Film Photography

Bathroom mirror selfies

It was probably a form of escapism from all the crap my family was living through. Or therapy. I think calling it therapy makes it sound healthier somehow, the sheer volume of photographs I took last year. I haven’t counted but I’ll bet I took more photos in 2018 than in any other year.

I had so many cameras going at one time that I was losing track of which camera I used for which roll of film. I started writing notes but I also sometimes made a selfie of myself in the bathroom mirror. That way I’d have a sure record of which camera I used for that roll!

As you can see, I decided to try a very short haircut somewhere during 2018. It was interesting, and I got a lot of compliments the first couple days after I came back from the barber. But it isn’t for me long term and I’m back to growing it out sort of like in the first photo.

Underexposed selfie
Bathroom selfie
Bathroom selfie
Bathroom portrait selfie
Bathroom selfie
Overexposed selfie

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.

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Film Photography

Underexposed selfie

An underexposed selfie from a historically significant camera: the first autofocus 35mm SLR. Meet the Pentax ME F.


A self-indulgent look at the avatars I’ve used on WordPress

I was surprised that a couple of you noticed when I changed my WordPress avatar recently. I really liked my old avatar. I thought it made me look tough — tougher than I am, really. Here it is, almost as big as life.


There’s a story behind that avatar. My sons and I were out on our 2013 Spring Break tour of Route 66, and we’d reached the ghost town of Spencer, Missouri. It’s on a great 1928 concrete segment of the road, just beyond a metal truss bridge. A restored gas station stands there. I wrote about it here.

I wasn’t sure I was going to remember exactly where this was, so I whipped out my iPhone to take a shot, which would grab geolocation. But my phone was set to video mode on the front camera. I shot two seconds of myself before I figured it out. I was not amused.

I paused the video at a good moment, took a screen shot, converted it to black and white, cropped it, and there it was: my new avatar. I used it on Facebook, too, and when it went live it got a huge positive response. So I kept it for a long time.

There’s also a story about why I dropped it. Recently I was in an email conversation with a well-known blogger whom I have followed for years. To make a long story short, she said that my avatar’s mean look didn’t jibe with the personality I showed when I commented on her posts. So I switched to my current avatar photo. “Much better,” she said.

Since I’ve waded into the pool of self-indulgence in this post, I might as well swim out all the way. Here are all the photos I’ve used as avatars here at Down the Road.

This photo is from when the blog was new: 2007. I still rocked my long hair then. My older son, then in the fourth grade, asked me to go along on a school field trip to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He took this shot of me with my camera. What you see in my eyes is me enjoying my son.

100_0942 proc2_LUCiD

I took this unintentional selfie at the Mecum Spring Classic old-car auction in 2009. I’d never heard of the Mecum before, but had won tickets in a radio-station contest. I’ve gone every year since. This Oldsmobile was black, but when I squatted to capture this badge, the finish acted as a mirror.

67 Olds Delmont 88 1

My friend Alice gave me an Olympus OM-1 that had belonged to her father. When I shot a test roll with it, I took this intentional selfie in my car’s side mirror.


I had loaded Kodak E100G slide film into my Kodak Monitor, an old folding camera with a wonderful lens. Its shutter is fussy. You have to press the button firmly, and even then it doesn’t always fire. Once when it didn’t fire, I looked down into the lens — and then the shutter fired in delayed reaction, giving me this. So glad it’s not in focus so you can’t really see into my nose.

002_2A proc

Finally, here’s the photo from which I took my current avatar. Margaret and I were on a photo walk through the huge, awesome Crown Hill Cemetery here in Indianapolis during the autumn of 2014. I was carrying my Nikon N2000 and she was using one of my film cameras, too, probably my Minolta XG 1.

Crown Hill 11-10-14

I’m a pretty serious fellow and I don’t smile easily. But I smile all the time when I’m with Margaret.

Camera Reviews

The Apple iPhone 5 camera

I’ve reluctantly retired my iPhone 5. I say reluctantly because it was a great phone, at least in terms of its size, usefulness, and usability. What caused me to retire it was one too many hardware problems. I’ll spare you the litany of woes. Suffice it to say that I’d had it with its unreliability. But the iPhone 5 camera was pretty darn good.

iPhone 5, left, next to the phone I had before it, a Palm Pre

That’s what I am writing about here — the iPhone 5 camera. I shot thousands of photos with it, because it was the camera that was always on me, and it was a perfectly competent point and shoot camera that occasionally delivered brilliance.

I got my iPhone 5 on the morning it was released in 2012. The first photo I took with it? A selfie, of course. I still have that shirt.


It was a great selfie tool.


Actually, I shot people with it more often than with any other camera I’ve ever owned.

IMG_3019 proc

The iPhone 5 did surprisingly well in low light. I loved using the it to capture sunrises and sunsets, and I wasn’t afraid to use it indoors without flash.

Marsh nee Sears

The iPhone 5 did reasonable close-up work.


It was also a great road-trip companion. I shoot mostly my Canon PowerShot S95 while I’m on the road, but the iPhone 5 had two great uses: if I wasn’t sure I’d remember exactly where I took a shot, the iPhone 5 would do that for me, because it geotagged each photo. And it was great for letting me update Facebook or text friends with what I was seeing, from the scene.

Brick Route 66
On the Dixie

But mostly I used my iPhone 5 to say, “I’m here, doing this, right now.” It was a whole new use of a camera to me: a way to casually record a moment, and if I wanted, to communicate it wordlessly and immediately to anyone I know. This led me to take all sorts of shots I never would have otherwise — shots that, years on, invoke memories I might otherwise have lost.

IMG_1221 proc

My iPhone 5 captured most scenes with great sharpness and color. Sometimes, when I shot a scene with my wonderful Canon S95 and followed it with an iPhone 5 shot to grab geolocation, I liked the iPhone shot better! And focusing by touching the screen is brilliant and works flawlessly.

But the iPhone 5 camera isn’t perfect. Highlights blow out with it all the time, as you can see in many of these photos. And it can be hard to hold steady. Firing the shutter is accomplished by either an on-screen button or by pressing one of the physical volume buttons on the phone, and none of these is placed conveniently. And the Apple software that automatically uploads shots to my computer doesn’t always work.

I’ve used this camera less and less lately because the lens had become dinged and scratched, and those marks showed in all my shots. When I had yet another hardware problem with it recently, I threw in the towel and upgraded to an iPhone 6S. It was stupefyingly expensive — my desktop computer cost as much. But I vastly prefer iOS over Android, and I’m taken with the cameras Apple makes. But memo to Apple: my new iPhone had better be a paragon of reliability, or I’ll defect to Android and never look back.

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

Self portrait with old cameras
Nikon N90s, 28-80 mm f/3.3-5.6G AF Nikkor
Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 (waaaaay expired)

I picked up an N90s for very cheap (review forthcoming) and it came with four rolls of very expired color film. I got the 28-80 zoom off my Nikon N65, loaded a roll of the film, stuck the camera on my tripod, and blew through most of the roll in a fun evening of long exposures around the house. Not a single photo turned out well (yay expired film), but Photoshop helped them all along. This one is especially a right mess, but I like it anyway.

Film Photography