Your table awaits

Your table awaits
Pentax Spotmatic F
55mm f/1.8 SMC Takumar
Ferrania P30 Alpha
Rodinal 1+50

2020

The last two years for my birthday I had everyone in the family who could make it meet at Muldoon’s, an Irish pub in Carmel. The first year it was nice enough outside to sit here, on the patio. They make outstanding nachos. I know, nachos at an Irish pub. They call it Irish pizza. It’s loaded with crumbled sausage — unique and delicious. The cheese is top quality. It’s a giant calorie bomb but it’s soooo goooood.

Who knows where we’ll be in the coronapocalypse on my birthday this year, but I’m not feeling great about returning to Muldoon’s for a third year. I haven’t figured out yet what my birthday celebration will look like, or whether I’ll be able to see any of our children that don’t live with us.

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Film Photography

single frame: Your table awaits

Patio seating at a restaurant in Carmel, Indiana.

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Up the steps to the porch

Old farmhouse
Pentax IQZoom 170SL
Kodak T-Max 400
Rodinal 1+50
2020

My subdivision used to be farmland. When I moved to central Indiana a quarter century ago, I occasionally drove out this way and it was as rural as rural can be. Now it’s all vinyl villages and shopping centers.

An old farmhouse lies around the corner from my house. It’s on a parcel that I’d guess covers just a few acres. A family still lives there — is it the original family that sold the rest of the land for this subdivision?

These steps lead to the farmhouse’s front door, but it’s clear that nobody’s used that door in a long time.

The road I stood on to make this photograph used to be a state highway, but not since the 1960s when it was moved to intersect with the nearby Interstate highway. Now this old road is just the back way into my section of the neighborhood, and it dead ends when it reaches it.

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Film Photography

single frame: Old farmhouse

A look at an old farmhouse in the middle of a suburban neighborhood.

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Film Photography

Kodak T-Max 400 in the Pentax IQZoom 170SL

Lounge chairs

I was deeply impressed with the Pentax IQZoom 170SL when I shot some test rolls in it recently. I got excellent color on consumer-grade Fuji films, and its lens was plenty sharp. If it worked the same magic on black-and-white film, I would keep it in my collection. I bought a fresh CR2 battery, loaded some Kodak T-Max 400, and took it on lunchtime walks around my neighborhood.

Toward the shallow end

I shot a lot of film in the spring! It gave me so much to share here that I’m clearing away a big backlog of photos. I made these about four weeks ago. We had an unusually gray and chilly spring. ISO 400 film is just right for days like that, especially in a point-and-shoot camera.

XOX

I developed this roll in Rodinal 1+50 and scanned the negatives with VueScan on my Canon CanoScan 9000F Mk II. The VueScan produces smoother tones than the software I was using before. These aren’t quite as good as the scans I get from my favorite lab, but they’re plenty good for every purpose I have for them.

Class of 2020

Our subdivision offers the most affordable homes in what is otherwise a wealthy and expensive suburb of Indianapolis. It’s the only way we can afford to live here. We got excellent schools in the bargain. This year’s high-school seniors will have a very different graduation experience from any class before. These signs are for all of the seniors in our subdivision. It’s one of many visible ways the community is celebrating them.

Village club

But back to the IQZoom 170SL. It handled well. Even though it’s a little chunky, it slid right into my jeans back pocket. And it delivered the goods yet again. I can’t believe you can buy one on eBay for under $50, and often under $20. Other equally capable point-and-shoots go for five or ten times that much. Get one now before everybody else gloms onto them and the prices soar.

NO

Signs proclaim NO all over our subdivision. No soliciting. No fishing, swimming, ice skating, or boating. No digging, because natural gas and petroleum pipelines flow below our ground. We’re the Village of No.

No Outlet at max zoom

I have but two criticisms of the 170SL. First, images go soft at maximum zoom (as above). But that’s typical of long-zoom point-and-shoots.

Aluminum ladder

Second, the camera flashes automatically when it thinks the light calls for it. You can override it, but I found myself caught by surprise every time it happened. Fortunately, in this photo of little aluminum ladder on our deck in mid-renovation, the image retained detail in the aluminum highlights.

My desk

I meant to use the flash in this shot, from the day my wife and I turned our living room into our home office. It lit the scene evenly, which is not always true of the little flashes on point-and-shoot cameras.

This little camera is a winner. If you like point-and-shoots, get one.

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Camera Reviews

Kodak Retina Reflex III

From the 1930s through the 1950s, the finest 35mm cameras had built-in rangefinders to take the guesswork out of focusing. But during the 1950s, manufacturers began to introduce 35mm single-lens-reflex (SLR) cameras. The Germans built leaf-shutter SLRs, including Kodak with its 1953 Retina Reflex. Kodak kept improving that basic camera over the next 14 years before getting out of the SLR business. The 1960-64 Kodak Retina Reflex III was the third, and next to last, of the line.

Kodak Retina Reflex III

The Reflex III, which the Retina cognoscenti also know as the Type 041, came with one of several 50mm lenses. Mine features the f/1.9 Schneider-Kreuznach Retina-Xenon lens, which focuses to 3 feet. This is an interchangeable lens camera; twist counterclockwise and the lens comes right off. Eight different Schneider-Kreuznach lenses were available, ranging from 28mm to 200mm. Six different Rodenstock lenses were also available, ranging from 30mm to 135mm.

Kodak Retina Reflex III

All Reflex IIIs use a Synchro-Compur shutter that operates from 1 to 1/500 sec. That’s pretty speedy for a leaf shutter. It syncs to flashes via a cable, either M or X sync.

The Reflex III lets you set film ASA from a surprisingly slow 5 ASA to a surprisingly fast 1600 ASA. To set ASA, push up the little thumb lever on the camera back below the ASA/DIN dial that’s on top of the camera, and then turn the knurled setting wheel on the bottom of the aperture/shutter-speed rings until the arrow points to the ASA you want.

Kodak Retina Reflex III

The top plate is remarkably free of controls beyond that ASA setting and a film type reminder on the rewind knob. The shutter button is on the camera’s front. The winder and film counter are on the bottom.

Kodak Retina Reflex III

It’s not obvious how you use this camera, so let me share what I’ve learned. Before you take the first picture, set the film counter. Don’t forget, because when it counts down to zero, the shutter won’t fire. There’s a little slide control near the winder; push it repeatedly in the direction of the arrow until it shows the number of frames on your roll.

To open the camera to load film, twist the control around the tripod socket clockwise to reveal a little chrome button. Push it and the back pops open.

The winder is on the bottom, too. Winding the film cocks the shutter. To rewind, press the little button that’s in the crook of the winder arm and twist the rewind knob on the top plate.

To set exposure, first choose the shutter speed you want by turning the shutter-speed ring on the lens barrel. Then turn the knurled setting wheel until the aperture you want lines up with the shutter speed. If you then change the shutter speed the aperture changes with it, maintaining the chosen exposure. For example, if you set 1/60 sec. at f/8, then turn the shutter-speed ring to 1/125 sec., the aperture shifts to f/5.6. As you do this, two red pips on the focus scale move to show you the depth of field you will get. It’s a neat little system, really.

There’s one last way this camera doesn’t follow the modern SLR idiom. The mirror doesn’t return after you fire the shutter, leaving the viewfinder black. The mirror returns only when you wind to the next frame.

This complex machine is also “whoa, that’s heavy” heavy. It was also startlingly expensive in its day: $248.50 USD, which is equivalent to more than $2,000 today.

You’ll find Retina Reflex IIIs with two different meters on its face, one slightly smaller than the other. The smaller one is on Reflex IIIs from before 1962. Mine has the larger meter. Both meters were made by Gossen, and if you look carefully at the plastic cover you can see Gossen’s name in it.

If you like Kodak Retinas, by the way, I’ve reviewed several: a Ia (here), a IIa (here), a IIc (here), and a Reflex IV (here). I’ve also reviewed a Retinette IA (here) and a Retinette II (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

I loaded a roll of Arista EDU 200 into the Retina Reflex III and started shooting. (I developed the roll in Rodinal 1+50 and scanned the negatives on my Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II.) For the majority of shots I left the shutter speed at 1/250 and used Sunny 16 to guess aperture. For the rest I set exposure based on what my phone’s light-meter app reported.

Stained glass

My Retina Reflex III was well used by its original owner, who was my sister-in-law’s father. It came to me with several issues. The ASA setting mechanism on my Retina III may be broken — turning the knurled knob moves both the scale and the selector, at different rates. But the meter is dead in mine, too, rendering that problem moot.

Fence

The coupled aperture-shutter speed setting doesn’t work properly on this camera, either. If I choose 1/500 sec. at f/1.9, and then twist the shutter-speed ring until I reach the minimum aperture of f/22, and then twist the shutter-speed ring back until the aperture is f/1.9 again, my shutter speed is only 1/125 sec. It should go right back to 1/500.

Suburbia

Sometimes after shooting and winding, the aperture blades closed all the way, blocking the viewfinder. I found that releasing the winding lever very slowly often prevented this. When it didn’t, I had no choice but to fire the shutter and wind again. Toward the end of the roll I realized that the camera was probably still making an exposure, so I tried just pointing the camera toward a subject to see what turned out. This is one of those photos.

Entrance

Finally, the focusing ring is stiff, so stiff that I had to be careful in twisting it not to twist the lens off the camera. Focusing was slow going. Of all of this camera’s faults, this is the only one that tried my patience.

Hoop

But after I did the hokey-pokey to set exposure and focus, the Schneider-Kreuznach lens went to work and delivered well.

VW and license plate

I shouldn’t be surprised; I’ve yet to meet a Schneider-Kreuznach lens I didn’t like. Unfortunately, shooting this camera was more frustrating than rewarding.

Tree shadow

See more from this camera in my Kodak Retina Reflex III gallery.

During the 1960s, rangefinder cameras declined sharply in popularity as the SLR took over. The Japanese found the right formula, starting with focal-plane shutters to open up top speeds of 1/1,000, 1/2,000, and even 1/8,000 sec. Their cameras were generally lighter and less complex. They were easier to use and felt good in the hand. Kodak decided not to change with the times, instead exiting the SLR business with the last Retina Reflex IVs in 1967. Kodak leaned hard into its Instamatic cameras and didn’t look back.

I’m not looking back at this Kodak Retina Reflex III, either. It simply has too many issues. But I’m sure that when it was new, once its original owner got the hang of it, he made scads of lovely images with it.

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

Kodak No. 2 Hawk-eye, Model C, 50th Anniversary of Kodak edition

The Eastman Kodak Company turned 50 in 1930, if you measure it by the year that George Eastman first rented space in Rochester, New York, to make photographic dry plates. The name Kodak wasn’t coined until 1888, when the first Kodak camera was introduced. The company wouldn’t be named the Eastman Kodak Company until 1892. But as Eastman Kodak was counting it, 1930 was the golden anniversary. The company celebrated it by reintroducing a popular box camera first built in 1913, the No. 2 Hawk-Eye, Model C — the 50th Anniversary of Kodak edition.

Kodak No. 2 Hawk-Eye, 50th Annversary of Kodak edition

They covered the camera in brown leatherette, trimmed it in goldtone, and affixed a golden sticker to the side proclaiming the 50th Anniversary of Kodak. (On mine, if not on most, the gold sticker has faded to silver.) The company manufactured more than a half million of them just to give them all away to children who turned 12 that year. Through this anniversary giveaway, Eastman Kodak wanted to encourage a whole new generation to embrace photography.

Kodak No. 2 Hawk-Eye, 50th Annversary of Kodak edition

This camera is a gift to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras, from the same retired pro who sent me the black No. 2 Hawk-Eye I reviewed recently. It is in good condition. The viewfinder is dim, but that’s par for the course. I swabbed it with isopropyl alcohol, which cleaned it up nicely. But it’s still a small viewfinder and challenging to compose in. There’s no landscape viewfinder, either, and if you try turning the camera on its side to compose landscape the camera rewards you by turning the image upside down.

Kodak No. 2 Hawk-Eye, 50th Annversary of Kodak edition

Because Kodak made so many of these, they’re inexpensive and easy to find. The portrait viewfinder does limit the camera’s usefulness, however.

If you like box cameras, I’ve reviewed a bunch: the Ansco B-2 Cadet (here), the Ansco Shur Shot (here), the Kodak No. 2 Brownie in both Model D (here) and Model F (here), and the Kodak Six-20 Brownie (here). Or see all of my camera reviews here.

I put some Kodak T-Max 100 into this box Hawk-Eye and took it on a lunchtime walk around the neighborhood. I developed the roll in Rodinal 1+50 and scanned the negatives on my Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II.

Welcome to Zionsville

The images are all a little soft, but contrast is much improved over the black No. 2 Hawk-Eye I also have. It’s not impossible that I underdeveloped the roll from that camera.

Farmhouse steps

The shutter lever doesn’t stick very far out from the body on this camera, which I’m sure is a manufacturing fault and not the norm. It wasn’t a giant deal, but a couple times after composing my thumb couldn’t find the shutter lever and I had to turn the camera to locate it and then recompose.

Est. 1851

It’s always remarkable to me how capable a simple meniscus lens like the one in this No. 2 Hawk-Eye can be. You just have to make sure you’re standing at least six feet away from your subject, as that’s as close as these lenses usually can focus.

Ped Xing

I found the portrait-only viewfinder to be too limiting as I looked for subjects. A landscape-only viewfinder would have been less limiting for me.

CVS/pharmacy

To see more from this camera, check out my Kodak No. 2 Hawk-Eye, Model C, 50th Anniversary of Kodak Edition gallery.

It was fun to experience this Kodak No. 2 Hawk-Eye, Model C, 50th Anniversary of Kodak edition. But because of its portrait-only viewfinder I’m unlikely to use it again. My two Kodak No. 2 Brownies (Model D and Model F) function essentially the same, but are more versatile because they offer both portrait and landscape viewfinders.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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COVID-19, Film Photography

An abandoned bridge and a forgotten cemetery

We were just two weeks into stay-at-home orders during the COVID-19 pandemic. I thought I was adapting okay, but as that second week drew to a close I felt myself going a little stir crazy. I felt a strong need to get away for a while. But where could I go?

My wife suggested I just take a long drive. “If you’re in your car, there’s nobody to infect you and you can’t infect anybody.” Brilliant. So that Saturday afternoon that’s just what I did.

I don’t like to drive aimlessly. I need to have a destination. So I chose one: the abandoned US 40 bridge west of Plainfield, Indiana, and the Civil War-era cemetery hidden near it. It’s about 40 minutes from home, giving me a good long drive there and back. I’ve never encountered another soul there anytime I’ve visited, so it would be a safe place to go. My Pentax ME Super was loaded with Kodak T-Max 400 at the time so I brought it along. The wonderful 50mm f/1.7 SMC Pentax-M lens was attached.

Abadoned US 40 bridge

The bare-tree months are my favorite time to visit this bridge because it’s so visible. In the middle of summer this is mighty overgrown. You can’t even see the bridge from modern US 40 then. But at this time of year it’s easy to see.

Abadoned US 40 bridge

This bridge was built in 1923. It doesn’t look too bad for having gotten zero maintenance since it was abandoned, which was sometime between 1939 and 1941.

Abadoned US 40 bridge

Iron’s Cemetery is just northeast of the bridge. Little spring flowers grew all along the path leading to it.

At Iron's Cemetery

Inside the cemetery, you can see the other side of the bridge. At least you can during the bare-tree months.

Abandoned US 40 bridge

Except for the sound of an occasional passing car, the only sound here is the wind. It was lovely to be out in the world in a peaceful place.

At Iron's Cemetery

There are always lots of interesting details to photograph in an old cemetery. Gravestone letterforms of the 1800s fascinate me. They have such style!

At Iron's Cemetery

Unfortunately, many of the markers here are in poor condition. Some of them are broken and lying on the ground.

At Iron's Cemetery

I hate to see any old cemetery in this condition. It’s funny — I won’t be buried in one when I’m gone, it seems like a waste of good ground. Cremate me and scatter my remains to the wind. But for those who did choose burial, good heavens, provide for the maintenance of those graves!

At Iron's Cemetery

But enough of that maudlin stuff. It helped me regain my internal footing to make this trip. I lingered here well past I stopped finding photographic inspiration, just to enjoy the quiet and the outdoors. Then I got into my car and drove back home.

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