Tuesday, June 28, 2011

DIY Film Retriever

Been buying up a whole bunch of new film gear recently, and I'll eventually get to them all in future posts. What I want to talk about today is a DIY solution for retrieving film.

Because not only am I buying film gear, I'm also selling it (I ain't made of money and have to fund all this stuff somehow). In my enthusiasm, when I get a 'new' camera, one of the first things I do is load it with film. Problem is, sometimes I never actually shoot that film, and I need to get it out of one camera and into another. If the film rewind process is all manual, then you have a good chance of 'guessing' when to stop rewinding and still have some film leader left. But if the camera is completely automated, then you're less likely to have any 'tongue' remaining after the camera does its rewind - even if you anticipate and open the door towards the end of the rewind.

Anyway - for whatever reason, if you shoot with film, you're more than likely going to have to pull it out of a canister every once in a while. You can buy a proper Film Retriever, and they are pretty cheap (about $5 if you can find one). But, if you're stuck and need to get the film out without one of these handy gadgets, then you can make your own. All you need is a strip of film negative that you can sacrifice for the job, together with some small scissors, and you can save yourself 5 bucks!

 I call it the Sharks Tooth Film Retriever and 'Yes', it does actually work! Simply cut the edges of the film negative as you see here, for about two frames. I also round the end off slightly. What you are looking to do is make tiny teeth that will catch (hook) onto the film sprocket holes inside the canister.

Then it's simply a matter of inserting the retriever most of the way into the film canister through the felt opening, and turning the reel counterclockwise so that the film starts rotating against the teeth. Eventually you should feel it 'catch' and actually winding the retriever into the canister. When that happens, slowly pull the retriever out, and your film tongue should appear with it! How cool is that!? And as mentioned, it does work - I've just retrieved two black and white films with it.

One final tip. I inserted the Sharks Tooth Film Retriever so that the natural curl of the film was going against the curl of the film inside the canister. Probably doesn't matter. I just assumed that the two curls working against each other would give me a greater chance of the teeth catching some of the holes? And it seemed to work.

Of course once the job is completed, keep the Sharks Tooth Film Retriever handy at home somewhere - and maybe even make another that goes with you in your camera bag. Happy retrieving!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Winning Image on Film

Previously I wrote about entering a 6x6 image taken on my Bronica S2 into a local photography exhibition. The Electronet/Trustpower awards are held every year here on the West Coast, and are broken down into sections. I entered the 'Professional' section, and my kids entered the 'Junior' section.

Ford Combi Van's Last Trip - Runner Up, Professional Award
 To cut a long story short, I came 2nd (and third with a digital HDR image) in the Professional section, and was pretty happy with the result - given that it was the only image competing that was shot on film! Yeah for me, and Yeah for film.

But perhaps the more exciting news from the night was having the exhibition manager from the gallery approach me afterwards and ask me if I would like to have an exhibition in the gallery next year!

I am very excited about the prospect and pitched an idea to her straight away. I'm going to call it 6x6, it's going to be all medium format square images, and of course, therefore, all shot on film. How cool is that!?

With the addition of my Yashica Mat 124, as well as the Bronica S2, I'm well covered now for shooting 6x6 - and now I've even got a reason to get off my but, get out there, and take lots of photos on film. I've also been playing with ideas around intentional bur in images - both in landscape and portrait - so half the images may be super sharp - while the other half may by purposefully blurred? Just a thought at the moment...

Yashica Mat 124

My obsession with medium format continues, with the purchase of my first TLR (twin lens reflex) camera, the Yashica Mat 124.

Purchased on Trademe (where else) for $150NZ from a woman in Westport (my home town), it was her husbands camera (sadly he died recently from cancer).

The Yashica Mat 124 is a Japanese 'copy' of the German Rollei TLR cameras, beginning production in 1968 and finishing in 1971 (whereafter the 124G was produced). Although considered a 'copy', the Yashica is by no means an inferior product. They are extremely well made and many choose the 124 model over the later 124G due to the more reliable gears used in the earlier model.

My copy has been well looked after, although it certainly needed a good clean. On some of these older 124's the 'taking' lens (the one at the bottom) can develop a greasy film on it over time, which will obviously reduce contrast and need to be cleaned. Fortunately my camera has no such residue and is brilliantly clear.

Of course with a 40+ year old camera, light seals and foam will have deteriorated and will need replacing. Again, my 124 was not too bad in this respect. I did take the viewfinder off (just unscrew four tiny screws) and replaced the foam around the edge of the camera where it meets the finder hood - as well as adding some black string to the very bottom of the film door. All the other string around the door was, however, still in tact (at least it looks like it is). So hopefully there won't be any light leaks when I put a roll of film through it?

Of course the Yashica Mat 124 takes 120 roll film (or 220 by simply revolving the film pressure plate inside the camera), shooting a 6x6 square negative. Yes, I've decided to persevere with the square format. I don't love it yet, but I reckon given enough time I'll get used to seeing in the square format. And, of course, you can always crop the negative later on if a more rectangular composition is required.

Because I've also decided that if I'm going to shoot film - and medium format - then I may as well shoot as big as I can (within reason). So at the moment, 6x4.5 doesn't interest me, as it simply isn't big enough. 6x6 or 6x7 is where it's at in medium format for me, so that's what I will concentrate on for my film shooting. I've even started selling most of my 35mm film cameras off on Trademe (but I'm keeping the Olympus kit).

So having cleaned her (yes, camera's are female), all that remains is to put a roll of film through and make sure everything is working as it should. Surprisingly enough, it also looks like the meter is actually working as well, although I don't know how accurate it will be? The 124 uses a CdS (match needle) exposure system powered by a 1.3v battery. And what do you know, I just happened to have a Wein Cell 1.35v battery that I imported from the USA for a Pentax Spotmatic that I never used - and bingo, it fits perfectly! The needle moves when the shutter button is pressed and matches up when the shutter and aperture values are changed, so it looks very much like I'm in business.

Now I just need some time to go out and make some images!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Medium Format book find

Coming home late last night from a family holiday, I was amazed to find a second-hand store open in a little town we stopped at. It was freezing cold, pitch dark, and about 8.00pm on a Sunday evening.  I suppose the guy who owned the store figured he may as well stay open?

Anyway, needed to stretch the legs, so had a look around. There were a few trashed cameras behind the counter (a very battered Canon T50 and rough looking lens was unfortunately the pick of them), and not much else.

So I started rummaging around in the book piles and came across the 'Medium Format Handbook' by Roger W. Hicks. A hard back, slightly bigger than A5 book in great condition - for $6. Well, I just had to buy it!

I have only read the first few chapters, and even though it was written about 20yrs ago, the information is still relevant for someone like me who is getting in to medium format film photography all over again. And although Hick's writing is quite technical in nature, I'm still getting a few gems of knowledge from it.

He himself is a Mamiya RB67 fan and professes to not like the square 6x6 format. Depending on the day and my mood, I tend to agree with him, although I am persevering with 6X6. I'm even looking art getting another one! I could really get into this medium format thing - especially with the prices as they are.

Hey, if you're going to shoot film, why not shoot in medium format and get the best/biggest negative you can?!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Pentax 67 - From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

My 35mm camera system of choice at the moment is the Olympus OM series - the OM2 and OM10. I love their beautiful design qualities, rugged reliability and most of all, their compact size. Carry an OM2 with three lenses, spare OM10 body and a few films and you hardly even know you're carrying anything! Nice.

But medium format is a different matter entirely. My Bronica S2 is a large, square beast and you know when you've been carrying it around for more than half an hour. Fortunately, it also produces a large, square, beast of a negative - a 6x6cm square format.

To be honest, the 6x6 format has presented me with some compositional challenges. I just don't 'see' the world as a square (yet). I'm a child of 35mm. So I'm much more comfortable with the more rectangular field of view. I'm not giving up on the Bronica mind you, but I'm also open to something else.

For a while a few years ago I owned a Pentax 645 kit - which just happens to be more in line with the 35mm aspect ratio - just 2x bigger. But it never really felt 'big' enough. For the size of the negative I was getting, compared to the size of equipment I needed to lug around to get it, I figured I was better off shooting 35mm. So I sold the 645.

The 6x6 format of the Bronica is bigger, and much more like it - but as already mentioned, it's square. What I need is something more like - oh I dunno - 6x7. Enter Pentax again...

Pentax 67 next to the Olympus OM2. David vs Goliath! 
The Pentax 67 might just be the perfect compromise - although it's by no means the perfect camera. Large, heavy, tricky to load, no changeable film backs and very basic in operation. It is, as many have already stated, a 35mm SLR on steroids. Lots and Lots of Steroids!

Also, the shutter and mirror are massive - with the recoil of a winchester rifle. This camera doesn't have a shutter click, it has an explosion! So MLU (mirror lock up) and a heavy brute of a tripod are a must when using this camera. You can use this hand-held, but it had better be with a fast film and even faster shutter speeds.

Looking at it next to the OM2, it has to be 4 times the size (and about 8 times the weight). So what's the point? Well not only is the camera body 4 times the size - more importantly, the negative is 4 times the size. And in the film/digital camera world bigger, is indeed, better.

And of course, size and weight is all relative - especially when you're talking medium format. For example, the Mamiya RB67 weighs in at a whopping 2.6kgs - whereas the Pentax 67 is a respectable 1.7kgs. So when you look at it like that, the Pentax is practically anorexic :-)  Although I haven't actually weighed it, my Canon 5D with battery grip and 28-105mm IS lens is definitely comparable in terms of both weight and size when placed next to the Pentax 67. So although it might initially look bad, for a camera that shoots in the 6x7cm negative format, the Pentax is actually a bit of a featherweight!

Pentax has a huge range of lenses available for the 67 - the most of any medium format system - and all can be used on any Pentax67 camera (version 1 or II). The Pentax 67 I have (on permanent loan from a friend) has the 90mm f2.8 leaf shutter lens - a standard lens that lets you sync flash up to 1/500th sec (as opposed to the Pentax's normal 1/30th sec flash sync.) Apparently the leaf shutter lenses are rare and hard to come by, so that's a bit of a score.

Not that I'll be using it for flash photography anytime soon. For me, the Pentax 67 will be a Landscape camera (for the most part). With just 10 images to a 120 roll of film, and with the sheer weight and size of the thing, the camera will require a slower pace of shooting - a more measured and contemplative approach to photography. It just so happens that this is one of the things I like most about shooting with not only film, but more specifically medium format film. I regularly get 5 or 6 images from a 120 roll that I am very happy with - that's a 50 to 60% 'keeper' rate. And I don't have 600 photos to process or go through to get those 5 or 6 either!

So I'm very much looking forward to taking the Pentax 67 out and making some landscape images with her. I'll post the results and my impressions on using the camera soon.