Thursday, March 29, 2018

ONE-ROLL REVIEW - Kosmo Foto Mono

One of the recent developments in the film world has been the sale of  "boutique" films, such as the JCH Pan.  Another brand, Kosmo Foto, has released a B&W film called Kosmo Foto Mono, an ISO 100 film.  I recently received a roll of this film, and had the opportunity to try it out.  First of all, you should know that only a few factories are actually producing film, and some of them have been very happy to repackage film for sale under a different name.  Lomography doesn't make their own film, but rebrands film made by Kodak, Fuji, etc.  In the case of Kosmo Foto, it's the Foma company in the Czech republic.  The film is Fomapan 100, and in the case of Kosmo Foto, it is the coolest film box I have seen. 

I shot the roll of film in my Nikon N2020 (see previous review of the camera) while on a trip in Michigan's Upper Peninsula in late March. I processed it at home in XTOL (straight) for 6 minutes. 

I don't recall previously shooting any Fomapan 100 (unless it was an Arista brand), but I am pleased with the results that I got. Nice tones, good shadow detail, and the highlights are good.  I was also pleased to see that the film lies PERFECTLY FLAT in the scanner holder. No curling or cupping.  Right away, I am a fan.

I will post a few photos below to show my results.  Crisp is how I would describe the images. All were scanned on my Epson V700 scanner.

At this point, you may wonder why I just didn't order Fomapan 100 and shoot it. I like the idea of these branded films -- whether it's Japan Camera Hunter Street Pan, Kosmo Foto Mono, or Lomography's Lady Grey, etc.  It gets people buying the film, and more film sales keep the plants churning out product.  More product, more choices, more film. Sure, you can just go buy the Fomapan 100 for less than $5/36 exp. roll from Freestyle and get the same results as buying the Kosmo Foto Mono.  However, by purchasing the Kosmo Foto film, you are helping out an enthusiast, too.  The point is, Stephen Dowling, the Kosmo Foto man himself, really likes the Fomapan 100 emulsion -- so much so, that is why he went to all the trouble to create the packaging and rebranding.  There will be lots of people that never would have tried the Fomapan 100, but are willing to buy into the buzz about the Kosmo Foto film.  It's all good. 

Other reviews of the Kosmo Foto Mono
Down the Road by Jim Grey
Emulsive Review
Classic Camera Revival

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Nikon took AF Mainstream - the N2020 SLR

The 1980s was a decade of major change in the camera industry. Auto-focus was becoming a factor in the direction of new cameras, and while the Konica C35AF was the first AF point and shoot in 1977, SLR manufacturers were testing the AF waters with kludgy AF lenses attached to manual focus cameras. For those, we had the Nikon F3AF, The Canon T80, and the Pentax ME F with the SMC Pentax-AF 35-70/2.8 KF-mount lens.  In short, they were all dead-ends, because the focus motor was inside the lens, along with the batteries to power it.  It was not until 1985 that SLR manufacturers took AF seriously on advanced and pro-level SLR cameras when Minolta produced the Maxxum 7000 as a complete system camera with the focus motor inside the camera, along with the full control of the lenses on the body. Canon came out with the EOS system in 1987, Pentax brought out the SF-1 in 1987, and it was the first AF SLR with a built-in flash.  Nikon brought out the N2020 in 1986, which aside from the AF features, was nearly identical to the manual-focus N2000 that was released in 1985. While very similar to the popular N2000, the N2020 (F-501 in Europe) features the lens motor in the body, with the ability to use nearly all AI and AIS manual lenses, as well as AF and AF-D lenses.  This was accomplished without changing the lens-mount (as did Pentax), unlike Minolta and Canon, which created new mounts for their AF cameras that were not backwards-compatible with their manual predecessors.

While Nikon kept producing the manual-focus F3HP (until 2001) and the FM2N (until 1997) (followed by the FM3A 2001-2006), the switch to an AF pro-level body, the F4, did not take place until 1988.  In the meantime, Nikon produced a series of mostly forgettable AF cameras (N4004, N6006), until in 1988, the N8008 was also introduced. However, the N2020 stands out as a particular bit of genius because it looks like a manual-focus camera with the typical dials and controls one expects from an analog camera. Yet, the inclusion of the lens motor makes this first AF-SLR body from Nikon quite noteworthy.

I have previously owned a Nikon N2000 body, and found it to be a very capable SLR with great metering, easy-to-use controls, and with very good ergonomics.  The off-center tripod mount (rectified by attaching an AH-3 bottom plate adapter) was the only quirky bit, because of the AAA batteries in the bottom of the camera. The N2020 is exactly the same in that regard, but with the added AF-L, and M-C-S focus controls. The N2000/N2020 use an automatic film advance and a manual rewind knob, and were the first Nikon SLRs with polycarbonate bodies. 

What I find particularly nice about the N2020 is that it uses manual lenses without feeling awkward.  The green focus assist light works with manual lenses, and since there is no split-screen focus, that is useful. Because it was designed to use lenses with manual aperture control, it will not work with G-lenses (still not my favorite).  The camera does have three different P modes, but I confess that I have not used them.  I am basically an Aperture-Priority and Manual mode kind of guy.  The N2020 has a max shutter speed of 1/2000 sec, and ISO ranges of 12-3200.  Exposure compensation is available for +/- 2 stops in 1/3 stop increments.  DX-coded cassettes can be used (setting the ISO wheel at DX), or the ISO can be set manually.

The N2020's AF is a bit slow by today's standards, with only a central AF point.  In dim light, it may be faster to use manual focus.  However, I found that for most subjects, the AF is fast enough for my use.  It certainly is no slouch when using manual focus lenses, and in that regard, it's a perfect camera to learn with.  All of the controls are there for full manual operation, and the only auto-anything is the film advance.  If you want to use a remote release, you'll need to find an MC-12A release that attaches to the front left of the camera, as a standard threaded cable release is not included.  The viewfinder is not too bad, with 93% coverage.  You can use Nikon dedicated TTL flashes in full auto-mode with a shutter speed of 1/125 sec.  The perfect matching flash would be the SB-16 or SB-20.

The camera is now 32 years old, and certainly newer than the myriad of Nikon FMs and FEs in circulation.  I see it as a classic camera in a special category - Nikon's first AF SLR body. It has classic styling and is a robust camera. Whether you opt for the N2000 or the N2020, you will have the same controls, but the N2020 has the advantage of using both MF and AF lenses, and in that, I feel the N2020 is the superior camera. 



Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Agfa Isola I Review

Last fall I picked up an Agfa Isola I at a thrift shop for a few bucks.  I suspect the price was low because the staff didn't know that to make the shutter fire, you have to telescope the lens away from the body.  It was in a brown leatherette case, and while I had hopes for a more advanced 120 camera, the Isola I was a new one for me, so I picked it up. 

Agfa manufactured these cameras from the 1956 into the early-60s, and produced three Isola models - Isola, Isola I, and Isola II.  If you are  looking for any particular one, get the Isola II, which I'll explain a bit later on.  The original Isola and Isola II have the same features, that is, B, 1/30, and 1/100 shutter speeds. 

All Agfa Isola models feature a telescoping lens tube, which when fully extended from the body, click in place to allow the shutter to function. That's important, and otherwise the camera will seem inoperable.  Also, the shutter has double-exposure prevention, as the film takeup knob needs to wind on a bit for the shutter to re-engage. There is a tiny red window by the shutter button to show that it has been fired.

The Isola I has two shutter settings - I and B - instant is ca. 1/35 sec, and B is obviously however long you want to hold it open.  The 1/35 speed is the Achilles heel of this camera.  Knowing this, I loaded a roll of Ilford Pan-F (nominal ISO 50) to try it out.  The sunny and cloudy aperture settings are ca. f/11 for sunny, and f/6.5 for cloudy, and a third setting provides a yellow filter which would be fine for b&w film on a sunny day using ISO 100 film.   If you wish to use any faster films, you will need to tape a neutral-density gel over the lens. 

I took the camera to Chelsea, MI to try it out, and shot a roll in an hour or so, testing out the distance scale and the aperture settings.  I finally got around to developing the film this week, and I have to say that overall, I am pleased with the results.

Using the camera is fairly simple, and like most roll-film cameras, there is a red window on the back to see what frame you are on. It takes 120 film, so no 620 fuggery is necessary.  There is a PC cord socket to enable the use of a flash, should you want to.  I did not try using one.

For me, the most limiting factor of the Isola I is the 1/35 sec shutter speed.  Even the most basic box cameras have a shutter speed closer to 1/60 sec.  Other than that, it's a pretty straightforward budget box-type camera that will provide results that would be expected from a camera in its class. 

You can get a manual for the Isola over at Butkus, of course. There is also a nice online presentation of using the Isola II over at UK Camera.  I recommend using low-ISO film for outdoor shooting, so Ilford Pan-F would be my first choice.  For indoors, you could use ISO 400 with a flash. Since the camera has a thread for using a cable release and a tripod socket, it certainly could be used for long-exposures, which I will have to try sometime.  Right now, I have a roll of 1992-expired color Ektar 25 loaded to see what I get from it.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Agfa Cinerex - Another Oddball Film

I purchased a couple of rolls of Agfa Cinerex IC1N film from Ultrafine last year, and finally finished up a roll in my Nikon FE a few weeks ago. I had forgotten to put a slip of paper in the film reminder slot on the back,so all I knew was that I was shooting an ISO 50 film.  I hate it when I do that, but in this case, my subject was a good test for the film.

First of all, what is Agfa Cinerex?  It's a fine-grained orthochromatic film (not red-sensitive) that was used in the medical industry as a cineradiography film.  There is no antihalation layer on the polyester base, so it's a good idea to load it in subdued light to avoid light-piping (which definitely shows on the sprocket area of the roll that I shot). It seems to have first become available online around 2012, as entries regarding the film appeared on Rangefinder Forum and APUG that year.  At that time, someone was selling 300 ft. rolls of it.

There is a dearth of information online from the manufacturer. I'll say one thing about Kodak -- they published technical data for their films and made the pdfs available online.  Thankfully, Ultrafine Online has some basic developing information available, and the links to the forums are helpful. 

When I loaded the film back in September, I did a few shots around town and forgot to indicate the film on the camera. I picked up the Nikon FE last month, and shot some beautiful fog shots to finsih the roll.  I shot more fog on a roll of Svema FN-64, and I will compare them sometime.

I developed the Cinerex film in XTOL 1:1 for 11 minutes at 20C, with my standard fixing time of 8 minutes.  The film dried quickly, and I scanned the negatives on my Epson V700.  There is a slight curl to the film, but it sat nicely in the 35mm filmstrip holders. 
See the light piping? Load in subdued light!

It's an odd film, of course, and probably not well-suited for low-contrast images such as the fog scenes.  However, with sunny conditions, and even low-light, it performed pretty well. Lots of good contrasty results in full sun.  The fog scenes are very grainy, and yet are very interesting.  That's probably pushing the film to accomplish what other films do better, so my next roll will be shot in strong light, and maybe even with LED lighting, just to see what I get.

Until recently, you could buy this unusual film in 36-exposure rolls from Ultrafine Online (also known as Photo Warehouse), but they are no longer selling it in 100-ft bulk rolls, and the individual rolls are listed as "out of Stock". That's too bad, because it's an interesting film. However, like I always say, "If you are late to the party, don't complain about not getting cake."

These all look pretty darn good 

As you might have guessed from many of my posts, I enjoy trying out strange films, especially if they are black and white.   While any film emulsion can be used for some sort of still photography, the challenge is often to see what a film is capable of doing well.  Sometimes the limiting factor is the low ISO of some cinema-specific films -- i.e., those used for making titles and special effects, or for copying to make positive masters.  With some films, it might be the spectral sensitivity that is a factor.  In some instances, we just have to wing it when it comes to the developing of the film.  With a large film user community, we end up having some good data on developing these films, and with sites like the Massive Development Chart, we have an easily-accessed knowledge base.  The gang at the Film Photography Project also have been providing us with some oddball films from Eastern Europe.  If you have been experimenting with any of these films, remember to share your successful results with the larger community.

After adjusting brightness and contrast post-scan 

Almost looks like a pen and ink image.

Monday, March 05, 2018

A Photographic Gem in Pittsburgh

Back in mid-February I had the opportunity to visit Pittsburgh, PA for a few days, and I arranged to visit a photography museum that most of you have probably never heard of - the Photo Antiquities Museum of Photographic History (PAMoPH).  I found it by accident while researching the area on Google Maps a month or so prior to the visit.   I am so glad that I found this place, as it happens that I had about 25 4x5 glass plates of the Pittsburgh area that were taken about 100 years ago, and they needed a proper home.  The Photo Antiquities Museum was the perfect place for them, and the museum was definitely interested in my donation. 

Bruce Klein, our host
We arrived at the museum, located at 531 East Ohio Street, and buzzed the doorbell.   Bruce Klein, our guide, and curator, met us at the door, and escorted us upstairs to the museum.  Two more people joined our guided tour, and Bruce is an excellent photo-historian. He explained the different photo processes in terms that anyone could understand, and I was impressed with the displays and amount of photo materials that were on exhibit.  The PAMoPH has about 2500 square feet is packed with images, tools, cameras and ephemera that are sure to interest anyone with an interest in the history of photography.    I was most interested in the cameras and ephemera from Kodak and Polaroid, and there was enough there to keep me busy for a few hours, if I could have stayed.   

First of all, museums devoted to the techniques and tools of photography are few.  I know only of Eastman House in Rochester, NY and the Argus Museum in Ann Arbor, MI,  where anything significant about the history of photography and the hardware can be seen.  While in a relatively small space, the PAMoPH is full of historical gems, from Daguerreotypes to ambrotypes, albumin prints and lantern slides.  The exhibit cases are well-lit, enabling one to see the various images and cameras, etc.  There is also an exhibit downstairs that is titled Lincoln In Pittsburgh, which runs through the summer.  The museum is really strong in Civil War era photography and photos on glass, and the Pittsburgh area (which is why I donated the plates to them).

How a view camera works.
The PAMoPH is open Mondays and Wednesdays through Saturday, 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, and admission is $10.  You can call ahead to arrange a tour at 412-231-7881.    The museum is fund-raising to renovate another building with 25,000 sq. ft. of space which will allow them to expand their education and outreach, as well as improve the visitor experience.  I will definitely visit again the next time I am in Pittsburgh.  Thanks to Bruce Klein for his wonderful tour of the museum.

loads of vintage Kodaks in all colors!
Lots to see and digest
Not many Argus cameras!