Photography

The joy of photographing

I’ve started sorting through this year’s photographs to find my ten favorite. I do this every year for a post just before the new year. See my past annual posts here.

I made more images this year than in any year before. But a lower percentage of them were good.

In 2020 I have used photography as a distraction from considerable stress. It hasn’t been only COVID — it’s also been family and work stress, at times intense. Sometimes it’s been too much to cope with all at once. Getting out with a camera let me take my mind off it for a while.

I photographed near home a lot; since I’ve been working from home, I’m here a lot. But I’ve also made some short trips just to make photographs. Whether by car or by bike, the trips themselves fill my bucket. I explore and see new places, or familiar places at different times of year. I especially enjoy the scents — the sweetness of new spring flowers, the freshness of mown grass and hay in the summer, the earthiness of fallen autumn leaves. It’s even been interesting to feel the weather: hot sun, cool overcast, rain.

Holliday Road Bridge

Wherever I stop for a photograph, I spend time with the subject. I get to know it a little by walking around it looking for the best angles. I enjoy it most when I’m in a remote place where others are unlikely to encounter me. I’m so self-conscious with a camera when I’m in public!

Central Indiana Telephone Co.

I photograph what seems interesting to me in the moment. Frequently when I look at the resulting images I see that the subject wasn’t that interesting after all, or that I couldn’t find an interesting way to see it. But it’s fun to try to find that interesting composition.

Maybe it’s just gravy when I nail a composition. I get so much pleasure out of simply using my cameras — the ones I’ve kept, anyway, after thinning the herd. I’ve shot my Yashica-12 a lot this year, and the more I use it the more I love it. Given that it’s a TLR, it’s a big brick in the hands. But its form factor fades away as I work the silken controls to control exposure and make the subject crisp, as I look through the magnifier built in over the focusing screen.

I’ve also shot the Olympus OM-2n often. I only got it this year and am still getting to know it. But that’s fun, too, when something about a new-to-me camera delights me for the first time.

I love it when I get a roll full of beautiful images. But even when I don’t, if I enjoyed everything about all the previous steps, I have no reason to be dissatisfied.

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Film Photography

When you shoot old gear, you have to expect it will develop faults sooner or later

Nikon F3, 35mm f/2.8 AI Nikkor, Fujifilm Superia Venus 800

I took my Nikon F3 along on a trip to Chicago with Margaret early this month. I shot two rolls of color and one of black and white in it. The color rolls are back from the processor and immediately upon opening the files my heart sank.

Dollars to doughnuts my F3’s light seals have failed. This red streak appears in direct proportion to how long it was since I made the previous photo. A photo made quickly after a previous photo didn’t leave enough time for light to sneak past the failed seal.

I’m going to try to replace the seals myself. I’ve never done it before, but I’ve read instructions and it looks tedious but totally within my skills. A set of seals with instructions were just $12 on eBay (here). Many thanks to everyone who has “bought me a coffee” with the button at the bottom of each post for your part in buying those seals!

This makes me realize, however, that I should send my F3 out for CLA (clean, lube, and adjustment). This is one of my go-to cameras — indeed, it’s the only camera I’d keep if I could keep only one. I want it to work reliably for the long haul. The friend who donated the F3 to the Jim Grey Home for Wayward Cameras suggested Blue Moon Camera and Machine for the CLA, and so that is where it will go.

Several cameras are in my CLA/repair queue. First up: my Nikon F2A, which has had a fussy meter for as long as I’ve owned it. It’ll go to Sover Wong in the UK. Eric Hendrickson will eventually get both my Pentax KM, which I dropped and damaged the last time I used it, and and my Pentax ME-F, which has an inaccurate meter. I also want to send my Yashica Lynx 14e to Mark Hama to give it an overhaul and correct its meter, which is a stop off.

I have also received a Pentax ME Super and a Kodak Retina IIa from a reader, both of which minor issues. I’ll put test rolls through both as soon as I can, but I’ll be shocked if I don’t enjoy them and want to keep them. They’ll end up in the CLA queue too. The Pentax will go to Eric Hendrickson but the Retina will go to Chris Sherlock in New Zealand.

Finally, my sister-in-law gave me the Kodak Retina Reflex III that had been her father’s. My initial inspection shows that it basically works, though the meter is hit or miss. I’ll eventually put a test roll through it. If it functions well enough mechanically, I’ll send it to Chris Sherlock for overhaul in honor of the family connection.

Readers left lots of great suggestions about where to send cameras for CLAs and repairs in this post.

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Film Photography

How to set exposure on old manual cameras

When you want to use an old manual camera, you need to set exposure yourself. Exposure is essentially the amount of light that reaches the film when you press the shutter button. Too much or too little light, and you won’t get a good image.

You need to set two settings:

  • Aperture, or f stop, which is the size of the hole the light passes through. This is a number like 1.4, 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11, 16, 22. The smaller the number, the bigger the hole.
  • Shutter speed, which is how long to let the light pass through. Your camera will have shutter speeds like 500, 250, 125, 60, 30, 15; or maybe 200, 100, 50, 25. That’s the fraction of a second the shutter will pass light onto the film. 200 is 1/200 second.

But I’m going to give you two easy shortcuts: use the Sunny 16 rule, or use a light-meter application on your phone.

There’s a lot to know about exposure. But if you experiment using these shortcuts, I’ll bet you’ll learn a lot about exposure on your own!

The Sunny 16 rule

On a sunny day, you’ll get a good enough exposure when you set the f stop to 16, and the shutter to the inverse of your film’s ISO. If you’re using ISO 200 film, set the shutter to 1/200 or close to it.

If the day isn’t sunny, you can still use the Sunny 16 rule. Just change the f stop according to this table.

ApertureLighting conditionsShadow quality
f/22Very bright sunDark with sharp edges
f/16SunnyDistinct
f/11Slight overcastSoft around the edges
f/8OvercastBarely visible
f/5.6Heavy overcastNot visible
f/4Deep shadeNot visible

Until I got the hang of Sunny 16, I printed this table and taped it to the back of my manual cameras.

Your film’s ISO might not line up perfectly with your shutter’s speeds. Sometimes you can fudge it and be okay. For example, if your film’s ISO is 125, the 1/100 shutter speed is close enough. For ISO 200 film, a 1/250 shutter is close enough.

Kodak Pony 135 Model C

Most color negative films tolerate a lot of overexposure. Notice how the shutter-speed scale on the camera pictured above is 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, and 1/300? If you’re shooting a common ISO 200 color film like Fujicolor 200 or Kodak Gold 200, there’s no shutter speed close to 1/200 for Sunny 16 shooting. What I’d do is use 1/100. This will overexpose the film, but the film can take it. It will look great.

Or just choose a film with an ISO that is close to an available shutter speed on your camera. For the camera pictured above, you could choose something like Kodak T-Max 100, an ISO 100 film, and shoot at 1/100.

Light meter apps

Your other choice is to download a light meter app to your phone. I have an iPhone and I use myLightMeter. I paid for the Pro version, but there’s also a free version that works just as well.

Most of these apps work similarly: tell it what ISO your film is, aim your phone at your subject, and tap the Measure button. The app will give you an entire range of f/stop and shutter-speed settings that will give you a good exposure.

In the screen shot, the f stops don’t line up perfectly with the shutter speeds for the scene I metered. Close enough is good enough — most films don’t require exact exposure settings to get a good image. As long as you’re close to one of the settings the meter gives you, you’ll be all right. Based on the meter readings in the screen shot, if my camera has 1/250 as a shutter speed I’d choose f/8 and it would work well enough. On the camera pictured above, I have 1/300, so I’d use that.

Many cameras let you set the aperture anywhere between f stops. If yours does, you can choose a shutter speed your camera supports and then set f stop according to the meter. For example, say your camera has a shutter setting of 1/100. On the meter screen shot, the dot to the right of 1/125 will be about 1/100. Notice that dot is about 2/3 of the way between f/11 and f/16. Set your camera’s f stop about 2/3 of the way between f/11 and f/16.


From time to time someone will leave a comment on one of my camera reviews saying, “I just got one of these cameras. How do you set exposure on it?” I’ve answered that question enough times that I’ve decided to write this post, which I can just link to from now on.

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Mini Speed Graphic

Miniature Speed Graphic
Yashica-12 (with Spiratone close-up lens kit)
Kodak Tri-X 400
Rodinal 1+50

The Graflex Miniature Speed Graphic takes 2¼”x3¼” sheet film. Can you even get sheet film in that size anymore? Cursory Googling isn’t turning up any. Not that I could make time right now to learn this camera and the ins and outs of sheet film anyway. It and a short stack of sheet-film holders make a lovely display item on the fireplace mantel.

About three years ago a longtime camera collector contacted me to ask if I’d take a portion of his collection. He was preparing to close his studio and move halfway across the country as he retired. A year later, a giant box full of old gear arrived. This Speed Graphic was in it.

If you’re still out there reading, my generous benefactor, I apologize for not getting to your cameras sooner. I have shot the Kodak Retinette II (here) and the Kodak No. 2 Brownie, Model F (here). I’ll work through the rest in 2020, I hope.

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Film Photography

single frame: Miniature Speed Graphic

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Collecting Cameras

Nearing the end of Operation Thin the Herd

I’m in the home stretch, with just a few more cameras to evaluate in Operation Thin the Herd.

I didn’t count cameras before I started, but I’m sure I owned more than 100. As of today, 43 remain in the collection. See my complete inventory here.

Eight of the 43 cameras are new to me and are in my to-shoot queue. They came to me more than a year ago from photographer David Ditta as he shrunk his own extensive collection. (See his collection on his Web site here.) David, if you’re out there, I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to get to your gear. 2019 to be sure.

Kodak Retina IIc

A few cameras have been “on the bubble,” and I could decide to sell them or give them away at any time. For example, until recently I owned two similar Kodak Retinas, a IIa and a IIc, both wonderful. One belongs in my collection, but I didn’t need both. The IIa has a faster lens, but the IIc offers interchangeable front elements and was owned by the father of an old friend. I was originally not in a hurry to decide, but finally chose to send the IIa to my EMULSIVE Secret Santa recipient as a gift in December.

Polaroid SX-70

Another is this minty Polaroid SX-70. I love this camera and the incredible innovation it represents. It works, but a good CLA would make it perfect. SX-70 CLAs aren’t cheap. I’ve considered splurging on one, but I keep holding back because the available films are stinking expensive and nowhere near as good as the old Polaroid films. I just can’t see myself dumping $150 into a CLA only to get soft, washed out images that themselves cost north of two bucks each. It breaks my heart, but this SX-70 will probably be better going to someone who will use it and love it. Yet I hesitate, because I love the idea of this camera so much.

Kodak Monitor Six-20

Several cameras in my inventory never got a turn in Operation Thin the Herd because there was never any doubt I was keeping them. One of them is my Kodak Monitor Six-20 “Special.” Even though it takes discontinued 620 film, even though the shutter linkage is fussy, I love this camera. It does wonderful work. I will commit to one roll of expensive custom-spooled 620 film in it a year. I just bought some expired Verichrome Pan in 620 for it!

Nikon F2

Another no-brainer keeper is my Nikon F2A, which was a generous gift to my collection. It’s a lovely camera and a capable workhorse, but its meter is fussy. I’m about to ship it to premier Nikon F2 repairman Sover Wong for a CLA and meter repair. It will get regular use forever thereafter.

43 cameras is obviously still more than I can regularly use. While I consider myself more a photographer than a collector now, I am still a collector. Yet only a couple cameras in the collection will remain as display items. I enjoy using all of the rest and will put a roll through them once in a while.

After I wrap up Operation Thin the Herd I’ll start shooting David Ditta’s cameras. I’ll even buy a camera here and there and review it, because I still love the experience of a new-to-me old camera. But mostly I’ll get on with making photographs with my thinned herd, getting to know each camera much better, and becoming a better photographer as a result.

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Collecting Cameras

Lessons learned selling old cameras

Over the last few years I’ve sold many cameras from my collection. It’s been a surprising adventure. Here are some lessons I’ve learned.

I can list a camera so much faster on my blog’s For Sale page than I can on eBay. Really, listing on eBay is kind of a hassle.

Kodak Six-20
Sold!

I’ve had several bad buyers on eBay, but I’ve had zero problems with people who’ve bought gear through my blog. I’m sure that day will come, but so far everyone has been personable and cheerful about buying from me via my For Sale page.

Sometimes buyers send me very nice emails sharing about their own collections and why they are so excited to receive the camera they bought from me. I enjoy getting those emails and responding to them. It makes the whole experience much more personal, I think for both me and buyers, than is possible on eBay.

Shipping supplies cost money, but I’ve found ways to manage the cost. Amazon A3 boxes are just right for nearly every camera-shipping situation at 10″ x 7″ x 5.25″. More than half of the stuff we buy from Amazon comes in A3 boxes.

I do run out of A3 boxes from time to time. The CVS around the corner keeps 8″ x 8″ x 8″ boxes stocked at about a buck and half each and they’re almost as good as those A3s. I’ve even resorted to buying boxes on Amazon. You can buy any size you can imagine, in bulk. They usually put them into a box to ship them — a shipping box shipping shipping boxes.

Bubble wrap is expensive, but I’ve found no alternative for wrapping cameras. It’s cheapest at Walmart. To fill in the rest of the box I use packing peanuts or sealed-air packs. I get plenty of that stuff in the shipments my family gets all the time.

Always buy the 3M packaging tape. Everything else is junk — the dispensers don’t work well, the tape is thin and hard to work with, or both.

I always want to pay for shipping via PayPal, since that’s where I keep my funds from these sales (and from blog ad revenue and book sales). You can pay for shipping and print USPS labels directly from PayPal here. And now the USPS offers PayPal payment online, too, at Click-N-Ship here.

My wife owns a good kitchen scale that goes up to six pounds. It’s been a godsend. Before marrying her I used to weigh packages by stepping on my bathroom scale with and without the box in my hands, and subtracting. A couple times a buyer contacted me to say my bathroom-scale method resulted in postage due. D’oh! I cheerfully sent them the postage cost with my apology.

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