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.

The New Orleans French Quarter at Night with CineStill 800T Film

CineStill 800T is a relative newcomer to the film market. It’s a tungsten light-balanced film that I mentioned in an earlier post. At that time I had some problems with it, which were related to underexposure in night shots. So a few days and nights in the French Quarter in New Orleans provided a good opportunity to reassess this film. As before, I asked the airport security people to hand-check the film rather than putting it through the X-ray machine, which would fog it, especially when I planned to push it in development.

Like the other CineStill film (50D), this one is based on film produced for the motion picture industry, and has had its anti-halation backing pre-removed so that it can be processed in C41 chemicals.

This time I had it pushed two stops during processing and shot at 1/60 s and f/1.4 on my Summilux 50 mm lens. I kept those exposure settings for the whole roll. The lighting was very difficult to meter with a wide range of brightness ranging from stage spotlights to complete blackness, so I just left the camera on the settings mentioned and took photographs. I’m pleased with how they turned out. This is a film that can make for some dramatic shots especially in an environment like the French Quarter at night with a lot of bright, colorful lighting. One thing to be aware of is the strong halation effect, visible around bright lights as an orange glow. It looks a bit like lens flare, but it’s caused by the removal of the anti-halation layer, which allows light to pass through the film and bounce back off the back pressure plate of the camera. In these kinds of photographs, it can add to the dramatic effect of the scene.

Click on the images for larger versions.

Thanks for reading!

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.

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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!

Testing six color films in Maui

In my last post, I reported on two black-and-white films I used in Maui. Now for the color films I used there.

I brought 5 film types with me: Fujifilm Velvia 50, Kodak Ektar 100, Kodak Portra 160, CineStill 50D and CineStill 800T. I also bought some Fujifilm Superia 400 in Maui, for a total of 6 different color film types.

But first a word about Maui: amazing! We were there over the Christmas break for about 10 days. We stayed in Kaanapali, on the west side of the island, where there are a number of hotels and condo buildings on the beach, and golf courses. The beach there is fabulous, if a little busy. But it certainly made for some great photo opportunities! The island itself has a range of landscapes from the coast to the uplands to the mountain of Haleakala. It was one of the most scenic places I’ve ever been.

My goal in using all of these film types was to reacquaint myself with them or to try some of them for the first time. All of these photos were taken with a Leica M-A and Summilux 50 mm f/1.4 Asph. lens. I routinely had a UV filter mounted on the the lens to protect the front element from sand, dust, water etc. (except when testing the 85B warming filter with CineStill 800T as described below).  I know there are two schools of thought about mounting a protective filter over a lens, but I had no reservation about using it, even if it might have had some minimal impact on image quality.

The films were all processed and scanned on a Noritsu scanner at Richard Photo Lab in Valencia, CA and are have not been modified. The M-A does not have a built-in light meter, so metering was with Sunny 16 for most shots, or a Sekonic L-478D incident light meter for low lighting. I’m going to show a few examples with each type of film. Click on the thumbnails below to enlarge.

Fujifilm Velvia 50
This is a daylight positive (slide) film. It has strongly saturated colors, and very fine grain, but not a lot of latitude for over- or underexposure or a wide dynamic range. Shadows quickly head to black. It’s not great for skin tones because they tend to look a bit too red. But it does make for some very punchy, colorful photos in sunlight. The first photo in this group was taken at the top of Haleakala, It was quite cloudy that morning (elevation 10,000 feet or about 3,000 m). The location is famous for its sunrises, but the view is dependent on the cloud cover, and we were there on a cloudy day. Nonetheless, it made for some atmospheric shots.

Kodak Ektar 100
This is a daylight negative film which also has strong color saturation, good contrast, and fine grain, so good for enlargements. I think that skin tones look fairly good with this one, although some people feel they’re a bit too saturated and red. In these shots I really like the rendering of the ocean blue and the subtle variations of greens and red/browns, with good detail. The last one is of the crater at Haleakala around daybreak, a little after the Velvia shot above. A consistent observation in Maui was the cloud cover in the higher elevations, which can make for quite atmospheric photography.

Kodak Portra 160
Considered by many to be the best daylight negative film (along with its faster ISO 400 version) for capturing skin tones, I really like this film. It has wide dynamic range and you can over- or underexpose quite a bit without wrecking the photo. This is one where I prefer to slightly overexpose. It’s got low grain, less saturated colors and less contrasty than Velvia or Ektar. There’s something about the way it renders pale blues that I like a lot.

CineStill 50D
I was very interested to try this daylight negative film. It and CineStill 800T are relative newcomers to the film market from the Brothers Wright. They are both derived from films that are produced by Kodak for motion pictures. When manufactured, they contain a layer at the back of the film called the rem-jet, which is removed during processing of motion picture film. That removal step is not a part of C-41 processing, but the rem-jet has been pre-removed in CineStill, allowing for development of the these films in normal C-41 conditions. The rem-jet removal, however, makes them susceptible to halation. This effect occurs when light enters the camera during an exposure, passes through the emulsion as usual, but then bounces back off the pressure plate of the camera, thereby striking the emulsion a second time. (The rem-jet backing is meant to block the light). In the absence of the rem-jet, the result is a reddish halo (halation) around bright objects in the image. You can see this halation around the arm of the chair in the first photo here, and very clearly in the trees at top right in the second photograph. Although people rave about the quality of skin tones, minimal grain, and the wide dynamic range of this film, I was not expecting the halation to be so apparent.

CineStill 800T
This is another negative film I was very interested in trying. The T indicates that is designed for tungsten lighting conditions. In daylight, it is recommended to use it with an 85B warming filter for color correction. I used this in waning daylight with reasonable results, but a number of shots in lower light just didn’t work, and I’m not sure why. I want to try this film again in more controlled conditions to make a better assessment. The first photograph here shows the effect of using an 85B warming filter when shooting in daylight (the filter was used on the right of the paired shots). For an ISO 800 film, the grain is not too bad.

Fujifilm Superia 400
As I mentioned previously, the available film for purchase on Maui is extremely limited and I recommend you bring plenty of your favorite stock unless it’s Superia 200 or 400, which I was able to find easily in a Walgreen’s drug store. The colors are fairly saturated, not as much as Velvia, and skin tones are OK. Greens and reds are strong, but the images seem to be a bit cooler overall. I prefer Ektar as a daylight film.

Conclusion
Each of these films is different with its advantages and disadvantages. I was actually disappointed with CineStill 50D because of the very visible halation. I can see how it might be useful or fun if you want that effect but I think the halation just looks odd. I have to try another roll of CineStill 800T to really work on getting better low light exposures with that one and to better evaluate it.

Of all of these six films, my favorites are Portra 160 and Ektar 100. Velvia is also beautiful if the goal is a saturated image (and in a positive film), but the dynamic range is limited.

There are a number of other films that I haven’t tried, including more black-and-white and color films. I plan to do some more testing in the next few months. I found that trying all of these films to be a useful experience that’s given me a better feel for their characteristics and limitations. Despite the claim that film is dead, there is still a good range of options to choose from.

Thanks for reading!