Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Film Madness Continues...

Two posts ago I talked about film stock and how you can't be considered a 'real' film photographer unless you process your own black & white (my developing tank has arrived and now I just have to finish the roll of T-Max 400 in my Olympus Trip 35).

Well this week I want to take that one step further by suggesting you're not a 'proper' film freak unless you're shooting medium format!

Okay, slight tongue-in-cheek again - but just like the black and white developing thing, I know that in the good old days of film, many 'real' landscape photographers would scoff at anyone who even dared to suggest that they shot 'seriously' on 35mm. The negative you get, they argue, just isn't big enough to do any critical or meaningful enlargements with.

Although I don't necessarily prescribe to this line of reasoning, I do take their point, and admit that it is a valid one. And as someone who used to work as an Art Director and studio/fashion photographer in a former life (using both medium format and 35mm film), I can attest to the superiority (if even only psychologically) of looking at a medium format slide image on a light table compared to its 35mm counterpart. There's just no comparison. Any important 'hero' shot we needed for a catalogue was shot on medium format (a Mamiya RZ 67), no question. A drum scan from a medium format slide has a gorgeous look to it - something I think digital is still trying to replicate.

And all of this pre-amble is by way of introducing my latest purchase... (no, not a Mamiya RZ unfortunately)... the Bronica S2 6x6 medium format camera.

I couldn't help myself really. It was, in fact, inevitable that once I had started a journey back into film, it would 'culminate' in getting a medium format system.

What attracted me to the Bronica S2? Well, as always, price played a major factor :-)  I have been watching the internet auction site here in New Zealand for a while now, and had been watching a couple of Bronica's, as well as a Mamiya. I've already related my positive experiences with the Mamiya RZ 67, and although I would certainly be happy owning one now, they are a bit of a beast! I've also owned a Pentax 645 very briefly a couple of years ago - and while I enjoyed its ergonomics and handling, the 6 x 4.5 format didn't really do it for me size-wise.

So what really attracted me to the Bronica S2 (apart from the price and general condition) was the 6x6 format it uses. I've never used the 6x6 format, but must admit to being very captivated by the square 'hasslebladness' of the format. And the Bronica S2 has been called the 'poor mans Hassleblad', or more kindly, the 'Japanese Hassleblad'.

Of course Hassleblad is synonymous with medium format - their name inextricably linked with one of the greatest photographers who ever lived - Ansel Adams. Would I rather own a Hassy? Maybe. Will the quality of the image produced from the Bronica be inferior? Probably not. I could have waited around for a Hassleblad to come up for sale and spent at least twice as much to get one. Or I could go with the Bronica and save money. Given the subject of this post, my choice is obvious.

Some people who have owned Bronica's, and then moved on to Hassleblad's, have even swapped back because they preferred the S2's handling over the Hassy's. I've never used a Hassleblad (or a Bronica for that matter), so I won't be making the comparison anytime soon. I simply intend to take the Bronica out and have fun with it. Making some 'serious' landscape images  ;-)

I may end up hating the square 6x6 format? Or I may end up loving it? Who knows? Time will tell.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Yashica Minimatic C

My retro 1960s arsenal now has a Yashica Minimatic-C added to the list. It was in pretty rough condition when it arrived - loose screws on the top plate and a lot of dirt in grooves etc - but it's cleaned up ok.

The first thing that surprised me with the Yashica Minimatic-C is that despite its name, it's not so 'mini' - certainly not compared with the Olympus Pen of Trip 35. It's got to be twice as big as the Pen, and a third bigger than the Trip 35 - although I suppose it still scrapes in to the 'compact' rangefinder category.

I got the Yashica because the price was right :-) and because it reminded me of the Olympus Pen range - so its larger size is something of a shock. Not a disappointment, just a shock.

The Minimatic-C uses a 45mm f2.8 Yashinon lens and in most respects is the same as a Minimatic-S, save for red detailing on the ISO dial and selector screen (and slightly slower lens). It also uses a self powered selenium photocell, so there is no need for a battery (another reason I decided to purchase the camera). The styling of the Minimatic is very clean and subtle, with a very smooth film crank action. Despite the rough condition it arrived in, the Yashica looks solidly built and exudes quality. The lens looks clean and clear and I'm looking forward to putting a roll of colour film through it to check it out.

Despite its slightly 'bulkier' size, the Yashica Minimatic-C is a very handsome camera, with lots of brushed metal, smooth lines and a solid build. The selenium photo cell around the lens (identical to the Olympus cameras) means it is a fully automatic - and fully mechanical - rangefinder camera. The viewfinder is bright and clear so should be easy to use in all lighting conditions.

I'm putting some black and white film through the Pen and Trip 35 at the moment, so it may be a while before I can put the Yashica through its paces. It will give me time to change the foam seals around the door hinges so that it will be all good to go when I'm finally ready to shoot with it. Can't wait.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

B&W developing at home again.

Whenever you shoot film, the major question you have to ask yourself is "What film will I shoot"? And if you shoot for any length of time, the answer to film type ultimately boils down to one issue: color vs black and white. And if you're serious about your film photography, then there's only one real answer to that conundrum - black and white ;-)

OK - maybe that's said tongue planted firmly in cheek, but... many a photographer would probably seriously argue that you're not a 'real' film user until you've mastered the 'art' of black and white photography. And that includes developing the film yourself.

I 'grew up', photographically speaking, on black and white photography - rolling, developing and printing my own black and white films for years. In fact, I taught b&w development night classes until the digital boom (whereupon I then switched to teaching digital photography courses). I was the president of Canterbury University's Photosoc (Photo Society) all through my University days, using the darkrooms there on a weekly basis, and teaching other students how to use the enlargers, developers and processing chemicals as well.

So all this talk of shooting with film again has naturally got me thinking black and white, and that in turn has got me thinking about developing my own film.

A quick trip out to the shed this weekend confirmed what I suspected... I still had a stash of chemicals hidden away in a box from out last move (three years ago). And "surprise, surprise, surprise" (in my best Gomer Pile impersonation), I still have 6 rolls of Ilford Delta 100 film to boot! Don't know how stable they will be now - they've been in that cardbord box under all sorts of temperature changes - but it's worth putting a roll through just to see. At least now it's being stored in my fridge!

I've got Ilford developer, fixer and stop - as well as Paterson wash and a large measuring jug. I'm pretty sure I've got a thermometer in my sock draw somewhere (don't ask :-), so all I really need is a developing tank (and maybe a couple more measuring jugs). Trademe to the rescue... I've got a two reel Paterson developing tank arriving this week. All I need now is more measuring jugs, and I'm set.

A few years ago my clever wife made me a light-tight change bag for my black and white films (so that's the darkroom sorted), and rather than print my own photos in a conventional darkroom, I'm going to scan the negatives so I can print from the digital files. I believe it's called a 'hybrid' workflow (shooting film and converting to digital) and all the cool young photographers are doing it don't chya know. A whole new generation are now 'discovering' the joys of film and digital - together as one. Ah yes - what we really do need is a great big melting pot...

Olympus Trip 35

My Olympus Trip 35mm compact rangefinder arrived this week - my third Olympus compact rangefinder purchased on Trademe.

Since it isn't battery dependent (it's all mechanical and uses a solar-powered selenium meter around the lens a-la my Pen EES-2), I'm hoping to have more luck with it than I had with the 35ED I purchased off the same seller!?

And other than a little fungus in the very centre of the lens (arrgghhh!), it does look in good working condition. The shutter fires, winder is smooth etc. I've even re-done the light seals with felt, and was very impressed with the internal layout of the camera. The door itself is very well recessed into the back, creating natural light-tight seals. The only foam that I had to replace was across the door hinge where it is mounted to the body of the camera. A very simple and quick 20 minute job. Nice.

Unlike my Pen EES-2, the Trip is a regular 35mm camera (it's not half-frame), so is a little bigger and bulkier than the Pen - although not by much. It's still a very compact, carry-around camera.

Like the Pen EES-2, the Trip 35 uses a Zuiko 40mm f2.8 lens, with focusing from 1m to infinity using icons on the lens barrel to 'guestimate' the range of focus. The single person icon is for the 1m mark, the two person (portrait) icon is for a 1.5m setting, the three person (group shooting) icon is a 3m setting - Olympus suggests this as a good general working range - while the landscape icon is marked for infinity. Simple enough, and I've found it's worked really well with the Pen EES-2.

The Trip 35 also uses the thumb-wheel film winder from the Pen design, but incorporates a clever little window just below the viewfinder where you can check at a glance what icon you have the lens set to without having to take the camera away from your eye.

These little Trip 35's have something of a cult following amongst compact rangefinder enthusiasts, and I can't wait to give mine a roll of film. My only disappointment would have to be the small amount of fungus that is showing right in the centre of the lens. Can't help thinking that it's got to degrade the image quality eventually - so I've gone and bought another Trip 35 on Trademe in the hope that its lens is in better condition?

I'm still working through a roll of Kodak TCN 400 in the Pen EES-2 (I'm up to about shot 24 of 72...), so it may be a while before I get to put a roll through the Trip. By then the other will probably have arrived, so I'll be able to choose between the two in terms of lens quality, overall condition etc...

Still can't quite believe that I'm this excited about shooting film again. And it may even be worse than that...!? I'm thinking about developing my own black and white at home again as well! Never say never :-)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

First film from the Pen EES-2

I've finally put my first roll (of Fuji Superia 400 colour neg) film through my little Olympus EES-2. And I've gotta say right off the bat, I'm thrilled!

As you can see from the proof sheet above, I got 53 (mostly) beautifully exposed wee gems - all sharp, with great colour. I must say I was slightly worried, since the Pen had light seals that were reasonably suspect - but there was no problem with light leaks whatsoever.

The Pen was a joy to use. It's a fairly automatic camera - the only decision you really need to make is setting the focus range on the lens (with a choice of 1m, 1.5m, 3m or infinity). The manual for the camera suggests that an 'average' shot will mostly work at the 3m range - and that's largely where I left it, although I did change the focus as necessary (shooting at infinity for landscapes etc).

The thing that struck me initially was the incredible quietness of the shutter release. Just a very faint 'snick' when you push the shutter and the image is taken. Then a very short flick of the thumb on the wheel at the back (very nicely placed btw) to move the film along - it's only half-frame remember - and you're good to go again. Ergonomically beautiful - a perfect mix of Japanese design and the modern mantra 'form follows function'.

Before getting the film processed, I stripped the camera of all its old foam-based light seals, and replaced them with felt and wool (as described on several internet websites). I'm very happy with the new sealing (it was fiddly, but NOT difficult) - even though, as already mentioned, there were no light leaks anyway. Worth doing as general upkeep for such an old camera though.

Having got the film developed (process and proof only - no prints), I scanned the negs on my Epson V700 Photo Scanner - at 2400dpi, giving me a print size from the half frame of approx. 13cm x 17cm at 300dpi. I could go back and scan any individual negs at a higher resolution if I needed to - but 2400dpi is probably enough to upsize the half frame neg to at least 8x12' - which is about as big as I would print unless I needed something for exhibition.

Couldn't be happier with the results from the Pen EES-2! And I'm really enjoying shooting film again. I'd almost forgotten the anticipation of picking up your film from processing to see what you've got - all the better when the results are this pleasing.

My experiences with the other Olympus compact I got on Trademe is, however, less positive. Unfortunately, try as I might, I can't get the camera to work! The Olympus 35ED is battery dependent (unlike the Pen EES-2), and it seems like I've got a dud. Can't really do much, because I purchased the camera without batteries and sold 'as is'. Oh well, you win some (Pen EES-2) and you loose some (Olympus 35ED).

Not daunted by this however, I've just purchased another Olympus - a 'Trip 35' on Trademe (also sold 'as is' - but the guy claims it's working). The Trip 35 is very similar to my Pen - no batteries :-) and uses exactly the same focusing system. It's basically a Pen that uses a standard 35mm format. Looking forward to shooting with the Trip as well.

I've loaded a roll of Kodak Black and White 400cn (C41 colour processed black and white) 36 shoot film in the EES-2 now (which should give me around 75(ish) shots. Might take a while to get through that many images - depending on what I get up to this weekend. Will definitely post images from that roll once it's shot and developed. Good times with film!