Film Photography

Shooting Kentmere 100

Some people say you have to get the processing juuuuust right to get the best results from Kentmere 100, a black-and-white film manufactured by the same folks who make the Ilford films. But I don’t process my own. My film is always at the mercy of whatever chemical soup my favorite processor uses. I’m willing to place some blame there for the disappointing results I got.

I shot the Kentmere over several days in July using my Nikon F2AS and my 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor lens. My tiger lilies were blooming.

Tiger lilies

As were my daylilies. Both of these shots needed a quick hit with Photoshop’s levels and contrast controls to bring out some of the subtle details. So it went all through the roll. The details were there, they just needed to be coaxed out.


I took the F2 and the Kodak No. 2 Brownie Model D along when my sons and I drove out to Terre Haute a few weeks ago. This shot of the Clabber Girl billboard, which has welcomed visitors to town for approximately forever, looks pretty good – but only marginally better than how the 100-year-old Brownie captured it on Ilford Pan F Plus 50.

Clabber Girl

This is my favorite shot from the roll. The oak tree in my front yard is a compliant and frequently very pleasing subject.

Front yard oak

But in that photo you can start to see what comes through loud and clear in the photo below: blown-out highlights.

Blown out highlights

As the setting sun hung low that evening, it lit the back of my house. The Kentmere tried but failed to see my kitchen and dining room windows. I’ve shot this scene any number of evenings and have never seen the back wall wash out before.

Blown out highlights

I tried Kentmere 100 on the strength of positive reviews from bloggers R. R. Alexander (R.I.P.) and Derek Wong, both of whose photographic opinions I trust. They both got good results from this film, and so I hoped for much of the same, especially given the film’s low price of about $3 a roll. So maybe I need to give this film another chance, which will happen eventually because one more roll is chilling in my fridge. Maybe I just need to shoot it on a cloudy-bright day. Perhaps I should follow the advice of a commenter on my Flickr stream: use a yellow or a red filter. Or maybe I need to try a different camera. The lenses on my Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK and my Voigtländer Vitoret LR are poke-your-eye-out contrasty; maybe they’d make this film sing. Or maybe I should go the other way and try it in one of my easy shooters like the Olympus Trip 35 or the Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80.

But the next time I want to shoot a slow black-and-white film, I’ll probably reach for one of the two rolls of Kodak Plus-X Pan I still have. I know it’ll give me the look I want.

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Camera Reviews

Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK

Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK

Zeiss Ikon is one of those names that makes camera collectors go weak in the knees and part with large sums of money. Those sums seem large to me, anyway, given that the most I will pay for a camera is $50. Zeiss Ikon’s optics are said to be worth tall stacks of bills, and so of course I have long been curious. Hoping to catch a price break, I started looking for rangefinderless Zeiss Ikons – and almost immediately stumbled across this Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK.

Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK

Unbelievably, I was the only bidder. I got it for $10. Woot!

Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK

Zeiss Ikon produced a series of 35mm cameras with this basic body in the 1960s. They made this one, the Contessa LK, from 1963 to 1965. It is packed with good stuff, starting with a highly regarded Carl Zeiss lens, a 50mm f/2.8 Tessar with, naturally, four elements in three groups. Its mechanical Pronto LK shutter operates from 1/15 to 1/500 second. You can set film speed up to 800 ASA. The lens focus scale is in meters, from 1 to infinity. On the back is a
a sweet single-throw winding lever and a big, bright viewfinder.

Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK

This photo’s a little crude, but it’s a testament to the viewfinder’s size and brightness that it was possible at all. At top center is an oval with a notch at the top. The light meter is connected to the needle within. For correct exposure, twist the aperture and shutter speed dials on the lens barrel until the needle nestles in the notch.

Another exposure indicator sits on top of the camera, next to the accessory shoe. Exposure is right when the needle rests between the two red triangles. I suppose this is useful when you shoot from the hip, as you might in street photography. Maybe I need to find the guts to go downtown and try it out! I can’t figure out why you’d need this otherwise.

The Contessa LK judges exposure with a selenium light meter, coupled to either the aperture or shutter speed depending on how you set the black lever on the lens barrel. Selenium meters have the advantage of requiring no battery, but the disadvantage of wearing out. I hear that selenium meters last a lot longer if they stay covered when not in use. My experience bears that out – among my cameras equipped with selenium meters, those that arrived inside a case or a bag still responded to light, and those that didn’t, didn’t.

Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK

I deeply appreciate the giant film-rewind crank on this camera. It makes rewinding so much easier. You press a little button on the camera’s bottom and it pops right out.

By the way, if you like cameras like this you might also enjoy my reviews of the Agfa Optima (here), the Voigtländer Vitoret LR (here), and the Kodak Automatic 35F (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

On a trip to the central Tennessee hills I packed my Contessa LK and a couple rolls of film – one color (workaday Kodak 200), and one black and white (Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros). It didn’t take long for me to get the hang of this camera. Except for focusing, I was able to do everything with the camera at my face – set exposure, snap the shot (the shutter button has a nice short throw), and even wind to the next frame.

This lens has character. This is my favorite photo. I love how you can count the rings in that first post.


It’s interesting to compare this photo of the bridge over Byrd Creek with a similar photo (see it here) that I took a few minutes later with my Canon PowerShot S95. The S95 captured much more vivid blues, but the Contessa LK really brings out the texture of the bridge’s stone face.

Bridge and dam

The shadows were crisp one morning.

Tree shadow

The Contessa LK did a reasonable job on this portrait of my son, who needed a haircut.


As I researched this camera, I read a couple comments praising this lens’s warmth. I think that comes through in this shot.

Please be seated

I had serious trouble with the black-and-white roll, 36 exposures of Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros. Rewinding was labored and difficult, and halfway through the film tore apart. I discovered it when I opened the camera and fogged the film still wound around the takeup spool. I was depressed for the rest of the day!

Much later I tried again with black-and-white film, this time some Kentmere 100 — in a 24-exposure roll. I’m not a fan of this film. Of all the cameras I’ve ever shot it in, the Contessa LK is the only one to get decent work from it.

Wet Matrix

Just dig that great detail — it looks like you’d feel the bark’s texture right through your screen.

Golf course trees

I also shot some Ultrafine Extreme 100 on another outing. It performed very well. This just might be one of those cameras that likes any film.

The State Theater

I was pleased with how easily the Contessa LK handled. The controls feel good under the fingers and I quickly adjusted to their locations. Except for having to move the camera away from my eye to set focus, using this camera felt smooth and easy.

On Meridian Street

To see more from this camera, check out my Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK gallery.

The Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK is a winner. You may not find one for ten bucks like I did, but you should be able to get one for under $100, have plenty of fun shooting it, and get good results every time. Here’s hoping the trouble I had with that one roll of 36-exposure film is not common to this camera.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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