Down the Road

Roads and life and how roads are like life

Recommended reading


I liked these blog posts best this week of all the ones I read:

Mark O’Brien writes about tripods and quick-release plates. It’s a useful primer. Read Tripods and Quick-Release Plates Will Make Life Easier

Television reporter Doug Richards is barely old enough to remember when news was shot on film. He reflects on why people still want to call it filming when film hasn’t been involved since about 1980. Read “Filming”

Featured on Freshly Pressed this week, Janet Sheridan reflects on hobbies and how in her favorite ones the process is as pleasant as the result. Read Why Have Hobbies?

Nicholas Middleton shares photos from Take Your Box Camera to Work Day. Drat — I didn’t even know this day existed! Read Take Your Box Camera to Work Day 2015

My OCD would drive me crazy if my newly tiled floor had one crooked tile. Heather Munro found a good way to be sanguine with this problem on her bathroom floor, though. Read My favorite imperfect tile

Captured: Tree row


Tree Row

I recently put a roll of Arista Premium 400 through my Kodak 35, a World-War-II-era camera. I knew the 35 would be a capable shooter thanks to Mike Connealy’s review. But when my film came back from Dwayne’s, every frame was hazy and low contrast. Only seven of them could be salvaged. A Flickr comment said that these shots have a retro 1930s look about them. I agree: they look like they could have been shot with a box camera. Unfortunately, that’s not what I was going for.

Turns out I didn’t inspect the camera closely enough before plunging in: the lens was filthy. So I cleaned it as best I could and loaded a roll from my stash of discontinued Kodak Plus-X, expired but always stored cold. While I shot the Arista 400, an extended run of sunny winter days, a rarity in Indiana, delivered too much light for the shutter’s 1/150 sec. top speed. The Plus-X’s ISO 125 rating lets me shoot Sunny 16. Also, my Kodak 35 has a setting for Plus-X on its film reminder dial, so shooting it just feels right.

Through the branches

Through the branches
Sears KS Super II, Auto Sears 50mm f/2, Fujifilm Fujicolor 200

Sears KS Super II


The Sears, Roebuck & Co. once aimed to sell almost everything imaginable under its own brand names but made by other companies, a practice known as white labeling. Did you know that in the 1950s Sears even sold a white-labeled car, the Allstate? It was manufactured by the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation, which was one of several small automobile companies in operation then.

So it should be no surprise that Sears sold white-labeled cameras. Several manufacturers made Sears-branded cameras, but through the late 1970s and 1980s, Sears partnered with Ricoh for SLRs. In the United States, we know Ricoh best for its photocopiers, but the company’s cameras were well known in most of the rest of the world. Ricoh’s XR6 SLR was the basis for a few Sears SLRs, including the 1981 KS Super II.

Sears KS Super II

This entry-level SLR offers only aperture-priority autoexposure and X sync to a flash you clip onto the hot shoe. Its shutter operates from 1 to just 1/500 sec. But that shutter won’t operate at all without batteries (two LR44 or one 1/3 N). Usefully, the camera operates fine with either silver-oxide or alkaline batteries.

Sears KS Super II

The KS Super II’s body is all plastic. While the camera feels light in the hands, it manages not to feel unsubstantial. The controls follow the SLR idiom of the time and so are where you expect them to be.

Even using the light meter is typical of this camera’s time. After choosing an aperture, framing, and focusing, press the shutter button partway to activate the meter. Inside the viewfinder, if a green LED lights, you’ve got good exposure. If a red LED lights, adjust aperture until you get the green LED. If the green light blinks, the shutter speed will be too low for handheld shooting. Either brace the camera so it’s steady or open up the aperture until the green light stops blinking.

Sears even went so far as to rebadge the lenses for these cameras from Ricoh to Sears. Fortunately, these Ricoh lenses were generally well regarded. These cameras used Pentax’s K mount, so I shot a few scenes with both the 50mm f/2 Auto Sears lens that came with this camera and my SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/2 lens. In these shots of a school-bus yard near my home, I struggle to tell one lens from the other. The Pentax lens shot might run a little more blue, maybe. The Sears lens shot is first; the Pentax lens shot second.

School Buses - Sears Lens
School Buses - Pentax Lens

In shooting these little shrubs (again, Sears lens first), the Sears lens does transmit a slightly darker shade of green and a little more richness in the gravel. The Sears lens came with a skylight filter, which I forgot to take off for this comparison and may be at play here. But these lenses seem equally sharp and offer similar abilities to blur the background. So good job Sears, by which I mean Ricoh, for making a very solid 50mm prime.

Shrubbery - Sears Lens
Shrubbery - Pentax Lens

I brought the camera along when I took a Friday afternoon off. I had a busy weekend ahead, so I got a jump start on my shopping, including a visit to Kincaid’s for some of their excellent beef.

56th & Illinois

I don’t normally get highly saturated reds on Fujicolor 200, but I surely did shooting that film with this lens and camera on this bright day.

Fire station

I miss fried chicken since going gluten free. That’s why the Indiana Fried Chicken Tour ended, by the way.

Fried Chicken

I also took the KR Super II to the Indiana War Memorial. I’d never been. I also didn’t know that you can go inside and look around. It’s a remarkable place.

Please be seated

The centerpiece of the War Memorial is the Shrine Room. It is dimly lit, making photography difficult, especially with ISO 200 film and an f/2 lens. So I braced myself against a column and aimed at the brightest point in the room: the ceiling.

In the War Memorial

Standing outside the entrance and facing north, you get a commanding view across the plaza to the Central Library. This plaza, which dates to 1919, consumes five city blocks in downtown Indianapolis. I never thought to get a photo of the War Memorial exterior, so I’ll have to go back another time.

Gazing across at Central Library

To see more photos from this camera, see my Sears KS Super II gallery.

I’m astonished by this plastic Sears SLR. With no coaxing whatsoever it gave me great color and sharpness. It’s a mighty basic SLR offering few controls, but there’s very little I shoot that this camera could not easily capture. The only thing I might add to this camera is depth-of-field preview. I could have used it on the chair shot above.

And so now I don’t feel so silly that before I even bought this camera, I bought another Ricoh/Sears SLR, the KS-2. It is based on the same body but offers a faster shutter and manual operation. It also came with Sears 50mm f/1.7 and 135mm f/2.8 lenses. I know already that I’m going to have fun shooting it.

Do you like old cameras? Then check out all of my old-camera reviews!

Shopping center

Getting your hair done on the Michigan Road
Kodak EasyShare Z730 Zoom

This is my 1,000th post!

Decline and growth, close to home on the Michigan Road


For a few years now, I’ve meant to photograph the portion of the Michigan Road nearest my home. For those of you familiar with northwest Indianapolis, it’s the stretch between about Kessler Boulevard and 62nd St. — and its best days are past. I want to record the gritty suburban decline. I can almost see the photos in my head: tight, monochrome, contrasty, grainy.

These shots don’t fulfill that vision. I was just trying to get to know this subject. I was shooting my Canon EOS 630 and the 35-80mm lens that came with it, using Arista Premium 400 black-and-white film.

This barber shop gave me the idea for this series, as it perfectly represents this corridor. The 421 Barber Shop was so named at a time when Michigan Road was also US 421. That designation was gone from the road before I moved here 20 years ago.

Barber Shop

This building has been several different hamburger stands over the 20 years I’ve lived near here. Mr. Dan’s has been the longest lived. You know you’re in a good neighborhood when the one up-front parking spot is reserved for the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.

Mr. Dan's

This is where the children of Indianapolis are made.

This is where they make the children

Shortly after I moved to Indianapolis, this liquor store was in the news for its customers drinking in the parking lot and peeing behind the building. Customers sometimes drove to and from it on the residential streets alongside and behind it, presumably under the influence. All of this understandably angered residents. To deter the misbehavior, the city put in some unusually stout speed bumps on the side street and the liquor store put in floodlights and cameras. Fun times. I bought beer in here a couple times — the cashier is behind thick bulletproof glass. Very upscale. Hey, at least they got new signs this year to replace ones with broken letters.


The missing L at Highlander Center, a laundry, is a recent loss.

High ander Center

This homemade sign on the side of a shoe repair business really captures the area’s spirit. I kind of feel bad that I didn’t try them the last time I needed some shoes resoled.

Shoe Repair

This corridor has seen some growth in the last 10 years or so. Many formerly vacant buildings now contain small businesses, like Poor Man’s Towing. In color, this building is white and bright green — easy to spot. If I had this shot to do over, I would have moved in closer.

Poor Man's Towing

Also, this Speedway station was built on this formerly vacant corner about 10 years ago, and then the Family Dollar store next door went in. They are well maintained and fill a need in this middle-class and lower-middle-class neighborhood.


Finally, I was surprised to see this new Pizza Hut going in next to the old one, as this has been nothing but a carry-out store for as long as I’ve lived here. Looks like the new store will be bigger, perhaps allowing more pizzas to be made.

Pizza Huts old and new

There have been other positive signs. A Starbucks went in on the corner of Kessler and Michigan a few years ago. A Dunkin Donuts went in on the opposite corner a little while later, but it didn’t make it. Then the city installed a pedestrian trail along the west side of Michigan Road. It really eased this excursion, as previously there had been no sidewalks on either side of the street.

I am eager to see whether the new Walmart Neighborhood Market that opened last year on Michigan Road just south of Kessler Blvd. will bring more revitalization to this corridor. What looks like a McDonald’s is being built on a Walmart outlot. It’s not a four-star restaurant, but it’s a step up compared to what you see in these photos. I’m hoping for some sort of bar and grill, a place where I can go for a bourbon or a cheeseburger. My neighborhood has been a bit of a retail and restaurant desert until Walmart came; here’s hoping more is on the way.


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