Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Moving along with the KW Patent Etui

The one picture I liked from the last roll through my KW Patent Etui was this shot of the UNM Zimmerman Library.

Most of the other frames included a substantial portion of bright overcast sky.  The uncoated lens elements in the Tessar tend to produce a lot of flare in such light which washes out tonal values and destroys detail.  A lens hood may have helped avoid some of the flare I suppose.

I was pleased nevertheless that all the negatives had good overall density thanks to a new bottle of Kodak HC110 developer.  I had been using LegacyPro L110 for some time before with good results, but the last two bottles gave me negatives that looked a couple stops under-exposed.  I have not seen similar complaints from other users of L110, but I was not willing to gamble on another round of poor results.  I decanted the liter bottle of HC110 into four small glass bottles to avoid oxidation, and I'm hopeful that will keep me going for a good while with the Tri-X, Kentmere and Fomapan which I am currently shooting.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

An American Favorite

The Universal Mercury II CX has always seemed to me to be one of the most interesting camera designs produced in the U.S.  or anywhere.

The half-frame format was uncommon at the time, the rotary shutter was rugged and accurate up to 1/1000, the coated Tricor lens was sharp, and the price was very competitive.  In spite of those unique qualities, the camera today is frequently the target of derision on photography forums.  The criticisms seem to come most often from people with little or no actual experience with the camera.  While I sometimes feel a slight urge to post responses to some of those opinions, it always seems more worthwhile to just go out and make some pictures with the camera.  These latest were made on a recent outing to Albuquerque's Rio Grande Zoo.

The film was some well-expired Fuji 400, the twelfth roll processed in my current batch of Cinestill C-41.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Summer at the Zoo

 My Patent Etui plate camera went with me for a morning stroll through Albuquerque's Rio Grande Zoo.  

I used a roll from the recently acquired batch of expired/frozen Tri-X which I processed back home in Rodinal 1:50.  The morning light was subdued by some California smoke.  The Zoo was pretty crowded with children and parents, due no doubt in part to the presence of a newborn hippo.  I walked by the hippo pond a couple times, but the closest I got to seeing the newborn was an image on the phone of one of the attending volunteers.  Plenty of other exhibits to see, of course.

The Rollex film back for the camera is the most practical way to make pictures with it, but it does add some bulk to very compact Patent Etui.  The ten-shot film packs were a better fit and very popular in the 1920s and '30s, but I think Kodak quit producing them in the 1980s.  Knowing I would have the eight 6.5 x 9 frames of Tri-X shot well before my zoo visit was complete I also took along my Mercury II CX loaded with a roll of expired Fuji 400 color.  I managed to use most of that at the Zoo and will try to process it and post the results later this week.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Trial Run

I am wanting to do some portraits with my plate cameras.  It seemed only fair and prudent to first subject myself to the process.

I picked a corner with reasonably good light and propped a box up where I thought my head would appear.  I focused on a barcode on the front of the box and then substituted my nose for the barcode.  I made the shot using my longest cable release with the camera set to 1/2 second and f/22.

Shooting closeups with the Kodak Recomar 18 or any of the plate cameras is not for the impatient or the faint of heart.  With the dark slide in place, the roll film holder is replaced with the ground glass back for focusing.  The lens is opened wide for visibility and the shutter is actuated on the T setting to hold it open.  With the focus established, the shutter is closed and then set to the speed indicated by the meter, with a sufficiently small aperture to ensure adequate depth of focus.  Finally, the ground glass back is removed and replaced with the film back, hopefully without disturbing the positioning of the camera on the tripod.  The dark slide is pulled up and the exposure is made.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

River Walk

I took my Kodak Recomar 18 plate camera on a walk north of Jemez Springs where the Jemez River and its East Fork come together near Battleship Rock.

The Nagel-built Recomar is a little bulkier than the Patent Etui or the Bentzin Primar, but it is solidly constructed and it accepts the Rada film back, which is sturdier than the Rollex.  While the accessory film backs make all the plate cameras more practical to shoot, the added bulk interferes with the use of the wire-frame viewfinder by keeping the eye too far behind the rear sighting aperture.  The little swiveling reflex finder is small and subject to confusing reflexions.  The ground glass back can give very precise framing, but is awkward to swap out with the film backs.
I like to shoot 400-speed films in my medium format cameras because they give a nice range of tonality and grain is not perceptible in moderate enlargements from the big negatives.  My past favorites were Fuji Acros and Kodak TMAX, but I'm not willing to pay the current asking prices for those brands.  In fact, the only 120 roll film which meets my cheapskate standard is Fomapan at about five bucks a roll.  For the Jemez outing I loaded a roll of  Foma 400 which I shot at 200 ISO for processing in PMK Pyro.  I haven't been too impressed with the performance of Fomapan in the past, but I thought the results on this occasion were acceptable and worthy of further experimentation.
I ran out of energy walking the river trails when I had only used half the eight frames in the roll of Fomapan.  I stopped at the church ruins near Jemez Springs on the way back to make a couple more shots, and finely finished the roll on a walk around my neighborhood the next day.  These last shots were hand-held at 1/100 and f/16.  For the river pictures I had to use a tripod and shot at 1/2 sec. and f/22.

Accurately estimating distance and proper framing are the two big challenges with all the plate cameras.  I shot at small apertures to get adequate depth of focus and I had to crop all of the pictures to produce compositions which matched my intentions.  So, I clearly need some more practice with these cameras, but the nice qualities of the images they produce encourages me to keep at it.

Sunday, July 04, 2021

Multitasking with the VUWS

The small size and light weight of the Vivitar Ultra Wide & Slim (vuws) camera makes it easy to carry.  It often rides along in my shirt pocket, even when I am out mainly to shoot with another of my cameras.  The result is that the roll of film in the vuws often ends up with a grab-bag of photos and several story lines.  My last roll of film, some expired Fuji color, included walks through the neighborhood and a couple trips to the Rio Grande.

Our near-downtown neighborhood has undergone a lot of changes since we moved here about thirteen years ago, mostly in the direction of gentrification.  Quite a few old working-class homes have been torn down and replaced with upscale two-storied block houses.  The same fate has befallen local commercial buildings, though a few are being renovated and repurposed like this one at 6th St. and Mountain Ave.

The old door and windows are mostly sealed, to what purpose I don't know at present.  The interesting thing I noted, however, is that stripping off an outer layer revealed an old painted identity, Farmer Brothers Coffee.  My first thought was that the building had housed a long-gone coffee shop.  Consulting google maps, however, I saw what looks like the new home of Farmer Brothers Coffee across town, and the description of the site as an importer, manufacturer and wholesale/retail seller of coffee, tea and other food items.  I might have figured that out without google if I had not been buying just one brand of coffee for the last two decades.  So, anyway, I went to the company's website and found a very nicely produced five-minute video history made to celebrate the company's one hundredth anniversary.

Meanwhile, much of the rest of the roll of film was taken up with my frequent visits to the Rio Grande and its bordering cottonwood forest, known locally as The Bosque.  This time of year the main attraction for us is the marvelous blooming of the Yerba Mansa which covers acres of the riverside forest south of the Hispanic Cultural Center.  The shaded setting is a bit of a challenge for the fixed-aperture camera, but the wide exposure latitude of the color film keeps picture harvesting a viable possibility.

For our dog, Roxy, the flowers hold little interest.  For her, splashing in the shallows of the river is her greatest joy in life.  

New Mexicans optimistically refer to their rainy season as The Monsoon.  That has been a bit of a stretch with a historic average yearly rainfall of around ten inches.  Now, even those ten inches are getting hard to come by and the state is in a long term period of drought.  In fact, the possibility has been raised that the river at Albuquerque could run dry this year; something I believe that no one now alive has seen.  Of course, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to weather.  The reality is that the amplitude of the extremes has heightened with climate change.  Two years ago the Rio Grande, swollen with some sudden rains and snowpack runoff, overflowed its banks and turned bosque paths into swift moving streams.  This year those floods are a dim memory as sandbars crowd the river channel.  We'll find some water for Roxy to indulge her passion, but it may not be in the Rio Grande.

Friday, July 02, 2021

Back to the Plate Cameras

 After talking recently with Vince Lupo about the nice results he has gotten from his Ermanox I was inspired to get back to shooting with my own plate cameras.  They are not as exotic as the Ermanox, but the lenses are good and the big negatives from 120 film produce very nice images. 

Since I had not used the plate cameras in some time I had to go through them to check functionality and make sure no pinholes had appeared in the bellows.  The Patent Etui looked pretty good, but I'm going to have to clean the shutter before it can make pictures for me again.  I couldn't find any pinholes in the Bentzin Primar bellows, and the big old Compur shutter remains very reliable, so that was it.  I loaded the camera with my last roll of HP5+ and went to the Botanical Garden which is now fully open again.

It took me half the roll of eight shots to get back into something approaching a competent performance with the Bentzin.  I'm looking forward now to shooting more soon with the plate cameras so that I can take advantage of my renewed familiarity with the old folders.  I'm thinking I may use the half-frame mask with the Rada film back so that I can get sixteen shots from the 120 roll.  I would also like to try shooting some sheet film and some glass plates, but I'll need to look for some good advice on getting set up properly for that.