Wednesday, May 31, 2023

The Fujica GL-690 Professional

It was about this time last year that I decided that I really wanted a Fujica 6x9 rangefinder, aka the “Texas Leica.”  A previous guest post here in 2016 had nothing to with it, but I do wish that I had purchased one about that time, as prices for medium format cameras of any kind have risen quite a bit.  It was during this search last year that I became aware of many different Fujica 6x9 models, and unfortunately, most of the sellers on eBay for these models are from Japan.  I looked and looked, and what I thought was a reasonable price were “mint” with fungus...  The more recent models such as the GW690 have fixed lenses, more ABS in the body, and were selling in the $600 range or higher.  A decade ago, I could have picked one up for $250.  Anyhow, I was hesitant to spend that much on a camera that had to be shipped from Japan.  

A while later, I checked my favorite camera store - KEH, and there was a Fujica GL690 body for sale for $360.  The beauty of the early G-690 series is that they are the original “Texas Leica” and can accept lenses of different focal lengths (although that lens selection is limited, but it's perfect for this camera).  They are also all-metal.  The Fujica GL690  was first released in 1974, and has a front and top deck shutter release - which I find very handy.  Of course, it uses 120 roll film, and gets 8 6x9cm shots per roll.  It could also shoot 220, but that film stock is no longer with us. One thing I found by accident, is that the screw-on eyepice diopters and plain glass covers that work with Nikons, such as the Nikkormats and F3, also fit the Fujica GL690 eyepiece.  Further reading online conforms this.

Okay, I had the body from KEH, but no lens was available, either at KEH or eBay.  Derek Keaton, a fellow photographer in Virginia, contacted me after I had posted about my search on Instagram. He had a 100mm Fujinon that might not be working, but it was free.  I figured that had to be the best deal ever, so he mailed it to me.  Yes, it was not working, but there is a camera repair shop not even 10 miles from my house.  So, I took the camera and lens over to Crystal Camera Repair and about a month later, I had my outfit back in perfect working order for $200.  

Now that I have been using my Fujica GL690 for about 8 months, I am more comfortable with its operation, and am aware of the quirks - like forgetting to release the shutter lock when removing the lens, and wondering why the camera was not working.  We are all done with the honeymoon period, and this summer, my plan is to use it more often.  I was in Murrels Inlet in SC back in early May, and shot 3 rolls of film with it, equalling 24 exposures. So, from the standpoint of a 35mm user, it’s similar to using my Leica M2, but everything is bigger, and with fewer shots/roll (but with easier film-loading!).  

I’ve mostly been using the camera on a tripod, because of what I shoot. However, if I load some Kentmere 400 into the camera, I can go with fully handheld.  It’s a big camera for sure, and that 100mm Fujinon lens is a real nice Tessar-design lens with a maximum aperture of f/3.5. I’ve got a Tamrac bag that the camera fits perfectly, with room for a light meter, film, and any filters I might need.  

Since it’s a rangefinder, one has to be aware of that, and the focus spot is pretty easy to see.  You are not going to have the same focus experience as say, a Pentax 6X7, which is an SLR.  It’s definitely like using a very large Leica M2. Since there is no built-in light meter, I use a handheld meter.  I might use my Pentax Spotmeter in the future, if I think it would be more helpful. However, the camera bag only has so much room.  

The aperture and shutter speeds are adjusted at the front end of the lens, and once I got used to it, it is quite easy to do.  Much like using a Hasselblad - all the controls are on the lens, which makes sense, since the shutter is IN the lens.  It’s not a focal plane shutter, and as a result, this is perhaps the quietest medium format camera that I have used.  I can barely hear the shutter open and close.  Maybe the Agfa Clack which has the same 6x9 format is quieter, but it’s just a box camera.  

The larger negatives are really nice.  If I wanted to, I could make contact prints with them - and I may do so in the future.  For now, just scanning them in on my Epson V700 is enough.  I have made a few prints from the negs with my Canon Pro 200 printer, and they just thrilled me with the detail that this camera can produce.  My only prior experience with a 6x9 rangefinder was the Kodak Medallist II, and the Fujica is a whole world apart in user interface and ease of use.

So, this new camera gives me the opportunity to make images on a larger chunk of film with the ease of use of a rangefinder camera, with the same aspect ratio as 35mm.  It’s a keeper, and I look forward to using it a lot more this year.

Here are a few samples of what I have shot thus far:


Rocky Fork State Park, TN, RPX25

Rocky Fork State Park, TN, RPX25

Brookgreen Gardens, SC, Ilford HP5

Attalaya, SC, Kentmere 400

Carl Milles sculpture, Brookgreen Gardens, SC
Kentmere 400

Brookgreen Gardens, SC, Kentmere 400

French Broad River, NC, Rollei RPX 25

Friday, May 26, 2023

Single Roll Review - Orwo Wolfen NP100

In the past, I have felt that ORWO was not very good at their marketing.  They have a suite of very decent 35mm film stocks - most are cine-oriented,  and all were black and white emulsions.  The purchasing of their film in the US was complicated by the rather obtuse distribution methods.  That appears to have changed in the past year or so, with the release of their color film stock NC500, and the Wolfen NP100 films.  I’ve shot with both, and will deal with the C-41 film in a separate post.  

The box, but my roll was from the unboxed first run
(image from Orwo site)

Orwo’s film naming has of course,  been one of their odd quirks.  I’m sure people on the cine side of things know what films they are buying and their characteristics -- that’s not the case for a lot of 35mm still photography people.  A lot of photography hobbyists are swayed in their purchase decision by how cool the naming/packaging is, and there is ample evidence for that. Orwo, however, has kept on with their stodgy naming until the past year.  If you go to their site, it’s a big improvement over what I saw several years ago.  They are taking 35mm still photography more seriously, and have released some updated films as well as “new” ones.  If you look at the four Lomography branded kino films as well as the - ISO 13 and ISO 8 -  those are all Orwo cine stocks, which I have previously reviewed here.

So, I think the folks at Orwo finally realized that with the proper branding, their unique cine stocks were getting sales that they were not when it was just plain old Orwo branding, which was like no branding at all.   Now, with their Wolfen brand, they are making their way onto the shelves of stores (both brick and mortar and online) for enthusiasts to try out. That’s a good step forward.  From the promotional information - “Wolfen NP100 100 ISO 35mm x 36exp. Black and White Film from ORWO is an exceptionally fine grain 100 ASA film. This is one of the first brand new and professionally finished photo films launched by the company in decades, proudly still produced in Bitterfeld-Wolfen on the original site where film manufacture has been a tradition since 1910. 

NP100 differs from WOLFEN UN54 in that it has an additional dyed antihalation layer. This layer is positioned between the base material and the emulsion layer and has the task of preventing the formation of a reflection halo. This improves image sharpness.”  

The initial run of this film was said to be 36,000 36 exposure cassettes.

I purchased this film in February from the Freestyle Photo online store, and I finally got around to shooting with it in early May on our trip to Murrells Inlet, SC.  Loaded into my F3HP, I shot the roll late in the day along the beach at Huntington Beach State Park.  I mostly used the 35mm f/2 Nikkor, but also the 28mm f/3.5 Nikkor, and as the results show, there was a bit of vignetting with the polarizing filter attached to the 28mm. 


It was a definite adventure finding out what developer to use for this film, compounded by the relative newness of the film and that Orwo hasn’t fully embraced the non-German speaking world, as attested by the online documentation.  Somewhere, I saw D-96 mentioned, so as a big fan of that developer, that was good news.  I developed it in D-96 for 8.5 min at 20°C, and the results are excellent.  It’s a fine-grained film on a polyester base - which is great news as the film lies completely flat for scanning.  


Overall, it’s certainly a good 100 ISO black and white film.  As indicated above, the main difference from the NP100 and the UN54 (also ISO 100, and sold by Lomography as Potsdam 100) is the addition of another anti-halation layer.  It may be more than that, but whatever the changes, I liked the results from this film.  With more users, I am sure there will be more reviews with different developers.

The scans from my Epson V700 speak for themselves.  Ultimately, it’s best to shoot this film and decide for yourself whether it fits your style of photography.  There are a plethora of ISO 100 black and white film stocks as I have previously posted here, and over the years, my favorite has been Kentmere 100.  Now, if Orwo were to sell the NP 100 in 100 ft bulk rolls at a reasonable price, I would likely use more of it.  While it’s currently selling for $11/roll, it’s among the more expensive b&w films. Still, I applaud Orwo for now promoting their films in a more crowded field of 35mm black and white films (imagine that!).  

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

HP Photosmart 215 - A 23 year old Digicam

 A few weeks ago, I found this HP 215 digital camera in a local thrift shop for ONE dollar. Typically, I used to see cheap point and shoot 35mm cameras for that price. For a dollar, I just figured that I’d take a chance that it still worked. 
One dollar bargain!

door opened to reveal USB slot, CF card, and 6V connector

that little wheel to the left is used to access the menus.
There is a 64 MB card in the CF slot.

 A few facts about the HP Photosmart 215 It was introduced in 2000, and has a 1.3 megapixel resolution with a fixed 43mm equivalent (to 35mm) f/2.8 - f/8 lens. In 2000, it was early years in the digital photography takeover of traditional film cameras, and at 1.3 megapixels, there is no way any serious photographer was going to buy this camera. However, computer users love the new shiny objects, and the HP 215 was marketed as part of the computer culture, promising instant photos that could be shared/printed as needed. Using 4AA cells, the camera was inexpensive to operate, and it came with a 4MB CF card. You can find the online manual on HP's site.

 The first HP Photosmart camera was introduced in 1997 with VGA resolution (640 x 480 pixels). So, the 215 is an improvement, but just barely. In 2000, a consumer-level 1.3 MP camera was considered to be low-end, but usable enough to make 4x6 prints, and of course, Hewlett Packard produced a suite of accessories with the Photosmart name - printers and scanners to match up with their Windows-based PCs. It wasn’t until at least 3MP cameras became widely available that the 35mm point and shoots were in trouble. For the snapshot audience, 1.3MP wasn’t too awful, and the HP 215 retailed for around $200, and I can just imagine folks saying how much less they would be spending on film. I recall having an Apple Quicktake that had less than 1 MP - I think the images were 640x480 pixels. For putting up images on the new World Wide Web, those were fine. I see them now as postage-stamp sized shots that can never be made better - unlike a film negative or transparency. Hewlett Packard continued selling HP Photosmart cameras into at least 2007, but their printers continued on after that. The Photosmart Cameras were always at the low-end, but they were affordable snap shot digital cameras. 

 The HP 215 is quite boxy-looking, and there are few controls. The lens is fixed at one focal length, but the auto-focus allows one to also use macro mode - 4” to 3 feet.  Normal mode is about 2 feet to infinity. To begin use, you insert 4 AA cells and a Compact Flash (CF) card. The first time I used the camera, I had a hard time examining the images from the computer until I reformatted the card in the camera. Import was just dragging and dropping the images to a folder on my desktop (Mac Mini, late 2012, running Mac OS X Catalina). I found the optical viewfinder to be relatively useless due to parallax at anything closer then 20 feet. So, I used the rear LCD screen to frame my image before pressing the shutter button. There is a significant, several second delay in writing the image to the CF card at full 1.3 MP resolution. The camera shows it age in the menu access and controls as well as the small LCD screen. But hey, this was the year 2000, and anything with a color LCD display was high-tech. Operationally, it takes a while to get used to the slowness of the camera, and the strange click wheel for accessing the camera settings. Once I loaded the images onto my computer, I was really a bit surprised at how good most of them turned out. Granted, they are only 1200 x 1600 pixels, and you really can’t crop them the way you can a 20 MP image, but if you only wanted to make small prints or put images up on the Internet, they are not bad. Of course, the color response and sharpness isn’t as good as modern digicams or even my iPhone, but for a dollar, I can’t complain. As you can see from the images below, the results are actually pretty good.

I get that young people may be interested in using these “vintage” digicams, and 1.3 MP may be lower than you’d want to go. The camera reminds me a bit of a “Digital Diana” that I owned around 2010. I did a little search on eBay, and was surprised to see the HP 215 cameras sold from $2.99 to $22.99, depending on what was included. If you want to make 4x6 prints, you could get by with one of these, and who am I to judge? 

 Going by what was available at the time - a Nikon D1 SLR with 2.7 MP sold for $5000 in 2000. That was the camera that basically took over the news industry, as it was good enough for newspaper printing. The 'best” digital camera for 2000 was the Nikon Coolpix 990, with 3.3 MP, an ingenious tilt/swivel camera that accepted a variety of accessories, and it retailed for about $900. I used a Coolpix 990 extensively, well after it was produced, and it was an amazingly good digital camera. At the other end of the spectrum was the kid’s Jam Cam with 640 x 480 pixels that retailed for about $60. So, in 2000, the HP Photosmart 215 was a good buy for the casual snapper that was going to be happy with making small prints or sharing images via email.  I think if you want to experiment with lo-fi digital, this camera would be a good place to start!

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

FPP X-Ray 120 film

While there are a lot of exotic emulsions that are available for 35mm, there are significantly fewer options for 120 film.  So, imagine my surprise when I saw a 120 film that’s NOT available in 35mm.  The Film Photography Project has recently released FPP X-RAY 120 film that is a 100 ISO high-contrast orthochromatic film that can be developed in typical black and white chemicals.  

I really didn’t know what to think when I first realized that it was called an X-ray film, as I am used to seeing films sold as sheet film - and with the other oddball things like some x-ray films being coated on both sides, and of very low ISO ratings.  This IS NOT one of those films.  For one, it’s on a PET base, and has a recommended ISO of 100, though I have seen where it could be rated up to 400 with decent results.  Second, like other X-ray films, it’s orthochromatic, and is insensitive to red light, so you could develop it under a red safelight.   It has no anti-halation layer, so it’s best to load the film in subdued light, or you might get light piping.

Zeiss Ikon Box Tengor

I’m game for oddball films, and I had no preconceived notions about this film.  I loaded one roll into a Zeiss Ikon Box Tengor 56 box camera, and the other roll into my Yashicamat 124.  The choice to use it in the box camera was a spur of the moment thing, when I was out having a beer or two with my friend Bill Pivetta.  Maybe a bad idea, but as you’ll see, maybe not.

The Yashicamat is a camera that would be a good test for this film, since I have excellent control over my exposures.  I rated the film at ISO 100, and used the TLR’s built-in meter.  I shot most of that roll at an Asheville camera group meetup on April 16, and that was a better test of this film.

I developed both rolls in D-96 for 6.5 minutes at 20°C, and probably 6 minutes would have been just fine, as well.  I was just aiming for what I thought might be a good well-developed negative, given that the instructions read 6 min in D-76.


Zeiss Ikon Box Tengor

Beach Volleyball at the Highland Brewery meadow 

Great mural in West Asheville, featuring Dolly and RuPaul

The results from the Box Tengor were actually pretty good, though some of the shots were overexposed.  There’s also a bit of "blooming"in some of those images, because of the uncoated lens, as well as the overexposure.  I picked two of the best 6x9 cm negatives.

Yashicamat 124

That's Reuben's Yashicamat 124.

Thanks for posing, Emily!

 Luckily, Emily stopped by at our meeting, and while she’s a photographer, she is also an  art model, so she posed for a few shots at the Wedge Brewery, and I was able to test the remainder of the roll of the X-ray film under somewhat cloudy bright conditions.  

Over near Craggy Gardens off the Blue Ridge Parkway

The results from the Yashicamat were very good, and it’s obvious that the film is very fine-grained, with great tonal range -- and orthochromatic, as reds are very dark.  The detail was excellent. I need to buy some more rolls of this film and really test it with different lighting situations and subjects.

Overall, I think this a film with the potential to create some very interesting images.  I love the packaging from the FPP (which of course has nothing to do with selecting this film!), and the film has edge markings for frame numbers.  The backing paper has very easily seen black markings on a white background, so for those of you that use a red window to line up your exposures, it will be easy to line up to the proper spot for each exposure.  I think this might be a fun film to use in a Holga on a sunny day.  For the Box Tengor, the shutter speed is about 1/30 sec, which in full sun, even at f/16, would be overexposed by two stops.  You can’t use a red filter, because it’s an ortho film.  A neutral density gel would possibly work well with a simple box camera in full sun.