, I set about learning to photograph completely manually. Load the film, select the lens, meter the scene compose, set the exposure, snap the photo.

Some fun in being slow and deliberate. On return I sent the film to Jessops in Bath and they were already struggling as a photo business at that time (2009). They sent it away and 2 weeks later the slides came back. Yes I know 2 weeks. They really did not know how to deal with this and I just did what I used to do many years before.

The results were mixed. It turned out, I learned much later, the 200mm lens aperture was stuck and so exposures were hit or miss with this lens. The meter was inaccurate as well as selenium cells fatigue with age. I was shooting slide film that is never forgiving. The few good photos below. 

Nikon Slide Photos

In retrospect it is a wonder I got any photos at all. Photoshop rescued some but most importantly I began to become interested in film photography. 2009 in my recollection, was during the full insurgence of digital and film had not yet become retro.

I began to look on eBay for suitable cameras knowing nothing except a few things I remembered my brother saying. I took the plunge with a Mamiya 645 1000s. No film backs it had a pentaprism eyepiece and 80mm lens. I quickly found a waist level finder. All this was based on remembered comments from my brother. (Mamiya was a reasonably priced camera and waist level finders were cool. He had a Hasselblad.)

I took this out around Bath and the Southwest of England with a cheap lightweight tripod. I got a few good results. 

Pultney Bridge at night (Fuji Velvia 100)

Pultney Bridge at night (Fuji Velvia 100)
Light on the Avon (Fuji Velvia)

Pultney Bridge daytime (Fuji Velvia)

More importantly I slowed down and considered my photography. I bought a couple of books and studied composition and exposure. I was enjoying myself. I quickly began to love Velvia 100 for the color and and ease of scanning. I learned to send my film off to Peak Imaging where they have always done a top quality job for me.

I acquired more lenses 45mm then 35mm then 150mm. I sold the body and bought a 645 Pro with film backs. I learned a few preferences 1)medium format I liked 2) waist-level finders enhanced my experience and improved my compositions. 
Mamiya 645 Pro

Next foray was to experience Twin Lens Reflex cameras. A Yashica MAT-124G was my choice based mostly on economy.  I really enjoyed this camera; simple and light weight I took a lot of photos with it. 
Yashica Mat 124G

I also tried a Mamiya C220 lured by the interchangeable lenses. It had 65mm lenses so did a good job on landscapes. A great camera but heavy and not so fun to use as the MAT-124G. I never did buy any lenses for it.

Mamiya C220

Next an old Rolleicord not wanting to spend as much as a Rolleiflex. Disappointing in that it wasn’t as easy use as the Yashica. I ended up years later (last summer) buying a Rolleiflex 2.8f for about £1200 from a shop CLA’d. Lovely piece of equipment, clearly top quality in terms of build and feel. Heavier and bulkier than the MAT-124 but not oppressively so. (Such is the over-engineering of the Rollei that it is the only medium format camera I know of that does not use the arrows on the backing paper to line up when loading the film. The Rollei makes you pass the backing paper between two rollers and senses the change in thickness when the edge of the film goes by. Amazing and confusing at first.) The lens does produce noticeably better photos but for sheer fun for the buck I would have to award the MAT-124G the top prize in my experience. Alas the C220 will be sold as will the MAT-124G after I fix the meter screen.

Rolleiflex 2.8f

I am rationalizing my cameras now. I do this for fun and have a limited budget. I have established medium format as the preference. Waist-level finders. The Mamiya 645 Pro is my multiple lens camera and flexible with backs as well. Lenses are now 35mm, 45mm, 80mm f1.9, 150mm and a 180-210mm zoom. This gives me lots of flexibility with prime lenses and film choices.

Social Cameras
The downside to the Mamiya 645 setup is the social context. If I am traveling with my wife or we are walking with friends it is not the most social setup. Constant changes of lenses and film backs slows everyone else down. It is bad enough with metering and aperture and focus. I have a smaller setup that fits in a sling bag meant for a 35mm camera with 2 lenses and a couple of film backs. 

The next most social camera would be the Rolleiflex. Fixed lens and film reduces choices. The freedom this simplicity gives has its own satisfaction. 

The ultimate in social cameras is the Yashica Electro 35. An electronic shutter, built-in meter 35mm rangefinder, it is as close as I have to point and shoot. Focus with the rangefinder, use the meter to set the aperture and snap. The camera opens and closes the shutter exactly as long as it needs to. It is in fact an ‘analog’ shutter as the shutter speed is continuously variable from 4 seconds to 1/250th of a second. The exposures are accurate and the leaf shutter is quiet.
Yashica Electro 35

35mm Blues
The 35mm has another drawback for me aside from the smaller negative. Film today only comes in 36 exposure rolls. This is way too many for me to shoot on a day out. I shoot 8-15 on my medium form at camera and this works well for me. I can shoot during the day and develop that evening if I am doing black and white. With 36 the camera hangs around waiting for the next time I pick it up and then much later I have finished to roll and am ready to develop it. Also 36 exposures is a lot print from. I solved this by loading my own 35mm cartridges. Now I load 12 exposures on a roll with considerable waste but it suits my shooting style. I also have an Olympus OM1 from my dad which I still regard as the best 35mm film camera going (or gone). Simple and unbelievably small and lightweight. And of course I still have my grandfather’s Nikon F and I got the meter fixed. Great iconic camera. Still not my goto format.

Unsocial Cameras On the other end of the scale from the Electro is my accidental purchase. An MPP MK III 4x5 large format camera. Accidental as I low bid it on a whim and won it unexpectedly. I got some dark slide film holders and have used the camera infrequently.
It is a solitary camera to use. It takes a very long time to setup and take a photo. It is heavy and requires a tripod. Not something to be rushed. Alone with enough time it can be sheer joy. The level of focus and engagement required can be for me almost meditative. Not quite like fly fishing but close. I have shot almost exclusively black and white and only recently have shot 2 color negatives on slightly expired Porta 400 film. Until last year I was stuck with scanned negatives though now I have a 4x5 enlarger so can complete the printing process as well.

MPP Colour

So what next? What new cameras? First I wanted to take a new another look at rangefinders and of course medium format. Would I take to range finders or not? I like to explore and experience different cameras.  I narrowed my search to the Fuji GW690 with a 90mm f3.5 fixed lens and a Fuji GSW690 with a 65mm f5.6 lens. Both rangefinders that take 6x9cm negatives. I opted for the wide angle having fallen in love with wide angle with the 35mm on my Mamiya 645. This I am still waiting for delivery of. This is a very social camera and complements my Rolleiflex in this regard. Wider angle with only exposure and focus to set. No lens for film back changing.

Fuji GSW 690

This lead me to my next not quite accidental purchase. While researching the above Fuji I was reminded of that rare category of panorama camera. Some use rotating lenses which are interesting, others just very long strips of film. The rotating lens cameras are akin to a stitching digital photos and as a result have curved horizontal lines which I have always disliked. 
There is the unique Hasselblad Xpan which is a wide format 35mm camera. Over £2000 and full of electronics I steer away from it. Complex digital electronics will be difficult to get repaired and it is 35mm. No doubt a great camera though. 
In the medium format camp are cameras in the range of 6x12 to 6x24 with 6x17 being very popular. At 6x17 a roughly 3:1 aspect ratio and 4 photos per roll of 120 film (8 for 220 film only available in Japan). Horsman and Linhoff are the top of the range and very expensive. There are Chines makes without lenses which are more affordable (Dayi, Goersi, and Fotoman). I considered these carefully. Finally Fuji made some in the 1980s and 1990s. The G617 fixed lens 105mm f8 and the newer GX617 with replaceable lenses at 90mm, 105mm, 180mm and 300mm. The GX617 is much more expensive and I don’t see myself spending more on additional lenses. The body is more that £500 and the lenses seem to be north of £800. 
Fuji GX617

While pondering this I found on eBay a G617 for sale in the UK. It seemed in good shape and included the custom case and most importantly the neutral density center filter that reduces vignetting at the edges and corners of the scene. At £1250 starting I reasoned it was a pretty good deal and placed a bid fully expecting to be out bid. I was not and being the only bidder now find myself the owner of another sort of accidentally camera. 105mm on this film is very close to the 35mm of my Mamiya 645. The film is of course 3x longer. 
I am really looking forward to learning how to use this beast. The aspect ratio will be a real challenge to exploit. I am pretty sure this is not a social camera. I would guess slightly more social that the MPP MKIII 4x5 camera. No film-backs or lens changes. Almost certainly a tripod required though in good day light is said to be able to be hand held. Heavy though at about 6lbs it is twice as heavy as the Fuji GSW690.
First Fuji 617 photo

That brings me to some rational range of cameras to suit me for different types of photography and social situations when photographing. No doubt after this rationalizing of my collection I will find a way to rationalize another purchase. :) 



Anza Borrego Desert State Park: Alcoholic Pass

On our first day we headed to the north side of the park looking for a hike. We didn't find the one we were looking for but found Alcoholic Pass. We remembered this from 4 years previously as someone had said there was a NEw year's Day hike which was a local tradition for some. It is a short but steep hike into the small range of mountains on the north side of the park. The views are expansive of the Borrego Springs Valley. Here are a few colour photos I took.

Some of the ocotillo were in bloom

A desert still life like those mentioned in Torote Canyon post

Across Coyote canyon to the mountains above Borrego Springs


Beavertail cactus desert still life

Down the Trail: Looking north from the top of the pass to Rabbit Mountain.


Anza Borrego Desert State Park: Torote Canyon

Our last day in Anza Borrego we selected a hike to Torote Canyon. Now Torote is the Spanish for Elephant tree. We like elephant trees. They are odd trees that grow only in specific places in the park. Four years ago we hiked up to them and we wanted to see if we could find some more. 

Torote canyon runs out to a broad flat plain. It is a sandy drive up to where we started the hike. Much of the hike was on the dirt road as we did not have a 4WD to get us further up the canyon. Nevermind it was a pleasant walk with hardly any people about. 

The day was not particularly hot but it was warm. I found myself 'blacking dogging'* it in the shadow of the canyon however to stay comfortable.Throughout the day I felt hot and tired and worried there was something wrong. It transpired that I had picked up some food poisoning from the night before and my condition got much worse over the next 24 hours.

Never-the-less the area was beautiful and we had nice day out though we cut out the more strenuous plans as I was not up to it. I brought along my Rolleiflex and shot some more TMX-100 film. I used a green filter for a lot of these desert photos. I reasoned that a green filter would accentuate what little greenery there was and still give some good contrast for the sky. It succeeded in the latter but I need more data to see how useful it is for desert photography. It certainly did not ruin it. Though we didn't see any elephant trees close up. 
Looking down the canyon to the broad plain at the entrance of the canyon.
Here a large boulder captured my attention. Note the white granite hillside in the background.
The canyon is in an area of the park called Tierra Blanco. It is so named because the granite is starkly white here. Crumbly and rough it is shot through with small dark inclusions. It has the look of chocolate chip ice cream. Looking around the sandy desert floor we found small round black stones. These were small pieces of iron pyrite or fools gold. These same small stones were the 'chocolate chips' in the white granite.
And here is alternative crop of the same boulder. 
Here is a nice collection of rocks and vegetation including the ocotillos jutting over the horizon.
Often when I am out I try and find collections of natural objects that fit together in some pleasing way. Part of the sparse beauty of the Sonoran desert is it's park-like feel with sandy soil and widely dispersed plants. The photo above achieves some of this.
Alternative crop of the above photo.

Yet another crop I like. 
For this concept of still life this is something like a larger version of what I try and achieve. Most of the time my objective is a smaller more compact collection that makes an almost a natural still life. My inspiration is taken from a photo my brother took in the Sonoran desert near Tucson Arizona. The photo below shows a nice collection of rock and desert plants which I find pleasing. What I think I am after is a bit like the Japanese concept of Ikebana.
Glenn Morse still-life (Ikebana?) inspiration.
Next I think the skyline here is good with the sweep of ocotillos off the ridge. The ocotillo are so emblematic of the Sonoran desert.
An alternative crop of the above photo.
One of my favorite plants of the Anza Borrego desert is the appropriately named smoke tree. The lace-like leaves can give the impression of a wisp of smoke. They vary from pale green to an almost yellow-brown depending on how much water is around.

 *Black Dogging is a term we concocted to descibe a black dog's preference for shade on a hot day. One observes them running from shay spot to shady spot.


Anza Borrego Desert State Park: Box Canyon

Every few years when we visit friends and family over Christmas in southern California we stay a few days in Borrego Springs. Borrego Springs is a small resort community in the middle of the Anza Borrego Desert State Park. The first time I took my wife here she was shocked at how bleak and desolate it is. It is very desolate and dry. In winter however the weather is perfect for hiking. After some time she began to see the subtleties of the desert and now we both enjoy visiting and walking in the park.

My grandmother first introduced me to the desert. She lived north of Phoenix in the Sonoran desert and she had a great love for it. They lived on about 5 acres in a house with great big windows that brought the desert landscape into the house. My grandfather built a pond and waterfall that attracted wildlife from all over the desert. In addition to the rabbits, coyotes, mule deer, mountain lions, rattle snakes, and gila monsters my grandmother taught me the names of different cactus and trees.

Fast-forward to Anza Borrego we find ourselves in the Colorado Desert; distinct from the Mojave desert to the north and part of the Sonoran desert much further east. Though it is part of the Sonoran it is different enough for me from the deserts around Tucson and Phoenix. The ocotillos are often larger, the plant life more sparse generally, more smoke trees and other differences.

In any case the scenery is beautiful, the silence and isolation evokes a spiritual journey. Some people may never concede this area is beautiful but I am afraid they are wrong.
Four years ago I posted some prints from our visit then that focussed on the surprising palm tree oasis in some canyons in the park.

This time I had some nice photos from an area called Box Canyon which is where the old Butterfield stage coach route went on the southern stage route to California.These were all shot on my Rolleiflex 2.8f that I bought last summer in Japan. Having enjoyed twin lens reflex cameras like the Yashica Mat 124G and Mamiya C220 over the the years I decided to treat myself to a Rolleiflex. It is really a step up in terms workmanship and engineering and ease of use. The Yachica is much lighter and a little more compact. It has been a true workhorse which I would still recommend though. These photos were shot on Kodak TMX-100 developed in Ilford LC29.

The juniper trees this year were extremely abundant with berries this year. 

Prolific Juniper

Century plants against the sky. 

Definitely my favourite from this series. A photo that came out much as I envisioned

Some of the stunning mountains that dominate the park.

Ocotillo against the cloudy sky


Another Enlarger Enhancement

I have been steadily modifying my Meopta enlarger that I bought for £15.00. I started with raising it up to allow larger prints. Then I upgraded the lenses as I saw I was losing sharpness on the edges. Then because I wanted to stop down the lens for better sharpness I changed my 75 watt bulb to 150 watt.

More light helped immensely with exposure times with stopped down large prints. On the other hand  smaller prints suddenly became challenging as I could not stop the lens down enough and I kept running into sub-8-second exposures even at f22. Though I have automated my enlarger and that makes the short exposures accurate, there is not much time for dodging and burning.

Finally I decided I could improve the setup using the now unused filter drawer. Since my automation project uses below-the-lens filters the filter drawer is unused. I bought a pair of single stop ND filters (Cokin P Series P152 0.3 ND2 - 1 Stop Neutral Density Filter) and carefully cut them to fit the filter drawer. These filters are very fragile and though plastic are easy to crack like glass. I used a sharp utility knife and scored the cut cut repeatedly from both sides until I was sure I could break it free. I tried a small dovetail saw but nearly destroyed the filter.

I used 2 1-stop filters as the 150 watt lamp made a 2.5 stop increase in light. 2 filters I reasoned would give me more latitude in adjusting the exposure time. I stack the two filters when I need all the attenuation. So far the system works well.

Ferrania P30 Alpha Test

I joined the original Kickstarter Campaign for Ferrania. The journey has been long waiting for the rewards. I joined as a means to support any effort for film photography. Thus I am happy to be asked to buy their interim product; a black and white 35mm film based on the formula for Ferrania's historical P30 movie film.  This was meant to to be a pipe cleaning exercise for the resurrected factory. I am not a big fan of 35mm and prefer medium format. The original rewards were to be color reversal film in different formats including medium format.

About a month ago I finally got my film and today got around to processing it. I decided to follow the process outlined in my previous post here. I made a roll of test exposures on my Olympus OM1 metered separately with a digital light meter (Sekonic) at ASA 80 box speed. I exposed +/-1 and +/- 2 stops and nominal tests. I developed in D76 stock at 7:00 minutes 20 degrees (compensated for 24 degree developer temperature) according to the best practices v1.5 from Ferrania for nominal development and +/-17% as well. I made a contact print at 00 filtration.

The development times were as follows: D76 7:00 Min 20C
Nominal 6:00  24C
-17%       5:00 24C
+17%      7:00 24C

Below is the contact print done at #00 filtration. I exposed the print at the time that just achieved total black in the blank film areas. The top strip is nominal development, the second at -17% dev time, and the bottom at +17% dev time. Ignoring the first column there are different exposures corresponding to ASA 80, ASA160, ASA 320, ASA40, and ASA 20. For the last two rows the ASA20 appears again in the first column. The X's in the lower right corner of images indicate which images subsequent prints were made from.
Contact Print of Test Film (Ferrania P30 Alpha)
The results indicate the best results are at 1 or 2 stops over exposed. At box speed the negatives are noticeably thin, even with 17% extra developing time. My results do not make me believe the film is as fast as Ferrania indicates.

Here is a look at the negatives themselves in the same order to see the thinness present in the ASA80 exposures.

I made a series of split contrast prints to see if I could perceive differences. The first was from I judged best from the contact print. That is ASA 20 with development -17% shorter dev. time.This cam out on the first try by judging from test strips. The fact it used the same hard and soft filtration indicates to me it is balanced in terms of contrast.
ASA 20 Dev -17% f11+1ND #5 16 sec #00 6 sec
Next is using the nominal development. This took more work. It is balanced but not quite the same darkness as the reference above so I tried to correct that in the next print. Note it is also about a stop thinner.

ASA 80 Dev Nom f22+1ND #5 32 sec #00 32 sec
Same as above though printed darker. Difficult to see but there is a distinct lack of range in the image.
ASA 80 Dev Nom f22+1ND #5 32 sec #00 45 sec

These disappointing results led me to look for the experience of others online. Most of these seem to be people who don't print the results and scan them instead. Also most people used the developer they had rather than D76 which has the highest recommendation from Ferrania. This meant there were few comments on the thinness of the negatives or their print-ability. Some of these |I list below for reference.

I did find one post at Photo-Analogue who made tests and contact prints like I did.
Insoluble PancakePhotrio (DPUG+APUG), and Francesco Goffredo all make mention of lower ISO. These tests did not use D76 developer but they used a variety of there developers and development times. The results were very similar to mine and indicated the film was ASA 20 or 40 for most development.


Salt Print on Old Photographic Paper

In previous posts I explored using expired 4x5 film emulsion as a basis for making salt prints. I reasoned that if better results were had with sized paper then it should be possible to use expired film as 'sized plastic'. This worked though it is difficult to achieve consistent results. I then extended this to expired photographic plates and achieved some success there. The next 'frontier' is to apply the same techniques to expired paper.

Preparing the Paper

Again I took a few full sheets of ORWO black and white paper and fixed it for 5 minutes in rapid fixer.  Then I washed for 10 minutes as one would a developed print. The point of all this is to remove all the silver from the emulsion. I then dried the paper thoroughly.

Salting the Paper

Next I immersed the paper in salt solution for about 10 minutes. Previous work with film found that insufficient time in the salt solution levels the result insensitive as the salt has not fully been absorbed into the gelatin. Again this is dried.


For the sensitization step here I decided to tape down the edges of the paper using Scotch tape to a sheet of Perspex. This would keep the silver nitrate solution off the back of the paper. Next I poured the solution next to the paper and used a plastic ruler to push the solution evenly around the paper. I made sure to cover all the paper by spreading the solution a number of times. The paper will pucker as it expands from the moisture. Once this is complete I dried the whole sheet of Perspex on a hot plate under a box to keep out stray light.

Once dried the paper is ready to use and should be used in a day or two. Again I contacted printed a 4x5 negative. The first at 6 minutes and the second at 10 minutes. The day was partly cloudy and so the exposures were not consistent. Indeed the second exposure was lighter.

Paper under negative sandwiched under glass after exposure.
Exposed paper with negative removed before fixing.
Print after salt water fixing.
Print after hypo fix.
6 Minute Exposure

10 Minute exposure