The Archivist

THE ARCHIVIST

(I wrote some of this for a post I made on APUG but I have massaged it a bit and posted it here on my blog.)

 

For years my wife was the archivist, and primary documentary photographer of the household. Of course in my childhood it was my mom. Pre-digital this was all done on inexpensive point and shoot cameras. The prints were carefully stored away in photo albums. Those albums went on shelves and once in a while we would get them out after dinner and sit around the dining room table looking at pictures. In some strange way it was one of the ways we affirmed our relationships with friends and family. Back in the day my kids learned who some of their aunts and uncles were through these photo review sessions since they lived far enough away that they were not part of our day to day routine.

 

When digital came along my wife was the early adopter in this house. She was using 1 and 3 megapixel point and shoot cameras while I was still stubbornly clinging to my Pentax K1000 and denying that anything would change. Almost from the start She began learning and working with the very early versions of Paint Shop Pro, cleaning up and enlarging pictures for anyone in the family. Her work was very, very good, especially considering the limited technology. Her biggest complaints in those days were that those early digital cameras were heavy duty battery hogs. I used to pack AA batteries for her and sneer that my camera, which used one button battery, hadn’t needed a battery change in 4 years.

 

But change is remorseless and things change in ways that we cannot anticipate. Even though my wife was very much part of the evolving digital scene, eventually her attitude changed. I blame it on greed. The camera and computer software companies had to upgrade ceaselessly. It was like they couldn’t leave things alone. The first time my wife had to upgrade her version of Paint Shop Pro she wasn’t very happy about it but she went ahead and did it with very little complaint. She actually admitted that the new version had a few new and useful tools added to it. But then, about 6 months later, she had to upgrade again. This time she was not very happy. I remember her actually getting on the phone and complaining to the company about it, but of course they convinced here that she would love the new tools. I didn’t hear anything about the new tools and when I asked her about it she said it wasn’t worth the headache. But, of course it was only just beginning.

 

MS-DOS was retired and the new Windows came along and that time we really had some major upgrades. Over a period of about 6 months we had to upgrade several of our programs. This time she was pretty stoic about it all, especially since it this was a complete operating system upgrade and the new Windows environment was obviously so much different. But not long after that, about 6 months later on, Paint Shop Pro upgraded their software again. This time my wife was angry. She made the upgrade, but she was very unhappy. But this time things were different. After the upgrade was finished she started up the program again, and everything was different. The entire program had changed. Her shortcut keys were gone. The menus were changed. She was completely lost. She didn’t know how to use the new program. They had changed it so much in that particular upgrade that all her controls were different and her familiar, friendly photo editing program was gone.

 

That was the end in our house. My wife was no longer the Archivist. The computer software manufacturers had killed it. Oh, she tried, and she actually did get to the point where she could do a few things again, but she was never as good as she was before. Once in a while she would sit down in front of the monitor and try but it was less and less. I think she had lost the desire. The computer software companies had killed it with their greed. The stupid thing was that it wasn’t necessary. That was the last upgrade I ever made to that program. I continued to keep it on the computer so that she could work with it if she wanted, and I was pretty successful at keeping it alive until Windows Vista. I tried to get her interested again. I picked up a bigger, brighter monitor. I went out one Christmas and bought her a fancy new Olympus 8 megapixel digital. It was a beautiful camera but she never used it. I think she shot a couple of dozen frames with it. The camera and software companies had finally destroyed it for the little guy.

 

Oh things kept improving for sure, although “improve” may not really describe it. Maybe I should say that things kept  changing. The big corporations kept making the changes. They would train their employees in the newest programs and the changes kept coming. As time went on digital photography supposedly became better and better, but you didn’t see much of it in our house. My wife, the early adopter, still does a bit of photography from time to time. But she hasn’t done anything digital in years. She continues to use her last 35mm point and shoot, a very nice little Olympus Infinity 2000. It isn’t worth selling and it keeps on taking pictures. She takes the film to Wal-Mart and they give her pictures with a CD Rom. She still puts those pictures into those albums, but she hands me the CD-Rom and asks me to load it on the computer. She won’t do it any longer.

 

Now I know that part of this is caused by age. As you get older it is harder and harder to keep up with the changes. There is less reason to learn new things and it gets easier to default to the things we knew in the past. But there is also the part where you have to wonder whether this entire digital rat race is actually even worth it. Just the other day she was working with some 35mm snapshots that she had made with her 1990 vintage point and shoot, and she pulled out one of those early digital prints that she had spent hours working so hard on with the computer software. She turned to me and said; “these new pictures look a lot better than these old ones. I wonder if the old ones are fading?” I laid them side by side and she was absolutely right. Now I know that the old digital technology is not comparable to the new technology, but I see this same thing over and over again, even today. Unless you are willing to spend lots of time manipulating the image with software, too often the new digital still does not compare with the old analogue. The newest digital prints still seem to struggle against the old analogue ones.

 

Have we really made any progress or has this all been another scam, just another way for someone to make some money? I am not so sure anymore. I read the photography forums and I read posts where people are bragging about the magnificent images they are getting from their newest cameras. But 6 months later they are crowing about the newest camera and the old one has been tossed on the rubbish pile, not worth what they claimed it was when it was new. And it continues. On one hand we are told that we now have more than enough pixels to match what 35mm is able to do, but two months later a new camera is marketed with even more pixels. Does it end? I don’t think so, not as long as people are willing to spend money buying the newest product.

 

I am not a Luddite. I use computers and I work with digital photography. I have a wonderful Pentax digital SLR and while it is not the newest, it is still pretty nice. My cell phone can even take pictures. And I know that there are far more ways to share things today. There is Facebook, You Tube, and now Vimeo, and at one level this is all wonderful. You can find out so much in such a short time. These on-line social communities have become the new archivist for our brave new world, and hopefully everything will work out. But my grandchildren are missing out on that chance to sit around their dining room tables and learn about the past and future relationships that are important to their family. They can go on Facebook and see their aunts and uncles, but they are also missing out on those stories that made them real. Instead it is all about ‘Friends” today. Friends that they never really seem to know much about. Oh they may know some of the drivel that is being posted, but very, very little of it is important. They are missing the important stories. It makes me feel a little bit sad. But I guess it is progress. In my parents day it was the family bible. In my day it was the photo album and my parents probably felt that my kids were missing out. Today it is Facebook and You Tube and I am wondering if today’s kids are learning enough about their own roots to anchor them solidly in this ever changing world. Who knows what will be happening 10 or 20 years from now when my grandchildren will be wondering about these things.

 

I don’t know if it is good or bad but the archivist is now a computer and a cloud. There are millions more images floating around out there in that cloud but we may have lost some of the context that existed in the Family Bible and the Photo Album. I hope our kids find a way to put it back.

Posted in 35mm Analog, archive, digital, Facebook, film, Pentax, photo album, You Tube | Comments Off on The Archivist

No Batteries Involved

Meet my Zeiss Ikon Ercona 1. This is a 6×9 folding medium format camera built by the Zeiss Ikon camera factory in Dresden, East Germany, sometime in the 1950s. It is a very basic camera. Everything has to be set by hand before taking your picture. It is entirely mechanical. No batteries are involved whatsoever. Just a roll of 120 roll film and the photographer. The camera came in a very nice, dark brown, leather case complete with strap. When folded up the camera is approximately 6 inches long, 3 3/4 inches high and 2 inches deep. When the lens and bellows are deployed for taking pictures the depth increases to about 5 1/8 inch. It is small but very solid and weighs 1 pound, 10 ounces. The camera is built primarily from metal with a leatherette covering. The bellows also appears to be some type of leather material.  Aesthetically it is a very good looking camera when it is expanded. Although it is about 60 years old it is in pretty good condition. The black paint on the metal borders has been chipped a bit, particularly along the back where you would lay the camera down, and some of the leatherette is peeling, but it certainly isn’t bad considering the age of this camera.

Almost all the main photography business on the Zeiss Ikon Ercona 1 camera takes place at the lens mounted out on the end of the bellows. On the top of the camera there is a film advance knob, a threaded shutter release button, a viewfinder (without a range finder)and the button that unlocks the front to open the bellows. At the lens is the aperture settings, the shutter speed settings, and the lens focusing. The lens is a 110mm f/4.5 Novar Anistigmat. Aperture settings range from the maximum of f/4.5 to a minimum of f/22. The shutter type is not identified on the camera but it appears to be a self-setting, 3-speed, Vario shutter, or an East German copy of one since the Vario was manufactured in West Germany. The shutter speeds are 1/25s, 1/50s, 1/100s, and Bulb. With only six aperture settings and three shutter speeds this camera has a limited range of possible exposure values that will work. But, it actually makes working with the camera a bit more interesting, challenging you to think through your exposure. It also makes using a tripod or monopod more important because the fastest shutter speed available is below the reciprocal of the lens. In reality, a 1/50s or slower shutter speed is best done with a tripod or monopod anyway to ensure the sharpest possible pictures. Fortunately with this camera the tripod does not have to be a heavy duty, top of the line, model since the camera itself is pretty small and light and this shutter will not create any vibration to speak of.

When I first received this camera I knew almost nothing about these old medium format film cameras. The very first thing I had to learn was how to actually load film into the camera. Now, I’m not talking about opening the back of the camera and getting the film started. That was child’s play and I suspect most people will figure that out real quickly. No, I’m talking about exactly how far you should advance the film to be ready to take your first shot, and then your next one. Just so everyone understands, there is no automatic film advance on these cameras. Unlike your favorite little 35mm film camera the film does not advance automatically when you close the back, or advance when you flip the lever. There is no film advance motor or a film advance lever. Nor is there any frame counter to be found anywhere on this camera. With this camera you load the film and then manually advance it by turning a knob on top. You slide open a small cover over a little red window located on the back of the camera and wind the knob until you see a frame number appear. In theory that sounds as if it could not be simpler, but reality is a bit different, especially when you have never done anything like this in your life. And on this camera there are two small windows in the back, not just one. Which one should I use? One window is located in the center of the back. The other window is located in the bottom right quadrant of the back. So, which window should the frame number appear in? I went ahead and loaded my first roll of film and watched for the frame number. I advanced the film until the number 1 showed up in the center window. But I wasn’t absolutely certain that was correct. I knew that several different film formats are supported by 120 film. You can shoot fifteen or sixteen 6×4.5 images, twelve 6×6 images, and eight 6×9 images on a roll of 120 film, depending on how the camera sets the framing. My Pentax 645Nii automatically advances the film with a motor. My Mamiya 645 1000S manually advances via a crank and stops when the first frame is reached. So how exactly did you know where to stop the film on this camera? Like I said, there is nothing automatic about this camera at all. There had to be numbers on the back of the film to correspond with the different formats.

Now I don’t have a manual for this camera. I have looked but haven’t found one yet. But I know that this camera is a dead ringer for the Zeiss Ikon Ikonta, since both cameras are made by the same company, just in different factories on different sides of a border. So I looked up the manual for the 6×9 Zeiss Super Ikonta. Now these cameras are not identical but they are pretty close. And the instructions for the Super Ikonta indicated that the window in the bottom right quadrant was actually the correct window to use for 6×9 exposures. The second window was only used when an optional mask was used to reduce the image size to 6×6. Then I went online and verified that 120 film does indeed have numbers printed on the paper backing in different spots that correlate with the film format being used. Those numbers have been there since Kodak invented 120 roll film so many years ago. So I finally got my courage up and continued advancing the film moving the number 1 in the center window along. Sure enough, after just a bit of turning, another number 1 showed up in the lower window. I was pretty confident now that I was ready to go so I took the camera out onto the back porch to try and take a picture. When I got into the sunlight I was able to see that the numbers “6×9” were embossed into the leatherette next to the window in the bottom right quadrant. Next to the center window were the numbers “6×6”. If I would have seen that embossing in the first place it would not have caused me so much trauma. These are the little things that are waiting to trip up newcomers. People recommend these cameras as beginner cameras for medium format but I feel that is a mistake. Medium format has a learning curve all its own. Don’t complicate things by adding the difficulty of learning to use an entirely new type of camera.

This whole thing is actually very exciting for me. I have owned and have used, some very advanced cameras. But they do not interest me anywhere near as much as these 60 year old folding cameras do. I have read a couple of articles that indicate that the 6×9 format is very difficult to work with and takes much care to get really sharp photos. This is because of the size of the negative. There is so much film area to be exposed by the lens that it can be quite difficult to ensure that the film is flat enough and the lens is still enough to resolve sufficient detail to make the negatives worth enlarging. This means that, while working with all my folders will be fun, this particular one will be very challenging indeed.

OPERATION

Although the Zeiss Ikon Ercona 1 is certainly not a sexy camera, it is a very solid and reliable one, and a great teacher. Over the past several months I have learned a lot about photography, things I had never thought about before. Although the Ercona 1 only has three shutter speeds and 6 aperture settings, I have managed to capture some pretty decent shots with it. On initial inspection most people  would probably dismiss this camera as being totally unsuitable for serious photography. But I know that this simple little camera has a great deal of magic in its lens, and can produce some truly excellent images if used correctly. 

 

I see these simple little folding cameras come available on E-Bay frequently, or similar ones, and lots of people let them pass by. Unlike others I absolutely do not recommend a folding camera as a simple, inexpensive way to get into medium format. But I do think that people are missing out on a great opportunity, a huge amount of fun, and some truly awesome images. I see people clutter the on-line forums with battles about which digital SLR will take the best images. What they fail to understand is that the truth is actually far different than what they post. The reality is, with very rare, and hugely expensive, exceptions, if used properly this extremely simple folding camera will always have better image quality than any digital contender they care to present as a contender. A scanned medium format image holds a huge amount of information. A 6 centimeter by 9 centimeter image equals 2 1/2 inches by 3 1/2 inches. If you scan one of these images on my inexpensive little Epson V500 flatbed scanner at 1600 spi you will end up with 2.56 megapixels per square inch. Since that 6×9 image has 8 3/4 square inches the resulting scanned image is 22.5 megapixels. Hmm, there are not a lot of digital cameras that can boast that level of resolution and they all cost over $2,000 dollars, most of them considerably more, without a lens. I think that you can immediately see the benefit of these little folding cameras. Let’s take a look and see what we have here and what makes this camera capable of such stunning quality.

This was my very first medium format folding camera. I picked it up from Jurgen Kreckel, also know as certo6 on E-Bay. It has been used primarily for black and white ever since I bought it and it has provided some great shots. Not only did this camera get me started on folders, this is also the camera that really got me intrigued with black and white film again. Although I am not a great photographer, I have accidentally taken some very good shots with this camera and realize that I could have some real stunning images if I only knew what I was doing. Of course, that huge 6×9 negative, and its amazing tonality, certainly does not hurt. But for some reason every roll of black and white film I have shot with this camera has come back with at least one gorgeous shot that keeps me pushing to get even better ones.

 

The controls on the Ercona 1 are very, very simple. I think that is part of why I am so attracted to it. The Ercona 1 uses 120 roll film to capture 6×9 images. It comes equipped with a quality f/4.5 110mm Novar Anistigmatic lens set in a very simple, Vario style, 3 speed shutter. The available shutter speeds are 1/25 seconds, 1/50 seconds, and 1/100 seconds. There is also a bulb setting so you can hold the shutter open for as long as you are pressing the shutter. There is no “T” setting and there is no self timer. The shutter is not synched for flash at all so flash pictures are not possible. Finally, unlike almost every other folding camera I have used, this shutter does not have to be manually cocked before it can be used. This is a self-setting shutter so it is always cocked. There is a double exposure prevention system which requires that you advance the film before the shutter will fire again. There is a small, circular hole in the top plate next to the film advance knob. When the film is advanced this small indicator turns red. When the picture is taken this turns to a silver, aluminum color like the top plate. The shutter mechanism itself is quite rudimentary so it is easy to defeat the double exposure prevention if you do actually want to take a double exposure. Along with the shutter the Ercona’s lens assembly is also provided with aperture blades to open and close the lens opening. On the Ercona 1 there are 6 different aperture settings. The aperture blades can be adjusted to any point between the settings printed on the outside edge of the lens assembly so in real use there are almost an infinite number of settings between the maximum opening of f4.5 and the minimum opening of f22. Based on my results the shutter speeds and aperture settings appear to be pretty accurate so film exposure is pretty reliable.

The Ercona 1 does not have a rangefinder either, so focusing is basically done in 3 ways. First, it is done by measuring the actual distance between the film plane and the object being photographed, and then adjusting the lens to that setting. Second, you can estimate the distance to the object you want to focus. Finally you can use the time honored zone, or hyperfocal, system of focusing. In fact, when this camera was built the manufacturer anticipated that a lot of people would use the hyperfocal system of focusing and provided some aids on the camera to help do this. A red dot is located between f/11 and f/16 on the aperture ring, and another red dot is located between 5 and 8 meters on the lens focus ring. By setting the camera on both red dots you can expect images of acceptable sharpness between 13 feet and infinity. In this case the focus sharpness is only acceptable for snapshots, which are rarely enlarged beyond the standard 4×6 image size. You are almost certainly better off calculating depth of field a little more conservatively if you believe that you may be enlarging the results further than snapshot size. As for focus accuracy, the lens is focused using a cell focus method where only the front lens element is adjusted. This is not considered to be highly precise, and there are certainly more accurate focus methods. My results, so far, have been fairly decent but I haven’t really tried to enlarge any of the images I have captured with this camera to far yet . My digital scans from this camera are good for about 22.5 megapixels so I should be able to enlarge and print them on an inkjet to 16×20 pretty easily. Of course the focus will need to be pretty precise to allow that much enlargement. Never having tried before I really don’t know how precise the focus is on these images.

I am currently using a 37mm slip on Series VI Adaptor ring to attach various Series VI filters and a lens shade. I have a lot of Series VI filters available to use with this camera. A Series filter (there are Series IV, Series V and Series VI filters, and maybe others) does not thread onto the lens. An adapter for Series VI filters is purchased that fits your lens. From that point forward any Series VI filter will work with that adapter. Although this system is no longer in full use it is still possible to purchase new Series filters. Of course, if I scan the images I can use Photoshop to manipulate the results so filters certainly are not as critical as they once were. But it is still very handy to be able to use neutral density filters as part of your exposure setting kit, particularly with this camera.

Based on the research I have done the lens used on this camera is a good quality, 3 element, Cooke Triplet design lens. The lens is coated so it will work with color film as in addition to black and white film. A lot of old folding cameras do not have coated lenses since there was no need when they were manufactured. Before color film became available coatings were not commonly applied. The coatings applied to this lens will be fairly rudimentary and I suspect them to be single, not multi, coatings. But, because there are very few lens to air surfaces on these simple Cooke Triplet lenses single layer coatings were pretty effective. So far I have shot 6 rolls of Black & White film and 6 rolls of color film in the Ercona 1 and it seems to handle color quite well. However, I have found it is not very hard to get flare if I get too close to the sun while capturing images in color. The coatings work only so well, after that they lose effectiveness. The image below is an example of what the lens is capable of while aiming into the sun. This one turned out well but I have a couple of other examples with serious flare artifacts in the image. Even this one shows the image deterioration that comes from flare. The sun is above the upper left corner and you can see that the contrast is greatly reduced in that corner of the image.

 

 I will be experimenting more with using my lens shade, as well as some different filters, in the near future to establish how much effect that will have as well. Although I have not done any qualitative evaluations my subjective opinion is that the photos from this very, very simple camera are turning out excellent, and seem to be the equal to any of the images I have taken so far with any of my other medium format gear. When enlarged you can see a huge amount of detail in these images. Here is another image taken a day or two earlier on color film that was over 10 years out of date. Not bad at all for a camera built about 60 years ago. The images this camera can capture absolutely amaze me!

I have used black & white film, color negative film and slide film in the Ercona 1 and it seems to work well with either type. The film is 120 roll film. It will not use 220 film because it has no paper backing to show the frame number. When this camera was manufactured 220 film did not exist, it was an attempt by the film manufacturers to provide more pictures on a roll of film for wedding photographers. They were able to do it by removing the paper backing from the film. So far my favorite film has been Ilford Pan F Plus 50, but I like the results I get from the color film I have used as well. I have only shot two rolls of slide film. One was a very expired roll of Fuji Velvia; very expired. The colors did not turn out as well as I had hoped but the canyon stream view shown in this post came from that roll, so it wasn’t completely unsalvageable. The other was a roll of Provia 100 and I am very pleased with how it turned out. Unfortunately I didn’t have it scanned at the time so I will have to scan the slides myself. When I do get that done I will try to remember to update that post with a sample.

Since there is no rangefinder you are forced to be creative when focusing this camera. If the subject being photographed is close enough I have been known to actually pull out a tape measure and measure. I did this with the flower picture above, which I think turned out great! That image was captured on Ilford Pan F Plus 50 black and white film and I not only measured the distance with a tape measure to set my focus, this was also the first time I used the Bulb shutter and counted off my exposure manually. I have also measured things a bit more roughly by pacing things out to get a basic measurement. Finally, of course, I have made considerable use of zone focusing which is actually pretty effective, particularly if you close down the aperture to f/16 or f/22. This lens actually likes being stopped down but obviously f22 is probably a bit tight and the image will deteriorate due to diffraction. I suspect that f11 is pretty close to ideal as this is where Zeiss decided  to set their hyperfocal indicator.  This is one thing I really need to play around with. I am going to start working with some current film and do some experimentation to get a better sense of which aperture setting is the best for this camera.

Advancing the film is done by using the knob on the top left side of the camera. Lever film advances were not used until sometime in the mid to late 50s, and then almost always on 35mm cameras. These medium format folding cameras use knobs to advance the film. Some folders have automatic film indexing where the knob will stop advancing the film when it has been advanced to the next frame but that is not the case with this camera. There are two red windows on the back and you watch through the right hand, lower, window to see your frame number come up. These cameras were provided with a special film mask that was inserted over the film window and reduced the frame width from 6×9 to 6×6. The middle window shows the frame numbers you need to use when the 6×6 film mask is in place. The mask that came with this camera was misplaced by someone a long time ago so I don’t worry about it. There is no need to cock the shutter on this camera. It is always cocked and ready to shoot. Just press the shutter button on the top of the camera next to the film winding knob. The shutter button is threaded to accept a shutter release cable and this is actually one camera where it is a good idea to use one of these all the time. The shutter speeds are 1/25s, 1/50s and 1/100s. None of these shutter speeds are particularly fast so camera shake is always a possibility with this camera, but for reasons different then might be assumed. This camera lens uses a leaf shutter so the shutter itself is very unlikely to cause any vibration. However, it is so quiet, and there is no click, so you will frequently be uncertain that the shutter has actually fired. Because of this it is actually a real possibility to press so firmly on the shutter button that you cause your own camera shake. I strongly recommend the use of a shutter release cable. On this particular camera there is no self timer so the shutter release cable and a tripod are really the only ways of guarding against this. I actually like carrying my monopod since it is so nice to use with this camera. It seems to provide just the right amount of stability.

There are a some rather unique differences with this camera that are worth discussing if you have never used a camera built in Europe in the 50s. First, the tripod sockets are of the European thread. This means you will need to pick up some adaptors to convert the tripod socket and allow you to use the standard US 1/4 inch threaded tripod screws. And, since all your shutter speed options are so slow, a tripod or monopod is always a good idea with this camera. Next, since you have so few exposure settings, it is very important to give your exposure some real thought. This is one of the few cameras where the use of neutral density filters are more than just a nice option. They are sometimes necessary to adjust your available exposure settings as much as to enhance your picture.

Perhaps even more than my Pentax K1000, this Ercona 1 is the best student camera I own. There are so few exposure options with this camera that you really have to think when you are using it, especially if you would like to reduce your depth of field at all. You cannot just rely on aperture settings and shutter speeds, you have to really consider the light you are shooting in, your film speed, and sometimes which filter you may want to use to change your exposure options.  As an example; let’s say you wanted to use this camera for indoor portraits, and you wanted to reduce the depth of field as much as possible to eliminate any background distraction so you could focus the most attention possible on your model. When using this camera one of the first things you will need to consider is your distance to the subject. The minimum focus distance with this camera is about 1.5m. That is a bit over 59 inches, very close to 5 foot. So to get the focus right you will have to be very careful where and how you pose your subject in relation to the camera. Kodak T-Max 100 film is a wonderful black & white film for portraits with its’ tight grain and beautiful tones, but you will be working with indoors with this film. Look at your exposure charts and determine that, unless you add light, you are not going to be able to pull this off without using bulb shutter settings and manual timing the shutter speed. Since this dramatically increases the odds of motion blur from your subject, even if you are using a tripod, you probably need to consider other options. You can add some light or you can increase the ISO of the film. Since you can’t synchronize flash with this shutter, to add light you will be using lamps or floods. This can make things a little easier since you can use a spot meter to tell if the added light has improved things to the point where you can use your ISO 100 film. You can also increase your film speed. By moving to Kodak T-Max 400 you will get a great improvement in your shutter speed and you are a lot closer to a usable film speed for this portrait. Now you can open up the aperture to f/4.5 and use a 1/25s shutter speed assuming an exposure value of EV 7. If not then you will have to add light anyway. Actually, Kodak Tmax 400 is flexible enough that you can actually push it to ISO 1600, and now your options are great. At ISO 1600 you can almost certainly use a 1/100 second, and even 1/50 second shutter speed and capture a very good image. Of course increasing film speed does increase film grain as well so you will need to consider how that will effect your final image. At least you have a plan now. As you can see, thinking ahead and working out a plan is absolutely critical when you are using this camera. In fact, because it forces you to consider all your options, you probably have a better chance of coming out with a really good image than you would if you just started shooting randomly.

As I said before, at first glance it would appear that this camera is best left behind if you want high quality images. But when you really begin working with it, and exploring its capabilities, you begin to realize that this Ercona 1 has an awful lot to give. I am not losing sight of the fact that I have a number of really good cameras, but this one has the potential to provide me with some absolutely awesome images if I can master it. Images that will compete head to head with any other camera out there.

It is quite amazing when you think about it!

 

 

Posted in black and white, Ercona 1, film, Ikon, Kodak, Medium Format Analog, Zeiss | Comments Off on No Batteries Involved

Playing With Toys

Certainly a little old for this but today was spent playing with toys. Here are a few shots just for the fun of it. These were taken with a Pentax SV. This is an early Pentax using an M42 threaded mount and was produced even before the Pentax Spotmatic cameras came along. It has no meter so you need to use an external meter to read the light.

Anyway, enjoy.

 

Waiting patiently for their turn.

 

 

 

All of these were taken using Kodak BW400CN 35/24 black & white chromogenic film. I love using this stuff. Because this is chromogenic film it can be developed by anyone who develops color film. I had this developed at Wal-Mart and, although they are not perfect, the scans were done by Wal-Mart as well. The camera was mounted on an inexpensive Slik U9000 tripod that has a pan/tilt head. The shutter was fired using a shutter release cable. As long as I was careful the images remain clear. Some of the shots are taken using specialty filters that change the light and give the foggy or multiple image effects. The lens I used is a Super Takumar 55mm f1.8 lens that was distributed as a kit lens when this camera was sold.

You have to appreciate the irony of this. These pictures were taken on 35mm film that was originally created way back in the early 1900s as movie film. The images were taken using a camera that is 50 years old, way before digital became a reality. The lens was manufactured around the same time and certainly was not optimized for digital. But here we are, viewing these images on our computer screens today. You certainly do not have to own multi-thousand dollar digital cameras and lenses to use digital. This was all done with a $50 camera and lens, on film that cost less than $4 a roll, developed the same day by the largest discount department store in the world for $10.93 for prints and scans. The images were created on film this morning and are being posting this evening. Isn’t technology wonderful!

Posted in 35mm Analog, black and white, BW400CN, chromogenic, film, ISO 400, K2, KM, Kodak, Pentax, SV | Comments Off on Playing With Toys

Living with the K1000

I have never really counted them, but there are almost certainly dozens of on-line reviews for the Pentax K1000. So a lack of available information is certainly not why I have chosen this particular camera to talk about. Up to now my blog has talked about using my medium format folding cameras, but I also enjoy using 35mm as well. In fact, if some financial tsunamai were to force me to sell off all my cameras I think I would hold onto my Pentax K1000 right to the very end. You have to keep at least one…right? I can picture it now, homeless in the streets with a K1000 around my neck and a pocketful of outdated black & white film.

Exactly why I am so attached to this camera is a bit of a mystery, even for me. I certainly own much nicer cameras. This one is almost as basic as it gets and has almost no extra features. But there is just something exciting about picking up this camera and heading out to take pictures that makes me feel good; really good. And handling this camera always makes me feel like taking pictures. This is the only camera I own that I will semi-consciously play around with even though I am doing something else. I posted most of this on www.pentaxforums.com a while back and I have chosen to include a revised version here because it probably does the best job of explaining my strange attachment to this camera. This is how I feel.

I Use A K1000

I use a K1000. I’m not sure I understand why. I have lots of other cameras to choose from. I enjoy taking pictures with my digital cameras, and I love the detailed quality of the medium format photographs that I take as well. My K1000 seems somehow out dated and out of place sitting on my desk amid the rest of my autofocus, auto-winding, auto exposing and auto-loading cameras. It has no display screen or digital read out to distinguish it. It doesn’t require a big battery or a battery charger. Somehow it just doesn’t seem to fit in. I am always feeling sorry for it so I frequently pick it up and take it with me.

I use a K1000. There is something reassuring about the solid simplicity of this camera. It is not confusing. There are not so many switches and buttons that I have to stop and think about which ones I should use…and when. I have never once missed a picture with this camera because I didn’t understand how a certain function worked, or which button or dial to use to activate the camera. The shutter dial clicks when I turn to each speed and I can turn the dial and count the clicks, knowing exactly where I’m at all the time. The same with the aperture ring. I don’t need a little Judas window, a viewfinder display or an LCD to know what my settings are. I have never waited for this camera to wake up or been frustrated because the autofocus refused to lock on and release the shutter, allowing me to take my picture. When I use this camera it is me that is slow and deliberate, not the camera. The camera waits for me to tell it what to do, and that’s the way it should be.

I use a K1000. Nothing happens accidentally with this camera. There are no excuses. I cannot claim that I forgot that the mode dial was set on Manual, because there is no Mode dial, and the camera is always on manual. I am never expecting a Program setting to make a decision for me, and then caught unawares when it does not. I am always aware that the Program setting for this camera is in my own mind. I am responsible for the shutter speed, not the camera. I am responsible for the aperture and the depth of field, not the camera. I am responsible for ensuring that my photo is properly focused and sharp as a tack, or dreamy and soft if I want! I am responsible for eliminating camera shake. This camera doesn’t second guess me, it does exactly what I tell it to do, even when it shouldn’t.

I use a K1000. When I lift this camera and look through the viewfinder I am only thinking about the picture, not the camera. What exactly am I photographing? Have I framed it the way I want? Am I trying to isolate something from its surroundings or do I want to show it as part of a larger whole? How do I foresee the picture, what will it look like? This camera is not pretentious enough to be about itself. I don’t have to think about the camera. I know where the controls are and what they do. It is only about the picture.

I use a K1000. Making an image is all about the light. With this camera I am always thinking about the light. Is there enough? Is it the right kind? Is it in the right place? Do I need to add more of it? How will it look on the film? Do I want a filter? If so, which one do I want? The K1000 gives me exactly the right tools to control the light, and not a thing I don’t need.

I use a K1000. I am not distracted. I am not worried about which button controls exposure lock and whether the autofocus has focused on the right thing. I’m not concerned whether I am using matrix or spot metering. I don’t take a picture and then look at the histogram to evaluate the lighting after the picture is taken, I think about the lighting in advance.

I use a K1000. I am not really a student and yet I am always a student. With this camera I am continually learning. There are many nuances to taking a picture and the K1000 requires that I learn those nuances. It doesn’t automatically do it for me. But it doesn’t get in the way of that learning either.

I use a K1000. It is a very, very reliable camera. I take care of it as best I can but it has never failed. When I press the shutter button the shutter fires. When I throw the lever to advance the film, it advances unless I am at the end of the roll. It has been rained on and snowed on. It has taken pictures in a North Dakota winter at 42 below zero (Fahrenheit of course) and it has reliably responded in the Nevada desert at 115 degrees. I bought it used and have no idea how many pictures it has taken but it has gone through a couple of hundred rolls during its’ stay with me. The battery has died but the camera has never stopped yet.

I use a K1000. Like my camera my accessories are very simple. I use a remote shutter cable that does not require electricity. I can use almost any flash I want, as long as I can set it to work manually. I don’t worry about having automatic settings with my flash units. They only work manually with my camera. I have a very fancy and solid tripod, but I’ve also successfully used some pretty cheap tripods to stabilize this camera as well. It has successfully taken pictures with every K-mount lens I have ever tried.

I use a K1000. Most people don’t believe me but focusing is usually very simple and very quick. In fact, I can often take my picture faster then your camera can lock focus so you are allowed to take the picture. I can walk down the streets of my town taking perfectly focused pictures without ever lifting the camera to my eyes, and no one is the wiser. I rarely disturb anyone. There is no whining, whirring autofocus lenses, there are no noises of film advancing following a shot. There is only the sharp snap of the shutter firing. When I reach the end of the roll the film does not suddenly begin re-winding.

I use a K1000. I have lots of other cameras but I don’t really need them, just like I don’t really need another hammer. They are both tools, one drives nails, the other takes pictures. To take good pictures one must learn to use the tool, the camera. Like the hammer the K1000 is simple to learn and doesn’t get in the way of learning to take pictures. But, like learning to use the hammer, there are many subtleties that need to be learned in order to take good pictures. And like a hammer, when I get to cocky I can make a mistake and hit my finger.

I use a K1000. There is a special feeling of pride that comes when I take a really good image with the K1000. I look at the picture and realize that this one is mine. It came from my understandingm, my vision and my creativity. It wasn’t the product of matrix metering or special, computerized exposure algorithms. It didn’t fortuitously appear in a rapid-fire string of shots that were fired off in hopes of getting something good. I planned for it and I waited for the right moment. And when the opportunity arrived I was ready. I made this picture and it is mine!

I use a K1000. It isn’t pretty. It isn’t glamorous. It isn’t fast. It isn’t fancy. It is really just a box with a shutter and a lens. You put film in it and you take pictures. This camera makes it pretty easy to take pictures. If you carry a K1000 it is for the pictures. If I were told one day that I had to get rid of all my cameras but one, it would be tough, but the K1000 is almost certainly the one I would keep.

I use a K1000. It is no longer a spring chicken, but neither am I. Somehow we just seem to work well together.

Stay healthy and keep shooting.

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Can I Be Happy Traveling With A Folder??

In the days of yore, when folders were the king of the heap, traveling around the world with a folding camera was a simple fact of life. They were the teensy weeny digital point and shoot cameras of their day. Let’s be straight about this, folding cameras were never the professional’s choice. In that day and age the newspaper reporter would have been packing around a 4×5 Speed Graphic, or its equivalent. He would not have been caught dead with a folder. No, the folders were the amateur’s darling. That’s why there are still so many of them around. They were used once in a while and then forgotten somewhere in a drawer. They got pulled out for parties, bar mitzvahs and Christmas. A roll or two of film and back in the drawer they went. Face it, if they would have been the choice of the pro then there would not have been as many sold for starters. There are WAY more of us amateurs out there then pros. And those cameras that were sold would have been bruised and beaten unmercifully by that professional who was trying to make a living with his pictures. The results of that rough life are always a trail of broken cameras, today the same as yesterday. The folding camera was never intended for the pro. It was the camera manufacturer’s attempt to get more people to take pictures, and to sell more film. Then upgrading to the next best thing in a year or two. Sounds familiar…right? Just like today. Anyway, as you can see, a traveling medium format folding camera is really nothing new.

But that was then, and this is now. My job involves traveling to a lot of spots around the world, some interesting and others not so interesting. Since I like taking pictures for a hobby I also enjoy carrying a camera and capturing some shots of these interesting locations from time to time. Not unlike a lot of people we both know. Like almost everyone else, in the last several years I have always carried a digital camera. But I have never really been thrilled with the images I got with those cameras. Oh, they looked great when you looked at them in that tiny little display screen. And they were ok to e-mail to friends. Once in a while I would go down to Wal-Mart and spring for some 4×6 prints, which usually turned out ok, or the occasional, 5×7 print. But once in a while I would accidentally capture a pretty decent picture, or so I thought. But everytime I tried to enlarge beyond that 5×7 limit things broke down quickly and I have almost always been disappointed. So I began thinking. Dangerous, right? Obviously, since this little blog really isn’t about digital cameras, you already know I didn’t decide to get a bigger digital camera. Instead I decided to try my hand at using a medium format camera on the road, like they did in the old days. Although they were the digital point and shoot of their day, a 6×6 negative still beats a fingernail-sized image from one of those little digital cameras hands down. Face it, progress ain’t always really progress my friend. Going from a 2 1/4 inch by 2 1/4 inch negative to the equivalent of a 1/4 inch by 1/4 inch digital negative is not really better, no matter what they try to tell you. Getting a really nice, enlargeable image from a folder takes a little extra work, but it can be done. No matter how hard you work at it a digital camera can only capture just so much information inside that tiny little area, no matter how many megapixels they crammed in there. A 6×6 negative, scanned at 2400 dots per inch, is good for about 30 megapixels. That is a lot of photographic information. I think that it is pretty safe to say that my 6×6 medium format negative is going to enlarge a whole lot better than that fingernail sized digital image, grain or no grain.

So, I gave this a bit of thought and decided to carry my Agfa Super Isolette. I knew that it would be a whole lot easier to pull a folding camera out of my backpack then my Pentax 645Nii. The Agfa Super Isolette is one of my nicest medium format folding cameras. It captures a dozen 6×6 negatives on a roll of 120 film. It has a coated lens so I can use it with either color or black and white film without any worries about flare or reduced contrast. It has a very nice, 4 element Tessar lens (Agfa called their’s the Solinar) that is capable of capturing tack sharp images wide open, and a really good Synchro Compur shutter with speeds all the way to 1/500 seconds so I rarely have any difficulty getting shots with it. With the 1/500 second shutter I can easily use ISO 400 film in it during daytime so I am reasonably assured of decent, handheld, shutter speeds in most circumstances. Although it isn’t the lightest folder I own, it folds up into a very compact little package. Finally, even though it is a manual camera, it is actually reasonably easy to use. After all, just because I am leaving the digital camera at home doesn’t mean that I want to do without convenience. And using the Agfa is about as convenient as it gets with medium format folding cameras. Overall it seemed the perfect camera to carry around the world in my backpack.

Next, I decided to carry black & white as well as color film with me. I chose some ISO 400 black and white film, some ISO 400 Kodak Portra color film, and some Fuji ISO 400 and 160 color film. I didn’t bring any slide film on this trip, but in retrospect I think I’ll bring some along on the next trip. I left it behind this time because I didn’t envision using a tripod a lot, but I actually did have several opportunities to use a tripod so Velvia 50 or 100 is certainly doable and would have provided some excellent transparencies. But, the film I selected worked out great. I don’t know if you have had the opportunity to use the ISO 400 films that are being produced nowdays, but it is some really nice stuff. It has less grain then ISO 200 film had just 20 years ago, and it scans beautifully. It packed neatly into the bottom of my backpack, just above my shrink-wrapped bag of emergency clothes, and it really did not get in the way. I pulled out 3 extra rolls for the trip and put them in one of the side pockets so that they would be easy to get at. Overall I did not experience any additional inconvenience from the film. Let’s face it, although film is a lot bulkier than a couple of memory cards, it still is pretty compact and does not take up a lot of room. Since the Agfa doesn’t use batteries I wasn’t weighed down with these. But my little Sekonic L208 uses a couple of CR2032 watch batteries so a pack of them went in the bottom of the bag as well. If you have ever seen these little wafer thin watch batteries you know I was not seriously inconvenienced by carrying two of them. I had a harder time finding them after the trip was over then I did carrying them.

Since people have been carrying medium format folding cameras around the world on airplances far before I was born it was pretty obvious it can be done. However, this is a slightly different world and carrying film has new challenges, or so you would think from reading the stories being posted on the internet. I think we have all read the horror stories of trying to convince security personnel to hand inspect your film rather then let it go through the scanner and be ruined, and we have all seen the lead lined film bags being sold on Adorama and E-Bay so you can safely get your film through Airport Security. As things turned out, there was good and there was bad about the trip, but the good and the bad were not exactly what I had anticipated in the beginning. When I first came up with this idea I really thought that my biggest challenge would be getting my film through airport security. I had visions of grumpy old TSA agents pawing through my bag, ripping open my rolls of film, or asking to see the inside of my camera. Well, that didn’t happen. I had 30 rolls of medium format 120 roll film in the bottom of my backpack and nobody even gave it a 2nd glance. TSA states that the scanning x-rays used for carry-on luggage will not fog or damage film if it ISO 400 or lower. I can certainly attest to that. None of my film was hurt by the scanners. However they do say that the scanners used for checked baggage could cause a problem so they do recommend carrying it with you and not checking it. In addition I had read that people were forced to pull unused film out of their cameras by over zealous security agents. I purposely did not load any film in my camera but this turned out to be a complete non-issue. There may have been a time when this was a problem but evidently not any longer. No one even asked to take my camera out of my bag, let alone open it up so they could have a look inside it. Obviously no one was too worried about me and my film.

Once I was in the airport I pulled out the camera and loaded a roll of Arista Edu 400 black and white. What you see here was my very first official shot of the trip. Pretty bad actually. Probably not the best I could do, and I obviously need to work a little on my focusing, but I just set the camera on the arm of the chair and took the picture.

Using that same roll of film I took a few more shots throughout my trip down to Chile. One of the next shots I took was of the tarmac out the window. I set the camera on the heater vent along the bottom of the window and took this shot. Fortunately it is a little better focused.

There are more of the same but the real story here is not the pictures I took, or whether they are worth posting out on the internet for lots of people to look at. Rather the most amazing thing to me was the reaction I was getting. Next to my concern about carrying film through security, my next concern was actually using the camera, particularly in the airport. I didn’t really want to become the center of attention when I pulled out a medium format camera and started snapping pictures. In fact, that was one of the reasons that I decided to carry the Agfa rather than my Pentax 645Nii. I figured the Pentax was just too big and would attract too much attention. And it may have. But the Agfa certainly did not. In fact, most people didn’t even look my way, and if they did they certainly didn’t dwell on the fact that I was carrying a camera. This was actually the opposite of what I had anticipated. I didn’t run all over the airport snapping pictures like a mad man, but I did get to the point where I pulled the camera out of my bag without too much thought and grabbed a shot where I wanted. So my second worry really turned out like the first, a complete non-issue. No one cared. Which was great.

I really enjoyed using the camera. It was far nicer then using my digital point and shoot Canon, and not nearly as inconvenient as I imagined in the beginning. I carried my little Sekonic light meter around my neck under my shirt. I would reach down, grab the meter, take a reading, and drop it back down under my shirt. This took two or three seconds tops. I would then set my exposure on the camera based on the reading I had and how much depth of field I wanted. Focusing was really easy. Most of my pictures turned out to be at infinity, and those that weren’t I just use zone focusing. The entire process would typically take 6 to 10 seconds. Certainly it is quicker to use the digital but I can tell you from experience that by the time I take a picture, and then chimp the display screen, I am using up almost that same amount of time. I do get more pictures with the digital but I am not nearly as happy with the results when I get home. The only one I wasn’t happy with was that first one, and I’m going to try that again. Using the camera was actually very easy. I got to take some great shots and I had some great fun with it. I found it a lot more enjoyable carrying my folder around, pulling it out, setting it up, and taking pictures. I wore my “film vest” and carried the camera in the inside pocket of the vest, where it was always immediately available. Here is another shot taken of the harbor in Antofagasta, Chile from the sea wall near the hotel I stayed at. I suspect that, with time, the novelty will wear off and I won’t find it near as interesting to use the folder. But I can already tell you that I have enlarged a couple of my shots to 11×14, and I am very happy with the results. That would have been practically impossible to do with any of the images from my digital point and shoot.

Carrying a medium format film camera around the world is not that difficult. In fact, it is pretty easy. Using a film camera on the road is really no more difficult than using it at home is. I am going to do this a lot more. My results were much better. But I did say there was good, as well as bad about my experiences using this camera. The good was that my fears were pretty much misplaced and I won’t be near as nervous about doing this the 2nd time around. But, there was some bad. The bad was that my camera broke during the trip. Of course, a broken camera happens. Digital cameras die all the time. But in this case the shutter quite working correctly. It would not always catch and stay cocked when I rotated the lever to the cocked position. I would try to cock the shutter and it would not catch, instead it would seem to fire. Now, what I did not know was whether the camera was shooting a frame every time the shutter failed to catch. If so, I was double, triple, and sometimes quadruple exposing one frame of film as I tried to get the shutter to hold in place correctly. Obviously this meant that the frame would be ruined. But, since I could not watch the shutter, I didn’t know. And unlike digital, I did not have a display screen to check. The next problem was I did not know whether or not the shutter speeds were still working correctly. The shutter still seemed to catch and work at 1/250 seconds and 1/500 seconds. Obviously it would have been a pain in the butt, but I could still have worked around that, if I had been sure that it was still actually working at that speed. Since the shutter was obviously malfunctioning, the malfunction was also possibly affecting the actual shutter speed. There just was no way to know. So, rather then use up film that may end up being ruined because of inaccurate exposure, I finally just put the camera away for the remainder of the trip. As it turned out I was only able to shoot 5 rolls of film during the trip. Fortunately, most of the shots I took did turn out, but the problem certainly did affect the shots. The shutter speed was actually working correctly at 1/250 and 1/500 seconds. The shots taken at those speeds did turn out correctly. But the shutter was actually firing at the slower speeds when it would not catch properly, so those frames were ruined.

However, this has only whetted my appetite for more. The Agfa is being repaired as I write this. Mr. Jurgen Krekel is an absolute wonder with folding cameras and I am very glad I know him. Next time I’ll carry a second folder just in case one of them malfunctions again. Of course, Murphy’s Law holds that the camera will not malfunction unless it is the only one available. So I am sure that I will carry two folders and only need one for several more years.

So what have I learned so far? One, carrying film around the world is no big deal. The Security people obviously aren’t too worried by it. Next, carrying and using a medium format folder on the road is very easy and does not seem to cause any disturbance among the traveling public. Finally, cameras do break down, even well engineered and manufactured German ones, carry a spare if that is important.

Until next time, here are two more shots for the road.

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