Grand Old Days 2016 with a grand old camera

Last weekend’s Grand Old Days (along Grand Ave. in St. Paul, MN) was, as usual, a lot of fun. I put a roll of Ilford Delta 100 film (size 120) into an old Rainbow Hawkeye No. 2 Model C camera to check it out.

These cameras were given free to kids back in the 1930s by Kodak, who sold the film. They have no controls! The shutter speed is fixed at about 1/30 s, the aperture is unknown to me and is not adjustable. It’s the ultimate point and shoot. The viewfinder is almost useless because the mirroring has gone. It’s hard to predict what any photo will look like! Here are a couple I took.

The negative size is a pretty large 6 x 9 cm, so this is definitely medium format. I think I’ll try some more with this camera and mount it on a tripod to avoid the camera shake at the slow shutter speed.

Chicago Street

I was downtown Chicago last weekend and spent a day and a night shooting with my Leica M-A and Summilux 50 f/1.4.
My aim was to capture something of the city, especially the contrasts that one finds in most large cities. The heart of the downtown area is Michigan Avenue. North of the Chicago river is very upscale retail along this street. South of the river are the main parks (Millennium Park and Grant Park), the Art Institute, and the museum district. Most of time was spent in this area of the city.

 

I have a preference of films that I use regularly. For daytime street shooting I use either Kodak Tri-X or Ilford HP5+. I find the ISO 400 speed of these to be very adaptable to a wide range of lighting situations. In general I use a yellow filter and the Sunny 16 rule with B&W films and my Leica M-A, but I do carry a Sekonic light meter for checking the light if I feel unsure about it. I generally use these films at ISO 400, set the shutter speed to 1/500 s and adjust the aperture as needed.

Ilford HP5+ (click to enlarge images)

 

Nighttime is a very different story. If I want B&W, I’ll use Ilford Delta 3200 and push it 2 stops in processing (no filter used). I nearly always open the aperture all the way to f/1.4 on my Summilux 50 mm lens, and shoot at 1/60 s. With city street lighting this exposure seems to work quite well most of the time.

Ilford Delta 3200 (pushed 2 stops). Click to enlarge images.

 

I really liked my initial experience with CineStill 800T for night shooting in color. Again, I keep things simple by shooting at 1/60 s and f/1.4 and push 2 stops in processing. The halation effects that I mentioned previously work well for me with street shots and give an interesting and dramatic effect around lights. The film can be used with an 85B warming filter in daylight (with appropriate aperture and shutter speeds) and gives a very nice color palette, at least to my eye. The daylight shots look somehow like older 1960-70s photos, but I like this look.

CineStill 800T (pushed 2 stops). Click to enlarge images.

I have a couple of upcoming visits back to Chicago this summer and will be shooting there again.

Thanks for reading!

Savannah, GA and Hilton Head, SC

Another trip, this time to Savannah, Georgia. Savannah is a beautiful city, filled with history, architecture, friendly people and Southern charm. It’s the location where the novel, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” was set, a novel that I am now reading. The older part of the city is laid out in a series of squares surrounded by houses, each square with its distinctive character. The Savannah River meanders slowly by the downtown area, and across the river is the state of South Carolina. We had time to make a brief trip to Hilton Head, SC, and the beach area there.

 

Protesting Downtown

These photos were taken 3 days ago at a downtown Minneapolis protest demanding prosecution of police officers involved in shooting a young black man named Jamar Clark last fall. For background information, see this website. Leica M-A, Summilux 50 mm f/1.4. Click to enlarge.

Update 3/30/16: The prosecutor declined to charge the police officers involved in the shooting.

Two deserts: Tucson and Palm Desert

A business meeting followed by a few days of vacation in the southwest in mid-February was a great opportunity to shoot some photos in the desert. We were in Tucson, Az and Palm Desert, Ca.

Here are some shots from the desert around Tucson, taken on Ilford Pan F Plus 50 with a K2 filter at f/11, on my Leica M-A with Summilux 50 mm f/1.4 Asph.

Palm Desert, California, has a lot of so-called “snowbirds”, meaning people who move there in the winter to escape the cold weather of the northern States. Many of these are older, retired people. Here are some shots from a local fair. These were taken on Kodak TMax 100. The fair was interesting to photograph because the light varied between full daylight (shot at f/11 with a K2 filter) and a lot of shade from the stalls (shot at f/2-2.8 with the filter). I found myself dialing up and down between small and wide apertures as I took these.

Thanks for reading!

My first roll with a Leica IIIb and Summitar 50 mm f/2

I was looking for a camera that would be smaller than my Leica M-A/Summilux 50 combination for use as an everyday camera; something I could put in a jacket pocket and carry around that would be less heavy than the M-A. After some research and a great article by Hamish Gill on this topic, I recently acquired a Leica IIIb body from Sherry Krauter the well-known Leica specialist (www.sherrykrauter.com), and a Summitar 50 mm f/2 lens. Sherry was very helpful on the phone and the camera was exactly as expected. Apparently it had belonged to a lady who used the camera, but her daughter had wanted to sell it. I got the lens on eBay where it was advertised as being in “near-mint” condition which, of course, it wasn’t. The aperture and focus rings were stiff and a bit rough to turn, and there was some internal dust, but the glass appeared to be free of scratches. So I sent the lens off to Youxin Ye (www.yyecamera.com) for a CLA (clean, lube and adjust). What a great man to do business with and very reasonable prices! The lens was back very quickly, and now I would confidently describe it as being in excellent condition

The IIIb was produced by Leica between 1938 and 1940 according to Wikipedia. The main difference between it and its predecessor, the IIIa, is the closer placement of the rangefinder and viewfinder windows. There is also some additional metal used to strengthen the body and make it more rigid. Beginning with the IIIc, the body was die-cast, so the IIIb is sometimes referred to as the last of the Barnack Leicas, designed by Oskar Barnack, and assembled by hand. The IIIb is also a thread-mount camera, meaning that the lens is mounted by being screwed into the body, not inserted using the later M bayonet mount. Shutter speeds (expressed as the reciprocals in seconds) are 1,000, 500, 200, 100, 60, 40, 30, 20 (and on the slow dial) 8, 4, 2 and 1. The slow dial can be set at any position between the 1/20 second and 1 second markings. There is also a bulb setting.

The Summitar 50 mm f/2 lens was in production from 1939 to 1953. There are several variations with either 6 or 10 blades (mine has 10), and some have coated glass. Mr Ye tells me that mine was produced during the early 1940s, which is astonishing when one considers the situation at that time. It is a collapsible lens, meaning the lens barrel can be pushed into the camera body, giving a smaller profile. To use it, the lens is pulled out and twisted to lock it into place for use. It’s too bad that modern lenses don’t have this useful feature. My lens has an unusual set of stops by modern lens standards: f2, 2.2, 3.2, 4.5, 6.3, 9, and 12.5. There are also no clicks at each stop.

Loading a Barnack Leica with film is supposedly more complicated than loading an M camera, but my first attempt was unremarkable. The film leader has to be trimmed to make it a bit longer and the leader has to be inserted firmly into the take-up spool. Then both the film canister and take-up spool are placed into the camera, and the bottom plate secured in place. It’s not very complicated.

Winding on the film also sets the shutter mechanism (like an M camera) and causes a clockwork-like movement involving the shutter speed selector and the film rewind knob. It’s quite fascinating to watch!

For my first roll, I used Kodak Tri-X 400, and shot outdoors (it’s winter here, so lots of snow) and indoors at the Walker Art museum. Here are some of the results. I was quite pleased with how these turned out, especially considering that the camera and lens are at least 70-75 years old. The lens sharpness is good at smaller apertures, and softer at wider apertures, but the indoor shots used a much slower shutter speed, so it’s hard to tell much from this first roll. Like most Leica gear, the camera and lens are clearly built to last, and it’s great to use such old gear and know that it is still fully functional. (Click on the images below to enlarge).

Thanks for reading!

Art Déco and a Wedding in Florida

The wedding of our friends’ son in Coral Gables was a good opportunity to escape for a weekend at the end of January to the warmth of southern Florida. The South Miami Beach area is famous for its Art Déco architecture, and we decided to go on a walking tour of that neighborhood which extends along the beach. Apparently this area has one of the highest concentrations of Art Déco buildings anywhere. A lot of the buildings are in a nautical style with railings and porthole windows intended to resemble design elements on a ship. Naturally, the tour would involve some photography, and for this expedition I brought along some Ilford Delta 100 black-and-white film. It seemed like a good choice because the buildings that we would be looking at were mostly built in the 1920s-40s, when photography meant B&W.

The weather was fairly warm, but only partly sunny. Again, I used my Leica M-A with the Summilux 50 f/1.4 and a K2 (yellow) filter. Click to enlarge.

I wish I had had more time to shoot in the Miami Beach area. There is a lot to see and do there, with some great opportunities for some street photography.

For the wedding in the evening, I used Ilford Delta 3200, set the exposure for ISO 3200, and pushed the film 2 stops in development. This really is a great film in very low light settings (the relative intensity of the light from the candles below gives some idea of how dark it was). Click to enlarge.

Thanks for reading!

Shooting black-and-white film in Maui

A winter vacation in Maui, Hawaii, was a great opportunity to try out some different films. I packed two B&W films that I hadn’t used extensively before: Ilford Pan F Plus 50, and Ilford Delta 3200, as well as a number of color films that I’ll write about later. These films are at two extremes of usual film speed, and I wanted to see how they worked out.  A word of caution to visitors to Maui: bring your own film! The only film you can buy there is sold in drug stores and is in very limited selection. All I could find in the Walgreen’s store near our hotel was Fujifilm Superia ISO 200 and 400 in 35 mm rolls. I called a store that claims to be a professional photo place on the island, but they carry no film at all. Plan ahead!

Let’s start with the Ilford 50. This is a slow speed (ISO 50), fine grain film that allows for high image quality. The weather in Maui was generally really good when we there with plenty of sunshine along the coastal regions, so I was hoping for some good things from this film. The camera and lens were a Leica M-A and Summilux 50 mm f/1.4 aspherical lens, and I used this film with a K2 (yellow) filter to optimize contrast. The M-A does not have a built-in light meter, so I metered with Sunny 16 in daylight, or with a Sekonic L-478D in shade, allowing one stop to compensate for the filter absorbance. Processing and scanning were done at Richard Photo Lab.

Ilford Pan F Plus 50
I really like this one. It gives great detail, very clean and crisp, with minimal, if any, grain at reasonable enlargement. If you click one of these images below, there is really no grain apparent even at the highest magnification, and I have not uploaded the highest resolution files. The tonal range is excellent, with good mid-tones. All in all, a really fantastic film.

(These were shot at about f/8-f/11 at 1/50 s. Click to enlarge images).

In shade, the results are also very acceptable to my eye. These were shot at f/1.4 or 2.0, allowing also for the bokeh of the lens to become apparent.

Ilford Delta 3200
At the other end of the speed range is Ilford Delta 3200. It’s a bit confusingly named because the ISO is not 3200, but more like 1,000.  However, it can be used over a really wide range of ISO, some say up to 6400 with push processing. For this roll, I assumed an ISO of 1,000, and set the shutter speed to 1/1,000 (the fastest on the M-A) and used Sunny 16 again in daylight or the Sekonic in dim light. It was developed without any push/pull. When I was carrying this film through the airport, I asked for a hand inspection of it at the TSA checkpoint so as to avoid putting it through the X-ray machine, which may fog a film this fast. They allow for this if your film is rated ISO 800 or faster, as far as I know. Never put film in checked baggage; apparently the radiation is much stronger and it can fog even slower film.

Delta 3200 film has significant grain, but it’s not all that bad in the final image. In daylight, low contrast settings, the grain creates a kind of softness that can be quite atmospheric, although I think it’s an effect that is best if used sparingly

But this belle de nuit really comes alive as the sun goes down! It gives really rich blacks and reasonable mid-tones and highlights for such a fast film used in low light.

(Click to enlarge images).

These are two very different films and with their own distinctive looks. They represent the ends of the range of ISO of commonly used film (with many great films between these extremes). Both have their strong points and you pick the right film for your application, anticipated light conditions, and desired “look”.

Thanks for reading!