Photography

Tennessee mountain flowers

While I was in the Smokies in September, I took a couple hours to myself and walked down and back up the hill with my Nikon N2000 and my 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 Zoom Nikkor lens, with Kodak Ektar 100 inside. I shot all sorts of things on my walk, but I can seldom resist photographing flowers before I pass them by. I’ve become pretty good at recognizing the flowers I find in Indiana. But Tennessee has some flowers I don’t know.

Mountain flowers 1

Red flowers

Pink flowers

Mountain flowers 3

Mountain flowers 2

Mountain flowers 4

Flower

I expected the oversaturated reds from the Ektar, but not the oversaturated yellows. This 35-70 zoom lens is not one of Nikon’s finer moments, frankly — there’s tons of barrel distortion at 35mm. But shot at 50mm or narrower, it yields some fine bokeh and is sharp enough.

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Photography, Stories Told, Travel

A visit to the Smokies

The view from here 2

I’m stuck on Indiana, but in the unlikely event of exile I’d hightail it straight to Tennessee. I love it there. I fell hard on my first visit, about 30 years ago. I nodded off in the back seat somewhere in Kentucky and awoke as our Tennessee mountain ascent built pressure in my ears. I lifted my head that autumn day to find the hills absolutely on fire with the reds, oranges, and yellows of the changing leaves. I sat slack-jawed, wondering if I was just stuporous from waking. But my awe did not abate as my sleepy cobwebs fell away, and then the show continued for an hour as we kept south toward our mountain destination. It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

So I jump at the chance for a trip to the Tennessee mountains. So you can imagine my thrill when the company where I work sent the entire IT department on a three-day junket in the Smokies. It was part professional development and part team-building, but mostly just blowing off major steam.

We rented a cabin that slept 75 near Pigeon Forge. Given that there were only about 30 of us, we had plenty of room. I lingered for some time over the arresting view off the back deck.

The view from here

Our first day in the Smokies was perfect: sunny and cool. I could have sat on the deck all afternoon, but we had a full itinerary.

Back porch

We weren’t quite at the top of the mountain. This cabin was across the street. When they’re this big, can you really call them cabins anymore?

Bergauf

Inside, the relentless knotty pine didn’t quite cover the fact that these “cabins” are built like frame houses. Still, as “cabins” go, this place was pretty swank. It had a theater room in the lowest level, with a giant flat-screen TV and seating for about 20.

Living room

This is the dining area, with its commanding view.

Dining area

We spent most of the next day in nearby Pigeon Forge at a tourist trap called The Island. It reminded me of a European small town — but one that featured a Build-A-Bear Workshop and a beef-jerky emporium. We came to play The Escape Game, which locked us in rooms in groups of six to eight, and we had to use clues in the rooms to figure out how to get out. I wasn’t into the idea, but as the game unfolded I ended up having a lot of fun.

On The Island

The joint was pretty busy. Tourist traps do work, you know.

On The Island

Ole Smoky Moonshine is actually produced down in Gatlinburg, but The Island features a satellite distillery. You can sample all the flavors, which I did, and it was great fun. My favorites were butterscotch and orange, and I bought a jar of each. I shared the orange back at the cabin that night and we drank the whole thing. Fortunately, dividing a pint of hooch among that many people doesn’t let anybody get wasted.

Pickin

The day’s clouds parted as the sun began to set. The evening was starkly lovely.

Ferris wheel in the evening sky

The colors became almost surreal. So was Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen, pictured at left.

Sunset on The Island

The clouds returned overnight, and rain fell. We awoke to this: the reason they’re called the Smokies.

Misty mountain morning

It was just outstanding. I wish we didn’t have to pack and leave so quickly.

Misty mountain morning

As we drove home, it rained through Tennessee and Kentucky. We ended up having one final adventure, as a wreck had I-40 backed up for a mile. My boss was navigating, and he found a detour route that would return us to the Interstate beyond the wreck. What Google Maps didn’t tell us was that most of this detour involved a winding one-lane mountain road full of blind hills. Our driver had nerves of steel as he threaded our fifteen passenger van up and down and around and through. We encountered two oncoming cars in there!

winding_mountain_road

I used my Canon PowerShot S95 for all of these photos except the last one, which I took with my iPhone 5. I shot my S95 in RAW mode and tweaked them all in Photoshop Elements’ RAW processor. From there I used a plugin called Athentech Perfectly Clear to quickly bring out great detail and clarity in these photos. I really liked it, but its $150 price tag was too much for me to keep using it past the trial period.

I also shot a roll of Kodak Ektar 100 in my Nikon N2000 on this trip. I’ll probably share those on my Tuesday-Thursday photo days for a while.

What a great trip we had. It’s great to work for a company that invests in its people this way. And I always love time in Tennessee.

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Camera Reviews, Stories Told

Kodak Automatic 35F

Here it is, the first old camera I bought when I started collecting again in 2007.

IMG_5887

The 1962-66 Kodak Automatic 35F was part of the 1959-69 Automatic and Motormatic series of 35mm viewfinder cameras. Featuring a coupled selenium exposure meter, they were Kodak’s first autoexposure 35mm cameras. They were also the last 35mm cameras Kodak made in the United States.

The entire range featured Kodak’s good 44mm f/2.8 Ektanar lens. Some say the Ektanar is a Tessar, others say it’s a triplet. Either way, it’s Lumenized, meaning it’s coated with radioactive thorium oxide. These cameras used leaf shutters, mostly (as on this Automatic 35F) the Automatic Flash shutter with speeds of 1/40, 1/80, 1/125, and 1/250 sec. The exposure meter sets aperture against the shutter speed you choose; there is no fully manual exposure control. The F in 35F means flash – you can insert peanut-sized AG-1 bulbs into the top of the camera. When you turn the big dial around the lens to the flash position, the flash synchronizes with the shutter.

Every camera in the Automatic line had a Motormatic companion that added a spring-loaded automatic winder.

100_0257

I’ve never shot this camera. The light meter is dead, and the film pressure plate is broken off. I’m not sure why I even keep it. It’s probably because it it came with accessories in its original box – and because of nostalgia.

You see, an Automatic 35F was part of my first camera collection. I bought it while I was a teenager, probably for five bucks at some yard sale. But I did shoot that one, although I waited until I was in my thirties.

I was in a nightmare marriage then. After a particularly bad period in about 2000, I think, I wanted to get away and clear my head. I’m pretty sure my wife wanted to be rid of me for a little while, too. We agreed that I would take a vacation by myself. I drove to Tennessee and holed up in a cabin in the woods.

I took few photographs in those days. My wife was a mighty good professional photographer, and I ceded nearly all picture taking to her. But I wanted to do things on my trip that I knew I would enjoy, and I remembered enjoying shooting my old cameras when I was younger. So before the trip, I searched through my boxes of cameras for one to shoot. I had probably a hundred cameras then, most of them Brownies and Instamatics and the like. But I did have a handful of better cameras, including an Argus A-Four and this Automatic 35F. I shot the Argus when I was in high school (see the photos here), so I decided to give the 35F a whirl.

I shot a test roll first, probably Kodak Gold 200, around the house and at a family reunion. I had no idea what I was doing. My memories are dim, but I think I set the shutter to 1/250 sec. and hoped for the best. Unfortunately, on this very cloudy afternoon, 1/250 sec. set the aperture wide open and gave me a very shallow depth of field. It left little margin for focusing error, leaving Gracie, who would have been about three years old then, behind a very thin focus patch. Just check out that area of razor-sharp grass in front of her.

Gracie

As afternoon faded into evening, good exposures became difficult. What’s interesting about this shot of Sugar is the bokeh the lens created.

Sugar

When I scanned these negatives, I discovered several photos of my young sons when they were about one and three years old. I was so happy to find them, as I have precious few photographs of my boys from the years their mother and I were married. I thought long and hard about breaking my rule against showing photos of my sons online, because some of those photos are wonderful.

Fortunately, I did get this one great photo of my mother and my cousins Sharon and Doyle at the family reunion. It’s an especially good photo of Mom. By the looks of it I had decided to try slower shutter speeds, through which I stumbled into greater depth of field. I still had no idea what I was doing.

Family reunion

I dropped a second roll of film into the 35F before I headed south to Tennessee. I mapped my route using a Rand McNally atlas, which seems so quaint now. I had no idea that I would pass by the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln in Kentucky, but I was certainly thrilled when I did. I stopped, explored, and got a couple photos. This is the building in which a replica of the birthplace cabin stands. I visited again in 2011; see those photos here.

Lincoln's birthplace

I stayed all week in Cumberland Mountain State Park, in this cabin. That’s the minivan I drove then; it was an execrable automobile. I returned to this park with my sons in 2011, and brought my Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK. See those photos here.

Parked at a cabin

This bridge and dam over Byrd Creek was built by the CCC. See more photos of it here.

Bridge at Cumberland Mountain State Park

While driving to and from Tennessee, I stopped several times to photograph old cars I found. I do believe this was the first time I ever did that, and now I make a real habit of it. I shared more old-car photos from this trip over at Curbside Classic; read about them here.

Cars in a junkyard

See more photos in my Kodak Automatic 35F gallery.

It’s hard to remember after so many years just what I thought of using the Automatic 35F. I was such a photo newbie anyway that my impressions would have been poorly informed.

I sold my camera collection a few years later, for complicated reasons. After the divorce, I wanted to rebuild my life around my sons first, but around things I enjoyed second. Remembering the fun I had with my old camera on that Tennessee trip is why I started a new collection. (Remembering the fun I had driving the blue highways on that trip is part of why I started exploring the old roads, too.) I deliberately bought this Automatic 35F to start my new collection. The dead exposure meter rendered the camera useless and taught me my first lesson in the pitfalls of buying old cameras on eBay. I had been buying other cameras, too, and started shooting with them and never looked back at this Kodak. And now that I’ve shot so many other cameras, I don’t find this Kodak all that interesting. I could be charmed into buying another if it worked and I happened upon it for a few dollars. But I’d rather keep shooting with my favorite old cameras, most of which are better specified and all of which are easier to use than this Automatic 35F.

But I’ll never forget the joy of discovery I experienced shooting my old Automatic 35F. It’s why when I started collecting again I focused on better cameras. I’ve had the time of my life exploring the world of vintage film cameras and learning what kind of camera I like to shoot best. That a Kodak Automatic 35F sparked that joy is why one will probably always have a home in my collection.

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Do you like old cameras?
Then check out my entire collection.

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Road Trips

A gratuitous shot of a neon sign, because there’s always room for more neon on the Internet

My sons and I explored Crossville, the small Tennessee town closest to our cabin in the woods, one afternoon. We drank chocolate malts at a real drug-store soda fountain and then walked the main drag. The proudest site on the street is this theater.

Palace Theater, Crossville, TN

As we drove through one evening in search of dinner, we found the sign lit. Isn’t it glorious?

Palace Theater, Crossville, TN

My uninterested sons stayed in the car while I shot this. Pity. By the time they’re my age, all the neon will probably be gone.

I stopped to photograph some lit neon in Logansport, Indiana, one evening a couple years ago. Check it out.

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Camera Reviews

Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK

Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK

Being good at guessing how far away things are is a mighty useful skill when you’re a camera collector and a cheapskate like me. A vintage camera with a rangefinder, which takes the guesswork out of focusing, always costs more than the same camera without a rangefinder. Sometimes a lot more. Not having to guess your subject’s distance is apparently worth a lot to collectors.

Zeiss Ikon is one of those names that makes camera collectors go weak in the knees and part with large sums of money. Those sums seem large to me, anyway, given that the most I will pay for a camera is $50. Zeiss Ikon’s optics are said to be worth tall stacks of bills, and so of course I have long been curious. Hoping to catch a price break, I started looking for rangefinderless Zeiss Ikons – and almost immediately stumbled across this one.

Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK

Unbelievably, I was the only bidder. I got it for $10. Woot!

Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK

Zeiss Ikon produced a series of 35mm cameras with this basic body in the 1960s. This one, the Contessa LK, was made from 1963 to 1965. It is packed with good stuff, starting with a highly regarded Carl Zeiss lens, a 50mm f/2.8 Tessar with, naturally, four elements in three groups. Its mechanical Pronto LK shutter operates from 1/15 to 1/500 second. Film speed can be set up to 800 ASA. The lens focus scale is in meters, from 1 to infinity. On the back is a
a sweet single-throw winding lever and a big, bright viewfinder.

Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK

This photo’s a little crude, but it’s a testament to the viewfinder’s size and brightness that it was possible at all. At top center is an oval with a notch at the top. The light meter is connected to the needle within. For correct exposure, it’s a simple matter of twisting the aperture and shutter speed dials on the lens barrel until the needle is nestled in the notch.

Another exposure indicator sits on top of the camera, next to the accessory shoe. Exposure is right when the needle rests between the two red triangles. I suppose this is useful when you shoot from the hip, as you might in street photography. Maybe I need to find the guts to go downtown and try it out! I can’t figure out why you’d need this otherwise.

The Contessa LK judges exposure with a selenium light meter, coupled to either the aperture or shutter speed depending on how you set the black lever on the lens barrel. Selenium meters have the advantage of requiring no battery, but the disadvantage of wearing out. I hear that selenium meters last a lot longer if they stay covered when not in use. My experience bears that out – among my cameras equipped with selenium meters, those that arrived inside a case or a bag still responded to light, and those that didn’t, didn’t.

Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK

I deeply appreciate the giant film-rewind crank on this camera. It makes rewinding so much easier. You press a little button on the camera’s bottom and it pops right out.

By the way, if you like cameras like this you might also enjoy my reviews of the Agfa Optima (here), the Voigtländer Vitoret LR (here), and the Kodak Automatic 35F (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

On a trip to the central Tennessee hills I packed my Contessa LK and a couple rolls of film – one color (workaday Kodak 200), and one black and white (Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros). It didn’t take long for me to get the hang of this camera. Except for focusing, I was able to do everything with the camera at my face – set exposure, snap the shot (the shutter button has a nice short throw), and even wind to the next frame.

This lens has character. This is my favorite photo. I love how you can count the rings in that first post.

Fence

It’s interesting to compare this photo of the bridge over Byrd Creek with a similar photo (see it here) that I took a few minutes later with my Canon PowerShot S95. The S95 captured much more vivid blues, but the Contessa LK really brings out the texture of the bridge’s stone face.

Bridge and dam

The shadows were crisp one morning.

Tree shadow

The Contessa LK did a reasonable job on this portrait of my son, who needed a haircut.

Damion

As I researched this camera, I read a couple comments praising this lens’s warmth. I think that comes through in this shot.

Please be seated

I had serious trouble with the black-and-white roll, 36 exposures of Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros. Rewinding was labored and difficult, and halfway through the film tore apart. I discovered it when I opened the camera and fogged the film still wound around the takeup spool. I was depressed for the rest of the day!

Much later I tried again with black-and-white film, this time some Kentmere 100 — in a 24-exposure roll. I’m not a fan of this film. Of all the cameras I’ve ever shot it in, the Contessa LK is the only one to get decent work from it.

Wet Matrix

Just dig that great detail — it looks like you’d feel the bark’s texture right through your screen.

Golf course trees

I also shot some Ultrafine Extreme 100 on another outing. It performed very well. This just might be one of those cameras that likes any film.

The State Theater

I was pleased with how easily the Contessa LK handled. The controls feel good under the fingers and I quickly adjusted to their locations. Except for having to move the camera away from my eye to set focus, using this camera felt smooth and easy.

On Meridian Street

To see more from this camera, check out my Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK gallery.

The Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK is a winner. You may not find one for ten bucks like I did, but you should be able to get one for under $100, have plenty of fun shooting it, and get good results every time. Here’s hoping the trouble I had with that one roll of 36-exposure film is not common to this camera.

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

An abandoned road in the woods

In a big way, you can drive all over the country on the Interstates and never really get to know America. They are good for covering a lot of ground in a hurry, but they tell so little about the land and the people who live on it. I drive the two-lane highways because they give me fuller experiences of the places I visit.

I admit to spending some time on I-65 and I-40 on our recent spring break trip to Tennessee, but we spent much more time off them. I loved driving through rural Kentucky and Tennessee on state and US highways as they wound through every small town. I love to follow the old alignments – paths roads used to follow before they were improved. I saw many as we drove and wanted to explore them all, but I resisted as I wanted to arrive at our destination before dinner.

One sunny afternoon we hiked ten miles through Cumberland Mountain State Park. My abandoned-alignment thirst was serendipitously slaked when the trail suddenly exited the woods and met asphalt.

Abandoned US 127

This used to be US 127. It once meandered a bit through this part of Tennessee, but has since been leveled and straightened considerably.

Abandoned US 127

Here’s the scene from the air, thanks to Google Maps. US 127 used to follow what is now “Old Hwy Cir” and curved into Byrds Creek Lane. Two segments of the road are not marked on the map – one past the south end of Old Hwy Cir and one past the south end of Byrds Creek Lane.

Both abandoned section involve creeks and, I’m sure, a local government that didn’t want to pay to maintain the bridges that spanned them. I’m pretty sure we were on the more southerly of the two abandoned segments. The bridge over Byrd Creek there is in dreadful shape, as this photo shows.

Abandoned US 127

From the old bridge, here’s a view of the current US 127 bridge.

Abandoned US 127

This abandoned road doesn’t last for long before it fades off into the woods. The hiking trail stays on it only long enough to use the derelict bridge.

Abandoned US 127

A couple years ago an old bridge near my home was demolished. I visited often with my camera. Check out the photos in part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4.

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