Sunday, May 31, 2020

Monochrome Mania Issue 2

When I set out to produce my photography zine, I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted it to become. It's a creative outlet for me, as I had been involved in writing and publishing for my entire professional career, and also in my hobbies over the past 30 years. However, a photo zine is somewhat different  - yes - it's a vanity press, but it's a way for me to connect with people with photography, and to get my work in the hands of people at a price that's less than two lattes at a coffee shop.

I had already seen a number of other photo zines, and I can tell you that like anything in photography, they represent a broad range of interests and subject matter. However, they are all out there because people want their work to be seen, on terms that they can control.  We are lacking in print outlets for a lot of photography. The plethora of photography magazines that existed 20 years ago have been decimated by the digital tsunami.  In addition, print publications depend on advertising revenue to be able to publish and pay employees.  Subscriptions fall, advertisers leave, and the print publication goes online -only, and then it may cease to exist altogether.  I am not an online magazine reader.  I like the physicality of a publication, and that it can be read anywhere, as an escape from the ever-present smartphone and computer screens.

So, we now have many photographers that have something to say with their work, and  apart from some curated photography publications, nowhere to publish.  Back in the late 1980s, desktop publishing was just becoming a reality, with the software and laser printing that allowed press-ready work to be done by anyone.  That changed the way things like newsletters and small-market publications were done, not to mention the rest of the publishing industry. I was the editor of an entomological journal, and when I started, I sent physical manuscripts to the typesetters (which were typed in), and by the time I left that position, everything was a digital file, including illustrations, supplied by the authors, which were formatted for publication by the typesetters and sent to production. Now, the journal is only available online, and while I am sure that it saves the organization thousands of dollars, individual papers can be printed out by the user, if necessary.  So, what does that have to do with a photo zine, you ask? 

In my opinion, makers of photo zines are wanting to do exactly the opposite - those of us that produce photo zines recognize that the physical manifestation of an image may be as important as the image.  For those of us that use film - we already know that an image is a tangible thing. It exists whether we print it or not, as a negative or a slide. Yes, we can share it on social media, Flickr, and other online resources after we digitize it, but it may not have the same impact and audience that a print would have. People see an image for a few seconds on a screen, and click "like", and go on.  I think that those of us that produce zines want to do something more than that - we value the tangible, the permanence, and the physical attributes of the image.  Hence, we produce zines to showcase our vision, our interests, and to connect via the printed page. 

page 9, MM #2.

I have had some requests for pdfs of my first Monochrome Mania.  It's still available in print. I'm not giving it away, but at $10, it's pretty cheap. No pdfs will be available, because they are made only to produce the printed copy.  I have so far limited production to 100 copies per issue, and when they are gone, that's it. You may think that only 100 copies is a small number.  If you had any image purchased by 100 people, you'd be really, really happy.  That's kind of how I look at it.  I produce Monochrome Mania as a sort of self-indulgent creative outlet.  This issue number 2 is very different from No. 1. Number 3 will be even more different, as it will be all about "Toy Cameras."  Like other makers of zines, it is a way to share my passion about photography, and get it into your hands at a very low price. 

Issue Number 2 is Michigan Meanderings, and consists of photographs taken in various places in the state of Michigan. Having lived in Michigan for 37 years, I have visited most areas of the state, but seriously photographed places only since about 2006.  Some parts of the state have been shot extensively (Marquette, Ann Arbor), and I have lots more material for other future compilations. Nearly half of the photos in this issue were taken while my friend Marc Akemann and I were on photo trips together from 2008-2017.  I have dedicated this issue to his memory, and wish he were still alive to see it.  I am just about finished developing and scanning rolls of film that he left behind, and I have found a number of the rolls are from our joint trips.  That's a bittersweet experience, and maybe someday I'll be able to put some of them side-by-side with my images from those trips.

Me, taken by Marc, June, 2013

You can purchase Monochrome Mania No. 2 by going to the link on the right side bar, or by clicking here.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

The Agfa Clack - a 6x9 gem

 I guess it is time for a little box camera love.  It's been a while since I have used a camera like the Agfa Clack, which is a 1950s camera that takes 8 6x9 cm negatives on a roll of 120 film.   The Clack is by no means a cheap plastic camera, as it has a stamped metal body with metal and plastic parts, and a glass meniscus lens. 

The Agfa Clack was manufactured in Germany from the mid-1950s  to mid-1960s, and apparently the later iterations featured a plastic body.  On first look, the camera has a vaguely oval shape, due to the curved back to reduce aberration in the images.  The features are pretty simple:

Meniscus lens with two apertures - ca. f/13 and f/10
Shutter about 1/30 plus B
Built-in yellow filter  on some models
Close-up lens for 1-3m distance
otherwise, focus is at  3m -infinity
tripod socket centered on bottom
simple viewfinder
red window with movable cover for frame number
cable-release socket

Back in the days of big box cameras, it was routine to get contact prints back from your local drugstore when you dropped off your film, as 2.25 x 3.25" (6x9 cm) prints are decent-sized, and the best shots could be sent out for reprints at a larger size.  If you understood the limitations of your camera and exposed properly, the Clack and many other box camera were adequate snap shot cameras. Today, such cameras are put into the "Toy Camera" category, but they really aren't toy cameras.  They were designed and produced at a higher price point than what would later become cheap plastic cameras with light leaks and lens aberrations. 

My goal with this particular Agfa Clack is to see how well it would work as a camera to take on local photo trips to see how it renders a scene.  The large negative is an obvious plus, as is the ergonomics of the camera. It handles much better than say, a Kodak Brownie 120 box camera.  For my use, I knew that the tripod socket, B mode, and cable release connector were just the things I needed to use the camera for landscapes in the NC mountains. 

My first roll was expired Kodak TMax 400, which I shot walking around Marshall, NC on May 1.  Hand holding the camera works pretty well, and the negatives (developed in D-96) looked pretty good.  The vertical shots were a bit blurred due to camera shake, but the landscape orientation was just fine. 

That encouraged me to take the Clack to Rocky Fork State Park in Tennessee 2 weeks later.  To photograph the creek, I rated the expired Tmax 400 at ISO 100, and the f/13 setting in the shady conditions gave me an exposure time of 1/2 sec or so.  That meant using the tripod and a cable release to shoot in Bulb mode. I estimated the exposure time and hoped for the best.  I developed the film in D-96, and am thrilled with the results.  From this, I know I can also put even slower films in it, such as Ilford Pan-F and Rollei Retro 80s.  The trick is to figure out the exposure with a light meter, and try and approximate it in B mode.  If it is sunny, I could tape a piece of ND gel over the lens for the longer exposure time.

Marshall, NC

Marshall, NC, Madison County seat

Rocky Fork State Park, TN.

Rocky Fork State Park, TN.

Rocky Fork State Park, TN.

If anything, this exercise shows very well that one can overcome a camera's limitations with a little bit of care and planning.  I love the larger negative and look forward to shooting more riparian scenes with the Agfa Clack.  I have an Agfa Isola which makes 6x6 negatives and has features similar to the Clack.  I'll take it along, and see how it does in the same situations.  

Maybe you have a 120 box camera in your collection. Don't be afraid to shoot with it!  Use ISO 100 film, as the cameras were made when Verichrome Pan (ISO 125) was THE film for box cameras.  Or, if you use a ISO 400 film, shoot on overcast conditions.  

Saturday, May 23, 2020

The Yashica Electro 35 CC

Yashica produced quite an array of 35mm rangefinder cameras. In the early 1950s, they manufactured only twin-Lens reflex cameras, but expanded to 35 mm after they purchased the Nicca Camera Works in 1958. It wasn’t until about 1959 that Yashica produced 35mm rangefinders of their own design, starting with the Yashica YK.
Yashica YK, circa 1959

The early 35mm rangefinders were all fully manual, with the Lynx and Minister lines manufactured to about 1970. The Lynx and Minister cameras featured uncoupled meters and full manual operation, early models had selenium cells, and later models have CdS meter cells.

Yashica Lynx 14E IC - circa 1969

Yashica Minister III, circa 1966. Note the Selenium cells around the lens.
 With the Electro 35 series, starting in 1966, the cameras featured  CdS exposure metering, relatively fast 45 mm lenses, and electronic aperture-priority auto-exposure.  My early experience (between 2000 and 2012) with the Electro 35 series was not favorable.  All too often I encountered a camera that required a battery I could not find.  In some cases, a camera looked really great cosmetically, but was dead as a doornail mechanically.  In addition, I thought the cameras were bulky and finicky.  In the ensuing years, I learned about the PAD of death problem and the Yashica Guy that made battery adapters.  I think my biggest hangup with these cameras is that while they are aperture-priority, I have no indication of what the actual shutter speed is, and unlike a camera such as the Konica Auto S2, there is no manual mode available.  Yes, the Electro 35 series have a following, and many people liked them, but I was never a fan.

Yashica Electro 35 GSN, post-1975.

 There has been a lot written about the Yashica Electro 35 series which I am not going to duplicate here. Over the years, many of the cameras became unusable due to lack of a proper battery and the PAD of death affecting many of them. Mike Elek has an excellent post on the PAD of death.  As for battery replacement, visit the Yashica Guy and order a battery adapter that will make your Electro 35 camera usable.

As I previously stated, I was not a fan of the Electro 35 series.  However, in December, a very minty Electro 35 CC came my way that seemed to work. It doesn't need any battery adapter, allowing me to use a single 6v 4LR44 battery.  Now, the Electro 35 CC is a bit of a different beast compared to the Electro 35 GSN.  Stephen Gandy's Camera Quest site has an excellent review of the Electro 35 CC, and I have always been intrigued about this camera, but never saw one until now. 

It sure is a pretty camera!
What sets the Electro 35 CC apart from the rest of its line is the 35mm f/1.8 lens.  The Electro 35 series typically feature a 45mm f/1.7 lens, though the Electro 35 MC has a 40mm f/2.8 lens.  The 35 CC is also more compact the the rest.  I found an interesting error in McKeown's Cameras (page 1026) that lists the Electro 35 CC as having a 50mm f/1.7 lens.  The Electro 35 CC was sold from 1970-75, and is apparently one of the rarer models.  The original Electro 35 appeared in 1966, and the Electro 35 GSN was possibly the last model, as it appeared in 1975 and was sold into the early 1980s.

Electro 35 CC features:
  • Lens: 35mm, f/1.8, 6 elements in 4 groups.
  • Shutter: between-the-lens, electronically controlled two-leaved type.
  • Shutter Speeds: 8 sec - 1/250 sec.
  • Exposure Meter: CdS cell located above front lens element, allowing metering with filters attached.
  • Exposure Value Range: EV -1 - EV 16.
  • Film Speed Range: ISO 25-500.
  • Flash: PC socket, and only a cold shoe (why?).
  • Focusing:  rangefinder-type.
  • Viewfinder Information: Overexposure and slow speed indicator
  • Film Advance: Manual, lever operated, single-stroke.
  • Self-Timer: Mechanical, 10-sec. delay.
  • Filter Mount: 52 mm.
  • Battery:  6V PX28, or 4LR44 . Battery check illuminates frame counter if battery is good.  Lock button around shutter release to avoid accidental exposure.
  • Dimensions: 120 x 74 x 59 mm
  • Weight: 550 g.
  • Finish of body: black only, no chrome models.
My experience  with the Electro 35 CC was satisfactory, overall.  The rangefinder focusing was easy to see, and the relatively compact aspect of the camera made it a joy to use.  I think one has to use one of the Electro series for a while just to get used to the way they work with the over-under exposure arrows.  Since the maximum shutter speed on the Electro 35 CC is only 1/250 sec, I think using it with slower films is a good idea.  Of course, an ND filter could be used for high speed films.  It's certainly a camera deserving of some praise, in part because it does not require a battery adaptor, its compact size,  35mm focal length, and ease of use. I still wish the camera had a fully manual mode, but I will just have to accept it the way it is. It's about the size and weight of my Canon QL-17 GIII - in other words, compact and easy to carry around. It's also very quiet.

Here are some sample images taken over the past few months. Black and white images were shot in Columbia SC on expired Plus-X; color images were taken in Columbia SC and Ashevill NC on Fuji Superia 200.

I'll have to do more shooting with this cute, compact, and "ever-ready" camera.  I believe it has earned a place in my camera bag.  

Friday, May 15, 2020

One Roll Review - Jazzy Blues

 Ultrafine Online  (aka Photowarehouse) has been selling some really off-beat films lately. My curiosity was piqued a while back, and I ordered a couple of rolls of their Jazzy Blues C-41 film.  From their online information - yes, everything would be rendered as a shade of blue, and the intensity depends on the exposure.  From their description:

"Based upon the premise of our popular Ultrafine Colouruption Films, comes a new hue, done in Blue. Another experimental Color Print Film that we have been shooting and having fun with here. Enjoy creating your own slow blues medley with this fine grain, standard C-41 process color print film. Very Slow. Can be shot at ISO 6, 12, up to 25.  C-41 Process. Fun and Experimental"

So, as an "experimental film" what should I shoot with it?  I loaded my Nikon FE2 with the Jazzy Blues film, and set it at ISO 25.  I carried it around while doing my normal shooting and eventually finished the roll.  I sent it into The Darkroom Lab for standard C-41 processing, and scanned the film myself on my Epson V700 scanner.

First of all, the film appears to be on a Mylar base, and there is no orange C-41 masking as you would expect from a typical C-41 color film.  The negatives were yellow, so the emulsion appears to lack cyan and magenta layers.  It seems very fine-grained, so I am guessing that the film was originally used for some process in the cine industry. It's unlike any film that I have shot previously.

While I shot it at ISO 25, I think that ISO 12 may have been a better idea, so my next roll will be shot at ISO 12.  It definitely is contrasty in direct sum, which is okay. One image from Ivy Creek Falls looks pretty darn good for a long exposure. 

When I played around with the histogram in post, I could achieve some VERY wild results. I did some histogram improvements before the scans, and some looked pretty good, others, not so much.  As an experimental film, it is a lot of fun to see what I got for the results.  It's pretty slow, so I suggest a tripod for the best results. 
trippy post effects can be achieved!

Here are a bunch of images from my first roll. It's certainly an odd-ball kind of film, but if you are looking for something that's really outside the norm for shooting, you should give it a try.  At less than $5/roll for 36 exposures, it's a bargain for experimenting with.  It certainly ought to make portraiture interesting.

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Send in the Clones

Many people are familiar with the Diana Camera, that cheap 1960-70s plastic camera that was made to be a promotional gift/prize. However, as we now know, the camera became an icon of photographic artistry, as seen by David Featherstone's The Diana Show (1980, The Friends of Photography, ISBN 0-933286-17-1), and Nancy Rexroth’s book, Iowa (1975, reprinted 2017, University of Texas Press, ISBN 978-1-4773-1041-0).   The vignetting, aberration, and peculiarities that varied from camera to camera made the Diana a cult camera. While the Diana does feature some modest controls, its overall construction is fairly flimsy, and certainly not as well-constructed as the much-later Holga. To remedy some of the aberration from the cheap plastic lens, the film mask was made to be about 4 x 4 cm on 120 film. The bonus was that gave us 16 negatives from a roll. You’d think that such an inexpensive camera would be ignored for what it was, but instead, several companies made clones of the camera.

Hong Kong was the place where all the cheap cameras were made before China opened up to the World, and the Diana and subsequent clones, made in Hong Kong, represented the then lassiez-faire attitude towards copyright and trademarks. It’s possible that the same factory turned out most of the clones, but we’ll probably never know. The Great Wall Plastics Company in Hong Kong produced the Diana at least until about 1980, and it's safe to say that the concurrent clones probably lasted into the 1980s.

While not at all in the same league as the collectible fake Russian Leicas, there are a number of people that do collect the Dianas and the at least 70 named copies provide a lot to explore. Being cheap plastic, the cameras don’t sell for a whole lot. Of course, there are modern Dianas, the Diana +, made by Lomography, that took the original design and improved upon it, and these should not be confused with the Hong-Kong variants. Until the Lomography-made Diana + came out, vintage Dianas were selling for over $50. I remember an estate sale that I was helping with in 2007, and the deceased hoarder had plastic bags of unopened original Dianas that he picked up at flea markets, etc. We thought that was quite the find at the time.  A few years ago, my friend Marcy Merrill sent me a box of Diana clones that she picked up at a camera swap.     Not all of the clones are identical in performance. The Lina and the Pokey have only a shutter button, with molded plastic tabs on the lens barrel that are there only to give the appearance of other controls, taking the craptastic quality to an even lower level.

The original Diana (lower center) and clones. The 21st century Lomography Diana+
is right above the original.

What prompted this essay was my use of a Banier camera, so similar to the Diana, that it’s pretty much an exact copy. I had started a roll of vintage Verichrome Pan on it in 2018, and pulled it out of the drawer the other day and finished shooting the rest of the film. I developed the film in D-96 for 8 minutes, and the negatives came out very well. A few examples are shown below.

Bill Schwab (center), Photostock 2018

Saluda, NC 2020

Saluda, NC 2020

Fairview, NC, 2020

Saluda, NC 2020

If you are out shooting with a Diana or a clone  nobody will ever take you to be a serious photographer. However, as we know, it’s all in how you use the tools, and the Diana can be used to take some quite memorable and engrossing images.  The original Dianas are even better than the Holga if you want to pursue low-fi photography. As in "better", I mean more aberration, light leaks, and more “atmosphere.” The Diana + is certainly a better made and more reliable camera than the original, but it lacks the craptastic plastic uniqueness of the original.

There are still many of these clones on eBay, and because of the Lomography Diana + and Diana-mini (which can make 24mm square negatives on 35mm film), the prices of the clones vary greatly.  New Diana+ cameras sell for more, and the older clones and original Dianas sell from $10 and up.    To get an idea of the names of Diana  clones, check out

In short, there is a reason to use the Diana, and the results may be something that will lead you to explore how the camera affects not only the images you take, but the subsequent interpretation of them.  It's not always clarity of image that we  seek, but clarity of ideas, and the toy cameras can lead one down a path where reality is bent and shaped by a plastic lens.

Michigan State Fair, 2006

Protest, 2006

Black Rocks, 2007

flag, 2018

King Cone, 2006

Greenfield Village, 2008