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!

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Street Candy ATM 400 - One Roll Review

There has certainly been an explosion of boutique-branded 35mm films of late.  Some of them are new emulsions, such as the Ferrania P30 and the Bergger Pancro 400 b&w films. Others, such as Kosmo Foto Mono 100, Lomography’s Berlin Kino and Lady Grey films are merely repackaged and relabeled films from the OFM (Original Film Manufacturer) that are standard well-known film stocks.  On the other hand, we have the JCH Street Pan, and now the Street Candy ATM 400 films that are non-standard emulsions from OFMs that were designed for other purposes but have found their way into our 35mm still cameras due to the enthusiasm and diligence of the people that brought them to market.  Add to that list the new films from the Film Photography Project under the Derev Pan label.  Mike Raso gave me a roll of the Street Candy ATM film to test, and finally, after over a month of delay, I have finished the roll and developed it.  Of course, you can buy this film at the FPP Store!

What is it?  
Vincent Moschetti  introduced this film  in 2018, and the original use for it was in surveillance cameras in ATM machines.  Because of that, the OFM produced the emulsion on a thin polyester base so that more film could be loaded into a reel  for the ATM cameras. I did not test this earlier version of Street Candy, but I suspect that it was similar in handling to some of the thin base films from Svema.  The Street Candy ATM 400 that I tested is on a thicker polyester base, and is easy to handle.  Vincent makes the case that the Street Candy ATM 400 gives a "gritty" look to street scenes, and yet delivers a good range of tonality.  The data sheet for the film gives some standard processing times, and he recommends that the developers and times for Ilford’s HP-5+ can be applied to the Street Candy ATM 400 film.  So, as to the identity of the OFM, maybe it’s Ilford?  In any case, it’s good to see an emulsion that does not require me to test for the best developer/time combination to get usable results or require some strange developer that I don’t normally use.    I love the 80s-look of the branding, and Street Candy implies some slightly illicit activity.

My results
I originally loaded the roll into my Nikon FA when I was in NJ for the FPP recording sessions.  I shot about a dozen frames in NJ, and about a month later I took the FA out to shoot, and when I went to take some photos I realized that the batteries had died.  I shot a couple of frames using the manual 1/250 sec and came home.  I decided not to trust the FA in cold weather, so I rewound the roll and loaded it into my very trust-worthy Nikon FM.  Therefore, the remainder of the roll was shot yesterday in downtown Ann Arbor.

I developed the Street Candy ATM 400 in D76 1:1 at 20C for 11 minutes.  Standard agitation, and a water rinse to stop, and then 8 minutes in fixer, followed by a 1 minute water rinse, archival wash, another 1 minute rinse, then a final soak in distilled water with Photoflo to avoid spots from the Ann Arbor water.  I hung the film to dry overnight and scanned it this morning.

The film has a slight cupping to it, and does not lie perfectly flat like I would have expected.  Once I cut the film into strips to fit the scanner holder, the remaining film still hanging curled up like a spring.  That too, was unexpected.  So, perhaps I am wrong about the backing being polyester. The film scanned fine, and I did not have to tweak the scans to achieve a proper "look".  I am presenting the scans here without any post-processing other than to remove dust spots and stray cat hairs (!!!!).

I find the overall results to be quite satisfactory, and the film’s grain is not detrimental to the images, and is in fact, very nice. I shot the film under a variety of conditions,  and I certainly find it to be better for me than the results that I got with JCH Street Pan.  It’s a bit different of a look than I get with my go-to film Ultrafine Xtreme 400, but not too punchy.  If you are looking to try something different, I think you’ll like Street Candy ATM 400.  For me, I’ll stick with a film that I already know and love, and that would be either Ilford HP-5+ or Ultrafine Xtreme 400.   The slight cupping and spiraling of the film after it dried was unexpected, and is a minus for me.  I like my film to lie perfectly flat, and that's what I get from my favorite films.  Still, after all is said and done, the Street Candy ATM 400 is worth a try, and you may like the look that it gives to your images.