Unsolicited editorials on cameras, lenses, film, developer, and black and white photography in general.

My Photo
Location: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sigma 50 f 1.4

Ever since I first saw them in the 1970's, Sigma lenses always seemed like just another Vivitar or Soligor budget lens. But the independent lens makers like Sigma and Tamron are getting more serious with their optical quality, at least in some of their offerings. I was sort of surprised to read the reviews of the current Sigma 50 1.4 lens for dSLR and full frame SLR cameras. Some reviews have it neck and neck or even better than the current Canon or Nikon 50 1.4 primes. An admitted 50 mm focal length fanatic, I managed to hold off for about a year before finally caving in.
This weekend was an overcast, cool day in New Orleans, and we had a field trip to the Audubon Zoo for some of our biology students. Good opportunity to try out the glass. The frame below is an uncropped shot at f 2.0, ISO 200. The point of focus was the lizard's eye. I like the lens' bokeh at this aperture, particularly of the girl's face.

Below is a cropped area of the lizard's eye from the same frame, again without any sharpening or PS enhancements.
No complaint about the sharpness at nearly full aperture.

The frame below is an uncropped, unedited shot at f 5.6, ISO 200.

A cropped area of same photo, no PS tweaking.

Shot of gorilla below is at f 5.0, full frame and unedited.

A crop of same photo, unedited.

I have to say that I'm liking this Sigma lens. It IS rather big and heavy, with a huge front element. But I'm not apt to walk out the door with a Domke bag full of lenses, so carrying this one 50 around all day is not a problem. I think it is going to work out well as a street/documentary photography lens. I'm happy with the center sharpness and the bokeh. Sigma is not particularly famous for its durability over the long haul, so it will be interesting to see how this lens holds up over time.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Tamron SP AF 28-75 f/2.8 Macro Zoom Lens

I've always favored single focal length lenses because of their superior optical performance. Back when zoom lenses were first introduced, they usually didn't match the performance of a prime. Zoom have gotten better in the past 40 years, but getting a fast one meant getting a heavy one. When I recently pored over reviews of the Tamron SP AF 28-75 f/2.8 Macro Zoom, I was surprised that it was so light compared to my Tokina zoom of the same focal lengths and aperture. The price was right, so I ordered one.
Unlike many zooms from the recent dSLR years, the Tamron covers a full frame rather than an APS size frame. Its weight balances nicely with a full frame dSLR (whereas my earlier Tokina is very front-heavy).
I have had a chance to shoot about four hundred frames with it at a recent pet fair at my college. The sun was blazing bright on the first day of fall, so I shot mostly in the shadows. My impressions so far are good.
The picture above is not technically perfect since the pooch was in a state of perpetual motion and, at 1/200 second, is a bit blurred. The aperture is f/3.5 shot at an ISO of 200. My reasons for choosing this frame is to show the sharpness at f/3.5, and the pleasing (IMO) bokeh when the lens is nearly wide open. Click on the image to see it enlarged.
The photo below is at the far end of the zoom range (75mm) and at f/4.0 at ISO 200, 1/160.

No sharpening in PS, direct from RAW with some color adjustments to remove the bluish tint from being in the shade. A crop from the dog's eye looks pretty good to me considering I wasn't using a tripod.
Virtually everything I shoot is with focal lengths from 28 to 75, so this lens can be the only one I tote around. I look forward to putting it through its paces in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Deactivating the comments feature

This blog seems to have turned into a public bulletin board for posting the addresses of web sites featuring Japanese child pornography. As a result, I have had to disable the comments feature. I regret having to do that since the comments were helpful and interesting,  but I found myself having to scan the blog several times a day to removing the objectionable (and illegal) pornography URLs.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Finding Time for Photography

I’ve become a very poor example. The hackneyed phrase not practicing what I preach comes to mind. I’m the administrator of the PAW forum, one dedicated to encouraging people to post a picture a week (one taken that week mind you). We are nearly at week 26 and my PAW is at week 13. And I haven’t posted to my own blog in a month. Too damn many things going on. There were photo opportunities, but I didn’t have my camera with me. I have tried time management systems such as the Franklin Day Planner (I even attended their seminar). I tried the Stephen Covey Seven Habits system as well. But those systems encourage making to do lists and prioritizing them. How does one prioritize the task of “have a camera with you when a photo opportunity arises”? Worse yet, they always seem to focus on the big picture, requiring you to decide what matters most. You children, your religion, your prosperity, your health, your wife (not in that order). Where does “pick up the dry cleaning” fit in there? Well, last week I decided to switch from a PC to a Mac, and things began to change. Read on.
I have always been a huge fan of PIM software, all the way back to the 1980’s with Lotus Agenda and Instant Recall. I have probably tested 50 PIMs over the past two decades, switching from PackRat to Lotus Organizer to Day Timer to Ecco to Time and Chaos to Outlook to Ascend back to Ecco. You get the picture. Well, none of those run on a Mac (although Entourage, Outlook’s cousin on the Mac comes close). So I started googling for a good PIM for the Mac. All of a sudden GTD started popping all over the place. GTD is the abbreviation for Getting Things Done, a different time management system created by David Allen. I had seen the letters before, nested in the manuals for information managers such as Ultra Recall and Achieve Planner for the PC. But these Mac programs seemed to be far more dedicated to the Getting Things Done system. I went and bought David Allen’s book. By chapter one, I figured that I was hooked. You don’t try to tangle with big projects directly. You break them down into little subprojects, in order. If the subprojects are too big, you break them down, in order. And you tag each task with where it will occur. Each task has a “place” or a “context”. Thus, I tag each task with a category such at “at my desk”, “on the road”, “at home”, or “west bank campus”. All of this is headed toward one major goal of the system…to empty your head of the minutia that run through your mind during your waking hours. By breaking up big tasks into smaller tasks in a specific order, and by encouraging you to write down all commitments, no matter how important to you, you can clear your mind. And by attaching a place or context to each task, you can focus on only those tasks that are germane to where you are. What is most unlike the Franklin and Covey systems is the lack of prioritization. GTD encourages you to take care of the little things, things that might be a “C” priority on your to do list but that take only a few minutes to complete. Many of these minor “C”-priority tasks are commitments you have made to others, commitments that take only a few minutes, but that you never get to because you never complete your “A” and “B” commitments.

This system, to me, almost requires software to facilitate it. I cannot maintain separate to do lists for every place or context, and I cannot be rewriting the lists every time a new commitment pops up that belongs at the top of the list. Fortunately, there are numerous GTD software solutions out there, and some are free. Some are even web based, so you have access to your tasks as long as you are attached to the web. I did a lot of searching, and the best one appears to be futureware (a program that hasn’t been released yet). OmniFocus (from the makers of other killer software for the Mac) promises to be the tool to have, but it is still in beta. I can’t get a beta copy of it from them. When I tried to post a question on their OmniFocus forum, it was rejected (the OmniFocus forum is a read-only forum…a forum where you can listen but can’t talk). And there is no estimate of when it will be released. Well, people out there are using something that’s available, so I googled some more.

Life Balance is a program that sort of turned me off at first, primarily because of its name. Too touchy-feely, too much like the “What Matters Most” solutions of Franklin Covey. But there are versions for the Mac and for the PC, and the data files are interchangeable between these systems. Nearly all Mac software has a functioning “trial” version that will work for 2-4 weeks. I downloaded and installed about 15 of them, and ultimately settled on Life Balance. If it is supposed to balance my life, I’ll give it an easier task…just give me enough time each week to take some photos and post them. And let me get back to posting on this blog. In the week that I’ve been using it, I do feel much more productive and I do fret less about the tasks that need to be done. They are all posted, in order and in context, in the Life Balance program. Now my only challenge is those folks who have commitments to me who don’t use the GTD system.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Agfa APX 100 in Prescysol

When I shot this roll of APX 100, I was hoping that it would develop nicely in Prescysol. PMK Pyro and Prescysol are the two most consistent developers on my shelf, and I like using both. Both are liquids, both have a good shelf life, and both are economical and easy to use. I have had good results with Rodinal and APX 100, but APX 100 is the only reason I still bother to keep Rodinal around. I'd would rather that it worked well in Prescysol too.
I will be taking about 20 rolls of APX 100 to Santa Fe this week. Now was a good time to shoot a test roll. The lens was a 50/1.4 Summilux pre-asph. The aperture was probably around f/2.8. Shutter speed was 1/1000.

The test shots were very contrasty, which is what I expect from APX 100. That's one of the things I like about APX 100. Maximum black is just that. There are some blown-out highlights, but that is to be expected when shooting a subject in the shade while leaving the unshaded parts in the frame. What concerned me more was grain and resolution. The grain of APX 100 seems less apparent than when developed in Rodinal. The resolution is fairly good as well.

To be fair to Rodinal, I should probably shoot some APX 100 under similar conditions and try Rodinal. But that's low on my priority scale. I like the APX100 + Prescysol combination. I am hoping to get some feedback from others who have tried it.

Freestyle Photo claims that their Arista 100 is APX 100. If that's so, that's great. It's dirt cheap. I have a case of APX100 that I bought when Agfa went belly up two years ago. But I'd like to think it was still available after that case is gone.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Bags for the Rangefinder User - 5 Good Choices

My first camera bag was a leather Samsonite bag that I bought at a department store for about $8 in the late 60’s. It had no special compartments, so I tore an old towel into squares and put the squares in the bag to keep my Soligor 35/2.8 and 135/3.5 from clacking together. My next bag was a black plastic atrocity from Spiratone. It was cheap, felt kind of sticky like it was made of licorice candy, and smelled like chemicals. None of the zippers seemed to work. I was a graduate student back then, so $10 was pretty much my food allowance for a week. A nice bag was out of the question.

Things are far different decades later. Eveready cases for cameras are unheard of, and there are some high-end bags that look good and work well for the serious photographer. Single lens reflexes still dominate for the professional and enthusiast photographer, but I still prefer the smaller rangefinders. Is there a perfect bag for a kit consisting of a rangefinder + lens and two additional lenses? Five choices come to mind. All five comfortably hold a rangefinder with three lenses (one attached). How much more you can get into the bag varies from bag to bag.

  • Billingham Hadley
  • Crumpler 5-Million Dollar Home
  • Domke 803
  • Domke F5XB
  • M-Classic Bag

The Billingham Hadley is the most expensive of the lot and one of the most attractive bags. The padding surrounding the equipment is the thickest and presumably affords the best protection. Repositionable partitions allow you to vary the size of the inner slots. Two generous expandable pockets in the front will accommodate film, lens paper, and batteries. With its leather accents, it won’t embarrass the well-dressed shooter. Securing the top of the bag are two leather straps with eyes. I find these a bit awkward to use in the field. On the positive side, opening the bag doesn’t produce the grating ripping noise of Velcro, making it a bit more discrete than some of the others. I find the strap attachments to the sides of the bag to be a bit too low for my taste. It sometimes gives me the feeling that the bag is top-heavy.

The Crumpler 5-Million Dollar Home is slightly more pouch-like in appearance. The internal dimensions are smaller than most of the bags, so the camera and lenses fit a bit more snugly, a win-win situation in my view. Like the Billingham Hadley, you can reposition the partitions inside of the bag, making a larger slot in the middle for the camera. The bag itself appears to be a synthetic canvas, and the padded inside also appears to be made of a synthetic compound. This might be a plus, making the material water resistant, and less likely to produce dust or support mold. Unlike the Hadley, there aren’t fat pouches for film, so a jacket with big pockets might be necessary when carrying this bag fully loaded. There are two levels of security for holding the top flap in place. A large piece of Velcro will hold the flap securely in place. If you need more security than that, a black plastic pinch clasp (yeah, I made that name up, but you know what I’m talking about) adds to the security. On the negative side, every time you open the flap, the peace is shattered with a deafening ripping noise. If you want to access the inside flat pocket, another deafening velcroesque ripping sound will put the pigeons to flight. If James Nachtwey had used the Crumpler 5-Million Dollar Home, he’d have been taken out by friendly fire years ago. The Crumpler strap appears to be similar to seat belt material. This is a sturdy bag. If you haven’t looked at the Crumpler web sites, be prepared for even more noise. Singing with unintelligible words, oinking, flushing, flatulence, resophonic guitar, horses whinnying. There are four versions of the site (USA, Australia, Singapore, and Canada), with different noises. At one point, I couldn’t click on a menu choice because an animated arm would reach out and block it from my mouse arrow. If you hate the site, you are probably a Billingham Hadley kind of guy. NOTE: The day after this blog was posted, a reader suggested dealing with the Velcro noise issue by putting some Velcro (or even tape) on the Velco. Excellent suggestion. I had thought of meticulously trimming the Velcro off with a razor blade, but his idea is better.

The Domke 803 is probably the popular choice among rangefinder users for several reasons. It looks more like an army surplus bag than a camera bag, it can be made to look even crappier by throwing it in the washing machine, it can be waterproofed with various canvas waterproofing sprays, and it is easy to access from the top. A three-slot insert provides sufficient room for a camera + two additional lenses. Zippered sleeves and two flapped (with Velcro) pockets can carry your film, batteries, lens paper, etc. Padding is not as luxurious as the Hadley. The partitioned sleeves are made of nylon cloth reinforced with flexible plastic foam. The top flap is held security in place by a steel hook clasp like you would see on a dog leash. This bag is reasonably priced, has the least frills, and is the most blue-collar-looking bag described here.

The Domke F5XB is considerably smaller than the Domke 803, but it can still accommodate a rangefinder plus two additional lenses. But there isn’t much room for anything else other than lens hoods, lens paper, and batteries. I actually like it better than the 803 for several reasons. The F5XB can be tethered securely to your body via a long tunnel on the back through which you snake your trouser belt. This, along with the shoulder strap, securely fastens the bag to you and eliminates the problem of the bag swinging around while you are walking, climbing, etc. Like the Crumpler, there are two levels of security. Velcro hold the top flap securely in place, and a heavy-duty zipper runs along the top lengthwise. Two movable nylon partitions allow you to change the size of the internal compartments. A spongy fabric protects the contents from bumps.

The M-Classic Bag is the least well known of the five rangefinder bags here. The manufacturer is one Seth Levine who sells the bags from a Spartan web site. Like the Billingham bags, the M-Classic is handsome, made from canvas with generous leather trim. Of the bags described here, it affords the least padding. The compartments inside the bag are large canvas pockets that can carry a lot of equipment. This might be the best bag for a dressy event if you are not expecting anything violent or traumatic to happen. The pockets are particularly huge. Like my Samsonite bag of 40 years ago, I might want to shove a few hand towels in the bag to add protection.

Any of these five bags will serve the rangefinder shooter well. For users of digital rangefinders, the Crumpler 5-Million Dollar Home and the Domke F5XB might be the best choices, based on their snugness and their lack of room for film.

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Leica M8 - First Impressions

It took me months to finally decide to get one of these cameras. I’m not that fond of digital, but the dearth of processing labs down here post-Katrina made shooting anything other than B&W silver halide impossible. What is there to say that hasn’t been said about the M8? Not much, so I’ll make it short.
  • It feels very much like a 35mm rangefinder – If you love to shoot with a rangefinder, you’ll warm up to this camera very quickly. It can probably best be described as a digital M7. You even take the bottom plate off to change the SD card. It is a bit deeper than a film rangefinder, but nothing noticeable.
  • It has a wonderful viewfinder, like all Leica M cameras.
  • It lacks most of the confusing razzle dazzle of digital cameras. No scene modes, no program modes, no irritating flashes popping up when you’re trying to be unnoticed in subdued light. It does have a histogram if you like that sort of thing. And it does have white balance settings. But I shoot everything in RAW mode and ignore that in-the-camera stuff.
  • You don’t have to find a comfortable easy chair somewhere to make changes in settings. There is a menu with some settings that I don’t fool with. And there is a “set” button that allows you to change ISO settings fairly quickly.
  • The sensor is fairly big, so the noise levels are similar to those with a good dSLR.
  • It writes to the SD card fairly quickly.
  • The noise of the motor cocking the shutter is relatively quiet. No sharp metallic sounds.

Are there problems?

  • It is fussy about the SD cards it uses. Unless you know one will work correctly in it, don’t buy one without consulting the PDF file of acceptable cards. I spent the first day and a half fiddling with all of my SD cards until I found one that worked. And don’t format the card on the computer. Format it only in the camera.
  • The spring under the battery is a bit springy. The first time I released a battery, it shot out and hit me in the lip.
  • The LCD is prone to scratching. I haven’t observed this but heard it from another M8 user.
  • The Leica strap is apparently not as secure as previous straps. Again, this was reported by another user who said the plastic locking cover broke off and his M8 disengaged from the split ring, falling to the ground.
  • There are lenses you absolutely should not use with it. Collapsible lenses are iffy, depending how deeply they collapse. Lenses with elements that project into the body are iffy. There are conflicting opinions of which you should and should not use. Yikes, even the 50/2 Summicron is on the hit list. Which version of 50/2 Summicron? I don’t know.
  • It’s hard to decide which lens to use. What?

Leica made a new and very expensive Tri-Elmar lens especially for the M8. However, I bought the M8 only because I already had a lot of M and LTM glass. With a relatively large but not 24x36mm sensor, all lens focal length have to be multiplied by 1.33 to get the equivalent focal length on the M8. Thus, a 28mm lens acts like a 37mm lens, a 35mm lens acts like a 47mm lens, and so on. Theoretically, that should be easy to adjust to, but part of my brain is telling me to put a 28mm lens on it, and part of my brain wants to put a 50mm lens on it. As a result, I almost have to carry just one lens, the one on the camera. If I carry more lenses, I keep futzing with them. A 28 is actually a pretty good choice. But you still get the distortion inherent in wide angle lenses and, unlike an SLR, this distortion doesn’t show up in the viewfinder.

Am I glad that I bought it? I probably won’t until the last payment has been made on my MasterCard. Until then, it just feels like a liability rather than an asset. And I still like film.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Photo by Sammy Davis, Jr.

This book is a mixed bag and I come away from it with mixed feelings. If Sammy Davis, Jr. shot as many frames as the book seems to imply, he perhaps wasn't much of a photographer as many of the images in the book are of dubious quality. However, I cannot make the mistake of comparing him to contemporaries such as HCB. He was a singer, an actor, a dancer, a muscian, and a consumate live entertainer. He seemed to take everything he did very seriously. Some of his images in this collection are rather good. Others were very badly exposed and, unfortunately, printed anyway. I think he wasn't much of an editor and, to be fair again, he didn't assemble these images. Some of the frames are delightful.

One thing that makes this collection interesting is the subject matter. He had access to, of course, the Rat Pack, Marilyn Monroe, Richard Burton, Liz Taylor, Jerry Lewis, Nat King Cole, and so on. Most of the images are candid. Those are pretty good, and some are actually very good. Other shots are posed with big smiling faces blasted flat with a flash bulb, harsh shadows on the wall. Some are blurred, and some are slightly out of focus. If you weed out everything that a proper editor would weed out, the book would be half its size. But some folks want to see the bad stuff because they want to see the people in the bad shots. The book isn't expensive ($50, 2/3 of that from amazon.com). For $32 books, a big book would sell better than a thin book.

Was Sammy a good photographer? I think he was a good amateur photographer. He used good equipment. Some of his shots are inspiring. The snapshots are awful, especially those with flash. I preferred the blurred motion, slightly out of focus, natural lighting shots. Probably because I shun the flash altogether, use a Rolleiflex and Nikon RF, and a lot of my shots are blurred and slightly out of focus. But I have the sense to bury the really bad ones never to be seen by others.

The narrative by author Burt Boyar is interesting and welcomed. He has spent a lot of time studying and writing about Sammy Davis, Jr., and I'm glad that he was responsible for assembling this collection. Should you buy it? Go to Barnes and Noble, get a cup of coffee, and look at it. Ultimately, it is probably a book that a serious photographer might want to check out of the local library. But I was pleasantly surprised by some of Sammy's shots here. He never did anything without trying to do it well. He was a lot better photographer than was Patton, but photography wasn't Patton's strongest suit either. I came away from this book with even fonder feelings toward Sammy than I had before. I've always liked him as a man.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Classic 200 in Prescysol

What has the grain of push-processed Delta 3200 from a Minox yet is slower than TRI-X? Why would anyone want to know?

The European 200 ISO films all seem to have one thing in common: grain. The highly touted and expensive Bergger 200 is grainier than TRI-X, I found the Paterson 200 to be overly grainy, and the Classic 200 discussed here is grainiest of all. Classic 200 is touted as having a nostalgic, retro look. That might be the case if shooting 8x10 film, but with 35mm, it is grainier than anything I’ve ever seen short of Robert Capa’s botched Normandy shot. But, to be fair, it is the least expensive of the European 200 ISO films.

There is speculation that these 200 ISO black and white films are all from the same factory. At last count, we have:

  • Bergger 200
  • Classic 200
  • Foma 200
  • Forte 200 [I think Forte just folded]
  • Paterson 200

There may be more, but these have been commercially-available in the United States. I’m pretty sure that the Foma 200 is unlike the others. It develops beautifully in PMK Pyro and is one of my favorite films. The others? Any one of them would have been perfect for documenting the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Or just about any sandstorm. Or the Marlboro man’s lips. Other than that, it is just way too grainy. I have a few rolls left, but am not interested enough in this film to go out and purchase and grain-dissolving developer like Microdol-X. Inside me lurks the fear that I will run into a Pulitzer prize-winning photo opportunity only to dash my chances because my Leica was loaded with a roll of $1.99 film.

You'll have to excuse me for the subject matter in the pictures posted here. To add insult to injury, those guys were calling me a fornicator and a Catholic. The closeup of them reminds me of the shooter on the grassy knoll.

By the way, I developed it in Prescysol.

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Kodak TRI-X in Prescysol

TRI-X and D76 might be thought of as standard bearers in the black and white world. If a film doesn’t develop well in D76, its chances of being accepted are reduced. Likewise, if a developer doesn’t work well with TRI-X, it generally ends up being marketed as having some other feature (good with zone system, ultra fine grain, high acutance, etc.). The developers that sell best are those that emulate D76 (HC 110, XTOL, and ID11).

Recently, I’ve been using an obscure developer named Prescysol. Previous blog entries have praised its performance with Fuji Neopan Acros, Bergger 200, and Agfa APX400. The acid test would ultimately boil down to how it worked with TRI-X.

I developed this roll of TRI-X exactly like I have developed everything in Prescysol. No matter what film you are using, it seems to work best at the film’s nominal ISO rating, and developed at 75F for 10.5 minutes with only three periods of agitation. The subject (photographer Bill Nelsch) was photographed with a 75/1.4 Summilux wide open in a restaurant. As I expected, the grain was well controlled, the grays are all there, and the areas in focus are as sharp as one is going to get with TRI-X. An enlargement of Bill’s eye shows the subdued characteristics of the grain with this developer.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Agfa APX 400 in Prescysol

I was disappointed when news of Agfa’s demise surfaced. I expected some of the smaller companies to go under, but not the German film manufacturer that represented a cornerstone in the market. This isn’t like Oldsmobile going under. It is more like GM going under. So when the news broke, I bought two cases of APX 400 film and one case of APX 100 film. I liked Agfa black and white film and paper back in my wet darkroom days, and if I didn’t pick up a few hundred rolls, I’d have been kicking myself. Then I shot some and scanned it.

Prints from scanned film aren’t quite the same as prints from conventional printing, especially considering that I have always used a diffusion head enlarger. The Nikon Coolscan picks up every grain of silver in sharp focus. So I’ll try divided D76. Still too grainy. PMK Pyro should do the job well. It not only develops the silver in the negative, it also softens the image by applying a layer of stain in the exposed areas. At least it does with Ilford FP4. But not with Agfa APX 400. There is almost no staining on the negatives. How about the old photojournalist favorite 777 developer? Better, but when you get close, it is very gritty. Someone suggested Rodinal. Although that flew in the face of logic, I gave it a shot. As I expected, the grainiest prints yet.

So the APX 400 stayed in a bag on my bedroom floor for 6 months, with another case unopened. I used TRI-X and Neopan 400 instead, and played with Foma 200 Creative. Maybe I could unload the Agfa film on eBay.

A month or so ago, I was rooting through some of my stored developers and ran across Prescysol. It had to be about 2-3 years old, and is in concentrated liquid form. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I decided to try it. TRI-X + Prescysol was a very nice combination [reviewed earlier]. Acros in Prescysol is also a very nice combination [reviewed earlier]. Bergger 200 in Prescysol was, as I expected, gritty. But in a sort of good way. So why not push my luck and try APX 400.

What bad conditions for a test roll. Early afternoon on a clear, haze-free day in blinding sunlight with lots of dark shadows. Why bother? But this was a once-a-year event, the Mystic Krewe of Barkus Parade in the French Quarter. I cringed with every shot, expecting chalk, soot, and abundant grit. No turning back.

The developed negatives looked good, at least to the unaided eye. Scanning them yielded a surprise. This notoriously sooty, gritty, grainy film yielded some nice grays and very subdued grain when developed in Prescysol. I followed the directions down to the letter, agitating only three times, letting the tank stand untouched for 3-3.5 minutes at a time. The test shots here are enlarged but not manipulated in any way. Just to convince you that the grain is well-controlled, I am including a close-up of a close-up.

I cannot imagine using any other developer with this film. I am anxious to see how this developer works with APX 100.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Recovering a Vintage Camera

I like using the high quality post-WWII cameras. Rolleiflex, Nikon, Contax, and Leica made some very durable professional cameras that have proven their excellent build quality by continuing to be excellent shooters today. And there are still some expert repairmen (and repairwomen) who can keep them running like they were made yesterday. But cameras are not built only of brass, aluminum, and steel. Other more perishable materials were used in making these instruments. And the synthetic materials of that era are no match for today’s polymers.

A few years ago, I bought a very well-cared-for Leica M4-2. Not a scratch, dent, or bright mark anywhere on the body. Last December, I pulled it out with the intention of testing some film and developer when I felt the crunch of old vulcanite, Leica’s hard rubber covering of their 35mm cameras during the mid-20th century. The brittle black rubber was on the camera’s back plate, under my thumb. The back plate is the only flexible part of an M4-2 body, and the miniscule flexing was enough to separate the rubber from the metal below it. What to do?

Cameraleather.com is web-based operation that offers durable leather and leatherette coverings for an amazing variety of cameras. The coverings are cut to fit the camera exactly. They have an adhesive backing that adheres to the metal after you remove the previous covering material. Colors and styles vary from the utilitarian black pebble look to the swanky reptile skin look. I wanted a color that would bridge the gap between black and chrome so that chrome lenses could be used on the M4-2 without looking goofy. I went with walnut brown in kid leather. Be advised that the kid leather doesn’t feel like soft glove leather. It is firm and

Although Morgan Sparks, the owner of Cameraleather, gives instructions on how to prepare the camera and apply the leather kits, working with adhesive sheets has never been my strong suit. I don’t like wallpapering or applying contact paper. I have difficulty wrapping up a package without long wrinkles in the tape. For an additional charge, you can have them strip off the old leather/vulcanite and apply the covering for you. That was fine with me; I didn’t need the grief of screwing it up.

The results were, in my opinion, very nice. The leather fits the camera body perfectly, with the holes perfectly lined up with the tiny screws on the body. Now I am impatiently waiting for vulcanite to fall off of my Leica IIIf or Leica M3 so I can give them a face lift as well. But my next project will probably be to have Morgan recover a Rolleiflex TLR whose leather is curling a bit at the edges. I think I’ll go with BR Green or Sequoia Green embossed leather.

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Saturday, February 03, 2007

Nikon S3 Year 2000 Limited Edition

The past 7 years have witnessed a rangefinder renaissance. Cosina acquired the Voigtländer name and started producing a variety of cute, relatively inexpensive, retro rangefinder cameras that can use Leica, Voigtländer, Contax, and Nikon RF lenses. Konica released a rangefinder in the Leica M mount. Rollei marketed a new rangefinder (very similar to the Voigtländer). Zeiss Ikon released a very impressive rangefinder in two versions. Epson and Leica both released digital rangefinder cameras. Bronica released a medium format rangefinder camera. And Leica released perhaps their finest rangefinder of them all, the Leica MP. But during the past 7 years, most of these rangefinder cameras were quickly discontinued, along with some other rangefinder cameras that existed before the rangefinder renaissance (Hasselblad, Fuji, Mamiya).

The rangefinder camera I haven’t mentioned is the Nikon S3. This camera seemed to make the least sense, at least to me. It is a close reproduction of a meterless rangefinder camera released back in 1958. The S3 wasn’t the most popular Nikon rangefinders, nor was it what many felt was Nikon’s best rangefinder. Producing it obviously required all new tooling at Nikon. And with this new S3 came a revised 50/1.4 Nikkor lens. Dubbed the Nikon S3 Year 2000 Limited Edition, it retailed for a bundle and nobody thought one of them would actually be used to take photos. The idea was apparently that the Japanese market would buy it as a collector’s item and that it would never see action. Early reports said that, even at the large price, Nikon lost money on every camera sold. Worse yet, nobody seemed interested in buying them. Why would a collector with a pristine Nikon S3 from 1958 buy a replica made over 40 years later? The lure of collecting is to be able to show off a 50-year-old camera that looks brand new, not a brand new camera that resembles one made 50 years ago. The rangefinder world ignored the new, meterless Nikon S3 and they sat on dealer shelves for several years.

Today, I found one on the Internet with a $5,183.84 price tag on it. Other stores on the web are offering it for $3,999. One Ebay seller just dropped his asking price from $3,000 to $2,500. No nibbles so far. And they continue to gather dust. Two really big stores in New York, Adorama and B&H, apparently decided to cut their losses and dropped their prices apparently below what dealers would pay for the cameras wholesale. When Nikon is losing money on them and the two powerhouse camera stores are losing money on them, it’s hard to convince me that buying one isn’t a bargain, but I wouldn’t want to make that pitch to my wife. I wanted to know if it was eye candy or a good camera. Nowhere could I find a soul who had one and could tell me. The silence was deafening.

Then Leica did something that really tipped the balance. They raised their prices for an MP and an M7 astronomically. Now one would have to shell out nearly $3,500 for just a body. And then they released the 50/1.4 Summilux aspheric lens for an earth-shattering $2,800. Squeak!!! That's $6,300 for a camera and fast 50mm lens. Suddenly Nikon’s original asking price for the Nikon S3 was getting palatable. I found one that Adorama was unloading for less than $3,000 on Ebay. That did it. I buckled and got it. It even came with a leather ever-ready case (does anyone really use those’).

I have a couple of old Nikon S2 cameras that I like very much. Had I not had good experiences with the 50-year-old S2s, I wouldn’t have plunged into an S3. Okay, what are my impressions of the S3?’


  • It’s a very handsome camera, like the original Nikon rangefinders. Although it is barely larger than a Contax IIa, it feels larger.
  • It’s much easier to load than a Leica of any vintage. But then what’s harder to load than a Leica’
  • The lens is exceptional. Why make a lens this good for a collector? Why not make thousands of them in M mount for Leica users? My 50/1.4 Nikkor from the 1950’s in LTM mount makes my knees buckle. Everyone should be so fortunate to have one.
  • It’s lighter than Leica’s MP.
  • With a cloth shutter, it’s relatively quiet, quieter than either of my S2 bodies (but perhaps not as quiet as a Leica M).
  • It isn’t a cheap-feeling reproduction. It really does look and feel like a 1950’s vintage Nikon rangefinder.
  • It’s a pleasure to use.


  • No meter. But we’re used to that. Anyone who uses a pre-M5 Leica or a medium to large format camera is accustomed to using a handheld light meter.
  • Vague rangefinder patch. Anyone who has used a Leica M3, Zeiss Ikon, or modern Voigtländer is spoiled by a bright rangefinder patch. The Nikon patch is not as easy to see.
  • Build quality is good, but it does look stamped instead of milled. My Leica MP body looks and feels like it was machined from a massive billet of solid brass. You could beat someone to death with a Leica MP, but only maim them with a Nikon S3.
  • The entire lens rotates when you focus it. It also rotates (unintentionally) when you try to change the aperture. If Nikon decided to come out with a new-millennium rangefinder, they hope they would fix this design shortcoming.
  • It has an infinity lock. What the hell is with the infinity lock’! Early Leicas had them too. I think this comes from a manual transmission mentality. Nobody in the 1940’s would leave their car out of gear when parking. You have to put the car in gear so it won’t roll. So let’s put an infinity lock on lenses so they won’t move from infinity. I hate them.
  • Very few lenses available. The only modern lenses for Nikon RF mount are the 50/1.4 Nikkor, a [now discontinued] set of fine optics from Voigtländer, and a 35mm lens that ships with yet another Nikon commemorative rangefinder, the SP.

Fortunately, I use a 50mm lens most of the time and the 50/1.4 Nikkor is a wonderful lens. Do I recommend the reissue of the Nikon S3? If you can get one at a reasonable price, by all means yes. And you had best snap up the remaining Nikon mount rangefinder lenses from www.cameraquest.com before they are gone.

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Street Photog: A Photographic Survival Manual

From time to time someone at work approaches me and mentions being interested (or having a son or daughter interested) in photography. Invariably someone has a point-and-shoot film or digital camera and wants to explore getting a bit more serious. When I ask “Which genre?” or “Black and white?” or “Film or digital?” the response is usually something like "You tell me." I could suggest that they go to Barnes and Noble, pick up an introductory photography book, and read it. But that's overkill that could turn them off instead of on. There seems to be a cottage industry in introductory photography books, and there is a lot about photography that isn’t covered in those books. It would be cheaper and more useful to go to Barnes and Noble, buy me a few cups of coffee, and we can talk about photography for a few hours. Not about aperture, not about field depth, and not about stop bath. About what separates a snapshot from an interesting photograph, about why he/she should use film instead of digital, and about how to go about choosing your genre of photography. Better yet, they could buy Peter Nebergall’s Street Photog: a Photographic Survival Manual (2005). This can be thought of as a written substitute for about 30 brief, topical conversations with a professional photographer. I think that they reflect very much the kinds of questions the fledgling or self-taught photographer would be likely to ask. The title is a bit of a misnomer as it covers many issues germane to photography in general, not just street photography. When reading it, I thought of it more as Introductory Photography: the Missing Manual. Nebergall keeps his chapters short and to the point. In an age when it is difficult to keep someone’s attention span focused for more than 5 minutes, the terseness of his writing is welcomed. Anyone who wonders about getting into the sometimes expensive hobby /career of photography should plunk down their money on this little book first. It could either save them a fortune or guide them into a hobby that can easily become an obsession. And the book costs about as much as two cups of coffee at Barnes and Noble.