Collecting Cameras, Film Photography

Operation Thin the Herd: Agfa Clack

Suburban banalia

I began Operation Thin the Herd with my Agfa Clack because it was handy. I’d just moved into my new house and my cameras were all still in boxes. The Clack had been on display in my home office and so got packed into a box of office stuff. It was unpacked early because I needed my home office set up pretty much first thing.

Agfa Clack

While unpacking it I remembered very well how pleasant it was to shoot and what lovely results it returned. I’d always shot black-and-white film in it before, slower stuff like Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros and Ilford Pan-F Plus 50. So this time I spooled in some color film, Kodak Ektar 100. I blew through the whole roll in 20 minutes without ever taking more than ten steps from my new house.

Suburban banalia

These colors are a little washed out, rather than showing Ektar’s signature vibrance. Perhaps I needed to shoot on a cloudy day. Or maybe I’ll just stick with black-and-white film in the Clack from now on. Here, take a look at how Pan-F 50 performed on an earlier shoot.

Crew Carwash

I now live in typical modern suburbia. My previous neighborhood of 1950s-60s brick ranch homes was typical suburbia for its time. But in my old neighborhood, owners had placed their individual touches on their properties over the years. Here, the HOA makes sure every home always looks just like every other. Property values, don’t you know. Stultifying sameness.

Suburban banalia

And what is it about modern home design that makes giant exterior walls of vinyl, punctuated only by random tiny windows, seem like a good idea?

Suburban banalia

Oh, and our home overlooks beautiful and scenic I-65. See the big green sign there through the brush? This is suburban living at its best, folks. The retention ponds do nothing to blunt the relentless traffic noise. Fortunately, I stopped noticing it after just a couple weeks. One positive: this unblocked westerly view has shown us some spectacular sunsets.

Suburban banalia

But back to the Clack. It was just as much of a joy to use as ever. It’s a glorified box camera, but it’s so much easier to carry and use than a boxy box. It’s small and light. It’s easy to frame subjects in the bright viewfinder. It offers a few easy settings: apertures for cloudy and bright days plus a built-in closeup lens and a yellow filter. The only downers: the lens is soft in the corners and there’s some pincushion distortion.

Suburban banalia

But as soon as I finished this roll my mind started thinking of other eight-photograph monographs the Clack and I could make. Imagining a future with a camera: is there any better sign that it should stay?

Verdict: Keep.

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Recommended reading

Have you recovered from your turkey coma yet? (US readers only, of course.) Regardless, enjoy the blog posts I liked most this week.

When translating from one language to another, literal word-for-word translations usually lead to inaccurate, and sometimes amusing, results. Niall O’Donnell shows how this happened on a French shoe-shine kit. Read Literal Translation

Former radio personality Jane London implores us to distinguish the criminals from the assholes, and not to start a gender war, as we respond to the emerging reports of bad sexual behavior among men in visible and powerful positions. Read A Tipping Point

Can you make money driving for Uber? Most people forget how expensive it is to run their cars, says Mr. Money Mustache, who tried it. He found that after car expenses, profits really aren’t all that great. Read Mr. Money Mustache, Uber Driver

This week’s film-camera reviews and experience reports:

Preservation, Road Trips

Endangered: 1925 pony truss bridge on southern Indiana’s Dixie Highway

This is one of my favorite old highway bridges. It’s tucked quietly away on a short old alignment of Indiana State Road 37, the old Dixie Highway, just south of Martinsville. Here’s a photo from my first encounter with it, in 2007.

Pony truss bridge

My friend Dawn (standing on the bridge below) and I visited it together one autumn morning in 2012. We saw few cars here, as modern SR 37 bears the traffic burden just 500 feet to the west.

Pony trusses

But on our return visit a few weeks ago, we found that this bridge no longer carried cars at all. I’ve known for a couple years that the bridge had been closed, but nevertheless it saddened me greatly to see it.

Abandoned bridge on Old SR 37

It’s remarkable, isn’t it, how quickly nature begins to reclaim our built environment when it is no longer used and maintained?

Abandoned bridge on Old SR 37

Not that this bridge had received very much maintenance in its later years. At its last inspection, its superstructure was rated in Serious condition and its substructure in Poor condition. That was enough to see it immediately closed to traffic.

Abandoned bridge on Old SR 37

She does look a little battered. But I’ve seen bridges in worse apparent condition still carrying traffic. What do I know? I’m no civil engineer.

Abandoned bridge on Old SR 37

I’ve read that this bridge is slated for replacement, but I’m not sure I believe it. The only properties on this mile-long old alignment are south of the bridge, and all anyone has to do to reach them is enter the alignment at its south end.

Abandoned bridge on Old SR 37

The north end of this old alignment is likely to be dead ended when the current project converting SR 37 into I-69 is complete. At least, that’s how I read the plan maps.

Abandoned bridge on Old SR 37

If so, here’s hoping this old bridge can simply be left in place as a reminder of a highway era long since gone by.

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Abandoned SR 37

Abandoned Dixie Highway
Pentax K10D, 28-80mm f/3.5-4.7 SMC Pentax-FA

I used to write up every road trip I took in meticulous detail. I thought these old highways were interesting, and I figured others might think so too. I even thought that perhaps my documentary work might prove important one day.

At first I shared my trip reports on my old HTML site, which is still available here. I gave that up in 2012 to focus entirely on this blog.

I still love the old roads. I just don’t feel compelled to document them anymore. You can see it in how I approach my road trips on this blog. No longer do I comprehensively document each trip from end to end. Instead, I share the interesting sights I see in my travels, especially when I get good photographs of them.

But when I’m on the old road I still look for the abandoned segments, even if I don’t always share them with you. This one is just north of Martinsville, Indiana, on the old Dixie Highway and State Road 37. A road signed “Old State Road 37” is just ahead; it goes directly to downtown Martinsville. The modern SR 37 expressway is 500 feet to the left; typical of such roads, it bypasses the town.

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Photography, Road Trips

single frame: Abandoned Dixie Highway


Film Photography

Operation Thin the Herd: Choosing the cameras I’ll keep

Kodak Monitor Six-20I’ve lost count of how many cameras I own, but it must be more than 100.

When I thought of myself as a camera collector, that wasn’t a problem. I envisioned displaying them in glass-fronted barrister bookcases all over my home. I was going to be that strange old man who lived alone with all those cameras.

Canon AE-1 ProgramI never bought the bookcases. And I got married. But most importantly, I now consider myself a photographer far more than a collector. As such, I own far more cameras than I can possibly use.

I don’t even like using some of the cameras I own. Something about each one attracted me enough to buy it. But as I put film through many of them, the romance ended. I didn’t enjoy using them, or I didn’t like the images I got from them, or both.

Olympus XA

And I’ve gained so much experience as a photographer that cameras I enjoyed when I shot them many years ago might not please me now.

What’s the point of continuing to own cameras I won’t use?

And so it begins: Operation Thin the Herd, in which I systematically work my way to owning just the cameras I enjoy and will use again and again.

Zeiss Ikon Contessa LKFor each camera I own, I will first hold it in my hands. Does holding it make me want to shoot it? If not, I will give it away or sell it.

Otherwise, I will immediately put a roll of film into it and start shooting it.

If shooting it, or seeing the resulting images, makes me feel joy, I will keep it. Otherwise, I will give it away or sell it. Then I’ll repeat the process on the next camera in my collection.

Rollei A110When I’ve done this with all of my cameras, I will review those that survived. If they number more than I can reasonably store, the difficult work begins: evaluating which of them I believe I will realistically use at least once every 12 to 18 months. Those that don’t clear that bar, I will reluctantly give away or sell.

There will be exceptions.

Pentax KMSeveral cameras have been given to me as special gifts or have sentimental value. They will remain.

I own more than one of a few cameras. If one of them brings joy in use, I’ll keep only one.

I am likely to keep an SLR body for every major lens mount, so that when I find an interesting lens I will be able to try it.

Ansco B2 SpeedexAnd a select few cameras might stay just because they’re iconic or marvels of engineering. (I’m looking at you, Polaroid SX-70!)

This does not mean this blog is taking a hiatus on camera reviews. I own several cameras I’ve yet to shoot and will find time to work them in. And I will continue to buy and try old cameras. I’ll just keep only the ones that bring me joy.

Kodak Pony 135The one thing I haven’t decided yet is how to give away or sell the unwanted cameras. eBay is an obvious option. But I’ve sold cameras there before and don’t enjoy how much time and effort it takes, especially for what little money most of my cameras bring. If you have ideas, let me know.

I will blog about every camera I shoot during Operation Thin the Herd. I’ve already evaluated the first camera, a medium-format box camera; that post is written and that camera is a keeper. Film is in the second camera now, a well-regarded compact rangefinder. 12 frames in, it’s not bringing me joy. It’s days are likely numbered.

I’ll be at this for a good long while — two or three years, I’m sure. So keep coming back to see Operation Thin the Herd’s progress.

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Your future is key
Pentax K10D, 28-80mm f/3.5-4.7 SMC Pentax-FA

I’ve always thought anti-drug programs that bring up drugs at all are like telling a kid not to think about elephants. That’s the surest way to fill a kid’s mind with pachyderms.

My recent road trip was a major test of my Pentax K10D and the 28-80 zoom lens I had just bought. I wasn’t always happy with this pair’s performance. I’m sure I’m still learning this gear and with a few more serious outings I’ll learn a lot about how to get good results. But I had trouble with near items being out of focus, and with a little chromatic aberration, the latter of which I believe is apparent in this image.

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single frame: Your future is key