Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Chicago's Central Camera - They Do Film Right

Last weekend, my wife and I visited Chicago together for the first time in many years.  We stayed at the Palmer House Hilton, a most fantastic classy hotel that has been in operation longer than any other hotel in the USA.  While I didn't plan the trip, it just so happened that Central Camera is a block away on Wabash.  Central Camera is equally as qualified for a longevity award as Palmer House.  I last shopped there in 2002, and bought a Tamrac backpack, which I still have.  Since then, I have been able to photograph the front of the store during quick Chicago visits, but it was always on Sundays, so it was closed.  This time, I stopped by on a Friday afternoon and a Saturday morning.  They open at 8:30, which is when I stopped by after breakfast Saturday. The nice thing about getting there early - is to be able chat with the folks behind the counters.
First of all, Central Camera is the photo store that is so archetypical of  the genre. Old-school, with glass cases filled with used gear (and new) that will induce a severe case of GAS.  All kinds of delectable cameras and accessories.  Of course, they have digital gear, too. If they don't have it, you can have them order it.  They have film. Lots of film. I haven't seen that much film in a store -- ever.  They also process film.  Vivian Maier used to buy her film there, too.   I am sure she didn't chat up the folks at the counter, though.
I bought s bunch of Kentmere 400 b&w, and some C-41 film while I was there. I don't NEED any more cameras, and it's a good thing I don't live in Chicago, or they would be getting a lot more of my money.
Speaking of film -- Yes they DO film.
Katherine Greenleaf and Charles Ezaki at the film counter.
I had a good time talking with the folks there, and told them about the Film Photography Podcast.  I hope they listen in.  Stores like Central Camera are few and far between these days, and to walk into the store is to feel like it's a place that is welcoming and also a bit like a piece of history.  Yes, you can buy the latest digi item, but I'll bet that they have a lens hood that will fit that vintage Contaflex in your bag, too.   I know that if I were doing photowalks in Chicago, Central Camera would have to be a stopping point -- or maybe a starting point.   Anyhow, it was fun to shop there and talk photography.  It was just a year ago that I visited another iconic place -- Looking Glass Photo in Berkeley, CA.  Definitely a difference between the two locales, but no difference in their love of film photography.  You have to be passionate and knowledgeable about what you sell, and they have the right folks there.
So, if you are in Chicago, check out Central Camera. It's a destination, and a shrine to all things photographic.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Some Aged Scotch

Several weeks ago I received some 35mm film to test.  My contact at Ultrafine Online sent me a couple of rolls of Scotch ATG 400 C-41 film.  I was of course, intrigued, and there was some speculation that it may be the same film stock as the recently released Lomography F2/400.    From Ultrafine's web site is the description of the Scotch ATG 400 film:

"This is a rare film and this series was unique from back in the day as Scotch was trying to set themselves apart from the field and did some R & D, which mainly resulted in this ATG Series of films, which were originally meant to assist with underexposure and exposure compensation. This has resulted as the film has aged to a nice tone, which has been a favorite among Lomophiles, Holga shooters, and dedicated film shooters, who love have fun, shoot film, and experiment with different types of emulsions."

The ATG 400 film was tested by Popular Photography back in 1993, and came in behind 400-speed films from Kodak, Fuji, Konica and Agfa beating it out.  However, the review by Michael McNamara "400 Revolution" [Pop.Photo. September 1993, pp. 28-37] tested a number of attributes of these films, at a time when 400 ISO C-41 films offered users many choices.  Interestingly, almost all of the results looked best at ISO 200, but in most cases, acceptable results were obtained between ISO 50 and 800. The Scotch film was the lowest-priced emulsion, and was designed to have better rendition in the shadows.
From 9/1993 Popular Photography

Okay, this film has been in Ultrafine's freezers for a while, so I knew that I wasn't going to shoot it at ISO 400. I figured it was worth a try to shoot it at 200 and hope for the best.  I loaded up my Pentax K1000 with the 55mm f/2 lens, and shot the roll on an overcast dreary day inside Matthaei Botanical Gardens. I figured it would offer me plenty of color and I could photograph things I am very familiar with.

I processed the film last night using the Unicolor C-41 kit.  It was fresh, and I had only put 2 rolls through the 1-liter kit since I mixed it up.  Processed as normal.  When I took the film off the reel I thought perhaps it had not even developed as the emulsion side looked brown.  However, after drying, the film has a noticeable blue base, and the emulsion side looked "normal."

Results?  I am thrilled with the results from this film.  It has a soft grainy look that is pleasant.  It makes me wish the weather was warmer and I had a model outdoors.  It would really be interesting to see how it would do for portraits and figures.  I chose well picking ISO 200. 100 may be even better, so I'll try that next time for part of the roll.  Reds looked red, the shadows were not too bad, and while I think the greens are muted, tending a bit blue, it could also be the muted light that day. Full sun would be the next challenge.

Here are some scans from the negatives. Minimal post-processing has been done, and there may be dust spots that I have not cleaned up.

So, I am impressed with the results from this forgotten film. Maybe like whiskey, aging does it good. At $3.95/roll it's cheaper than vintage Scotch. You may want to give this film a try.  I don't think it's the same as the  Lomo F squared/400 film.  The Scotch film is probably close to 20 years old.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

I Got a Sprocket Rocket in My Pocket

Back in February, I purchased a Lomography Sprocket Rocket from my long-time Flickr and IRL friend, Trish.  I don't know why I had not bought one earlier, as they came out in 2012-- but I suppose they looked too much like one of those really cheap, shitty 127 cameras from the 1940s.  However, the similarity ends there.   The Sprocket Rocket takes 35mm and has a frame size of 24x72mm, and if you remove the mask, it also exposes the sprocket area (hence the name).  It's actually a sizable camera, with an all-plastic body and large front housing which contains the 30 mm f/10.8 lens.  The shutter is B and I, and the camera has two focus settings - 0.6-1 meter, and 1 meter to infinity.  The sunny setting is f/16, and cloudy-flash is f/11 (or close to it). There is a tripod socket on the bottom, so those bulb exposures will be a little easier.

My camera was missing the mask that covers the sprocket area, but it makes no difference, as I scan only the 24mm width, anyways.  In use, the camera is quite simple.  When advancing the film, wait for the white dot to show up in a window next to the frame counter.  When you see it, you have advanced the film to the next 24x72mm frame.  To rewind, you simply wind the film back into the cassette - there is no button to release for rewind.  The back snaps off and on fairly securely, but I also use some black electrical tape to make sure there are no accidental openings.

I shot one roll of color, which I have yet to develop, and just developed a roll of b&w Eastman 5222 film that I shot in Dexter and Chelsea, MI.  Some scans are below.  Overall, I am pleased with the results  which are far better than I expected.  The camera fills a niche which is generally an expensive one -- a true panorama 35mm camera. The 24x72mm frame is pretty well exposed, from corner to corner. There is some distortion, but it's part of the Lomography realm.

I guess my original reaction to the camera as a cheaply-built and overpriced Lomography product was wrong.  I don't know of any camera that does what this one does at this size and price.  It's a lot of fun, and I look forward to taking it on a bunch of trips this year.