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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Camera Reviews

Reto Ultra Wide and Slim

A Chinese company called Sunpet has had this little 35mm point-and-shoot camera in its catalog for more than 25 years now. Several companies have slapped their names on it and sold it. The best-known company is Vivitar, who may have been the first to sell it back in the mid-late 1990s. So branded, it became a well-loved, almost cult classic. That’s certainly why so many other companies have sold this camera — they’re trying to cash in. Most recently, the Reto Project in Hong Kong has reissued this camera as the Reto Ultra Wide and Slim.

Reto Ultra Wide and Slim

Reto’s release of this camera created quite a buzz in 2022, especially given its $29 list price. That’s barely more than the cost of one roll of film and processing these days. I’m not normally one to jump on bandwagons, but I bought one of these the moment I could. Fellow photoblogger Mike Connealy does terrific work with his Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim (see some of it here), and I wanted a piece of that action.

Reto Ultra Wide and Slim

But I’ve buried the lede. What sets this inexpensive, fixed-focus, plastic camera apart is its extremely wide lens: 22mm at f/11. It’s set in a 1/125 second single-blade leaf shutter. The lens has a surprisingly sophisticated design, given this camera’s price, with one acrylic element in front of the shutter and another behind it. Also, baffles inside the camera’s film door forces the film to curve. This combination results in remarkably low-distortion images. The lens delivers some softness and vignetting in the corners, however.

Reto Ultra Wide and Slim

At 3 7/8″ x 2 1/4″ x 1″, the Ultra Wide and Slim is about the same size as the tiny Olympus XA. But the XA is a heavyweight compared to the feather-light Ultra Wide and Slim. This all-plastic, all-mechanical camera weighs just 2½ ounces!

The Reto Ultra Wide and Slim is available in five colors: charcoal, cream, pastel pink, muddy yellow, and murky blue. I went with the murky blue.

I’ve shot a number of point-and-shoot cameras over the years. Check out my reviews of the Canon Snappy 50 (here) and Snappy S (here), the Kodak VR35 K40 (here) and K12 (here), the Nikon Zoom Touch 400 (here), and the Olympus Stylus (here) and Trip 500 (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

My first roll of film in the Ultra Wide and Slim was some expired ISO 200 Ferrania color negative stock with Kroger branding that I picked up cheap. The images showed the grain and color shifts consistent with expired film. But just look at how much of the scene the Ultra Wide and Slim captured!

Down the street

Here’s a look down Main Street in Zionsville. It took me a couple of rolls to start to get the hang of this wide lens, and avoid having so much uninteresting foreground in my images.

Down the brick street

Just look at how straight all the lines are in this straight-on shot.

Blue garage

I kept going with a roll of Fomapan 400. In retrospect, I wish I had chosen HP5 Plus or Tri-X for the huge exposure latitude they offer. Several of the images I made on this film were badly misexposed.

Through the windshield, Downtown Indianapolis

The winder is the cheapest-feeling aspect of this camera. It makes quite a ratchety noise when you use it. On this roll of film I felt it tearing sprocket holes as it wound the first five or so frames.

Mailboxes

The film counter is hard to read. It’s not just that the numbers are small and my eyes are more than 50 years old. The plastic magnifying bubble over the numbers does more to distort those numbers than to magnify them. That bubble also reflects light, which further obscures the numbers. Finally, the numbers are printed in a faint red.

Knight

My next roll was some fresh Fujicolor 200. Some say that this camera can struggle to wind toward the end of a 36-exposure roll. I did not find that to be the case at all with this 36-exposure roll, or the 36-exposure roll of Fomapan that I shot.

At the food truck

The Ultra Wide and Slim’s viewfinder isn’t accurate — when I framed this yellow Pontiac, the cars on either side of it were barely in the frame. But then, hardly any point-and-shoot viewfinder is accurate. I don’t know why I expect better after all these years. The viewfinder also has a fisheye effect that the lens itself does not.

Yellow Pontiac

This simple image does a great job of showing how sharp this acrylic lens is. Reto recommends using ISO 100 or 200 film on sunny days, and ISO 400 film on cloudy days, to accommodate the camera’s fixed exposure.

Ellison

Despite the lens’s ultra-wide angle, I still had to tilt the camera to bring some subjects fully into the frame. However, I don’t think I could have managed this image with the 35mm lenses that are common to point-and-shoot cameras. I would have hit the building behind me before I backed up enough.

J. W. Marriott

I had trouble rewinding the first two rolls I shot in this camera. I thought I heard and felt the film leader pass into the cartridge, but when I opened the camera I found a little film was still wound on the takeup spool. A few frames on each roll were ruined because of this. On my third roll, I discovered that the rewind crank had wiggled down a little bit. I pushed it all the way up before I rewound. This time upon rewinding I heard the same steady clicking noise as when I wound the film. When the film came off the takeup spool and was fully in the film canister, the clicking stopped. Aha! So if you rewind this camera but don’t hear that clicking, press the crank/spool firmly back up into the camera.

Statues

I am deliberately not showing you the many images I made that featured one or more of my fingers. The lens is so wide that if your fingers are on the front of the camera at all, you are likely to see them in your image. By my third roll I had built a habit of holding the camera only around the edges, to eliminate all chance of getting my finger in the lens.

To see more from this camera, check out my Reto Ultra Wide and Slim gallery.

The Reto Ultra Wide and Slim is a blast to use, especially after you learn how to work around its quirks. It’s the kind of camera you want to keep loaded at all times, and slip into your pocket wherever you go. On a full-sun or cloudy-bright day, load this camera with your favorite everyday color film and be ready for some fun shooting.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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Blogosphere

Recommended reading

💻 Mark Dominus has attention-deficit disorder. He hates that it’s called a disorder. While it means he loses his keys and is frequently late, it gives him cognitive superpowers he wouldn’t trade. Read Mental illness, attention deficit disorder, and suffering

Alligator
Olympus OM-1, 40mm f/2 Zuiko Auto-S, Fujicolor 200

💻 We tend to think of sectioning off wildlife, especially endangered species, into special areas where they can live with little or no human contact. But what happens when endangered species choose to live among us, or at least in man-made places? It can be a way to protect them, says Hannah Wallace, who writes about some endangered crocodiles who live in the cooling canals of a Florida nuclear power plant. Read Nuclear Crocodiles Invade Florida – in a Good Way

📷 Mike Eckman reviews the Canon Pellix, a 1960s 35mm SLR that uses a semi-translucent pellicle mirror. This made moving the mirror out of the way to take a photo unnecessary, which was supposed to avoid shake from mirror slap. Read Canon Pellix QL

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Road Trips

The Michigan Road and the Dixie Highway in Carroll County

In 2008, I surveyed the Michigan Road from end to end, documenting the road and its built environment. Here is an installment of that trip report. While this article refers exclusively to the Michigan Road, another historic highway, the Dixie Highway, was routed along this portion of the Michigan Road.

Carroll County was formed in 1828 and was named for Charles Carroll, the only signer of the Declaration of Independence still alive at the time. Almost as soon as the Michigan Road enters Carroll County, the Mathews Hoosier Homestead Farm appears. Hoosier Homesteads are farms that have been in the same family for over 100 years. The house was built in 1862 by George Harness; it and the farm passed through the family to Mary Mathews, granddaughter of the last Harness to own the farm. It served as a stagecoach stop for a while and is said to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad.

Mathews Hoosier Homestead Farm

I wonder what happened to that missing shutter (second floor, front, second window from the left).

Mathews Hoosier Homestead Farm

This old house appears just south of Burlington.

Old house

The road bends slightly east as it enters Burlington, and back west as it leaves.

The Burlington United Methodist Church built this, its second building, on the Michigan Road at 10th St.

This is the church’s third and current building, still on this site.

Burlington United Methodist Church

Shortly after Carroll County was created in 1828, David Stipp, said to be a cold and stingy man, laid out Burlington. It was hoped to become the seat of a new county made partly from the Great Miami Reserve, which was 2 miles east. The Lafayette and Muncie Road crossed the Michigan Road here, but I’ve had no luck finding any information about that road. Burlington was an important stage stop, mill village, and trading center for both whites and Indians from the reservation. The town, named after a chief of the Wyandot native Americans, was incorporated in 1967. 

This hardware store stands on the south end of Burlington’s downtown.

Former fire station

The older part of the building was once the Burlington State Bank, as this 1946 photo shows. I wonder if this was once a fire station. The current fire station is a block west down the side street in the photo below. The big arch certainly could have passed a fire truck.

An old house left near downtown, across the street from the hardware store.

Old house, Burlington

These buildings stand in the heart of downtown.

Business District

This photo shows the middle building sometime in the first half of the 20th century when it was Oyler and Huddleston’s, a dry-goods store.

This photo is from inside Oyler and Huddleston’s, which people in Burlington called the Park Store for some reason.

Some other shots of downtown. I’m guessing that this one is from the 1910s.

This one’s probably also from the 1910s.

This photo from the 1970s shows the northbound road from State Road 22.

This is from the same spot, except southbound, in the 1970s. It shows the Oyler and Huddleston building on the right and the former bank in the next block south.

This is a former general store, north of downtown. On the vacant lot to the north once stood a house built by David Stipp that, after he sold it, was a relay house for stage horses. A tavern was kept in the basement; the entrance was a trap door on the porch!

Old storefront, Burlington

Here’s the store during its days as the Farm Boy store, probably in the 1970s.

Burlington Church of Christ, formerly the Burlington Christian Church. This is the third building the church used, built in 1908, and the second on this site.

Burlington Church of Christ

This 1929 photo was taken after a snowstorm that shut down the town. The Church of Christ is near the center.

This photo is of a well used until 1935 to supply the north side of town (and passing travelers) with water. It was on Burlington’s north edge, just south of the bridge over Wildcat Creek.

There have been quite a succession of bridges over Wildcat Creek. The earliest recorded was a wooden covered bridge. I’m not sure which end is north and which is south!

Here’s the bridge in 1913 during a flood.

This photo from the bridge’s north end was taken in May of 1919, shortly before the bridge was torn down, suggests that the bridge had lived out its life.

A concrete bridge was planned. This formwork was constructed, but a flood destroyed it in 1920. Builders had to start over.

The bridge was finished in 1923. Imagine – the bridge was closed for four years! This bridge, which was described as narrow, may have been a Luten bridge. Even if it wasn’t, it looks typical of the kinds of bridges Indiana was building in this timeframe.

This northbound photo shows the road leaving town and crossing the current bridge, a typical boring slab supported by piers.

Northbound, Burlington

This photo shows the Michigan Road southbound as it heads toward Burlington. This is probably from the 1910s, as the covered bridge is there. Notice that the road is made of dirt.

The Michigan Road wasn’t paved in Burlington until 1929. This early-1900s northbound photo shows how the road became a rutted bog when it was wet.

This photo from about the same time shows not only how the road got rutted when wet, but also how it once rolled. This section has since been leveled; the road through Burlington is entirely level. There were certainly many such dips along the road until the modern era, roughly since 1950, when technology and road funding allowed rolling highways to be flattened.

Sharon is the first spot on the map north of Burlington.

I stopped mostly to take photos of the Sharon Baptist Church.

Sharon Baptist Church

Some old buildings on the road have steps down to the road. Clearly, they are a holdover from a day before the Michigan Road was capable of handling 55 mile per hour traffic. Nobody parks along the road on Sunday morning and walks up these steps anymore.

Sharon Baptist Church

The road had been freshly paved when I drove through. Compare this to the muddy photos from 100 years before! Northbound.

Northbound, Sharon

A cemetery stands north of the Sharon Baptist Church, just across County Road 50N.

Beech Grove Cemetery

Just south of the town of Deer Creek stands Sycamore Row, a historic old alignment. The origin of the sycamore trees is uncertain. But they boxed in this short segment of road, making it a tight squeeze. Unbelievably, this remained the in-service road until 1987! Read more about Sycamore Row here.

Sycamore Row

This is what the road inside Sycamore Row looks like today.

Sycamore Row

The little town of Deer Creek lies just north of Sycamore Row and the creek the town is named after.

This is the Deer Creek Presbyterian Church, which was established in 1842. This building is certainly newer than that.

Deer Creek Presbyterian Church

This Deer Creek building was a feed store during at least the late 1950s. It began its life as the West Sonora Christian Church. I failed to photograph it, but just north of this building is an arch with the words WEST SONORA, which I’m told used to stretch over the Michigan Road. I’m guessing that Deer Creek was once known as West Sonora.

What is this?

Next: The Michigan Road in Cass County, Indiana.

I’ve documented Indiana’s historic Michigan Road extensively. To read all about it, click here.

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Vintage Television

Vintage TV: Bill Cullen

(First posted 11 September 2008; updated 12 July 2013.) The show was a yawnfest, just boring as all get out, but I watched it every weekday afternoon anyway.

Bill Cullen at the helm of Three on a Match

It was Three on a Match, a game show that aired on NBC from 1971 to 1974. Part of what made it boring, given that I was four years old, was that its rules were complicated. I could never figure out what was going on! I started watching this confusing program because it was on against Let’s Make a Deal on ABC, which my mother could not abide, and As the World Turns on CBS, which I could not abide. But I kept watching because its congenial host always made me think of my grandfather, and I rather liked imagining seeing my grandfather on TV every weekday afternoon.

The grandfatherly host was Bill Cullen, the most versatile and prolific game-show host ever, who worked almost non-stop doing them on radio and television for 40 years. If you were breathing at any time between the 1950s and the 1980s you almost certainly saw Bill Cullen on TV. Here’s a complete episode of Three on a Match from February of 1974 that shows how the game was played.

Bill’s first TV game show was Winner Take All in 1952, and his last was The Joker’s Wild in 1986. In between, he did more than twenty others.

I outgrew my grandfather projection issues and for years changed the channel when I saw fuddy-duddy old Bill Cullen. But when I got (and became addicted to) Game Show Network on cable in the 1990s, I saw that not only did Bill Cullen handle every show as if he was born to host it, but he was also funny. This is one of my favorite Bill Cullen moments, from To Tell the Truth.

So lasting was Bill’s game-show legacy that it is said that when the US version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire was being developed, producers wanted to tap Cullen to host it – until they learned that he had been dead for eight years.

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