Photography

Strolling with a Nikon F3 and Kodak Plus-X

The more Kodak Plus-X I shoot, the more I love it for its rich blacks and low grain. I wish I could shoot it forever. Alas, Kodak discontinued it four years ago. It was only through the Film Photography Project’s cache of cold-stored expired stock that I had any at all. But now it’s out of stock at the FPP. I’m going to move on, probably to Kodak T-Max 100. But not before shooting the last two rolls chlling in my fridge.

I shot one of them in my Canon EOS Rebel, but you might recall that its shutter was busted. Thank goodness I figured that out before I sent the Plus-X in for pointless processing. I fished the leader out of the film can and dropped the cartridge into my reliable Nikon F3HP, as it needed some exercise. I also attached my 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor lens, and took the camera along from time to time over the next few weeks.

I first took the F3 along on my autumn walk through nearby Crown Hill Cemetery. It’s become common for me to carry more than one camera on a photo trip!

Shaded cemetery path

That was such a colorful day! And the color shots I got on the same day were lovely. But there’s something about a cemetery that just begs to be shot in black and white.

James Henry Trimble

I also took the F3 along on the elders’ retreat. The shots overlooking the lake turned out best.

Across the lake

Such sure tones everywhere in these lakeside shots. And the Nikkor delivered the sharpness.

Dock

I liked this one best because of the wonderful reflection.

The view from here

I took a couple shots around the church. I liked this one best, of one of the concrete blocks that separate our parking lot from the alley.

My heart is blocked

I finished the roll around the house. I love shooting this trio of trees on the golf course behind my house. That tree in front is an ash tree and it’s dead, thanks to the emerald ash borer. The golf course will eventually have to remove it, and then this favorite subject will be forever altered. I doubt I’ll like it as much.

Golf course trees

I had a yellow filter on that afternoon, and shot my leafless front-yard trees against this sky filled with wispy clouds.

Up in the sky

Come back on Friday, and I’ll show you my favorite shot from this roll. It’s just a perfect exposure.

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Lamp

Lamp
Nikon F3HP, 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor
Kodak Plus-X
2015

Photography
Image
Camera Reviews

Voigtländer Vito II

Several of my camera-collecting and -blogging friends have Voigtländer Vito IIs and get outstanding photographs with them. So I was pretty darned happy when one was donated to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras.

Voigtländer Vito II

I have a warm spot in my heart for little 35mm folding cameras like this. Closed, they slip into a coat pocket. Open, they offer strong optics. On the Vito II, those optics are the 50mm f/3.5 Color-Skopar, of four elements in three groups, with a blue-tinted coating. That lens is backed with one of a few different shutters. Mine features the Prontor-S, with speeds of 1, 1/2, 1/5, 1/10, 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, and 1/300 sec., plus bulb. I’ve seen Vito IIs with Compur-Rapid shutters with a top speed of 1/500 sec.

Voigtländer Vito II

It’s the Vito II because when it was introduced in 1949, it replaced a similar, prewar camera called Vito. Both cameras take 35mm film, but the earlier Vito apparently could use the film on simple rolls, whereas the Vito II could take only the 35mm cartridges we know today. Vito IIs were made well into the 1950s with some running changes. Later Vito IIs, for example, came with an accessory shoe on the top plate.

Voigtländer Vito II

It’s not obvious how to open the Vito II. Press the button on the camera’s bottom, and the door springs open. To close the Vito II, press the two tabs inside the door and push the door until it latches.

The Vito II works much like any other 35mm folder: wind, set aperture and shutter speed (guess exposure or use a meter), cock the shutter, frame, guess at subject distance and set the focus ring accordingly, press the button. In case it’s not obvious, the button is on the door.

The Vito II locks the shutter against accidental double exposure, but you can override it by lifting the lever to the right of the viewfinder on the camera’s back. This feature also prevents the camera from firing when there’s no film inside, but you can work around it should you come upon one and wish to see if it works: open the back and turn the toothed shaft until it stops. Then you can cock the shutter and press the button.

I’ve shot a couple other Voigtländers: the Bessa (review here) and the Vitoret LR (review here). Other capable small folders I’ve reviewed are all Kodak Retinas: the Retina Ia (here), the Retina IIa (here), and the Retina IIc (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I tested the Vito II with one of my last, precious rolls of Kodak Plus-X. I used a metering app on my iPhone to gauge light. The Vito II came along back in August when my older son and I spent an evening together before he headed off to Purdue for his freshman year. We walked through Crown Hill Cemetery, past the military graves.

Military cemetery

I loved the shadows on this family plot marker. What an unusual last name.

Dark

We had dinner and a walk on Monument Circle. Christ Church Cathedral is the only building on the Circle that does not have a curved front.

Christ Church Cathedral

I moved in close enough to the Lacy Building that it’s hard to see its facade’s curvature.

Lacy Building entrance

I’m not wild about the composition of this photo but I do love all the details.

Columbia Club

All of the test roll’s photos came out slightly overexposed. A quick hit of the Auto Levels command in Photoshop Elements fixed that, sometimes at the cost of making grain more pronounced. It is clear that my Vito II could use a good CLA to get its shutter right. One great thing about such a simple camera: there’s little mystery about what’s wrong.

The Vito II’s tiny viewfinder made it hard for me to line up shots well, so many of my photos came out at wacky angles. Fortunately, Photoshop Elements offers tools that let me correct that, too.

Finally, several shots on the roll came out fuzzy, a couple times because of camera shake but more often thanks to misguessed focus. Needing to guess focus and exposure keeps me from shooting cameras like this more often. I prefer the precision of my 35mm SLRs. But I want to use my 35mm folders more. They’re wonderful little cameras.

So I decided to try again, right away, but this time shoot Sunny 16 and set focus for wide depth of field. The Vito II’s focusing ring includes ∇ and O symbols to help with this. ∇ is for nearer shots, about 8 to 16 feet away, and O is for shots beyond 16 feet — when using slower films and apertures of f/5.6 or narrower.

So I loaded some Kodak Gold 200. I immediately regretted choosing ISO 200 film on a camera with no 1/200 sec. shutter speed as it complicated my Sunny 16 calculations. But I guessed okay enough through the whole roll. This is North United Methodist Church on North Meridian Street.

North United Methodist

I went out to visit my older son after he was all settled in at Purdue, and we went to Scotty’s Brewhouse for dinner. I’m especially happy with this shot, as I guessed everything about it and it turned out all right.

Scotty's Brewhouse in West Lafayette

How many times have I shot these three trees on the golf course behind my home? They are always an interesting subject. But like many photos on this roll, it required considerable Photoshop tweaking of levels and contrast and brightness to bring out the details.

Golf course trees

I carried the Vito II everywhere for a few weeks. I needed some new jeans, so I stopped at Penney’s one morning. (Does calling it Penney’s show my age?) I ended up buying a pair of Levi’s 501s. I haven’t had a pair of those since I was in my 20s.

You're looking smarter than ever

To see more from this camera, check out my Voigtländer Vito II gallery.

I think I did all right — not great, but all right — with Sunny 16 and the camera’s easy focusing marks. Photoshop corrected my exposure sins, which fortunately were minor. I’ll have to play more with this technique. I’d also like to get this Vito II CLA’d for better performance. It was an enjoyable little shooter, and I know it’s capable of great things.

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

Not-so-easy shooting

Olympus StylusI felt like some easy black-and-white shooting, so I loaded a roll of Kodak Plus-X into my Olympus Stylus.

It didn’t go so well. About halfway through the roll, the Stylus malfunctioned. When I pressed the button, the Stylus made a wheezy noise but wouldn’t fire the shutter. I’d close and reopen the camera and try again, and again, and again, until it fired. Eventually it wouldn’t fire at all. Unfortunately, I still had five shots left on that precious roll of Plus-X, which isn’t made anymore. Reluctantly, I threw in the towel and pressed the film-rewind button.

At least I got this totally awesome selfie while looking the camera over, trying to figure out why the shutter wasn’t operating. I discovered that the wheezy noise was the lens extending part way.

Why won't this thing fire? ...Oh.

I got some pretty good shots before the problems began, however. I really like the tones in this shot of my front yard. It’s one of the last shots I took with any ash trees in it.

Front garden

I took the Stylus along when Margaret and I spent an evening strolling through Fountain Square. These preserves were for sale in a former Sunoco station converted to a little market.

Preserves

It seems nigh onto impossible to get a bad photo of the Fountain Square Theater building. It anchors this hip Indianapolis neighborhood so well.

Fountain Square

I’ve shot the front of the former G.C. Murphy store many times, but always in black and white. Someday I should shoot it in color. But the bricks always look so silvery in black and white.

Murphy

I carried the Stylus around for a few weeks, shooting whatever. I met my pastor for lunch one day and shot the front of this nearby McDonald’s. Around here, all of these older McDs are being torn down and replaced with stores in the chain’s new corporate look. I prefer this style. I do not, however, enjoy how washed out the sky and the top of the roof turned out. It was a blisteringly bright day, though.

McDs

I also shot a few photos around what is now my former workplace. One of my colleagues drives this old Honda Prelude when he doesn’t ride his motorcycle.

Prelude

I also got this snap of my desk, just a couple weeks before it wasn’t my desk anymore. I’m not a fan of flashes on point-and-shoot cameras; they always seem to be too bright. This is no exception. But I’m glad to have this photo now, so I can remember this good little space.

My former desk

I’ll probably send this Stylus to the Great Camera Store in the Sky and just buy another one on eBay. The Stylus is too good not to have one here for those days when I want good optics but point-and-shoot simplicity.

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Camera Reviews

Kodak 35

I shoot a lot of 35mm SLRs — they’re my jam. I feel like I know what I’m doing with them, and have learned to get consistent and satisfying results. Leave it to an old, simple camera to humble me. Meet the first 35mm camera Kodak built in the USA, the aptly named 35.

Kodak 35 *EXPLORED*

Through the mid 1930s, Kodak’s only 35mm cameras were Retinas, made in the company’s German factories. But as war loomed in Europe, Kodak hedged its bet and designed a 35mm camera it would build domestically. Constructed simply and sturdily of Bakelite and a metal that looks like aluminum to me, and using lens/shutter combinations from existing folding cameras, Kodak introduced the 35 in 1938.

Kodak 35

Kodak made many changes to this camera over its 10-year life. As best as I can tell, prewar Kodak 35s had black winding knobs and “Kodak 35” viewfinder faceplates; later, Kodak switched to bare metal.

Lenses and shutters varied considerably over time. Kodak always offered a lesser and a better lens/shutter combination. The better lens was always a four-element Tessar design labeled Anastigmat Special, 50mm at f/3.5. It was set in various shutters, the fastest of which went to 1/250 sec. The lesser lenses were 3-element designs, Anastigmats or Anastons, in shutters up to 1/150 sec. My 35 is a postwar lesser model, with a 51mm f/4.5 Anastigmat set in a No. 1 Diomatic shutter with top speed of 1/150 sec.

Kodak 35

At $40 (around $700 in today’s dollars), the 35 was out of reach for many. Amaterur photographers wanting to shoot 35mm film turned to Argus and its less-expensive C-series cameras. The C3 also featured a rangefinder to ease focusing. Kodak responded by bolting an ugly rangefinder mechanism to the 35 and selling it alongside the viewfinder model. It didn’t help. The C3 still handily outsold the 35.

See that little slit on the lens barrel beneath the Made in USA plaque? When the film is wound and the shutter is cocked, a red line appears within. Early 35s lack this slit.

I’ve shot a couple Argus C3s and this 35. Both cameras are quirky, but I find the 35 to be less quirky and easier to use — so much so that I’m willing to give up the C3’s rangefinder to shoot this 35. The 35’s gunsight viewfinder frames scenes well enough, though you can inadvertently look askew through it and end up misframing. The biggest annoyance with the 35: my finger sometimes struggled to find the awkwardly designed shutter release.

By the way, you can see my review of the Argus C3 here. Other similar 35mm cameras I’ve reviewed include the Kodak Retina Ia (here), the Kodak Retina IIa (here), the Argus A2B (here), the Kodak Pony 135 (here), and the Kodak Signet 40 (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

In loading some Arista Premium 400 into my 35, I leapt before I looked. The weather called for a week’s worth of sunshine, which meant this film would be too fast for the shutter. After shooting SLRs with top speeds of up to 1/2000 sec, 1/150 sec felt enormously limiting — cripplingly so at 400 ISO. Lesson learned: load film that lets you shoot Sunny 16.

It wasn’t until my photos came back from the processor all hazy that I realized that my 35’s lens was filthy. I saved several of the shots in Photoshop, like this one of some posts at Holliday Park. A few shots were utterly unusable.

Posts

I love this headless statue and have shot it over and over. The low contrast background was typical of my first roll, even after post processing.

Headless 2

A lens coated in schmutz tends to flare more easily, too.

No Dumping

So I cleaned the lens as best I could and dropped in slower film, this time expired but always cold-stored Kodak Plus-X. Its ISO rating of 125 would let me easily shoot Sunny 16, but I used a light meter app on my iPhone anyway. And look! Now we’re getting the sharpness this lens can deliver.

Tree and window

My goodness, but do I like Plus-X. I even like saying it: plussex. This is the church on the main road across from my subdivision. After shooting it a bunch of times, I’ve concluded that it is remarkably unphotogenic. This is probably the best shot I’ve ever made of it. There’s something about this lens that foreshortens the scene. I’ve made this shot with other cameras and the church always seems a lot farther away from the sign.

Eastern Star

I really hit my stride with the 35 on a trip Downtown to visit the Indiana War Memorial. This is my favorite shot from the trip, even though when I framed this, the door was centered. Like I said above: the gunsight viewfinder can be tricky.

Words

Given the shadowy steps and the super-bright background, I’m impressed that this turned out at all. I admit to some tweaking in post to bring out the steps.

Monument steps

I generally don’t do indoors available-light work with a camera like the 35, but I couldn’t resist this opportunity inside the War Memorial. With gobs of light to work with here, my main worry was that the blinds would be blown out.

Blind shadows

See more shots from this camera in my Kodak 35 gallery.

Given the Kodak 35’s imprecise viewfinder I’m unlikely to shoot it again, even though I thought everything else about the camera was at least fine. Vague viewfinders are just a pet camera peeve of mine.

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

Nikon F3

There I was, happily making photographs with the Nikon F2 that was generously donated to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras, when the same donor e-mailed me asking: Would I like a Nikon F3 that he didn’t use anymore?

Does a wino want a case of Thunderbird?

Nikon F3HP *EXPLORED*

I can’t add anything to the F3 story that the Internet hasn’t already catalogued. Camera-wiki tells the tale well enough. The sketch: introduced in 1980 to succeed the venerable F2, the F3 required batteries to operate (two LR44 or SR44 button cells), which initially alienated most photographers, who trusted all-manual cameras. Then Nikon went on to manufacture the F3 for a whopping 21 years. Clearly, photographers got over it.

Nikon F3HP

The HP in this F3’s name stands for High Eyepoint, which is that big round viewfinder. Glasses-wearing photographers are supposed to have an easier time seeing into a High Eyepoint viewfinder. I wouldn’t know; I wear contacts. If you look on eBay, you’ll find more F3HPs than regular F3s.

Nikon F3HP

The F3 finally brought aperture-priority autoexposure to Nikon’s flagship camera. (See the A on the shutter-speed dial?) I love aperture-priority shooting, but after shooting the F2 all year I’ve adapted surprisingly well to setting both aperture and shutter speed. I could happily keep shooting the F2 as my only camera forever. But I admit, I enjoyed setting aperture and letting the F3 figure out the shutter speed. It displays both in the viewfinder: the aperture directly off the lens barrel, and shutter speed in a little LED panel. Some people complain that the LED panel is too small and dim, but it was fine for my purposes. The shutter operates steplessly from 8 sec to 1/2000 sec, although the display shows the nearest standard speed.\

By the way, if you groove on the F3 then also check out my reviews of the F2A (here) and F2AS (here). I’ve also reviewed the FA (here), N2000 (here), N90s (here), N60 (here), and N65 (here). Or just check out all of my camera reviews here.

Otherwise, using the F3 feels mighty familiar after shooting the F2 all year. I clipped on my 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor lens, dropped in two button cells, loaded some Arista Premium 400, and got shooting.

The F3 accompanied me on a trip to Columbus, Ohio. I stopped for coffee in the Short North neighborhood. I crouched low to photograph the counter.

Counter at Cup 'o Joe

If you like galleries and shops, you’ll like the Short North. One out-of-the-way gallery featured an artist who paints with egg tempera. You can lose yourself in the detail and color in her work. We got to meet the artist, but only after these well-behaved little dogs cleared the way.

Well-behaved dogs at the art gallery

When we stepped into the Big Fun store, we entered a world of 1970s and 1980s pop culture and kitsch. Old lunchboxes lined one wall of the store, but I couldn’t find a replacement for the Big Jim lunch box I had in first grade. Darnit.

Big Fun

On another outing I loaded some Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 and shot this trestle in St. Charles, Illinois, still with the 50/2 AI Nikkor.

Trestles

Yet I seem to lean on black-and-white film in the F3 most of the time. I came upon some expired but always cold stored Kodak Plus-X and made this image under the bridge at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis.

Tunnel *EXPLORED*

The F3 handles easily, far more easily than you’d expect given its bulk. The controls all feel velvety smooth yet built to last.

My heart is blocked

Fomapan 200 and that 50/2 lens are a winning combination. By this roll I’d learned the F3’s ways and it disappeared in my hands when I went on this photowalk.

Meridian St.

I made the photo above from the Indiana War Memorial; below is a detail from the Memorial itself.

Imposing Doors

This whatever-it-is was new in the cemetery near my home. I love the tones I got in this photo, and the detail in the sky.

Thingy

Finally, someone gifted me some Fujifilm Superia 100, so I clipped on my 55mm f/3.5 Micro-Nikkor and moved in close for this photo.

North of 80 degrees

If you’d like to see more photos from this F3HP, check out my Nikon F3 Gallery.

I really enjoyed using the F3. It’s well made and very nice to use. I like my F2 a lot, but I think I like this F3 just a little bit more.

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