Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Alternate Realities

When I placed an order recently with B&H Photovideo for some Tri-X I added in a couple rolls of Arista Edu 400.  I loaded the 120 format Arista Edu in my Yashica-Mat and took a couple morning walks around town.  The resultant images seemed a little grainier than Tri-X, and I was not able to get the combination from it I expect from Tri-X in regard to contrast and subtle tonalities.  Still, the results weren't bad, and I don't think the differences I am perceiving probably count for much.

I processed the film with Kodak HC-110-B as I would for Tri-X.  However, that is likely not the optimal developer for the Arista Edu 400.  On top of that, there are the usual variables of scanning and post processing which can make a big difference in the final images.  I also noticed that there was quite a difference in the appearance of the images displayed on my old XP machine, and on the monitor attached to my newer Windows 7 computer.  Much of this could be sorted out if the ultimate objective was a print on paper.  It seems, however, that digital image displays are always going to be a moving target.

Mural by Virgil Ortiz

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Shooting the Yashica-Mat

I took my Yashica-Mat for a walk this morning at the Albuquerque Botanic Garden.  It is a camera that deserves more attention than I have given it.  The medium format negatives and the excellent resolution of the Lumaxar lens yield startling sharpness.
    The camera is light for its size, but still a bit awkward to handle, like most twin lens reflex cameras.  With the shutter release on the right and the focus on the left, one is constantly juggling the camera to arrive at an exposure.  What overcomes most of that problem is the addition of a hand grip.  With that accessory in place, it is then possible to reach all the controls without moving either hand very much.  A Bay 1 lens hood is also a worthwhile addition.
    A tangential benefit of carrying the Yashica-Mat is that it never fails to attract interest and friendly conversation.  Many younger people have obviously never seen a tlr before, and the camera often sparks nostalgia in the older photographers.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

For the Birds

I bought several rolls of tri-x recently from B&H; the first was shot in my Contaflex, and this second one went into my Contessa 35.  I like the tonal character of the film and it always seems an appropriate choice when shooting any of the old film cameras.

The f2.8, 45mm Tessar lens in the Contessa is the same as that in both the Contaflex and the Ikonta 35.  All are coated and  front-focusing, with four elements in three groups.  In the Contessa the high resolution Tessar is complimented by the unique rangefinder design which incorporates wedge prisms to create a double image.  Mine remains quite bright, contrasty and well adjusted sixty years after the camera was made.

The wedge prism rangefinder appeared on Zeiss Ikon cameras in the mid-1930s.  In other respects, the overall design of the Contessa and the Ikonta 35 represented a significant break with earlier design traditions.  For instance, while my Contaflex has a very worn leather covering with significant Zeiss bumps on the back, the Contessa and Ikonta 35 are both virtually faultless and have no Zeiss bumps at all.  I haven't looked under the covers of those two cameras, but my guess is that the designer, Hubert Nerwin, dispensed with the brass rivets which corroded and caused the appearance of the Zeiss bumps in so many of the older cameras.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Morning Walk

Most weekends during the summer there is a small informal car show in the Plaza Vieja in Albuquerque's Old Town.  Two or three classic cars are parked in the shade under the trees on the plaza's west side, and their owners sit on a nearby bench to talk about them.

When I walked down to the Plaza in the morning on Friday, there was a large Mariachi group tuning up and rows of chairs set out near the gazebo for spectators.  A two-generation row of five Chevys stretched down the curb and around the corner.  A red and white '57 convertible was parked on the other side of the street in front of the church.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Albuquerque's Wild Side

I spent the last week walking around with my Contaflex.  I started up on Monday with a hike through the arroyos and foothills of the Sandia Mountains just east of town.  The ragged summit of the Sandias snagged some low clouds, but they only leaked a few shreds of rain.  A couple mountain bikers appeared for just an instant on the trail.

I veered off the trail and two mule deer jumped up in front of me.  They bounded off a few yards and then stopped to study my intentions.  I made a couple shots with the Contaflex.  When I stepped forward, the deer slipped into the trees.  I moved up slope just a little and the deer reappeared, stopped. to look at me for another moment, and then they were gone.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Zeiss Ikon Contaflex I

This first model of the Contaflex was introduced in 1953.

Zeiss adapted exisiting post-war design ideas as well as earlier ones to produce this uniquely compact 35mm single lens reflex camera. The fixed lens on mine is an f2.8, 45mm coated Tessar. Since the slr mirror is not instant-returning, the film advance knob must be wound to cock the between-the-lens leaf shutter and bring the mirror down into viewing position. Having the view black out after pressing the shutter release takes a little getting used to for photographers accustomed to more modern cameras. Balancing out that slight inconvenience is the fact that this is still about the only full-frame 35mm slr that can easily be slipped into a jacket pocket. The camera is really only marginally larger than the tiny Ikonta 35, and according to Mike Elek, the lens design of the Tessar is identical in the two. Over-all, materials and construction are top drawer, and the camera is a pleasure to hold and operate.

My camera, purchased for not very much on ebay, came with the impressive Teleskop 1.7x accessory lens, which yields a focal length of about 75mm, a nice portrait length. I was looking forward to using the telephoto accessory, but could not at first see how that was going to be possible as it clearly does not screw into the front of the fixed lens Tessar. A little research revealed that I was lacking the necessary mounting bracket. I wrote to the seller, he rummaged around in his tool box, turned up the bracket, and sent it to me at no additional charge - a stand-up guy. To mount the accessory telephoto, you first install the slip-on bracket, and then screw in the Teleskop. The fixed Tessar needs to be set at the infinity mark to enable proper focusing with the telephoto. The bracket is also used to mount a stereo photo accessory.

As luck would have it, I already had several filter adapters and a lens shade which I could use with the camera. All of these are Series V, 28.5mm push-on models. The set of four accessory close-up lenses was purchased separately for about twelve dollars. I like the push-on type lenses for close work as they require no exposure compensation as do extention tubes on other slr cameras.
    The plastic-cased close-up set is a good example of Zeiss design thoroughness. The back of the case features a pretty depth-of-field calculator. Inside the case, each lens is securely held in place by raised tabs so as to minimize fumbling in the field. If you closely examine the mounting tabs on the accessory lenses, you see that there are three pairs on each lens, with one half of each pair bent slightly inward to grasp the tabs in the case, and the other of the pair is adjusted slightly outward to provide a secure fit against the inner surface of the lens focus ring.

The camera shown here is my second Contaflex; the first was a non-working one received as a gift. I managed to get that original one working well enough to put a couple rolls of film through it and to develop some respect for the quality performance that the camera was capable of delivering. In that same process, I also learned some important lessons about acquiring and owning a Contaflex all these many years after it was produced by Zeiss.
    The most important of these lessons, perhaps, was that claims about the working condition of an old Contaflex are meaningless unless they are accompained by a recently taken roll of film showing proper exposure. Old Contaflexes often sound like they are working perfectly, but the chances are slim that the complex train of events leading to an exposure in a Contaflex is going to happen in just the right way to put an image properly on film.

The biggest and most common problem with the Contaflex is a slow aperture stop-down mechanism. One also sees mirrors that don't don't quite close quickly enough, sticky shutters, and dirty internal lens surfaces. Since I like the camera so much, I sent it off to have the slightly sticky aperture repaired along with a few other minor things. It worked ok for a while after that, but the aperture started acting up again. I finally summoned the courage to tackle the problem myself. I separated the shutter and lens from the body and found that the aperture blades and actuating mechanism were dirty. Near the extremes of open and closed, the blades moved very stiffly. I cleaned everything with lighter fluid and Radio Shack electronic cleaner, and then dried thoroughly before reassembly. The task was made immensely easier by access to a discussion of the problem and how to fix it at the Classic Cameras Repair Forum, along with some helpful sketches by Rick Oleson.

A few pictures from the Contaflex:

The user manual for the Contaflex is at the Butkus site.