Wednesday, January 22, 2020

What Is it?

What is it?

It is easy to take certain things for granted. Almost everything we use daily probably has a patent associated with it.  Someone had to invent something, and in doing so, wished to profit from the invention.  In the United States, the 1790 Patent Act was the first Federal patent law of the United States, although patents were granted within the colonies prior to the federal law.  If you have a patent number, it is easy to find the patent online.

Any item that has been patented has a patent number and date associated with it.  So, what does this have to do with photography, and specifically, this item?  The item you see here is a small wood box with a sliding steel cover that was used to mail 2x2 photographic slides.  It was patented on June 25, 1957 by Edward Grosz, of Ann Arbor, Michigan.  I have not been able to find out much more than that his address was listed as 1704 Jackson Avenue, Ann Arbor.  However, the U.S. patent and the entry in the Patent Gazette were easily found via Google.

I don't even know where I picked this item up. It may have been in a box of photography "junk" or maybe I found it at work, but I know that I have hung onto it for about 10 years for the sole reason that it was made by someone in Ann Arbor.

Upon close examination, It's obvious that this is a hand-made item.  The box is constructed of hardwood plywood and held together with small brads.  It's been fine-sanded and lacquered and has held up for at least 60 years.  I looked up the address on Google Maps and see that Edward lived in a small bungalow on Jackson Avenue just past the little cluster of shops and gas station where Dexter road and Jackson Avenue diverge from Huron Street.  I passed by that place often, and who would have guessed that 50 years ago Mr. Grosz had a small business making and distributing these slide mailers?  "Used the world over" no less!

Of course, Ann Arbor is no stranger to photographic industry, as Argus and later, Vokar cameras were manufactured in the city and surrounding area. Photo Systems Inc., is based in Dexter, MI, just a few miles down the road.  PSI manufactures the photographic chemicals that are used by many of us.

While we rarely mail out photographic slides these days, it's interesting to note that there was a small cottage industry in Ann Arbor manufacturing slide mailers that were used the world over!

Monday, January 13, 2020

Half-Frame Interlude - the Olympus PEN EE

I interrupt this typical stream of full-frame cameras with a short review of the Olympus PEN EE (Electric Eye) half-frame camera.  Olympus is well-known for its line of PEN 35mm half-frame cameras.  From the lovely PEN F SLR, to the various flavors of PEN rangefinder and zone-focus  bodies, the PEN cameras were well-built, dependable cameras with metal bodies and excellent Zuiko glass.  I think the original intent was to make these cameras as ubiquitous as a pen - carried everywhere, ready to use when needed.  The half-frame of 18 x 24mm on a roll of 35mm film allowed one to double the number of shots on a roll of film versus a full frame camera.  That kind of economy appealed to thrifty shooters, and those that used a PEN as a sort of documentary device.  Imagine going on a trip with just a few rolls of 36 exposure film -- a PEN would give you 72 images per roll. Now, imagine carrying this PEN EE with you. No batteries, no adjustments needed, just point and shoot.  With its 28mm f/3.5 lens, everything was in focus from 6 feet to infinity. Back in the day, you could shoot Kodachrome with this little camera and get your slides back, properly mounted in half-frame masks on regular 2x2 slides.

The specifications for the PEN EE

Introduced 1961
Lens 2.8 cm f/3.5 D. Zuiko. It takes 43.5mm screw-in filters.
Aperture f/3.5 - f/22
Shutter speed 1/40 and 1/200 sec  auto-selected.
ASA settings - 10, 25, 32,50, 64, 80, 100, 160, 200
Focus - Fixed
Weight - 12.5 ounces (350 gm)
Flash - PC connector for flash, no built-in flash shoe, but a screw-on flash bracket attaches via the tripod socket.
Manual is available at

flash bracket attached with tiny flash unit

There's lots of information about the PEN series via the web, so I'm not going to reiterate what's already been put out there.  My first foray into half-frame cameras took place over 15 years ago, when I purchased a PEN D, which was a lovely little rangefinder half-frame camera that was built like a tiny tank.  I shot a few rolls of film with it, and it sat in a drawer until I sold it a few years later.  I had other cameras that I shot with far more, and I didn't appreciate the camera as much as I should have.  Since then, a few other half-frame cameras have come my way, such as the Konica EYE and its Soviet-era copy, the Micron, as well as a Canon Demi S (which I have yet to shoot).  Then, this PEN EE recently came my way, and I knew that I had to test it out.

Not much smaller than the Olympus Trip 35!

While the PEN EE is small, it's not a whole lot smaller than my Olympus Trip 35, which works pretty much the same as the PEN EE.  The Trip 35 however, is full-frame, and is manually focused.  The PEN EE is tiny enough to fit in a shirt pocket though, and is pretty much as point and shoot as you can get.  I only have to set the ASA (ISO) to the proper film speed.  I have kept in one of my camera bags and taken it out on various short outings to see how it performs with a roll of Eastman 5222 (Double-X), which is a 200 ISO black and white film.

The PEN EE selenium cell that surrounds the lens provides the metering and power for the exposure system. In dim light, the shutter defaults to 1/40 sec, with the apertures ranging from f/3.5 to f/8, and in brighter conditions, 1/200 sec from f/4.5 to f/22. So, for a 200 ISO film, pretty much any normal situation.  I did test out a flash, which the camera sets the shutter speed at 1/40 sec.  The flash result seemed pretty satisfactory.

Overall, the PEN EE is easy to use, as you might imagine.  Note that in half-frame cameras, the vertical (portrait) orientation is the default, and you must turn the camera 90° for horizontal (landscape) shots. 

Here are a series of scans from the Eastman 5222 film. It was developed in D-76, diluted 1:1 for 7.5 minutes.  I think that with half-frame, it is best to shoot as fine-grained a film as possible, and there are slower films such as T-max 100 that would be perfect for this camera.  The negatives were scanned on my Epson V700 scanner.

indoors with window light

drive-by shooting

indoors with ambient light

with external flash unit

Marshall, NC

Marshall, NC

Marshall, NC

French Broad River, Asheville, NC

French Broad River, Asheville, NC

French Broad River, Asheville, NC

Does the PEN EE live up to the idea that a camera could be as easy to use and ubiquitous as a pen?  It pretty much does. Before the age of smartphones and tiny digital p&s cameras, the PEN cameras would have been great to always have with you. Yes, the Rollei 35 was about the same size, but it is fiddly compared to the PEN EE. The PEN EE and EES (pretty much the same, but with adjustable focus and and an f/2.8 lens) would have been easily carried along, ready for a snap on a moment's notice. However, I think that you really have to have a mindset that half-frame is right for you.  For me, it's a curiosity to play with, and as I noted earlier, my Olympus Trip 35 is full-frame, and gives me results that I am happy with. I am not knocking the cameras -- they are wonderful gems.  I just am not the happy half-framer!  I think that if you want full-frame with a camera even smaller than the pen, the Olympus XA series is exactly fitting in with the idea of the PEN. 

Monday, January 06, 2020

Announcing Monochrome Mania No. 1

A few months ago I decided that I would start working on a photo zine dedicated to b&w photography, and especially film-based b&w.    It went through several iterations before I was happy with the final result, and I am pleased to announce that MONOCHROME MANIA issue #1 is available.  I am really pleased with the printing and quality of this zine, and if you are at all interested in b&w, I think you'll enjoy it, too.  Issue 1 is all about slow-films -  b&w films with an ISO of 50 or lower.  I don't review every film, but they are listed in the text, and it should be seen as a starting point if you have not yet shot slow films.    I also include information of developing, and use my photographs as examples for the films I write about.  It's 40 pages, with thicker covers, saddle-stitched, and 8.5 x 11 inches.  The cost?  Cheap.  TEN BUCKS, which includes US postage. Overseas shipping would be for a 9x12 envelope weighing 7 ounces, which adds $8.  Canadians pay $3.54 postage.   You can go to this form for ordering info.

My aim is to publish Monochrome Mania at least twice a year, and while the focus will be on my own photography, I haven't ruled out something like an issue featuring the contributed work of others.   You can see my promo video on YouTube.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Rolling along.

Canon T60, Ultrafine Xtreme 400
January 2019, Chelsea, MI
I am sitting here, looking through the many sheets of sleeved negatives from this year's photography.  Counting the sleeved film and the unprocessed rolls, I came up with 125 rolls of film.  It hardly seems possible that I have shot that much, given all of the things that have happened this year!  What with getting a house ready to sell, planning a move, looking for a new home, and moving to Weaverville, NC, along with post-move work, I am amazed that I have been able to get out with a camera as often as I have.  Perhaps that is what kept me sane throughout the year.  The other factor is being retired.  I have more time to do the things I love.

So, while I have not traveled this year like I did last year, I live in an area that is new to me, and of course, also has plenty of photographic opportunities. 

I have also been able to work on my writing and putting together some resources for film users.  My guide to flash photography for film cameras has been quite popular as a download, and I'm sure as time goes on, more people will be aware of it.    My new 'zine, "Monochrome Mania" will be printed in January, and I'll have more information about it here, of course.  I will go for an initial run of 50 copies, which I hope will all sell.  I'll have more information about ordering, etc. via all the social media.   

Leslie and I look over a mountain of donations!  
Earlier this month, I drove to NJ to meet up with the FPP gang.  For four days, all we did was work on the incoming donations for the School Photography Program.  It was pretty overwhelming, but we made a huge dent in the boxes, and got several loads of cameras out to fulfill deserving requests.    In addition, I filled up the back of my Escape with boxes of cameras to work on and take back on my next visit.

On my way to NJ, I mostly took Interstate 81, and there is a parallel US route - Route 11 that is not a limited access highway.  I am familiar with Route 11, as I grew up in northern NY, and Route 11 was my typical route going to and from Syracuse.  In 2015, I took it again, for a trip around the state, and after taking it for a bit in Virginia this month, I fell in love with the road again.  It was one of the first US routes, and goes from the NY- Canada border all the way to Louisiana.    It's fermented an idea in my head. I think a photo book about the route would be a great thing, since it passes through so many towns, and I don't know if I would do it alone, or get collaborators to photograph segments in their home states.  All on film, of course.  I'll have to give it more thought and planning and see what I come up with. 
cameras for me to work on...

My plans for 2020 -- not quite sure as yet, but I know that I'll be doing more camera testing, film testing, and traveling.  All which should yield a lot more photographs.  I want to shoot more medium format, especially with my Mamiya C330, and use Ilford Ortho film with it.  I have a road trip to Arizona planned for April, and maybe one to New York in February.   I'll be starting out the year with a couple of days in Columbia, SC. 

So, as we finish out this year, I hope that film photography continues to be as popular as it has been the past few years.  I am not exaggerating when I say that film sales have been phenomenal.  I wish you all the best for 2020!

Route 11, Harrisonburg, Va. December 2019
Nikon FM2, Tmax 100.

Route 11, New Market, Va. Dec. 2019  Nikon FM2, Tmax 100.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Trees -- Part 2. Cheap art for your wall!

Back in September, I posted about my photography of trees, and this year, I produced my usual annual calendar, with the same subject.  Trees 2020 features 12 monochrome images of trees from various places, on 8.5 x 11" heavy card stock, and is spiral bound.  If you'd like support an artist in his work, this is one way -- buy a copy of my calendar. $15 (USA only), includes shipping to you, and you can frame any one of those images when you are done using the calendar.  I accept Paypal  and of course, checks.  I have a limited number available, so please message me (mfobrien AT  to make sure you can purchase one.

I know, people have phones now and don't use wall calendars, but it's an inexpensive way to hang some art that changes every month. They also make good gifts.  Remember, photographs are tangible things.  They belong on a wall!

Thank you, and have a great holiday season, however you celebrate this time of year!