Cameras, Photography

My first book! Exceptional Ordinary: Everyday Photography with the Pentax ME

Exceptional images can be made with even the most ordinary 35mm SLR. The Pentax ME certainly qualifies as ordinary, with its middling specifications and features. Yet I’ve done some of my best work with this camera and the great Pentax lenses that mount on it, and I want to share some of that work with you.

That’s why I’ve assembled 30 images I made with this camera, images I like best, into a book — Exceptional Ordinary: Everyday Photography with the Pentax ME.

BookPromo

It’s easy to forget that for most of photography’s history, a photograph was a physical, tangible object. Even now that film photography appears to be finding a new niche after years of decline, so many of us film photographers scan our negatives and work with the resulting digital images.

I wanted both to hold prints of my photographs in my hands and to share them with you. That’s why I collected them into a book. And in the book I described each photo with the same kind of words you’re used to finding here on my blog. Click here to see a preview. Click my book’s cover below to buy one (either paper or PDF) on Blurb.com.

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Cameras, Photography

Minolta Autopak 470

I admit I’m not a huge fan of 110 film and cameras. I haven’t been in 30 years, since my deep disappointment over the lo-fi images from my once-in-a-lifetime all-summer trip to Germany. I shot a $15 Keystone 110 camera with a plastic lens. It was all I could afford; paying for the trip had tapped us out. And then every image was grainy and soft. Bleagh. So today I won’t look at a 110 camera unless it offers something special. That’s why I’ve shot a 110 camera from Rollei and a 110 SLR from Minolta. And that’s why I shot this Minolta pocket 110 camera, the Autopak 470. I guess I want the format to prove its worthiness!

Minolta Autopak 470

The 1977-79 Autopak 470 was Minolta’s top-of-the-line pocket 110 camera. Only the 110 Zoom SLR sat higher in Minolta’s 110 hierarchy, but it wasn’t pocketable. The 470 featured a 26mm f/3.5 Rokkor lens, said to be of Tessar design, with a slide-out plastic close-up adapter. It focuses from 3 feet to infinity across four focus zones, selected with the red slider atop the camera; extend the close-up adapter and choose the 11-foot zone to focus down to 1.6 feet. The manual recommends taking most snapshots with the camera set to the 11-foot zone.

Minolta Autopak 470

Two SR44 batteries power the Autopak 470. To check the batteries, press the red button next to the strap lug. If a red light appears in the viewfinder, the batteries are good. When shooting, that red light means you need to turn on the attached flash. You’ll need a single AA battery to power that.

Minolta Autopak 470

The flash detaches, making the Autopak 470 even easier to pocket. I shot it this way except for one photograph I took just to test the flash.

My hat is off to the Lomography people, who started offering fresh, new 110 films a few years ago. Before these films, when a 110 camera fell into my hands I always bought expired film for them, and then could never be sure whether poor image quality was the camera or the film. Fresh Lomography film lets me remove one variable from the image-quality equation.

I bought a cartridge of Lomography’s ISO 200 Tiger color film and dropped it in. The Autopak 470 automatically adjusts for ISO 100 and 400 film, so I figured every shot would be a misexposed. Nope! Every shot was well exposed. Here’s my favorite shot. The candylike color is startlingly pleasing, and sharpness is pretty good given the graininess you can’t avoid with such tiny negatives.

GMC Truck

I shot a corner of my living room with the flash on. I’m not a big fan of built-in flashes because they tend to bluntly overlight things. But this flash lit evenly with little washout. Not bad. You’ll notice my screw-mount Pentax SLRs and my Yashica TLRs on the shelf.

In my living room

But pretty much every other shot reveals some challenge or limitation with the camera or the film. When I framed this photograph, I had positioned the open door much closer to the frame’s lower right. So clearly the lens sees a larger area than the viewfinder. This is a common challenge with viewfinder cameras, though. The shadow detail isn’t anything to write home about, either. There I go being too hard on old 110.

On Mass Ave

I framed this photo with a lot less street before the building, and a lot less dead space left of it. I remember being careful to frame this so I didn’t cut the top of the building off, either. It drives me crazy when a camera’s viewfinder isn’t reasonably true to what the lens sees.

Mass Ave

Sadly, a handful of photos had this speckling. The pattern varied from photo to photo. Was it a fault on the film? In the processing?

Galaxie

It’s too bad, because the speckling spoiled some otherwise delightful photos. I love the vintage feel of the colors on this photo. They remind me of a 1950s color slide.

Chevrolet

The Autopak 470 struggled mightily with the setting sun reflecting off this pale building. The original scan was heavily washed out. I darkened it as much as I dared in Photoshop, but so much detail is still lost. In real life, it’s very easy to read “Sears, Roebuck and Company” above the doors.

Sears

My biggest challenge with this camera, however, was focusing. I usually plain forgot to adjust focus for my subject, despite the in-viewfinder focus display. I guess I just want my point-and-shoot cameras not to make me think too much. In this photo, notice how soft “Stout’s” is, but how sharp “Oldest” is at the bottom of the image. But my lab (props to Old School Photo Lab!) sent me a few gratis prints, including one of this image. The prints show a tiny bit of softness, but it’s not terrible. The prints were fine, really. There I go, expecting too much of this format again.

Stout's

In 110’s heyday, who made enlargements anyway? This format was aggressively about easy snapshots. So let this Jeep be a little soft, too. It would look good enough on a print. I would be happy to get such cheerful colors in my prints.

Fuzzy Rubicon

See more photos from this camera in my Minolta Autopak 470 gallery.

I had fun shooting the Autopak 470. And I loved the color the Lomography Tiger film gave me; I’d shoot it again (and hope for no more speckling). But next time, I’d just leave this camera at its 11.5-foot focus setting and avoid close shots. That’s what 110 cameras were made for anyway.


Do you like old cameras? Then check out all my vintage gear reviews!

 

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Photography

Kodak Six-20 Brownie

Somebody gave me this box camera, a Kodak Six-20 Brownie with an Art-Deco-inspired faceplate, a few years ago. The timing was bad: I had just decided to swear off 620 film and cameras. I had neither the patience to spool 120 film onto 620 spools, nor the willingness to spend 12 bucks and up for pre-respooled film. But a couple months ago I discovered a pile of eBay Bucks near expiration. And then I found a roll of Verichrome Pan in 620, expired in 1982, that those Bucks paid for. Free film!! So I dug out this old box.

Kodak Six-20 Brownie

Kodak puked out box Brownies by the legion during the first half of the last century. This model was made from 1933 to 1941. Original price: $2.50. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that’s equivalent to $46 in 2016.

Kodak Six-20 Brownie

As box Brownies go, this one had some unusual features. Almost all the box cameras I’ve known come apart at the back for film loading and unloading. This one comes apart at the front. You pull out the winding knob, pull up on the knob that anchors the carry strap’s front end, and tug on the camera’s face.

The Six-20 Brownie has two apertures, controlled by the tab atop the faceplate. Down selects the larger aperture; use it for most shots. Up selects the smaller aperture; use it for extremely bright conditions such as beach or snow scenes. The camera also offers a single shutter speed plus timed exposures. The tab on the faceplate’s side controls it; pull it out for timed shots. I’m guessing that the shutter operates at somewhere between 1/30 and 1/60 sec., and the two apertures are something like f/8 and f/16.

And while the camera’s lens (a simple meniscus) is inside the box, an external lens focuses the camera for shots at beyond 10 feet. For shots from five to 10 feet, move the lever below the lens opening to move the external lens out of the way. Release the lever and the external lens springs back into place.

This camera was filthy when I got it, so I cleaned it up as best I could. The pitted faceplate was beyond help. The viewfinders had gone opaque with crud, so I dismantled them and cleaned them. One of the mirrors was loose, so I superglued it back into place. Then I spooled in the Verichrome Pan.

The best shot on the whole roll is of my sons. That kills me, because it’s long been my policy not to show photos of them here. I should write in detail about why someday; a couple of principles are involved. And it’s the only shot I took with the front lens moved out of the way. Darn.

But here’s the second best shot on the roll. I don’t know how this Verichrome Pan was stored, but it sure behaved like fresh film. This was the only shot affected by light leak. I wonder if it might have happened while I removed the film from the camera, as I fumbled it a bit and the end of the roll came a little loose for a half second. This was the last photo on the roll.

Mass Ave and a light leak

I don’t know why I persist in using box cameras to photograph distant subjects. They’re meant to take photos of Aunt Martha and the nephews at closer range. When I framed this, the main part of Leon’s filled the viewfinder. But I shot it from across the street. Oh, and by the way, I recently bought a suit from Leon’s. It was a great experience.

Leon's

I had the Brownie along one day when I took my son to dinner at an outdoor mall in Noblesville. Sharpness and contrast are pretty good here, despite a little haze in the sky around the tree branches.

Parked at the outdoor mall

A couple photos were pretty muddy. I worked them over pretty good in Photoshop to improve contrast. Here’s one of them, of the mural is on the back of the Indianapolis Public Schools administration building Downtown.

IPS mural

This was the muddiest photo of them all, of the three trees on the golf course behind my house. The front ash tree has been dead for at least a year; the bark is starting to fall off. Anyway, Photoshop restored reasonable contrast to this scene. At full scanned resolution, a little motion blur becomes apparent, convicting me of moving the camera slightly as I made this exposure. But at print size, you’d probably never notice it.

Golf course trees

To see more photos from this roll, check out my Kodak Six-20 Brownie gallery.

It’s charming to shoot with simple cameras like this Six-20 Brownie. Even when the results are so-so, it still always pleases me that I got images at all. It’s easy to forget that a light-tight box and the simplest of lenses — even a pinhole — will make an image. And these turned out pretty well. You’d never guess that I used film expired for more than 30 years.


Do you like old cameras? Then check out all my vintage gear reviews!

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