Wet Matrix

Wet Matrix
Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK
Kentmere 100
2015

Tomorrow I’ll publish an Operation Thin the Herd report on my Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK. Here’s a frame from the previous time I used that camera. I’m not a giant fan of Kentmere 100 — I’ve had terrible luck with its highlights blowing out. Yet my Contessa managed that well in any light. It seems to “get” this budget film.

And just look at the great detail that Tessar lens captured on my former Toyota’s flank. Count those water drops! If you guess focus right, the Contessa does credible close work. But don’t ask it to shoot macro: it focuses down to only one meter.

I might have a couple more rolls of the Kentmere in the freezer. I know which camera I’m putting them through.

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Film Photography

single frame: Wet Matrix

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Personal

Ich habe einen Volkswagen gekauft

Ich habe einen Volkswagen gekauft

At last, a new car. A new-to-me car at any rate: a 2013 VW Passat 2.5 S.

With that, my beloved Toyota Matrix is finally gone. I wrote its eulogy last September (read it here) after it developed several problems that would cost far more to fix than the car was worth. One of those problems made the car a safety risk on the road.

But then I dragged my feet on selling it. In part, I struggled to let go of my baby. In part, other priorities kept winning over selling a beater car. In part, I wanted more from it than the $200 my mechanic offered me so he could part it out.

But then late in January it became essential that my family have three safe and reliable automobiles. My wife and I both own Ford Focuses that, despite age and high mileage, are entirely roadworthy. I had to act, and fast, to replace the Matrix.

My wife and I set a budget and I went shopping. That budget was low enough and time was enough of the essence that my purchase criteria were very broad: under 50,000 miles, good reliability reputation, four doors, usable back seat. I looked at a handful of cars and SUVs before coming upon this Passat.

The back seat is cavernous. Our 6′2″ youngest son can sit back there with easily four inches between his knees and the back of my seat. Finally, a comfortable trip car for the family!

The automotive press panned the 2.5-liter, 5-cylinder engine for lacking power compared to the competition. I’ve not driven other midsize sedans, but this Passat has plenty of scoot for me, especially when I drop the transmission into Sport mode. Whee! Fusions and Accords and Camrys must be blazing quick.

The press also criticized the Passat’s generic styling. Can’t say they’re wrong.

After so many years driving inexpensive economy cars, I feel like a real grown up driving this large, comfortable car. But it feels like a wasteful amount of car for me to drive alone to and from work, which is what I use it for most. I take solace in the fact that it gets gas mileage at least as good as my lamented Matrix and my Focus!

Oh, and the trade-in value on a beater 2003 Toyota Matrix: $750. Score!

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Speeding

Speeding
iPhone 6s
2017

One of the cool features of my Toyota Matrix is how its gauges are invisible until you turn the car on. I think the display looks especially cool at night.

Astute readers may be curious as to why my car’s redline is so high, 7,800 RPM. It’s a feature of Toyota’s 2ZZ-GE four-cylinder engine, which was designed by Yamaha and built in Japan. It’s the go-fast engine in Toyota’s ZZ engine family. You’ll find versions of this engine in several Toyotas and, surprisingly, one Pontiac and two Lotuses.

Revving the engine past 6,200 RPM activates a second camshaft profile that boosts speed suddenly and considerably. It feels like turbo and is great fun. Unfortunately, my Matrix is hobbled with an automatic transmission, making it hard to reach the revs necessary to have this fun. If you ever buy a 2ZZ-GE-equipped Matrix (it will have the XRS badge on the hatch), go for the six-speed manual transmission.

I’m still talking about this car in the present tense because I haven’t disposed of it yet. It still has the front-end problems that aren’t worth fixing given the car’s market value. It’s days remain numbered. But with everything else going on I haven’t found time to deal with getting rid of it yet.

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Photography

single frame: Speeding

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Personal, Stories Told

Requiem for a Toyota

Have you ever become irrationally attached to something you owned?

Replacement Matrix

I bought this 2003 Toyota Matrix in 2009 after wrecking my previous car, also a Matrix, on vacation with my sons. My first Matrix had been the base model, but this one was the top-of-the-line XRS with its peppier engine. She’s a blast to drive. I made this photo the day I brought her home from the dealership. Doesn’t she look good?

MatrixNose

But after eight years she has rolled over 185,000 hard miles. It’s shocking how badly the paint has worn on this car — it has faded heavily on every horizontal surface, and has chipped off a large portion of the hood. The front ground effects broke off in a mishap, but by then the paint was already in bad shape. I spent the reimbursement check on other things. Her body is scuffed and dented from other minor mishaps, including a low-speed rear-end accident and that time I broke the side mirror while backing out of my garage. Truly, she looks awful.

Systems are failing. I suppose the least of the failures is the windshield-washer motor, but it’s surprising how much you really need it. Yet given her age and condition I didn’t even bother finding out how much it would cost to replace. I just plunked a bottle of Windex into the center console and drove on. More seriously, she’s developed a slow oil leak. And the Check Engine light comes on from time to time to warn me of a problem with the engine’s variable valve timing system. My mechanic’s advice was clear: “Don’t fix it. Not on a car this old. Just keep her oil topped off and drive her gently. She’ll run for a long time like that.” I bought my own OBD II code scanner so I can check for that error code and shut the Check Engine light off.

Key signs your car is a beater: it looks beat up, you are choosing not to fix some of its problems, and you bought your own OBD II code scanner.

When the Check Engine light came on again recently, however, the error code pointed to catalytic-converter failure. And I’d been hearing an ominous clicking sound from the front end when I turned the wheel hard.

You know you’ve gone the distance with an old car when your mechanic calls you by a nickname. “Aw Jimmy,” he said, “I can fix these problems if you want. But it’s gonna cost you big. Two or three times more than this car is worth. You might want to stop and think about whether it makes sense.”

In the end, I let logic prevail over emotion. It’s time to let the car go.

Dog in the wayback

And I’m sad about it. I love this dumb car. I bought it because my first Matrix worked so well for my family. Even though a Matrix is small on the outside, it offers enormous interior room. I could put my two sons, the dog, and a weekend’s worth of luggage in there. We could take on any adventure we wanted in the Matrix.

Wagon Full of Sod

It has been incredibly useful for moving things. Folding down the back seat opens up a giant cavern of cargo space. I’ve moved an assembled gas grill, a dining room table and six chairs, and many loads of sod. When I recently moved into my new home I moved all my boxes in the Matrix in just a handful of trips.

Brick Lincoln Highway

Along the way she was a great road-trip companion, prowling many old alignments with me. Here, she’s on the Lincoln Highway near Ligonier, Indiana.

Snowy day

Five years ago, as old age began creeping up on my car, I bought a used Ford Focus to be my daily driver and relegated the Matrix to backup duty. I taught my sons to drive in it and let them use it when they needed a car. I used it like a small van to haul house-project supplies home from Lowe’s. And I drove it to church, because then I drove it at least once a week. Though one especially snowy winter I shoveled her in and waited for the thaw. All together I’ve put just 20,000 miles on her since buying the Ford.

I don’t really need her anymore. I haven’t in a few years, really. But I’m sad to see her go just the same.

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Matrix

Matrix, Parked
Yashica-D
Kodak Ektar 100
2016

I photograph my cars a lot. They’re easy subjects. While the composition here could be a lot more interesting, I love the jewel-like color the Yashica-D returned on Ektar. It makes my beater car’s flank look better than it does in real life. And I love how the camera captured plenty of detail, whether in light or in shadow.

Photography

Photo: An evening shot of my car parked on the street in front of my house.

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Camera Reviews

Pentax ME

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When I began collecting cameras a few years ago I chose to focus on rangefinders and folders, but deliberately stayed away from SLRs. It’s not that I wasn’t interested, but that I feared that once I started buying them I’d become sucked into buying the lenses and accessories, too, and it would be a pit from which I’d never emerge. But I have to admit, I’m attracted to 1970s SLRs. I like them because they’re made of metal and don’t offer fully automatic operation. It’s not that I disdain autofocus and autoexposure – I enjoy them very much on my everyday camera, a Canon PowerShot S95. I just feel a certain romance for these tough cameras that require some effort on the photographer’s part. Their charm has overwhelmed me, and my collection contains a growing number of SLRs.

I’ve had a hankering for a K-mount Pentax SLR for a long time now. Specifically, I’ve wanted a K1000, the seminal student camera. I’ll own one one day, you can count on it. But that didn’t stop me from scooping up this K-mount Pentax ME when I found it for a good price.

The Pentax ME was a remarkable camera when it was introduced in 1976. It is small, light, and easy to use. It’s even smaller than the Olympus OM-1, the world’s first compact SLR. The ME is an aperture-priority camera, meaning you choose an aperture and the camera measures exposure through the lens and sets shutter speed for you. (It even displays the shutter speed inside the viewfinder.) This ease of use comes at the expense of full control, however; the ME offers no manual mode.

Pentax ME

You’re not entirely at autoexposure’s mercy – a dial around the rewind crank lets you adjust exposure up to two stops in either direction. And the ME is plenty flexible, working with films up to 1600 ASA and allowing exposures from 8 seconds to 1/1000 second through its electronic focal-plane shutter. Its hot shoe syncs at 1/100 sec. All of this convenience relies on two LR44 button batteries. Without them, the shutter operates only at 1/100 sec and at bulb (which holds the shutter open as long as the button is pressed).

Pentax ME

The fact that the ME takes commonly available batteries may make it my go-to film SLR. I bought a pack of LR44s around the corner at Walgreens, dropped in a roll of Fujicolor 200, and went looking for some color to shoot. This tiny house sits beneath a vast maple whose leaves turn bright red at autumn’s peak.

Autumn over the little house

My ME came with a 50 mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M lens. Pentax sold the ME with the 50 mm f/1.7 or f/1.4 lenses in the same series, so somewhere along the way my ME lost its original lens and acquired this one. No matter; the f/2 lens is a fine piece of glass. The autoexposure system isn’t so good, however, that it can overcome this photographer’s poor choices, such as photographing the back of my brightly sunlit car against a deeply shaded background. At least this photo shows that the lens is capable of producing a nice soft blurry effect.

Test shot

I carried the ME everywhere with me for a few days, shooting whatever took my fancy. I found this truck’s hand-painted sign, misspelling and all, compelling and shot it through the windshield while we waited at a light.

No job to big

I’ve photographed this storefront in Broad Ripple several times now.

Colorful street scene

Apparently folks in the northern Indiana city of LaPorte can enjoy sudden service.

Sudden service

Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis is becoming a frequent subject. It’s a commanding presence on the city’s north side.

Second Pres

I’m glad I bought my Pentax ME. But I’m still searching for that bargain on a K1000.


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

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