Film Photography

Verichrome Pan in the Kodak No. 2 Brownie, Model F

I had such a nice time with the No. 2 Brownie that I immediately loaded another roll of film, this time some Verichrome Pan expired since June of 1982.

Kodak No. 2 Brownie, Model F

It felt so right to shoot that film in this camera. It was the film of Everyman for many decades, recording millions of family memories.

Moreover, unexposed Verichrome Pan has a great reputation for deteriorating slowly. When I mentioned to a film-photography friend that my VP was from 1982, he said, “Only 1982? It’s still fresh!”

When this box Brownie hits, it really hits. Just look! This is the statue before the Carnegie library in Thorntown, Indiana.

Carnegie Library, Thorntown

Yet I whiffed about half the photos on this roll thanks to camera shake and misframing. It’s very challenging to see whether a subject is level in the tiny viewfinders. I leveled subjects in Photoshop, but that tool can do nothing about motion blur.

Carnegie Library, Thorntown

Every distant subject I photographed ended up at the very bottom of the frame, with tons of sky above. I can’t tell whether that’s a fact of Brownie life or not. These cameras were designed with group shots in mind — Aunt Edna and Uncle Bill and Grandma and the cousins, at 15 feet. I never had any trouble framing subjects about that far away. Next time, when I shoot distant subjects I’ll try to compensate by moving them up in the frame.

IOOF Thorntown

It must be statute that every Indiana town have at least one building marked I.O.O.F., for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. I should do a series on Indiana Odd Fellows buildings. I’ve photographed dozens by now.

Downtown Thorntown

Downtown Thorntown is fairly plain. This building is in good shape but others could use a little love. There were few signs of life in the commercial district — I encountered nary a soul here. Speaking of souls…

Thorntown Presybterian Church

But it was a Saturday. The Presbyterians would have to wait one more day to corporately honor the glory of the Lord.

Thorntown Police

Coming upon the Thorntown Police Department reminded me of the time I nearly got a speeding ticket here, but my young and beautiful first wife got me out of it. Read that story here.

I shot this roll of Verichrome Pan the same day I finished the roll of Ektar I shared with you in this camera’s review. I sent both rolls to Old School Photo Lab, and I had the Ektar scans in a couple weeks. After two more weeks I inquired after my Verichrome Pan. The response: to get the best results from “the old stuff” they use a different developer and a special processing run, at no extra charge — and they were awaiting shipment of more developer. Color me impressed.

When I shot the Ektar, the frame numbers were in the very right edge of the ruby window, making accurate winding difficult. The Verichrome Pan frame numbers appeared smack dab in the middle of the ruby window — as if this film was made for an old box like this.

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Camera Reviews

Kodak No. 2 Brownie, Model F

We tend to think of medium format film as being for serious work with expensive gear. But its first use was in an inexpensive snapshot camera — this, the No. 2 Brownie.

Kodak No. 2 Brownie, Model F

This is actually the last of a long line of No. 2 Brownies. The first, its body made of cardboard, was introduced in 1901. Models B, C, D, and E followed. (I own a Model D, too; see my review here.) They all look like the original to me (though this page charts the minute changes). The Model F is different — not in form or function, but in construction, as its body is made of aluminum.

Kodak No. 2 Brownie, Model F

Model Fs rolled off Kodak’s assembly lines from 1924 to 1935. For some of those years you could get one in blue, brown, gray, green, or red! As you can see, mine is basic black. It is also a gift to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras from David Ditta.

If you like old boxes, by the way, I’ve reviewed a couple others: the Ansco Shur Shot (here) and B-2 Cadet (here), and the Kodak Six-20 Brownie (here). A few other cameras I’ve reviewed are boxes, too, just in more modern packaging: the Agfa Clack (here), Kodak Baby Brownie (here), and the Kodak Brownie Hawkeye (here). You can check out all the cameras I’ve ever reviewed here.

No. 2 Brownies are pretty hard to kill. They’re both so simple and robustly enough manufactured that even the jankiest one you find in the back of some dumpy junk store can probably still make images.

But these cameras can get so dirty after a century or so! I cleaned this camera’s lens and viewfinders before I put any film through it. The camera’s front plate is held on only by pressure on the sides, and it’s easy enough to pry the pressure points back. The front just falls off when you do that. It provides good access to the viewfinder glass and mirrors, which slide right out with a tweezers. Isopropyl alcohol and a cotton swab made short work of 80 years of accumulated grime. Any No. 2 Brownie’s viewfinders will be dim even when clean, but when they’re dirty they’re useless.

The lens is a little harder to clean. To get at the back of the lens, remove the film insert by pulling the winding knob out and sliding the insert out. To get at the front of the lens, pull up the little tab on the top of the camera that’s to one side of the lens and flip the shutter lever — the shutter remains open until you flip the lever one more time. Again, I used a cotton swab and isopropyl alcohol. Holy cow, was the front of the lens filthy.

The No. 2 Brownie offers three aperture settings, selected by pulling up the tab on top of the camera over the lens. I couldn’t begin to guess at what f stops these apertures represent, but a manual I found online says that the largest aperture (tab all the way down) is for snapshots outdoors in all but the brightest light, the middle aperture is for bright sunlight and indoor time exposures, and the smallest (tab all the way up) is for time exposures outdoors on cloudy days. I assume the shutter operates at something like 1/50 sec.

I loaded a roll of fresh Ektar. I mis-spooled it the first time and winding was so hard I feared I’d tear the film. I put the camera into my dark bag, removed the film, and started over. Then frustratingly the Ektar’s frame numbers sat at the far right edge of the ruby window. Actually, the window on mine has faded to a sickly yellow. Fearing light through the window would imprint the frame numbers onto the film, I covered the window with electrical tape and peeled it back only to wind.

Watch for Pedestrians

The Brownie focuses from about 10 feet. As you can see, the lens distorts a little and it is soft in the corners. Standard stuff for a one-element lens.

Marathon

The act of shooting a No. 2 Brownie is pleasant. You frame as best you can and gently move the shutter lever. The entire process is so quiet and gentle. You just have to accept that the teeny tiny viewfinders make it hard to tell whether your subject is level. Frame as best as you can and hope you got it right enough.

Welcome to Thorntown

Also, because of the slow shutter speed, camera shake can be a problem. The photo below shows it when you view it full size. Fortunately, the Model F offers a tripod mount. Previous models of the No. 2 Brownie lacked this useful feature.

Wrecks

See more photos from this camera in my Kodak No. 2 Brownie, Model F, gallery.

I love shooting with simple cameras like this. I have half a mind to shoot this camera exclusively for a time, maybe three or six months, to see what I learn. I will want to invest in my own film-processing equipment first, as it is just as expensive to have a roll of 120 processed and scanned as 35mm, to yield a quarter or a third of the number of images.

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

Shooting Kodak High Definition 400 (expired)

Thorntown Marathon

When I moved in with my wife, she had a bunch of film she never got around to shooting before she bought her DSLR. Most of it was Kodak Max 400, but one roll was Kodak High Definition 400, a film I’d never heard of.

Looking it up on the Internet, people agree that this was Kodak’s Royal Gold 400 film rebranded. That film was known for smooth grain, saturated colors, and punchy contrast.

I found this film in a drawer with an expiration date in 2007, so I knew it wasn’t going to perform like new. The rule of thumb is to increase exposure by one stop for every decade of expiration, but I rated it at EI 400 anyway and loaded it into my Nikon F3. On my previous outing with the F3 the shutter misbehaved, leaving vertical light streaks on several shots. I thought maybe the camera was misbehaving thanks to having not been used in over a year. The best way to find out was to shoot a couple more rolls. My cache of expired film was perfect for the job.

B&S

The film performed all right, yielding well-saturated but slightly shifted color. A quick hit of Auto Tone in Photoshop un-shifted the color lickety split. Grain was pronounced at full scan size, though it’s hard to tell that at blog sizes.

Wrecks

The F3 and the HD 400 came along on our post-Christmas road trip up the Michigan Road. Here’s a block of downtown Plymouth.

Downtwn Plymouth

The F3’s shutter performed flawlessly, thank goodness. Still, it’s time to put this wonderful camera in the queue to send out for CLA.

The Corbin House

I gather that Kodak introduced this film as its Gold 100/200 and Max 400 films had grain that could show up on enlargements. Remember when a standard print was 3.5″x5″? Through the 90s and early 2000s the standard size became 4″x6″, and some labs let you order 5″x7″ prints at nominal extra cost.

Post

I’ve never had trouble with grain on my prints of Kodak’s regular 200 and 400 color films. Maybe they’ve improved those films since HD 400’s days.

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Collecting Cameras

Operation Thin the Herd: Yashica-12

Marathon

As a frugal film photographer with GAS (gear acquisition syndrome), I buy well-used cameras. Scuffs, dings, and even minor faults are part of that game. Every now and again I enjoy a camera so much I want to include it in my regular-use rotation. That’s when I invest in repairs, or even in buying another one in near-mint condition. That’s what led me to buy this Yashica-12 which had been serviced by premier Yashica repairman Mark Hama. To own it I forked over the most I’ve ever paid for an old camera. It’s not like it sent me to the poor house at just $135. But I’m used to paying under $50.

Yashica-12

I loaded Kodak Tri-X 400 and took it on a road trip. The camera performed well and returned flawless images, such as of this little cafe on the square in Lebanon, Indiana.

Please be seated

For this outing I loaded my last roll of Kodak Ektachrome E100G and brimmed with confidence that I’d get twelve colorful, sharp, and perfectly exposed images. What I got was a light leak. What the what?

Garrett & Damion

The seals can’t be bad, can they? That Mark Hama overhaul happened only a few years ago. Was I careless in spooling the roll into the camera? Was the roll a little loose after it came out of the camera? All I know is that the shots at the beginning of the roll were most affected, and the shots at the end (like the one below) very little.

Thorntown Carnegie Library

I shot this roll over my birthday weekend. My sons came to visit. We hiked some trails in a nearby nature park and I took one son up to Thorntown and told him the story of the time his mom got me out of a speeding ticket there. (Read it here; it’s kind of funny.) That’s the Carnegie library above and the main drag below.

Thorntown

I had such a nice time with the 12 that as I sent the E100G off for processing I loaded some Ilford Pan F Plus and kept going. I bought several rolls of this stuff thinking that at ISO 50 it would be a good match for my old box cameras. It wasn’t. It turns out this film needs precise exposure — not exactly the bailiwick for a camera with one aperture and shutter speed. The 12 was going to be a much better match.

Available

The 12 handled just as clumsily as I remembered. But I say so in the most affectionate way possible, as I just love the TLR experience. It feels deeply satisfying when an image comes into focus in that big ground-glass viewfinder. All of the 12’s controls feel great to use, full of heft and precision.

Entrances

My only gripe with the 12 is that you have to juggle the camera from hand to hand as you use it — the winding crank and the focusing knob are on opposite sides of the camera. I have yet to grow used to it. My Yashica-D places the winding and focusing knobs on the same side of the camera, which avoids the juggling. But the D’s winding knob isn’t as quick and easy as the 12’s winding crank, and the camera lacks a light meter. Tradeoffs, tradeoffs.

Carpentry Hall

I suppose another gripe with the 12 — with any TLR, really — is that it’s ungainly to carry. At the nature park I had forgotten to clip on a strap so I just held it in my hands. That got old fast, and I constantly risked dropping it. I clipped on a strap before we left for Thorntown and left it on for this trip to the old Central State Hospital grounds, but the 12’s form factor and weight made it ungainly even at my hip.

Ruins at Central State

The Pan F Plus turned out great. Look, no light leak! I don’t know what the deal was with the roll of E100G. It’s a shame that’s how my last roll of the stuff turned out.

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Yashica-12 gallery.

I wrote most of this review in August, but am just now getting around to posting it because I could not decide whether to keep this camera or not. I really need only one TLR in my life. My Yashica-D is so brilliant that I know I’m keeping it. (Though I might give it a turn in Operation Thin the Herd anyway, because autumn color is just around the corner and I have some Velvia in the freezer…) Yet the 12’s onboard light meter is such a convenience. I’ve decided is to defer this decision, which is a defacto decision to keep this camera. The 12 survives to fight another day.

Verdict: Keep

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Road Trips

The scenery changes

Welcome to Thorntown

I’ve been making road trips since 2006. The photo above is from one of my earliest trips, down State Road 47 and US 41 in western Indiana. What a great day it was! And I was exploring and learning about places I’d never really known before.

Welcome to Thorntown

I’ve seen a lot of Indiana now with my camera in my hand. Where I was once driven by the desire to see new things, increasingly I want to visit places I’ve been before. They’re like old friends, and I want to catch up. So here’s how this same scene in Thorntown looks as of a few weeks ago — much the same, but a little worn.

Stone bridge, Michigan Road

Nature also changes the view. This is the Shepard Bridge, way down in Ripley County on the Michigan Road. This is how I found it in 2008.

Shepard Bridge

In 2018, it’s becoming overgrown. It’s a shame, because unhidden it provides such a lovely view.

Stone bridge, one-lane alignment

Sometimes the man-made elements themselves change — or go away. This is the Middletown Bridge as I found it in 2008. It was on a one-lane alignment of the Michigan Road south of Shelbyville.

Site of the former Middletown Bridge

A section of the bridge collapsed and, after a fight to save it was lost, it was removed. I went to see in 2015 and was greeted with this.

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Camera Reviews

Operation Thin the Herd: Minolta XG 1

Garrett at the bridge

Minolta SLRs and I have not gotten on well. They are unfailingly delightful to use and return great images — when they work. Which, in my experience, is seldom. I’ve owned two X-700 bodies that developed the well-known stuck winder problem. The fix involves soldering new capacitors. I’ve owned two Maxxum 7000 bodies that developed the common failure of the aperture-control magnet, meaning every photo was taken at f/22. There’s a fix but it involves major disassembly and considerable luck. Even the SR-T 101 and 202 I’ve owned had issues, though less catastrophic. The one reliable Minolta SLR body I’ve owned is this one: an XG 1, from the late 1970s.

Minolta XG-1

This was an advanced amateur camera in its day, chock full of electronics to make the photographer’s job a breeze. It’s an aperture-priority camera, too, which is my favorite way to shoot. Mine came with a 45mm f/2 MD Rokkor-X lens, a good lens with interesting characteristics. Here’s one of my favorite shots on this kit, of my son in his room, on Fujicolor 200.

Garrett, down the hall

For this outing I mounted my 50mm f/1.7 Minolta MD lens. It came with the first X-700 I owned and I’d shot it just once before that camera bricked. I’ve kept meaning to shoot it again, so onto the XG 1 it went. I loaded a roll of Agfa Vista 200 but shot it at EI 100. It did lovely work. Minolta’s manual-focus lenses are just so good.

Phlox

My sons were together over my birthday weekend and we took a hike through Starkey Nature Park in Zionsville, where we came upon this old railroad bridge.

Bridge

There are some lovely trails inside Starkey. Zionsville really is a lovely place to live, with a charming downtown and amenities like this middle-of-nowhere getaway right in town. The rents are not for the faint of heart, however. Or the taxes. My inner skinflint wants to run right back to much-less-expensive Indianapolis.

Trail

The camera and lens handled nearly perfectly. The shutter button is electronic — placing your finger on it activates the meter, and a light touch fires the shutter. It’s so light that twice I accidentally fired the shutter and wasted a frame.

What is this?

I sure do love my sons. They’re both back in college now. I really miss the years they were still in public school because I got to see them all the time. They’ve got some of the growing-up troubles typical of entering your 20s, but I think that the big picture looks bright for both of them.

Boys

I carried the XG 1 to work a few days. The building going up next door to my office looks like it’s starting to wrap up. It was hard to frame things in the viewfinder — a line of black schmutz obscures the view in there. I’m not sure when that happened; I don’t remember it being that way the last time I used it. I’m sure it wasn’t that way when I got it. The mirror is clean so it’s got to be inside the prism. I wonder how hard it would be to get in there and clean it up.

Construction

There were just a few shots left on the roll when Damion and I made a quick trip to Thorntown. I wanted to tell him the story of the time his mom got me out of a speeding ticket here largely for being young and blonde and beautiful. It was good to share a happy memory of his mom with him, from a time before he was born. I’m not sure we would have had that moment without “taking a photo walk” as an excuse to get out.

Welcome to Thorntown

Here’s a gallery of the photos I’ve shot with this Minolta XG 1. Check it out!

Standing on Thorntown’s mean streets, I extolled the XG 1’s strong reliability to Damion when the meter stopped responding. I was at the end of the roll; could that have been why? Or was it a weak battery? I’d used those two LR44s in several cameras before. When we got home I swapped in fresh batteries and the meter still didn’t respond. I rewound the film, dropped in a fresh roll (Ultrafine Extreme 100, photos to come). The meter came right to life and was strong through the roll.

Even though I’ve already decided to focus on Nikon and Pentax SLRs, I thought I might keep this XG 1 in case I came upon good Minolta Rokkor glass in my travels. But then I inventoried just those Pentaxes and Nikons and counted fifteen bodies. While doing that I came upon my two Olympus OM-1 bodies and the great set of lenses I have for them, all donated to me by the father of one of my closest friends, and knew I could not part with those either. I just don’t have room for Minoltas after all.

Verdict: Goodbye

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