Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Last One Standing...Closes. Huron Camera, RIP Dec. 2014

Huron Camera, Dec. 29, 2014.
Huron Camera is no more.  The last brick and mortar camera store in Washtenaw County, Michigan,  closed its doors for good on Tuesday, Dec. 30.  For those of us that freqented the store, it's like losing an old friend.  An old friend that has been on life support and slips away, quietly, into the night.  
The store's spot right on Main Street for the past 40+ years was an invitation to come and browse.  I know that I first visited the store around 2000.  During the 1990s and into 2002, Huron Camera also had satellite stores in Saline, Battle Creek, and Jackson, MI.  I also saw their extensive sales tables at area camera swaps into 2003 or so.  The store had a good reputation for camera repairs, and of course, the one thing most people noticed was the large stock of used cameras and accessories in the glass cases.  Prior to the deluge of digital, Huron Camera was the place to go for many things.  At one time, the Ann Arbor area had at least  7 stores that catered to photographers.  Around 2004, there were but 4.   I have previously written the obituary for Big George's, which closed its doors in 2008.  Ritz Camera closed in 2008, Adray Camera in 2006, and Dave's Photo Emporium (formerly Studio Center Photographic) closed in 2005.   All of the above stores had different reasons for closing,  and Big George's was especially a huge loss to the local photographic community.  That left only Huron Camera as the sole place to locally buy photographic supplies.  Therefore, we film users went to Huron Camera.  It was a 20 minute drive from my house if I took the expressway.  Okay, note that I said "film users."

The digital onslaught was in full force by 2007.  Not just the impact of digital cameras, but the online retailers were eating the business from the brick and mortar stores.  Now, if you are purely shopping based on price, you are most likely to buy a new camera or lens online because yes, it is generally cheaper.  The selection is also likely to be better.  However, nobody at Amazon or B&H will be there to answer a question for you on your new camera... or your old one, for that matter.  There lies part of the value of brick and mortar stores.  Not big chains like Best Buy, either.  Locally-owned stores that have staff that can answer a question.  Smaller independent stores do not have the purchase power of the big chains from the warehouses, can't share as well in manufacturer sales promotions, and can't stock new items in quantity or have every model available.  It's just impossible from a business  perspective, especially in a small town.  The old "we can order it for you" may work for some, and it did, but for the younger, more internet-savvy, it is well, "I can order it myself."  So, like  the aperture on a lens, the opportunities for stores like Huron Camera went from f/1.4 to f/8 in the span of a few years.  What else happened in 2008?  The largest economic crash since the depression.   So, the downturn really hurt the smaller stores harder. I will leave the autopsy of Huron Camera for someone else to analyze.   I want to  talk about the store and its people, and what it meant to me.

Back in 2001, I was teaching 4-H kids about photography, and I called Huron Camera to see if I could get some expired film for the children to use in the projects.  Not only did we get expired film, we got a lot of it, and of course, it was all still fresh by my standards.  It really helped the kids out, and I never forgot the store's generosity.    My daughter Jorie and I occasionally drove out to Dexter on photo jaunts and I think we went in there in 2000 for the first time.  The bins in the back were the place to look for "treasures" and in those years, we were looking for Argus cameras and accessories, and Huron always had them.  I don't care how much ebay finds you get, nothing beats handling an item, or combing through a bin of "stuff" and finding something special.  It's that moment when the blood rushes to your head and the money flies from your wallet and your new-found prize comes home with you.  That's what made those forays to Huron Camera fun.

If you were a long-time customer of Huron Camera, you undoubtedly remember when Milt Cambell ran the store and Eason, one of the salesmen that was usually there. My friend Bill Brudon told me to hold onto your wallet, because Eason was slick and would try and sell you something expensive and make you think that you were getting a deal.   I know I was not the first nor the last potential customer that the guy tried his "charm" on.    However, it was a game, and I know I came away with some buys later on that I knew were good deals in MY favor.   There is no doubt that the people that worked there loved photography and knew their stuff, and the personalities of the people there were part of the atmosphere.

Until very recently, Huron Camera was the place to go for darkroom chemicals, and I know I spent some $$ there for developer and fixer.  Once Big George's closed, Huron Camera was IT locally.  They usually did a great job with C-41 film processing, and it was the last local lab that could process 120 film.   Sometimes I would pop in on a Saturday morning, and my film would be ready by lunchtime.  My buddy Marc Akemann and I often met at the store on a Saturday, and then went next door to Joe and Rosie's cafe for coffee and a bite to eat, sometimes talking for a couple of hours.  I'll miss those mornings, and the excuse to go to Dexter.
Cheryl, waiting on Marc.

When the store changed ownership (2006?), I was in part, pleased that it didn't close right then, and also wondered about the future.  I made new friends, as Cheryl and George were often there working the counter, and Mike was in the film lab.   George is as knowledgeable a camera person as I know.  I don't think I was ever able to stump him with a question.  If anyone called or came to the  store with questions, he was the one there that could always give an answer.    All three are good photographers,  good people, and fun to be around.   In the end, I think about the people and the connections that were made there, and in my fantasy world of camera stores, there are elements of Huron Camera playing a big part.  I'll miss the place, and  like it or not, the place had character, charm, and its loss will be felt as one less gathering place for people with shared interests.  
Mike, probably showing Marc a recent orchid photo.

Thanks to all the people that made Huron Camera a special place. Good luck with whatever endeavors that follow.

George. Camera guru.
Looking out the front.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sears and Ricoh SLRs

Many years ago, when I was using K-mount cameras, I had a Ricoh KR-5 that I used in addition to my Pentax MG.  It was a robust camera that was not especially feature-rich, but it served its purpose.  I know that I purchased it on ebay and probably paid something like $40 for it.  That was before the digital deluge.
More recently, I have been buying a few Sears and  Ricoh SLRs.  All of the K-series Sears SLR cameras were made by Ricoh, and were certainly a good value for the time, and are still to be recommended if you want a K-mount SLR.  The Ricoh-branded versions are also good, of course, and compared with bodies made by Pentax of the same period, are, in my opinion, better cameras.
Sears KSX - with 135mm Takumar 
Take the Sears KSX, above.  It features manual and aperture-priority exposure with match-needle. +/- 2 stops exposure compensation by full stops, ISO 12-3200 film setting, X sync of 1/125 sec., shutter speeds of B, 4sec - 1/1000 sec.   I think it is the equivalent of the Ricoh KR-10. The KR-10 was a popular camera and sold well in the 1980-82 time frame.

Sears KSX Super with 50mm f/2 lens
The Sears KSX Super is the equivalent of a Ricoh KR-10X (Not the KR-10 as described elsewhere online).  It features a lock setting on the shutter speed dial, surrounding a flush-mounted shutter release, A and M modes, with shutter speeds ranging from B, and 16 sec to 1/1000 sec.  A self-timer switch is to the L of the prism on the top deck. Exposure compensation dial is +/- 2 stops in 1/3 stop increments. A PC socket for strobes is also located on the front of the camera.

Ricoh XR-7 with a the very good ACCESS 35-70mm F/2.5 zoom.
My latest purchase, the Ricoh XR-7 is very similar to the KSX Super, but also features a multiple exposure button on the back  of the camera, depth of field preview button, an AE lock button, as well as a meter switch button on the front.  That's pretty full-featured, and I paid 9.99 for it.

So, what does all this mean?  Basically, the Ricoh /Sears k-mount bodies are a bargain, and perform well, and while the Pentax logo may have more branding power, the Ricoh bodies often have more features and are better-made.  I have seen several K1000 cameras with de-silvered mirrors and wonky electronics in the Pentax ME and ME super.  You can frequently buy a Sears KSX or a Ricoh for less than a large pizza, including the lens.  They make great cameras for those wanting to use film in a reliable 35mm body.  All of the models take current silver-oxide or alkaline button cells, so no worry about that.  Based on my experience, I rate them a "best buy" and highly recommend them for the shooters out there. there are no lack of K-mount lenses from Pentax, Ricoh, Sigma, Tamron, Tokina, and a host of other no-name brands.  If you need a manual, be sure to check out Mike Butkus' camera manuals site, and be sure to pay for his hard work.

I am way behind in developing and scanning in the negatives, so be sure to check my Flickr pages.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Finding My Way in Photography

Last night I was reading the latest issue of Lens Work (No. 115) and an essay by Brooks Jensen ("Those Who Inspire Me") featured comments about Ansel Adams and Josef Sudek -- two photographers that could not be more opposite in terms of recognition, subject matter, and methodology.  Yet, both were dedicated to their craft and vision.  Of the two, Sudek's work is more introspective, moody, but no less beautiful than prints by St. Ansel.   His subject matter is much more limited in scope, as many of his photographs were taken in his studio in Prague.  But to me, what I found interesting was that Sudek was no less dedicated than Adams, no less absorbed in realizing the quality of light was the key to defining an image, and no less productive, having a career that ended with his death in 1976, at the age of 83.
This morning, still thinking about Sudek, I pulled out my copy of the monograph of Josef Sudek that was produced by Sonja Bullaty -- a beautifully-printed volume that was published in 1980, and given to me by my mentor Bill Brudon in 2001 or so.  As I read the introductory text and turned the pages, I realized that I  have a better appreciation for Sudek's work now than I did as an emerging photographer in 2001.  I didn't know what I didn't know back then.  Photography is not about the gear, the lenses, the latest film, the latest megapixels, or the latest body from Canon, Nikon, or Sony.   Photography is about your vision, and how you convey it to others.  Just as painting isn't about the tools and paints, photography should not be about the tools.  It's the end result, of whatever technique and tools that you used to convey your vision.  Knowing HOW to use those tools to do your work IS important.  And that is the key in my mind -- achieving competency with the tools takes time, as does the evolving nature of one's photographic pursuit.  I first got serious about photography in 2000, after, using cameras since 1972 or so.  I wanted to be more proficient with macro photography because a) I was an entomologist and b) because I was unhappy with my results at the time.  I soon learned the techniques and the tools required to do what I needed, and along the way, I found myself drawn into photography not as a means to an end, but as a form of self-expression.    It's taken me a decade to figure out what my vision is, but I think I am getting there.  I recently explained my thought process about a series of images to a couple of people that wanted to know about how I shot my photos at my latest exhibit. I recall saying "Of course it doesn't look like this in reality, but this is how I feel it."
I think that sums up Sudek's work - he truly felt whatever properties of what he was photographing, and carried those feelings into his images.  He contact-printed almost all of his images, so he had to get what he wanted pretty much in camera.   There is a quote by him that I will end with:
"I believe a lot in instinct. One should never dull it by wanting to know everything."

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Get Ready for 2105 with a New Calendar!

The 2015 Flower Calendar is now available!
I have been producing these calendars for several years, and as most of them were gifts, I often was asked about how to buy another copy. This year, I am ahead of the holiday season with a supply of my flower-themed calendars. Most of the images are from flowers in our yard, which seems to offer an endless parade of beauty. The 2015 calendar features mostly spring flowers, breaking away from previous versions which tended to reflect the chronology of the seasons. 

These calendars are printed on quality semi-gloss paper stock, and are easy to hang. Each month features a different flower.  Each page measures 8.5 x 11 inches, with enough room to write down notes. 
A single copy is $18, which includes postage. Each additional copy is $14 on the same order.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Svema Redscale 25

image courtesy of the Film Photography Project
A while ago, the Film Photography Project sent me a trial roll of their Svema Redscale 25.  It's a low-ISO film that has lovely muted tones.    It's basically the Svema 100 color film, which I have already tried out, and liked.  The orange mask is lighter than the typical Kodak and Fuji offerings, so by turning it backwards and shooting through the film base, we get the redscale version, which is why it is ISO 25 -- 2 stops of exposure lost due to the orange base.

I loaded up the film in my Sigma SA-7N camera, set the ISO to 25, and over the course of a week or two shot the roll of film.  With an ISO of 25, you probably should shoot this with lots of light or use a tripod for heavy overcast.  Anyhow, after shooting, the film went to Blue  Moon Camera for development, and they sent back perfectly-developed film cut and placed into standard negative sleeves from PrintFile, the kind that I use.  I scanned them in my Epson V700 scanner, and did not alter them except for removal of dust spots.    Here are a few for your viewing.

I am not exactly a fan of redscale in general, because much of the time it is too contrasty and too red. However, the Svema film holds up well in sun, as well as in overcast conditions.  It gives a more "vintage" look to images, and is not grainy.  I suggest giving it a try if you want to shake up your photography a bit and have some fun with it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The show goes on!

Last week I blogged about preparing for my latest one-man show at the Argus Museum.  "Recent Black & White Work" was put up last Thursday, and other than information cards falling off the wall, it went very smoothly.  The opening also coincided with the beginning of an Argus Collector's meeting, so I am sure the turnout reflected that.  However, there were a lot of people jammed into the narrow viewing space, and I really enjoyed talking with the attendees.  For the first time ever, I sold more than one print - five, actually, and it was clear that I made some good choices in my selection of images.  I also got a lot of good feedback.  I asked some people what their favorites were and why.  Some found that a certain image really resonated with them, and there were emotional connections to a few images, as well.    To me, as a photographer, those were really good reinforcement to my own judgement, and the unsolicited praise from people was gratifying.

I shoot for myself, unless it is a paid assignment from someone.  My subjects vary, my choice of tools varies, and the medium varies.  That is one way for me to keep "fresh" and try things.  If you have read through this blog, you will obviously see that.  I don't think I could be content with just ONE camera and one lens.  I am sure I could do a much better job than I did 30 years ago if that is all that I had.  However, being creative for me means being able to use a variety of lenses to achieve a desired result.  Sometimes it is purely serendipitous, but other times, I know what a certain combination will do, and I set out with a goal in mind of getting a desired result. My images of Fayette State Park were  just that.  I knew that the CCTV lens on my Olympus EPL-1 gave me a Petzal-like effect when wide open, and shooting in monochrome gave just the look I wanted...a homage to a late 1800s appearance.  Some people were curious about how I got the effect, and we had wonderful discussions about "getting it in camera" vs. post-processing.

I did shoot some crowd shots at the reception, but they are all on film cameras and I have yet to get them developed. For those, I went simple-- Olympus Infinity and a Nikon One-Touch 35.  I did photograph the setup before it opened, so some of those images are here.   I really was very pleased with how it all turned out.  The exhibit runs until December 5, and the Argus Museum, at 525 West William Street, Ann Arbor, is open from 9-5, M-F.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Latest Show - Recent Black and White Work

My latest exhibit, "Recent Black & White Work" opens Thursday, October 16 at the Argus Museum in Ann Arbor.  The reception goes from 6-8 pm.  Thereafter, the show is open to the public M-F from 9-5 pm.  The Argus Museum is located at 525 West William Street. Parking is available on the side streets, and there are usually a couple of spots open in the lot for visitors.

This exhibit features only photographs I have taken in 2013-14,  and there are four main groupings - Chicago, Fayette State Park, Lake Huron Shoreline, and assorted images from larger projects that are in progress.  Chicago features 6 images taken in less than 12 hours while I was there on a business trip, All were taken with my Nikon 1 camera, which is capable of some most excellent results at low ISO settings.   The second set, Fayette State Park, were taken with an Olympus EPL1 and a C-mount lens, which gives the same out of focus effect as a Petzval lens.  The images are somewhat dreamy at the edges, but sharp in the focus spot.  I chose them over the other film-based images due to the effect from that lens, which gives them a period look.   The Lake Huron Shoreline images were all taken with a Nikon D90 and a 35mm 1.8 lens.  The last set features images from a variety of film cameras, and were shot at various locations in Michigan and New York State.

The 33 prints are all sized at 6x9," matted to 11x14."  I am satisfied with my choice of images, and it was hard winnowing things down.  The venue is adequate for smaller print sizes, and of course, it also keeps my cost down.  Each print is priced at $40-$45.

Spotting prints.  Silver-gelatin prints almost always need to be retouched after mounting (or before).    Small specks on the negative show up as white spots on the prints.  It used to be that one would use "Spot tone" and a fine brush to fix the spots, but "Spotting Pens" with different densities of black pigment are now used, and the ones I am using here were purchased about 8 years ago. The worst is having a pinhole in the emulsion, which shows up as a black dot on the print.  There, it's better to scan the negative and fix those defects in a graphics program and then have the digital file printed as a c-print.  I use for all of my c-prints.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Portra 100T - Another fine film....gone and rediscovered.

In this year's acquisitions of  various films, I ended up with some Kodak Portra 100T.  First of all, I did not even know that Kodal produced a Tungsten light-balanced C-41 film.  I am familiar with all of the typical Tungsten emulsions that are E-6, and there WERE a lot of them from Kodak and Fuji. It made sense to have slide films made for tungsten lighting, and whether they were used for documenting art objects (as many art departments did), indoor shooting, or night scenes, tungsten balanced films were necessary for proper color balance under typical non-florescent lighting.  Used outdoors, one merely needed to have an 85B compensating filter to get more accurate color under daylight conditions.  Obviously, the Digital Onslaught rendered the use use of tungsten films obsolete for professional use, since we can choose any white balance we want.    Despite this, I enjoy shooting tungsten slide film and then having it cross-processed for a unique look.
Imagine my surprise in finding two rolls of Kodak Portra 100T!  It sure makes sense to have a fine-grained tungsten emulsion in C-41, given the dearth of E-6 labs.  However, this film expired in 2002. I suppose Kodak thought it would be used a lot for portraiture, since C-41 films filled that the time.  

I loaded a roll into my Konica Autoreflex TC and shot it it a variety of conditions, sometimes using it outdoors with an 85B filter, and sometimes not.  I shot it at night, I shot it indoors under mixed lighting, too.  I like the film, and despite it being 12 years out of date, the results at box speed were very good.  

It's fun and a bit sad finding out about films that one didn't know existed, and to find that they are still giving great results long after their "end date." In 2002, the digital tidal wave was beginning, and the pros were adopting DSLRs as soon as they came out.  I know that the tungsten E-6 films held out a bit longer because of their specialized uses, but the Portra 100T was discontinued by Kodak in 2006.  Ektar 100 became the ISO 100 C-41 champ, and since C-41 negs can be scanned and color balanced on the computer, the Portra 100T became irrelevant.  It's still a lot of fun to use, though.

Here are some selected shots from my first roll of the Portra 100T:

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Alternative Processes - Cyanotype

I'm pretty much a straightforward photographer. I have dabbled in cyanotypes, large format, pinhole, print toning, and so forth.  I remain a 35mm and medium format shooter, and use films and lenses that give me the "look" that I am searching for.  I greatly respect those that decide to use alternative processes such as wet-plate, platinum/palladium, bromoil, van dyke, photogravure, and cyanotype to become their medium.  I can't tell you much about the other processes from personal experience except cyanotype, which I have played with a bit.  Cyanotype is actually the simplest "Alt process" it uses iron ions and not silver to produce the image.  It's also a very old process, invented by the English astronomer John Herschel in 1846.   Blueprint paper is a form of cyanotype, and it is very easy to use -- and sold as the "Sunprint" kits in museums and art stores.   Today, one can make digital negatives and use them to produce stunning cyanotype compositions.  

 I start with this as a background to the exhibit that ends this weekend at the Argus Museum in Ann Arbor.  A show by photographers from Wayne State University titled A Matter of Light and Memory features many cyanotypes and toned cyanotypes.  I especially liked the varied presentation of the cyanotypes on cloth.  The cyanotype process allows one to get creative with the substrate, the presentation, and the implementation of the process.  Cyanotypes are a great medium to use where traditional darkrooms no longer exist, as the set-up is pretty easy.  The chemicals are also relatively inexpensive and easy to work with.

Here are a few views of the exhibit, taken with my cellphone, and not a real camera...

You can learn more about cyanotypes here:

The Argus Museum is located at 525 West William Street, Ann Arbor.  The show ends 09/26/2014!
I wish I had remembered to put this up earlier.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

It's All About The Lens.

While I have long been a mostly Nikon shooter, I realize that there are other lenses out there that are really amazing, and that they don't mount on a Nikon.  Since I am shooting film here, I am not going out to buy a Sony Alpha or some other mirrorless digital camera to mount different lenses on.  No way.  This boy is shooting film as much as possible (and yes, I do own two Nikon DSLRs).  For instance, Konica has always had a reputation for manufacturing some excellent glass.  I was given a Konica Autoreflex TC by my mother-in-law last year.  The camera body wasn't working, but the 40mm 1.8 lens was perfect, so I bought a Konica Autoreflex T body on ebay for about $15.  Then, I saw the 57mm f/1.4 at Huron Camera -- an amazing lens I have read about elsewhere. I bought it, and it is one of those lenses that quickly becomes a favorite.  Wide-open it has a bokeh that will make some of those bokeholics pee their pants.   My Autoreflex T's meter is a bit off, so I usually use sunny-16 or a hand-held meter for my exposures.  What I have REALLY come to love is shooting the expired Panatomic-X (that I bought back in March at the estate sale) with this lens.  I am getting some images that I have really been liking.  Shooting late in the day with soft light at wide-open aperture or close to it is giving me some results that I am quite pleased with.

There are many other lenses out there that justify owning a body that they fit just to shoot with them.  It's all in the glass... the body is just there to keep the film in.    What's your favorite lens?