Film Photography

Operation Thin the Herd: Nikon Nikkormat EL

1971 Chevrolet

It was the last of the Nikkormats (or Nikomats, as they were called in Japan): the EL. It was also the first Nikon SLR with aperture-priority autoexposure. Nikon made them from 1972 to 1976. They’re well-built cameras that can take years, even decades, of heavy use.

Nikon Nikkormat EL

This one was a latecomer to my SLR party; by this time I’d settled on my favorites. While I liked this camera fine when I shot my test roll with it I kept reaching for my usual cameras after that. The test roll was Fujicolor 200, and my 55mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor lens was mounted. This photo from that roll is of two cars I used to own.

Looking Over my Car

This is a fine, capable camera. Perhaps that’s why I waited until near the end of Operation Thin the Herd to shoot it: I expected I’d like it and keep it. I plopped in some Fomapan 100, mounted my guilty-pleasure 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 Zoom Nikkor lens, and went to town.

McOuat

I also laid in a fresh battery, a stubby 4LR44. Thank heavens for Amazon, because you can’t get these batteries at the corner drugstore. The battery slips neatly in below the mirror inside the camera. Use the mirror lock-up button to get at it.

Founders Cemetery

Fomapan 100 is far from my favorite slower b/w film, but this roll had been moldering in my fridge for a long time and I decided to shoot it up. This is easily the best performance I’ve ever gotten from this classic film. Highlights are on the light side but at least they’re not blown out, which seems to be this film’s signature move.

Shelbyville on the Public Square

The EL’s tactile experience falls short of luxurious, but everything feels rock solid under use. If you send a Nikkormat EL out for CLA, it will outlast you. That’s what I need to do for this one. Every single frame on the roll showed shutter capping. I’ve just cropped it out of all the photos I’ve showed you before this one. Now you know why some of these photos are 16×9 rather than 4×3.

Capped!

The shame is, you don’t know a shutter is misbehaving like this until after you’ve shot the roll and had it processed. Unfortunately I shot two rolls of film in the Nikkormat before sending them off for processing. The second roll was Agfa Vista 200. Cropping saved many of this roll’s images, too.

Capped Soft Selfie

I brought the Nikkormat out for a day on the Michigan Road. This pizza joint is on the square in Greensburg.

Slices

Half the 35-70’s split prism focusing aid was black on this bright-sun day, a not uncommon problem with zoom lenses. I had to guess focus, and I frequently got it wrong. Between that and the shutter capping I got nine usable images on this roll, which I shot entirely on Greensburg’s square. Not a great day with the Nikkormat.

On the Square

You don’t expect to find a tiki bar in the heartland, but here one is nevertheless. It’s in what used to be Greensburg’s department store, Minear’s.

Tiki Bar

To see more from this camera, check out my Nikon Nikkormat EL gallery.

The Nikkormat EL is a competent and capable tool, its shutter issues notwithstanding. I didn’t dislike using it, but I wasn’t falling in love, either. Its size and weight is similar enough to my Nikon F2 or F3, which truly delight me to use, that I’ll probably always reach for those cameras first. I’m going to pass this Nikkormat along to its next owner.

Verdict: Goodbye

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The old barn in the city

The old barn in the city
Nikon F2AS, 35mm f/2.8 AI Nikkor
Foma Fomapan 100
2016

Every time I’ve used it, Fomapan 100 has been good enough as a general-purpose black-and-white film. On bright days I underexpose it a little to avoid blown highlights. But in even light, it really delivers.

I remember the farms of Pike Township in Indianapolis. Some of them, anyway; by the time I moved there in 1994 many farms had already given way to suburban subdivisions.

I used to go to church with a fellow who grew up near this old barn, and he spoke of being able to stand by this barn and see nothing but farmland for miles.

You’ll still find farmland here and there in Pike Township, if you know where to look. But from anywhere you might stand there, you’re far more likely to see rows of vinyl-sided homes or low light-industrial buildings today.

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Film Photography, Preservation

single frame: The old barn in the city

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Camera Reviews

Another Argus A2B

“Isn’t this roll of film done with yet?” I said aloud suddenly, to nobody. Oh good heavens, is it possible that I didn’t wind the film on right and it hasn’t been advancing? Because I certainly don’t want to shoot the whole roll over again.

That’s when it hit me: I had not at all enjoyed using this camera. It had frustrated me from the first frame.

To hell with any unshot frames. I rewound the film.

Argus A2B

Meet the Argus A2B. That I disliked it surprised me, because I have another A2B (review here) and I enjoyed shooting it. But that was five years ago, when my camera preferences were still forming. Would I hate that camera, too, if I shot it now?

Argus A2B

Before I get to why this camera and I didn’t get on, here’s some history. The 1936-51 Argus A series of cameras has a fascinating story (read it here) as the first affordable camera for Kodak’s 35mm film cartridge, new in 1934. The A2B is from 1941-1950 and added an extinction meter and exposure calculator over the original A.

The various A-series models offered slightly different lens and shutter combinations. Running changes were even made within a series. The original A2B offered a 50mm f/4.5 uncoated lens set in a four-speed Ilex Precise shutter (1/200, 1/100, 1/50, 1/25 sec.), with a plunger-style shutter button. In 1945, the shutter became an unknown type, still four speeds (1/150, 1/100, 1/50, 1/25 sec.) and the shutter button became a lever. Some postwar A2Bs even featured a coated lens. This A2B’s features make it a prewar model; my other one is from after the war.

Argus A2B

The A2B has some quirks that some find endearing and others find annoying. One quirk is the collapsible lens barrel, which controls focusing. In, the camera focuses between 6 and 18 feet; out, it focuses beyond 18 feet. Twist the barrel to extend or retract it. When retracting, twist so tabs on the barrel fit under flanges on the body. This holds the lens in. The photo above shows the lens extended.

The other quirk is a weird aperture scale with stops at 4.5, 6.3, 9, 12.7, and 18. Whatever aperture my light meter or Sunny 16 guesses told me to use, I set it a hair off the next higher aperture on that scale. The extinction meter on this one looks to be in good shape, but it is tiny and thus difficult for my middle-aged eyes to use. For that matter, the viewfinder is so small as to be almost unusable, too.

I thought old-school Fomapan 100 would be just right for this old-school uncoated lens, so I loaded some and got to shooting. And then all of the A2B’s quirks kept taking me right out of the photographic moment.

I did get a few solid shots from it, such as this one of the public library in tiny Kirklin, a little town on the Michigan Road about 45 minutes north of Indianapolis. This is a Carnegie library; see others from around Indiana here.

Kirklin Pvblic Library

I wished for a carry strap on the A2B. It’s coat-pocket small, but who wears a coat in July? Fortunately, I own a couple pairs of cargo shorts that let me carry even bulky cameras, but I didn’t always already have them on when I went out shooting. So it took me a solid couple months of using it here and there to get through as much of the roll as I did before I threw in the towel. This pavilion is in Elm Street Green, a park in Zionsville.

Elm Street Green

The whole roll came back from the processor suffering from muddy contrast, which is characteristic of these old, uncoated lenses. I tweaked contrast on every frame in Photoshop. On this and a few other frames, I also played with the shadow control to bring out details in dark areas. This shot of Margaret at Elm Street Green is technically the best shot on the roll: decent contrast and passable sharpness at snapshot sizes.

Elm Street Green

I spent an afternoon in Rochester in northern Indiana at a Michigan Road board meeting, and had the A2B along. We met across the street from the Fulton County Courthouse, a grand Romanesque Revival structure. I couldn’t back up far enough to get the whole thing in the frame. And the tiny viewfinder made framing it more challenging than I like. Also, any shot where the sun wasn’t fully behind me suffered from flare. The more sun, the more flare. That’s to be expected from an uncoated lens. The flare made some shots unusable. I suppose if I shot this camera all the time I’d get used to checking the position of the sun.

Fulton County Courthouse

On the way home from Rochester I stopped in Burlington for dinner and shot this scene. I hadn’t looked online yet to discover the ranges to which the two lens positions focused. So I left the lens extended, shot mostly distant subjects, and hoped for the best. I was absolutely within 18 feet for this shot, but it’s reasonably in focus. I did enjoy the plunger shutter button and the self-cocking shutter, which are unusual features on a camera of this era. All I had to think about was exposure. If the viewfinder were more usable, I would have composed this shot better.

On the Michigan Road in Burlington

A handful of shots on the roll came back foggy and blurry, as in this photo of an angel statue in the cemetery near my home. I couldn’t tell you why this happened. Shrug.

Foggy angel

Another quirk of using the A2B: the film won’t wind unless you first slide to the left that little knob below the frame counter atop the camera. The frame counter on mine is so pitted as to be useless, which is part of why I had no idea while shooting whether I’d shot the whole roll yet or not.

Also, the A2B offers no double-exposure protection, so you probably ought to always wind after shooting to ensure the frame you’re shooting is not yet exposed.

See more from this A2B, and from my other A2B, in my Argus A2B gallery.

The Argus A cameras have a small but devoted following. Don’t count me in. But this remains a historically significant series of cameras and therefore worthy of being collected and used.

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Photography

A barn in the city

The old barn in the city

It stands among vinyl-village suburban subdivisions, this old barn. 25 years ago it was all farm fields out here. But cities inevitably grow outward and swallow up whatever they find along the way.

The old barn in the city

Except this barn and a farmhouse that stands next to it. I’m not sure why; stubborn owner, perhaps. I can just imagine the fellow: “They can just build their danged houses all around me! I’m not going anywhere!”

The old barn in the city

This is Indianapolis, a city that merged with its county going on a half century ago. Within the old city limits, you’d recognize Indy as a city. Beyond, it is suburban and even rural. You’ll find many barns around the “city.” (I ought to do a photo series on them.) But this might be the only one that anchors a subdivision.

Nikon F2AS, 35mm f/2.8 AI Nikkor, Foma Fomapan 100

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Film Photography

Shooting Foma Fomapan 100

I want cheap, decent film when I shoot casually or test an old camera. Fujicolor 200 fits the bill on the color side. It’s pretty good and I can get it for $2.50 a roll. On the black-and-white side my go-to, the wonderful Arista Premium 400, was discontinued and I recently used up my stock. Time to look for a replacement!

You might not expect to find a film manufacturer in the Czech Republic, but Foma has been at it there since 1921. They make black-and-white films under the Fomapan brand, at ISO 100, 200, and 400, in 35mm and 120.

Their films are about as inexpensive as you’ll find in black and white, a little more than $4 in most places I’ve found. Amazon recently offered 36-exposure rolls of 35mm Fomapan 100 for about $3.50, so I bought several while the price lasted. And it’s generally understood that Freestyle Photo’s Arista.EDU Ultra 100 is Fomapan 100, and as of spring 2016 Freestyle consistently offers 24-exposure rolls for $3.19.

I just shot my first roll of Fomapan 100; I used my Nikon F2AS. The quick verdict: it’s not bad. My test roll photos showed more contrast and less tonal subtlety than what I experience from T-Max, Tri-X, and Neopan Acros. But the film also never misbehaved with things like blown-out highlights, which I’ve experienced with other inexpensive black-and-white films (coughKentmere100cough). Here’s a selection of Fomapan 100 shots.

I started out with my 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor lens. The office building where I work is lined with callery pear trees. They briefly each April. Briefly, thank goodness: the flowers smell like rotting shrimp.

Callery pear

The golf course behind my house went bankrupt and is essentially abandoned. I need to do a whole photo series on it, as watching it decay has been fascinating. This is the cart path behind my house.

On the abandoned golf course

Deeper inside the golf course I photographed this footbridge. I feel sorry for the people who bought houses on this course thinking they were living in a golf community. My house predates the course by 20 years; it’s happenstance that I have a golf view.

On the abandoned golf course

Back at home, I shot my daffodils in full bloom. I like the clarity and detail this film returns.

Daffodils

I switched to a 35mm f/2.8 AI Nikkor lens I just bought for the rest of the roll. This shot in particular shows how contrasty this film is. I like the bottomless blacks.

Welcome

This film performed well enough in all kinds of light, but I liked it a little better under overcast skies than in direct sun. Diffuse light brings out greater tonal subtleties.

Shut

The sun came out for this photo, which made the whites mighty white. I toned them down a little bit in Photoshop to make them a little more pleasing.

Benches

Apparently, Foma’s b/w films all use old-fashioned grain structures. Some reviewers around the Internet liken these films to emulsions common during the 1930s and 1940s. But Fomapan 100’s grain, at least, is not prominent.

Tree shadow

I like this film. I can see myself using it for everyday black-and-white shooting. But before I stock up, I want to try the ISO 200 and 400 versions.

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