Film Photography

The first review of my new book, Textures of Ireland, is in, and it’s positive!

Fellow photoblogger Mike Connealy says in his review, “One thing I have particularly enjoyed about both of Jim’s books is the fact that they closely resemble the style and content of his photography blog, Down the Road. The difference, of course, being that one can enjoy the high quality images on paper without the size limitations and unpredictable variability of any online presentation. Whether displayed on paper or on a screen, however, Jim’s stories are always first rate, reflecting his dedication to achieving ever more mastery of image making and narration.”

You can read the full review here.

If you haven’t picked up your copy yet you can do it here. $14.99 + shipping for the paper book, $4.99 for the PDF!

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Review of Textures of Ireland

Aside
Preservation

Little houses in Fishers, Indiana

Ten years ago when my kids and their mom moved to Fishers, a northeast suburb of Indianapolis, its downtown was a few aging buildings and a lot of little houses. Surrounding it was clusters of new neighborhoods, modern suburban homes stretching for miles in all directions. Downtown Fishers stood in curious contrast.

And then, one by one, the little houses north of Fishers’ main thoroughfare, 116th St., were razed. Modern multistory apartment and office buildings were erected, forever changing this formerly sleepy little downtown.

But south of 116th St., the little houses remain. I’m sure that in the coming years they, too, will pass into history. I was testing a new-to-me old film camera, a Kodak Pony 135 Model B (my review goes live tomorrow), as I walked through Fishers’ near-southside and captured some of the scene. Look at these little houses while you can.

Fishers streetscape

House in Fishers

House in Fishers

House in Fishers

Five or ten years from now someone will stumble upon this post and be amazed that this is what downtown Fishers used to look like.

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Personal

Connecting with your children as people

I’m not a gamer. I grow frustrated trying to keep up in any game more complicated than Monopoly. And while I was a teen at the dawn of the video-game era, I played pinball instead.

DamionMy life feels full and complete without games. But my son Damion is a serious gamer who finds deep and legitimate meaning and satisfaction in gaming both online and in person with others.

A feature of my relationship with Damion since he was old enough to speak has been him telling me of his gaming exploits at length, and me having no idea what he is talking about.

I was happy to listen, though, because I loved hearing the joy in his voice.

When he was four, he spent hours trying to teach me Yu-Gi-Oh, an adventure card game. It was too complicated for me and I couldn’t get it. I eventually gave up.

My lack of ability to connect with him through gaming sharply limits our ability to connect as whole people. I wonder how much disappointment he feels. I’m still disappointed I couldn’t manage it with my dad. But I can see that there are just limits. The apple may not fall far from the tree, but we are still different people. There will always be parts of each of us the other will never truly know.

I tried a few times to connect with my dad through his interests. Dad wanted for years to teach me to sharpen knives, something he took pride in. I let him try a few times, but he was so unpleasant when I didn’t pick it up perfectly from the start that we never got past the opening lesson. I thought for a while we might connect over hitting balls together at the driving range, something he enjoyed. But even there he felt the need to teach me to be perfect at it, which robbed it of all its fun and pushed me away.

Damion and Pentax KM

Then last fall Damion tried the same thing, asking me if I’d lend him an old camera and show him how to use it. Aw hell yes! I showed him how to spool film into my Pentax KM, taught him how to match the needle to set exposure, and gave him a couple composition tips.

Then I backed off and let him explore on his own. That was hard. Just like my dad, I wanted to hover, and guide, and teach. I resisted with all my might because I didn’t want to suck all the fun out of it for Damion and squander this golden opportunity.

Damion enjoyed the experience and asked to keep a camera. So I gave him two, a Pentax K1000 like his mom used to own and a Pentax ME because I love mine and shoot it most often. When we see each other now we often go for photo walks together.

I feel like I’m atoning for my father’s sins by doing this better with my sons. It’s helping me let go of my bitter disappointment that my dad and I could never manage it.

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Film Photography, Photography

When testing a camera, let the camera be the only unknown

I recently put a roll of film through an Olympus XA2 that someone gave to me. I’ve owned another XA2 so I know that this is a lovely camera — very compact, with a great lens and easy zone focusing. But then I made a series of rookie mistakes shooting this one and it reminded me of a key lesson: when testing something, let the thing you test be the only unknown.

I didn’t follow that maxim when testing this XA2:

  • I grabbed a battery out of another camera I’d just shot, which I had pulled out of another camera, and another before it, and who knows how many other cameras before that. That battery could have been tired.
  • I used a film I’m still getting to know, Ultrafine Xtreme 100. I’ve liked it a lot every other time I’ve shot it, but I don’t know how it behaves in all conditions yet.
  • I used a lab that is fairly new to me to process and scan the roll, and I’m still learning their capabilities.

The scans looked terrible, with both blown-out highlights and very dark shadows. I couldn’t tell how much of that was the lab’s fault and how much was the fault of bad exposures. No amount of Photoshopping could save them. I rescanned the negatives on my flatbed scanner (a Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II) using the software that came with the scanner. That improved them enough that Photoshop could make the images usable.

Here are a few photographs that show what came off my scanner. This was the worst of the photographs as the bridge was badly blown out. I severely squashed the highs and lows out of the shot in Photoshop to make it sort of usable.

Starkey Park, Zionsville

This shot is probably the best-exposed of the bunch, and I still had to heavily adjust highlights and shadows on it.

Starkey Park, Zionsville

The just-before-dusk light in the nature park was challenging. I had another camera along, one I’ve shot many times. Its meter got the highlights right but left the shadows very dark. So perhaps this was an extreme test of an unknown camera. Fortunately, I took this XA2 along on a day trip to a distant town. It was near the middle of the day and the sun was fully out.

On the square in Crown Point

Even on these shots the shadows were very dark. The highlights weren’t as blown, however. But these shots miss the mark in sharpness and detail.

On the square in Crown Point

These photos clearly do not represent what this camera or film can do. Here’s a photo I took with my other Olympus XA2, beautifully exposed and full of life.

Blow-up dolphins

And here are a few photos on Ultrafine Xtreme 100 from other cameras. First, from my Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK:

Steps

And now from a Minolta XG 1 with the 50/1.4 MD Rokkor-X lens.

Roses

That frame was processed and scanned by the same lab as did the roll from the XA2, so I know the lab is capable of good work.

I have put a fresh battery and the film I know best, Agfa Vista 200, in the XA2 for another try. I must have missed it before, but the in-viewfinder underexposure light comes on in situations when I would expect it not to. All may not be well with the meter. So the lab appears not to be the problem — instead, it’s probably the camera itself, the one thing that should always have been the only unknown in this equation.

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Collecting Cameras, Film Photography

Operation Thin the Herd: Pentax Spotmatic F

Around Zionsville

I decided that I’d own but one Pentax SLR body for the M42 screw lens mount. It was easy enough to discard a Spotmatic SP with a dead meter and a rough winder. But I still had to decide between my ES II and this, my Spotmatic F, both of which offered open-aperture metering with Super-Multi-Coated and SMC Takumar lenses.

Pentax Spotmatic F

It was a tough choice. My ES II is an aperture-priority camera and that’s my favorite way to shoot. It was in very good cosmetic and functional condition. The Spotmatic F has a match-needle exposure system, which is a half-beat slower for me than aperture priority. But it had been a seldom-used sales demonstrator and had been CLA’d when I got it. It was, essentially, new. And what a performer it is! Here’s a favorite shot I made with a 55mm f/1.8 SMC Takumar lens on Kodak Plus-X.

Ol' propeller nose

I loaded some Ektar 100 into the Spotmatic for this outing, and screwed on my 35mm f/3.5 Super-Multi-Coated Takumar lens. I love the 35mm focal length for everyday walking-around photography, which is the kind of photography I do most often.

Around Zionsville

The SPF felt wonderful and performed flawlessly in my hands, just as it always had. The Ektar beautifully captured the September colors.

Around Zionsville

Every photo on the roll came out a little overexposed, though. I’ve noticed that on the Pentax bodies I own that were CLA’d by Erik Hendrickson (as this one) I always need to reduce exposure in Photoshop by a half stop or so. Perhaps I should set the cameras that way. Perhaps I should test this SPF’s exposure readings against a known-good light meter.

Around Zionsville

I felt mighty lazy the day I took this photo walk — I couldn’t be bothered to move in closer to a number of subjects. This one would be helped by a closer crop. When was the last time you saw a Chevy Citation parked curbside, though?

Around Zionsville

I took two walks through Zionsville to complete this roll. Zionsville is simply charming.

Around Zionsville

To see more of my work with this camera, check out my Pentax Spotmatic F gallery.

Using the SPF cemented my decision. Before I even sent this roll of Ektar off for processing, I gave the ES II to a fellow film photographer. The ES II remains a lovely and capable camera, and there will be times I wished my SPF would let me shoot aperture priority. But this SPF is just too compelling on its own to let go of.

Verdict: Keep

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Blogosphere

Recommended reading

Before I jump into this week’s best blog posts, let me shamelessly plug my new book again. Textures of Ireland is a tour of several northern and western counties in Ireland, showing the rich depth of its countryside and its towns. It’s available as a bound book and as a PDF. Click here to go to the page where you can buy! Here’s an outtake from the book:

Ardara, Ireland

The PDF is just $4.99 — a super easy price. The bound book is $14.99 plus shipping — still not bad. Click here and get your copy today!

And now, this week’s blog posts:

Jeff Bezos of Amazon lacks character, says Scott Galloway, and the HQ2 con proves it. Yes, con: Bezos has long had homes within a 20-minute drive of the two cities chosen for HQ2. Read HQ2 … and 3

Writing for 35mmc, Frank H. Wu argues that it is simultaneously easier and harder to make photographs today, despite the ubiquity of highly competent cameras. Read Is it Easier or Harder to Take Photographs Now

Noticing changes in French culture, after living there 40 years ago and visiting recently, Peter Barker enjoyed the spontaneity but missed the formality of former years. He shares a terrific candid shot of some Parisians dancing to jazz. A post on the terrific Physical Grain blog. Read Le Bal

A camera review on the wonderful Casual Photophile site is always an event. And they didn’t mess around this time: they went straight to the venerable Nikon F2. Author Josh Solomon even gives a concise history of Nikon’s pro SLRs leading up to its release. Read Nikon F2 Camera Review — Nikon’s Pro SLR Evolves

Paul Lovell shoots the gorgeous Nikon S rangefinder and declares it a joy. Read Nikon S

“There are more things…that frighten us than injure us, and we suffer more in imagination than in reality.” – Seneca

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