Film Photography

Too many film-photography bandwagons to jump on

It’s been a busy year in film photography, if you keep up with the news. Here are all of the new-product announcements I could find since January 1.

Notice how much of that news is from small companies. The news from the large, traditional companies in the film-photography space has not been as rosy. Prices have gone up, and film stocks have become scarce.

If it hasn’t become clear to you yet that the future of film photography is in the niches, these first four months of 2022 ought to be a giant, blinking neon sign pointing it out.

Small companies serving a niche can’t achieve the economies of scale the traditional film-photography companies could during film’s heyday. Many of the items listed above, even the films, are relatively expensive. Even though good vintage film cameras can still often be purchased for low prices, everything else about film photography is becoming considerably more expensive. It’s pricing people out of the hobby.

Waiting its turn in my to-shoot queue

I’m fortunate to have pretty good means. I can run with the “cool kids” of film photography if I want to. As a blogger who writes a lot about my film-photography adventures, I’d probably get a lot of pageviews if I could buy, try, and blog about more of this hot new stuff! But there are only so many bandwagons even the most well-heeled film photographer can jump on.

I’ve jumped only on two: the Reto Ultra Wide and Slim, and Kodak Gold 200 in 120. I reviewed the Reto yesterday, but I haven’t had the time to shoot any of that Kodak Gold yet.

But the bottom line is, for those who can afford it, it’s an exciting time to be in film photography.

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Film Photography

Working on my next book

Iron's Cemetery
Yashica-D, Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros, 2013

If you receive my monthly email newsletter (sign up here!), you’ve been in the know for months: I’m working on my next book of photographs.

The working title is Square Photographs, and it will compile the best photos I’ve made with my Yashica TLRs, the Yashica-D and the Yashica-12.

I learned an important lesson after publishing my last photo book, Vinyl Village: image quality matters. I published that book through Amazon using their least-expensive paper and ink options to keep costs down. I was testing a hypothesis that a low price would lead to more sales. It worked: Vinyl Village is my best-selling book.

But several of you expressed sharp disappointment with its print quality. That criticism is fair. When you compare the original scans as found in my Flickr album to those printed in the book, you can see that the printed images are thin and lack contrast.

For Square Photographs, I will choose Amazon’s best paper and full-color printing. I believe this will dramatically improve image quality, although it will raise the book’s price somewhat.

For those of you who want top-flight image quality, I’m also going to offer a Deluxe Edition of the book through Blurb. I printed my first two photo books, Exceptional Ordinary and Textures of Ireland, through Blurb, and they are gorgeous. But brace for impact, as the Deluxe Edition at Blurb is likely to be considerably more expensive than the Standard Edition at Amazon.

At the moment there are 39 photographs in this collection, although I may remove a small number of them as I finish editing the book. Each photograph will be accompanied by a short story, reflection, or essay, just as I write in my long-running Single Frame series here on this blog.

You can read those vignettes right now, if you like! I’ve written them all right on each photo’s page on Flickr, and then collected the photos into an album. Click the photo at the top of this post to get started, and then click the > button on each photo to move to the next one.

It’s my thought that after you see all of the photographs and read my words, it’ll make you want the book even more. There’s just something to holding a printed photograph in your hands that beats seeing pixels on a screen.

My next tasks are to lay out the book and create the cover, so I can send the files to be published. I’ve been busier with my regular life than I thought I’d be, but with any luck I’ll be able to finish this work this month and share with you where you can pick up your copy of Square Photographs.

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Film Photography

A test roll in my malfunctioning Olympus XA

I got out my Olympus XA specifically to shoot some Kodak Plus-X I bought recently. Because the film has always been stored frozen, and because Plus-X is so hardy, I expect it to behave as if new.

Olympus XA

After I put batteries in the XA, I noticed that the needle inside the viewfinder read a few stops off. Drat it! The XA actually, and strangely, has two meters, one that controls the viewfinder needle and one that controls the shutter speed. It was possible that the shutter-speed meter was fine, and only the viewfinder needle meter was off.

I decided to shoot a test roll to check for that. But there was no way I was going to potentially waste a precious roll of Plus-X. Instead, I used a roll of T-Max 100. I shot all but a few frames with the XA set in its snapshot mode, focused to three meters at an aperture of f/5.6. Both of these settings are marked in orange on the camera.

I developed the film in Rodinal 1+50. The negatives were appropriately dense. This is the first time I’ve scanned T-Max 100 on my Plustek 8100, and I wasn’t wowed by the images straight off the scanner. I boosted contrast considerably on all of the images. But they were all properly exposed. Here are the best of the images.

Pool house
Looking out over the retention pond
The American House, Burlington
Suburban houses
The road, she is closed
Dance studio
Bathroom mirror selfie

Several of my film cameras are queued to be sent for repair and CLA, and with this, my Olympus XA joins the group. I enjoy this camera enough to invest in having it overhauled and having its needle meter repaired. But because the camera sets exposure properly and otherwise works fine, it goes to the end of the repair line.

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Film Photography

The 50mm f/3.5 Zuiko Auto Macro is a crackerjack lens

When you are walking about in daylight shooting whatever strikes your fancy, any Olympus OM SLR body and the 50mm f/3.5 Zuiko Auto Macro lens makes for a mighty satisfying kit.

OM Zuiko MC Auto-Macro 1:3.5 f=50m

Olympus made four versions of this lens over the years, all optically identical:

  1. Marked Olympus OM-System Zuiko Auto-Macro 1:3.5 f=50mm, single coated, silver-tipped outer ring
  2. Marked Olympus OM-System Zuiko Auto-Macro 1:3.5 f=50mm, single coated, black outer ring
  3. Marked Olympus OM-System Zuiko MC Auto-Macro 1:3.5 f=50mm, multi-coated, black outer ring
  4. Marked Olympus OM-System Zuiko Auto-Macro 50mm 1:3.5, multi-coated, black outer ring

The multi-coated versions are probably technically slightly superior to the single-coated versions, which have a reputation for flare. If you have a single-coated version, avoid shooting into the sun and you should be fine.

Because this is a macro lens, the focus scale is biased hard toward close shooting. That has the effect of making focusing on non-close objects simple: just leave it at infinity. Here are some of my favorite images I’ve made with this lens this way.

Carpentry Hall
Kodak Gold 200
Harvested by the barn
Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400
Swimming pool
Fujicolor 200
The house across the street
Kodak Gold 400 (expired 1/08)
Shelter
Ilford Delta 400

I especially enjoy how this lens renders color. It elevates consumer color films above their station.

Naturally, this lens lets you move in very close, down to 9 1/8 inches. At that distance, subjects render at half life size. To get full size rendering, add Olympus’s Auto Extension Tube 25. I made all of these close shots without the extension tube.

Butterfly
Kodak Gold 200
Leaves
Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400
Orange flower
Fujicolor 200
Drying paintbrush
Kodak Gold 400 (expired 1/08)
Concrete toes
Ilford Delta 400

You can pick up one of these lenses on eBay today in the $40-90 range, which isn’t bad for this kind of performance.

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Film Photography

The undervalued, underappreciated 50mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M lens

Pentax made several manual-focus 50mm primes back in the day. I detailed the three 50mm SMC Pentax-M primes, f/1.4, f/1.7, and f/2, in this post. They offered a similar range in their later SMC Pentax-A line. They even offered a 50mm f/1.2 in their original SMC Pentax line in 1975. Because Pentax offered such a comprehensive set of fast 50mm glass, all of it very good, it’s easy to overlook the slowest of them, the f/2. For that matter, it’s easy to look down one’s nose at the f/2. But that’s a shame. The 50mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M lens is excellent. Under most circumstances that call for a 50mm prime, it is all the lens anyone needs.

Pentax ME

The 50mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M brings good sharpness and renders strong detail. In situations where depth of field is shallow, this lens is capable of beautiful separation and a smooth blurred-background effect. When I shoot it with consumer color-negative film, this lens imparts a warmth that the f/1.7 and f/1.4 lenses just don’t.

Here are some of my favorite photos I’ve made with the 50mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M lens.

Carmel Artomobilia 2017
Pentax ME, Fujifilm Fujicolor 100
Boys
Pentax ME, Kodak Tri-X
Jeep light
Pentax K1000, Fujifilm Fujicolor 200
Daisies
Pentax K10D (DSLR)
Stallard & Schuh
Pentax ME, Kentmere 100
Signboard
Pentax ME, Kentmere 100
Shrubbery - Pentax Lens
Sears KR Super II, Fujifilm Fujicolor 200
Second Pres
Pentax ME, Fujifilm Fujicolor 200
Damion
Pentax ME, Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 at EI 200
Woman with flowers
Pentax ME SE, Agfa Agfacolor Vista 400 (long expired)

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Film Photography

First impressions: 35-70mm f/4 SMC Pentax-A zoom lens

For the walking-around photography I often do, I like 28-80mm or 35-70mm zoom lenses. They’re like having three or four prime lenses on hand, but without having to dismount one lens to mount another. Their maximum apertures aren’t as wide as the primes they replace — f/3.5 or f/4, rather than f/1.7 or f/1.4. Fortunately, I commonly shoot at f/8 to f/16 when I’m walking about in daylight, so that’s no big deal.

I’ve long wanted such a zoom lens for my manual-focus Pentax SLRs. I recently bought a 35-70mm f/4 SMC Pentax-A lens because I got a good one at a good price ($44 shipped) on eBay. I liked that it was a twist zoom rather than a pump zoom. I find twist zooms to handle a little more easily.

I took my Pentax ME SE and this lens along on a recent road trip up the Michigan Road to South Bend. Unfortunately, the lens made the ME SE front heavy, which detracted from this camera’s usual easy handling. I probably should have mounted it to my larger and heavier Pentax KM instead. But what was done was done, and I pressed on with a fresh roll of Fujicolor 200. Still, I always carried this kit in my hand, strap dangling. That tells me it wasn’t too heavy.

This lens suffers from a common malady among short-range zoom lenses: barrel distortion at the wide end. This photo shows it a little.

Liquor store

Fortunately, that’s easy enough to correct in Photoshop, which I did on all of the rest of the images so affected.

Purple building in Plymouth

The lens doesn’t stay perfectly focused when you zoom. The amount of needed refocusing is tiny, however. You don’t need to correct it except when depth of field is shallow.

Sycamore Row

At 70mm, this lens focuses to four inches. What a nice touch.

Stars

On this photo, the sun was off to my left and created a little flare. I suppose I could look for a hood to fit this lens’s 58mm filter threads.

State Theater, Logansport

I am satisfied with the lens’s sharpness.

Michigan Road historic marker

The 35-70mm f/4 SMC Pentax-A is a solid, well-made lens. My copy is still well screwed together and tight. It handled and performed adequately.

Mobilgas

This was the fourth roll of film I put through this Pentax ME SE, which I bought somewhat impulsively as I have a perfectly good regular Pentax ME. I’ll review the ME SE soon.

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