A lovely Pentax ME F was recently donated to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras.
This is a historically significant camera: the first mass-produced autofocus 35mm SLR. Pentax created a single autofocus lens, the pictured 35-70mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax AF Zoom. Its focusing motors were built in, making it almost as large as, and heavier than, the body.
The ME F’s autofocus sensor is inside the body. LEDs in the viewfinder communicate focus: red for out of focus, green for in focus.
I put a roll of Agfa Vista 200 through it recently. Focusing was slow, and sure only in bright light with obvious subjects. Much of the time the lens hunted hopelessly and I ended up focusing it manually. This is a common complaint with the camera. But upon its 1981 introduction, people were probably impressed that it worked at all.
About half the roll came back underexposed. I noticed while shooting that the camera kept choosing shutter speeds that seemed far too fast for the conditions. Just now I checked the ME F against my ME using my 35mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-A lens. In the light available here at my desk, at f/2.8 the ME chose 1/30 sec, while the ME F chose 1/1000 sec. The meter clearly needs a little adjustment.
I’ll put it into the queue to have it done. While as an autofocus camera the ME F isn’t all that useful, I’m keeping it for its historical significance. And since it still takes the entire range of manual-focus K-mount lenses, it will make a fine backup body to my everyday SLR, the Pentax ME.
It’s funny how much I had to push up my courage to ask these people if I could take their portraits. I go to church with them; we know each other pretty well!
I shoot mostly old buildings and old cars because I like them. I like people, too, but they have feelings about being photographed that my usual subjects don’t. But my fellow congregants sure do enjoy it when I bring them prints of the portraits I make. And when I make their portraits I can speak with them as people far easier than I can otherwise.
So for our recent pitch-in lunch, I mounted a 50/1.4 onto my Pentax ME and loaded a roll of Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800. I set the lens to f/2, which I figured would give me the depth of field I wanted, and used the camera like a point-and-shoot.
This is Debra, a woman of few words but of vast faith. When I need prayer, I ask Debra first.
Meet Margaret. This is not my wife Margaret but one of the other two Margarets in our congregation. Our church is a Margaret-rich environment. This Margaret is an elder and has sung in our praise team (and in the choir that preceded it) since 1962.
Here’s Dawn, going to town carving a ham. We all come to church on our best behavior but I bet Dawn is quite ornery outside the church!
We had a guest preacher this Sunday, Nick, pictured here with his daughter whose name I didn’t catch.
Dave is a longtime member who at some point moved out to the suburbs. He drives in every Sunday.
Jenny and I had a moment of connection recently when she saw on Facebook that I’d been to the Anthrax concert. She was surprised that I even knew who Anthrax was. I project a pretty buttoned-down image.
We see Amber only sometimes. She’s a young adult making her way. Amber could well be the happiest person I’ve ever met. Every time I see her, anyway, she seems to be on the verge of rapturous joy.
Amber’s mother Rhonda is on the right, with her man Steve. They’re a great couple and seem to be good for each other.
I think these compositions are all right and I did get the depth of field I was looking for at f/2. I wish the colors were fuller, but I guess this is what you get shooting ISO 800 film. I had the processor make prints of these so I could give them out, and the prints have better color and less grain. It seems paradoxical, really — the lab made the prints from these scans.
It was going to be a series: photos of my boys leaning on my car in front of various restaurants where we ate dinner. And I was going to use nothing but box cameras. Then I made just two photos. It’s not much of a series.
I suppose I could make more, eventually. But now that both boys are out of high school we’ll simply go out together a lot less often. And what are the odds I’ll have a loaded box camera then?
The boys live near an Interstate highway, so the available restaurants are the chain diners you expect to find at an exit. I have a bunch of dietary restrictions which make ordering at a restaurant tricky. But I can always confidently order the bacon and eggs.
It so happens that I sent both rolls of film to Old School Photo Lab for processing. I didn’t order prints, but they printed these two images anyway and sent them to me for nothing. The prints are truly wonderful! Far better than these scans. Crisper, more vivid. If I didn’t tell you I took them with box cameras, you’d never know.
My first wife made brilliant portraits. Through wit and charm, and sometimes even a little flirting, she was very good at drawing spark and life out of her subjects as she worked the shutter. She made many portraits of our young sons with her Pentax K1000, several of which were framed around our home. Two black-and-white portraits of Garrett, aged about five, somehow found their way into my hands and are framed in my living room. His eyes are full of light and joy.
I shied away from photographing people for a long time. I didn’t think I could ever be as good as my ex, so I wouldn’t even try. What a logical fallacy. But I let it be for years.
I wanted annual portraits of the boys, so we’d go to the Target portrait studio. They did reasonable work for the money. But after several years the photographer moved on, and the new one wasn’t very good. I figured I could do at least that well. So I started trying.
I bested the new Target photographer right out of the gate.
I don’t own any lighting gear, so I photographed my sons outside. Broad daylight turns out to be challenging for good skin tones. I relied on my cameras’ meters; I see I should have underexposed by at least a half stop.
I used slower films for the finer grain, but found the in-focus patch could be mighty narrow even in blazing sunlight. I got lots of soft-focus photos, and even some that were clearly out of focus. I shoot handheld; perhaps portraiture calls for a tripod. Or faster film.
I even started dabbling with 135mm lenses, because portraits are supposed to be taken with long lenses, right?
I could really fill the frame without having to put my lens right in my son’s face, which they liked. But I think a 100mm, or maybe even an 85mm, lens would be more useful.
And soon I busted out some medium-format equipment, and even started experimenting with poses, trying to do something artistic.
I still haven’t mastered the art of posed portraits. I just don’t have that ability to be engaging and charming with my subject as my ex did. She had a gift. I’m too buttoned down, too unsure of myself yet. My sons frequently look like they’re trying too hard to smile. Damion usually doesn’t bother.
But now and then I do nail it, usually at a more candid moment. Garrett was just watching YouTube videos in my easy chair when I asked him to look up. He was relaxed and content, and it shows in his eyes.
Now that the boys are moving on into their own lives, they’ll be around less for portraits. Maybe now I need to put Margaret in my lens more!