Thursday, November 22, 2018

A Visit to Blue Moon Camera in Portland, Oregon

Jim Hair at the counter with customers
In late May, I was in Oregon for a week, and before I left, I set up an appointment to meet and interview the folks at Blue Moon Camera and Machine in Portland.  You may have heard of Blue Moon Camera (BMC) as a place to send in your film for development. That is one of the services that they offer, but the store is so much more than that.  Started in 2001, which of course, is about the time that digital started making inroads into general photography, Blue Moon Camera and Machine is a place that caters to lovers of analog processes.  Yes, they sell refurbished typewriters in the store, but their main business is film-based photography.  I spoke with Jake Shivery, the co-founder of BMC, and he is proud of their film-processing and production of optical prints for their customers.  The printing is so good, that professionals have chosen them to produce prints for gallery shows.  Of course, BMC does black and white, C-41 color, E-6 transparency film, and now, ECN-2 development for the Kodak Vision films. The Vision films (sold by the FPP store) are beautiful color 35mm cine films that have a remjet layer that must be removed during the development process.  Few commercial labs do this for the simple reason that the carbon in the remjet will contaminate the chemistry.  Cinestill has already removed the remjet layer before they sell it to you, but you pay more for their version of the Vision films because of that.  Blue Moon Camera is now one of the few labs that will process the Vision films in ECN-2 chemistry.

Jim Hair of BMC (now retired) told me how much the store and employees are involved in promoting analog processes and serving as a conduit for film photographers and the involvement in the local arts community.  It's no wonder that people in the Portland area come into the store for more than just film processing.  Jim likes to use a 4x5 rotating back Graflex SLR, and took my photo outside the store.  He's an extremely knowledgeable and likable fellow, and an excellent photographer.

BMC sells used and new film cameras and accessories, film, paper, and chemicals. No digital, period.  While I was there, I had to make sure that I didn't drool on the counter.  This is the kind of photo store that I remember from before digital became the driving force in camera sales.  One display case contained a number of well-crafted pinhole cameras from several companies. That may be the first time I have seen that in a camera store of any kind.  The used gear is usually sold on consignment, but it does some with a guarantee. Lots of different films for sale, including Polaroid. There was even short-dated film on sale, which I took advantage of, and I bought a bunch of Fomapan 100, Agfa APX 100, and some other oddball rolls of 35mm.

David Paulin
In talking with David Paulin, I found out that BMC is the sole place for your Minox film and developing.  If you are a subminiature shooter, you probably already know this.  They carry color and b&w emulsions loaded into Minox cassettes.  I should point out that all of the sales people dress professionally. The men had white shirts and ties.  In the photo here, BMC looks timeless as David Paulin stands at the counter, backed by shelves of film cameras.

While there, I also interviewed Bill Lee, a hobbyist photographer from Vancouver WA, which is just across the river from Portland.  Bill likes to use 120 film with older cameras, especially in 6x9 format.  We shared our experience with older cameras, and why we like to use them.  Bill especially likes to shoot city architecture, and the special look that the older cameras give the images is what makes them nostalgic as well as contemporary. Of course, he uses BMC to process his film.
Jim Hair with his 4x5 Graflex SLR!

Everyone that works at BMC is a photographer, and I have to say that I am quite envious that Portland has such a store.  When I stepped in, I felt that I was "with my people."  Furthermore, I like the way that they support and nurture film photography.  Sure, it is a niche business.  However, the way that film photography has been ascending in popularity is a sign that BMC will have continued success in what they are doing.

I greatly enjoyed my visit, and you can listen to the interviews on the Film Photography Podcast on Episode Number 206.  I thank Zeb Andrews for setting me up for the visit, and sorry that I missed him, as it was his day off.  Jake, Jim, and David were so very accommodating, and I thank them for their time and for the bag of BMC swag!  The Film Photography Podcast also received 3 gift certificates for developing and printing, which were given away at the August FPP Meetup in Findlay, OH.

Blue Moon Camera and Machine address: Blue Moon Camera, 8417 N. Lombard Street, Portland, OR 97203

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Marcy Merrill and Junk Store Cameras

A Visit With Marcy Merrill of Junk Store Cameras
Marcy, June 2017 in my yard
Over the years, I have made many friends in the course of  my photographic endeavors, and I count Marcy Merrill as one of my "oldest" friends.  When I started getting interested in knowing more about old cameras, her Junk Store Cameras web site came to my attention in 2001.  At the time, I was also getting interested in collecting and using Argus cameras, which she was also doing. Now, if you have seen Marcy’s web site, you would know that she lives in Tokeland, Washington.  A perfect name for a place in a state where marijuana is now legal.   However, she is originally from Michigan, so she visits family not far from Ann Arbor.   I enjoyed her quirky sense of humor and the write-ups that she did for the cameras that she featured on her site.   She was a camera corrupter of the highest order, and I found myself looking for some of the cameras that she reviewed.   We corresponded a bit, and ended up meeting for lunch in 2008.  Since then, we have met up a few times when she is out in Michigan, and the cameras are very busy.  Our last meetup was on October 4, and we had a great day of shooting in Fenton and Holly, MI.
Marcy, in Fenton, MI 10/04/18

In late May of 2018, I was visiting Portland, Oregon for a week, and was able to drive up to Tokeland, Washington to visit Marcy and her husband, Bob.   The drive there was quite scenic, and their home is a feast for the eyes.  Marcy’s eclectic, bohemian/beach bum/pacific coast cottage is a true delight.  I had planned to interview her for the Film Photography Podcast, as she is a talented professional photographer, as well as a camera collector, artist, and beach-comber.  She is also a runner, and thankfully, did not try to get me to go on on a half marathon  while I was there!

the dead albatross
Washaway Beach
We did a walk along Washaway Beach, so named, because, it is washing away the low-lying coastline.  Because of the currents, and because of illegal dumpers, flotsam and jetsam turn up on the beach, and Marcy has documented a lot of the things that have been found on the beach. Years ago, we thought she might have found a huge chunk of ambergris (whale vomit), but it turned out to be some sort of industrial material.  On our walk, we did not find much that was exciting, though there were millions of "By the wind sailors", Valella valella, which are Hydrozoan colonies that resemble jellyfish.  Washed ashore and drying, they look like used condoms, and smell kinda fishy.  Marcy found a dead albatross with a leg band, which she photographed, and sent the info along to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.  Turns out that it had been tagged as a nestling in Hawaii in 2003!  Obviously, the beach combing is a routine, and one never knows what will turn up.

washed ashore and decaying Vellela vellela 

First of all, Marcy and Bob live in constant danger.  They live scant feet above sea level, and would be right in the line of any Tsunami.  Second, the ocean churns away at Washaway beach, and eventually, the beach will be at their twenty years? Who knows?  They temper this dangerous situation with a house filled with whimsy, love, and cameras (and guitars), and their dog, Hawkeye.  I had the guest room upstairs, and I could hear the ocean that night.  I guess I should be worried if I did not.

Over the years, Marcy’s studio, or parts of it, have appeared in many of her images.  We retreated to the studio for the interview, as Bob was having a jam session in the house with some fellow musicians.   Bob’s retired, as am I.  Retired people take their passions seriously.
One of Marcy’s talents, which has garnered her some notoriety, is her beading of camera bodies, turning them into fully functional art pieces.   Her transformation of basic black bakelite cameras into polychromatic wonders is amazing.  In the photo, you can see the Brownie Hawkeye on the workbench.  I can say that she is never idle, as if idleness in this beautiful part of the world is a bad thing.   Marcy has images of her creations on her website.  I think they should be in museums. Oh, she is also beading a bicycle, which ought to be something quite unique when it is completed.

We sat in her studio and talked cameras and photography for hours, examining some cameras, and sharing our knowledge.  Of course, the bottle of Jack Daniels did get close to empty by the time we were done talking.  Marcy will shoot anything that can hold a photosensitive emulsion.  Altoid boxes turned into pinhole cameras - her Pintoids, to crappy plastic cameras that calling them cameras is being generous.  She makes them work, whether to prove that she can do it, or to use them to create unique images, that will make you appreciate her artistry.   She’s a self-employed photographer, and despite being in a seemingly remote part of the country, she makes it work.  It’s not as remote as it seems, and she travels a lot.  One of her "pet projects" is to volunteer and promote (via her photographs) the adoption of shelter dogs and cats at PAWS of Grays Harbor.   She draws a lot of inspiration from just walking along the coast with Hawkeye and seeing the ever-changing Washaway Beach.   I should also mention her series of photographs of people wearing formal wear in inappropriate situations (#formalwearworninappropriately ).  The images are full of humor, whimsy, and are really engaging.

Marcy talked about her upcoming trip to England, Scotland, and Iceland, where she was planning to donate her beaded Gala Brownie Hawkeye to a deserving person, and continuing her world peace through Junk Store Cameras tour.  She was also planning to run a half-marathon in Iceland.  I just hope that she brought enough Argus cameras with her to create a new set of Argus enthusiasts. 

Two quotes:
"The picture isn’t always the end result; but just the fact that I can take a piece of plastic and make it take a photo is a reward."

"I have to make the camera work, or it doesn’t stay on the shelf."

Marcy has already blogged about my visit on her site.

It was a fun 24 hours in Washington, and I hope to return there again someday.  There is so much to see in the Pacific Northwest!

Enjoy the interview HERE on the FPP Podcast Episode No. 206, 11/22/2018.

Marcy Merrill - aka Silver Nitrate Queen - websites:
Junk Store Cameras -
Her Pintoids site -
Her Photography site:

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Kowa SETR - an excursion into leaf-shutter 35mm SLRs

There are two predominant types of shutters in cameras - focal-plane shutters, and leaf shutters. Focal plane shutters typically are rubberized cloth and travel horizontally, or are Copal- square type shutters that are made of metal blades and travel vertically. The focal plane shutters are behind the lenses, right in front of the film plane.  Focal-plane shutters are found in most 35mm SLR cameras, some medium format SLRs (such at the Pentax 6x7 and Pentacon 6), in the large-format Graflex SLR RB cameras.

Leaf-shutters however, are usually located within the lens assembly and are comprised of a series of thin plates (leaves) that overlap and typically operate at a maximum 1/500 sec, and because of their mode of operation, are also able to be used with a flash at any shutter speed.  Some leaf shutters may be quite simple and consist of 2 blades. Leaf shutters are found in twin lens reflex cameras (TLRs), medium format SLRs such as the Hasselblad and Kowa 6, folding roll-film cameras, large-format cameras, as well as many 35mm rangefinder and zone-focus cameras (for example, Kodak Retina and Argus).  One advantage, albeit only a slight one, is that a leaf-shutter tends to have less vibration, and is also quieter than a focal plane shutter.  This comes at a cost, as the lens assemblies are more complex to accommodate any removable lenses.  Over time, as these 35mm cameras have aged, the leaf-shutters are not as reliable and usually need a good cleaning and lubrication to maintain any usability.

In 35mm cameras, the focal-plane shutter is the preferred type in SLRs and some rangefinders (Leica and Contax and the clones from Japan and the USSR).  The focal-plane shutter allows for much simpler lens systems, and thus, a far greater variety of focal lengths and mounts, as the shutter is independent of the lens being used.  In addition, a focal plane-shutter allows for much faster shutter speeds. In SLRs, focal plane shutters are behind the mirror.  The mirror flips up, the shutter fires, and the mirror returns (early SLRs required the shutter to be cocked to return the mirror). I'm not going to get into the exact mechanism of a focal-plane shutter, but there are some good online references should you want to know.
That 80mm f/4 lens looks great, huh?

However, there are always some camera manufacturers that do things differently. Kodak used leaf shutters in their Retina reflex cameras of the 1950s and 60s, and these are common finds.  Zeiss-Ikon used Compur leaf shutters in their Contaflex SLRs, too, and they are beautiful cameras.  Voigtlander's Bessamatic, which first appeared in 1959, featured a Compur shutter, and a built-in meter.  It had interchangeable lenses as well.  Other models of the Bessamatic were made until 1969.  All of these leaf-shutter SLRs are attractive, well-made, and collectible. 

The Nikkorex 35, Nikkorex Auto 35, and Nikkorex Zoom 35 are fixed-lens SLRs from 1960-1963 with leaf shutters. Not exactly up to the quality of a Nikon F,  and they are rare finds today.  They are also unlikely to be in working condition. 
Bought this for $5 in 2013

Topcon came out with a Topcon Uni SLR in 1964, which featured through the lens metering, and a behind the lens Seikosha SLV shutter. The camera has an interchangeable lens, and the 53mm f/2 was standard.  It was also sold as the Beseler Topcon Auto 100. The Topcon Unirex followed in 1969, and it had full-aperture spot and average metering.   I didn't use the Topcon Uni all that much, but I did like the bokeh from that lens.

A very clean, uncluttered look.
Now, I am finally getting around to the Japanese Kowa SLRs.  The Kowaflex first appeared in 1960, and was a pretty basic SLR with fixed 50mm lens and a Seikosha SLV shutter.  Shutter speeds were B, and 1- 1/500 sec -- pretty much the standard for leaf-shutter SLRs.  Later models had various improvements, such as meters, but still had the between the lens  Seikosha shutter  and fixed lenses.  In 1965, the Kowa SER appeared, and it featured a Seikosha leaf shutter behind the lens, a CdS metering system, and a suite of lenses that ranged from 28mm to 200mm. The Kowa SET followed in 1966, but it was a fixed lens SLR with TTL metering and Seikosha SLV shutter. 

The Kowa SETR and the subject of this review, was manufactured from 1968-1971.  It features TTL full-aperture metering and the Seikosha behind-the lens leaf shutter, accepts interchangeable lenses, and with the 50mm f/1.9 lens sold for about $100 in 1969.  I do not know if the lens mounts of the SER and the SETR are the same, but I am assuming that they are. 

My example of this camera is in very good cosmetic and mechanical condition. The serial no. is 906004.  There is no flash shoe, but I can see how one might have clipped on via the eyepiece flange.  The PC flash socket is on the front of the camera, and the top deck has only the film advance lever, shutter button, frame counter, and rewind lever.   All of the exposure controls are on the lens barrel and at the base of the lens.  This makes sense, as the shutter is behind the lens itself, but in front of the mirror, of course.  This is unlike the Retina SLRs, which have the shutter between the lenses. There is a set of rear elements that remain in place, and the front elements are the only ones that change with the lens system.  That means that the lenses can never be very fast, especially with longer focal lengths.  In the Kowa SLRs, that's not the case, as the lens unit is self-contained, and while the focal lengths are not as varied as "normal" SLRs, the size of the rear element is constrained by the throat diameter through the shutter assembly, so you won't see 50mm f/1.4 lenses.  The f/1.9 is pretty fast by leaf-shutter SLR standards. The filter ring takes 49mm filters.
control rings

To set the ISO, you move the ASA dial (range 10-800)
to match the film speed with the maximum aperture of the lens. There is a small chrome knob on the aperture ring that is pulled out slightly to set the ISO.  Everything is nicely marked in colored paint, and is easy to see. The meter is visible in the viewfinder, and while it originally required a mercury 1.35V cell, I just used a 1.5V alkaline SR44 and the meter sprang to life.  The needle centers when you have a proper exposure, and under-exposure makes the needle go towards the top, over-exposure makes the needle go to the bottom.  No aperture or shutter speeds are visible in the viewfinder. The viewfinder is therefore, quite uncluttered and easy to use and focus. There is a microprism spot at the center to get critical focus. 
press in that lever on the chrome ring to remove lens

Looking at the front of the camera, there is a small silver button on the lower right which is pushed in to switch to M, X, and V for flashbulb (M), Xenon strobe (X), and self-timer (V).  At the the 7 o'clock position, there is a small angled lever that when pressed, allows you to remove the lens from the body.  The ring closest to the body controls the shutter speed, and the ring above that controls the aperture.  The outer-most ring is for focus.  Overall, all are very well implemented and the camera is easy to use.  Because this is a leaf-shutter, you can fire the flash at any shutter speed, from B to 1/500 sec.  That certainly has its advantages over the focal-plane SLRs of the day which usually had a flash sync of 1/60th sec.
Lens removed from the body. 

The camera is easy to use overall. There is a satisfying sound when the shutter is fired, and its different sounding than that of an SLR with a focal plane shutter.  I shot a test roll of Ultrafine Xtreme 400 in the Kowa SETR, and developed it in Rodinal at 1:25 dilution for 7.5 minutes.  I am quite pleased with the results. The Seikosha shutter works fine at all settings, and the exposures were well within the acceptable range. 

Perhaps I ended up with an exemplary example of this camera.  Using it has certainly changed my opinion on leaf-shutter SLRs a bit. My previous experience with leaf-shutter SLRs has been limited to Kodak Retinas and a Topcon Uni.  I would say that anyone considering using a Retina SLR make sure that the shutter gets a CLA, as more often than not, the shutter will need service to make the camera usable.  I'll keep using the Kowa on occasion, as it works fine, and certainly has a clean and very retro look to it.  I'll also keep my eye on eBay for additional lenses.  A working, clean, Kowa SER or SETR will probably cost you around $100.  Finding one with a full set of lenses will cost you far more.

Friday, November 09, 2018

A Quick Review of the Nikon Lite Touch AF600

A while ago, I had this camera sort of drop into my lap. The Nikon Lite Touch AF, also known as the Lite Touch AF600, is a very compact 35 mm point and shoot with a plastic body, and a 28 mm f/3.5 lens.  As far as street cameras go, this could be a winner.  The camera has a retractable lens when not in use, and a blind that covers the lens when it is off.  The LCD on the top deck indicates the frame number, flash mode, and self-timer option.  The 3 tiny control buttons,which are rubberized for tactile feedback, are the on/off switch, flash mode, auto-infinity mode and self-timer.   The shutter button is on the far right, as is a rewind-button that is depressed with a ball-point pen, should you want to rewind the film before the roll is finished.
simple controls, albeit tiny buttons

in the off mode

Panorama switch to the L of the tiny viewfinder

turned on, with lens extended.

The back of the camera features a PANORAMA switch, which activates the crop mask inside the camera, giving you a 13 x 36 mm frame.  The flash indicator led is next to the eyepiece.  On the bottom, is the battery chamber (CR123A battery), and tripod socket.

Quick Specifications:

  • Date Introduced - 1993
  • Weight - 5.5 ounces
  • Dimensions - 4.25" W x 1.5"D x 2.5" H
  • Lens - 28 mm f3.5 fixed lens, 3 elements.
  • Aperture range - f/3.5 - f/16
  • Shutter speeds - auto, unknown as to the range.
  • ISO range - DX-coded cassettes, 100, 200, 400, 1000.  Non-DX coded are set at ISO 100. Film reminder window on film door.
  • Film transport - Autoloading, winding, rewinding.
  • Exposure - automatic, autofocus
  • Flash - integral, non-pop-up
  • Focus range - 12" - infinity, "macro" close focus ability
  • Power - CR123A battery
  • Tripod Socket

Now, this is a small camera, about the size of some of the smallest one-time use cameras.  When you turn it on, the lens telescopes a bit from the body and the lens cover is supposed to retract upwards.  I say supposed to, as my example has to be coaxed upwards with a finger nail.  Not paying attention to this will result in unexposed frames. Apart from this, I like the camera -- it can easily fit into a pocket, and while I have only shot with it a bit, the images are respectable.  It certainly takes up little space, and is easy to carry along.  The viewfinder is tiny, as you would expect, and includes the crop lines fir the panorama mode.

The Nikon Lite Touch AF 600 retailed for $210 in 1993.  Pretty pricey for a tiny P&S!  On eBay, I see them going for nearly as much, though the range is mostly from $70-$165.  Certainly cheaper than a p&s with the Yashica T or Contax T name on it.

Overall, so long as the camera and LCD are in good working order, and the lens blind opens, this could be a gem of a camera.  It's rather unassuming, and there are few wide-angle P&S cameras that are as tiny and have a fixed 28 mm lens.  The panorama mode is of course, just a frame crop, but some may find it to be a nice creative feature.  It is fully auto, so you really have little to control except the flash.  You can set the focus to be on auto-infinity, which makes it a pretty quick camera to shoot with.  The self-timer can be set to take one or two images in quick succession.   The flash features red-eye reduction, auto, always flash, auto slow, and no flash settings.  Of course, the top buttons are tiny, so you have to use a fingernail to activate them.   I would probably use this camera more if I didn't have to mess around with the lens blind each time I turned it on. That may the weakness of this model.

Sample images, shot on Fuji Superia Xtra 400, and home developed in the Film Photography Podcast C-41 kit.