Your table awaits Pentax Spotmatic F 55mm f/1.8 SMC Takumar Ferrania P30 Alpha Rodinal 1+50 2020
The last two years for my birthday I had everyone in the family who could make it meet at Muldoon’s, an Irish pub in Carmel. The first year it was nice enough outside to sit here, on the patio. They make outstanding nachos. I know, nachos at an Irish pub. They call it Irish pizza. It’s loaded with crumbled sausage — unique and delicious. The cheese is top quality. It’s a giant calorie bomb but it’s soooo goooood.
Who knows where we’ll be in the coronapocalypse on my birthday this year, but I’m not feeling great about returning to Muldoon’s for a third year. I haven’t figured out yet what my birthday celebration will look like, or whether I’ll be able to see any of our children that don’t live with us.
Later, some remorse crept in. Then a reader offered to send me a Retina IIa he’d come upon but did not need. Oooh yeah baby. Here it is.
My first Retina IIa was an early one, because it had a Compur Rapid shutter. Those were made only in the first three months of this camera’s run, starting in 1951. This one has the more common Synchro Compur shutter of later IIas. Kodak stopped making the Retina IIa in 1954. The serial number on this one identifies it as from late in the run, April, 1954. Even though its focusing scale is in feet, the serial number doesn’t identify it as a US export camera. It was probably sold in a military PX overseas.
This one got some heavy use. Some of the exposed metal on the body is a little chewed up. The winder feels like grinding sand, and at the end of the throw you have to push it a little extra to fully wind and cock the shutter. The focusing ring is stiff, and there’s a spot where it catches and you have to push a little harder to get it through. The rangefinder patch is dim. A good CLA should restore it to full functioning, but some of the cosmetic damage is probably permanent.
This IIa comes with the 50mm f/2 Schneider-Kreuznach Retina-Xenon lens. I hear you could get a IIa with a 50mm f/2 Rodenstock Retina-Heligon lens, but I’ve never seen one. The lens stops down to f/16. The Synchro-Compur shutter operates from 1 to 1/500 second. I do like shutters with 1/500 because then I can shoot ISO 400 films in them more easily.
The raised button on the bottom plate opens the camera. To close it, first focus the lens to infinity — the camera won’t close unless you do this. Then press in the chrome and black buttons on the top and bottom of the lens board, and push the cover closed.
When you load film, twist the knurled ring atop the winding lever to set the film counter to the number of exposures on your roll. If you forget, and the counter reaches zero before you’ve finished the roll, the shutter won’t fire. If that happens to you, just twist the ring to a nonzero number and keep going.
If you like Kodak Retinas, by the way, I’ve reviewed a bunch of ’em: the Retina Ia (here), the Retinette IA (here), the Retina IIc (here), the Retinette II (here), the Retina Automatic III (here), and the Retina Reflex IV (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.
I was delighted to get this camera. But when I pushed a roll of Fujicolor 200 through it, I didn’t fall in love. I know what a joy a well-functioning Retina is to use, and this IIa’s balky winder and sticky focusing ring held the joy at bay.
I took this Retina IIa to Carmel, a northern suburb of Indianapolis, on a day off from work two weeks before the coronavirus confined us all to our homes. Statues like these are all over Carmel’s downtown — and they’re just weird. This is the least weird one. It made my favorite photo on the roll.
Later, the images came back from the processor — and each one was thick with fog and haze. I hung my head. I know that when I get an old fixed-lens camera of unknown provenance, I need to inspect the lens before putting film into it. Half the time the lens is dirty. A quick swab with isopropyl alcohol clears everything up and I avoid hazy photos. I know this. I KNOW THIS. Yet I fail to do it nearly every time, and half the time I get haze.
Thankfully, Photoshop made most of the images useful. It cleaned up this photo of Bub’s perfectly. If you’re ever in Carmel, do get a cheeseburger at Bub’s. They’re mighty good. There’s a Bub’s in Zionsville, where I live, too.
Many of the photos still show some residual haze. Oh well. I’ve done the best I can with them.
I remember shooting my first Retina, a Ia, in 2008. I really stumbled and bumbled my way through those first couple of rolls. I’ve gained a lot of experience with old gear since then. It’s nice to be able to pick up a camera like this now and be able to just get to work with it. I metered with an app on my iPhone. I shot the whole roll at 1/250 or 1/500 sec. because you never know about an old shutter’s slower speeds.
I made a day out of shooting this Retina IIa (and a Pentax Spotmatic F I also had along). I had lunch at an Irish pub on Main Street and then drove over to Broad Ripple in Indianapolis for more shooting.
By this time I was used to this particular Retina’s quirks and shot it fluidly. Even a battle-weary Retina can be a pleasant enough companion.
I revisited subjects I’ve shot many times, including the Monon bridge and this periwinkle storefront. There’s something comforting about returning to familiar subjects.
I finished the roll in my neighborhood.
This was the only (partly) sunny moment any of the times I had the Retina on my hands. I love how the fence fades off into the distance.
It’s been a long time since I used a Retina IIa, and I forgot the one thing about the camera I dislike: rewinding. The knob is short and hard to grasp, and the accessory shoe gets in the way as you twist it. Rewinding is a long session of short twists. You also have to press and hold the recessed button on the bottom plate the whole time. Yecch.
I’m likely to pass this Retina IIa along to a collector who will give it the tender loving care it deserves. I don’t know that I’m the man for the job.
I’m starting to develop 35mm black-and-white film now. It was my goal all along — I started with 120 because it let me shoot a roll fast so I could get to the developing. I shoot way more 35mm than 120 normally.
Last week I shared a roll of Arista EDU 200 I shot, developed, and scanned. I thought surely it and my whole box of to-shoot film was damaged by a space heater I kept too close by. But a commenter said “hey, maybe your Rodinal has gone weak.” I did open a new bottle of Rodinal to process some Eastman Double-X 5222 and, spoiler alert, it turned out perfect. So it was the Rodinal. Maybe I didn’t get the cap on right last time, and for the little bit left in the bottle the air scotched it.
I didn’t get that comment before I used that potentially compromised bottle of Rodinal to process this P30. Several photos turned out reasonably well. They might have looked better in fresh Rodinal. But they show P30’s signature characteristics: nearly undetectable grain, rich blacks, strong contrast, and a reasonable tonal range.
I shot this roll in my Pentax Spotmatic F with the 55mm f/1.8 SMC Takumar lens attached. I developed it in Rodinal 1+50 at 21° C for 12 minutes, 40 seconds. Ferrania advises 20° C for 14 minutes, but the ambient temperature led to 21° developer and I had to adjust development time. I used the Massive Dev Chart’s converter. The first two shots are from downtown Carmel, and the next four are from Broad Ripple.
Some photos didn’t fare as well. Anything with significant amounts of sky in it suffered. I shot all of these around Broad Ripple.
Interestingly, the film closest to the outside of the roll fared the worst. This is one of the first photos I made on this roll. It still shows P30’s signature rich blacks, despite being so mottled overall.
One last photo, just because I like it. That’s my wedding ring on the ring holder thing we keep near the kitchen sink. It’s Belleek pottery; we bought it at the Belleek factory in Northern Ireland when we visited a few years ago.
I have one last roll of P30 Alpha, which I just retrieved from my freezer. I’ll shoot it soon and I expect far better results from it, developed with fresh Rodinal 1+50.
Carmel Arts and Design District Nikon F2, 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor Agfa APX 100 (expired 7/1998) 2018
I don’t remember downtown Carmel, Indiana, before it was built up. I guess it wasn’t much, just a handful of old buildings. I don’t know; I never spent any time here.
Which, I suppose, is why the city built up its downtown. It’s now full of restaurants, shops, and galleries. My wife and I come here from our Zionsville home several times a year, sometimes just to have a pint of Guinness at Muldoon’s, but just as often to attend one of the many events here. They have an annual car show I really like.
Calling it the “Arts and Design District” feels like a ridiculous affectation, a name affixed in hopes it would one day come true. But as small-city downtowns go, it’s pretty nice.
Olympus’s Stylus line is well known to deliver the goods, with fine lenses and easy pocketability. The granddaddy of all Styluses is this, the ∞ Stylus (aka the μ[mju]: in markets outside North America).
I’ve put a lot of film through this little camera. Here’s one of my favorite shots from it ever, on expired Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400.
I hadn’t shot black and white in my Stylus in a while, so I spooled in a roll of Kodak Tri-X 400 and slipped it into my winter-coat pocket. It went everywhere with me for a couple weeks.
That’s the beauty of a camera that’s about the size of a bar of soap — it’s so portable. Anywhere I happened to be, I could quickly photograph anything I thought was interesting.
All was not skittles and beer with my Stylus. Several shots were marred by a little leaked light, a problem this camera has previously not had.
I like to focus close sometimes, but the Stylus doesn’t. I suppose someday I should read the manual and find out its closest focus distance. This subject isn’t exactly easy for autofocus to figure out, either. What was I thinking?
And then there’s the infernal flash. Every time you turn the Stylus on (by sliding the cover out of the way) it goes into the mode where the camera decides whether the flash should fire or not. You can override it, but it’s so easy to forget to. I get at least one shot on every roll with flash reflecting harshly in something. Here I shot the sun poking through the trees and reflecting onto the creek, first with flash, and after I dropped an s-bomb, without. The effect turned out to be negligible.
Its meter struggles with high-contrast scenes. I shouldn’t be surprised; it probably meters near the center, which isn’t going to result in nuanced work. Nothing a little Photoshop can’t rescue, though, as here.
Finally, it requires films that are DX coded, and you can’t manually override the ISO. I like to shoot color-negative film a stop fast sometimes, and you can’t do it with the Stylus.
But when the Stylus hit, it hit big. Look at the great tonality and contrast it delivered.
Its 35mm lens grabs lots of the scene, which I like for general walking-around photography.
I want to own a solid, extra-compact point-and-shoot 35mm camera. Ideally I’d keep film in it all the time and always carry it in my coat pocket. The Stylus’s feature list ticks every box for me, and it has loved every film I’ve ever thrown at it. It’s a brilliant little camera.
I know I sometimes ask too much of it, which leads to most of my wasted shots. But I do have a legitimate gripe with its automatic flash. I almost never use flash and want a way to leave it off by default. Every time I use this camera I waste shots thanks to that infernal flash.
Perhaps I haven’t found my perfect point and shoot yet. Or maybe I have: my zone-focus Olympus XA2 is no bigger, can be used like a point and shoot under most circumstances just by leaving it in the middle focus zone, and lacks any frustrating behaviors. Perhaps it should be my carry-everywhere camera.
This has been another tough-call camera, where I’ve waffled for weeks about whether to keep it. The sheer number of rolls of film I’ve put through it says I like it a lot. Despite its troubling light leak, I’m going to hold onto it for now. Its fate will be sealed only when I finally decide on a carry-everywhere camera. I look forward to trying more of them on the road to deciding.
I took my Pentax K10D on a photowalk through the old neighborhoods in downtown Carmel, Indiana, recently. I was getting to know the 18-55mm lens I bought for it before I took the kit on a road trip. Carmel is no Madison, the location of my last Thursday Doors post. But it still has its considerable charms.
The kit worked all right in my hands, but when I got home I had to warm up and increase exposure on every last photograph in Photoshop. It didn’t take very long but they’re steps I still wasn’t looking to have to take. I may explicitly set white balance for the conditions next time rather than letting the camera guess for me. Also, this part of the day was overcast; some photos I took later in the sun didn’t need any exposure help. So maybe on a gray day I need to overexpose in camera by 1/3 or 1/2 stop.
Old Town, as they call it, is a mix of architectural styles from the late 1800s to the present. That’s reflected in my photographs. Herewith Carmel’s doors.