Film Photography

First roll impressions: Kosmo Foto Agent Shadow

Second Presbyterian Church, Indianapolis

Stephen Dowling, the man behind Kosmo Foto, is a friend of this blog. When he launched his Kickstarter for an ISO 400 black-and-white film, of course I immediately invested. The new film was to be called Agent Shadow, and it was promised to be pushable to at least ISO 3200. I’ve come to enjoy pushing black-and-white films and so was eager to give this film a try.

Photo credit: Kosmo Foto

Stephen makes no bones about it: the Kosmo Foto films are existing films repackaged. But what fun packaging he creates! The packaging for his previous film, Mono, invoked the Russian space program, and the Agent Shadow box has a film-noir aesthetic.

My investment netted me a brick of Agent Shadow upon its release. I gave away six rolls to film-shooting friends to try and kept four for myself. I shot my first roll at box speed in my Pentax ME SE with my 35mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-A lens mounted.

Scenes at Second Presbyterian

I started the roll at the gorgeous Second Presbyterian Church on the Northside of Indianapolis. Then I brought the camera to work with me Downtown and shot the rest of the roll on mid-afternoon walks.

Railroad Underpass

The sun was fully out every day I had Agent Shadow in my camera. Normally I turn to ISO 100 films on bright days. At ISO 400 I knew I’d get small apertures, leading to everything being in focus. This faster film also let me confidently shoot in shadowy situations such as under this enormous railroad underpass.


I developed this roll in HC-110, Dilution B. The development chart Kosmo Foto provides for Agent Shadow says to develop five to six minutes at 20° C. The upstairs bathroom where I develop my film is warm in the summer despite our central air, and my distilled water checked in at 23.6°. A proper time conversion for six minutes at that temperature led to a development time of 4:28. The conventional wisdom is to avoid development times of less than five minutes with HC-110. I shrugged my shoulders and developed this roll for five minutes. It worked out: the negatives looked great coming out of the tank.

Toward the JW Marriott

The negatives scanned easily on my Plustek 8200i. They didn’t attract much dust while drying, either, which made for a lot less work in post-processing. I boosted contrast and reduced highlights on these negatives, and of course applied a little unsharp masking, but needed to do little else to make the images look good.

Holy Rosary

Agent Shadow offers good tonality across the gray spectrum with obvious but pleasing grain. This is all in good order for a good cubic-grained ISO 400 black-and-white film!


The light areas on these images were quite white straight off the scanner, I’m sure thanks to the blazing sun bearing down on my subjects. But as I fiddled with the images in Photoshop I found that those areas weren’t blown out. There was plenty of information in the scan that let me bring out the nuance.

Henry St.

I was also pleased to get good blacks from Agent Shadow. Dark areas didn’t respond wonderfully to my attempts in Photoshop to pull details out, however.


Shot at ISO 400, Agent Shadow looks to be a good, versatile black-and-white film. I look forward to pushing it on my next roll, however. I’ll try ISO 1600 next, and make candids of my family around the house.

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1949 Buick Super

1949 Buick Super
Pentax ME SE
35-70mm f/4 SMC Pentax-A
Fujifilm Fujicolor 200

I normally save all of the old parked cars that I find for my annual Carspotting roundup in December. (See all of my Carspotting posts here.) But I was excited enough to find this one that I’m making an exception. I’m just partial to 1940s Buicks!

There were three different generations of Buick in the 1940s. The first generation lasted two short years: 1940 and 1941. The next started in 1942, skipped 1943-45 because of the war, resumed in 1946, and wrapped in 1948. This car is of the generation that began in 1949, but ushered in the 1950s, concluding in 1953.

This is clearly an unrestored original. Just look at how the paint has faded and worn with time! I wonder what the insignia on the door used to be.

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Old Cars, Photographs

single frame: 1949 Buick Super

An old car, parked.

Camera Reviews

Pentax ME SE

You have to wonder why Pentax went to the trouble to offer the Pentax ME SE. After all, it was the same camera as the Pentax ME save two tiny details. One of those details is obvious by inspection: smooth brown leather on the body instead of textured black leather.

Pentax ME SE

The other differing detail is inside the viewfinder: on the focusing screen, the split screen is canted at -45 degrees. The regular ME’s split screen is horizontal. The canted split screen eliminates needing to rotate the camera when the subject’s lines are primarily horizontal, which is nice.

Pentax ME SE

Otherwise, the ME SE’s specs are identical to the ME’s. It works with films from ISO 12 to 1600 and allows exposures from 8 seconds to 1/1000 second through its electronic shutter. You can adjust exposure up to two stops in either direction by setting a dial around the rewind crank. Its hot shoe syncs at 1/100 sec. Two silver-oxide SR44 button batteries power the ME SE. Without them, the shutter operates only at 1/100 sec and at bulb.

Pentax ME SE

Also like the regular ME, this camera operates only in aperture-priority autoexposure mode, and it lacks depth-of-field preview. This camera was aimed squarely at the amateur.

To use the Pentax ME SE, turn the dial atop the camera to AUTO. Set your aperture on the lens. Then look through the viewfinder, frame your subject, and focus. Press the shutter button down partway. A red light appears next to the shutter speed the ME SE’s meter chose. If the red light appears next to OVER or UNDER, adjust the aperture until the meter can select one of the shutter speeds. Of course, if you get a shutter speed slower than about the inverse of your lens’s focal length, you should mount the camera on a tripod to avoid shake.

Pentax produced these cameras from 1976 to 1979, but you could buy them new out of existing stock through at least 1984. They commonly came in a kit with the 50mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M lens for a street price of about $120. That’s equivalent to about $330 today, making this camera a solid bargain when new.

If you like compact SLRs, see my reviews of the original Pentax ME (here), the Olympus OM-1 (here), and the Nikon FA (here). If you like Pentax SLRs, see my reviews of the K1000 (here), the KM (here), the Spotmatic SP (here), the Spotmatic F (here), the ES II (here), and the H3 (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

My regular Pentax ME has long been my favorite SLR. It’s so light and easy to carry, and I strongly favor aperture-priority shooting. When I found my ME’s meter to be dead last fall, I faced a choice. I could either have my well-used, somewhat battered body repaired, or buy a lightly-used, working body. I decided upon the latter, and soon came upon this clean and minty ME SE. The seller had even just replaced all of the light seals. I paid $105, including shipping, which is a lot more than I normally pay for any camera. But I am entering into a long-term relationship and was willing to pay for a body in very good nick.

To test the camera I mounted the delightful 50mm f/1.7 SMC Pentax-M lens and loaded some Kodak Ultramax 400. I set the camera’s ISO to 200 because I love the look of Ultramax 400 overexposed by a stop.

Autumn in the suburbs on the Pentax ME SE

The ME SE feels just like the ME in the hand, except that the ME SE’s smooth leather feels a great deal nicer than the ME’s nubby black leather. It gives me an “ahhhhh!” moment every time I pick it up.

Metamora, Indiana on the Pentax ME SE

I kept going with a roll of Fomapan 200, which I rated at 125 and developed in Ilford ID-11 stock.

Rushville, IN on the Pentax ME SE

Just like the regular ME, the ME SE’s winder feels a little ratchety. The similarly sized Olympus OM-1 or -2’s winder is a lot smoother. The shutter button feels good, however, with a smooth, short travel.

Rushville, IN on the Pentax ME SE

The ME SE’s viewfinder is surprisingly large and bright, which adds to the joy of using this camera.

Brookville, IN on the Pentax ME SE

Next I mounted the underappreciated 50mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M lens and loaded some expired Agfa Agfacolor Vista 400 film. I shot it at box speed — I should have rated it at 200 or 100. This was the best-exposed image on the roll.

Construction scene on the Pentax ME SE

I shot the ME SE all over Indiana on various trips. Because of its size and weight, it’s an easy companion.

Carmel statue on the Pentax ME SE

Finally I took the ME SE along on a trip up the Michigan Road toward South Bend, fresh Fujicolor 200 aboard. I mounted a 35-70mm f/4 SMC Pentax-A lens I had just bought.

Rees marquee on the Pentax ME SE

This fat lens made the ME SE front heavy and thus less pleasant to shoot. Mount a prime onto the ME SE (or the regular ME) and you have a light, balanced kit.

1949 Buick Super on the Pentax ME SE

To see more from this camera, check out my Pentax ME SE gallery.

I love the Pentax ME SE, just as I have loved the Pentax ME for many years now. I recommend these bodies every chance I get. They’re still relatively inexpensive on the used market, and they let you mount the entire range of terrific Pentax manual-focus lenses. What’s not to love?

Postscript: I got out my regular ME the other day to decide what to do with it. I decided to try another fresh battery just for the heck of it — and the meter lit right up. The camera works just fine. I have no idea why I couldn’t make it work before. Now I have two working ME bodies!

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

First impressions: 35-70mm f/4 SMC Pentax-A zoom lens

For the walking-around photography I often do, I like 28-80mm or 35-70mm zoom lenses. They’re like having three or four prime lenses on hand, but without having to dismount one lens to mount another. Their maximum apertures aren’t as wide as the primes they replace — f/3.5 or f/4, rather than f/1.7 or f/1.4. Fortunately, I commonly shoot at f/8 to f/16 when I’m walking about in daylight, so that’s no big deal.

I’ve long wanted such a zoom lens for my manual-focus Pentax SLRs. I recently bought a 35-70mm f/4 SMC Pentax-A lens because I got a good one at a good price ($44 shipped) on eBay. I liked that it was a twist zoom rather than a pump zoom. I find twist zooms to handle a little more easily.

I took my Pentax ME SE and this lens along on a recent road trip up the Michigan Road to South Bend. Unfortunately, the lens made the ME SE front heavy, which detracted from this camera’s usual easy handling. I probably should have mounted it to my larger and heavier Pentax KM instead. But what was done was done, and I pressed on with a fresh roll of Fujicolor 200. Still, I always carried this kit in my hand, strap dangling. That tells me it wasn’t too heavy.

This lens suffers from a common malady among short-range zoom lenses: barrel distortion at the wide end. This photo shows it a little.

Liquor store

Fortunately, that’s easy enough to correct in Photoshop, which I did on all of the rest of the images so affected.

Purple building in Plymouth

The lens doesn’t stay perfectly focused when you zoom. The amount of needed refocusing is tiny, however. You don’t need to correct it except when depth of field is shallow.

Sycamore Row

At 70mm, this lens focuses to four inches. What a nice touch.


On this photo, the sun was off to my left and created a little flare. I suppose I could look for a hood to fit this lens’s 58mm filter threads.

State Theater, Logansport

I am satisfied with the lens’s sharpness.

Michigan Road historic marker

The 35-70mm f/4 SMC Pentax-A is a solid, well-made lens. My copy is still well screwed together and tight. It handled and performed adequately.


This was the fourth roll of film I put through this Pentax ME SE, which I bought somewhat impulsively as I have a perfectly good regular Pentax ME. I’ll review the ME SE soon.

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Film Photography

First roll impressions: Agfa Agfacolor Vista 400

The reader who sent me the Minolta Maxxum 5 also sent me four rolls of film, including two of the original Agfa Vista 400. The last film sold under the Agfa Vista 400 name was rebranded Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400. The film I was sent was the older, Agfa-made emulsion. It’s easy to tell one from the other: the older emulsion carries Agfacolor branding, and the newer carries Agfa Photo branding.

Any Agfacolor Vista 400 you come upon is expired. The two rolls I received were always stored frozen, which always bodes well for like-fresh performance.

Boldly, I shot my first roll at box speed in my Pentax ME SE with the 50mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M lens attached. Sadly, I was rewarded with photographs that ranged from slightly to very underexposed. Drat it. Photoshop was able to rescue about two thirds of them. The rest were too faint to be made usable.

I shot most of the roll on an afternoon trip to Carmel, a suburb of Indianapolis. They have a quirky downtown area they call the Arts and Design District. This photo of leftover Christmas decorations is one of the least degraded images on the roll, and gives a good sense of this film’s capabilities. The colors are true, but slightly oversaturated.

Red ribbons

This film clearly has a color palette all its own, different from the Kodak and Fuji stocks.

Woman with flowers

The Arts and Design District features several statues of people represented as going about their daily lives. I’ve always found them to be strange and creepy.

Carmel statue

It’s strange to me how some of these images are noticeably underexposed and others aren’t. My past experience with expired film is that it behaves fairly consistently throughout the roll.

Carmel statue

I like how Agfa Vista 400 rendered the neutrals and blacks in this photo.

Monon trail

Bub’s is a Carmel institution. You could smell the burgers grilling for 100 yards in any direction.


When I shoot my next (and last) roll of Agfa Agfacolor Vista 400, I’ll dial my camera in at EI 200. That ought to result in better exposures on this expired stock.

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A visit to Brookville

I stayed in Brookville, a town of about 2,500 people in southeastern Indiana, while I attended the Indiana Byways conference in early November. I’d only been to Brookville once before, many years ago, and hardly stopped. This time, I made sure to set aside time to walk the town’s lovely main street with my camera.

Brookville is old compared to most other Indiana towns, as it was platted in 1808. That’s eight years before Indiana became a state! The downtown strip retains much of its 19th-century charm.

Brookville is on US 52, which was laid out along the old Brookville Road. This road was commissioned by the state in 1821 to connect Indianapolis with the Ohio border near Cincinnati.

I made these photographs with my Pentax ME SE, using my 50mm f/1.7 SMC Pentax-M lens. I shot Fomapan 200 at EI 125 and developed it in Ilford ID-11, stock solution.

Brookville, IN
Brookville, IN
Brookville, IN
Brookville, IN
Brookville, IN
Brookville, IN
Brookville, IN
Brookville, IN
Brookville, IN

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