Sunday, August 28, 2016

A week along the AuTrain

6-8 foot waves in AuTrain Bay
Reany Creek after the rains.
I am back from a week-long stay in AuTrain, MI.  If you are unaware of where that is, it's sort of in the middle of the Upper Peninsula, about 30 miles E of Marquette.  The AuTrain River empties into Lake Superior in AuTrain Bay, and I have photographed that particular spot numerous times over the years.  Changing lake levels keep the channel into Lake Superior in an unpredictable state.  When we arrived on the 20th, fierce storms had produced huge waves all along the coast, and by the evening of the 22, the lake had calmed.  We visited my daughter and daughter-in-law in Marquette, and were treated to some awesome scenes along Reany Creek, which empties into the dead River.  I shot lots of waterfalls through the week, and did a little macro work, and some street shooting in Marquette.  It was a great break from work, and quite relaxing to stay in a small cabin, being able to make meals, etc., and not in a motel.  Adrienne and I had a nice dinner in the Brownstone Inn along M-28, just a couple of miles from AuTrain.  Now that we are back, I have some film to develop. My most used film was Kentmere 100, but as you can see, I had quite a bit of variety.
I also shot quite a bit of digital with my trusty Nikon D200 and a bag of lenses. The camera phone  of course, was a good way to document our travel, if only to put a few things up on Instagram.
One of the things in the Upper Peninsula is that cell phone service isn't always good.   Keeping a charger cable in the car is a good idea to keep your phone from running down if it is searching for a signal much of the day.

One of my favorite places to shoot under various types of weather is Black Rocks on Presque Isle.  This time, it was an overcast day with some light rain, which really made for some good photography this time around.


Black Rocks
lots of sky along Lake Superior!

a much calmer lake a few days after the storm

Great Lakes beaches are hard to beat.

I did a little macro, too.  A male Polistes dominulus. The 60mm micro-Nikkor is a gem of a lens.

I have only been home a little over 24 hours and I miss the UP already.  I love the skies, the weather changes, the shoreline, the rocks, the people, and the smell of the woods.  I have been going there for over 30 years, and each time I come back, I have new memories and an anticipation of another trip. When I process my many rolls of film, I'll show some new work from AuTrain Bay.




Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Kentmere 100 Film..a bargain, and it's very good.

Over the years, I have shot just about every emulsion of B&W film that is available. Some become "go-to" favorites, and others get used sparingly for specific purposes. Sometimes I come across a cache of a long-discontinued film, such as Kodak Panatomic-X, and use it sparingly, not wanting to use it up right away.   It's downright annoying to really like a certain film and then have it unavailable.  One of my favorite medium-speed monochrome 35mm films is Kentmere 100.  It has fine grain, lies really flat in the scanner, and is readily available in bulk rolls.  Sold by Harman, it is made by Ilford, and is similar in performance to the Ilford FP-4 film.  My favorite developer with it is D76 1:1, but XTOL 1:1 gives a nice result as well.  I could write all sorts of things about the film, but it is probably just easier to show you some photographs:


old bus, Ann Arbor, MI

Robert Beech

Depot Street, Ypsilanti, MI

Hillsdale, MI

Ugly Mug, Ypsilanti, MI

Short's Brewery Window, Bellaire, MI

Birchwood Inn, Harbor Springs, MI

Hocking Hills, OH

I buy Kentmere 100 in bulk rolls, which saves me money.  A roll of 100 ft. is about $40, which prices it far below a lot of films.  The quality is excellent, and if you want to try a roll or two, of course, is is sold in 36 exp. rolls for about $3/roll online.  It is available from all of the typical places such as B&H, Adorama, and Freestyle.  I highly recommend Kentmere 100.



Friday, August 05, 2016

Buying an AF 35mm Film SLR.

What is the best SLR system camera? This is a question that we used to see a lot, back  before digital began its takeover.  If you are just getting into film, my first response would be - "What DSLR are you using?"  If you are using a Canon EOS DSLR, then you should look at the pre-digital EOS models.  If you are using a Nikon, then by all means, look at Nikon AF models.  If you are using Pentax,  Pentax AF models, and Sony Alpha DSLR -- Minolta AF cameras (Maxxum series).   Essentially, those are the only DSLR systems with compatible lenses for the film bodies. There is one caveat, though.  If you are using a lens designed specifically for the APS-C form factor, such as a Canon EF-S lens, or a Nikon DX lens, you will get a vignetted image when used with a full-frame SLR.    Why would you want to use a later AF-system when there are so many robust metal-bodied cameras out there?  Here are a few reasons to look at more recent cameras.

Control Layout  
For one, let's say you are using a Nikon D7000 DSLR and are thinking about buying a film body.  If you look at the controls and ergonomics of most of the better Nikon DSLRs, they are pretty similar to the Nikon F100.  LCD displays, control dials and buttons are similar.   They can use the same AF-D and FX lenses (non-DX, of course).  In fact, the F100 is perhaps the best advanced film SLR from Nikon in terms of cost and features.   Today, you can pick one up for a fraction of what they used to go for.   If your cameras have similar control layouts, you learn how to use them more quickly.

Lenses
Again, if you can share the lenses between your DSLR and your film SLR, you are also saving money and avoiding duplication.  You can bring a film body along loaded with B&W, and use the DSLR for color.  Swap out lenses as needed.

Newer Technology
While much can be said in favor of the older cameras, newer cameras offer more features, better metering, and often, ease of use.  Being able to bracket your exposures automatically is a great feature that won't be found in older manual cameras.  Having spot metering as well as other modes is very useful. If you are used to auto-focus, the AF film bodies will be appreciated.

Fewer Miles
As much as I like older cameras, and still continue to use them, you have to remember that a model that appeared in 1970 is now almost 50 years old.  It may have been through many owners, or used a lot, or used a few times and then sat on a shelf for the last 30 years.  Meanwhile, a late-model AF SLR may only be 15 years old or less.

Price
Here's the great advantage. Yes, the later 35mm film camera SLRs often have a lot of plastic.  But they may have titanium frames, be weather-sealed, etc.  You will also find them to be incredibly cheap on the used market, whether it's ebay, a resale shop, or a garage sale.  They are not old enough to be called classics, and they are plentiful.

Built-In Flash
While we take a built-in flash for granted on modern cameras, it was only the AF bodies that started featuring them.  They may not be the best flash option for all instances, but they are handy to have for fill flash.  Not all AF bodies have a built-in flash, though. Nikon's pro-level cameras do not have them.

Camera Recommendations
Canon - The EOS mount is very popular, and Canon was the first to really exploit the low-end AF SLR market with their Canon Rebel series.  They are low-cost bodies, and most of them should still work well.  They are also cheap, with  bodies often selling for $10 US.   The 35-80mm EF lens was a mainstay with them.  You can use therm in manual as well as the other auto-modes.  However, there are many different EOS 35mm film bodies that are more "professional" that have a better build and more features.  The Canon EOS Elan II is a wonderful body.

Minolta - Sony bought Konica/Minolta and kept the Alpha mount from the Minolta Maxxum series of cameras.  There are many, many orphaned Maxxum bodies out there that sell for the price of a Starbucks Mocha.  Minolta was the undisputed king of features on AF bodies.  The low-end models such as the QTsi, are quite plasticky.  Higher-end models such as the Maxxum 9 or 7 are very full-featured.  I have only personally used the Maxxum 7000, which was the very first real AF SLR.   That model of course, is quite old and slow.  The Minolta Maxxum 9xi has a top shutter speed of 1/12,000 sec.  This may be helpful in deciding on a purchase.

Nikon - This is a group that I know well.  Nikon's early AF SLRs are fully compatible with manual Nikkors, and the N2020 and N8008 are typical examples.  The 8008 has an excellent viewfinder.  Later, Nikon's amateur-level AF SLRS deleted some features, such as the ability to meter with manual lenses. That is the case with the N55, N60, N65, N75, and N80  models.  If you are only using AF lenses, this isn't a problem.  Of course, there is the behemoth F4 and the expensive F5, and F6 models.  I would stay away from the N70, as Nikon departed from sanity on that design. The N90 is an amazingly timeless camera that works very well with most lenses.  However, the F100 remains my favorite. It uses manual and all AF lenses, including  G-lenses (lack an aperture ring like the Canon EF lenses).  You can often pick up an N65 body for about $10-$15.

Pentax - The K-mount system just amazes me as it just keeps chugging along.  While the lens selection may not compare as favorably as Nikon and Canon, you can use the manual lenses on many bodies just fine.  As far as AF camera bodies go, I have reviewed a few, and yes, the cameras are plasticky, but they seem to work well, and are bargains.  Some of the low-end models MZ-30, 50, 60 will only fire with AF lenses attached.  I recommend the ZX-5 if you want to have a low-cost camera that will use manual and AF lenses.  Perhaps the best of the bunch might be the MZ-S, with its Magnesium-alloy body.

So, there you go with some options.  Get a body, some film, and fire way!


Sunday, July 31, 2016

SLOOOOW Film Adventure

Another really slow film.
One of the more interesting aspects of using film is that we have the opportunity to experiment with emulsions that are not the every-day sort of film.  In the digital world, the ISOs keep getting insanely higher each year.  But, they never go LOWER.  Typically, ISO 100 is the lowest ISO available.  With film, there are emulsions with an ISO of 0.75.  Of course, most people would never dream of shooting with a low ISO film, and the standard low ISO in the film world is 25.  TechPan, that do-it-all film has an ISO of 25 in most applications.  Kodalith, designed to be a high-contrast graphic arts film has an ISO of 12.  Most of the available (mostly old-stock) low ISO films are designed for specific applications, not as general-purpose photographic films.  I still shoot a dwindling stock of Kodak Panatomic-X whose box speed is ISO 32, but I shoot it at 25 with great results.  Ilford's Pan-F has a box speed of ISO 50, but I shoot it at 32.   The now out-of-production Polypan-F has a stated speed of 50, but can be pushed higher.
an oldie low-ISO  in color, no less. 
To go back to my original thought -- why would you want to shoot a low ISO film?  For one, you can shoot wide-open on a sunny day for great shallow DOF results.   Stopping down, you can achieve a motion blur in the same situation.  So, let's get REALLY slow.  ISO 3.  
I had a project in mind, and that was to do a shoot at the annual Ann Arbor Art Fair, which happens every mid- July. Over the 4 days, there are up to a half million visitors.  What I wanted to do, was to try and get a ghost-like blur of people at the art fair. Of course, it's mid-summer, almost always bright and sunny. How do I do that?
1. Use a low ISO film.  I tried two. The FPP store had a Svema Micrat-Ortho which is a POSITIVE ISO 1 film (or maybe 0.75), as well as a Svema MZ-3, which is a higher-contrast repro film of ISO 3.  2. Use a Neutral Density Filter to allow even less light -- I used a 3-stop ND filter.
3. Use a camera that allows me to get as close to a low ISO setting as possible. My F100 ISO dial goes to ISO 6, and I can compensate +1, +2,  (and more)  full stops to achieve an ISO of 3 or less.
4. Shoot at f/22 if possible.  I used a Nikkor 24-120 AF zoom.
5. Of course, this means a tripod is absolutely necessary.  Remote release is also handy, as well.  

Results

Roll 1 -- The Svema Micrat Ortho was developed in D76 1:1 for 7 minutes.  Exposures ranged from 10-25 seconds.




Roll 2-- Svema MZ-3. Developed in Kodak Technidol LC for 15 minutes.  Exposures ranged from 3-10 seconds.





Both of these films are unusual films that are not being used as the films were intended.  If I were to shoot this way again, I would probably just use some of my Kodak Tech Pan with a 3 stop ND filter + a polarizer or red filter, and a cloudy day would surely help.  Maybe this fall, I will do it some more down town.  

If you want to see some fantastic work in this vein, look up Alexey Titarenko's photographs from Russia.  Really good work.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Chinon CS-4

The Chinon CS-4 - Reliable Screw-Mount SLR

Chinon was a long-time manufacturer of cameras and lenses -- most often as a supplier for other brands. Chinon, Cosina, and Ricoh seem to be thought of as second-tier cameras as compared to the Canon, Nikon, Pentax, and Olympus brands that dominated the 35mm SLR scene throughout the 1970s and 80s. Chinon, based in Japan, was a company from 1948-2004, and at some point late in their run was bought by Kodak.  However, during the 70s and 80s, they produced very competent SLRs that were often under the Sears brand, Revue brand, as well as their own.  As autofocus and electronic cameras began gaining popularity, Chinon produced some memorable, if not odd designs, such as the Chinon Genesis line of cameras.  Check out Butkus' many Chinon manuals.

The Chinon CS-4 is a basic, no-frills SLR that has an M-42 mount (Pentax or Praktica screw mount), which was popular in the late 1960s-1970s among second-tier manufacturers, since it was considered a "universal" mount. When Pentax finally switched to the bayonet K-mount, it became the defacto "universal" mount among the same manufacturers.  The CS-4, while it has the older screw-mount, uses a modern LR-44 cell for the meter (two cells required).  LEDs (red and green) in the stop-down metering let you know when your exposure is correct.  Shutter speeds range from B, 1-1/1000 sec, and the ISO settings range from 25-1600.  There is no self-timer. A hot-shoe allows any hot-shoe flash to be used, and 1/60 sec is the flash sync speed.  A pretty basic camera with a reliable Seiko metal focal-plane shutter.  The back has a film reminder slot, and the viewfinder visibility is 92%.

The Chinon CS-4 will accept just about any M-42 mount lens, so the user certainly has a large number of lenses to work with, and there are some desirable classic lenses that can be used to good effect with this camera.  The Chinon CS-4 that I purchased back in December 2015 came in a bag with the 55mm f/1.7 Chinon lens and a Lentar 28mm  f/2.8 lens, a JC Penney flash, filters, and manual -- for $10.  The camera works well, and like any fully manual SLR, it will give as good as a result as the skills of the person that is using it.  For a beginner into film photography, this camera would be highly desirable. The red/green LEDs for determining the exposure lie alongside the viewfinder and are easily seen.

While I paid $10 for the bag of stuff at a thrift shop, a CS-4 with lens in good working condition should be available for under $40 on ebay.

All of the images below were shot with this camera.