Sunday, July 31, 2016

SLOOOOW Film Adventure

Another really slow film.
One of the more interesting aspects of using film is that we have the opportunity to experiment with emulsions that are not the every-day sort of film.  In the digital world, the ISOs keep getting insanely higher each year.  But, they never go LOWER.  Typically, ISO 100 is the lowest ISO available.  With film, there are emulsions with an ISO of 0.75.  Of course, most people would never dream of shooting with a low ISO film, and the standard low ISO in the film world is 25.  TechPan, that do-it-all film has an ISO of 25 in most applications.  Kodalith, designed to be a high-contrast graphic arts film has an ISO of 12.  Most of the available (mostly old-stock) low ISO films are designed for specific applications, not as general-purpose photographic films.  I still shoot a dwindling stock of Kodak Panatomic-X whose box speed is ISO 32, but I shoot it at 25 with great results.  Ilford's Pan-F has a box speed of ISO 50, but I shoot it at 32.   The now out-of-production Polypan-F has a stated speed of 50, but can be pushed higher.
an oldie low-ISO  in color, no less. 
To go back to my original thought -- why would you want to shoot a low ISO film?  For one, you can shoot wide-open on a sunny day for great shallow DOF results.   Stopping down, you can achieve a motion blur in the same situation.  So, let's get REALLY slow.  ISO 3.  
I had a project in mind, and that was to do a shoot at the annual Ann Arbor Art Fair, which happens every mid- July. Over the 4 days, there are up to a half million visitors.  What I wanted to do, was to try and get a ghost-like blur of people at the art fair. Of course, it's mid-summer, almost always bright and sunny. How do I do that?
1. Use a low ISO film.  I tried two. The FPP store had a Svema Micrat-Ortho which is a POSITIVE ISO 1 film (or maybe 0.75), as well as a Svema MZ-3, which is a higher-contrast repro film of ISO 3.  2. Use a Neutral Density Filter to allow even less light -- I used a 3-stop ND filter.
3. Use a camera that allows me to get as close to a low ISO setting as possible. My F100 ISO dial goes to ISO 6, and I can compensate +1, +2,  (and more)  full stops to achieve an ISO of 3 or less.
4. Shoot at f/22 if possible.  I used a Nikkor 24-120 AF zoom.
5. Of course, this means a tripod is absolutely necessary.  Remote release is also handy, as well.  


Roll 1 -- The Svema Micrat Ortho was developed in D76 1:1 for 7 minutes.  Exposures ranged from 10-25 seconds.

Roll 2-- Svema MZ-3. Developed in Kodak Technidol LC for 15 minutes.  Exposures ranged from 3-10 seconds.

Both of these films are unusual films that are not being used as the films were intended.  If I were to shoot this way again, I would probably just use some of my Kodak Tech Pan with a 3 stop ND filter + a polarizer or red filter, and a cloudy day would surely help.  Maybe this fall, I will do it some more down town.  

If you want to see some fantastic work in this vein, look up Alexey Titarenko's photographs from Russia.  Really good work.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Chinon CS-4

The Chinon CS-4 - Reliable Screw-Mount SLR

Chinon was a long-time manufacturer of cameras and lenses -- most often as a supplier for other brands. Chinon, Cosina, and Ricoh seem to be thought of as second-tier cameras as compared to the Canon, Nikon, Pentax, and Olympus brands that dominated the 35mm SLR scene throughout the 1970s and 80s. Chinon, based in Japan, was a company from 1948-2004, and at some point late in their run was bought by Kodak.  However, during the 70s and 80s, they produced very competent SLRs that were often under the Sears brand, Revue brand, as well as their own.  As autofocus and electronic cameras began gaining popularity, Chinon produced some memorable, if not odd designs, such as the Chinon Genesis line of cameras.  Check out Butkus' many Chinon manuals.

The Chinon CS-4 is a basic, no-frills SLR that has an M-42 mount (Pentax or Praktica screw mount), which was popular in the late 1960s-1970s among second-tier manufacturers, since it was considered a "universal" mount. When Pentax finally switched to the bayonet K-mount, it became the defacto "universal" mount among the same manufacturers.  The CS-4, while it has the older screw-mount, uses a modern LR-44 cell for the meter (two cells required).  LEDs (red and green) in the stop-down metering let you know when your exposure is correct.  Shutter speeds range from B, 1-1/1000 sec, and the ISO settings range from 25-1600.  There is no self-timer. A hot-shoe allows any hot-shoe flash to be used, and 1/60 sec is the flash sync speed.  A pretty basic camera with a reliable Seiko metal focal-plane shutter.  The back has a film reminder slot, and the viewfinder visibility is 92%.

The Chinon CS-4 will accept just about any M-42 mount lens, so the user certainly has a large number of lenses to work with, and there are some desirable classic lenses that can be used to good effect with this camera.  The Chinon CS-4 that I purchased back in December 2015 came in a bag with the 55mm f/1.7 Chinon lens and a Lentar 28mm  f/2.8 lens, a JC Penney flash, filters, and manual -- for $10.  The camera works well, and like any fully manual SLR, it will give as good as a result as the skills of the person that is using it.  For a beginner into film photography, this camera would be highly desirable. The red/green LEDs for determining the exposure lie alongside the viewfinder and are easily seen.

While I paid $10 for the bag of stuff at a thrift shop, a CS-4 with lens in good working condition should be available for under $40 on ebay.

All of the images below were shot with this camera.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Fuji GW690

Guest post from The Darkroomist!

The Fuji GW690 is a one trick pony, but it’s one helluva good trick. 

For starters the GW690 is a 6x9 camera with a wide-ish 90mm lens. It’s probably close to a 35mm lens on a 35mm camera. It’s wide and you can tell, but it’s not so wide that the perspective becomes a dominant part of the image. It’s  a subtle wide-ness. Being a fixed lens camera you’re stuck with the 90mm, however if you want a “super wide” angle alternative the Fuji GSW690 with a 65mm lens is a great option.

The GW690 is a rangefinder which has it’s pluses and minuses. The biggest minus is that you do not look through the taking lens. This can lead to a range of problems including leaving the lens cap on (just throw it away) or contrast filters, soft focus filters, you name it. Plus if you like things like gradient filters, vignettes, or montagers, this won’t be your best bet. While the camera does its best to compensate for parallax error, it’s still a good idea to pad the frame a little.

The biggest plus is sharpness. The GW690 being a rangefinder doesn’t need to utilize a lens that retro-focuses like SLR cameras do. This translates to increases in sharpness. In fact I’d say this is hands down the sharpest setup I own. It’s truly impressive. The Fuji 90mm/3.5 is ridiculously sharp and in the 6x9 format, it’s just stunning. More on that in a bit.  Lets dive into the camera for a minute next.

As stated previously the camera is a rangefinder. To focus it there is a spot in the center of the viewfinder that contains a composite image and is yellow tinged. To focus, you line up the two images and when they are perfectly atop one another you’re focused.  It takes a little to get used to but it has the benefit of having a bright viewfinder that’s capable even in low light conditions.

Another famous rangefinder camera is the Lieca. The Fuji GW690 has been affectionately nicknamed the “Texas Leica.”

For what it is, basically a just-short-of-large-format camera, the GW690 is easy to use and light. It’s also not as big an encumbrance as you might think. It’s not small for sure, but if you’re hiking, or urbexing, or doing anything that might require a conservative kit, this would be a candidate for a small kit with a  big punch.

Personally I feel the camera’s best use is for scenic images. Being a wide angle makes it limited for traditional portraiture. If you want to put a person in a scenic image, great! It’d do that well, but you’d never reach for this camera to do a head-and-shoulders shot. It’s just not the right tool for that job.

With the 90mm prime (non-zooming) lens you’re going to use the old shoe leather zoom.  This camera works best with subjects you can walk around and get close to. Buildings, waterfalls, mountains, interiors, trains, etc. Fairly big, fairly stationary stuff. This would not be a great camera for sports (well it might work for something like the Tour de France but not baseball), wildlife, or macro photography.  I’m on the fence as to whether or not this would make a good street camera. It’s not exactly discrete and 8 shots per 120 would be a bit limiting, but the wide angle and quiet shutter would make the “F8 and be there” a cinch.

This is a fully mechanical camera. There is no built in light meter and no batteries needed. There’s an accessory cold shoe on top of the camera. Flash sync is via a PC socket on the side of the lens. Being a leaf shutter the camera syncs at all shutter speeds.

One of my favorite things to do with this camera is pile on the sharpness.  If you have a good thing, you might as well run with it, right? I love putting Fuji Neopan Acros in this camera. It’s a tight, T grain film that has good latitude and the least reciprocity failure you’ll find anywhere. Soup that up with Xtol and your jaw will drop. We’re talking 16x20s with details for days.

That right there is a magic formula. Fuji GW690, Acros, developed in Xtol and printed 16x20. It is impressive. Just keep in mind that 6x9 is more rectangular and 16x20 (8x10) is squarer. Honestly when I print 8x10’s with this combination I have a hard time grain focusing because I can’s see the grain!

One quibble I have with Fuji’s cameras are the straps. The OEM strap is pretty wimpy. Granted it’s reasonably light but you might not want to walk around all day with this around your neck with the stock neck strap. It’s thin and not padded or stretchy at all. It’s you’re basic nylon woven strap in an unexciting, institutional shade of gray.  Now here’s the kicker, I looked into buying a Fuji 617 (6x17) camera that starts at roughly $2k. It has the same strap! C’mon Fuji! If someone is dropping “benjis” on a camera, throw in a spiffy strap.

Alas, my GW690 has been on the shelf for a little bit now. While I have shot some of my proudest pieces with it, it’s developed a film spacing issue. It’s almost always overlaps frame 6 & 7, With 6x9 you only get 8 shots so losing 25% of a 120 roll is just hard to swallow. Lately I’ve been caught in the fix or buy again dilemma. It’s almost a draw with GW690 being reasonably affordable with some units selling for less than $300. quoted me $250 for a CLA and film spacing fix.

I’ll probably buy it again, it’s just that good. There’s also a II and III version. They’re all basically the same camera with incremental improvements.  Also this camera can use 120 or 220 film. As a primarily black and white photographer I tend to use 120 film as Kodak TXP 320 was the last b&w 220 and has been discontinued for a few years now. (much to my chagrin)

About the Author:
Darkroomist is a self taught, Michigan based, photographer that’s been shooting film since 2003. Genres typically include urbex/modern ruins, pinup, and landscapes. He’s a multiformat photographer ranging from half-frame 35mm to 4x5. Like the name implies, most of his work is black and white which is processed and printed a darkroom. More of his work can be seen at his blog

Monday, July 04, 2016

Wassaic, the town that gets robbed of daylight

Wassaic, New York, is situated between two mountains - one on the East, and one on the West.  Wassaic is actually a hamlet, and is part of the town of Amenia.   This cozy little place nestled in this valley apparently gets the least amount of sunlight of any place in the lower 48 states.  The sun rose about 5:20 the day I took this photo, which was taken about 7:10 am.  The sun was just poking over the mountain and you can see that most things in town are still in shadow.  That will be repeated in the afternoon.  Probably not a good place to be if you are afflicted with SAD.  I like to visit Wassaic with my camera(s), and every time I have been there, the light has been different.  An Amtrak line runs through the town and you can pick up the train nearby and be in New York City in about 2 hours.  Wassaic is also the place where condensed milk was first manufactured, and the former Borden plant still stands, now converted to other uses.  The remains of lime kilns are on a hillside overlooking the town, and they were used long ago in a nascent iron industry.
June 24, 2016, Svema FN-64, Nikon FG

June 24, 2016, Svema FN-64, Nikon FG
 One cannot drive through here without being impressed by the mill-like structure next to the RR tracks. Formerly the Maxon Mill, it has been renovated into an arts center by the Wassaic Project. The Wassaic Project is quite the progressive change for an old mill, and it is a hub of art activity in the area. Visit The Wassaic Project for more information.
June 24, 2016, expired Plus-X, Nikon FM2N

June 24, 2016, expired Plus-X, Nikon FM2N

June 24, 2016 - Svema FN-64, Nikon FG

October, 2015, Ilford HP-5+, Leica M2.

October, 2015 - Lime Kiln, Ilford HP-5+, Leica M2.

October, 2014, Wittner Chrome

October 2015, WittnerChrome

October, 2015,  Wittner Chrome

October, 2015, Wittner Chrome

October, 2015, Wittner Chrome

March, 2014, The Borden factory.  Arista Ultra 100
Built in 1861, this was the first condensed milk plant, located in Wassaic, NY.  Noah Gridley, convinced Gail Borden to build his plant in Wassaic.  The building is now owned by the Pawling Corp., and they maintain a visitor's center there.

March, 2014. Inside the Lime Kiln. Arista Ultra 100.

March, 2014. Arista Ultra 100.   Scan of a print. 
The old Maxon Mill is quite photogenic, and is now a functioning art center, thanks to the Wassaic project.

As you can see, this is more of a photo essay than my usual ramblings on cameras.  I have been on quite a few photo trips lately, and am trying to produce more posts like these.   Why Wassaic, since I live in Michigan?  My wife Adrienne is from Amenia, NY, so whenever we visit family, I try and spend a bit of time photographing the area.  It was not until the spring of 2014 that I realized Wassaic was so interesting, so I have no older images from way back. I wish I had been doing this kind of photography 38 years ago!

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Photographer Documentaries

I don't know about other people, but I enjoy a good documentary film about something that interests me, and even  better, one about photography -- especially about a photographer.  Due to Amazon Prime and Netflix, we have a huge array of choices about what to watch, and more importantly, we can watch when we have the time.  Being able to watch on my iPad while developing film is a nice option, thanks to streaming video services, as well as YouTube.

Thankfully, YouTube has some amazing videos that are available, and this link will take you to a really good start on 20 that you should watch.  With some searching, you will obviously find more, but it's a place to start.

A good photography documentary inspires me and educates me.   For those that don't like to read books (that does not apply to me), a video is a good way to learn about the work of some of the more famous (and infamous) photographers.  In this age of short attention span, the YouTube videos are definitely a plus.  I tell young photographers that one way to improve their work is to study the work of others -- go to galleries and museums; read books, study monographs of other's work.  Videos also fit in there, too. Not everyone is able to visit a museum or access good books in a library.  Here again, is where a streaming video can be of great educational benefit.   Petapixel has a HUGE list of photography videos that you should check out.

Last night I was looking through Amazon Prime's listing, and I found Ted Forbes' videos from his Artist's Series on the Art of Photography.  Seeing them on my TV was even better than on my iPad, and they are short, well-produced and fascinating.

Here are a few of my more recent favorites:

Finding Vivian Maier. - Yes, her photographs are fantastic--but her story is a strange one, and we'll never know all the details of her life.  This enigmatic woman captivates us with her photographs, but how I wish she had the will to show her work while she was alive.  While a lot has happened since this video was produced, it's very entertaining and well-done.  I first saw it in the theater in Royal Oak,MI,  and it was an emotional experience.

What Remains - This is a very personal documentary that puts the viewer in the room with Sally Mann and her family.  Her recent autobiography is fantastic to read, but this documentary certainly captures her persona, her work, and her philosophy.  I have no desire to go to a body farm, but Mann is the embodiment of the committed artist.   A film that is sure to stir the creative process, if not inspire someone.

Bill Cunningham New York - With the recent passing of this iconic street/fashion photographer, I am sure this will get a lot of views.  It is an entirely charming documentary about Bill Cunningham, photographer of fashion in NY and Paris -- as if fashion photography was done by a photojournalist.  Cunningham was ethical and hard-working, minimalist, and humane.  This video intrudes into his life and I am so glad that it was made. He was unique. You may not care about fashion, but it's all around us, and this movie is more than about fashion - it's about a life.

Manufactured Landscapes - A film about the photographer Edward Burtynsky, who searches various places in the world for the effects of industrial processes on the earth and on humanity.  Visually stunning, at times depressing, but always engaging.  I think this movie should be shown in business schools as well as environmental education.  The movie will make you think about that next trip to the superstore.

Strand - Under The Darkcloth - I thought I knew a fair amount about Paul Strand (1890-1976), but it was mostly about his early work.  After he moved to France in 1949 - we see less of him represented, but he was a prolific film-maker and photographer.  This documentary is engaging and gives us a better understanding of the man and his photography.  The movie was produced in 1989, and I highly recommend it.

I wish I had access to documentaries like these while growing up. I think they would have been influential in my choice of a career. Not that I regret being an entomologist at all, but it never occurred to me that photography was a profession when I was a kid.  All the more reason to be a mentor. You never know what the outcome will be, but you may make a huge difference to someone.