Film Photography

Living room still lifes

Not long ago I had an unexpected day off, so I shot, developed, scanned, and uploaded a roll of Kodak Tri-X. I shot stuff I found around the house, on my coffee table. My Yashica-12 was on my tripod, and I attached my Spiratone close-up lens kit. The available light led me to slow shutter speeds, around 1/4 sec. at f/5.6, so I screwed a cable release into the socket to prevent shake.

I wanted a pleasant day of photography more than I cared about making images for the ages, and I succeeded. I’d been thinking about doing some available-light still lifes for a while, I suppose to channel my inner Edward Weston. I found no gnarled green peppers in the fridge, so I worked with whatever I found lying around. That included my favorite coffee mug, the little pot we keep paper clips in, and a geode given to me by a dear old friend.

Random stuff I found in the living room

I used the Yashica-12 because it was out and because it has an accurate onboard light meter. When you use that meter, the 12 limits you to films of up to ISO 400. This was fine, because Tri-X 400 was the fastest film I had on hand anyway.

Lidded bowl

The Spiratone kit comes with two lenses, one for each of the TLR’s lenses. The viewing lens promises that it corrects for parallax, but it also magnifies the scene more than the taking lens does. I made every one of these subjects fill the frame, but had to crop them all in post. In this photo of the lidded bowl I wish I had managed to get the entire lid in focus.

Belleek pitcher

The photo above of a Belleek china pitcher came out a little dim, and I couldn’t fix it in Photoshop without overcooking. The photo below of a duck decoy did too. The duck is painted in dark and muted colors, which might have led to muddy middle grays. My mom’s grandfather made the decoy by hand, by the way.

Decoy

I had greater luck photographing a couple bottles of whiskey Margaret and I brought back from our tour of the Old Forester Distillery. We sampled both of these whiskeys at the end of the tour and they’re delicious. The 1920 whiskey is a whopping 115 proof! We’re saving the bottles for a special occasion.

Old Forester

Conventional wisdom is that Tri-X in Rodinal results in pronounced grain. Yet I don’t mind the grain in these. Perhaps that’s in part because I didn’t have any particular look in mind as I shot these. I just wanted to have some fun and see what turned out. But as I think about doing more still-life work, I feel sure that T-Max 400 or Ilford Delta 400 would yield sharper, smoother results with richer blacks. I think that would be a nicer look for subjects such as these, so I’ll use T-Max or Delta next time.

Old Forester

I’ll also dig through my stuff for a much longer shutter-release cable, as the one I found was too short for me to stand out of the way. Look closely, and you’ll see me (and the Yashica-12) reflected in the bottles.

Of the 12 exposures I shot, only nine were scannable. Something I did wrong in developing partially fogged my first three shots. My scanner’s bundled scanning software thought there was nothing on those frames and threw an error. I wish it would simply scan whatever it finds, as I might have been able to do something with the partial images that are clearly visible on those frames.

Also, the Tri-X curled enough during drying that I struggled at first to lay it flat into the scanner mask. My scanner came with a little card the width of 120 film that you lay onto the end of the film to hold it flat in the mask, and then pull out after you close the mask. It worked brilliantly.

Despite all these challenges, I had a lovely morning of photography. It was wonderful to go from concept to uploaded scans in just a few hours!

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Mini Speed Graphic

Miniature Speed Graphic
Yashica-12 (with Spiratone close-up lens kit)
Kodak Tri-X 400
Rodinal 1+50

The Graflex Miniature Speed Graphic takes 2¼”x3¼” sheet film. Can you even get sheet film in that size anymore? Cursory Googling isn’t turning up any. Not that I could make time right now to learn this camera and the ins and outs of sheet film anyway. It and a short stack of sheet-film holders make a lovely display item on the fireplace mantel.

About three years ago a longtime camera collector contacted me to ask if I’d take a portion of his collection. He was preparing to close his studio and move halfway across the country as he retired. A year later, a giant box full of old gear arrived. This Speed Graphic was in it.

If you’re still out there reading, my generous benefactor, I apologize for not getting to your cameras sooner. I have shot the Kodak Retinette II (here) and the Kodak No. 2 Brownie, Model F (here). I’ll work through the rest in 2020, I hope.

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Film Photography

single frame: Miniature Speed Graphic

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Oak trunk 1

Oak trunk
Kodak Retina Reflex IV, Schneider-Kreuznach Retina-Xenar 50mm f/2.8
Kodak Tri-X 400
2013

Lately I’ve lost touch with why I started shooting old film cameras in the first place: wondering what quality of images an old piece of gear could produce.

I’d never shot a Kodak Retina Reflex camera before and I got this one for a song. These leaf-shutter 35mm SLRs offered a limited set of interchangeable front lens elements to yield a few common focal lengths. It can be hard to find a Retina Reflex in good condition as the works are complex and, after 60+ years, failure prone. Mine wasn’t perfect, but it worked well enough.

I put a roll of Tri-X into it and blasted through it in an hour in my front yard. It was one of those charmed times with a camera, where I just got lost in the pleasure of shooting. None of my subjects was profound or memorable, but that 50mm Schneider-Kreuznach lens penetrated deep into the detail and made some wonderful images.

It doesn’t always go that way. Sometimes an old camera is just frustrating and returns crap images. This year I haven’t wanted to invest time and effort into a camera to get nothing usable back. That’s always the risk with an unknown old camera.

I have a handful of older cameras I haven’t shot yet. A few old boxes, an early Kodak Retinette, and an Argus Argoflex Forty are upstairs in a box under the bed, awaiting their turns. Here’s hoping I can make time for some of them yet this summer.

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Film Photography

single frame: Oak trunk

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Film Photography

One Nine Five

Some subjects draw me in every time I pass by with a camera. This scene on Main Street in Zionsville has become one of those subjects. I am sure I have at least one more photo from here, but I can’t find it now. Enjoy these five.

One Nine Five

Nikon Nikomat FTn, 50mm f/2 Nikkor H-C, Fujicolor 200, 2019

One Nine Five *EXPLORED*

Yashica Electro 35 GSN, Kodak Tri-X 400, 2018

One Nine Five

Olympus Trip 35, Kodak Color Plus, 2019

Around Zionsville

Pentax Spotmatic F, 35mm f/3.5 Super-Multi-Coated Takumar, Kodak Ektar 100, 2018

Around Zionsville

Pentax Spotmatic F, 35mm f/3.5 Super-Multi-Coated Takumar, Kodak Ektar 100, 2018

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Film Photography

Scanning 120 black-and-white negatives with the Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II and ScanGear

I made one more experiment scanning negatives on my CanoScan 9000F Mk II and its bundled ScanGear software. This time I tried scanning black-and-white medium-format negatives.

I hope to start processing my own black-and-white film, especially in medium format, this year. I don’t shoot as much medium format as I’d like because processing and scanning costs about $17. That’s a buck and a half to two bucks per frame! Processing and scanning my own will manage medium format’s costs better.

I went back to 2016 to find some images I made with my Yashica TLRs, a Yashica-12 and a Yashica-D. These cameras have wonderful lenses that make the most of whatever film I put behind them. Here is a scan I made of a scene on the square in Lebanon, Indiana, on Kodak Tri-X.

Here’s a crop of my scan at 100%. I scanned at 2400 dpi, by the way, and applied unsharp masking and other tweaks in Photoshop until the image was to my liking. That’s some pretty good detail right there.

Here’s the scan Old School Photo Lab delivered, after I tweaked it in Photoshop to my liking. Both my scan and Old School’s scan are crops of the original image to the interesting part of the scene. My scans are about 5200 pixels square, give or take, while Old School’s are slightly off square at 4832×4760 pixels.

Please be seated

Here’s my scan of the Boone County courthouse in Lebanon’s square.

And here’s Old School Photo Lab’s scan. Either scan is acceptable. I like the tonality in my scan a little better as it feels more realistic to me. The Old School scan looks to be a bit sharper.

Boone County Courthouse

The next two images are from my Yashica-D on Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros. I could have done a better job of cleaning minor dust marks off my scan, which is below. It’s otherwise a perfectly usable scan.

Here’s Old School Photo Lab’s scan. At blog sizes, they’re hard to tell apart. Both images are crops of the original frame, by the way.

Moore Road

These two images are from the far-northwest corner of Indianapolis, which is quite rural. Here’s my scan of a cemetery that lies along the road above.

Old School Photo Lab’s scan appears sharper — compare the grass in both scans. But either scan is eminently usable for my purposes.

Pleasant View Cemetery

I am pleased with my scans. I would use them for any of my usual purposes.

These experiments, and your comments on them, have taught me some key techniques. First, thanks to your advice I’ve turned off all the built-in image improvements in ScanGear and scan at as close to 4800 dpi as I can. Second, I’ve learned enough about the Amount, Radius, and Threshold settings in Photoshop’s Unsharp Mask filter to sharpen my images acceptably.

I see I’ve still much to learn about how to look at a photograph and see its details. In these experiments I’ve studied my scans in far more detail than I’ve ever studied a photograph, and compared them in depth to the lab scans, and thought about what I like in a scan. I realize I need to study far more photographs to learn how to see their details and decide what I like.

I also now realize just how much the quality of a lab scan might have affected my views of various cameras, lenses, and films, and how excellent scans might have enabled the praises I heaped on particular gear or films.

I feel like a man who thought he’d climbed a mountain, only to find that he had scaled but a foothill to see the real mountain emerge from the mist.

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Photography

Construction at North and Maple

When you test as many old cameras as I do, you tend to shoot the same subjects a lot. But this one kept changing — because it was being built.

Construction
Nikon N90s, 28-80mm f/3.5-5.6G AF Nikkor, Agfa CT Precisa (x-1/2006, xpro)

This was going to be apartments and retail spaces, and it filled an entire city block in downtown Fishers.

North and Maple
Minolta Hi-Matic 7, Kodak Tri-X 400

The views are all a little different even though I stood at the same place to make these photos. Focal length, film, and available light all differed.

North and Maple
Olympus OM-1, 50mm f/3.5 Zuiko Auto-Macro, Kodak Gold 200

As you can see, construction was well along on that last shot. I’ll bet it’s completed now. But I don’t work over that way anymore so this is all you get!

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