Film Photography

Father-son photographic bonding

My son Damion texted me before Christmas: “Dad, while I’m home on break, I’d love it if you could teach me how to use one of your film cameras.”

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Son, you could not have asked your old dad for anything better.

I had visions of us taking a photo walk together, maybe through Crown Hill Cemetery or Broad Ripple. Father and son, walking, chatting, shooting, bonding. Alas, temperatures hovered around zero all Christmas week. It was weather fit neither for man nor for aging mechanical photographic equipment.

So instead I loaded some Tri-X into my Pentax KM, mounted my sublime 55/1.8 SMC Pentax lens, and let him shoot around the house. The all-mechanical KM seemed like a great way to introduce him to the mechanics of photography, given its match-needle metering.

I explained about aperture and shutter speed and depth of field. I explained about film’s light sensitivity, the ISO scale, and exposure latitude. I showed him how to focus, match the needle, and activate the shutter. I gave him a couple composition tips. And then I let him go.

Damion and Pentax KM

I tried not to hover so he could just wander about and expose whatever subject seemed interesting. Like father like son: we both love to just follow our noses. Here are a few of his photographs:

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I love how he experimented so freely, yet he never left our family room. He shot all 36 frames within 200 square feet! I enjoyed finding that he captured his old dad responding to comments on his blog. Not everything he shot turned out as he envisioned, he told me. But he was satisfied that some of it did.

When he was done shooting I asked if he’d like to take a camera and some film back to Purdue with him. “Well, sure! If you don’t mind,” he said. I did mind about my KM and that 55/1.8 — I use that combo often enough that I’d miss it. So I handed him my Pentax K1000 and my 50/2 SMC Pentax-M lens. This combo had extra significance because his mom, who was a professional photographer when we met, used her own K1000 and 50/2 to photograph our family while we were married.

I also gave him a couple rolls of fridge-fresh Agfa Vista 200 and encouraged him to get out when the weather was nice, walk in the park or the woods, and photograph whatever he found to be interesting. I told him that if he enjoyed it and wanted to keep going, I’d let him keep the camera and lens — after I send them to Eric Hendrickson for a mechanical overhaul. I said that the gear would come back in like-new condition, ready for 20 or 30 years of pleasure. He was suitably impressed.

I’m dying to hear whether film photography “takes” in him!

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Film Photography

Shooting Kosmo Foto Mono

When Kosmo Foto announced its first film, Kosmo Foto Mono, last year I was among the first to preorder. Stephen Dowling, the man behind Kosmo Foto, has been a longtime friend to film photography and to this blog. I was very happy to support his venture and try his film!

This ISO 100 black-and-white negative film is an existing emulsion, repackaged for Kosmo Foto. Dowling hasn’t been forthcoming about what film this is, except to say that he’s shot it for years and loves it.

KosmoFotoMono

My Olympus XA was sitting on my desk when my order arrived, so I loaded a roll right into it. And then Margaret and I spent the following weekend in Chicago. The XA spent the whole weekend in my inside coat pocket — except when I got it out to shoot a scene.

I see why Dowling loves this film: it gives a wonderful classic black-and-white look.

Looking up from Daley Plaza, Chicago

This gray, dim weekend presented quite a challenge for the XA on ISO 100 film. I have a pretty steady hand and can dip down to around 1/15 sec. handheld without camera shake — but even at a shutter speed that slow the widest I opened that lens was f/4. My in-focus patches were correspondingly shallow. To compensate, I mostly chose distant subjects and focused at infinity. It worked out. Just look at all that great contrast! And while the film’s grain is detectable, it’s not pronounced.

Macy's Chicago at Christmas

I felt emboldened to try some street photography. I use that term loosely: I was on the street, there were people, I made some photographs. I focused on the built environment and waited until the arrangement of people on the street was not uninteresting.

Macy's Chicago at Christmas

This is my favorite Chicago street shot. I wanted the fabulous Oriental Theater sign in my frame, and aligned it roughly on a vertical rule-of-thirds line. Then I put the crowd’s faces on a horizontal rule-of-thirds line. It really worked out.

Chicago street scene

I shot about half of this 36-exposure roll in Chicago, and the rest closer to home. The grounds of the former Central State Hospital for the Insane in Indianapolis is near where I go to church. The Christel House Academy charter school was built on the grounds a few years ago. The mural on the wall reads LOVE, but the film had trouble picking up the V and especially the E.

L O something something

Here’s my church, West Park Christian Church, in its context: an Indianapolis neighborhood built around the turn of the 20th century. The church building is steps off the National Road.

West Park Christian Church

Looking out from the church building’s steps, here’s Addison Street. Indianapolis’s old neighborhoods all have names; this one’s is Hawthorne.

Addison Street, Indianapolis

Where Hawthorne is a working-class neighborhood, you’ll find central Indiana’s well-to-do in the village of Zionsville. Its charming main street is lined with little shops and restaurants and even one little hotel.

Brick Street Inn

Any time I’m in the village with a camera I photograph the Black Dog Books sign.

Black Dog Books

Shooting in poor light as I did, Kosmo Foto Mono rendered moderately lit areas well but tended to lose detail in the shadows. I’d like to shoot my next roll on a bright day to see how it behaves. Other old-school contrasty films I’ve shot, such as Fomapan 100 and Kentmere 100, have tended to blow out highlights in bright light. I’ve learned to meter for the highlights to compensate. That’s what I’ll try with Kosmo Foto Mono, too. I look forward to it.

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Bench

Bench
Kodak Retina Automatic III
Kodak Gold 200
2017

When you shoot black and white, do you look for different things from when you shoot color? I do. I tend to look for shadows and contrast when I shoot black and white.

When I came upon this scene, it said “black and white” to me. But I was shooting color film. So when it came back from the processor I used Photoshop’s black-and-white tool on it. I added a virtual blue filter to bring out the grain in the bench’s wooden slats.

Except for a little mottling on the wall under and behind the bench, the conversion turned out all right. That mottling isn’t present on the original color shot, which is here. More from this camera in a full review tomorrow!

Photography

single frame: Bench

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Downtown Fishers

Downtown Fishers
Pentax KM, 55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax
Ferrania P30 Alpha
2017

Do people actually like apartments like these? I know I’m biased against new construction. I feel like it’s all made with Balsa wood and Elmer’s glue. Give me a sturdy older home any day. Except that within every older home lurks half-assed homeowner repairs and renovations that at some point you’re going to have to tear out and do right.

Photography

single frame: Downtown Fishers

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Church bus

Church bus
Nikon N8008, 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6 AF Nikkor
Kodak Tri-X 400
2017

I went on my first of three mission trips to Mexico 13 years ago, riding this bus nonstop from Indiana. We even slept, badly, on its cramped seats. But now this bus is discarded, moldering in a field.

Hazelwood church is in farm country about a half hour west of Indianapolis and a few minutes south of US 40. It’s a surprisingly large and active church for being so rural.

Film Photography

Photo: Church bus.

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Camera Reviews

Nikon N8008

I did not need another auto-everything 35mm SLR. But in what is probably my greatest guilty pleasure, which says something about my buttoned-down life, I really enjoy them. I’m no less devoted to my first love: all-manual, all-metal SLRs! Yet I was deeply tempted when I came upon this Nikon N8008 body at KEH for $13.

Nikon N8008

I resisted. But that afternoon KEH emailed me an offer of 12% off used gear and I was a goner. Twenty dollars shipped for a body that cost $857 new. Pennies on the original dollar! Now is the time to buy these higher-end auto-everything film SLRs. And the N8008 (known as the F-801 in most of the rest of the world) was higher end, as it rested just below the pro-grade F4 in Nikon’s pecking order.

Nikon N8008

Befitting its station, its specs are solid. They begin with a big, bright, high-eyepoint viewfinder, which means you can see through it perfectly even when you’re wearing glasses. It offers both matrix and 75% center-weighted metering. Its shutter operates from 30 seconds to 1/8000 second and it takes film from ISO 6 to 6400 (and it reads the film’s DX coding). It syncs with flash at 1/250 second. And common AA batteries power it all.

Nikon N8008

It offers all of the modern modes: manual, programmed, aperture-priority, and shutter-priority. But as you can see, it was designed before the mode wheel became idiom. You expect that from a camera made from 1988 to 1990. To set mode, you have to repeatedly press the Mode button and look at the LCD. It works fine and isn’t cumbersome. It just takes a minute to adjust to it.

The Nikon N8008 also offers depth-of-field preview, allows multiple exposures, and boasts a self timer that can take two shots in succession. And its focusing screens exchange. Three screens are available, including the matte Type B screen that shipped with the N8008. You could also get the gridded Type E screen and the microprism Type J screen.

This camera also takes most F-mount lenses. Nikon lens compatibility requires a secret decoder ring (Ken Rockwell keeps his up to date) but with a few exceptions and caveats (pre-AI lenses won’t mount, AF-S lenses won’t automatically focus, AF-G lenses work only in programmed or shutter-priority mode, the latest AF-P lenses won’t focus) you can use your legacy lenses on the N8008.

By the way, if you like autofocus, autoexposure Nikon SLRs, you might also like the Nikon N90s (review here). You should also check out Nikon’s manual-focus bodies like the F2, F3, FA, and N2000. Or just check out my big list of all the cameras I’ve ever reviewed here.

I considered mounting my 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor to this camera just to test that compatibility. The moment passed quickly, a fleeting shadow. I reached instead for my 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6G AF Nikkor, a “gelded” lens that has no aperture ring. The N8008 drives this lens beautifully in P (program) or S (shutter-priority) modes. Even though Nikon shipped this lens with bajillions of its entry-level film SLRs, don’t underestimate this solid performer.

I loaded some fresh Kodak Tri-X and went to work at home, right next to my easy chair. I’d just finished a finger of whiskey. Photograph drunk, Photoshop sober?

Empty whiskey glass

I stepped back and zoomed out, revealing this lens’s one major fault: barrel distortion at the wide end. I reduced the effect in Photoshop.

Illuminated whiskey glass

These well-made auto-everything SLRs appeal to me, I think, because I can get high-quality images with almost zero thinking. That’s not to say I don’t like thinking. I get full joy from shooting my manual-exposure, manual-focus cameras. But sometimes it feels good to let the camera do all the work for you, all the while leaving you confident of good results. And with the N8008, I could have full control if I wanted it.

I never wanted it on this test roll. Good thing, as the gelded lens sharply limited my options. But on a stroll down Zionsville’s Main Street I didn’t much care. I twisted in my zoom level, pressed the button halfway to focus, and then pressed the button the rest of the way to get the shot. With a loud zip, the camera wound to the next frame and I was ready to go again.

Black Dog Books

I did, however, fall pray to one pitfall of easy-peasy shooting: I shot indiscriminately. Lots of uninteresting photos was the predictable result. This post shares almost all of the photos I think have any merit from this 36-exposure roll.

Brick Street Inn

Here Margaret stands between our two Fords in the parking lot at work. I used to work not far from her workplace, a large suburban church where she’s in charge of buildings and grounds. She wears dresses on Mondays to remind her co-workers that she’s a woman after all, as otherwise it’s jeans and T-shirts because a Director of Facilities never knows when she’ll find herself cleaning up after a sick child or crawling around a failed baptistry heater.

Margaret on Dress Monday

My sons have always been curious about my cameras. When they were very small I used to get the boxes down from my closet and we’d play with them together, cameras strewn across the living room. As I got serious about my collection again in my 40s and began to shoot my cameras more, my sons often asked if they could shoot them too. Frankly, I wasn’t always thrilled to say yes. They showed no real interest in exposure and focus, so explaining it to them got us nowhere. I took to setting the camera for them, but they were often impatient as I read the light and guessed distance and all. But a camera like the Nikon N8008 is perfect for kid use, even if that kid just turned 18. It requires no explanation beyond “press the button halfway so it can focus and then the rest of the way to get the shot.” My son did that perfectly while we waited for dinner at a Perkins one evening.

Me, taken by my son

Finally, I took the N8008 along the day I visited this abandoned bridge. It’s the one that cemented my love of exploring the old roads, because finding abandoned infrastructure is strangely exciting.

Abandoned US 40 bridge near Plainfield, IN

See more photos from this camera in my Nikon N8008 gallery.

The N8008 is not without its flaws. It’s a little heavy for all-day use. The loud winder was annoying. Autofocus is slower than on a modern camera. But so bloody what? I don’t shoot sports anyway. This camera worked great, full stop.

But I still own a Nikon N90s, also a wonderful auto-everything 35mm SLR. One does not need both cameras. One does not need a hundred cameras stuffed into every nook and cranny of one’s house, either, but that’s where one is despite ongoing efforts to thin the herd.

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