Collecting Cameras, Film Photography

Operation Thin the Herd: Pentax KM

In the upper room

One of my oldest friends sold me this Pentax KM. His father bought it new in 1976, the year Pentax introduced it and the famous K lens mount. In the 1980s the camera passed down to my friend; somewhere around here I have at least one college-days photo of him using it. I’m very happy to be this camera’s steward today.

Pentax KM

I never fail with this camera. Really. It’s almost magic. According to my notes I shot this tulip with the 28mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-M lens on Fujicolor 200. I don’t like that lens at all but just look at how lovely it rendered here.

Tulip

Most of the time I shoot the lens that came with this camera, the 55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax. It is almost certainly a K-mount version of the sublime 55/1.8 Takumar from Pentax’s earlier screw-mount cameras. This lens never misses. It’s just wonderful.

Under the Clock

I took this kit and a roll of T-Max 400 to Purdue for an afternoon with my son. He brought his K1000 along; we spent the afternoon taking pictures. Goodness, was that ever wonderful to me. A fast-ish lens with fast-ish film and my generally steady hand let me do reasonable work indoors. Above, the Stewart Center; below, the Purdue Memorial Union.

Purdue Memorial Union

This is a shot from a library inside Stewart Center. I was surprised that they still follow the Dewey Decimal System, which I thought was passé among libraries today.

Study tables

This is Spitzer Court, with Cary Quad in the background. Damion lives in Cary. It’s very stately. We walked around inside a little bit and its common areas have this very 1890s feel. When you look past the modern pressboard furniture in those rooms, you can almost imagine young bejacketed pipe-smoking men sitting about in high-backed chairs at mahogany tables.

Spitzer Court

You’ll also find plenty of modern architecture at Purdue, like Hampton Hall.

Civil engineering

Damion’s buddy runs the ham radio club, so we got a tour. I just love old electronic gear. Just dig that great typography on that meter.

Ham radio club

They could have just printed “µA” on the meter on the right, but they went all the way and spelled it out in a sober typeface. The space between the letters lends such gravity, such certainty. You may rest assured in this meter’s reading.

Ham radio club

Okay, this has been more about my day at Purdue than about the Pentax KM. Let me reel this back in: this camera performed flawlessly. And perhaps I’m blinded by my love for Pentax gear but I found this camera to be perfectly unobtrusive as I used it. I framed, matched the needle for exposure, focused, and shot my way through this roll in no time flat. I wished I’d brought another roll of T-Max.

Beetle bug

After our long photo walk we walked over to a favorite pub for dinner. I sat the KM on the table, strap dangling. As we got up to leave and I picked up the KM, the strap caught on the table corner and the camera tore from my hand. It landed on the stone tile floor with a sickening splat. The corner of the bottom plate was dented and the UV filter on the lens shattered. Something must have bent slightly on the lens mount, as the aperture ring on any mounted lens now turns clockwise with difficulty. Some steward I am.

Clockworks

To see more from this camera, check out my Pentax KM gallery.

My Pentax KM has been such a never-miss, sure-fire performer that I simply must get it fixed. I’m just very sad that I damaged this like-new camera.

Verdict: Keep

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Camera Reviews, Film Photography

Operation Thin the Herd: Olympus OM-1

Butterfly

Why have I not used my Olympus OM-1 more? This is such a wonderful camera — compact, precise, capable. It sparked the SLR fever that has so heavily influenced my collection. Could my subsequent SLR promiscuity simply have kept me from loving this camera fully?

Olympus OM-1

Probably. But I also know I’ve hedged on using it because I never got used to setting shutter speed on the lens barrel. What a wealth of great gear I have that this one little thing led me to favor other SLRs. But really, this is my only gripe. The OM-1 otherwise feels like a luxury item in my hands. Everything about this camera oozes excellence.

Peppy Grill

I own two OM-1 bodies, this minty silver-topped body (review here) and a slightly worn all-black body (review here). I made the above shot with the silver top on Kodak BW400CN, and the shot below with the black top on Fujicolor 200, both with the 50mm f/1.8 F.Zuiko lens.

Schwinn Collegiate

While I shot the silver-topped one this time, I’m including both bodies in this evaluation. They both stay or they both go. These cameras came to me with a bunch of lenses from the father of a dear friend, and I want his whole kit to be a single unit. With that, I mounted the close-focusing 50mm f/3.5 Zuiko Auto Macro lens that came with the kit, dropped in some Kodak Gold 200, and went looking for little flowers to shoot. I don’t know why this little blue chicory flower came out purple, but I don’t care, I love the photo.

Chicory

I made these photos as summer was ending. There were plenty of little flowers left to photograph.

Fall flowers

I even moved in close to this railroad spike on some abandoned tracks. I love the colors this lens picked up in the blurred background. I’m not sure my Pentax or Nikon lenses would have seen them.

Rail nail

You can use a macro lens for normal work, too. This one acquitted itself well.

L O V E

The 50/1.8 and the 50/3.5 Auto Macro were the only Olympus Zuiko lenses in the kit. He also owned a 70-150mm f/3.8 Vivitar Close Focusing Auto Zoom, a 100mm f/4 Portragon, and a big 500mm f/8 Spiratone Mintel-M mirror lens. I’d never shot some of these lenses, so I tried them this time on a roll of Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400. First, here’s a big green highway sign that is about a half mile away from where I was standing. I had to put the camera on a tripod to steady it enough for this shot, which shows the 500mm Spiratone’s resolving power. Which is only okay, by the way. But in its day it was an inexpensive way to get a long lens.

East

Spiratone was a mail-order house for inexpensive photographic accessories. The 100mm Portragon lens is also a Spiratone product. It was meant for portraits, obviously, but I didn’t have anybody handy so I just shot stuff with it. It created an out-of-focus effect around the center of the image. The best of my Portragon shots was of this Subie’s snout.

Subie snout

I finished off the roll with the 50/1.8. I placed the OM-1 on my tripod, set the self-timer, and got this photo of me in our front yard.

Posed under the tree

Finally, I moved in close to these blue seed balls for one last 50/1.8 photo.

Blue ballies

To see more work from this camera, check out my Olympus OM-1 gallery.

The OM-1 almost makes up for its awkward shutter-speed ring by placing a rewind release on the camera’s front. You turn it to the side and then crank to rewind. Most SLRs place a release button on the camera bottom, and in most cases you have to hold that button in the entire time you’re rewinding. It’s awkward. The OM-1’s system is so easy in contrast.

While I’m going to focus the SLR portion of my collection on Pentax and Nikon, I won’t part with my OM-1s. I feel like I’m this kit’s chosen steward. And they’re just so lovely to use, weird shutter-speed ring notwithstanding. And so this gear stays in my collection.

Verdict: Keep

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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 50mm f/1.4 MD Rokkor-X is a lovely lens

After shooting my Minolta XG 1 in Operation Thin the Herd, I decided it was time to part with all of my Minolta gear. Bit by bit I’ve been selling it off. But before I let my 50mm f/1.4 MD Rokkor-X lens go, I shot one last roll of film with it.

1996

It’s a crying shame I’ve had such bad luck with Minolta bodies, because the lenses are sublime. This 50/1.4 leads the pack. It’s easily the finest 50/1.4 I’ve used for any system.

Queen Anne

Ultrafine Xtreme 100 has been a good utility b/w film every time I’ve used it, but this lens made the stuff absolutely sing.

Chicory

Just look at that sharpness and detail! If only I had better luck with Minolta bodies, this lens and I could have made beautiful music together for years to come.

West Park Church

But I sold the camera to one person and the lens to another. I hope that they both get excellent use in new hands.

View out the window

Now every time I look at these photos, I will think wistfully about this lovely lens.

Carpentry Hall

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Yellow flowers

Yellow flowers
Minolta XG 1, 50mm f/1.7 Minolta MD
Agfa Vista 200 (at EI 100)
2018

When I was 22 I broke up with a young woman who I still call my first great love. We were such comfortable companions. Our favorite thing was to watch bad movies together on cable well into the wee hours. She was brilliant at heckling them. Her dry, nerdy humor kept me laughing. I don’t laugh easily. She was a real gift in my life.

Yet we couldn’t make other things about our relationship work, important things. I don’t think she ever felt like I really loved her. I showed her in the ways I knew how, but she needed to feel loved in ways I didn’t understand and couldn’t give.  And when I was tired or overwhelmed or irritated I was prickly and difficult. Still am. She never knew how to deal with that and she took it hard.

Sometimes a relationship can’t last because you’re not right together in some ways that really matter. Yet you’re reluctant to end it because it’s otherwise so comfortable. But after awhile comfort isn’t enough, and after a longer while the places where you don’t fit start to grate. More of your needs must be met. We ended our relationship, and it hurt, and we missed each other. But it was necessary.

My many Minolta SLRs have all been lovely and felt great in my hands. Their lenses are sublime. My heart leaps over the images these cameras give me. I want to shoot with them forever.

But they have been so unreliable. I just can’t keep one working for the long haul. There may be photographers out there who enjoy taking their gear apart and keeping them working smoothly. I’m not one of them. I just want my gear to work, period. And that’s why I’ve just sold my last Minolta body and am running right into the arms of reliable Pentax and Nikon.

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Film Photography, Stories Told

single frame: Yellow flowers

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Image
Film Photography

Where can you still get film developed? (2018 edition)

Oh, for the days when you could drop your film at any drug store or big-box store and get processing, scans, and prints. Walgreens, CVS, Target, Walmart, Costco, Meijer, et. al., used to offer one-hour or overnight service. No more. If they still take film, they send it to a commercial lab. Turnaround time is a week or more, and they throw away your negatives.

Where can you get your film processed, then? And keep your negatives?

Try your town’s camera store, if it has one. I live near Indianapolis, where Roberts Camera still processes 35mm negative film. I never order prints, just scans, which Roberts burns to CD. The scans are 3130×2075 pixels at 72 dpi, big enough to print 11×17 enlargements. They turn color film around within two business days and black-and-white film around in about a week. I haven’t used them for b/w film yet but they charge only about $8 to develop and scan color film. That’s about as inexpensive as you’ll find.

But what if you aren’t close to a camera store? Or if you shoot film they can’t handle, like medium-format (120) film, or an uncommon format like 110 or 127? That’s when I turn to one of several by-mail labs around the United States. I’m going to recommend the ones I use. I’d love it if you’d share the ones you use in the comments, especially if you live outside the United States.

Dwayne’s Photo

Dwayne’s in Parsons, KS, is perhaps the granddaddy of all by-mail labs. They’re consistent in quality and speed and their prices are reasonable among the by-mail labs so they’ve gotten a ton of my business. Their Web site is dwaynesphoto.com. 

Dwayne’s processes, prints, and scans 35mm, 120/620, 220, 127, 110, 126, Disc, and APS films. They process color and b/w negative and color slide films.

Ordering from Dwayne’s straight outta the 90s: you have to print out and fill out order forms, the right one for the kind of film you’re sending. When you send them more than one kind of film you have to fill out multiple order forms. They do take PayPal via these order forms now, at least. Here’s hoping Dwayne’s upgrades to electronic ordering.

Processing and scanning one roll of 35mm or 120 color or b/w negative film costs $10. Slide film costs $13.50-$15 depending on format. Other services’ prices vary.  Return shipping costs $5 for the first roll and 50 cents for each additional roll. They don’t offer prepaid mailing labels so have your postage stamps ready.

Their 35mm film scans are 2740×1830 pixels at 72 dpi. For an extra $5, you can get scans of negative films at a whopping 6770×4490 pixels at 72 dpi, which is big enough for poster-sized prints. Other formats’ scan sizes vary.

You can choose to download your scans or have them mailed to you on CD; the price is the same for either service. I go for the downloads and Dwayne’s pretty consistently emails me a link to them within a week of receiving my film. (Slide film takes longer.) I’ve not ordered prints from Dwayne’s.

Dwayne’s can handle any curveball I throw them. Recently one of my old cameras broke the film as I started to rewind it. I stuck the camera into a dark bag, coiled the film into a black film canister, marked the can “Loose Film Open in Darkroom,” and sent it to Dwayne’s. They processed it without skipping a beat.

Old School Photo Lab

Old School Photo Lab, of Dover, NH, is the other lab I use a lot. They process, print, and scan 35mm, 120/620, 110, 126, 127, 828, APS, and 4×5 sheet films. They handle color and b/w negative and color slide films.

You order and pay through their Web site, oldschoolphotolab.com. They used to undercut the other well-known labs slightly on price — and used to get the lion’s share of my business as a result — but recent increases have erased that advantage. Processing a roll of 35mm or 120 color or b/w negative film and getting their standard scans costs $17, including shipping both ways. Color slide film costs just a dollar more. They give discounts if you send several rolls at once.

What I love most about OSPL is that their standard 35mm JPEG scans are a generous 3072×2048 pixels at 72 dpi, for nearly poster-sized prints. No other lab offers standard scans that large, which makes OSPL still a good value. You can order giant scans, at 6774×4492 pixels at 72 dpi, for an extra $10 for JPEG or $20 for TIFF. Medium format scan sizes are similar.

When your scans are ready, they email you a link to where you can download them. If you want a CD of the scans, it’s 3 bucks extra and you have to wait longer to get them. OSPL prints digitally. I occasionally order 4×6 prints and they’re lovely.

OSPL used to be blazing fast but they’ve become popular and it seems to have slowed them down. Expect scans in one to two weeks; once recently they fell behind and I waited a month. Quality is consistent and good. The staff, and sometimes the owner, responds promptly and cheerfully when you contact them. The lab is active on Twitter and the feed is often a hoot. The same goes for their Instagram feed.

Willow Photo Lab

Willow Photo Lab of Somerville, MA, is the price leader. They offer processing, printing, and scanning of 35mm, 120/620, and APS negative films, in color and black-and white, through their Web site. They process b/w film by hand!

Order and pay via their Web site, willowphotolab.com. Processing and scanning one roll of 35mm costs just $7. Other services’ prices vary a little. Shipping costs depend on how far away from Massachusetts you are; most of my orders have been $3. They don’t offer prepaid mailing labels, so get your postage stamps out.

Scans are skinty at 1536×1024 at 72 dpi, sent to you on a CD. That’s only large enough for maybe a 5×7 print, so I always order their higher resolution scans for an extra $1.60. They’re 3072×2048 pixels at 72 dpi.

I’ve not ordered prints from Willow, but unlike most other labs they still do wet-process printing on light-sensitive photo paper. A full set of prints costs just a buck when you order developing and scanning too.

Willow changed hands in early 2018; the whole lab packed up and moved from Missouri. The new owner has maintained the same level of quality and service. They’re not the fastest lab, probably because they’re so small, but their prices make up for it for me. When you email them with questions, the owner responds promptly.

The Darkroom

The Darkroom, of San Clemente, CA, is the SEO king of by-mail labs. Google “film processing” and see where they show up! They process, scan, and print 35mm, 120, 126, 110, APS, single-use cameras, and 4×5, 5×7, and 8×10 sheet film. They handle color and b/w negative and color slide films.

The Darkroom offers online ordering and payment at thedarkroom.com. Processing, standard scans, the scan CD, and shipping both ways for a roll of 35mm color film costs about $17. Prices for other formats are similar. Scans come with every order, via both emailed download link and CD.

The Darkroom’s standard scans are puny, 1536×1024 pixels at 72 dpi. Other labs offer larger scans for about the same price. You can order larger scans, 3072×2048 and a giant 6774×4492 pixels, for an extra $4 or $9 per roll, respectively. I’ve never ordered prints from The Darkroom.

Scans are usually ready about 7 days after I drop the film into the mail. It takes up to a week longer for my negatives and the CD to arrive, but I expect that they’d arrive faster if I lived out west. I’ve never needed to contact The Darkroom for customer service.

Fulltone Photo

Fulltone Photo, of La Grange, KY, gets some of my business too. Their Web site is fulltonephoto.com. They process, scan, and print 35mm, 120, 126, and 110 film. They handle color and black-and-white negative and color slide films.

You print and fill out their order form and include it with your film. When they receive your film they email you for payment info.

Processing and standard scans $7 plus shipping; their site doesn’t list shipping costs. Medium format films cost an extra 50 cents; black-and-white films are a dollar more across the board. Slide film costs $14-17 to develop and scan. Shipping is discounted when your order costs more than $15.

Standard scans are especially small at 1818×1228 pixels at 72 dpi, which is good only for a 4×6 print. Fortunately, for an extra $5 you can get scans at 4535×3035 pixels at 72 dpi, which will print to near poster size. Last time I used them, a few years ago, they returned your scans only by mail on CD. I’ve never ordered prints from Fulltone.

Fulltone has always done good work for me. They’re the closest by-mail lab to my central-Indiana home, which cuts shipping time. Fulltone has a lovely Instagram feed here that I enjoy following.

Film Rescue International

Sometimes you’ll find some very old, very expired film in a camera. Any of the above labs will process it, but they might not get good images because old film deteriorates.

Send it straight to Film Rescue International, filmrescue.com. They process any film, no matter how old, and use creative darkroom and Photoshop techniques to coax the best possible images from it. They’re expensive, and they’re slow, but they do outstanding work.

I’ve used Film Rescue just once, for a roll of Verichrome Pan I found in a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye. That film had been in the camera for more than 40 years in unknown conditions, so I was afraid it might have deteriorated badly. They got good, high-contrast images from that film. They lacked “that Verichrome Pan look” but were crisp and clean.

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