film

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You can choose from a lot of different lenses and cameras combinations. One mean, lean, street-shootin machine combo was the Voigtlander R4M and Zeiss 21mm 2.8 Biogon. I sold them off earlier this year (the lens and body separately of course to increase the value). This was from a roll of film I found lying around that hadn’t been developed quite yet. Seeing these fruits makes me miss her.

She was sold to purchase the Mamiya RZ67 Pro ii; a massive studio-oriented camera that is antithetical to the rapid fire shooting that a small rangefinder will allow. This is also a bid to further remove myself from 35mm film and dive deeper into 120mm. My Hasselblad SWC should be able to provide some of the same types of images (almost same field of view but square format, shallower DOF and different ergonomics). This is making me want to go on a walk!

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I am still in the 35mm film world though. Below is my trusty Nikon F3HP with 35mm lens. A gift from my brother, she’ll never be sold.

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In this day and age, why spend money on an expensive hobby?  We already have enough expenses with food and rent.  So I think the best hobby is one that can be enjoyed thoroughly without as much expense.  Hence shooting medium format.  Having these huge negatives gives me a lot of joy and can be done cheaply.  Here’s how to do it.

First, get an inexpensive medium format camera.

Sure, you can get a 120mm Holga for $100 new (and probably $50 used).  But really, who wants to shoot with a plastic camera?  If you have decent software on your computer, you can always add hipster effects afterwards…. but if the hipster effects are already on the negative… then you are stuck with them.  So skip the holga.

  • $200-$300 : Minolta Autocord.  This is a great TLR.  Don’t be intimidated by something new (I was when I first bought the pentax 67 though…).  This comes with a fixed lens… but it is a beauty!
  • $400-$700: Pentax 6×7.  This is currently what I use.  I got a whole setup for less than $800 (with 5 lenses). Other choice, Fuji GW690 or the like.
  • $800-$1000: Hasselblad 500.  At this price, you could only get one lens (probably the 80mm).  Nothing wrong with that, it’s a great setup.  The Hasselblad engineering will blow you away.  Other choice: Mamiya 6.
  • There are more choices of course that are much more expensive.  But this post is about how to do things on a budget (remember?).
    **Above prices are estimates based upon used deals on craigslist and ebay.

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Now that you have a camera, it’s time to shoot.  So what about the recurring cost of medium format film?  Well there are a couple of ways to trim the fat. Brand new, most film goes for at least $5 per roll (and up to $7-9 for more expensive stuff).  Here’s how to go on the cheap:

  • First, open yourself up to shooting black and white.  BnW has a longer shelf life and therefore can be had for cheaper.
  • Buy in bulk.  Film can last a long time in the freezer so buy big batches at a time and stick them in there with the popsicles.
  • Always keep an eye on craigslist (for both cameras and film).  People can sell film on there for around $2 a roll.  So don’t be shy and go out there and find some in your neighborhood.  I bought non-expired E-6 provia 100f for $3 per roll.  This would sell for new for over $7 per roll…
  • Ebay is another option.  I haven’t seen deals on here like I have on craigslist but it’s worth a look.
  • The cheapest film I have ever seen (new) is Artista EDU.  It used to cost $2.89 but the price went up to $3.19.  I bought 150 rolls of this stuff.  It is really Fomapan – a cheap Czech film that has been rebranded.  One thing about it though – you can’t push this more than 1 stop.  Also of note, the 400 iso is really 240 iso.  So be aware of that.  You can buy it here:
    http://www.freestylephoto.biz/

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I think you will be hard pressed to find film for under $2 a roll (and shooting medium format will only give you 12 shots at most, so that is 20 cents per photo… without taking into consideration development).  Here’s how to save on developing:

  • Develop yourself!!!!  Developing with a lab is outrageously expensive.  Develop the film yourself with your own equipment. You’ll not only learn more about film, contrast, resolution, density, grain… but you’ll gain a much better appreciation for your images.
  • Buy developing gear on craigslist (and possibly chemicals too).  New reels and tanks can cost quite a lot (especially good ones).  I bought my setup for $75 on craigslist which new would have cost over $300.
  • Don’t use stop bath (just use water).  Don’t use PhotoFlo (a chemical that keeps water droplets off of your negatives).  To keep water off the negatives use a squeegee (bought mine for $2).
  • Use Diafine developer.  This developer can be reused for over a year (as long as it is stored in the refrigerator).  While this developer is meant to be reused time and time again, D76 can also be reused quite a lot.  Experiment with this.

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Hopefully this will get more people to be less afraid of medium format and go out and shoot it.  Ours is an expensive hobby, no doubt about it.  But there are ways of cutting corners.  I suggest using all of them :-).

Happy, reasonably priced, shooting.

-J


photo (14)My newly purchased (used) Pentax 67 and 165mm LS Lens :-)!

I love old film cameras.  Their like swiss watches… except you can make art with them!

Because I’ve purchased my fair share of them, I think it only fair to share some secrets regarding the purchase and maintenance of classic cameras.

So you followed the guidelines for buying a used camera.  Now what to do once you bring her home?  Clean her out!

IMG_0010-9Seals? We no need no stinking seals!

While cameras from the 70’s and 80’s are very reliable, even moreso than their new age counterparts, one thing that always messes things up is the foam seals that are used.  These seals degrade over time… and eventually become a funky black gunk.  But the seals provide a very real and important purpose… to ‘seal’ out light from the camera box.

If the seals degrade and light comes into the camera, then you get light leaks.  Want some illustration?  Just take a gander at the upper right hand corner of the above photo.  Notice the big blob of ungainly white light coming into the frame on the ladies face?  That my friend shows you that your camera is leaky…  And it’s time to patch her up and make her right.

photo (9)Pentax 67 Optical Viewfinder

So how do we stop the leaks?  Well replace the seals!  And the first part to replacing the seals, is to get rid of the old ones.

Above you can see that gooey nasty black crud that’s surrounding the bottom part of the viewfinder.  Mind you, this tutorial will describe how to remove the seals on the optical viewfinder of the Pentax 67, but really, all light seals are the same so go ahead and use these instructions for removing the seals in other cameras (and in the camera bodies too).

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Here are my tools:

  • Toothpicks (skewers are better as they are thicker and stronger)
  • Q-Tips
  • Paper Towels
  • Mineral Spirits (other chemicals to remove adhesives will work as well… Goo-Gone etc)

Step #1.  Identify and Attack.

Find the seals that need to be replaced and start applying Mineral Spirits with a Q-Tip.

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Because Mineral spirits and other similar chemicals evaporate quickly, a few different appliques will be necessary to loosen the adhesive underside.  Notice the glossy shine of the chemicals on the above viewfinder.

So we identified where we need to remove the gunk… but… Oh No!  The gunk spread!

photo (10)This is the Pentax 67 body and focusing screen (focusing screen in the center in white).  Notice around the edges of the screen is the gunk!  It transferred from the viewfinder to the camera body!  That rascally gunk  needs to git outta der so we can have clean viewing!

So we have identified two places where the gunk is.  Apply the mineral spirits to the body as well!

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Now start scraping.  This is the tough part.  And can take some time.

You have to scrape off the goo with the backend of a skewer or toothpick.  With the skewer, the blunt end is good for the majority of the work, the pointy part for the nooks and crannies.  Now apply more mineral spirits… Wash, rinse and repeat.  Eventually your work station looks kind of like this:

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But you would rather have that crap out of your camera than inside of it right?  Agreements all around.  And some hugs.

One word of caution – mineral spirits and Goo Gone are liquid and can get into places you don’t want them to.  A perfect example is getting into the vewfinder.  After I cleaned out the viewfinder I put it all back together and found a hazy patch in the middle of the screen!  I was really worried… but after some investigation I found that there was condensation on the inside of the viewfinder (so it wasn’t the lens or the focusing screen… phew!).

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That tiny patch in the middle was much bigger about 5 minutes before… but over time the condensation went away.  This is important to think about when choosing a chemical.  Mineral spirits evaporate quickly, and in this case, that is a very good thing.

So now your camera should be without gunky crap, which is nice.  And you’ve gotten over the toughest part, so kudos to you.  But now you have to replace the seals.  And that, my friend, is for another blog post :-).

Happy (light leak free) shooting!

-J

If I didn’t take photographs I simply wouldn’t pay as much visual attention to things as I do.  The things photography gives us is strange.

The man in the above image is ambling along at 3 miles per and this is what he looks like at 1/125th of a second.  Of course shutter speed determines the amount of motion blur you capture.  The longer the exposure, the more motion the film captures and hence the blur.  But not all of this pedestrian is blurred… his right foot and left hand are sharp!

Why?  Well for starters, the right foot is securely planted and the rest of his body moving around it.  So no motion for the right foot.  The left hand is another matter though as it is swinging.  My theory is that while his body is moving forward, his arm is swinging in the opposite direction, in effect cancelling each other out.  The hand is frozen for my shot because it decided to swing at just the right speed…

Another example of a frozen foot:

Examples like these are in many places in my portfolio.  I like capturing people walking, and sometimes it works well.  However, for the most part, I need to freeze the action!  To do that you must have faster shutter speeds but unfortunately in the subway, that is not possible for the most part.

So what to do?  Shoot amblers and strollers in the street in the daylight and shoot standers in the subway.  Or shoot with flash.  Flash is another way of doing it but I have yet to venture into this territory…

Or…. just shoot someone who doesn’t walk to fast :-):

Happy shooting!

J

What is the nature of a mirror? What is it’s essence? Mirrors reflect that which is outside of it. So its nature is “aboutness” or “otherness”.

A mirror is perhaps the greatest metaphor for consciousness. Our thoughts are about something else. They reflect the phenomena of the outside world. In fact, we build mighty maps of the outside world inside of our heads. We have mental maps of our kitchen, our bedroom and our office. When someone rearranges the furniture, the changes surprise us and our mental maps must adjust accordingly.

As a kid, I would lie in my bed at night trying to objectify my consciousness. Take my ego, put it into a glass container, stick it on the shelf and marvel at it from a distance. Introspection, looking back at oneself, was always fascinating. But I never really understood why. There was this strange reverberation I felt from these private mental games.

Where did this buzz come from? Using the metaphor of a mirror directly, one might say that introspection is the same as two mirrors facing one another. And everyone knows when a mirror faces another mirror… new corridors are opened up. Introspection is no different. Consciousness manifesting the reflection of itself creates infinite dimensions that we can explore. So in turn we have come to a different conclusion about the mind. Rather than being a flat mirror reflecting exterior phenomena and devoid of intrinsic essence, introspection is the action which turns the mind into an expansive universe with new spaces and regions. A fount of potential.

So how does this connect with photography? How did we get here? How many reflections did it take to get here? Let’s retrace our steps:

1. My mind recognized some reflective surfaces and told my arm to bring the camera to my eye and compose a shot.
2. Clicking the shutter allowed light to penetrate the emulsion of a 35mm wide film frame for a split second.
3. This exposed film was then subjected to chemicals which stopped its light gathering abilities and fixed the reflection of the light it absorbed in place.
4. The film was then scanned by a digital scanner and saved to my computer.
5. I uploaded the file to this website and now your eyes are absorbing the light from your LCD screens and your minds are simulating the reality of that fleeting moment I originally captured.

Phew! Each step is a new direction the reflection has taken and a further development from the original scene I saw. The original reality I witnessed moved from my mind to film to scanner to internet to your mind (and who knows what dirty places you will take it!).

So a photo is marked by reference just as consciousness is. Perhaps this is part of the reason we find photography so intriguing. When we look at our images, we get lost in a deep sea of reflections. Taking a photo of reflective surfaces only drives the point further.

Keep an eye out for interesting reflections… They will serve your photos well!

Happy (self-referential) shooting!

J

Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 Biogon Lens

Wide, fast and prime. No, this is not a description of how I like my meat or my women. These are the characteristics of the proper lens choice for subway work.

Why fast?  The subway is dark!  Lenses that cannot open up wider than f/3.5 will have limited use (unless shooting very high iso).  So go for something that can go to f2 or faster!

Why wide? The subway is cramped! I have tried working with a fast 50mm but it’s no dice, there just isn’t enough space to move and position yourself. This may work for shooting in the subway station as there is a long corridor, but typically not for the subway train car. I have also shot with a 135mm on a train car and while there can be good results, the zoom of the lens is too limiting to take advantage of all of the different available situations you will find yourself in.

I have a sweet tooth for sweet spots. And the sweet spot (in my humble and sugary opinion) are for prime lenses between 21 and 35mm focal lengths.  This really gives you the range between classic portrait lenses on the long end and super-wide lenses on the short end.  A good 35mm lens is really nice to have (even beyond subway shooting).  But for portraits on the subway, I consider it perfect.  On the wide end, 21mm is wide enough to capture a lot of information.  One further point about going wider than 40mm or 50mm is that you can’t shoot from the hip (if you don’t understand why, that will be explained soon my curious friends).

Why prime?  In a word – simplicity. Zooms offer you too many options.  We need to be focusing on things besides the camera!  We need to look at the lighting and the composition!  Then when all of those things align, the camera just becomes a part of us.  The more options/settings/extraneous nonsense you have to worry about the less you can connect with your camera.  And connecting with your picture maker, is an important thing.

There are lots of kinds of equipment that you can get intimate with (and they don’t all have to be in the “adult” category). Camera equipment has such wonderful history and can be such great mechanical pieces of art that intimacy feels natural only after spending a few weeks of shooting. This is why staying with one body and one prime lens is so great. The satisfaction you get from that connection between man and a properly wielded tool is something to behold!  The sound of that clunky springy shutter, the solid metal feel of the body, the dim, dusty viewfinder and simple spot meter… I wouldn’t trade it for the world (to say the least one of those crappy plastic digital cameras).

So go on, work with one camera and one lens (preferably fast, wide and prime).  You guys are a match made in heaven!

Safe Shooting!

J

Disclaimer:
While I think that the rules I talk about in the above post have their strengths, they should not always be followed 100%!  Feel free to break all of my rules!