Wednesday, August 25, 2010
There can be no doubt I love film and film cameras.
The smell when opening a fresh film canister is like perfume and holding a beautiful 1950s rangefinder or a pristine Rollei still sends shivers down my spine.
I like the look of images produced by film -- I think it is magical and I like to look through old negatives and slides. Having a beer while I wait for a roll of film to be developed makes me feel like a kid on Christmas morning -- except for the beer part. I sometimes believe I have Rodinal or D-76 in my veins and digital imagesx and cameras, more often than not, leave me emotionally distant.
But with all that said, I am seriously considering a complete switch to digital. What, you may wonder, has brought on this 180 degree turn-around? In a word, 'cost.'
Last week I took a roll of film to the lab I regularly use and asked them to do the normal 'develop and scan to cd' bit. What I did not know is they had increased their prices, dramatically. When I got handed the bill, I was left reeling. All of my arguments about film not being more expensive than digital suddenly no longer held any water.
As I drove home I can honestly say I felt betrayed, abandoned by an old friend. Since then I have gone through some major, internal, mental-wrestling. Logic tells me it's time to say goodbye to the 20 or so mechanical film cameras I have but the problem is, I have developed strong emotional bonds with them.
I know I can do the same or better with my digital cameras -- in fact I can no longer argue digital is inferior to film. The truth is, it isn't and hasn't been for a long time.
And clients' simply don't care. I've tried to position myself as doing something different by shooting film but no-one cares. Sad but true.
I haven't finally decided my course, though logic tells me I will keep a couple of cameras to shoot the odd roll of film, mostly for fun.
Naturally the Rollei will stay and most likely the Bronica so I can shoot B&W while I have colour in the Rollei. And the Yasica A will probably stay because it has a triplet lens produces nice portraits. I'll keep the Voigtlander Prominent because it's so beautiful, and the two Retinas because they have sentimental value. And, if I'm keeping the rangefinders, I probably should hang on to the Ricoh as it easily fits in my pocket. There's also not much point in getting rid of the Nikons because the lenses can be used on the digital bodies...
Arrrgh!! fuck it! Why is life so complicated?
Monday, August 16, 2010
In the shade performance is impressive
I recently acquired a Zeiss Super Ikonta A in beautiful condition. The serial numbers indicate it was made in around 1938 and it is truly a beautiful piece of machinery.
There is plenty of information about the history of these particular camera elsewhere on the web so I won't rehash it other than to say it is a medium-format, folding camera that genuinely can fit into the back pocket of a pair of jeans -- well my jeans anyway. I'm not sure about if that would apply to Heidi Klumm. My particular model is in 645 format with 16 exposures to a roll. The B and C models shoot negatives that are 6cm x 6cm and 6cm x 9cm respectively.
The moment I saw the camera I fell in love with it. What's not to love about a medium format camera that fits in your pocket!
On the day I got the Super Ikonta I took it, loaded with Ilford XP2 Super black and white film to the 1 000 bike show in Germiston. My first outing did not go as smoothly as I hoped.
It's a quirky camera and takes some getting used to. First of all you have to ensure the film is wound to the correct spot inb one of the two red windows on the back of the camera. Then shutter speed and aperture must be set on the 3.5 Tessar lens which is somewhat of a fiddly process. Then you must flip up a front rangefinder focussing lens and, looking through a tiny rangefinder viewfinder you turn an awkward focussing wheel next to the lens. When the two images match the camera is in focus. Once that is done the shutter must be manually cocked and you must move your eye to the external viewfinder to compose and take the shot which in itself is awkward as the shutter-release button in on the left hand side of the camera.
I was prepared to put up with it's quirks as I figured I was unlikely to ever be in any particular hurry when using the camera and the small package would produce a large negative.
But I have been disappointed. The uncoated lens, while undoubtedly very sharp, produces flare that is second to none. If the sun is shining and the sun is not directly behind you there is flare and even after fashioning a lenshood the problem remained.
The fact is I am a camera user, not a collector and if the equipment does not perform then I am not interested in it. Though I like the style, the build quality and the unlikely fact that it is a chick-magnet (I could not believe how many pretty women came and struck up conversation with me when the saw the camera) I probably will not keep it. In all likelihood it will be swapped for a post-war camera with a coated lens or else put up for sale.
Friday, August 6, 2010
Before going in for repairs
A couple of weeks ago I took a ride to Parys, a small town on the banks of the Vaal River, about an hour's drive south of Johannesburg. (You can read about my discovery of the world's best choc chip cookie and view pics I took there on my travel site.)
Parys has a number of "antique" shops -- many of which sell old junk that they call "antique". I am always on the lookout for old cameras, particularly German examples made in the 1950s, so I was delighted when, in a box in one of the shops, I found a Kodak Retina IIc.
Still in it's leather case, it was caked in dust and some of its chrome sported verdigris. The shutter worked but was slow -- a common ailment with cameras of that era that have often stood unused for years. The lubricant used on the leaf-shutter becomes gooey. The rangefinder mechanism looked okay but needed a good cleaning. But it was obvious there was a problem with the winding mechanism. This is also apparently fairly common with Retinas and the result of a design quirk where the winding mechanism is designed to lock when the last picture on the mechanical counter is reached. It is claimed Kodak did this to stop people squeezing more images from a roll of film so they could boost Kodak film sales. True? I don't know but the design led to many Retinas being wrecked when ham-fisted operators applied force to the winding lever.
This was obviously the cause of the problem with this particular Retina.
The junk shop owner wanted R450 (approx $60) for the camera which I considered outrageous for something that required not only cleaning, lubrication and adjustment but also repairs that might or might not be possible.
I offered him R250 which he accepted, figuring that if it could be repaired it would likely be a line performer that, folded up, could easily fit in my pocket. If not it would be a R250 conversation-piece.
I took my newly-acquired Retina to Roger Vieren in Johannesburg who has been repairing cameras for over 50 years and still has one of the finest private camera collections in the world. (He can be reached on Tel +27-11-782-4574).
Three weeks later I had it back, completely overhauled and serviced and a fully working winding mechanism. He replaced a number of parts with originals and I held in my hand, a pristine example of what many call the Poor Man's Leica. Cost of the job -- R250!
I am absolutely delighted with the little camera and the results speak for themselves, I believe.
I have posted some of the pictures taken with it below.
The details: Fuji 200 ASA colour negative processed and scanned (low res) at a local one-hour lab. Exposure values were set by me using a combination of Sunny 16 and 35 years experience.
The lens is a 50mm f2.8 Schneider Kreuznach Xenon.
Other than cropping on the photograph of the dog (shot with the lens wide open at f2.8) the images are exactly as they came from the negatives.
at 1:02 PM