A day at the Fort with the Pentax Spotmatic.

An interesting trip out a while ago with my favourite retro camera of the moment, the Asahi Pentax Spotmatic SPII. We drove up into Suffolk to the end of the promontory where Felixstowe Docks are located. There is an old Fort called Landguard Fort built in the 1500s originally but the present construction dates much later. Being an overcast day and the Fort a very grey concrete construction I thought it would make an ideal subject for black and white film. So, I loaded up with a 36 exp roll of Ilford HP5+ and put a spare in my bag. I took my 55mm f1.8 and my 105mm f2.8 Takumar lenses fitted with a yellow filter for an added bit of contrast.

I love this old camera. It seems to fit my hand so well and I like the weight of it which has a feel of quality. The shutter sound too sounds really great and makes you feel you have an instrument of quality in your hands. The Takumar lenses are brilliant as is the Zeiss 29mm one.

It was a rather grey and overcast day so it was a little difficult in places accommodating the low light levels but all in all I was very pleased with the results.

When is black not black

A few experiments in printing black and white photographs.

These days we are all so used to instant gratification and seeing photographs almost instantly on social media. There is nothing to beat holding and viewing an actual printed photograph though.

I’ve recently rediscovered the pleasure of darkroom printing of my black and white photos onto silver gelatin paper. The experience of seeing the quality of the tonal range of a printed photo is quite something. This led me to thinking about doing a comparison between the same photo negatives scanned digitally and printed on an inkjet printer and those produced by the traditional darkroom process.

I should, at this stage, point out that I’ve had problems in the past producing black and white prints at home using my inkjet printer. They look acceptable until you put them against a good quality black and white reproduction. The inkjets always seem to have a slight blue tinge.

Scan of image printed using an Epson SX200 inkjet printer

The first example is a scan of an image printed using an Epson SX200 inkjet printer. This is a 4 cartridge printer with only one black cartridge.

Scan of an image printed on an Epson Stylus Photo 1500W printer.

Both of these prints appear to be not too bad but you can only really see the difference when put side by side as in the next image scan. As you can see, the image on the left lacks punch and has a distinct blue tinge. The image on the right was printed on an Epson Stylus Photo 1500W inkjet printer. This printer has six cartridges but still has only the one black cartridge. It appears though that it can achieve a much improved tonal range with richer blacks.

That’s until you compare the image from the 1500W to those produced by other methods. My next comparison was to compare the image above and on the right to those printed from my Smugmug site and have them delivered mail order and .

Left image printed on 1500W inkjet printer and that on the right from SmuMug site.

Not bad and the one on the left has a slight blue tinge. The one on the right commercially printed is definitely better but as they are reasonably priced and are delivered to me in 2 days it’s not really worthwhile printing from home.

As for quality, I know one can print better on an inkjet printer if you are prepared to pay a £1000 for the printer and up to £50 per cartridge for replacement cartridges. These printers usually have 9 cartridges because they include 3 shades of grey so that can mean and ongoing layout of £450 which is outside most people’s budget.

Before we leave this subject I should point out that the photographs used as examples were all taken on 35mm Ilford HP5+ film around the Barbican, London. So, I should say that there is one alternative to the above methods and that is going back to traditional methods of producing the print in the darkroom by printing from an enlarger onto silver gelatin paper. In my opinion this gives the best result in terms of the blacks really being black and the range of tones are fantastic. Of course, not everyone has the opportunity to use a darkroom but an interesting comparison all the same.

Print on the left printed with the Epson Stylus Photo 1500W. The one on the right is a silver gelatin print produced in the darkroom.

All photographs printed on lustre finish premium quality paper.

Some darkroom work

I’ve recently completed converting my loft into a darkroom. It seemed like a natural progression from having got more into my film photography recently..

An ideal time to spend in the darkroom what with this awful weather and being in lockdown.

Did a few trial prints the other day of some photos taken in the Barbican using a 35mm Olympus OM2n.The film was rated at ISO 400 and developed in Ilford ID11 developer.

These are all scans of the actual prints made in the darkroom and printed on Kentmere VC Select Luster multigrade paper.

The first print (above) I made using the settings on the colour head for the equivalent of a grade 2 paper which is a mid way grade. The range of tones at the lower level under the overhanging construction are pretty good, although the upper level balconies are a bit over exposed and losing some detail.

For the second example (above) I reset the yellow and magenta settings on the enlarger colour head to give me an equivalent to grade 3 paper which is more contrasty. The image has more punch and has darker blacks to the shadow area, although the lower part does look a bit under exposed (it does look darker on the scanned image than on the actual print though). It does also have good detail to the upper balcony areas. I may have to redo this and using a bit of cardboard just hold back the lower part by 5 seconds on the exposure in the enlarger.

It is good fun and is an interesting project to be doing in these restricted times.

I’ve also included a few of the other scanned prints of the Barbican from the last session.

Henry Moore Sculptures on film

Whilst we have had restricted travel I’ve been lucky enough to be able to visit the Henry Moore Gardens and Studios. It’s just a few minutes drive from where I live and just a few weeks ago I took the opportunity of a stroll around the grounds with a film camera loaded with a 36 exposure roll of Ilford HP5+ loaded into my Olympus OM2n.

The visitor centre building is quite an interesting shape in itself.
It had been raining which always adds an interesting perspective to the sculptures. Three Piece Sculpture: Vertebrae
I think it’s a good idea to get the interaction of people to the sculptures.
Using one sculpture to frame another is a useful compositional tool.
Knife Edge Two Piece.
I was rather glad that this lady had decided to take a seat for a while. Reclining Figure: Angles
Reclining Mother and Child.
This one of the best shots I’ve ever got of the Large Upright Internal/External Form. It usually has a bright sky behind it which makes the exposure very difficult. I got in close this time to exclude exposure those influencing highlights.

I’m very pleased with the quality of the photos and I think the HP5+ film is certainly ideal for capturing the sculptures on a very dull day. The tonal range of the images is very good and I haven’t noticed too much grain. The film was developed in Ilford ID11 diluted 1+3 for 22 minutes. I would normally develop for 20 minutes but this was the second use of the developer so I added 10% to the time.

It’s good to see Sheep Piece back in the field after being away on tour for a while.

More on film. Fomapan 200.

During this second lockdown period I thought it would be a good opportunity to try out perfecting some new film photography. I’ve used Fomapan 400 a fair bit in the past but decided to try Fomapan 200 for a change. Maybe not the best idea during the dull weather we’re having just recently but at least I can get to using a large aperture and throwing the background out of focus.

So I decided to do our local walk which starts at a small church. I first had a look round the churchyard. Churchyards are always good for some texture and interesting light shooting.

The small Church of St Thomas’ at Perry Green, the start of our walk.
A misty day forming a drip on the tap gives it an extra element.
Detail of the church.

Further along our walk we pass the Henry Moore Studio and Gardens. Even though it’s closed at present there is an opportunity to still see some of the sculptures.

Large Figure in a Shelter by Henry Moore.
Hoglands, Henry Moore’s home and now a museum reflected in the visitor centre windows.

The walk takes us round the perimeter of the Henry Moore grounds and then along part of the Hertfordshire Way.

Along the Hertfordshire Way.
My favourite gatepost subject on the walk.

So, what of the film. I developed the Fomapan 200 for 13 minutes in Ilford ID11 at 20 deg C. Ilford ID11 is my go to developer at present. As it’s a powder developer it has an almost indefinite shelf life in it’s powder form so I can purchase a couple of boxes without having them go off before I can use them.

I quite like the tones of Fomapan 200 but not sure the grain appears to be much smaller than Fomapan 400 and I have to say that I think I prefer to use Ilford HP5+ for most of my photos.

Olympus OM2n and Fomapan 200.

I will though try the Fomapan 200 out with another camera/lens combination. This set was photographed using the Olympus OM2n fitted with the 50mm f1.4 lens. I intend to run another 36 through my Pentax Spotmatic fitted with the 55mm f1.8 Takumar lens.

Living in Utopia

On a recent rip into London I took a group of photographers round the Barbican. Not wanting to use the tube in these times of restrictions we limited ourselves to using the over ground train into Liverpool Street and walk from there.

From the Barbican we walked down to the Thames at St Paul’s Cathedral. My main area of interest for the day though was the Barbican area. I was intending taking just a film camera with me on this trip as I thought the Barbican with it’s grey drab concrete construction would prove ideal for black and white film.

As early as the late 1940s architects and town planners were looking at how people could live in high rise blocks and moved around the city on high level walkways. The idea wasn’t that they were so much concerned about pedestrians but more to do with keeping traffic flowing uninterrupted through the cities of tomorrow. As is often the case though that didn’t accord with human nature as people were more fond of following roads rather than being remote above where everything is happening,

The outcome of this is that London has some areas of remote and unlinked walkways. One area of extensive walkways though is the Barbican estate.

The gear used for this day was my trusty Olympus OM2n and 50mm f1.4 lens. I used a couple of rolls of Ilford HP5+ and developed it in Ilford ID11 diluted 1+3 for 20 minutes @20 degC.

Scanning of film was done using Plustek Opticfilm 8100 scanner and Silverfast software.

Ilford HP5+ @ 3200asa

Back in January of this year I had started a project to photograph my local town at night using film and hand held. It was a good opportunity to see how I could push the speed of Ilford HP5+ to 3200asa. During the lockdown period I had chance to process the film along with another one shot at the same speed.

Fortunately, I started on this project before the restaurants started closing so managed to get some lit windows with customers sitting inside.

Searching some online sites and the Massive Dev Chart I decided on trying to get max asa out of Ilford HP5+ which is normally rated at 400asa. I wasn’t sure exactly how far you can push this film but I’d pushed it in my earlier days of film work when it was still HP5 with out the +and then I’d taken it to 1600asa.

The problem is that with extended development times the grain of the film can be excessive. I decided though that I’d take some night time shots around the town and hopefully the grain will just add to the atmosphere so I pushed it to 3200asa.

The cameras I used was a Voigtlander Vito C and I used a Weston Master V light meter to determine exposures.

Voigtlander Vito C.

I had some stock solution of Ilford ID11 developer so used that. I couldn’t find a timing for this on the Massive Dev Chart so compared the figures stated for 800 and 1600asa and added on some more time to allow for the 1 stop increased in speed. The final figure that I settled on was 18 minutes using stock solution.

I was pleased with the contrast look and the grain I thought looked almost like a murky mist overhanging the scenes. The contrast was aided by the fact that with some of the shots it had been raining.

I’ll be trying this again with one of my 35mm SLR and a better lens.

Geometric shapes caught on film

Geometric shapes can be defined as figure or area closed by a boundary which is created by combining the specific amount of curves, points, and lines.

Assignment

A group of friends who are members of the local photography club and also keen on old cameras decided last week that it was time to go out on a photo shoot. Keeping to the current Government guidelines we were limited to a total of 6 and we decided to have a visit to a local town called Harlow in Essex.

The town plans were drawn up in 1947 by Sir Frederick Gibberd and was designated a New Town built to provide housing to replace the loss of housing in London during the war.

We wanted to catch the setting sun going down and throwing some light shafts through the contemporary architecture in the town. A New Town is an ideal location for this style of photography due to the proliferation of contemporary architecture with it’s associated square blocks and straight lines.

Equipment used

I used my Olympus OM2n 35mm SLR with a 50mm f1.4 lens. I had a red filter fitted to the lens for all these shots to darken the blue of the sky and give contrast between the sky and the buildings. Film used was Ilford HP5+ rated at 400 asa. The film was processed in Ilford ID11 @20 deg c for 20 minutes.

I saw this zebra crossing and thought it would be an ideal location for some Street Photography, especially with the vertical lines of the building behind. All I need now, I thought, was for someone to walk into the picture. Imagine my surprise when at that moment over my shoulder I heard someone appologise for walking into my picture. It couldn’t have been better. Not only had I got my subject but they were wearing a black and white striped top too. Perfect!
A selfie in a black and white barbers shop!

A roll of Fomapan 400 with the Agfa Optima 1035 Sensor.

  • Camera: Agfa Optima 1035 Sensor.
  • Film: Fomapan 400. Rated at 400asa. Developed in Ilford ID11 dilution 1+3 for 23 minutes @20 degC.
  • Film scanned using Plustek OpticFilm 8100 through Silverfast 8 software.
Agfa Optima 1035 Sensor

Why I chose this camera?

Having an interest in analogue photography I like to follow a YouTube channel called Analogue Insights (link at the end of this post). Recently, Max, who is the host of the site has done a review of the Afa Optima 1035. It seemed to be the ideal camera for some Street Photography and as a coincidence there was one on Ebay in mint condition which I purchased for £56.

The camera and it’s features.

The camera is built of metal and is very compact and takes 35mm film. It has zone focusing but if turned upside down it has the distance scale on the underside of the lens. Zone focusing is something I often use for Street Photography so that is fine. The viewfinder is very large and bright for such a small camera and it is equipped with a nice f2.8 40mm lens. The zone focusing settings are shown in the viewfinder which is handy. The exposure is fully automatic but there is an aperture setting on the lens. This though is only operational when using flash.

Zone focusing seen in the viewfinder.
The zone focusing on the top of the lens.

Design philosophy

The camera was one of a series of cameras produced by Agfa through to the late 1970s and the simplistic design philosophy has as it’s roots in that of post war German industrial design. The design is a reflection of the design principles by such great designers as Dieter Rams who was instrumental in the design of the sleek and understated household goods for Braun in that era. “Good design is as little design as possible.” These few words encapsulate the philosophy of Rams. The British-American designer Jony Ive, Chief designer for Apple until 2019 once said of Rams that his work is “beyond improvement.”

This camera was designed by another German design studio. In 1967 Norbert Schlagheck and Herbert Schultes formed the design partnership Schlagheck Schultes Design GmbH and took on work of designing products for AGFA Gevaert AG. The design partnership was located in Munich and they were Influenced by Dieter Rams and his 10 Principles of Good Design. They were responsible for delivering designs for several classic cameras, along with other products. The design for AGFA provided a new and more modern direction for the camera-maker with the large red sensor shutter release being instrumental in the catch phrase for the product of ‘The other red dot camera’. This being a reference to the logo on Leica cameras. Not quite up to the standard of manufacture of Leica of course.

The results of my first trip out with the camera.

I recently was able to visit the National Trust property of Anglesey Abbey. Having just received the camera through the post I thought I’d load up with a roll of Fomapan 400 black and white film and try it out. It was an overcast day so not too much contrast but the white statuary in the grounds set against a dark background of foliage proved to be ideal for a test and I’m quite pleased with the results. The camera was a joy to use and handled very well. Manual focusing was very easy with the 400 ASA film providing small enough apertures to get some depth of field.

My next test of the camera will be to take it out on a trip doing some Street Photography.

Legacy glass on digital Part 1.

Carl Zeiss Jena 29mm f2.8 Lens.

I do like the quality and feel of the old legacy lenses created for the old film cameras. To my mind they are built to a higher standard than the modern lenses made for the consumer market.

I recently saw a Carl Zeiss Jena 29mm lens advertised on ebay and was tempted and was surprised that no one else bid on it. So, I got myself a nice lens of good condition for £31.

There is a lot written about the company of Zeiss Jena and the fact that it was situated in the Eastern part of Germany after the second world war. The company Zeiss originated in Jena but after the war the Americans moved most of the staff and manufacturing to Oberkochen in the West of Germany. Optics were continued to be manufactured in the original factory in Jena and in some cases using the original technicians who chose to stay. Some would say that the quality of the Jena lenses doesn’t match that of the ones produced in Oberkochen but I think there is an element of snobbery in that statement. It may be that the quality control was a bit more relaxed at the Jena works but if you get a good example they are certainly good lenses.

Carl Zeiss Jena 29mm f2.8.

You are, of course, stuck with manual focus when using these lenses on a digital camera but that doesn’t bother me at all. I often use manual focus with my digital lenses. On a Micro Four Thirds camera the focal length for this lens is 58mm which is a good focal length for Street Photography. The lens also has a close focus distance of 0.25m which is better than my Leica 25mm digital lens. I also like the way these old lenses have all the distance scales etc etched on the lens. It’s very handy for when you’re doing zone focusing, again, not something easy to do on a lens with no distance markings.

The lens fitting is the 42mm screw fit so I had to purchase a new adaptor for my micro four thirds cameras (Olympus OM-D E-M1 and Lumix GX8).

K & F Concept M42 – M4/3 adaptor

I chose the K & F Concept adaptor as I had purchased others in the past and some had been problematic and fitted the Lumix camera but not the Olympus. The one I chose was the Pro version which is a couple of pounds more expensive but was of excellent build quality and finish. It fitted both cameras very accurately without any play.

K & F Concept M42 – M4/3 adaptor

The lens and the adaptor look very good mounted on my Olympus OM-D.

Olympus OM-D M1 fitted with K & F Concept adaptor and Carl Zeiss Jena 29mm f2.8 lens.
Olympus OM-D M1 fitted with K & F Concept adaptor and Carl Zeiss Jena 29mm f2.8 lens.

I mounted the lens to my Lumix GX8 and went out for an afternoon photographing in a small town called Saffron Walden in Essex. These are some of the results. All jpgs straight out of the camera with no post processing: