Sunday, May 31, 2009


Hello everyone,
Some changes to my process...

When I started shooting, I used all sorts of thrift store and flea market cameras, using mostly fuji 200 (which was on sale at Longs 4 36exp. rolls for $5.99!). Through experimenting with different cameras, I was able to keep the process fresh and fun. But after using many many cameras, I started to get a feel for what I liked and decided to get more powerful camera that would suit me better. That was the Nikon F4, which is now broken. I then transitioned to the Leica R8 and got a bunch of expensive and incredible lenses for it. I think for what I do, Leica is the best. So the camera swapping saga is over. As this area dried up, I had to move to new areas of experimentation

From left to right, Summicron-R 50mm f/2, Summicron-R 90mm f/2, Vario-Elmar-R 28-70mm f/3.5-4.5, Leica R8 with motor winder and Summilux-R 80mm f/1.4, below Telyt-R 250mm f/4, Canon Speedlite flash and (not shown) Leica 2x teleconvertor

Since I hadn't really experimented with different films, I decided to find some color films with charming palettes. I realized that I would have to choose slow films to get fine grain if I was going to try and make large 2x3' prints with 35mm (the sharpness of the leica lenses helps a lot too). I now shoot mostly 64 to 160 speed film, color negative and slide film in order to get the colors, contrast and sharpness that I want.

Some of my favorites here:
Fuji Press 400
Kodak Royal Gold 200 (I've since given up 200 film)
Kodak Portra 160VC
Kodak Ektachrome 100, 64 and 25 (I have one roll of this... saving for a very special occasion)
Barf: CVS 200 and expired Kodak Gold 200 (If you are reading this, I will give you these 8 rolls of Gold and CVS)

I also began to roll my own cartridges to save money, buying 100' rolls of great films like Kodak Portra 160NC, Fuji NPS 160, and Agfa XPS 160 for $15-30 a roll, or about $.75-$1.50 per 36-40 exposure roll!

My freezer stash of bulk 100' rolls:
(3) Kodak Portra 160NC
(1) Kodak Ektachrome 100 Plus (E-6)
(1) Kodak Orthro Film 6556 Type 3 (Super high contrast B&W)
(2) Fuji NPS 160
(2) Fuji Velvia 100F (E-6)
(4) Agfa XPS 160

I fell in love with slide film after shooting what I consider the closest thing to a perfect roll that I've ever shot. But I was sad because it had cost $9 to develop. However, I found that you can process color film yourself and it makes good sense economically!

My new Jobo CPE-2 film processor!
The Kodak E-6 chemical kit, makes 5 liters, to the right, and to the left 1L of each of the 7 mixed chemicals needed for the E-6 slide film development process
My first roll or DIY developed slide film!!!

Now on the DIY kick, I roll, shoot and process my own film on the cheap! Not only that, but I am able to create 35mm images of the highest quality while having complete control of the process. I feel like I am approaching the apex of my photography career. Everything equipment-wise is in place for me... now I just have to take some great pictures.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Kodak Ektar 25 is incredible!

I stumbled across this film in the camera bag of a camera that I bought. I wasn't even sure if it was going to work because I had no idea of the age. There are only a few sub 100 ISO films made today (Fuji T64, Velvia 50), neither of them very popular due to overwhelming/strange colors; I think they are mostly used for lomography cross-processing endeavors. But in the past, several great color negative and slide films were made in the sub-100 ISO category: Kodak Ektar and Ektachrome 25, Ektachrome 64, Royal Gold 25 (I love my RG200, I can't imagine how fantastic this 25 ISO version looks!) and more.

But why super slow film? Mainly, slower film has finer grain, meaning smoother everything and larger possible enlargements. Good use of the aperture can make objects painfully sharp as well.

In the daytime, shutter speeds are in the 300 range on my R8, more than adequate since blur starts to occur at below 60 and the R8 is so heavy I could probably do handheld exposures without blur at 30 or 15. Slow films are recommended for the daytime since the light intensity is so strong - with really slow film you can use more aperture settings without maxing-out your top shutter speed.

At night, you can do especially long exposures with a tripod which look incredible, or you can use a flash which is so buttery smooth and not harsh you'd think it was just heavenly glow.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Leica R8 VERSUS Nikon F4s

I've been talking about these two cameras for the last two posts. Here I'd like to do a head to head -

Shutter speeds: The Leica has manually set shutter speeds of 16s to 1/8000s in half-stop values, plus B and X. The F4 has 4s to 1/8000 (8800 the top speed in auto). Since I like to use fast lenses, the 8000 top shutter speed is one of the most important selling features for both. Plus I like taking pictures of the sun. Seriously.

Lenses: both have excellent world class lenses. Nikon lenses are faster and cheaper and more available but they can't do the Leica thing. Nikon has many more F mount lenses than Leica R mount lenses available. The F4 has an incredible integration of ANY F mount lens ever. The R8 can use many of the R lenses but it's dangerous to use anything besides the later 3 cam and ROM versions because it can damage the ROM contacts on the R8/R9 body. The F4 has an advantage here but the R8 is still versatile.

AF: Nikon has it, Leica doesn't. Who cares

Modes: both have all the modes I need. In general regarding cameras, manual works fine, aperture priority is really nice, shutter priority is neat and everything else is "what exactly is that for?" The Leica has: manual, aperture priority, variable automatic program, Shutter priority, Prior-to-exposure flash metering. The Nikon has: Programmed auto-multi, shutter-priority auto, aperture priority auto and manual. If you are interested in program modes you might want to do some research as both of them have their unique specialties in this department.

Exposure: The Nikon has exposure lock, exp. comp and a double exposure lever control on the body. The Leica has all that AND a sophisticated system for clamping down the film and controlling exposure for multiple exposures. Hella cool

Winder and frames/sec: Both have removeable power winders, the Leica at 4 frames per second with a convenient battery pack and the Nikon (F4s) at 5.7 frames per second with 6 AA batteries. The Leica also has the option for a motor winder which is smaller, quieter and does 2 frames per second. Sometimes I wish my F4 had a motor winder option as it's nice not having to be distracted by winding and I'm not shooting at 6 frames/sec much.

Metering: both have multiple types including matrix and spot. I have heard the Nikon matrix metering works better.

Viewfinders: The Leica has a fixed viewfinder. The Nikon has several viewfinders including a waist level viewfinder. I'm a big fan of this option for several reasons - When using a tripod at max height, about 5', I have to bend way over, being 6'4". The WLF is also more discrete than pulling your huge F4 or R8 camera to your head and you can get great candid photos this way.

Mirror lockup and viewfinder shutter: both

Focusing Screens: many types available for both.


I've already hinted a few times about the tremendous price difference between these two. Here's a comparison of some lenses these two have in common (in N vs L form, used prices):

Body with power winder: $300 vs $800

35mm f/2: $100 vs $450
50mm f/2: $50-100 vs $300
50mm f/1.4: $150 vs $600
80-85mm f/1.4: $800 vs $1200
135mm f/2.8: $150 vs $250-300
180mm f/2.8: $300-400 vs $250-600

Why are the R8 and F4s my favorite pro 35mm cameras?:
This can be answered in 3 smaller questions -
Why Nikon and Leica? LENSES
Why 1/8000 second top shutter speed? OPTIONS

Conclusion: if you need a professional 35mm SLR, the F4s is the obvious answer at $300 for a body (or an N90s for $80 if you're really on a budget) and a plethora of relatively cheap excellent lenses. If the most important thing is having a camera that suits you and your art, you'll have to consider the R8 too.

So I bought a Leica R8

So I bought a Leica R8. I missed holding it. Although it is similar to an F4 in terms of features and quality, it costs quite a bit more (more about this in the next post). But it's a great camera with wonderful colorful style of its own. The lenses and the build quality are what make it a Leica. Here's a comparison between the Nikkor and Leica lenses:

-Nikon lenses are pretty color accurate and medium contrasty. No colors pop out more than others, and some people say it has a brown tone (which would be hard to notice without a reference on hand). The "bokeh" or out of focus regions are oil paint in texture with open apertures. Out of focus lights are circles in the center, bending to cat eye shaped blobs for ~50mm or less lenses.

-The Leica lenses also have a reasonably accurate color balance, with colors popping out more, much more contrast, and a yellow/green emphasis to my eye.

Both lenses have very lovely qualities and are useful in their own ways. If you're a painter and you're painting with blue and red, you're still going to need blue even if it's twice as expensive as red. I think the camera will enhance my art and will not be redundant, but if it is, it goes back off to the auction block. I'll have a back to back breakdown of my two favorite professional 35mm SLRs up next.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Leica R8 and Nikon F4

Finally let me tell you about my jump into "professional grade" cameras...

When I got my Miranda Sensorex at a garage sale for $5, I was so blown away by the color and character imparted by this camera, that I plunged head first into photography and I haven't slowed down since. I thought that my developing style was "lofi," similar to the sound quality ethics of idealistic musicians popularized especially 90s and beyond. Old/crappy/weird stuff has a special character - and if you like using that character your style is "lofi." I had been buying thrift store and flea market cameras originally just to test them out. Then I came to a conclusion from the cameras I had used: many classic cameras have similar features and not all lenses are created equal. As I experienced lenses, I picked my favorites and noted them. If they were good enough to keep, meaning they were equally stimulating as the Miranda lenses I had, then I would keep them or continue collecting lenses and bodies of that kind (like Miranda mount, Pentax K mount, Olympus OM, m42 etc.). I was beginning to become jaded on the possibilities of these flea market cameras; nearly all of them had a top shutter speed of 1000 (maybe 2000 or 500), maybe had aperture preview, maybe had available 50mm f/1.4 lenses and maybe they didn't, maybe they were rangefinders and maybe they were SLRs. I liked my Miranda, and I had begun to build up my lens collection, but I was also intrigued by cameras costing much more. What made a camera so expensive when you could get one that works pretty darn good for under $100? My friend friendly damage was way into these expensive cameras and he had a lot more photography experience than I had at the time. I didn't get it.

Finally one day I stumbled upon a Leica R8 in a thrift store. The price was fair for the model but unaffordable to me; I still had to hold it in my hands. I was inexperienced and holding something that expensive made me shake a bit. I was afraid I would drop it. But when I held it, I noticed its heft and excellent finish. I still didn't understand how a used 35mm SLR could cost well over $1000. It sat in there for a while, being way nicer than all the other cameras they had there (and out of most people in the area's price range) and I used to think about it as I drove by. Then during the holidays it went on sale, and I uncomfortably haggled them down to $1350 with 2 mint lenses (after doing my internet research of course). I knew it was a good deal on it and I intended to just use it once to experience it and sell it on ebay for an estimated profit of between $100-$600. I had been mostly fixing up flea market cameras so I thought I might as well use my knowledge to flip this one for some easy cash.

So I shot a roll through it. Just screwing around on my roof with my mint R8 and a tripod taking some low light photos. Not bound to be anything spectacular. I got the pictures back and thought "hmmmm..." It looks good but not $1350 good. So I put it out of my mind and started thinking I'd be using my Miranda for a while as it seems to be working good. Practical eh?

I put the Leica out of my mind until the idea of a more-featured camera came back to me. My friends were into Contax and I only sorta got it. I saw some of their images and I really liked the strength and color of their images. So I got the idea of getting an older "professional" camera with a top shutter speed of 2000+ and an assortment of "nice" lenses ( still didn't know quite what these terms meant). I had been getting into fast lenses / slow film and I began to notice that if I liked to shoot with the aperture wide open in the daytime with fast lenses, then I need fast shutter speeds. Certain creative options were only available with nicer more expensive cameras. Fast lenses were more expensive as well as cameras with fast shutter speeds. So I started looking at a Nikon F3 at the recommendation of mr. damage.

At the same time I had realized that the Leica images were very nice and were still ME. I had thought that my style was "lofi". This wasn't really true as I was never a holga/disposable camera/polaroid guy. It was more about the strange and imprecise style and choices I made that resulted in interesting photographs. I was never an "image engineer" - someone who views a camera as a tool that should be used in a certain way to produce an accurate representation of "reality". So I found out that I actually could benefit from a fancier camera. But which one?

The Leica was outrageously expensive but I loved the feel and function of it. The F3 was cool but not nearly as high tech or as big and nice to hold as the R8. Then I found the F4, read about it, found out it was about the same price as the F3 but with a power winder like the R8 I had and a top shutter speed of 8000 (also like the R8). Plus it looked big and nice to hold and had the possibility of other viewfinders, which was one thing that I thought was really impressive about the Miranda in its price range. So one day an F4 popped up on craigslist and I picked it up with a handful of film and a wonderful 105mm f/2.5 for $450 and I was happy as a clam once I started burning through rolls at lightning speed (must've been maxing it out at 6 frames per second) and I was astounded by the results!

But that was not the end of the Leica...

Friday, February 13, 2009

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


Here's a picture of my camera overflow:


From back to front, left to right:
Miranda Sensorex with 50mm f/1.8, 50mm f/1.4, 135mm f/2.8, macro bellows, lens extension tubes, magnifying waist level viewfinder, m42 adaptor
Honeywell Pentax Spotmatic (m42 screw mount) with 2 28mm f/2.8 wide angle lens and a Carl Zeiss Jena 85mm Tessar f/2.8 plus 135mm f/2.8
Canon QL-17 GIII with attached 45mm f/1.7
Pentax MV (K mount) with 50mm f/1.4, Kalimar 28-70mm f/3.9-4.8 with macro, Vivitar 28-85mm f/2.8-3.8
Kodak Retina IIa with Schneider 50mm f/2
Nikon Nikkormat FTn with Nikkor 43-86mm f/3.5 (plus my other lenses in my F4 bag)
Olympus OM-1 with 50mm f/1.8 (sold the f/1.4)
and on the bottom
Canon AE-1 with Canon 50mm f/1.4 and Vivitar 75-205mm f/3.8 with macro
Atari 2600 with Pac Man, Dig Dug, Missile Commander, etc.

I hate to be a square, but I'm going to sell most of this for fast Nikon lenses for my F4. After I've gone through all the thrift store cameras, I'll tell you how you can benefit from the features of a "pro" camera

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Canon Canonet QL-17 GIII

This slick little rangefinder is "findable" and popular for its nice 45mm f/1.7 lens, good looks, auto exposure, and its light quiet and compact nature. The QL-17 GIII is probably the most popular japanese rangefinder except for the Nikon rangefinders, which are way expensive. The only real problem with this one is the lens is not detachable. Also the light meter is a bit over-sensitive with the newer 625A 1.5v alkaline batteries. I tried shooting on a sunny day with 800 (it was already in the camera) and it was a total pain in the ass. Now I realize I could've pushed the film by adjusting the ASA knob like it was an exposure compensation control like on the Pentax ME Super. In completely unfair comparision (besides price), I'd go for the ME Super because it's also small, light and has auto exposure but it's an SLR (a plus) and it has interchangeable excellent lenses. The Canonet is basically a really nice point and shoot. The QL-17 GIII is the only valuable version of Canonets (the QL-19 to a lesser degree), partly because it's the best of them, but also because it was popularized by the movie "Pecker". As far as cool 35mm rangefinders go, I'd have to say my Kodak Retina IIa is a lot cooler because it folds and because of the Schneider lens which is crisp and takes wonderful pictures.

Canon AE-1, AT-1 etc.

The Canon AE-1 is a very popular camera, maybe just because the Canon logo is pretty cute looking. Personally I think it's a pretty good camera. The AE-1 is your typical full featured SLR from the 70s but what sets it apart is having an auto aperture mode which is unusual because it is an unnatural auto mode. Usually cameras only have auto aperture (shutter priority) if they also have aperture priority. One of the main benefits of this camera is the extremely available and high quality Canon FD mount lenses. There are a couple of downsides. The camera cannot be cocked without batteries, which is an annoyance in itself. This is also a problem because you can find them often at thrift stores and flea markets and you want to be able to check the shutter and shutter bearing which becomes ovoid over time and the camera becomes trash. This happened to a friend's AE-1 that used to belong to her friend. So if you find one, you basically don't know if it works unless you bring a battery. I prefer the AT-1 version of this camera which doesn't have the shutter priority mode and has "match needle" guages for the light meter instead of LEDs. For a camera that goes for about $80 on ebay with a standard 50mm f/1.8 lens, it wouldn't be my first choice in that price range. In the under $100 category, there are a lot of excellent options; such as the Miranda EE Sensorex (auto) with a few good miranda lenses, the Canon Canonet QL-17 GIII rangefinder, maybe a Pentax ME Super with a 50mm f/1.4 lens, or a Kodak Retina IIa folder rangefinder with a light meter and a Schneider f/2 lens.

Olympus OM-1

The Olympus OM-1 is a small, cute, and a bit quirky but similar to any 70s manual SLR. I always grab them when I see them as they are good for 60-150 depending on the condition, color (black being more) and lenses, preferably the Olympus Zuiko OM-System matching lenses. Benefits of this camera are being light and handsome, having mirror lockup and easy double exposure, and having a f/1.4 50mm lens that has a very short depth of field - the shortest I've experienced of this length and fstop but close to the Pentax (the Nikon is closer to the Miranda). Downsides are it's hard to find lenses at thrift stores (you basically only find lenses on the camera or in a bag with it) and the foam around the prism likes to degrade over time and take the prism with it creating green bubbly stains on the reflective surface of the prism. I also don't like replacing the mirror dampening pad because it is two tiny L shaped pieces of foam, much different than the straight and easy bar of the Canon AE-1. Overall good features, affordable, a little lacking in the lenses, very portable. I would recommend this as an adventure with friends camera because of it's features and low profile that won't restrain your rabid vividness

Monday, January 26, 2009

Pentax MV-1, ME Super and Pentax KM

Here are a few of my favorite Pentax SLRs under $50. The MV-1 is cool because it's dirt cheap, has a corny red-green light instead of a real meter, and will have the shutter open as long as necessary for proper expose. No settings, just set the aperture. Very light and compact and takes excellent pictures with that 50mm f/1.4 lens I keep talking about. This is a fun camera for night pictures because you don't have to fiddle with anything but aperture and focus

Another favorite is the Pentax ME-Super which came out around the same time as the MV-1 but has much fuller features including a top shutter speed of 2000 (better than the MV-1 for daylight photography with a fast lens) and shutter and aperture priority. But still no aperture priority - really the only downside of this full featured, light, compact and nice looking camera.

The Pentax KM is like the K1000 with a self timer and an aperture preview (FINALLY). It's basically a Nikkormat/Nikomat FTn but in K mount (I'll get to the Nikkormats later). Also under $50 for this gem which is about half the price of the less-abled K1000.

A shoutout to the Pentax LX for being sexy. Too bad you won't find this one under $50

Asahi Pentax K1000, Honeywell Pentax Spotmatic, and other Pentax mount SLRs

I came across a Pentax K1000 camera at a thrift store near my college house, and thought it was the spitting image of the classic SLR with simple yet elegant lines. I shot a roll with it and I didn't care for it because it had a lot less features than my Miranda Sensorex (I couldn't get over the missing aperture preview!) and it took a lot more straight forward and boring pictures. It had the slight warmth of film but without the intensity of the Miranda's color. The Pentax K bayonet mount, however, has some impressive offerings and can be used on 60s SLRs as well as new Pentax dSLRs! I really love the SMC Pentax f/1.4. It is crystal clear, very fast, and has wonderful bright colors! Some of the best photos on here were taken with that lens. The Honeywell Pentax Spotmatic has the 42mm "M42" thread mount is also very common and has many of the same lenses available. The M42 lenses also are used on the manual Sears and Mamiya/Sekor cameras, like the cool Mamiya/Sekor 1000DTL which was the first camera to have spot and average metering which was impressive for the time. Unfortunately, the meters are often broken in these now. An extra cool lens for the m42 mount is the Sears 50mm f/1.4 which competes very favorably to the Nikon 50mm f/1.4 which is 4x the price (but still pretty cheap at about $80+ used).

Miranda Sensorex

The lovely Miranda Sensorex is responsible for getting me into photography. I had always been interested in a fully manual SLR but I never really knew anything about getting one or ever got around to it. Then while hitting some garage sales with my friend Alexis, I came across a lovely Miranda Sensorex from Japan (1967). This camera is built like a tank and is still working great! The color inaccuracy, combined with strange settings in my inexperienced hands, along with encouragement from my friend Ethan, helped me dive right into the world of photography with exciting results! The Miranda, although little known today, was actually a pro-sumer model of it's day with more features than many other classic cameras that became more popular. It had average features like match needle metering and B-1000 shutter speeds, but had other bonus features like aperture preview (missing on the classic Pentax K1000 and Spotmatic), a self timer (also missing on the Pentaxes) and a removable prism with 9 different viewfinder options! The lenses for the Mirada bayonet mount are definitely decent as well, characterized by their especially warm colors. Some med. fast lenses were offered, such as the 50mm f/1.4 and the 135mm f/2.5, but don't expect the 50mm f/1.4 lense to actually be as fast as, say, an SMC Pentax 50mm f/1.4. All in all it's a great system, and wonderful examples of Miranda cameras with fast lenses can be had for $25-40 dollars, which makes it MY NOMINATION FOR BEST CLASSIC SLR UNDER $50! Almost all of the pictures posted before 11/06/08 were taken with the Miranda... it's only recently that I've started to actually want to use other cameras outside of just a test roll which usually just made me want to go back to my Miranda