Film Photography

Shooting the 35mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-A lens

Welcome to the 2,000th post at Down the Road! 🎉

35mm is such a useful focal length on a 35mm camera. It’s just right for the kind of work I do so often: walking around photographing the environment. It lets me get big things in the frame without having to back up as far as I need to with a 50mm lens, but is not so wide it can’t do credible close work.

For some time I’ve owned a 35mm lens for my Nikon cameras, and it was the perfect choice when I toured Ireland in 2016. But I shoot my Pentax cameras a little more often than my Nikons, and so I’ve been thinking for a long time about buying a 35mm K-mount lens. I’ve finally done it: the 35mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-A. It’s praised by the reviewers at Pentax Forums and by James Tocchio at Casual Photophile for its sharpness, handling, and build quality.

35-2.8

One recent Sunday afternoon I picked up my son at Purdue and we went for a drive. He brought his Pentax K1000 and I had my Pentax ME with this 35mm lens mounted. I was shooting Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 at EI 200. We stopped in Delphi, the seat of justice in Carroll County. Its downtown boasts the building at the center of this photograph: the recently restored Delphi Opera House.

Downtown Delphi

The photos above and below tell why I love the 35mm focal length for road-trip documentary photography. I got so much into the frame in the wide shot above, and to make the closer shot below I didn’t have to back up all the way into the street.

Opera House

The Wabash and Erie Canal passes through Delphi, and the town has made a lot out of it. If you’ve been reading this blog for a long time you might remember the Houck Iron Bridge, which once stood on a country road in Putnam County. It was dismantled, moved, and restored on this site over the canal in Delphi.

Gray Bridge

I can’t say I know the significance of this big old house, but here it stands on the canal. The 35mm lens captured it all with no drama.

House on the Canal

In focusing, this lens has a long travel from 1 foot to 15 feet, and then almost no travel from there to infinity. It makes the lens feel biased toward long shots. Indeed, given that my subjects this day were almost always beyond 15 feet, I barely touched the focusing ring. It made the camera almost point-and-shoot simple.

Scene

Our trip also took us through Battle Ground, where a memorial stands to the site of the Battle of Tippecanoe. We’d been here before, but eleven years prior when my sons were much smaller. It was nice to return and connect to a long ago family memory. I wished my younger son had been with us, as he was fascinated by this memorial and studied every plaque on it.

At the site of the Battle of Tippecanoe

This day I was taken by this gate and arch. The 35mm lens brought it into the frame with no drama.

At the site of the Battle of Tippecanoe

As I’m learning, context is important in documentary photography. It helps the viewer feel like they might recognize a photographed place should they ever come upon it. With the 35mm lens it was easy to bring gobs of context into this photograph, and even to use the surrounding trees to frame this little church.

At the site of the Battle of Tippecanoe

Then I was able to move in close to the church and compose this scene. I see scenes like this all the time when I have a camera in my hand, but at 50mm I usually struggle to capture what I see. At 35mm the scene fell right into the viewfinder.

At the site of the Battle of Tippecanoe

This 35mm f/2.8 lens could well be the one I just leave on my Pentax ME. It’s that versatile and useful for the kind of work I usually do.

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History, Preservation, Road Trips

Restored and repurposed: The Houck Iron Bridge

Putnam County, Indiana, is so rich in old bridges that when my friend Dawn and I set out to tour them four years ago, we couldn’t fit them all into a single day. Most of Putnam County’s old bridges were well used and needed a little maintenance. A few of them had fallen into such disrepair that they were closed to traffic. One of those was the Houck Iron Bridge.

The Houck Iron Bridge

This bridge may look like it was in the middle of nowhere. There’s a lot of middle-of-nowhere in Putnam County, which is mostly rural. But this bridge stood just three miles north of downtown Greencastle, the county’s largest town and home to DePauw University.

The Houck Iron Bridge

Built in 1913, the Houck Iron Bridge stood here for 99 years and carried traffic for most of them. But in 2012, it was dismantled. A new concrete slab bridge was built slightly downstream.

The Houck Iron Bridge

The pieces were trucked north to Delphi in Carroll County, where volunteers worked for two years to restore and reassemble this bridge over the Wabash and Erie Canal on Delphi’s extensive trail system. It opened in July, and so Dawn and I spent some of our annual road trip this year driving up there to visit it.

The Houck Iron Bridge

I can’t imagine all the straightening and sandblasting the job must have required. But the volunteers in Delphi are tenacious. They’ve built a very nice park along the canal, which is a few blocks north of downtown. You can rent a paddle boat and take a lazy trip along the canal, or rent a bicycle and ride the trail system, or bring a picnic and eat among a number of log cabins built nearby, or tour the museum and interpretive center.

The Houck Iron Bridge

But we were there to see the bridge, which was the sole focus of my photography.

The Houck Iron Bridge

Now that this bridge has found a new home, it has been renamed the Gray Bridge. Two other restored old truss spans have been placed along the trails surrounding Delphi, too: the Red Bridge and the Blue Bridge. You get one guess per bridge what color they are painted.

The Houck Iron Bridge

Walking across the new deck, I was surprised by how many boards were a little loose and how some of the boards weren’t flush. The decks on bridges I’ve seen restored for vehicular use are tight as a drum. Perhaps a pedestrian bridge has lesser requirements.

The Houck Iron Bridge

But otherwise the volunteers did a great job giving this bridge new life. Everything that used to be bent or twisted is now straight.

Normally I prefer historic structures to be restored in place. But I think in this case that this great old bridge will get much more use and enjoyment in its new home. Kudos to the volunteers in Delphi for making it happen.


I love truss bridges. They’re art in steel.

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