COVID-19

Good grass, man

Another unexpected benefit of working from home through the pandemic is that I can dash outside between meetings and move the sprinkler.

Our front yard has had large bare patches since before I moved in. I tried to fix it a couple years ago, but I did it too late in the spring and the summer heat killed my wee grass.

This year I waited until the first of September. I took a couple days off for the job. I attacked the bare spots with my electric cultivator. Then I put down 18 bags of compost, piling it into the bare spots and raking about half-inch layer through the rest of the yard. Then I laid in the grass seed. I was able to buy a mix created specially for the climate here, resistant to drought and hardy against cold winters. Then came the watering, every day. It continues and will into October.

I relandscaped my last house, and I had to get up early to start the watering and continue it in the evening when I got home. Thanks to COVID-19, I just blend it into the workday. When a meeting ends, I move the sprinkler.

Isn’t my new grass cute?

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Windswept Farm

Windswept Farm
Kodak EasyShare Z730
2020

As I’ve gone on long bike rides out into the country this summer, I’m struck by how many barns have dates on them from 100 or more years ago.

I admire the stability of the farms these barns represent. I wish I could have had that kind of stability in my life. Instead, I chose badly the first time I got married, and after that marriage ended I fell in love again and remarried. I’ve lived in far more places than I ever anticipated. Everything about my life has felt temporary.

My parents, in contrast, bought a home in 1976 and lived in it until 2014. I always thought that’s just how my life would go, too. Alas.

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Photography

single frame: Windswept Farm

An old barn and a reflection on permanence.

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Film Photography

A hike along McCormick’s Creek

McCormick’s Creek State Park is Indiana’s oldest state park, opened in 1916 as part of our state centennial celebration. It’s near Spencer in Owen County, about 60 miles southwest of Indianapolis. I met my younger son there a few weeks ago. He lives nearby, and thanks to the pandemic it had been months and months since we saw each other.

McCormick's Creek

We hiked some of the park’s trails, and ended up on one that hugs the creek itself. As you can see, it’s quite rocky. One of the trails requires crossing the creek. I did that on a long-ago visit and ended up soaking my shoes. Not wanting a squishy hike, we stayed to one side of the creek.

McCormick's Creek

The highlight of the trail is the little waterfall.

Waterfall at McCormick's Creek

Hiking along the creek can be quite rugged. I wore flat-bottomed sneakers that were not up to the task of climbing rock. Why did I not think to put on my waterproof hiking shoes? Fortunately, most of the trail is just a nice walk through the woods.

Path in McCormick's Creek SP
Bridge in McCormick's Creek SP

The highlight of the day for me, aside from getting to see my son, was coming upon these horses. The park offers guided trail rides.

Horses at McCormick's Creek

Finally, I made a portrait of my son. I didn’t think the shadow across his body would come out with such strong contrast — it wasn’t so strong when I composed.

Garrett

I made all of these with my Nikon F2AS and the big honking 35-105mm f/3.5-4.5 Zoom Nikkor lens on Fujicolor 200. Fulltone Photo did the developing and scanning.

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Blogosphere

Recommended reading

💻 Have you noticed how most cars are black, white, or gray today? Whatever happened to blue and green? Tom Halter found that the state of New York publishes its car registration data from 1946 and did an analysis of color trends over time. Read Curbside Analysis: Fade to Gray — Where Have All the Car Colors Gone?

Buffa Louie's at the Gables
Pentax K10D, 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SMC Pentax-DA AL, 2020

💻 Bastian Berbner tells the story of postal worker Finbarr O’Brien, a soft-spoken, conservative, straight man — and how his experience and his voice helped influence Ireland to legalize gay marriage. Read The Unlikely Friendship that Helped Legalize Same-Sex Marriage in Ireland

💻 The news is full of experts telling us what we should be doing during the pandemic. Trouble is, as J P Cavanaugh points out so well, experts can be wrong. We should always think critically about what they say. Read Experts — A Look Behind the Curtain

💻 COVID-19 is not like the flu — it can be protracted and brutal. Lynlee Swartz found out the hard way, and shares her story. I know Lynlee; we worked together at a software startup a few years ago. Read The Coronavirus Story You’re Not Hearing About On the News

📷 Mark O’Brien rounds up all of the ISO 100 (and 125) black-and-white films made today and gives a mini-review of each. Read The B&W ISO 100 Club

📷 It’s the last film SLR to enter production, anywhere, ever. It’s newer than Facebook! And it’s from Russia. Stephen Dowling looks at the Zenit-KM Plus. Read Younger than Facebook: The last Zenit film SLR

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Film Photography

Making film photography less expensive

As I’ve said before, film photography has never been less expensive. Great film cameras be had for pennies on the original dollar. Also, film and processing are less expensive, adjusted for inflation, than they were in the 1970s and 1980s.

Yet prices are on the rise. Many old cameras have become very popular, and their prices have soared. Kodak, Fujifilm, and Ilford have raised their prices a great deal in the last year or so. And the popular film labs now charge upwards of 20 bucks per roll for developing and scanning!

Fortunately, you can still manage the costs of cameras, film, and processing. You just have to manage your expectations, too. You can still find plenty of good cameras for under 50 bucks when you look beyond the popular choices. You might have to learn the limits of some lower-cost films that are new to you. You’re not going to get white-glove lab service where they remember all of your preferences. But you can have plenty of good fun, and get satisfying images.

Inexpensive cameras

Ah, for the halcyon days when for 50 bucks or less you could buy a hip Canon Canonet QL17 rangefinder, or a classic Pentax K1000 SLR, or an ultra-compact Olympus Stylus, or a smooth Yashica-D TLR.

Boy, are those days ever over. Fortunately, plenty of film-camera bargains remain. You just need to step off the beaten path.

Nikon N90s

Plastic-bodied auto-everything 35mm SLRs are currently the strongest bargain in film photography. They make great starter cameras. My favorites are Nikons, like the N65. Canon, Minolta, and Pentax made “plastic fantastic” SLRs, too. You can buy them for as little as $15 or $20, often with a zoom lens attached. It’s crazy, but even sturdy, well-featured semi-professional bodies like Nikon’s N90/N90s and Canon’s A2/A2e can often be had today for under $50!

If you must have a manual-focus SLR, plenty of cameras fly under that $50 price tag. I’m a big fan of Pentax and recommend the ME, ME Super, or Super Program. With Nikon, look to the Nikkormats, such as the FTn or the EL. With Canon, try the FTb, TLb, or T70. Or choose a solid Minolta SR-T, like the SR-T 101. Plenty of people sell these with a 50mm prime still attached, and I’ve yet to encounter one from any manufacturer that wasn’t very good.

If you simply must have the cachet of a big name like Voigtländer or Zeiss Ikon, look for models without onboard meters and focusing aids (such as rangefinders). Or look instead at Kodak’s Retina cameras, which in my opinion remain undervalued.

Pentax IQZoom 170SL

Point-and-shoot 35mm cameras are extra popular — and expensive — right now, especially those with fine lenses. Plenty of fairly priced cameras remain, however. Pentax’s IQZoom/Espio series has some gems. I’m a big fan of the 170SL. There was a whole series of Olympus Stylus cameras and some of them are still reasonably priced. Try the Zoom 140.

In medium format, you’re incredibly unlikely to find a TLR or rangefinder for chicken feed. Even vintage folding cameras now generally cost $100 or more. But you can have a great deal of fun with a box camera! Kodak and others made them by the bazillions and they go for very little. I’m a big fan of Kodak’s No. 2 Brownie, most of which are more than 100 years old. They do surprisingly good work. An Agfa Clack is another fine choice with more modern ergonomics. I’m stepping a little out of my depth here, but you can buy a brand new Holga for $40! You just have to be ready for the lo-fi look you’ll get.

My friends who love Soviet cameras say they’re the best bargains in film photography. They especially recommend the Fed 2 and the Zorki 4 as Leica clones. Or look for a Zenit 11 SLR, or a Lomo Lubitel 166 TLR. They all have their quirks, and the Soviets were not known for build quality, but well-functioning examples can still be had.

If you worry about getting a dud, check out my tips for inspecting vintage cameras before you buy: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Inexpensive film

There are some truly outstanding films today. Unfortunately, many of them now cost $9, $10, $11 or more per roll.

All is not lost: a number of 35mm films cost about $5, and some even less. The king of inexpensive color negative film is Fujicolor 200, which you can often find for under $4. Kodak ColorPlus is another fine choice — it has a classic Kodak look. You can sometimes snag Kodak Gold 200 or Ultramax 400 in 24 exposure rolls for under $5, as well. Unfortunately, I don’t know a color negative film in 120 that costs less than $5. You’ll sometimes find Kodak Ektar or Kodak Portra 400 for $7 to $8, however.

You have lots of choices in black and white:

  • Foma’s Fomapan films, in ISO 100, 200, and 400. These are often rebranded: Kosmo Foto, Arista EDU, Holga. Available in 35mm and 120.
  • Kentmere films, in ISO 100 and 400. These are made by the same people who make Ilford films. 35mm only.
  • Ultrafine Xtreme, in ISO 100 and 400. These are the biggest black-and-white bargains I’ve ever found. 35mm and 120.

I’ve heard reports of iffy quality control in especially the Foma films, but I’ve not had any trouble with them. But in challenging lighting conditions these bargain films sometimes return blown-out highlights or blocked-up shadows where Kodak and Ilford films perform well.

But Kodak Tri-X and Ilford HP5 Plus and FP4 Plus only cost about $7 a roll. Sometimes you can find Kodak T-Max at this price. That’s just a couple extra bucks for those times you want that extra latitude.

I based all of these prices on what is listed today at B&H and the Film Photography Store. You can buy film online at lots of places; here are the places I recommend.

I know some of you are poised to comment: Buy film in bulk and load your own 35mm cartridges! After you buy a bulk loader, yes, this can cut the cost per roll. But bulk-loaded cartridges don’t have DX coding, which eliminates a lot of cameras. Also, cameras that wind automatically have been known to pull the film end right out of the cartridge. This is why I’ve shied away. But bulk loading might work for you, and can slash film costs.

Inexpensive processing

I really miss taking my film to the drug store or to Costco and getting serviceable developing and scans for as little as $6! But even when I was doing this, I knew these services were nearing their end. There just wasn’t enough business to sustain them.

Mail-in developing is where it’s at, and where it’s been at for at least a decade now. There’s been an explosion of small labs! But most of them are expensive. Many of the well-known labs have nudged their prices high.

All is not yet lost. Here are two less-expensive labs that I use.

Fulltone Photo: They charge $7 to process and scan 35mm color negative film, $7.50 for 120 color negative, $8 for 35mm b/w, and $8.50 for 120 b/w. If you spend $15 or more, they waive their $4.50 return shipping charge.

Dwayne’s Photo: This well-known lab charges $9 to process and scan 35mm or 120 color negative film, and $11 for 120 or 35mm black-and-white film. Shipping is $5 for the first roll and 50 cents for each additional roll.

Persistent Googling might turn up other inexpensive labs. If you know of any, let me know in the comments!

Developing your own film can dramatically cut costs. But first, you must buy a bunch of developing equipment and a film scanner. If you buy everything new, you’re laying out no less than $250. Each roll costs you time, especially in scanning, and there’s a learning curve to get consistently good results. But if you shoot a ton of film, after a long while you will break even and then start to save money this way.


There you have it: my best tips for saving money in film photography. If you have more of your own, share them in the comments!

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Storm clouds

Derecho
Canon PowerShot S95
2020

Not long ago a derecho storm passed through. This is a storm characterized by heavy rain and straightline winds of 90 mph or more.

The storm cell stretched from south of Indianapolis all the way into Lake Michigan. The worst of the storm passed through northern Illinois and northern Indiana, causing widespread damage. In central Indiana we were in the least severe zone of the storm, which caused far less damage. We got plenty of rain, though.

We could see the storm cloud from way off. It was a giant shelf — sunshine outside it and darkness within.

The light was interesting as the shelf reached us. The sun outside the cloud still lit everything brightly, but the cloud itself darkened the sky. This gave the light a blue-gray hue, and boosted the sense of contrast.

I stepped out my front door to make this quick photograph before the rain started to fall in buckets.

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Photography

single frame: Derecho

A photo of the interesting light as a derecho storm rolled in.

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