Collecting Cameras, Film Photography

Nikon FA and 35-105mm f/3.5-4.5 Zoom Nikkor

I love a bargain. I especially love a bargain on a fully working Nikon SLR kit. $30 netted me this Nikon FA and attached 35-105mm f/3.5-4.5 Zoom Nikkor lens, with an MD15 Motor Drive (not pictured).

Nikon FA with 35-70 Zoom Nikkor

This is the second Nikon FA to have fallen into my hands; read my review of the first one here. I had no sooner parted with that one in Operation Thin the Herd when I came upon this one. This one looks well used, but on quick inspection it seemed to function fine.

I’ve got a backlog of cameras I haven’t tried yet and so it took me several months to finally shoot this one. I loaded some Agfa Vista 200 and took it around Downtown.

Pacers Bikeshare

My previous FA was in superior cosmetic and operating condition with one exception: its winder didn’t lock after winding one frame. You could wind all the way through the roll without ever shooting a frame. This FA has dings and brassy spots, and the viewfinder/mirror are speckled with black marks. But its winder works properly.

Looking up at the Salesforce building

On a chilly day where temps were only a little above freezing, the shutter suddenly failed to fire and the winder became stuck. I was 20 frames into a 24-exposure roll — close enough to done for me — so I rewound the film and had it processed. I put the FA on the shelf for a while until I had time to investigate.

Toward the Statehouse

Even though old cameras often don’t like cold weather, I suspected battery failure. I tend to trade batteries from camera to camera, and who knows when the ones I put into this FA were fresh. So I put fresh batteries in. Still locked. I then tried putting the camera in manual mode and setting the shutter to its one mechanical speed, M250. That did it — the shutter fired and the camera wound, and when I put it back in program mode everything worked properly. I probably should have tried M250 on the street when the camera seized. If I shoot it again, I’ll know better.

Bank of Indianapolis

I passed my previous FA on to another collector because every time I used it, the wind lever poked me in the forehead. I didn’t like that. Typical of Nikon SLRs, you activate the meter by pulling the wind lever out. But on this FA, it never poked me in the head. I do not understand; these are identical cameras. Now I doubt my previous impressions.

Driveway Entrance

Do you see the dark streak in the photo below, down the middle near the monument? I’m not sure what caused that but fortunately only this image turned out this way. Another image had a foggy streak in it that I can’t account for. I think I need to put another roll through this FA to be sure of it.

The top of the monument

If it turns out this body is faulty, at least I got this nice 35-105mm lens for my money. It’s built well and operates smoothly. These colors seem muted to me, however, more muted than I get from a 35-70 Zoom Nikkor I own. However, this film expired two years ago, I haven’t always stored it cold, and it may be starting to degrade.

Coffee cup handle

The lens has a macro mode, so I made a couple shots with it. Above is my coffee cup on my desk at work. I’ve had that cup since 1987; a potter in my hometown made it by hand. Below are some flowers growing in the bed in front of Christ Church Cathedral on the Circle.

Red flowers

Just because, here’s Christ Church Cathedral.

Christ Church

I slightly prefer twist-to-zoom lenses over push/pull-to-zoom lenses like this one, but I this one worked well in my hands. I also detected very little barrel distortion at the wide end, which is the usual zoom-lens bugaboo. My 35-70 Zoom Nikkor has wicked barrel distortion at 35mm.

Federal Courthouse

I had a nice time shooting this Nikon FA. I’ll put another roll into it as soon as I can manage — I want to shoot the cameras in my to-shoot queue first. If the body truly does have issues I probably won’t repair it. I’ll pass the body on to someone who will give it the proper love, and I’ll turn to one of my other wonderful Nikon SLR bodies to get my Nikon fix.

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Road Trips

The Michigan City Uptown Arts District

In the heart of downtown Michigan City, at the end of the Michigan Road — or the beginning, depending on your perspective — you’ll find the Michigan City Uptown Arts District.

Michigan City Uptown Arts District. Map data © 2019 Google.

When I surveyed the Michigan Road in 2008, this was some mighty depressed real estate. But in 2010 the Uptown Arts District was formed, and a slow transformation began. The transformation remains underway today, but “there’s a there there,” as we say in the road-tripping business. You can spend a pleasant day here popping in and out of the boutique shops and galleries, and enjoying a meal and a pint at one of the several restaurants.

Margaret and I did this on the day before Thanksgiving, a blustery and gray day. There wasn’t much action on this midweek day-before-a-holiday, but we were pleased to find many shops and pubs open.

Michigan City Uptown Arts District

We spent most of our time on the Uptown Arts District’s main drag, Franklin Street. It’s a downtown strip typical of Indiana, with plenty of old buildings in a row.

Michigan City Uptown Arts District

Several striking buildings line this strip, including this one, a former Eagles lodge. I’d sure like to know the story of that crazy roof!

Michigan City Uptown Arts District

Lots of public art lines Franklin Street. I liked this little scene on one of the street corners.

Michigan City Uptown Arts District

Given how close this is to Lake Michigan, this wavelike metal sculpture makes perfect sense.

Michigan City Uptown Arts District

We capped our Uptown Arts District stroll with a visit to an Irish pub, where we had a couple remarkably good pints of Guinness. From there we could see were within walking distance of a large outlet mall, so we went over and did a little early Christmas shopping. All in all, it was a lovely day. If you’d like to have a similarly lovely day, it awaits you at the end of the Michigan Road.

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Film Photography

Shooting Agfa APX 100, original emulsion

If you buy an Agfa film today, Agfa doesn’t make it. The company got out of the consumer market in 2004.

They licensed their brand to other manufacturers, which use some of the old Agfa film names even though the emulsions are different. It’s confusing. One such film is Agfa APX 100, a black-and-white negative film. Photographers who’ve shot both tend to agree: the new APX 100 is adequate, but the original Deutsche APX 100 was wonderful and special.

And so I was greatly pleased when three rolls of the original emulsion, expired in July of 1998 but always stored cold, were gifted to me. It didn’t take me long to drop a roll into my Pentax ME and take both on a walk in Downtown Indianapolis. That’s the Indiana Statehouse there at the end of Market Street. I made this photograph standing on the Soldiers and Sailors Monument at the city’s center.

Market St. toward the Statehouse

I confess that I’ve already shared the best photos from this day with you in a series of posts a couple weeks ago; see them here. But there was hardly a bad image on this roll. This film captured rich blacks without ever washing out whites. It absorbed strong reflected sunlight, returning good definition and detail.

At Court St.

My 50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax-M lens was attached as I walked around Monument Circle. Above is Meridian Street looking north towards the Circle; below is Circle Tower.

Circle Tower

I had an objective: to make my way over to Roberts Camera and buy a 35mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-A lens I knew they had in their used inventory. I mounted the lens to my camera before I exited the building. One of the first shots I made was of Leon’s, a tailor shop just down the street from Roberts. Leon’s made the suit I got married in.

Leon's

I walked away from Roberts and Leon’s down St. Clair Street enjoying my new lens’s wide view. Had I been three seconds faster, the walking fellow would have been in a much more interesting spot on the frame below.

Pennsylvania

Here’s the same building in the whole. Leon’s is behind it, and Roberts is barely in the photo behind Leon’s.

Brick building

Spinning around about 90 degrees I made this photo of Central Library, with my car in the foreground. The Scottish Rite Cathedral lurks at left. One day I’ll make a subject of that stunning building.

Library

Central Library is at the north end of the American Legion Mall; the Indiana War Memorial stands at it south end. I scaled its steps to make some photos, including this one of the Minton-Capehart Federal Building. The flag is at half staff because on the day I made these photos, a Boone County deputy killed while on duty was laid to rest. That’s the county to the northwest of Indianapolis.

From the Indiana War Memorial

From the War Memorial, here’s the view of the American Legion Mall, with Central Library at its other end.

From the Indiana War Memorial

I adore the War Memorial as a place to make photographs. I’ve been here many times and always seem to find something new to see.

Indiana War Memorial

Growing tired, I made my way home. I stopped in the neighborhood at 56th and Illinois Streets to finish the roll.

Restaurant

I love the surrounding neighborhood. Margaret and I wouldn’t mind living there. But the homes sell fast, which has driven prices high. We could probably afford the payment, but at our age we’d be making it until we are 80. It makes us sad, but we have to say no thanks.

Illinois St.

And oh, look, I’ve told you more about my walk than I did about Agfa APX 100. It’s because I have no criticism to offer. Letting the Pentax ME control every exposure on this bright, sunny day, APX 100 managed the light that fell onto it with great balance between shadows and highlights. APX 100 is a lovely black-and-white film and it’s a shame it is no longer being made.

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Cheveux

Cheveux
Yashica Electro 35 GSN
Kodak Tri-X 400
2018

I’ve been applying what I learned from Berenice Abbott’s New York photography (which I wrote about here). This shot shows it, a little: you can see some of Zionsville Village’s context even though I focused on this store’s entryway as my subject.

It’s great fun to try to recreate some of what I see in other photographers’ works, and then see what I think and feel about the results. What I think about this particular photo is that I didn’t get enough intersecting planes in it to add interest.

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Film Photography

single frame: Cheveux

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Photography

Photographs of things that aren’t there anymore

What have you photographed that has since changed dramatically, or isn’t even there anymore?

I’ve been walking or driving around with my camera for long enough now that I’m starting to build quite a collection of photos of scenes that look very different today.

The Elbow Room pub was nearly an Indianapolis institution, having been in operation since 1933 — right at the end of Prohibition. It abruptly closed for good a couple weeks ago.

Elbow Room

These neon signs came down immediately.

Elbow Room

This was one of my favorite downtown pubs. I first visited it when I still lived in Terre Haute and had business in Indy. When I worked downtown in the late 1990s I used to walk over here for lunch all the time. After my brother moved here, this was the first bar we visited together. In the past couple years, Margaret and I have stopped here several times, usually at the end of a downtown photo walk. She really liked a lemony martini they made. I have always loved their cheeseburgers.

The Elbow Room (rear)

The Elbow Room occupied the ground floor of a wedge-shaped building at the corner of Pennsylvania Ave. and Ft. Wayne St. on the north edge of downtown. I’ve sat at a table in that window many times, most recently just a few months ago.

The Elbow Room

An unexpected benefit of buying and testing film cameras over the years is that I walk and drive around with them and photograph stuff. I’m not necessarily trying to make art, but am rather just capturing anything I find interesting in the moment to see how the camera works and what quality of images it can make.

I made these shots with a Nikon F3HP and 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor on Fomapan 200, and a Minolta Maxxum 7000 and 50mm f/1.7 Maxxum AF on Fujicolor 200. They’re not great art; heck, that first color shot turned out pretty underexposed and muddy thanks to a fault in the camera.

But I have them. The Elbow Room’s existence is proved, though evidence is starting to be erased. Soon this will be some other business and anyone who moved here since might never even know about The Elbow Room.

In 2008, I took hundreds of photos as I surveyed the entire Michigan Road. In 2018, I hope to survey it again, end to end. I wonder what photographs I’ll take of things that have changed. Maybe I’ll do a series of then-and-now photos!

What photos lurk in your archive of scenes that are all different now?

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History, Preservation

Remembering South Bend’s River Bend Plaza

Last month my parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. My brother, my sons, and I drove to South Bend, our hometown, to celebrate. We chose downtown as our destination, where we enjoyed a first-rate dinner at a fine restaurant. Then we drove a few blocks west to take photographs on the steps of the church where they were wed. Finally, we drove to a cafe on Michigan Street, South Bend’s main street, where we had coffee and dessert. It was great to spend our evening in downtown South Bend.

Michigan Street has always been the heart of South Bend’s downtown. It was a major thoroughfare for more than 140 years. From the 1830s, it carried Indiana’s first highway, the historic Michigan Road. It later carried US 31, which you could drive north to the tip of Michigan and south to the Gulf of Mexico. This big road was important to South Bend’s economy, which was very prosperous for much of the 20th century thanks to manufacturing. Studebaker led the way, followed closely by Oliver, Singer, Bendix, and many other smaller companies.

Boom years bring big changes to any city. Check out how much downtown South Bend changed between about 1910 and about 1950 in these two postcards. Both show Michigan Street northbound from Jefferson Boulevard. I see just one building in the 1950 photo that looks like it was also there in 1910.

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Studebaker’s closing in 1963 was the beginning of the end of South Bend’s most prosperous years. Similar loss of manufacturing happened all over the country. Meanwhile, many residents were moving away from downtowns, and shopping and amenities followed them. South Bend’s first enclosed shopping mall, Scottsdale Mall, opened on the south edge of town in 1971. It was instantly enormously popular, and it hastened downtown’s decline. Something had to be done.

And so South Bend tried something that other cities were trying, too: turning downtown into an outdoor mall. First, US 31 was rebuilt one block to the east, bypassing five blocks of Michigan Street. Those five blocks were then permanently closed to vehicles. These photos from the Center for History show Michigan Street being torn up to make way for the new outdoor mall.

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It was called River Bend Plaza when it opened in about 1975. In its two central blocks, Michigan Street was replaced with a brick walkway dotted with trees and partially covered in freestanding pavilions. In the blocks immediately to the north and south, Michigan Street was resurfaced and painted in bright colors. In the northmost block, on which the grand Morris Civic Auditorium (the former Palace Theater) stood, Michigan Street became a small park. These photos show the transformation. The first three photos are from 1st Source Bank, which was then known as First Bank and Trust Co. (I got these photos from this page.) The last two photos, of the brightly painted street surface, are from the Center for History.

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It didn’t work. Downtown declined further. And nobody liked that River Bend Plaza removed so many nearby parking spaces, making it harder to reach the shops along Michigan Street. But River Bend Plaza wasn’t entirely to blame for its own failure. The die was cast: suburban living had taken hold, and suburbanites wanted shopping and amenities nearby.

South Bend finally threw in the towel on River Bend Plaza. In the early 1990s, the city tore it all out (save the little park in front of the Morris) and restored Michigan Street to vehicular traffic. Through traffic still follows the bypass, and you need to make a couple quick turns off that bypass to reach Michigan Street’s downtown span. These photos are from a visit I made in 2007.

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It was a good move – plenty of people make those turns. Michigan Street has regained its city feel and city experience, and I think people like it. It helps that in recent years there’s been a nationwide trend of renewed interest in city life, especially among people in their 20s.

That Friday night of my parents’ golden anniversary celebration, few parking spaces were available along Michigan Street. Our restaurant and the little cafe were both very busy. It’s much like this every time I visit downtown South Bend now. It’s a shadow of South Bend’s best years, but it’s a refreshing improvement over the dead downtown of 30 years ago.


Downtown South Bend once had many grand theaters. See them here.

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