Saturday, February 22, 2020

Those were the days...

I recently started scanning in some of my 35mm slides from 1980.  That was my first trip to the Southwestern US.  At the time, I was a graduate student at SUNY-ESF in Syracuse, NY, and was working on a master's degree in entomology.  Roy Norton, a professor in the department asked if I wanted to go on a two-week trip to the Sonoran Desert,  camping out along the way, and collecting insects at many locations (none from the national parks, of course).  It was a great trip in Roy's Ford Pinto station wagon, the back crammed with gear and supplies.  It's the trip where I learned to drive a manual-shift car, and my introduction to a real road trip across the USA.  We hit a lot of traditional destinations - Mesa Verde, Grand Canyon, Great Sand Dunes National Monument, Monument Valley, the Painted Desert, Flagstaff, Tuscon, Organ Pipe Cactus National Park, and Saguaro National Park. Mostly we took secondary roads once we got into Colorado, and I wish that I had kept a journal of that trip.  I did take a borrowed Pentax Spotmatic camera, which was certainly an upgarade over my old Exa Ia SLR.    There were no electronics, we navigated with road maps, and we always carried plenty of water. 

1980 is the year that I think everything started to change.  I wish that I had been thinking as a photographer at the time and shot some of the town that we went through. The funky old towns hadn't yet been ravaged by Walmarts, and the uniformity we see today of chain stores and restaurants along strips had yet to happen.  Sure, we stopped at McDonald's when we were traveling, but we ate on a budget, and I have a memory of stopping somewhere in Arkansas for bread to make sandwiches (PB&J, of course), and all the store had was that awful white Wonder bread.  At the Grand Canyon, we camped at one of the campsites- and I found that the 25-cent shower was certainly a quick one.  That low-alcohol Coors sure tasted pretty good, too.

The trip was a great success, and I have a fair number of slides from it.  I scanned a few slides earlier this week, and all of the scans require minutes of removing dust spots.  I shot Ektachrome and Kodachrome, and all of the slides have aged pretty well. Over 40 years, they have been moved around, and at some point in the mid-1980s, I transferred them from the slide boxes to plastic storage sheets in binders.  Now that I have more time, I'll continue to scan the slides in, and I am finding that I did pretty well with most of my shots.  It just takes some time to clean up the images after the scan.

Here are a few... some have not been cleaned up.

Great Sand Dunes National Monument

Great Sand Dunes National Monument

Great Sand Dunes National Monument

Great Sand Dunes National Monument

near Oak Creek Canyon, AZ

The Grand Canyon, of course

Arizona Snow Bowl near Flagstaff

Monument Valley, converted from color slide.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

One Roll Review - Rollei RPX 25

It seems that this is one of the few low-ISO films that I have not tried until now.  The film came on the market in 2014, so it's been available for quite a while. I placed a big order of Rollei and other films that I had yet to try, and B&H quickly shipped them to my door.  Among the films was Rollei RPX 25, which I assumed was a sort of replacement for the old Agfa APX 25, which I definitely liked when I shot with it over a decade ago.  After doing a bit of research, the RPX 25 is a different sort of film, which is made by someone, certainly not Rollei. While the packaging and the Rollei name are licensed by Maco, the film is quite different from the Rollei Ortho 25 Plus, and is not advertised as having extended red sensitivity like the Retro 80s film. 

From the RPX 25 Datasheet (translated by user ashfaque on Rangefinder forum 12/2015):

"Low-sensitivity, high-resolution, panchromatic black and white film, ISO 25/15°
Rollei RPX 25 is a panchromatic B&W film with a nominal sensitivity of ISO 25/15°, which is cast on a modern crystal clear, synthetic carrier.
    This film is characterized by its high resolution at fine grain and high edge sharpness. Rollei RPX 25 behaves perfectly in over- or under-exposure due to its optimum sensitivity reserve of up to 2 stops. Depending on the developer, the film compensates critical lightning situations. The 5µ film - silver-rich-panchromatic sensitized Rollei RPX 25 is poured into a crystal-clear polyester carrier of 100µ. "

Main Features in Brief

  • Low sensitive panchromatic film at ISO 25/15°
  • Resolution Contrast Ratio 1000: 1 = 260 lines / mm
  • RMS granularity (x1000) = 8
  • Exposure range (between 12 and 50 ISO)
  • Good pull-push characteristics
  • Good rendering of tones
  • Very good maximum blackness;
  • Transparent = optimal for scanning and as slide
  • Optimum flatness thanks to anti-curling layer

I shot my roll of RPX 25 while on a trip to Dutchess Co., NY in early February.  I also traveled around the nearby CT/MA/NY area, and when I found myself at Great Falls on the Housatonic River, I knew that a low-ISO film was perfect for what I was seeing.  I loaded my Nikon FM3a with the RPX 25 and had exposures of about 2 sec maximum.  I saw no problem with long vs normal exposure times.  I developed the film in Kodak D-76 1:1 for 8 minutes at 20°C.

some negatives on the light table

In my research about this film, I found that it could have been made by Agfa, and might have been the Agfa Aviphot 80 aerial film. Which apparently, is the same as the Rollei Retro 80s.  I have shot the Retro 80s, and I like it, and it does not appear to me to be the same film.  The Polyester base does lie very flat, which to me, is a plus in scanning.   I know that the Rollei films are all rebranded from other manufacturers, and of course, it's not old-stock Agfa APX 25. What exactly is it?  Does it really matter?  It's documented that the Rollei Retro 80s is the Aviphot 80 film.   I am not buying that RPX 25 is the same film.  I am glad that the RPX 25 is available and from what I have seen thus far, an excellent film for landscapes.  I'll leave the keyboard commandos to their theories about the film's origin.

One may argue that one roll isn't really testing this film.  I shot the film at the box speed, using a camera and a subject that I am familiar with in my shooting style.  Yes, I used a tripod and a cable release.  I feel that my results matched my expectations for a low-ISO panchromatic film.  Of course, I would shoot this film again.   

One bit of caution - since the film is on a PET base, light-piping can occur, so keep the film in the black canister, and load in dim light. 

All images shot with a Nikon 35-105 zoom Nikkor, unless otherwise specified.

on the way home, along I-26 N of Asheville, 50mm f/1.4 nikkor

on the way home, along I-26 N of Asheville, 50mm f/1.4 nikkor

Friday, February 07, 2020

Documenting My Trips

As with just about everyone I know, I carry a cell phone with me at all times.  My iPhone XR is an indispensable tool that helps me document my photography trips.  Yes, the camera in the iPhone does an incredibly good job with making photos.  That's where most of my images on Instragram come from.  Although I try and keep a detailed notebook when I travel, I usually go over my notes in the evening and enter them into the notebook.  Instead of writing everything down while shooting, I take reference shots with my phone (some of which I post online), which of course, has the coordinates attached to the image information.  I use Google Maps quite a bit to see where I was, and then I'm able to do more research after the fact.  I am on a trip to NY State right now, and while the purpose is to visit family, it's also a good opportunity to do more photography of an area I rarely get to these days. 

Just yesterday, I went on a short drive near Amenia, NY towards Sharon, CT.  I used Google Maps to label my stops and then later, when I was home, I could write up my notes and include the precise location  of each stop.  I have been photographing some old cemeteries which are lacking in signage, so retracing my route on Google Maps has helped me research the sites and figure out the exact name of the cemetery.  In addition, if a place is visible on street view, it's often very helpful to be more positive of the exact place visited.

I also do the reverse if I am scouting out an area for potential places to photograph.  Having that information ahead of time has been quite helpful.  Sometimes it turns out that a potential site isn't as good as I thought, or there may be structures or obstacles nearby that make me change my mind about the access.

I suppose that I could also have voice notes (turned to text of course), if I wanted to be even more concise while traveling, showing how amazing these little computers/entertainment centers/phones/cameras have become.   It's an interesting marriage of digital and analog tools that make my photography trips richer with having so much information at my fingertips.

Here is an iPhone photo of one of the cemeteries near Sharon, CT.  The oldest graves date from the 1780s.  Many of these burial grounds are surrounded by beautiful dry-laid stone walls that are so widespread in New England. 

Saturday, February 01, 2020

The Pentax Spotmatic F - still going strong.

My Spotmatic F and a selection of lovely Takumar lenses
I have used/owned many Pentax SLRs over the past 40+ years.  I used a borrowed Pentax Spotmatic F  from 1978 to 1980 to document my work on sand wasps in graduate school. Later, in 1983, I purchased a K-mount Pentax MG at a Service Merchandise in Ann Arbor, MI.  Similar to the Pentax ME, it got me through nearly 20 years of half-assed photography, until I started on my venture to be a real photographer in 2000.  Since then, I have had many Pentax SLRs come and go, and while I am mostly a dedicated Nikon user, I have a soft spot for the Spotmatic.  In terms of quality, features, and ergonomics, the last M42-mount camera from Pentax, the Spotmatic F, is the camera that I have kept for the past few years, and will keep as a user.  I don't shoot with it that often, but lately, I have been using it more in jaunts around town.  I believe it's a far better camera than the K1000, which has received so much adoration, and yet, lacks significant features.  While the K-mount makes it easier and quicker to change lenses, it's not a big deal to work with screw-mount cameras. 

While the Spotmatic F appeared in 1973 and offered full-aperture metering with the matching lenses, it was certainly behind the curve compared to Nikon and Minolta.  Any M-42 lens can be used, but unless it has the additional tab for the open-aperture metering, one has to switch the metering button upward and use stop-down metering on the camera. 

Despite those drawbacks, I find using the Spotmatic F to be very easy and comfortable in the hands.  I recently took a series of photos around Beaver Lake as well as downtown Asheville, and the results were excellent.  I have a nice series of lenses. Besides the 50mm 1.4, I have the 28mm/3.5, 35mm /3.5, and 135mm/2.5, which is a wonderful lens.  All are in excellent condition, and make for a nice kit.  In addition, I have other M-42 lenses, such as the Helios 44 from a Zenit 12XP.

If you are interested in trying any of the old M-42 SLRs, you can't wrong with the Spotmatic F.  While there are a plethora of M-42 SLR bodies out there by Ricoh, Chinon, Praktica, Mamiya, Zenit, etc., none of them have the finish and feel of a Spotmatic. 

Pentax Spotmatic Resouces:

A few recent images...
Fomapan 400:

Ilford Ortho Plus 80:

Thursday, January 23, 2020

The Samsung Evoca 90w Neo

EVOCA by Samsung

To be honest, I didn't realize that Samsung made 35mm cameras until this one showed up in a box full of point and shoots.  Samsung did, in fact produce some very good compact P&S 35mm cameras, as well as an APS P&S.  The camera's clean design, short zoom range, Schnieder lens, and LCD rear display intrigued me enough to try it out. 

The Samsung Evoca line

From what I have found so far, Samsung sold 35mm point and shoots from at least 1990 into the early 2000s.  Shutterbug's June 1, 2002 archived page has an article by Peter K. Burian reporting on P&S cameras from the PMA show.    There were several model lines by Samsung -- Maxima, Pronta, and  Evoca. The Evoca line was apparently their top line for "photo enthusiasts": 

"Samsung's Evoca line now includes a model with a zoom lens that includes a true wide angle 28mm focal length. The Evoca 90W Neo QD is a fully automatic model with a 28-90mm f/4.5-11 Schneider-Kreuznach lens and diopter correction eyepiece. In spite of the moderate price ($210) this camera is said to be housed in a titanium body. Features include continuous autofocus, two Program modes, Panorama Frame mode, and a remote control unit, plus an advanced flash unit."

It's quite possible that the Evoca cameras were the outcome of the purchase of Rollei by Samsung in 1995.  It's been suggested that the Prego cameras were the inspiration for the Evoca line, and I have to say that the lens choice may have been the result.  I have found the Prego cameras to be delicate things.  The Evoca 90 W Neo is not fragile. 

There are several Evoca models -

  • 70 SE, 35-70mm  Schneider-Kreuznach zoom (highly touted in 12/1999 Popular Photography as a travel camera)
  • 70 S, 35-70mm Samsung SHD lens ($129 in May 1999 Popular Photography)
  • 90w Neo, 28-90mm Schneider-Kreuznach Varioplan Zoom (Reviewed here)
  • Zoom 115,  38-115mm, (also called Fino outside of USA)
  • 140 S QD,  38-140mm f/4.6-12.2 Schneider-Kreuznach zoom 
  • 170 Neo QD, 38-170mm Schneider-Kreuznach zoom, passive (not active) multi-point autofocus, Panorama Frame mode, and backlight compensation control 

The Samsung Evoca 90w Neo
At first glance, one might think this was an early digital P&S, especially since there is a small rear LCD panel which occupies the left side.   However, this 2002 camera appeared at a time when a digital P&S could not compare in image quality to 35mm.  It was however, the end of the premium compact 35mm cameras, as consumers started buying the premise that digital was the new “best thing.
rear of camera 
zoom at 90mm

The 90 Neo is a bit unusual in that its zoom range is from 28-90mm.  There are not many short-range P&S zooms with such a good lens as the Schneider- Kreuznach Varioplan.  In use, I found myself shooting mostly at the wide end, as 28mm is a good focal length for a lot of street photography. 

Camera specifications

  • Lens- 28-90mm Schneider-Kruzenenach Varioplan, f/4.5-11.  
  • Focus – 2 ft – infinity
  • Shutter speeds – B, 1/3 – 1/400 sec
  • ISO - (via DX coding) 50-3200
  • Viewfinder – Real image, 80% coverage, adjustable diopter
  • Focus – automatic, can be preset for infinity
  • Film Advance – Automatic, power rewind
  • Exposure Modes – Automatic, Bulb, Program
  • Flash – Built-in, range 2 ft – 34 ft at ISO 400, 28mm, 8 sec recycle time, red-eye reduction
  • Tripod socket – yes
  • Remote control – optional
  • Self-timer – 10 sec
  • LED Info – focus, flash ready
  • LCD Display - battery condition, date / time, film advance mode, flash mode, frame counter, program, red-eye reduction, remote control indicator, self-timer mode, zoom; 
  • Features - auto power off, autofocus lock, captions imprint, panorama mode 
  • Power – 1 CR123A 3V battery
  • Weight – 8.1 ounces
  • Dimensions – 4.6 x 1.7 x 2.6 inches

Overall, a pretty good array of features that should appeal to the compact p&s crowd.  In fact, it compares very favorably with the Yashica T4 Zoom (made by Kyocera).   In hindsight, had Samsung just issued this with a 28mm f/3.5 single focal length, I think it would have been a highly desirable camera with the street shooting crowd, and would be commanding Contax T3 prices today.  Alas, the zooms were the thing in the late 1990s, but the Evoca 90w certainly is a very good camera if you can find one. 

I loaded the camera with a roll of Kodak T-max 100 film and took it with me to Columbia, SC.  It was easy to use, and of course, easy to goof up things without a manual.  In the course of using it, I somehow selected "print" with the multiple controls on the rear of the camera, and ended up having the date imprinted on most of the negatives (without having set the date and time, no less).  Subsequently, I loaded a roll of T-max P3200, and made sure that I had everything set properly. 

Conclusions -

The Samsung Evoca 90w Neo is a great little camera.  The zoom is fast and quiet, and I liked being able to preset the camera for infinity focus and no flash.  To me, the 28mm focal length was my preferred setting.  I also liked the Panorama masking mode.  The images at 28mm had a definite panoramic look when the Panorama mode was selected via an easily-found switch on the back.  The adjustable diopter in the viewfinder was a nice feature, too.  The body of the camera feels comfortable in the hand, with nothing protruding when the camera is shut off.  It is easy to use, and apart from my mistake with the date stamp, the camera modes are easily adjusted via the mode dial on the back.  Note, I am not a fan of date-stamping an image. It has no place in serious photography, and it certainly does not indicate that one can verify when an image was made.  According to my images, I was there in 2015.

This seems to be one of the less-seen models on eBay.  The 70SE 115, as well as the 170 are typically in the $5 to $60 range, but the 90 does not show up.  Given that it was sold at the end of the compact 35mm P&S era, probably not as many were sold as the earlier models.  I would say that if you were to find one, $50 would be a good price. 


P3200, selfie

P3200, All Souls Cathedral, Biltmore Village, NC

P3200 living room light

P3200, Biltmore Village, NC

P3200, Biltmore Village

Columbia, SC State House steps, Tmax 100

Tmax 100, Panorama mode, Columbia SC

Tmax100, ca. 90mm, Columbia, SC

Tmax100, ca. 35mm, Columbia, SC

Tmax100, 28mm, panorama mode, Columbia, SC

Tmax 100, Columbia, SC

Tmax 100, Columbia, SC

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!