Our last stop on our Kentucky weekend was to Bernheim Forest. We wouldn’t have known about it had several locals not told us about it. One of them all but implored us to go, just to see the giants.
Danish artist Thomas Dambo likes to make big things out of wood. His signature work has become giants like these, which he’s built in forests around the world.
This is Little Nis, who is considering his reflection.
Danmbo built three giants at Bernheim, but spread them out in the forest so you’d have to hike a while to see them. This is Little Nis’s mother Mama Loumari, who’s expecting another baby giant.
Deep in the forest you finally find Little Elina, who’s playing marbles with boulders she found lying around. Dambo builds his giants out of local wood. Unsurprisingly, given that this is bourbon country, the Bernheim giants are made in part from barrel staves.
I photographed these giants with both my Canon PowerShot S80 and my Nikon FA and 35-70mm Zoom Nikkor on Agfa Vista 200. I found the giants challenging to photograph. I couldn’t find good compositions that fully communicated their size and charm, and the reflecting sun played havoc with even exposures. If I spent more time with the giants, however, I’m sure I’d start to feel at one with them and better photographic compositions would follow.
Bernheim Forest is a gem, and it’s a little south of Louisville just off I-65. We went straight home to Zionsville from here, and the trip took us just 2½ hours. You can visit for free on weekdays, and there’s an affordable charge to visit on the weekends.
I own more Nikon SLR bodies than I can possibly use, but each one of them offers its own wonderful characteristics. Also, many of them were gifts to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras, and remembering the gift-giver makes it hard to want to say to goodbye.
This Nikon FA is the body I received most recently, and I’d shot just one roll through it. I liked it for its compact size and excellent capability. Here’s a photo from that roll, which was Fomapan 200, through my 50mm f/1.8 Nikon Series E lens.
The FA is part of the FE/FM/FA family of semi-pro 35mm SLRs that Nikon introduced to replace its Nikkormat line. The FA was last to the party, introduced in 1983 as a technological tour-de-force. It is the world’s first camera with matrix metering, which Nikon called automatic multi-pattern (AMP) metering. I believe it is also the first Nikon SLR to offer programmed autoexposure, setting both aperture and shutter speed. It also offers aperture- and shutter-priority autoexposure and manual exposure.
The FA is also small and lightweight compared to Nikon’s flagship cameras like the F2 and F3. That makes it great for a long weekend of shooting, as when my wife and I recently visited bourbon country in Kentucky. I started with Arista EDU 200 on board, which is rebranded Fomapan 200.
My 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 AI-s Zoom Nikkor lens was mounted. Ken Rockwell calls this one of Nikon’s 10 worst lenses ever, but except for noticeable barrel distortion at the wide end I like it. I use it like three primes: 35mm, 50mm, and 70mm, all of which are marked on the barrel so I can dial them right in. For that convenience I’m happy to spend a little time correcting distortion in Photoshop. The photos above and below are from the Maker’s Mark Distillery near Loretto, KY.
I shot in program mode at first, but the in-viewfinder display kept telling me 1/250 sec. and I wondered whether something was amiss. I switched to aperture-priority mode after that. But every photo I made came back properly exposed. Perhaps the FA’s program mode just biases toward midrange shutter speeds. This photo is of the spring house at My Old Kentucky Home State Park in Bardstown.
I blew through the Arista EDU in a day and switched to Agfa Vista 200 for the rest of the trip. In challenging late-afternoon light the FA did a good job of exposing so the Talbott Inn in Bardstown wasn’t lost in the shadows. This tavern and hotel has been operating since 1779.
Bardstown is charming, especially for people like Margaret and me who like old houses. We walked around town a lot just photographing homes and buildings.
I have one peeve with the FA, and I became more and more annoyed with it as the weekend rolled on. To meter, you have to pull the winding lever out to its first stop. With the camera at my eye, that lever poked right into my forehead. I wished for a different way to activate the meter. Also, my FA has a strange fault: the mechanism that prevents you from winding past an unexposed frame is broken. Otherwise, the FA performed well. Its size, weight, and feature set make it a great everyday manual-focus SLR.
The 35-70 zoom also includes a macro mode. What a versatile lens this is.
It’s taken me most of the last 10+ years of collecting and using old cameras to internalize that the lens is the critical component of any camera. But I do believe the FA’s matrix metering made a real difference in mixed and challenging light. My beloved Pentax ME would likely not have done as nuanced a job exposing this mid-evening light.
We drove out to Bernheim Forest on our trip to see the giants, these wooden sculptures just completed by artist Thomas Dambo. I’m sure I’ll do a whole post about them soon. Light reflecting off the smooth wooden surfaces made for a challenging exposure situation, with lots of bright and dark areas. I had to tone down highlights in Photoshop.
The FA’s 1/4000 sec. top shutter speed lets me blur the background in dimmer light, compared to my 1/1000 sec. Pentax ME.
Let’s take an inventory of my manual-focus Nikon SLR bodies.
I’m not getting rid of my two Nikon F2s or my Nikon F3, no sir, nuh uh. I own two Nikkormats, an FTn that’s big and heavy like the F2, and an EL which is smaller and lighter like this FA. I also own an N2000.
The Nikkormats will have their turns in Operation Thin the Herd soon. But I don’t see me keeping either of them over my F2s and F3.
When the N2000 had its turn in Operation Thin the Herd (here) I decided to keep it. I travel with it, as if it is damaged, lost, or stolen, replacements can be had for as little as $20. And I just plain like it.
A working FA costs at least $100, but it’s a far more capable and sensitive performer than the N2000.
On this Kentucky trip either camera would have been fine, though the FA nailed exposure in some of these shots where the N2000 would probably have only done okay.
It comes down to this: The Nikon FA’s wind lever pokes me in the forehead. It’s really annoying.
Autumn at Lilly Lake Canon Canonet QL17 G-III Agfa Vista 200 2018
This photo was featured in Flickr Explore on November 19. It’s always fun to see all the likes and comments when one of my photos makes Explore.
I wonder how many Flickr viewers had any idea that I was shooting film? To know, they’d only have to click through to my image’s page and read the description.
Can an experienced eye guess that this is a film photograph? To me, the sky is the tell. It has a nuance to it that digital cameras seem unable to capture. They tend to render skies almost too perfectly, with wispy clouds against a sea of perfect azure.
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While I was looking for work I had a lot of coffee, lunch, and drinks appointments with people in my industry, as I tried to find opportunity. Even though this exhausts me — I am a pegging-the-meter introvert — I really love catching up with colleagues and getting to know people in my industry whom I hadn’t met yet. My appointments had me driving all over Indianapolis and its north suburbs, and I always brought a camera along. One of those cameras was my Canonet QL17 G-III. Agfa Vista 200 was inside.
I met the VP of Engineering of a well-known local startup one morning near his South Meridian Street office Downtown. This little sliver of Indianapolis’s main street has been isolated from the rest of Meridian Street thanks to resolving an awkward fork with another major street. It has allowed two blocks of charming old houses to remain.
Here’s where northbound Meridian Street ends, with its view of the Indianapolis skyline. The building at the photo’s center is Salesforce Tower, housing the largest employer of software people in Indiana. It was built in 1990 as Bank One Tower.
A little park stands where Meridian Street used to. After you cross through it you reach the Slippery Noodle Inn, Indiana’s oldest bar. This is its south wall.
Here’s a quick look down an alley, toward the old Union Station. A whole bunch of tracks run through Downtown, elevated since before anybody can remember.
Bird and Lime electric scooters litter Downtown’s streets. I rode one once. It was kind of fun, but not worth what it cost.
I strolled looking for interesting scenes to photograph. I forget where this scene is exactly, but it’s within a couple blocks of those scooters.
Same with this festive scene devoid of customers on this chilly, gray morning.
I know exactly where this restaurant is, however: on Meridian Street just north of the tracks. My wife and I come here from time to time, as we like fresh Guinness, Irish whiskey, shepherd’s pie, and fish and chips.
I made a point of walking the few blocks over to St. John the Evangelist Church to photograph this great door. Then I walked back to my car and drove to my next appointment.
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When I started collecting cameras again in 2006 I decided to specialize in fixed-lens rangefinders. I expected that in time I’d own one example of each of Canon’s extensive Canonet line, with the Canonet QL17 G-III as their centerpiece. I soon found a good deal on this one.
My Canonet had its faults. Leading the way was a wicked light leak from degraded seals, an common affliction with this camera. The shot below of my departed friend Gracie (on Fujicolor 200) shows my Canonet’s light leak in full bloom. After this I sealed the camera’s seams with electrical tape after loading film. Also, lower shutter speeds were suspect, the meter was probably a little off, and the ISO selector was stiff. Yet my Canonet always returned good images.
I adored this camera for several years. It easy to carry compared to the much larger and heavier fixed-lens rangefinders I had been buying and the controls all fell right to hand. I loved the sharp, detailed images the lens projected onto any film I threw at it. Here I used Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros.
I suspected I was going to want to keep this camera as part of Operation Thin the Herd, but not in its sickly condition. So I sent it out for CLA, and then put two rolls of Agfa Vista 200 through it. Wow, what a CLA will do for how a camera feels in your hands. Every control worked as smoothly as the factory originally intended.
The fellow who did the CLA sent it back to me with a zinc-air 675 battery inside. It powered the meter accurately. But this Canonet was designed for 625 mercury batteries, which have a different form factor. Alkaline 625 cells share that form factor, but because they don’t deliver a consistent voltage across their lives they can lead to misexposure. The films I typically shoot have enough latitude that it doesn’t matter, and the alkaline 625s last a long time. The zinc-air 675s die after a few months.
I pulled the 675 out and inserted a fresh alkaline 625 cell — and it didn’t work. I tried another, and it didn’t work either. Puzzled, I contacted the CLA guy, who apologized and said he’d fix the issue if I shipped it to him, but suggested I just use the 675 cells for their always-accurate voltage. I decided it wasn’t worth the cost and hassle to mail the camera back for adjustment. So I just got to shooting.
I didn’t stick with rangefinders. One person gifted me a Minolta X-700 and someone else an Olympus OM-1, and I fell in love with the 35mm SLR. That’s where my collection has gone, and as a result I haven’t shot this Canonet in six years.
It’s a shame, really. There’s still a place in my shrinking collection for a couple good rangefinder cameras. I love my Yashica Lynx 14e for its sublime lens, and my Konica Auto S2 just feels great in my hands. But this Canonet is smaller and lighter than both of them and delivers quality results through its 40mm f/1.7 lens.
Many other fixed-lens rangefinder cameras have passed through my hands, and this little Canonet is the best user of them all. It’s a good size even for my largish hands. The little lever on the focusing ring is right where my finger expects it to be, and it glides precisely. Slung over my shoulder I hardly notice it’s there. I’m more likely to grab it for an impromptu photo walk than any other rangefinder I’ve ever owned.
For this camera’s turn in Operation Thin the Herd I took it on several impromptu photo walks: downtown Zionsville, Lilly Lake at Indianapolis’s Eagle Creek Park, Coxhall Gardens in Carmel, and on a rainy day to the hip intersection of 49th St. and Pennsylvania Ave. in Indianapolis. It was a fine companion on them all. I only wish that the rangefinder patch were brighter. In dimmer light I struggled to see the split image within it. Maybe that’s just middle-aged eyes.
In the decade since I bought this Canonet I’ve been blessed to use some truly outstanding gear. I have a lot more experience now against which to compare this camera. It’s a nice camera. It feels good to use. It gives fine images. But I don’t experience it as great in any of these measures. For most everyday photography I’m going to reach for something like my Pentax ME anyway, mount one of the many excellent lenses I have for it, and get results no less than equal to these.
There’s nothing about this Canonet that makes it my best choice for a particular situation. In contrast, my cumbersome Yashica Lynx 14e has a killer use: its giant f/1.4 lens returns brilliant photographs indoors on black-and-white film. I can imagine future scenarios where I’ll be glad to have that camera in my arsenal. Not so this Canonet.
Given this Canonet’s cult status, I feel like I should keep it in my collection. When I put film into it I really thought I’d fall in love all over again. I managed, disappointingly, to fall only in like.
I’ve waffled for weeks about this camera’s fate. I’ve rewritten the end of this post four times, flip-flopping between Keep and Goodbye all the way. What I finally decided is that because I’ve become an SLR guy, any non-SLR has to blow my socks off in some way to stay in the collection. This Canonet just didn’t do that.
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You might call the Pentax H3 a basic SLR, stripped of anything not strictly needed to make a photograph. But upon its 1960 introduction it was the state of the SLR art, about as good as you could get.
I bought mine for a song at a used camera shop. It’s nearly in mint condition. For its first outing I screwed on my 55mm f/2 Super Takumar lens, loaded some Kodak Gold 200, and took it on a road trip.
For this outing I mounted my 55mm f/1.8 SMC Takumar lens and shot Agfa Vista 200. I feel fortunate that this camera functions so well and looks so new even though it is nearly 60 years old. All of the controls operate smoothly and surely.
The only bummer was having to meter separately. This is a fully mechanical camera with no onboard light meter. The metering app on my iPhone works great. But using an SLR requires two hands, and so on every shot I had to haul the phone out, meter, put the phone away, and then set exposure on the camera. I could have made these photos with my match-needle-metered Spotmatic F in a fraction of the time.
I did shoot some of the roll in full sun at f/16 and 1/250 sec. — good old Sunny 16. But in other conditions I’m not confident enough of my ability to read light not to use a meter.
For years I’ve wanted to learn how to accurately guess exposure based on my reading of the light. But I’ve wanted to do it in the same way I’ve always wanted to learn to play piano — without all that boring practicing. As I walked about with the H3 I thought that maybe this is the right camera for learning that skill. But I can use any of my metered but otherwise mechanical SLR bodies, like my Spotmatic F or even my Nikon F2, for that. I just need to leave the battery out.
But this H3 is such a jewel. It and that SMC Takumar lent real dignity and grace to the mundane subjects I chose.
I’ve now come to the cameras where it’s harder to decide whether to keep them. This H3 is just wonderful to use, despite lacking a meter. It feels good in the hand, and all of its controls operate with smooth precision. But my Spotmatic F meets my screw-mount needs completely. When I want to use one of my Takumar lenses, I know I will reach for the SPF 99 times for every one time I would reach for this H3.