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June 23rd, 2024

The Photographer And The Beatles

I’m reading a Vanity Fair article about a young photographer for the Daily Express who was assigned in January 1964 to tag along with The Beatles as they went on tour, first in France and then on to their first tour in the US.

These couple paragraphs of the article really took me back. The band is in Paris and the photographer, Harry Benson, has to get his photos back to the paper in London for the paper’s next daily edition. This was Way before digital cameras and the Internet…

That evening they knocked about in the suite again. But my day didn’t end when the Beatle’s day ended. Every night I’d stay up in my hotel bathroom, developing and printing pictures, so the Express could pick one to run in the paper. I’d use gaffer’s tape to seal any openings around the door, wedge towels under the door, and put a bedsheet on the floor to kneel on. In the pitch dark, I’d put the exposed rolls of black-and-white film in little tanks with D-76 developer, usually spilling developer all over the place. I’d hang the rolls of negatives on the shower rack to dry. I ruined more toilets developing my photographs than I can count.

I’d then put my enlarger on the commode. I’d choose the best frames, print them wet, then fix them with fixer in a small tank. When you flipped the light on, you’d see a hellish mess: your hands and bedsheet stained yellow. You used the bathtub to wash the prints and negatives, drying them with a hair dryer. By then it’s 5am. You’d set up a transmitter and attach it to the bedroom phone and send three or four “selects”; it would take about eight minutes to transmit each picture.

I’m assuming the transmitter worked along the same principle as a radio fax machine. Those would have been international dialing costs, plus hotel dialing charges, and all that even more astronomical when they got to the US. But his newspaper would have gladly paid for all of it along with the other travel expenses given how popular The Beatles already were. That was how you did it back in the 1960s. It would have been how you did it all the way up to the 1980s and the first personal computers and modems I think.

I remember developing my photos in the one bathroom in the apartment mom and and I shared. I don’t remember making that much of a mess and I’m guessing it’s because this guy wasn’t familiar with working in a darkroom, but would just hand off his rolls to the newspaper darkroom guys. If you’re in the darkroom you’re not out in the field getting some shots. Also, I think the Brits make a distinction between “toilet” and “commode” but I’m not sure what it is. I remember setting up my enlarger on the toilet seat. When it came time to make prints I had my trays positioned in and around the bathroom sink. I had a plastic tub with a hole I’d drilled into it that I put my prints in to be washed under the bathtub faucet. I’d hang blankets around the bathroom door to light proof it. For printing I had a safelight I’d attached to the wall above the clothes hamper.

I still have some of that equipment down in the darkroom I’ve made out of the basement bathroom in my house today, including that safelight. Much better enlarger though.

His process seems weird. I can see printing wet given his deadlines. But printing negatives “wet” should only be do-able After fixing because the fixing part of the process takes the unexposed silver nitrates off the film. If you look at film after developing but before fixing (use stop bath!!!!!) you can see the negative in there but the rest of it is milky white because that’s the silver nitrates that weren’t developed because they were not exposed to light. Fixer takes that off the film and now you have a negative you can print.

His film tank should have allowed him to turn on the lights after it was loaded and then he can see what he’s doing pouring the chemistry in and out. I’m wondering what sort of camera he used, but it was a roll film camera of some sort, so I don’t understand why he didn’t have a light proof tank with him that he needed to develop his rolls in total darkness and splash developer everywhere (the Nikor tank was patented in 1937). “By the 1960s the Nikor tanks and reels were pretty much the industry standard.” There were tanks and reels back then for 35mm and 120 roll film. He would have still needed either total darkness or a safelight to print. If he’s printing in total darkness I can see him splashing chemistry everywhere. In the article he doesn’t talk any about the equipment he used and I can understand why since the focus was on being there when The Beatles were just becoming huge. But I’ve done film developing since I was a teenage boy and I have questions.

But…obviously he knew what he was doing because he got his shots and got them back to the paper. And he had the tenacity I didn’t have to make it in that incredibly competitive world…especially since it was a Fleet Street paper he worked for. And he got some of the earliest shots of The Beatles as they were on the cusp of becoming huge, embedded with them on their first tour in the US. Weird as his process was he has my respect, and a maybe more than a little envy.

by Bruce | Link | React!

June 15th, 2024


Stop! You’re breaking my heart!

by Bruce | Link | React!

January 22nd, 2024

Approaching The Acid Test

Or perhaps the Phenidone Test.

Finally…Finally…Finally! I just now received the last raw chemical I need to make up a batch of H&W Control developer from the recipe!

I have all the equipment I need to mix it up. Scale, mixing/heating plate, beakers, weighing trays. I’ve done several trial runs with water in the beakers, calibrating the scale and weighing things on it, getting the water up to temperature on the mixing plate. Everything looks good. I have almost everything I need.

Just waiting now for a little courage.

Seriously…I’ve never done anything like this before, this is allegedly a very weird phenidone based developer that extends the dynamic range of document microfilms which is something you’re not supposed to be able to do, and if I get one little part of it wrong I ruin a roll of film, and probably have to start over with ordering new chemicals. I only ordered enough this time to mix up one batch as a “proof of concept”. I have to end up seeing Something on the film when I take it out of the tank. If it’s off a little I can adjust.

If I see nothing on the film I cry. And stress for days about just being a failure in general.

Ultimately, if it all works, then I attempt to develop that old roll of H&W Control film I never processed back in the 70s. It’s been waiting in various refrigerators ever since, so it should still have something on it. I just have no idea anymore what.

by Bruce | Link | React!

January 7th, 2024

Diving Into It

The lab beakers and precision scale for my upcoming project to make H&W Control developer arrived the other day. This is good. They should be precise enough I can compare them to the plastic graduated beakers I’ve been using since I was a teenager and see how much off they’ve been all this time, if any. But these are mostly for the project I have going, to make some H&W Control developer after so many decades without.

I’ve been told the raw chemicals have been shipped finally, and should arrive soon. There is one more item on the list I was advised of on the Facebook darkroom page I wrote about previously, which is a magnetic stirrer with a hot plate for keeping the mix temperature good. That’ll help. My arm got really tired with all that stirring the rapid fix ingredients.

Given the uncertainties in getting my workflow developers and fixers these days, being able to mix up my own from the raw ingredients is a good skill to…er…develop. Although mixing my own HC-110 might be beyond my willingness to risk since the raw ingredients for that developer are Holy Shit toxic. But none of this is a one-shot deal. Certainly if the experiment with H&W Control developer works out. I loved that film. To be able to use it again would be heaven.

I took a stroll over to Service Photo just down the street from me to see if anything has changed since Kodak chemistry became available again. But it hasn’t really. I saw some new bottles of Kodafix which is good, but when I went up to the counter to ask about it I was carefully ignored. The stock of film behind the counter was pitiful. The shelves of second hand film cameras now only had second hand digital cameras. I don’t think they care about film photographers anymore.

I remember being overjoyed to see they’d moved from inside the urban core to just a few blocks from my front door. I think they were the last of the good photography stores between here and DC. I can name them all, including the one I worked for briefly, Industrial Photo in Silver Spring. All gone now. Memories. I have to mail order nearly everything now. But at least I can do that.


by Bruce | Link | React!

January 2nd, 2024

The Kodak Doesn’t Live Here Anymore Blues…part the last.

I put my troubles to the folks on a film photography forum I follow. I figured many of them would have been working with raw chemistry longer than I’ve been working an SLR camera. Got a lot of advice to raise the temperature of my mix water, but one user said I should check my mix again to see if it was still cloudy. He said he usually lets a mix rest overnight before using it.

That was the right answer. I drew a flask out of the brown bottle I keep my film fixer in and it’s crystal clear now. So now I know. Mix and let rest for a bit.

Also, maybe tweak the temperature up a bit regardless of what the instructions say. I thought it was odd they specified 68 degrees. The recipes for H&W Control developer all want pretty hot water (one says 130 degrees, another 140) to start. Lots of advice on that forum to use a bit hotter water.

Also: Kodak Is Making Chemistry Again After All! They’re restarting their process here in the states and most of it is again available on the B&H website. I can buy Kodak HC-110 again! I’m going to ask Service Photo tomorrow if they’ll start stocking it again soon.

And now…

When posting a question to a social media group for their expertise, always expect an answer to a question you didn’t ask.

Many years ago, when I was but a young man, I attended a talk by Ansel Adams at Georgetown University. That Ansel Adams. He gave a wonderful talk about his approach to photography and how he came to develop the zone system, and I ate up every word because he is a grand master of monochrome photography. After he gave his talk he opened it up for questions from the audience. Bunch of good questions from the students, but sure enough someone stands up with a complex question about which developer was better than another. Adams replied that he knew many photographers had their particular holy waters (his words, and the audience laughed) but (and I’m drawing from memory here) the tools are only a means to an end so don’t focus so much on the tools you lose focus on the end.

Remember when I said the other day that there is religion about hardening fixers? When I posted my question to the darkroom group I said that I was looking for a replacement for Kodak Rapid Fix and that Ilford rapid fix didn’t cut it because it wasn’t a hardening fixer and that is why I eventually went with the product from Photographer’s Formulary. I Knew as I typed that I was going to get a bunch of Why Do You Want A Hardening Fixer responses, despite my question not being about the pros and cons of hardening fixers.

Sure enough.

Bonus points for one commenter saying hardening fixers are only for paper and another saying they are certainly not for paper.

Never mind why. I’ve been doing this since I was a teenage boy, I have a workflow that works for me, and I am not changing it. I’m 70 years old now, and every shot I take is a little more experience under my belt doing the thing I do. I love my tools, my cameras, my workflow. It’s my comfort zone. I’m happy there. Whole. But it’s the photograph that matters. Is it what I meant? Yes? No? Keep working it then.

by Bruce | Link | React!

January 1st, 2024

The Kodak Doesn’t Live Here Anymore Blues…part the second…

This morning I mixed the chemicals I got from Photographer’s Formulary I wrote about the other day. I was very careful to follow their instructions on mixing To The Letter. Which was good because lawd have mercy when they said to mix in a Well Ventilated Area because some of it would give off fumes they weren’t frikken kidding!

But I had a difficulty. The powdered chemicals they supplied me with did not dissolve nearly as quickly as the instructions said. At one point the instructions called for patience when adding the boric acid because it would take up to five minutes to dissolve. Try more like 20. All if it was like that except for the liquid ingredients. And I kept stirring the entire time. I used only distilled water, and at 68 degrees as instructed.

What I ended up with was a mixture that never got completely clear. Everything finally seemed to have dissolved but it still has a sight cloudy appearance to it.

So I did some tests with a few small strips of 35mm film I sacrificed for the cause. They seemed to clear just fine but there remained a slightly pinkish tint that should not have been there. That worried me until I realized I was still seeing the anti-halation layer which is normally removed by the developer. Since I was just dipping the film strips into the fixer I wasn’t removing that layer.

For comparison I mixed up my last good bottle of Kodafix that I used for paper processing. The Kodafix working solution I mixed up was pure and clear like water. Those strips came out exactly like the strips I did from the rapid fix I mixed up.

What I mixed is a bit cloudy, but it seems to work. But I would like a second opinion from anyone reading this who is more familiar with mixing and working with raw chemicals than I am. What could have happened here? Why was it taking so much longer than the instructions said to dissolve the chemicals? I mean, several orders of magnitude longer. What could have happened, what could I have possibly done, to leave the mixture a bit cloudy. As I said, I used only distilled water, and I mixed in a clean glass Pyrex dish.

I’ve no idea.

This is not making me feel comfortable about mixing up some H&W Control developer from raw chemicals.

by Bruce | Link | React!

December 31st, 2023

The Kodak Doesn’t Live Here Anymore Blues

I took a fancy to my cameras a few days ago, went to York to visit some favorite places, finished off a roll of film which give me the urge to start working on the backlog of film in my darkroom waiting to be developed. But it had been a long while since I did any of that and I knew my chemicals were past their expiration date. So I went to my local photography store, only to be told (rather coldly by a young staff member), that Kodak was no longer selling chemistry, and they weren’t interested in ordering the raw chemicals I needed to make H&W Control developer.

(Fuck!) So I began scrambling for any unsold stock, only to find that it was already gone. Now I need an alternative source. Well, long story short I think I’ve found one (two) but it was stressful. I have a black & white workflow that’s worked for me since I was a teenage boy and I really Really didn’t want to have to spend a lot of time and waste a lot of film experimenting to find a new one.

My Go-To developer is HC-110. You make a stock solution from a concentrate and then dilute it further to process film. I used the dilution ‘B’ as a one-shot developer. I have a copy of the Kodak Darkroom Dataguide that had the development time calculator wheel on it instead of the table later editions had. Over those pages I’ve stuck a bunch of Post-It notes with data for Fuji Neopan, 35 and 120, and Agfa Rollei Retro film 35 and 120. I stick a Weston thermometer into the developer, then using the dial I align whatever temperature I see on the thermometer with the number for the film I’m processing and the bottom of the dial gives you the time to develop. Then it’s a brief stop bath, then into a solution of Kodak Rapid Fix. Then wash for thirty minutes.

I found a source for an HC-110 substitute at The Film Photography Project, tried it out on a single roll and that came out to my complete satisfaction. So there’s that. But I still needed a good substitute for Rapid Fix. I took a chance and developed a couple rolls of film using the Kodak product I had which was a year past it’s expiration date, and the result was not wonderful. It worked but I had to fix for twice as long to get the film cleared. So no more of that. I needed fresh.

To that end I ordered some Ilford Rapid Fixer, which came oddly without a top cap (the bottle was sealed). So I made plans to use that, but first I did some research because I wanted to be sure it worked enough like the Kodak product I could just keep to my standard workflow. That’s when I saw it wasn’t a hardening fixer.

There is religion about that. A hardening fixer hardens the emulsion has it removes the unused silver nitrates. You really want to use one of these only on film, it does nothing much for paper. But some people think a hardening fixer is bad for film. Long story short: I don’t. I think it’s Good for film. So now I need to find a hardening fixer that works like Kodak Rapid Fix.

I found a source at the Photographer’s Formulary. They also had and were willing to ship to me (unlike B&H) the raw chemistry to make H&W Control developer (more about that some other time). So I ordered their Rapid Fix with Hardener. Days later they still hadn’t shipped (apparently) so I ordered it again from B&H, which resells chemistry from Photographer’s Formulary (just not all the raw chemicals to make H&W Control developer (later…later…). That came yesterday as I type this.

And it’s…interesting. What I was expecting was the usual two-part concentrate and little bottle of hardener. What I got was…this…

By the way…that’s my basement chest freezer, or as I say when that part of the basement is my darkroom, the table where I put my paper developing trays. Next to it is the dryer which just happens perfectly to be the same height as the freezer, and between them that’s my workspace for doing silver paper enlargements. The enlarger is in the shower stall in the bathroom next to the freezer. When you grew up in a series of small garden apartments you learn how to make every space server multiple purposes. I don’t have enough space in my little Baltimore rowhouse for a dedicated paper darkroom, but I can make that corner of the back basement work as one.

So what I got from Photographer’s Formulary isn’t a hardening rapid fixer, but the raw ingredients for making hardening rapid fixer. All packaged in precisely the right amounts…

…to mix up some hardening rapid fixer if you follow the included directions. I’ve no idea why it comes like this instead of packaged as ready made concentrate, other than maybe with them it’s The Way. But this is good, it gives me some practice for when I get the raw chemistry to make some H&W Control developer.

The end result is you get concentrate and hardener which you then mix together to make a (nearly, they measure in metric) gallon of working solution. I’m going to mix it all up today. I’m told when I add the acetic acid fumes will result, so I’ll mix it up in the kitchen where I can open some windows. Progress report later…

by Bruce | Link | React!

December 24th, 2023

Between My Drafting Table And My Cameras…

I’ve said elsewhere here that I couldn’t make it professionally in the arts because I never had the kind of focus it take. Case in point: just a few days ago I was all about my art gallery, and now it’s pretty much back to the photography.

I have two routes I use for my morning walks, one of which is to zig-zag through the new “luxury” rowhouse development nearby, where the container factory used to be. That development has been a muse ever since they started building it. Today on my morning coffee walk, while going through one of the narrow alleyways between the rows, I saw the sort of slightly cloudy, sun streaked sky overhead I love to work with, and just then it was making that narrow alley look really interesting to my photographic eye.

I had to have that shot. But at that moment all I had was the iPhone. Olay…it can can do a good job with my art photography, I have lots of examples. So I snapped off an iPhone shot just to get it. Then I hightailed it back home and got the Petri out.

I see now I haven’t written about this here, but probably on my Facebook page and I was neglecting this blog. But some time ago I found a Petri FT for sale on one of the used camera sites, that looked to be in very good condition. So I bought it for its nostalgia value to me. The Petri was my first SLR camera, simple and affordable to teenage me, and it opened a new world to me artistically. Now I could precisely compose to the frame in the viewfinder, because now I’m looking through the same lens that will take the photo. It was what you see is what you get, and I could be as specific about composing a shot as I wanted to be. Plus, you could change lenses from wide angle to telephoto, and no matter what lens I had on it I was still seeing exactly when the film saw when the shutter opened. You just don’t get that with any other sort of camera.

When I first got the second hand Petri I ordered I took it to Ocean City New Jersey for an ultimate nostalgia trip. OC became one of my photographic muses back when I was a teenage boy, and it still is. Many of what I consider my best shots from that period were taken with the Petri. Back then I could not afford its native 28mm or 135mm lenses, so those were third party compatibles from Soligor and Vivitar. Now I can, and that is what I shoot with on that camera.

Last summer I took the Petri with me because, perhaps irrationally, I wanted that example of my first SLR camera to see and photograph the land of my birth. I bought it back home to Baltimore still loaded with some Tri-X Pan I’d taken to California with only a couple shots on it. So I had the roll to finish. It still had the 28mm Petri lens on it. I put a red filter on that and gave the camera a fresh battery. Fortune smiled on me and the sky was still pretty interesting when I got back to the rowhouse development and that narrow alleyway, and I finished the roll pretty quickly.

That makes 7 rolls of Tri-X I have waiting for me in the darkroom. I have another partial roll of Tri-X in the Canon F1N that also came back from California. I finish that and it’s an even eight which works out for the four reel tank I have. Still have three rolls of 120 NeoPan 100, three or four of 35mm NeoPan 100 out of the Leica, and five rolls of Agfa Copex to develop when I can mix up some H&W Control developer.

Obviously my inner compass has swung back to the cameras. So it goes…


by Bruce | Link | React!

December 22nd, 2023

Whew…Found A Good HC-110 Substitute

Since Kodak has gone out of the film developer chemistry business now…at least to the degree they sell it to film photographers as opposed to commercial processors…I’ve had to scramble for a source of a good HC-110 substitute. I found it at The Film Photography Project. They sell an FPP-110 developer that appears to be a functional clone of the new now discontinued Kodak product, that is, not the old HC-110 concentrate but the new version that had a limited lifespan. Fine…I worked with the Kodak product once and it behaved like the old concentrate did. So I was hoping this product from the Film Photography Project did the same.

I have tanks that hold 1, 2 and 4 reels of 35mm film. I loaded a single reel of Tri-X from my California trip as a test, and kept my fingers crossed that I wasn’t sacrificing a roll of good Leica shots just to prove the thing I got in the mail didn’t actually work like HC-110. But it was a complete success. So now I can finish off all the rolls I took in California.

Except for the Agfa Copex Rapid, which I intend to develop using the old H&W Control developer recipe. I ordered the raw chemicals for that from The Photographer’s Formulary. B&H didn’t stock most of what I needed and wouldn’t ship half of them anyway. Photographer’s Formulary ships but you had to specify UPS Ground shipping for two of the chemicals, since they’re declared to be hazardous. Most likely won’t get them here until sometime in mid January.

Still need a scale good to .01 grams.

by Bruce | Link | React!

August 29th, 2023

The Sky Is Its Most Beautiful When It’s Most Violent

There’s probably some sort of enlightenment in that fact…

I should have posted this here earlier. It’s sunset in Oceano California, looking off my brother’s backyard deck toward the Pacific ocean, the evening that hurricane Hillary came inland. I was expecting a more impressive than usual sunset over the Pacific that evening and I wasn’t disappointed. It was a Frederic Church level sunset.

I took this with the Canon 6D and 24mm f1.4 lens. Coulda used a 17 or better but the only one of those I have is an FD lens for my film cameras. So after this I priced getting one for the 6D but I would use it so infrequently that spending the money just doesn’t make sense at this stage in my life, and being on retirement income.

This is looking east toward the central valley where Hillary tracked, from my brother’s front porch…

Bakersfield is maybe 100 miles as the crow flies past those mountains in the distance. Barstow, a place I drive through often on my way here and back to Maryland, took a direct hit. Here in Oceano we got a little rain and a little wind and nothing more. Everything on the coast north of Vandenberg was pretty much untouched. But the skies were lovely.

by Bruce | Link | React!

May 18th, 2023

Getting Ready For Gay Days…


This happened in Orlando the other day.

It’s just a couple weeks to Gay Days in WDW and this is one reason why I’m going there with my cameras. Mostly I just want to enjoy the parks, and being able, finally, to go whenever I want now that I’m retired. I think I want a Disney weekend…okay, let’s just go…no need anymore to request vacation time… It’s been something I was looking forward to. The park reservation system and the fact that it’s difficult for single diners to make dining reservations at my favorite places made me question if I was ever going back again. But I think I’ve worked through all that now. I have my annual pass again and selling my DVC points gets me back to making stays in the basic and mid tier park resorts where I can make reservations on the fly whenever I want, which is nearly impossible at a DVC resort. So I’m back in my comfort zone there.

But Gay Days this year is a special case given all the hate mongering going on down in Florida. So to have some Mouseketeer fun with all the other red shirts in the parks isn’t just a good time this year, it’s an act of defiance. Yes, we are Disney people too. And I want to show my support for Disney since they’re taken a lot of static for supporting us. But also, I want to document what is happening down there, in my own way, with my own eyes.

(As a side note, I’m working on getting another photo gallery up here of the stuff I took during the Love In Action and the Love Won Out protests.)

Security is something you almost never even see at WDW, except at the park entrances where screenings and bag checks take place. Once inside the park you might think it isn’t even there at all. But I’ve seen it appear…suddenly out of nowhere…once.

It was in front of La Cava del Tequila inside the Mexico pavilion at EPCOT World Showcase. Someone, probably having had a little too much to drink, got upset at the wait to get in (it’s a pretty small bar with only a few tables), and started causing a loud angry scene, and so I was told later got physical with another guest. He was instantly surrounded and spirited offsite.

And it’s easy for their security to come out of nowhere because there are usually dozens of hidden entrance/exits for the cast members to come and go so they can go about their work. Walt Disney wanted all the mechanics of making the parks work kept out of sight so as not to spoil the illusions he was creating. Magic Kingdom is built on top of a network of tunnels, they call them utilidors. And everywhere in the parks are scattered little out of the way doors and passages marked “Cast Members Only”. And the really interesting part of it is nearly none of them are hidden in a way you might expect. Instead, the scenery is such that your eyes are always directed away from where they are.

And according to a certain someone I used to know who worked there, cameras are everywhere.

So I’m hoping that first weekend in June their security is on their top game. I want everyone to have a good time. I will be very satisfied if the only photos I get are of happy Gay Days Mouseketeers. Because that is a message people still need to see as a counterpoint to all the lies that are surely coming before, during and after the event.

As you can see there, outside the parks it’s probably going to be brutal. I may try to get a few shots of it, but I will have to be very Very careful.

by Bruce | Link | React! (1)

February 26th, 2023

Once Upon A Time…

Cute young guy trying to take a picture of himself in the kitchen mirror with his first 35mm SLR…

I was going through my archives looking for more shots around Congressional Plaza for the next episode of A Coming Out Story and I came across this and zoomed in and I thought…wow…did I really look like Finn Wolfhard back then??

This would be sometime in 1971. I’m either 16 or 17. I’ve got the Petri on a tripod in the dining room pointed at the large mirror over the kitchen sink. I’m guessing I did it that way because the light in the dining/kitchen was better than in my bedroom. At this point I’m still just finding my way around 35mm film photography. I may have just bought the Petri.

I dug up the roll and I can tell from the way I sectioned off the negatives I hadn’t even begun my catalogue system yet. The catalogue entry says “Date Unknown”, that it’s tri-x pan and that I’d developed the roll in D-76. “Date Unknown” is what I put on the stuff I’d developed and stuck into #9 letter envelopes before I got serious enough to safely store and work out a catalogue system for them. They’re not all in great shape.

I’m trying really hard to get the pencils and inks done, finally, for ACOS episode 36 done, and it’s really driving home how necessary it is to have reference photos. I took lots of photos of the apartments I lived in back then, but precious few of the area around them and so much has changed over the years I can’t just go visit and take a few reference shots.

Right now I’m really regretting I didn’t get some shots of the shortcuts I used to take to walk across the railroad tracks to get to the Giant or to Congressional and the Radio Shack before they started building Metro. Nothing there is like it was. There was an old wooden bridge over the tracks I could walk across to get to the Giant from Wilkins that they took down years ago. I discovered it was part of an old abandoned roadway that connected Rockville Pike (Montgomery Avenue back then) to the old school and then to Parklawn Cemetery. You could still see fragments of it in the woods and near the Pike back when I was a teenage boy. It’s all gone now. The entire area where I walked across the tracks to Congressional is now the Twinbrook Metro station.

Nothing is like it was. I can’t just go down there and take some shots of the old neighborhood. The old neighborhood, except for the apartments anyway, is not there anymore. Somehow I need to recreate it. Or at least a good enough representation that I can be satisfied with it.

Nothing is like it was. I’m not like I was. Just look at that photo! Wish I’d known how cute I was back then, I might have flirted with a little more confidence. Of course back in 1971 that could have got me killed.

by Bruce | Link | React!

February 7th, 2023

The Photography Geek Revisits An Old Hostility

I’ve been a camera kid ever since elementary school, but it wasn’t until I got into high school and a friend showed me how to develop film that I really took off with it. This was 1970-72 and back then the camera at the top of the pecking order was the Nikon F. It was legendary among professionals and dedicated amateurs. It was also very expensive, even in its most basic form way beyond my reach. I knew it to be the gold standard of 35mm SLRs. But the more I studied it, the less impressed I became.

Truth be told, a good part of why would be the insufferably egotistical classmate whose parents have given him a Nikon F. I mentioned him briefly in A Coming Out Story

(The names throughout the story have been changed to protect the innocent…and the not so innocent…)

I’m sure I had the insufferable streak in me too. It comes with being a teenager. But I also had the geek gene, and by my junior year I’d researched all the 35mm SLRs on the market, examined as many as I could at various camera stores, and I had issues with the design of the Nikon F. It struck me as a very clunky piece of equipment, and especially it’s big bulky TTL (Through The Lens) metering prism that seemed a ridiculous kludge. And why the hell did you have to take the camera apart (okay…take the back off…) just to change film? WTF?? But the F was the gold standard of professional photographer equipment and the only thing I could figure was that it, like the Kirby Vacuum, had a lot of attachments so it could be everything to everyone.

When Canon came out with the F1 and its system in 1971 I was overjoyed. Here was a camera that got everything exactly right. I flipped burgers all summer long to get one. 

Time passes…the universe expands…I began making good enough money I could afford all the Canon FD lenses I’d ever wanted, and there were many good ones on the second hand market. I bought a second generation F1 body, and then the third and final one. But a chance encounter with a Nikon F2 at a camera store in Kansas gave me some second thoughts about Nikons, and cameras in general. There is something about these older, all mechanical devices that reaches into you, like a handcrafted musical instrument, or a fine automobile with a stick. Something you miss in a lot of digital equipment today. But maybe that’s just the kid I once was, remembering how it used to be, talking.

So I bought that F2, and later believe it or not, a Nikon Ftn. Professional black for extra coolness points. My Canon F1s are still the favorites (although the Leica M3 a friend sold me is threatening to knock them off that pedestal), but I take the Nikons out and about whenever a certain frame of mind occupies me. All I can tell you is it’s something about the mechanical feel of the cameras.

And it interested me enough to dive a bit deeper into the history of these cameras over the years. And because of that I understand a little better about why the Nikon F is as big of a kludge design as it is. And yes…it is.

Let me say this in advance: The basic Nikon F body is actually as solid and durable as its reputation says. This thing will go to hell and back for you. The meter prism though, is another story. I seem to have had good luck with both of mine as they are still fully functional (just don’t get me started on that screwy center weighted pattern). But I’ve bought the basic prism finders for both of those cameras, just in case. And while yes it is every bit as solid and robust as it’s reputation…it’s still a kludge. A kludge can work perfectly and reliably and still be a kludge.

Why do you have to take the back off the Nikon F to change film? Why is the shutter release in such an awkward position? Because they basically scaled up their rangerfinder to make their first SLR and that’s how the rangefinder was built. I’ll give them that they got a lot right…the instant return mirror, titanium shutter (which the rangefinders had since 1958), user replaceable focusing screens and viewfinders. But it’s such a mess of good stuff and why the hell did you do that. 

The metering prisms especially. There were three generations for the F body, and the first of them is like a showcase of why I had issues with the reputation of Nikons back in the day.

Here it is…

When I first beheld this, I gave it more credit than it’s due. I figured, oh, the engineers weren’t quite all in on TTL metering so they put the meter on the outside facing forward. Okay…fine…lots of makers did that, usually by adding a clip on meter to the top of the camera. In fact, Nikon did that before they came out with this. But why the hell is that prism so goddamned large. Okay…they had to work out the mechanics of getting the shutter speed and aperture in the viewfinder….right? No. You saw the aperture in a window above the eyepiece. Dig it…you want to know your aperture, you take your eye off the viewfinder and look at the little window above it. Or…you know…you could just look at the lens. But it gets Better!

Here…let me show you the on/off switch…

Yes…that’s right. They call this finder the “flag” finder for a reason. The on/off switch is just a cover over the metering cell. Since it used a cds cell (Cadmium Sulphide) which changes resistance to the current based on how much light is hitting it, you can effectively turn off the meter by covering over the cds cell. With no light hitting it the cell is at 100 percent resistance. Flip the “flag” out of the way and the cell gets light and current flows through the meter. Voilà! An on/off switch! This is truly engineering brilliance. 

Let it be said that this effect has probably saved a lot of light meter batteries from an early death. You put the lens cap on and even if you’ve forgotten to turn off the meter, it’s effectively off anyway.

Notice how you set the max aperture of the lens by way of fiddling with the film speed dial. That was a perennial problem for the Nikon photomic viewfinders all the way to the F2a. To do stop down metering all you need to do is turn the meter on and stop the lens down to the taking aperture and read what the meter is telling you. But you really can’t focus with the lens stopped down. So there’s Open Aperture Metering, which is you take a reading on what’s coming through the lens at it’s max aperture. But then the meter needs to know what the lens maximum aperture is. An f1.4 lens is going to be sending more light to the meter than an f2.8 lens.

So on this viewfinder you match the lens aperture to the film speed. On the best of the F photomics, the FTN, you set the max aperture of the lens by doing what they used to call the Nikon shuffle: mount the lens then twist the aperture ring all the way to high, then all the way to low. Forget to do that and the meter will give you the wrong exposure because it does not have the correct max aperture for that lens (when you mount the lens the meter defaults to f5.6 and that’s what it’ll think the lens max is until you fiddle with the aperture ring).

It wasn’t until Nikon came out with the photomic F2A that they figured out how to do open aperture TTL metering with automatic registration of the lens aperture. But you need the “ai” lenses for that to work. Give them this, they figured out how to do an on/off switch much sooner.

Okay…yes the camera bodies are practically bombproof. You put a standard plain viewfinder prism on either the F or the F2 and you have a camera that will get you through almost anything. And this is why the standard prisms are becoming expensive and hard to find in good condition. Bring along an F2 with a standard prism, and a good handheld light meter you are ready for almost anything.

That said, if I had to do some work in a disaster zone I would be bringing one or more of my Canon F1s. They’ll do the job. Or…that darn Leica! I was never much fond of rangefinders until I got my hands on that camera. I read some poor soul who had to sell his M3 say that it was a God level camera and he was right. I felt so sorry for him.

The Nikons have a distinctive mechanical feel that suits me. Sometimes. Given how much I used to badmouth them back in the day I know a bunch of classmates that would laugh themselves silly if they ever saw me with one. Okay…fine. You live and learn. They’re good cameras. Mostly. Somewhat. Just don’t get me started on how legendary they are. You’ll get an earful. 

Okay…so you just did…


by Bruce | Link | React!

January 14th, 2023

Loving My Film Cameras…Not Simple Nostalgia

I was out and about with the Hasselblad over at that new rowhouse development nearby that’s been a muse ever since they started building it. I looked outside and checked the sky and it was that good mix of puffy clouds and blue sky that works well with a red filter and my photographic style. I wanted to finish a roll and ended up finishing two. It was more than the creative urge motivating me though. I’d just spent some out of budget money on a previously owned medium format camera of a type I’d own previously and sold perhaps recklessly. And that came about because of a really bad experience with that Canon R mirrorless digital camera I briefly owned that I’m still chewing on all this time later, after I traded it in for a full frame 6D and several good primes. Yes it was that painful.

Supposedly those mirrorless cameras are the latest and greatest but the fact was that camera kept getting in my way. It kept overriding my settings on ISO and shutter speed. I kept having to fumble with every setting on just about every shoot and it kept jolting me out of my zone. One problem was the control set of the R was just different enough from the Canon EOS digitals I own and have had previously that I was constantly getting confused. Always fumbling with the settings when I wanted most to be paying attention to what I was looking at was irritating, but I figured I’d eventually learn how to adjust the settings on the fly. Then, and quickly, something else began happening regularly that made me angry at the camera. That has never happened to me before.

It kept refusing to take the shot when I pressed the button.

I would press the shutter release and nothing happened. So I’d press it harder and still nothing happened. Cursing soon followed.

Many months later, having traded that camera in for one I could work with, I began thinking that part of the problem I was having is these new mirrorless cameras don’t simply meter the light, they analyse the scene and set the exposure accordingly before you even touch the shutter release. Which they can now because they’re not using one or more CDS cells looking at the light coming in from the lens. There is no mirror, so when the camera is turned on the detector is always seeing what you’re pointing the camera at. What you are seeing in the viewfinder is a computer generated image from the signal coming off the detector.

But there have to be many built-in assumptions going on in those real time analysis and those may not always work for every photographer and every scene. Supposedly there are ways of advising the onboard computer as to how to take the shots they way you want them taken, but those I have seen are cumbersome to use while you are working and trying to stay tuned into what you are seeing. Worse, I began to discover that even when going to an entirely manual mode, that is, I set the ISO, aperture and shutter speed, the camera would still insist that it knew better and would randomly refuse to take a shot when I hit the shutter release.

I think some of the problem there is I am almost always shooting into the sun. That’s part of my style. I don’t always do that, but I do it lots. That can be tricky but it often gets me the emotional feel that I am looking for in a scene. This however goes against the grain of most basic photography courses which will tell you to shoot with the sun at your back. And it’s true that you can almost never go wrong that way if the camera has any halfway decent metering system. My hunch is a lot of digital camera scene analysis computers are set up to expect that. Yes you can choose different modes…landscape, portrait, indoors, and so on…but the rule of thumb is the light is shining on the scene, whatever it is, from behind you, and most of the time I am shooting into the light. This may be confusing whatever algorithms are employed by the camera’s software to analyse a scene.

But I have done this since I was a teenager and I know how to work it. What I’ve always loved about my Canon film cameras is that 12 percent gray rectangle in the middle of the viewfinder is actually a beam splitter and a portion of the light hitting it is being deflected to the light meter. It’s precise in a way center weighted metering just isn’t and I need that extra precision when I’m shooting into the sun. I can sweep that 12 percent rectangle across a region and get an average of it, whereas a spot meter makes me take a lot of separate readings which would slow me down. I can find my middle grays and figure the extent of the range of highs to darks and decide where to set my aperture and shutter speed. Typically I always aim for the fastest speed I can since I almost never use a tripod.

The Canon digital SLRs I’ve had tell me what they’re focusing on but what they are metering has always seemed a bit fuzzy to me. The meters are analysing the scene inside the viewfinder, since until the mirror flops up the detector can’t see anything. I don’t actually know what it is they’re judging it by. But those cameras have a meter and hold function I quickly began using. Basically I would decide on a place to focus and meter, point the camera at it and just press lightly on the shutter release. The camera would focus and meter and I could hold that and re-compose the shot. Fine. Whatever. It worked. I was content.

But the R seemed to just throw all that away. Maybe if I’d studied the manual longer I would have got it. But every avenue I could glean from the manual seemed cumbersome…and just plain weird. I was told in one passage to use the touchscreen on the back to specify where to focus and meter, but that meant I’d have to take my eye away from the viewfinder while working which I deeply dislike. But never mind because I ended up having to turn off the touchscreen (there was a setting) because my nose was always hitting it and causing the camera to suddenly do something I didn’t want. There was a joystick like control on the back that supposedly allowed you to set a spot to focus and meter on, but it just seemed awkward and I never tried it.

The camera was a bundle of distractions. I would set the effective ISO to something and discover sometime later the camera had set it elsewhere. There seemed no way to force the camera to use the fastest possible shutter speed in any semi-auto mode other than aperture priority and use the widest aperture possible all the time. But even then the camera would occasionally balk.

And ultimately it was the nothing happening when I pressed the shutter release that really Really ticked me off. I will endure a lot of struggle to learn new things in the name of progress and personal growth, but by god when I press the shutter release all the way you take the damn shot! If I got it wrong I’ll deal with that. But I press the shutter release, you take the damn shot!

As I said, and obviously, I am still chewing on it. I really wanted to like that camera. The new electronic viewfinders are amazing. But if anything, the experience with the R made me so much closer to my old mechanical film cameras. And…so very happy to see film having a renaissance among young and old alike. Even if it means the good equipment is becoming scarce and expensive.

So…this came in the mail today…

I had one of these for years but ended up selling it to KEH when I needed some spare cash and concluded that since I had the Hasselblad I wouldn’t need it. By then I had the metering prism viewfinder for the Hasselblad which made working with it faster. And with it I found working with the Hasselblad much more like working with any of my 35mm film SLRs. The Mamiya has the typical TLR waist level viewfinder which reverses left and right and that made it hard for me to judge a scene. And no through the lens metering. You can get an eye level metering prism viewfinder that corrects right/left but it seems awkward to hold the camera that way. And I have become accustomed to using a handheld with the Leica, and I think I can work with that backwards left/right thing now. 

And having only one good medium format camera in an age when getting them repaired might be hard, was something I decided was not worth the risk. So I bought another C330. I really like these for their solid heavy duty build and that you could swap out lenses. I don’t think there is another twin lens reflex you can do that on. A 55mm wide angle pair came just today and a correct lens hood for the taking lens is coming soon. I still have the red and orange filters for its lenses.

And when I press the shutter release, it takes the shot. The only reason the Hasselblad won’t is if I’m past the last shot on the roll or I still have the dark slide in. That’s completely reasonable.

I’ll take it for a drive when the weather and the sky look good.

by Bruce | Link | React!

October 19th, 2022


Film is not dead: Demand soars for vintage cameras in developing trend

After fading in popularity, film photography is seeing a major comeback fueled by younger generations and social media. NBC News’ Gadi Schwartz takes us inside the developing craze with a story shot entirely on film.

If this means my favorite films and papers are coming back…good. But I doubt that. There’s more expense to starting up production again than any of the manufacturers would probably want to bear. But I would produce way more silver prints if I could have my beloved Agfa Brovira back in all its grades.

I never left film, though I adopted and have used digital since the first user level cameras were marketed. Digital has a place in my workflow, especially when I’m a working photographer on a news event or a wedding (or a class reunion like a few weekends ago!). But my art photography is almost exclusively film, and that almost exclusively black & white. If the objection to film is it can’t be as precise a representation as digital can with the latest and greatest digital cameras, then what of black & white photography. What of 2D photography? What of still photography at all. Reality doesn’t stand still and it isn’t 2D and we perceive it in color. By that measure my Tri-X Pan images are pretty far removed from reality. Why do I hold onto it, especially since it’s a lot more work than digital? Because it works for my art.

Marshall McLuhan famously said the medium is the message. But Picasso said it better: Art is a lie that makes us see the truth.

Well…the artist’s truth.

Black & white film has always worked for me as an artist. It lends to the image exactly the right “tone” for the feeling I’m trying to get out. I know what I’m doing with it. Whether I do it well or not is another matter. But I know what I’m doing with it. There’s a lot of reasons why someone would enjoy working with film. For me it’s a need. I never stopped.

I’ve been noticing this resurgence in film photography for quite a while now, and waiting for it to fade away again. But it keeps getting stronger, if the prices of film cameras are any measure. Now if I can just have my Fuji Neopan 400, my Kodachrome and my Agfa Brovira back. Oh…and Pakosol. And H&W Control film and developer. And how about Kodak Panatomic X…

by Bruce | Link | React!

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