Friday, March 22, 2019

The Nikon Pronea 6i SLR - my last tango with APS film.

I'll be honest with you.  I liked the APS format  (the official format name is IX-240) and the cameras that used the film.  Back in 2001-2004, I shot quite a bit of APS film with a couple of pocket cameras and the Minolta Vectis S-1 SLR.  I thought the varying output print formats to be very useful, and those 4 x 11" prints in panorama mode were generally fantastic.  The only downside was the cost of processing, and also the fact that no traditional b&w films were available that could be home-processed. In fact, home-processing was out of the question for APS film.  I stopped using APS film when it became harder to find, and, as I was doing other things with my photography, APS was just a little side trip.
In January, I acquired a very nice Nikon Pronea 6i APS SLR with two zoom lenses and manual; plus a couple of rolls of APS film -- all for free. 

First, a little about the Pronea 6i

In my opinion, the Pronea 6i was a pretty audacious camera. It was introduced in 1996, not too long before the digital onslaught.  In fact, a version of the camera was sold by Kodak as the digital DCS 315 in 1998, and updated in 1999 as the DCS-330. The DCS 330 had a 3MP sensor with a 1.9x conversion factor for lens focal length. The museum where I used to work had a DCS-330, which cost over $6000 when new. 

Back to the Pronea 6i that I have:

First of all, the 6i features pretty much all the control that you would expect from a Nikon AF SLR.  It's most similar in features to the then contemporary N70 35mm SLR.  It features a "Basic" mode where it pretty much sets you up in Program mode, uses the DX code on the APS cassette.  "Advanced" mode gives you full control of the camera's functions and features.  If you have been using any AF SLR, the advanced mode is the way to go.

Here are the key features of the Pronea 6i (from the Nikon site)

  • Advanced Photo System Single-Lens Reflex
  • [BASIC] and [ADVANCED] modes
  • 3D Matrix Metering features an 8-segment Matrix Sensor
  • Accepts a wide selection of AF Nikkor lenses, and IX-Nikkor lenses made especially for PRONEA series
  • Similar specs to the N70 (1994); IX240 benefits include Mag. IX, Mid-Roll film Change (MRC), Data and title imprinting, Print Quantity selection
  • Two 3V CR123A (or DL123) lithium batteries

Important aspects:

  • Focus Mode Single Servo AF, Continuous Servo AF, and Manual with Electronic Rangefinder
  • Focus Area Wide and Spot selectable
  • Focus Tracking Automatically activated when subject moves
  • Autofocus Detection Range Approx. EV 0 to 20 (at ISO 200)
  • Autofocus Lock Possible once stationary subject is in focus in Single Servo autofocus
  • Electronic Rangefinder Available in Manual focus mode with lenses having a maximum aperture of f/5.6 or faster
  • Exposure Metering Three built-in exposure meters - 3D Matrix, Center-Weighted and Spot
  • Metering Range (at ISO 200 with f/1.4 lens) EV 0 to 20 in 3D Matrix and Center-Weighted, EV 4 to 20 in Spot
  • Exposure Meter Duration Remains on for 8 sec. after switch is on or after removing finger from shutter release button
  • Exposure Modes Programmed Auto (Auto-Multi Program and Vari-Program), Shutter-Priority Auto, Aperture-Priority Auto and Manual; only Auto-Multi Program and Vari-Program are selectable in BASIC mode
  • Programmed Auto Exposure Control Camera sets both shutter speed and lens aperture automatically; Flexible Program possible
  • Vari-Program Six kinds built in; Portrait, Hyperfocal, Landscape, Close-Up, Sport, and Silhouette Programs; each has its own program line; Flexible Program possible
  • Shutter-priority Auto Exposure Control Aperture automatically selected to match manually set shutter speed
  • Aperture-priority Auto Exposure Control Automatically selected shutter speed to match manually set aperture
  • Manual Exposure Control Both aperture and shutter speed are set manually
  • Quick Recall Function Using the QR button, user-selected or original camera settings can be recalled; up to three settings can be memorized
  • Exposure Compensation With exposure compensation button; ±5 EV range, in 1/2 EV steps
  • Auto Exposure Lock By pressing AE-L button while meter is on
  • Exposure Bracketing Three frames in 1/2 or 1 EV steps
  • Shutter Speeds from 1/4000 to 30 sec. (in 1/2 step); electromagnetically controlled Bulb setting
  • Viewfinder Fixed-eye level pentaprism high-eyepoint type; approx. 100% frame coverage for printed image area in H mode
  • Eyepoint Approx. 20mm
  • Built-in TTL Speedlight Guide number: 66 (ISO 200, ft.); flash coverage: 20mm or longer lens; Matrix Balanced Fill-Flash, Red-Eye Reduction, Slow Sync and Rear-Curtain Sync are possible
  • Flash Synchronization Up to 1/180 sec.
In other words, a very full-featured SLR that despite using APS film, can use almost any Nikon AF lens, including the DX lenses for cropped sensor APS-C SLRs, such as the D300.
Two lens kit with 20-60 and 60-180mm  IX-Nikkor lenses

I loaded two fresh CR-123A batteries and a roll of the Kodak b&w plus 400, which is over a decade old.  I used the manual ISO function to set it at ISO 200.
I have yet to use the original IX-Nikkor lenses, but on the next roll I will use the 20-60mm IX Nikkor lens. I will bet that when the sell-off of the Pronea cameras was going on, the kits included the 20-60 and the 60-180mm IX-Nikkors.  I used my 18-70mm AFS Nikkor G ED DX lens for about 2/3 of the roll and my 35mm f/1.8 AFS G DX lens for the remainder. Because APS cameras allow you to choose the print format, images taken in "C" mode will be the same as an APS-C sized sensor, so the 18mm end of the lens will not show vignetting.  In the scans, which are all at the maximum frame size, or APS-H,you can see some vignetting in the corners at 18mm. Back in the early 2000s, Bill Brudon used a Pronea S with a 14mm Nikkor lens and got great results.  WARNING - DO NOT attach those IX-Nikkor lenses to your 35mm or digital SLR - they will not allow your mirror to operate! 

The Pronea 6i feels great in the hand, and the contours of the camera provide a perfect grip.  The viewfinder is bright and 100% coverage, and the settings appear at the bottom of the viewfinder, just like all other Nikon AF SLRs.  The rear LCD screen, while certainly not the same as a DSLR screen, is easy to read and fairly easy to navigate once you get used to the control functions.  As with most Nikon bodies, the controls are where they should be, and while the Pronea 6i was intended to be a sort of dumbed-down SLR, users in advanced mode can control a great deal using the buttons on the back that border the LCD. There is no Depth of Field preview button.
 A great combo with the 18-70mm Nikkor DX lens

It's really unfortunate that the appearance of APS was not long before digital started coming out. Once that ball started rolling, the digital sales kicked APS's ass first, due in part to the many pocket cameras that were similar in size to APS.  However, here's a thought.  If you put images side-by-side from a Nikon Pronea 6i and those from the Kodak DCS 330, which were 3.0 megapixels in size... the APS image would be better by far.  It's actually too bad that Nikon didn't adopt the body shape of the Pronea 6i for its early consumer-level DSLRs.  They had the makings of a proto-digicam right there.

After I finished the roll, I sent it to and had it processed and scanned. The scans showed that the film had lost some contrast - so I bumped up the contrast in post-processing and the images looked great.  I will be shooting with it again soon.  It's a fun SLR that cam make use of some excellent Nikon glass on an orphaned film format.  I better shoot all the APS that I can before it all gets too old.
the scans before adjustments

I mentioned the Pronea S above, which while an SLR using the same lenses as the Pronea 6i, is pretty much a completely different camera with far fewer controls of the image-making.  Since I have not tried one, that's all I'll say about it, but I think S stands for Simple.

I tried to find out the original list price for the Pronea 6i, and by searching back issues of Popular Photography magazines via Google Books, the best that could do was January 1999, when the Pronea 6i body was selling for about $350, and with the 20-60mm  lens, over $400. Today, you can find them on eBay for $10-$60, though some sellers are asking $249. Good luck with that. 

 Now for the photos!

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Agfa Copex Rapid 50 film - One Roll Review

I was going through some files today and realized that although I had shot this film in 2017, and noted it in my article of the pre-assembled Caffenol mix, I did not really review the film! So, here is my recollection of the Agfa Copex Rapid 35mm film.

I bought a roll of the 35mm Agfa Copex Rapid film from Freestyle to try it out. It sat in my fridge for many months before I decided to give it a try.  My delay was probably more about the development of the film than the shooting of it. At 50 ISO, it's not as slow as a lot of the strange films that I have tested, and it certainly is a stop faster than Kodak's TechPan film.  Since it's basically a microfilm, it will be inherently contrasty.  Not as much as something like Kodalith, but I assumed it was going to be more like a Technical pan type of film.

Here is Freestyle's online description of this film:

Agfa Copex Rapid 50 is a low-speed panchromatic black and white film with a nominal sensitivity of ISO 50/18°. Featuring excellent resolution, very fine grain and excellent acutance. The emulsion is coated on a transparent synthetic base providing excellent long-term and dimensional stability.


  • Traditional Black and White Film
  • 35mm x 36 exp.
  • 50 ISO
  • Manufactured to ISO specifications for archival use
  • For optimal results use: Spur Modular UR AB Developer

Note: Film has to be loaded and unloaded in subdued light and exposed film should be stored in a light tight film container.

When Copex is developed with Spur Modular UR developer, sharpness, fine-grain, exposure latitude, tonal values, speed utilization are all retained. The Parts 'A' and 'B' are needed for the absolutely streak-free development of the SPUR DSX/Agfa Copex Rapid roll film; Part 'C' is no longer needed as previously.

This film can also be processed using a black and white reversal process (SCALA) to make black and white slides (positives) with a neutral black tone, a middle graduation, very fine grain, a very high sharpness and detail resolution when processed as a black and white slide.

Black and White Reversal process expose to:
35mm: ISO 50-64
120 Medium Format: ISO 64-80
Development time: 4 minutes

What deterred me from shooting it for so long was the specialty developer.  I like to use what I have, and I am assuming that the aforementioned developer tames the contrast.  Nevertheless, World-wide Pinhole Day was approaching, and I wanted to shoot the film in an SLR while also doing the pinhole stuff that day.  For some reason, I chose my Minolta X-370 SLR and took it along for the day.  I shot the film at 50 ISO, and used a tripod, as it was an overcast and chilly day. Some of my exposures were set at f/16, which meant shutter speeds long enough to blur motion.  As my link at top shows, I developed the film in the Labeauratoire Caffenol Concoction  for 15 minutes.  I figured, what the hell, just go for it and see what happens!

Developed in the Caffenol, the film looks a lot like some of the specialty microfilms that I have used -- though it was certainly faster.  I'll take ISO 50 over ISO 6 any day.

Here are some sample images.  Overall, I was pleasantly surprised at the results.  The film is on a PET base, so it does lie flat and scans easily. I had to do some tweaking in Corel Paint Shop Pro to get the look I wanted from the scans from the Epson V700.  I guess if I were to seriously try this film again, I would try the SPUR developer. However, the Caffenol did a pretty good job,and of course, I could also try Technidol to see how that works with the Copex rapid 50 film.

The beauty of shooting film is that there are so many different approaches you can take with any particular film.  In this case, I took a chance with a non-traditional developer and it worked pretty well.  Your results may vary when using the Copex Rapid 50, but it certainly is fine-grained and may be just the solution to what you are looking for in a film.  Missing TechPan?  Give this film a try.

Monday, March 11, 2019

There's always something!

I recently sold a small estate of photo gear on eBay for a client.  In the midst of all this, of course, I have been getting things going on home improvements and contractors, etc.   So, I was greatly relieved when all the eBay items had sold and shipped off to the buyers.  After over a week past the sales, I did all the accounting, paid off the fees, etc., the client, and took my small percentage.  Then, over the weekend, I received an eBay message from a buyer that he was not happy with how his lens arrived.  Thankfully, he sent me photos.

This is the Leitz Hektor 135mm lens with bakelite case that I shipped.

It was in excellent condition as seen here, and this was the condition that it was in when it left my hands.

This is the condition it was in when he received it.

In addition, the lens focusing helical was jammed up.

What happened?
It's my fault, pure and simple.  In my rush to get things done, I left the lens inside the Bakelite tube without adding any padding to the top end.  No matter that the entire thing was encased in bubble wrap.  There was obviously enough play inside, that when the package was in transit, all it needed was a nice flat drop on the wrong end to provide enough kinetic energy to the lens to smash the end of the Bakelite tube and ruin a perfectly good lens.  I should have known better. Bakelite is actually a very fragile material and does not resist impact very well if it has aged a long time.  It's not forgiving at all, with little resiliency.  I should have packed the lens separately from the Bakelite tube and all would have been fine.  Do you ever get those nagging little feelings that you should have done something a bit better? That was it, for me.  I knew there was some play inside, but never thought about the worst-case scenario.  I have been selling photo stuff on ebay for many years, without a problem, and this was a case of a bit of sloppiness on my part. 

I gave him a full refund, and thankfully, the Hektor lens was only $46. 

A relatively cheap lesson for me. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

My Darkroom

I thought I would share some thoughts about my darkroom, and what I hope for in its next reincarnation, as in a few short months it will have to be packed up for wherever its next home will be.

We purchased our current home in December 2002, from  Bill and Margaret Brudon.  It was a private sale, and it all came about because Bill had been a great mentor in photography to me, and we always enjoyed their home.  We moved a mile and sold the home we had purchased in 1984 and in the span of a few days, closed on two home transactions, cleaned the old house, and moved into our current home, which, because it did not go on the open market, was much like moving into your parent's old house.  My wife and I did a lot of cleaning and decluttering, and we never missed our old home once.  This house is a mid-century home with real plaster walls, cove ceiling in the living and dining rooms, red oak flooring (which is just now being refinished this week).  It also came with a 5x7 darkroom in the basement, fully furnished, since Bill was leaving that behind.  This darkroom allowed me to explore b&w photography as much as I wished, and I have spent many hours there developing film, listening to music, or more recently, The Film Photography Podcast, and WCBN FM, a public radio station at UM that plays an amazing variety of music.

I have not printed a single b&w photo in the past 3 years, and I miss doing that.  I used to print a lot, and got fairly good results, but now I only print if I am doing a show.  That  seems a bit stupid in hindsight, but I really didn't want to be inundated with prints without a purpose.  I hope to change that in the coming years, and wherever our new home will be, it will have to have space for my new expanded darkroom.   I am torn as to take the darkroom sink with me, or leave it.  It's perfect for the space that it is now.  I'll have to wait and see how I feel as a real move approaches. 

The walls on one side are paneling, and as you can see, cassette wrappers are stuck to it.  The other sides are masonite peg board, which had been painted black by Bill.  My new space will have no black walls.  This is a comfortable one-person darkroom. Put two people in there, and it's awfully close.  I want to be able to do film photography workshops in the future, so more space would be desirable.

This darkroom has performed well for two different photographers, and I very much doubt the next owner of the house will want it used.  Maybe it will make a good space for something other than photography, but I suppose it will get torn out someday.    A lot of "me time" has been spent there, developing, thinking, and isolated from whatever is going on outside in the world.   Those of you that have a darkroom will know what I mean.   It's not so much that one is isolated, but free from distraction to print and to ponder, to develop that next roll of film and still feel the magic that is inherent in the process, and to think about new projects and continuing old ones.

So, sometime in the next few months, I will be boxing all of the stuff up to take to a new adventure.  I have already divested myself of materials and equipment that I don't need or use, and while there will still be some junk to be tossed, everything else goes to NC with us.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Boxing Things Up.

As some of you know, my wife and I are planning on moving to Asheville, NC later this year.  Right now, we are beginning a series of home renovations, and doing a lot of moving things around, some preliminary boxing up, and I won't have the opportunity to do any extensive blogging like I have.  Camera tests and film testing will be off for awhile, as well.  I am not sure when I will have some really free time to pursue these things, but I am guessing after April.  We'll see.   I am currently decluttering and packing some things away for a few months. Things I am not necessarily needing to access until we are settled. 

While boxing some items,  I found a bunch of CD's with photos on them, and yes, they are all labelled with the pertinent information.  I pulled one out, and it was from The Darkroom, and it contains scans from a September 2014 road trip that Marc Akemann and I took to Monroe, MI and places around it, including Luna Pier.  All of the following were taken with a Konica FS-1 that I had, and I have no idea when I sold it or gave it away, but I think I divested myself of all Konica stuff in 2015.  All these images were on Hawkeye Surveillance Film, a nice C-41 color film from Kodak.  I wish that I had bought about 4 100 ft. rolls when I had the chance! Some of these have been cropped from the 35mm frame to square format. 

As I recall, I liked the FS-1.  It was the first 35mm SLR to have a built-in motor drive in 1979.  It had a weakness with the battery holder, though, and that was a sore point with an otherwise nice camera.  It's fun finding some things that I have not looked at for a while, but I better keep packing, as the contractors are coming Monday to refinish all the wood floors!  I'll see you again in a month or so!


Friday, February 15, 2019

Shooting with a Leica IIIa - One roll review

Let me begin by saying that I am not a fan of the Barnack Leicas (all models that predate the M series) for glasses wearers.  In my humble opinion, the viewfinders are not a whole lot better than that of an Argus C3.  I feel quite differently about the M series.  This particular Leica IIIa came my way as part of an estate to auction off.  I try to test cameras as much as possible before selling them, and sometimes that includes running a roll of film through them.  Now, onto the camera...

This Leica IIIa was made in 1937, according to its serial number and online data records.  So, here is a 35mm camera that's over 80 years old, looking pretty much like it was made yesterday.  That's not going to be the case with most cameras, including Leicas.  However, it's jewel-like appearance invited me to take it out and test it.  I suppose the ever-ready leather case kept it looking so good all these years.  It's as if a time machine dropped the camera into my lap. 

Okay, it looks great, but how does it work?  One of the pitfalls of using the Barnack Leicas (and the Ukraine-Russian copies) is that you must trim the film leader to the right shape so that when you blind load the film from the bottom, it does not bind up with the gears.  Once you have that accomplished, you are ready to shoot.  It's pretty easy once you get the hang of it.

The weather has not been conducive to going out and testing a camera such as this, but finally I had an opportunity to do so last week.  I loaded up an expired roll of Plus-X pan and used my "sunny-16" mojo for estimating the exposures.  One nice feature of the IIIa is that you can set the rangefinder viewer to infinity for quicker street shooting. In full afternoon sun, making an exposure is pretty simple. 

I won't get into the differences between the different Leica models, as I am not a Leica historian, and you can look it up elsewhere.  However, the operational differences between the IIIa and a more recent IIIf are not many, the main differences being flash synchronization and a self-timer on the IIIf.  Both have a front slow shutter speed dial for speeds below 1/20 second.  It wasn't until the modern Leicas - the M series that all the shutter speeds from B- 1/1000 were on one dial.

I have to say, the Barnack Leicas are simply wonderful pieces of craftsmanship and are relatively easy to use. They are very compact, use no batteries, and with a lens such as the collapsible Elmar f/3.5 lens, can easily be carried in a coat pocket or a small pouch. You have to make sure that the collapsible lens is fully extended before shooting. So long as you can be comfortable with the tiny viewfinders they are really worth investigating if you want to shoot with a Leica.  The prices are far lower than the M-series, except for rare models or those of historical importance.

The Leica IIIa performed well, and I did get some decent images from it. The expired Plus-X Pan was very curly and cupped after developing and drying, and I had to weigh the sheet of negatives down for a few days to get them flat enough to scan properly. I wish I had used a roll of Iflord FP4 or Ultrafine Xtreme 400 instead!

I was able to test the camera thoroughly, and it's now up on eBay.  I hope that whoever buys it takes it out to shoot and does not let it just sit in a display case.  These cameras are wonderful tools, and should be used!