I often like the medium-format version of a film better than its 35mm counterpart. The larger negative opens up the film and shows you what it can really do. This goes for the new 120 Mono film from Kosmo Foto.
When friend-of-the-blog Stephen Dowling, the man behind Kosmo Foto, announced this new film, I preordered immediately. My order arrived in due course, but it took me a couple months to find a day to spool a roll into my Yashica-D. I took both on a walk up and down the lovely Main Street in Zionsville.
Dowling makes no bones about it: this is an existing film, repackaged for Kosmo Foto. This classic emulsion features strong contrast and managed grain, much like black-and-white films of old. Best of all, it’s reasonably priced. If you’re curious, get yours here.
It was a full-sun summer day as I strolled Zionsville’s charming brick Main Street. A lot of classic emulsions struggle to keep highlights in check on days like this; no so Mono.
Moving in close, as close as my TLR would let me anyway, Mono shows good resolving power.
I don’t mind doing a little work in Photoshop to make my photos more presentable, but it sure is nice when I can use them right off the scanner. Such was largely the case with these images. The only thing I did consistently was rotate them slightly so the verticals were vertical and the horizontals were horizontal; I do struggle to hold a TLR level.
It’s not a photowalk in Zionsville unless I photograph the great Black Dog Books sign.
Rich blacks, reasonable midtones, good contrast, barely detectable grain. What’s not to like about Kosmo Foto Mono in 120?
All week I’m sharing single-subject photo series I’ve made.
I love used bookstores, especially small ones with carefully selected offerings. If you do, too, then please visit Zionsville and step into Black Dog Books. Be sure to greet the genuine black dog that snoozes on the floor.
When I lived in Indianapolis I felt safe. I lived in a part of town that had little or no crime. I was never the victim of a crime and I was never under threat. Indianapolis has bad neighborhoods; the church I attend is in one of them. I just stayed out of there at night and all was well.
I moved to Zionsville, an Indianapolis suburb, a couple years ago. I feel ultra safe here.
I think now that I merely didn’t feel unsafe when I lived in Indianapolis. I recently started working in Downtown Indianapolis, a place I used to visit frequently when I lived in the city. As I walk those streets now I realize I’m always lightly vigilant, always generally aware of my surroundings.
Because my guard is completely down in Zionsville, I can see now that I was always this watchful when I lived in Indianapolis.
I think I feel safe enough to be this relaxed and trusting because in Zionsville, everyone looks and behaves like me, or like someone obviously in a higher station in life than me. In Indianapolis, I encountered people of many backgrounds, people who didn’t look like me.
I don’t like to think of myself as prejudiced, but perhaps I am in this way. If nothing else, living in Zionsville has certainly taught me that it’s easy to feel safe in a homogeneous community.
Yet I miss the diversity of Indianapolis. When I moved there in 1994, my first wife and I chose a home in an area of mixed race so we and our children would have friends of many colors and backgrounds. It worked!
Yet when we went out on the town — infrequently, as our children kept us busy — we never felt a part of a community. We were just two people out among strangers. I used to think that was largely on me, as I’m a keep-to-myself introvert. But now I’m not so sure.
When my current wife and I go out in Zionsville, there’s a feeling that we’re among our people. We have random conversations with strangers. My wife always starts them (see above, re: keep-to-myself introvert), but I always participate in them. Heartily.
In Zionsville when I see someone who is not white or is not wearing clothes that suggest at least an upper-middle-class background, I immediately assume they’re not from here. And then I’m startled by my own prejudice.
This is just an experience report. I can’t draw any hard conclusions. But I wonder: does choosing diversity lead to a reduced feeling of safety, and does choosing homogeneity lead to an increased feeling of safety? Am I objectively safer in Zionsville than in even my nearly-no-crime neighborhood in Indianapolis? I’m not sure.
Some subjects draw me in every time I pass by with a camera. This scene on Main Street in Zionsville has become one of those subjects. I am sure I have at least one more photo from here, but I can’t find it now. Enjoy these five.
How fortunate I’ve been these last couple years to live so close to Zionsville’s charming downtown. It’s just a short drive to enjoy the boutiques and galleries and restaurants.
We make good use of Zionsville’s Main Street. On the morning I’m writing this my wife and I are waking up after an impromptu and deeply enjoyed night on the little town. Often when family comes to visit we stroll this brick street and pop into whatever shops are open. It’s always a lovely time. I bring a camera, naturally. That’s how I made this photograph. This potter’s work is always for sale in this particular gallery.
How improbable Zionsville’s Main Street is to me, lined with these perfect little shops that are seldom busy. At any random time I’m in town, several of them aren’t even open. I wonder how any of them turn a profit.
Together, my wife and I are in the top five percent of earners nationwide. (It takes surprisingly little to join that club.) Yet I am sure we are in the bottom quarter of earners in Zionsville. There’s serious money here.
I assume these shops are run by people whose families have plenty of money. Nobody’s counting on these boutiques to pay the mortgage and feed the children. As long as their shops break even, they’re fine.
Metal, mechanical 35mm SLRs with coupled light meters are my favorite way to shoot. I like how substantial they feel. The best of them, like my 1967-75 Nikon Nikomat FTn, feel like they’ll outlast me.
On my first outing with this camera I loaded some since-discontinued Arista Premium 400 (which was allegedly rebranded Kodak Tri-X 400) and went to the State Fair. The camera felt a little clumsy in my hands at first, but I soon adapted to its ways and enjoyed the experience.
And then this camera went onto the shelf and stayed there. I simply have too many lovely metal, mechanical SLRs to choose from, and I kept reaching for my Nikon F2 and my various Pentax bodies first. This is one of the reasons for Operation Thin the Herd: to pass on gear I’m just not going to use enough. Let this good gear go to its next owner.
But I don’t want to be too hasty. This is really a lovely camera. Through the 1970s Nikon put its name only on its professional cameras. Starting in 1965, its not-quite-pro cameras got the Nikomat name in Japan and the Nikkormat name in the rest of the world. I see no evidence that they were not as solidly built as the pro cameras. They just lacked some of the pro features of the F-series cameras like interchangeable viewfinder-meter heads and focusing screens. When reasonably cared for, a Nikomat/Nikkormat is a lifetime camera.
This camera is from before Nikon had devised a way for a body to automatically find the mounted lens’s aperture range. Such cameras and lenses are called “pre-AI,” where AI means “automatic indexing.” This is the only pre-AI body I own, and I keep my only pre-AI lens on it all the time, a 50mm f/2 Nikkor H-C. The H means Hex, for the lens’s six elements. The C stands for multi-Coated, an improvement over earlier H lenses, which were single-coated.
I loaded some Fujicolor 200 into the FTn and shot the roll. It wasn’t until I shot the fourth image past 36 on the frame counter that I realized something was wrong. I opened the camera to find the film leader sitting next to the spool. I had struggled to get the film to wind around the spool and sure enough I’d utterly failed. But this time when I stuck the leader into the spool it grabbed immediately and wound strongly. I got on with shooting the roll again. We were in Eagle Creek Park in Indianapolis.
There’s nothing light about the FTn in use. The winder feels substantial. The shutter button requires a solid push. The lever on the lens mount that adjusts shutter speed feels hefty and clicks surely through its stops. This, friends, is what I like about metal, mechanical cameras.
The meter is classic Nikon 60/40 center-weighted. You adjust aperture and shutter speed and the viewfinder needle moves along a scale. When it’s horizontal between + and -, you have a good exposure. + is one stop of overexposure and – is one stop of underexposure. I like how Fujicolor 200 looks when overexposed by up to a stop, so I tended to meter so the needle pointed more towards the +. It didn’t work out for me on this roll; I had to adjust exposure in Photoshop on nearly every frame. I did scan the negatives on my flatbed scanner, however, and I haven’t perfected my techniques yet.
By the late 1970s, SLRs from all makers had largely standardized their controls, placing the shutter-speed selector on the body’s top near the shutter button. That’s what I prefer. I know of two SLRs that place the shutter-speed selector on the lens mount: this one and the Olympus OM-1. The FTn does the OM-1 better in two ways: its selector ring features a tab that makes moving the ring easier when the camera is at your eye, and you can see the selected shutter speed through the viewfinder.
While doing some light shopping on Zionsville’s charming main street, I tried making some photos inside the shops. My shutter speeds were low, like 1/15 sec. But the camera operates smoothly and I have a steady hand.
I shoot Fujicolor all the time and know it better than any other film. The lab’s scans didn’t look great; everything was very brown, and large areas were blotchy. I thought maybe the lab had a bad day with its scanner, so I scanned them myself. They, too, were very brown, but at least they weren’t blotchy. You’re looking at my scans in this post. I had to do a lot of Photoshop work to try to correct the colors.
I also shot a roll of Kodak Portra 400 in the FTn — my first ever, so it’s a film I know not at all. Those images were blotchy too but the colors were good. The lab agreed to take the negatives back and re-scan them. If that makes any difference I’ll let you know. Meanwhile I’ll share scans I made from that roll in an upcoming post.
I like this camera fine. I like my Pentax KM and my Nikon F2 more, and so I reach for them all the time and this Nikomat FTn almost never. This is only the second time I’ve used it. Sadly, that sounds the death knell for the Nikomat FTn in my collection.