Blogosphere

Recommended reading

Bloggers everywhere write and publish, and then I consume and curate. This week’s result:

Downtown Carmel

Pentax H3, 55mm f/1.8 SMC Takumar, Agfa Vista 200

💻 Veterans Day was last Sunday, and Heide republished her epic story of a region scarred by three major World War I battles, and of a quarry where soldiers went to wait, or to rest, or to die — and left behind inscriptions in the stone that are compelling evidence that this war was fought by real men and is not just a story in a history book. Read A Soldier’s View of World War I

💻 Carrying on the WW I theme, M. B. Henry tells the story of Talbot House, in Poperinge, Belgium, a place war-weary soldiers could go to experience peace, if only for a little while. Read Talbot House – “All Rank Abandon, Ye Who Enter Here”

💻 Mark Evanier reminds creative people that to make a living being creative, you need to focus less on doing creatively pure things and more on doing useful things. To some creatives, that might feel like selling out. Those are the ones who won’t make a good living being creative. Read Rejection, Part 23

💻 Pabst Blue Ribbon beer is in mortal peril. Nick Gerlich explains. Read Major Brew Ha Ha

📷 Johnny Martyr tells a delightful tale of experiencing a Yashica-A twin-lens reflex camera he found in a junk store. This was Yashica’s entry-level TLR. After reading his account, I want to try one now, despite already owning a Yashica-D and a Yashica-12! Read Discovering the Yashica-A

📷 I love to see people putting film through very old folding cameras, especially ones for which film is no longer made. Tom over at TAZM Pictures figured out how to spool 120 film through a 90-year-old (give or take) Kodak folder made for 116 film. Read Vintage Camera Test: the No. 1A Autographic Kodak Junior

📰 From The Wall Street Journal, a pretty good rundown of Generation Z as it starts to enter the workforce. I’m pretty sure the paywall is down for this article. Most of my kids are GenZ and this article had me nodding a lot in agreement. Read Gen Z Is Coming To Your Office. Get Ready To Adapt.

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Camera Reviews, Film Photography

Kodak Pony 135 Model B

I’ve achieved the Kodak Pony 135 trifecta, having now owned and shot now all three models: first the original, then the Model C, and now this Model B. I wasn’t exactly striving for this goal, mind you. But an old friend’s father sent me his entire camera collection a couple years ago and this Model B was present. It was only a matter of time before I put film through it and secured this particular hat trick.

Kodak Pony 135 Model B

The 1953-55 Kodak Pony 135 Model B, like the original Pony 135, is a step-up camera from the basic Brownies Kodak sold. Its 51mm f/4.5 Anaston lens, probably a Cooke triplet in design, was a serious improvement on the meniscus lenses in most Brownies. It was set in a Kodak Flash 200 shutter that operates at 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, and 1/200 seconds.

Kodak Pony 135 Model B

Like the original Kodak Pony 135, you have to extend the lens barrel before you can shoot photos. Twist counterclockwise, pull, twist clockwise until it locks. To collapse it, twist, push, twist.

Kodak Pony 135 Model BKodak Pony 135 Model B

Kodak sold this camera to amateurs who wanted to shoot color slides, Kodachrome and Ektachrome. Kodacolor negative film existed, but not in 35mm format until 1958. These were all seriously slow films — Kodachrome of that day was rated at 12 or 16 ASA, yes twelve or sixteen. Kodak Plus-X was rated at a comparatively blazing 80 ASA then. When using fast modern films, this camera’s camera’s maximum aperture and range of shutter speeds seem limiting. But in context of the time, they were fine.

Ice cube croutons

Kodachrome and Plus-X are discontinued, so I loaded Agfa Vista 200 color negative film into this Pony and took it out onto Indianapolis’s Massachusetts Avenue. My wife and I made it an evening out.

Liberty Street

But first I had to cure a sticky shutter. I’d just learned that on cameras like this carefully flowing a couple drops of lighter fluid into the slot for the shutter cocking lever usually does the trick. It freed the shutter immediately!

Mural

And yes, you have to cock the shutter on this Pony. You also have to guess exposure and set aperture and shutter speed, as well as guess distance and focus manually. The budding early-1950s photographer got no help from the Pony 135 Model B.

Mass Ave

But as that photographer’s skill grew, he or she could get good performance from the Pony. Mine suffers the vagaries of age. I got a lot of haze in most shots, especially when the sun wasn’t perfectly behind me. The lens wasn’t dirty, and I can’t see any haze or fungus among the elements, so I just don’t know what was wrong. Photoshop corrected the problem well enough on many frames but couldn’t cure it on many others, including the one below.

Bench

I also took the roll on a lunchtime walk in Fishers, the town in which I work. With the sun directly overhead my shots suffered from far less haze.

Tree on the path

Because I’m a terrible guesser of distance, I generally shoot cameras like this at f/8 or smaller apertures and shoot distant subjects so good depth of field makes up for my bad guesses. But I did try moving in fairly close to these plants near my home. It went all right.

Foliage

See more from this camera in my Kodak Pony 135 Model B gallery.

These Kodak Pony 135s are all pleasant to shoot. They’re light and easy to use once you get the hang of setting aperture, shutter speed, and focus. My only complaint is that the 51mm lens felt too narrow. I prefer my Model C’s slightly wider 44mm lens. But really, you can make lovely photographs with any Kodak Pony. I hope you won’t dismiss them as junk just because of the Kodak name.

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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!

Review of Textures of Ireland

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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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