Exploring the Boone County Courthouse

Exploring the Boone County Courthouse
Nikon N90s, 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6G AF Nikkor
Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 (at EI 200)

Early Ford Explorers are mighty rare now thanks to Cash for Clunkers almost a decade ago. And this is a very early one, wearing its first “face” (headlights and grille). It’s from the early 1990s. It’s hard to believe that’s 25 or more years ago now.

Margaret and I had just taken a photo walk in Lebanon, the seat of justice in Boone County, Indiana, and had stopped on the square for a pint of stout at the local brewery. We sat in the window and had a good view of the courthouse.

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Film Photography, Preservation

single frame: Exploring the Boone County Courthouse

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Camera Reviews

Operation Thin the Herd: Nikon N90s

Church door

Sometimes a person needs to just get out and shoot for the joy and fun of it. At such times, a great choice is an auto-everything SLR and a zoom lens. You’ll be ready for pretty much anything you encounter. Especially when the body you choose is as robust and capable as the Nikon N90s.

Nikon N90s

I’ve had great luck with this camera every time I’ve shot it, no matter the film or lens I chose. Here I used the well-regarded 50mm f/1.8 AF Nikkor on Arista Premium 400.

Anthem

And here I used the 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6G AF Nikkor that came in the kit with the Nikon N65 I used to own, on very expired and poorly stored Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400.

High West

Ken Rockwell calls this plastic-bodied zoom lens one of Nikon’s 10 best lenses ever. I marvel at that a little bit, as Nikon had to have made ten superior F-mount primes. But this lens turns out to be a good performer, sharp edge to edge anywhere in the zoom range.

Lebanon front door

It does have some barrel distortion at 28mm. The shot below shows it a little. That’s its major flaw. But I’m not much of a 28mm guy anyway. 35mm is as wide as I normally go, and the distortion is largely tamed when you zoom in that far.

Union Station

The lens also had some difficulty focusing close. I tried to capture some magnolia blossoms but the lens would only hunt. It also tended to wash out the image a little if the sun wasn’t directly behind me, as this shot of the Slippery Noodle bar shows. I’ve meant to go to the Slippery Noodle ever since I moved to central Indiana in 1994. They say they’re Indiana’s oldest bar, operating since 1850.

The Slippery Noodle

But this should be a referendum on the N90s and not on that lens. So let’s get to it: this camera is large and fairly heavy. Also, its controls don’t follow the modern “mode dial” SLR idiom. But I didn’t experience its weight as a problem. And those controls, specifically a bunch of buttons and one unlabeled dial, are not hard to discover and learn.

Lucas Oil behind the old houses

For example, I was pretty quickly able to figure out how to manually set ISO. The camera accurately read the DX coding on the Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 I had loaded, but I wanted to shoot it at EI 200. A few button presses and I was set. But on this cloudy-day photowalk Downtown along South Meridian Street I might have been better served leaving the film at 400. Meridian Street is the city’s main north-south drag, but some street reconfiguration in this area isolated a couple blocks and the lovely old homes on them.

South Meridian St.

The N90s gives you a lot of controls to keep track of. Apparently I set the camera to center-weighted metering the last time I used it, and forgot to reset it to matrix metering for this roll of film. I think that might have contributed to the problems in this shot of St. Elmo’s, a steakhouse operating since 1902. Pro tip: before shooting an N90s, press in the two green-dot buttons atop the camera for a few seconds to reset the camera’s settings.

St. Elmo's

But for this full-sun shot, everything worked perfectly. The Union 525 was originally a high school but is now a space where startup tech companies can begin to build their businesses. There’s quite a tech startup scene here in Indianapolis.

Union 525

The callery pear were in bloom this day. They smell like rotting shrimp.

Rolls-Royce

I’ve shot this camera often. See everything I’ve photographed with this camera in my Nikon N90s gallery.

A couple years ago I chose this N90s as my Nikon auto-everything body over the entry-level N60 and N65 I used to own. Those more basic bodies certainly demand far less of me than the N90s and could certainly have taken every photo you see in this post. But among these cameras the N90s was the only one built to last.

As I’ve been thinning this herd I’ve already decided that my main SLRs will be metal, (mostly) mechanical, and manual focus. I’ll never leave my first love, Pentax. And I have some truly great Nikon gear that will always have a home here. I might keep a Minolta and a Canon body in case I come upon an interesting lens for those mounts.

But I like the N90s. It’s a smashing companion to my 50/1.8 AF Nikkor and my wife’s 35/2 AF Nikkor lenses. With this zoom lens attached it’s a fine, but heavy, photo-walk kit. If in a few years I find I just don’t use it much, I reserve the right to change my mind — but for now…

Verdict: Keep

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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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Scenes from the American Sign Museum

Shell
Pentax ME, 50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax-M
Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400
2017

It is comforting to encounter the roadside architecture and signage of my 1970s childhood, even when it’s in a museum. Shell service stations were even more common then than now, it seems. And in the 1970s, they were service stations where a man came out to fill your tank, clean your windshield, and check your oil. Every location I ever saw would also repair your car when it broke down. Their slogan was, “Service Is Our Business.”

About the photograph: I scanned these negatives myself. I’m doing more of that now, as it cuts costs. I haven’t figured out settings in Silverfast yet that do a truly good job of eliminating scratches and dust spots. I do get weary of manually editing them out. I gave up in this shot. But given its hue and softness, the marks seem okay somehow.

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Photography

single frame: Shell

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Scenes from the American Sign Museum

The Emmanuel Baptist Church Drug Company
Pentax ME
50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax-M
Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400

I was trying to shoot just the church sign and didn’t really see the humorous placement of the sign behind it until I got the negatives back from the processor.

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Photography, Road Trips

single frame: The Emmanuel Baptist Church Drug Company

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Scenes from the American Sign Museum

HoJo’s
Pentax ME
50mm f/1.4 SMC Pentax-M
Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400

Could this have been my favorite sign in the American Sign Museum?

50mm was too confining a focal length in the museum’s tight spaces. I couldn’t back up far enough to get most scenes in. So I had to work within the constraint, using strategic framing and finding dramatic angles.

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Photography, Road Trips

single frame: HoJo’s

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