Thursday, May 09, 2024

LuckyPan SHD 400 film

 LuckyPan SHD 400  what is it, really?

A little over a month ago, I received two rolls from Reflx Lab of “new” LuckyPan SHD 400 to try out.  Having memories of shooting that film almost 20 years ago, I was eager to give the new film a try.  

The Lucky Film brand goes back to 1958, as China Lucky Film Corp.  Based in Baoding, China, Lucky produces a variety of industrial and x-ray films, as well as consumer emulsions. In 2003, Eastman Kodak partnered with Lucky to produce C-41 films and to upgrade the Lucky production facilities, with Kodak backing out of the agreement in 2007.  My guess is that Kodak saw how quickly digital was overtaking the industry, and that having more film production elsewhere would hurt their bottom line.  Meanwhile, I think Lucky films were available to consumers in China for quite some time afterwards.

My first exposure (ha!) to Lucky films was in 2004, when some of the Lucky films became available in the US market.  I don’t recall where I bought the film, but it was probably online, and I have my negatives from 2005, when I first started shooting with it.   At the time, the opinion of many photographers was that the Lucky  b&w films were second-tier, compared to those from Kodak, Fujifilm, Agfa, and Ilford.  Of course, for anyone looking for a bargain, the Lucky films were a bit cheaper, and they offered something a little different.  My negatives from 2005 clearly have “LUCKY SHD400 NEW” on the film rebate, as shown below.  I wonder of the "new" designation was due to the newer coating machinery that Kodak invested in.

Lucky SHD400 from 2005

The new film via Reflx Lab is labeled on the box as Luckypan SHD 400, with an exp. date of 06/2027.  My communication with the representative from Reflx Lab resulted in shooting the film at an ISO of 200, as he didn’t think this is really an ISO 400 film.  Some internet sleuthing came up with an ISO recommendation of 160, and that the film is actually an aerial recon film, repackaged as a consumer film.  That certainly makes some sense, as there are no edge marking at all on the latest film, as shown below.   To me, the film base feels like a PET-based material, rather than  triacetate, and looks similar to some Svema surveillance films.

My first test roll of this film was shot at ISO 200 in my Nikon FE, an always-reliable SLR that has produced accurate exposures.  I shot the film mostly at Beaver Lake Bird Sanctuary on an overcast, sometimes a bit of rain day, and finished up on a sunny day in Mars Hill, and the last two shots on a cloudy day in Asheville.  Developing this film was initially problematic. While there was information inside the box, it did not give a developing time for using D-76, it was the recommended developer.    I checked the Massive Development Chart, and it gave a range of 7-10 minutes in straight D-76.  I decided on 9 minutes.    Standard water stop, and fixing routine, followed by the modified Ilford rinse method (instead of inversions, think cocktail-shaker agitation).  

Loaded into the Nikon FE

If you go to the Lucky Film website, you will eventually find their information on the films — however, the images for SHD400 show boxes labeled as C-41!   Interesting.  I did find the development time for the SHD 400, which was 8.5 minutes, so my choice of 9 minutes is pretty close.


I think that rating this film at 200 is certainly appropriate.  It’s certainly not the same film emulsion that I used in 2005.  It’s grainier than the 2005 film, but not unpleasantly so.  These low-key images are quite nice.  The price of $5.99/roll for 36 exposures is definitely inexpensive.  At this price, you can't go wrong with giving it a try.  Shoot it at an ISO of 160 to 200, and I think you'll be happy with the results.

Tuesday, May 07, 2024

FPP X-Ray film, now in 35mm

I’m always eager to try new films, especially black and white emulsions.  This latest film isn’t exactly new, but it was only previously available in 120 and 4x5.  I have shot several rolls of the FPP X-Ray film in the past year, and found that I liked the results from this orthochromatic film.  So, I was understandably eager to try some in 35mm.

The FPP 35mm X-Ray film comes in 36 exposure rolls (Yay!), and is in a plastic film cassette, like some Lomography films and other brands.  The film is rated at 200 ISO, but there is no DX coding on the cassette. That actually makes sense for this film, as I have shot the 120 version at ISO 100.  I reviewed this film last year in the 120 version, so read about it in that post (

I shot the first roll in my Nikon FE, and with a 50mm f/1.2 Nikkor that I just had serviced by Crystal Camera Repair in Asheville.  I was on a short hike up near Craggy Gardens off the Blue Ridge Parkway, and shot the roll under mostly sunny conditions.  So, it was a test of the refurbished lens and the film.  I developed the roll in D-76 at 20°C for 6 minutes, standard water stop bath, and fixer.   I scanned the negatives on my Epson V700 scanner.


While this film is considered to be grainy, I have seen far worse.  In the 120 version, grain wasn’t a problem.  The film IS contrasty, orthochromatic, and what I call “crunchy”.  That means the high contrast in sunlit situations, combined with the fact that the film has no anti-halation layer - results in a greater differentiation between bright objects and shadows, which some of the above images (especially image 4) will show.  In my opinion, this is an interesting film that in the right conditions, will give you some unique results.  I’m going to shoot the next roll under cloudy overcast conditions and also indoors with good lighting, and see how that goes. I may also try using the D-96 developer - for 7 minutes.

It's an unusual film in that the original purpose was some sort of x-ray film, and I always like using a film that wasn't originally considered for pictorial use, as a pictorial film.  The fact that it's a relatively fast film makes it all the more attractive.


Friday, May 03, 2024

The Nikon N75 SLR

The N75/F75 SLR with a 35mm f/2 AF-D Nikkor

Cheap and good are rarely found together, but in the case of the Nikon N75 (F75 outside North America), they coexist.  Introduced in 2003, the N75 was Nikon’s last consumer-level AF 35mm SLR, and it replaced the N65.  It sold for around $300 with a kit lens when first introduced, and it apparently was also sold as a body without a lens for less than $200.  To put things in perspective, the Nikon D100 was introduced in 2002 and cost about $2000 for just the body.  Guess which one of these cameras can be used today to produce quality images with the least amount of fussing about?  The N75.  Just put in two CR-2 batteries, a roll of film, and you are ready to shoot with this lightweight SLR that has the most features of any camera in its class.  

The control layout is the typical one for Nikon SLRs

Uncluttered controls

The N75 is definitely more compact than the Nikon N80, but the major difference between the two is that the N75 only uses the DX code on the film cassette to set the ISO, whereas the N80’s ISO can be set manually.  If there is no ISO code on the cassette, the default ISO goes to 100.  That’s going to be a limitation if you are accustomed to using low-ISO films with no ISO codes, or using hand-rolled film. However, for many users, that’s not going to be a problem. The N75 replaced the N65 and N55, which are consumer-grade SLRs with similar control layouts and features.   The N75 is also the only Nikon SLR that automatically winds all the film out of the cassette at the beginning, and pulls the exposed frames back into the cassette as you shoot. This is commonly done in Canon’s AF SLR cameras,  but is a novelty with the N75.  I actually like the feature, since it cuts down on the rewind time.  The N75 was discontinued in 2006, making the Nikon F6 the last AF film SLR produced by Nikon.  There is an excellent review of the N75 by Thom Hogan, so go to his site to learn more.  

The N75 has most of the features found in the N80 and F100 (with the above exceptions). It’s small, inexpensive and light, yet it also takes most Nikon AF lenses.  Like the N80, and similar consumer-grade Nikon AF SLRs, the N75 does not meter with manual lenses.  You can use them, of course, but you will have to shoot in Manual mode, dialing in the shutter speed and aperture manually with no meter.  That’s always been the disappointing thing about Nikon’s dumbing down of non-pro AF bodies, both 35mm, and digital.

However, the N75 is a delight to use.  It has excellent 25-segment matrix metering, as well as center-weighted and spot metering.  I use mine primarily in Aperture-Priority, but it has all the PSAM modes as well as 6 special exposure modes.  When I pair the body with either the 50mm f/1.8 or 35mm f/2 AF-D lenses, it becomes a high quality "point and shoot." It’s only a tad over 13 ounces without a lens, and with the CR-2 batteries, it should be good for many rolls of film.  It definitely is noticeably lighter than my N80, and a LOT lighter than my F100, and has most of the features of those models.  Best of all, these cameras are plentiful and inexpensive.  I have a black-bodied F75, and to me, it looks a lot better than the silver-looking N75 that we typically see.  Paired with a good flash like the Nikon Speedlight 80DX, you can do flash photography and know that your exposures will be pretty much perfect.  

The SB-80DX flash on the camera

While the N75 does have a pop-up flash, which certainly works for fill flash, I recommend using a full-featured TTL flash that will give better results in a variety of situations.  In my case, I use a Nikon SB-80DX speedlight, which is as full-featured a film camera flash can be.  The only drawback with that flash is that it won’t work with your DSLR, as it only works with the 35mm SLR Nikons.  They sell for less than $40 used now, which is a pretty good deal for a modern TTL flash unit.

I often see a lot of love for the low-cost Canon Rebel series as entry to using film cameras, and of course, they are pretty decent low-cost AF SLRs.  I’ve used quite a few of them, and yes, they are inexpensive.  Some of the earlier Nikon AF SLRs that are now inexpensive are just a bit clunky, such as the N60, which is much larger than the N75 and N80, but loud and slow.  The N75 has just that right combination of controls where I want them, ease of use, and the ability to control your exposures to a very fine degree.  Online, I see prices for N75 bodies typically less than $40.  The nice thing is that these cameras are relatively young, are very mature in the control layout, and will accept most AF Nikon F-mount lenses.  It’s a great camera for travel, as it takes up less space and weight than even a DSLR. I highly recommend a lens like the 24-50mm AF-D for travel, but the 35mm f/2 AF-D is a great lens and doesn’t weigh you down.

I recommend the N75/F75 SLR to anyone that wants a lightweight, inexpensive 35mmm SLR.   Pair it with a prime lens, and you’ve got yourself a great little camera for street photography, travel, and hiking companion.    

Here are some examples from the N75.

SHD 100 film

SHD 100 film

SHD 100 film

Ilford FP4 film

Reflx Lab 200T film

Fujifilm Superia 200

Fujifilm Superia 200

Fujifilm Superia 200

Fujifilm Superia 200

Fujifilm Superia 200

Kentmere 100

Kentmere 400

Kentmere 400

Kentmere 400

Friday, April 12, 2024

The Kodak Retina Reflex SLRs

Kodak's first Retina Reflex (Type 025) October 1958 ad in
Popular Photography

Over the years, I’ve tried out a number of 1950s - 60s SLRs with leaf shutters, such as the Zeiss-Ikon Contaflex, the Topcon Uni, Kowa SET series, and of course, the Kodak Retina Reflex. Leaf shutters in SLRs are limited by two main attributes - the typical maximum 1/500 sec shutter speed, and the small throat diameter of the lens where it attaches to the body.  That limits the maximum aperture as well as lenses wider than 28mm.  In addition, many cameras have a lens behind the shutter, with the front elements having to use that rear lens as part of the focus mechanism.  In other words, if the lens was removable, only the front section could be removed, and those optics depended on the rear (behind the shutter) elements to complete the optics.  That’s how it was with the Contaflex  and the first iteration of the Retina Reflex (Type 025).  Most of the Kodak Retina rangefinder cameras worked the same way if the front elements were removable.  It was probably a response to the appearance of the Contaflex in 1956, that Kodak AG was able to quickly come out with an SLR, albeit one that has the distinct lineage of the Retina C-series rangefinder lenses.  

Kodak Retina Reflex (Type 025) with its lens system a
derivative from the IIC and IIIC Retina rangefinders

My earliest opportunities to use a Kodak Retina SLR were disappointing. That earliest model is now as old as I am, as they came out in 1956.  Most of the ones I have handled either had problems with the mirror coating de-silvering, fungus on lens elements, or some other mechanical problem. So, I never seriously considered using one until I recently got a Retina Reflex S and Reflex III.  That experience has improved my view of the lens-shutter SLR, with some caveats to follow.

When lens-shutter SLRs first appeared in the 1950s, none of them had an instant return mirror. In fact, no 35mm SLR had an auto-return mirror until the Asahiflex II appeared in 1954.  None of the Retina Reflex series camera have an instant-return mirror. You must wind the film for the next shot to release the mirror. That’s one thing that certainly improved since the 1950s! 

For the rest of this, I’m only going to discuss the later Retina Reflex SLRs with the DKL lens system - that is, each lens has all the optics in the removable lens, with no lenses behind the shutter.  I’ll discuss the DKL lenses a bit farther on.

The Retina Reflex S, III, and IV, as well as the Instamatic Reflex use the same lenses, which range from 28mm to 200mm focal lengths.  It was standard for the cheapest kit to come with a 50mm f/2.8 Retina Xenar (a Schneider lens).  A faster 50mm f/1.9 Retina Xenon was the pricier version.  The other focal lengths are 28mm f/4, 35mm f/2.8, 85mm f/4, 135mm f/4, and 200mm f/4.8.  These are all well-made Schneider lenses.  

So of course, there is also a multitude of accessories, making the Retina Reflex a complete system, and now, also a rabbit hole for the collector/enthusiast of these cameras. But first, some looks at the Reflex S and Reflex III cameras.  

Retina Reflex S (Type 034)

The Retina Reflex S, produced from 1959-1960, was the first model to use the DKL lens mount, and also has a coupled Selenium exposure meter.  The top-mounted shutter release, film release and door release are the same as the original Retina Reflex.  

Retina Reflex III (Type 041)

The Retina Reflex III is not too different from the S model, and was produced from 1960-64.  The main differences are the placement of the shutter release on the front of the body, the metering needle visible in the viewfinder, and the film counter reset button on the base of the camera.  

Retina Reflex IV (Type 051)

The Retina Reflex IV, manufactured from 1964-1967, was the last 35mm SLR made by Kodak A.G.  It’s quite similar to the model III, but has a small window to view the aperture/shutter speed settings in the viewfinder.  The PC flash connector also moved from the front of the camera to the edge of the left side of the lens mount. The camera also features a normal flash hot-shoe on top of the prism.

Instamatic Reflex (Type 062)

The Kodak Instamatic Reflex was manufactured from 1968 to 1974, and features a CdS exposure meter, and a Compur Electronic shutter that goes from 20 sec to 1/500. It uses the Kodak Kodapak 126 cartridge to produce 28mm x28mm images. Typically, it came with a Retina Xenar 45mm f/2.8 lens.  It’s able to use any of the lenses that fit the Reflex S through IV models.  


The DKL lens mount, which is used on the Retina Reflex S- IV and Instamatic Reflex, as well as the rangefinder Retina IIIS, is also used on several other brands.  Developed by F. Deckel in Munich, the lens mount, which features a Synchro-Compur leaf shutter, was introduced in 1956.  Used by Voigtlander, Braun, Edixa, Iloca, Balda, and Kodak, each brand has a distinct keying of the lens to the mount, so the lenses are not interchangeable among brands.  For the Retina Reflex S series, there were a number of lenses available: 

Rodenstock: Eurygon 30mm/2.8 and 35mm/4, Heligon 50mm/1.9, Ysarex 50mm/2.8, Rotelar R 85mm/4 and 135mm/4  (Rodenstock lenses are more likely to be seen on Retina Reflex cameras in Europe)

Schneider: Curtagon 28mm/4 and 35mm/2.8, Xenon 50mm/1.9, Xenar 45mm/2.8, Xenar 50mm/2.8, Tele-Arton 85mm/4, Tele-Xenar 135mm/4 and 200mm/4.8 and 

Steinheil: Culminar 50mm/2.8.

Retina Reflex S with 200mm Tele-Xenar

The Retina Reflexes, all made by Kodak A.G in Stuttgart, Germany are well-made, precision cameras.  It’s interesting to note that after Eastman Kodak acquired the Nagel-Werke company in 1931, August Nagel designed the Daylight Loading Cartridge (35mm) for the Retina camera, which became the standard cassette design used thereafter by all the manufacturers.  So, while Leica may have started the 35mm “miniature” camera, it was the standard Daylight Loading Cartridge that really made 35mm into being the predominant format in years to come.  

Samigon 2x teleconverter for the DKL mount

What about using Retina Reflex cameras today?

While these cameras are getting rather old, many of them continue to work well, though the meters may not be dependable.  Problems that I have seen are usually that the mirrors suffer oxidation or corrosion, with the viewfinders becoming dim, or with tiny black spots in the field of view.  That doesn’t affect the images, but it does affect the usability. I would definitely steer away from the original Retina Reflex (Type 025), as the lens selection is basically very limited and the viewfinder somewhat dimmer due to the smaller maximum aperture of the lenses. However, the Reflex S, III, and IV all are capable of excellent images, and take the full range of lenses from 28-200mm. 

While Kodak used the EV system on their Retina series of cameras, such that once you choose an EV, all the shutter speeds and apertures are linked to that chosen EV.  This is actually the same as using the Hasselblad and some other cameras where you have that option.  It can be quite useful or infuriating, depending on your knowledge of the camera and the light.  However, on the Reflex S and later, you can set your shutter speed and then adjust the aperture using the little wheel underneath the base of the lens.  For that reason, I find the Retina Reflex S to be quite easy to use.  On the Retina Reflex III or IV, you have a view of the meter’s operation  within the viewfinder, which is quite handy -- if the meter is accurate!  Otherwise, the Reflex S is as good a choice, especially since the shutter release is on the top deck where I usually expect it to be on a camera.  

the little wheel at the base of the lens mount controls the aperture

If you do purchase any Retina camera, reflex or rangefinder, you’ll find that there are little quirks that need to be addressed, such as resetting the frame counter to be able to cock the shutter.  If your camera didn’t come with a manual, it’s to your advantage to go to the camera manuals site and download a copy of the manual - and pay Mike Butkus a small fee. 

There are some nice aspects to the Retina Reflex cameras - since they have a lens shutter, they are quiet, in comparison to a focal plane shutter SLR.  The cameras are fairly simple to use, and if working properly, will give you excellent results.  If you are looking to have a good kit, I recommend the 28mm f/4 Retina Curtagon, the 35mm f/2.8 Retina Xenar, the 50mm f/1.9 Retina Xenon, and the 80mm f/4 Rodennstock Retina-Heligon C.   One aspect of the long-focus lenses from 80mm and on, is that the close-focus distance is much farther than comparable focal lengths on focal-plane shutter SLRs.  There is no “macro” lens for the Retina Reflex series, but you can find close-up diopters that fit in  front of the 50mm f/2.8 and 50mm f/1.9.  There’s also an extension tube that gives you macro capability, and there is a third-party 2x teleconverter made for the DKL lenses.  You can also find a right-angle viewfinder if you need to use one.  

Right-angle finder for the Retina Reflex

As far as I know, there are no  repair shops that will undertake work on Retina Reflex cameras.  So, if your camera is working fine, take good care of it.  If it’s not working as it should, find another one that does work.  That being said, I recommend the Retina Reflex S series over the Contaflex models and Voigtlander Bessamatic.  There are many more lens options and prices are understandably less for the Schnieder lenses than those from Voigtlander and Zeiss-Ikon. 

Two close-up lenses that fit 60mm threads

I highly recommend “Collecting and Using Classic SLRs” by Ivor Matanle (Thames and Hudson, 1997), and “The Retina Reflex Way” by L.A, Mannheim (Focal Press, 1965).  There are also several web sites with very useful information and reviews, as follows:

To sum it all up - The Kodak Retina Reflex S and subsequent models are robust, well-made examples of  lens-shutter SLRs. If you have one in working condition, it makes sense to acquire additional lenses in different focal lengths, just as with typical focal-plane SLRs.  They are quiet, capable of excellent photos, and good-looking classical cameras that deserve a try. No batteries needed!

Some photo examples from the Reflex S, 50mm f/1.9 Xenon lens, Kentmere 100 film

Examples from Reflex III with Fuji Superia 200 film, various lenses.