Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Leica on Leica

My 1936 Leica IIIa had the good luck to take a walk yesterday with an actual Leica lens, a 5cm f-2 Ernst Leitz Wetzlar Summitar.  I have never held such a well-crafted lens in my hand, let alone shot pictures with one, so it was a marvelous experience all around.

 The outing was made possible thanks to an ultra-generous loan of the lens with the stipulation that I should use it as long as I want.  So, my plan is to devote the better part of February to exploring the world through the Summitar.

The Summitar has an all metal body and weighs over seven ounces, so it adds more weight to the camera than would an Elmar or my Industar 22, but the lens is collapsible like those lenses and the whole package is still compact and pocketable.

The Summitar first appeared in 1939, but this particular lens is a post-war product, as evidenced by the beautiful blue coating.  In fact, the Summitar was the first of the Leica-thread-mount lenses to have such an anti-reflective coating.  The lens has seven elements in four groups.  The focus scale on this one is marked in feet.  There are virtually no signs of use on either the metal or the glass.  Given the superb construction and the good condition of the lens I had little doubt that it would turn in a fine performance on the first outing, and I was not disappointed.

[ left-click the images to view full size ]

My first inclination when I learned I would be able to use the Summitar was to do some systematic comparisons between the performance of the Leica lens and my Soviet LTM lenses.  On reflection, however, I'm not sure that would be particularly useful as the seven-element Summitar is clearly in a different league than the four-element Industar and FED lenses.  Also, there is no lack of good data available about the capabilities of all these old lenses.  One of the best sources of information about all the screw-mount Leica type lenses is the SLR Lens Review where there is an excellent page on the Summitar and three thorough chapters on all the common LTM Soviet lenses.  For examples of pictures made with the Summitar, take a look at the rangefinderforum thread.
    My thought is at this point is that if I work for the next month at learning to make good use of the Summitar's capabilities I will be able to use that experience as a benchmark for better judging my results from the Soviet lenses as well as from some others that are closer in design to the Summitar such as  some of the six and seven-element lenses from the same time period from Voigtländer, Zeiss and Kodak AG.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Parting Shots

Shutters on the Beach Hotel at Santa Monica

San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm (out the window at 70 mph)

Friday, January 26, 2018


I packed three cameras for our brief trip to California.  I started shooting the Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim when we got near Palm Springs, tremendously impressed with the vast wind farm there.  Four thousand wind turbines stand beside Highway 10, producing enough electricity to power the whole Coachella Valley.

I managed to make every available wrong turn on the freeways through Los Angeles, but we ultimately arrived at our destination without major mishap.  Canoga Park on the city's north-western fringe is a town of mostly modest homes and small shops.

The place is slow-paced compared to the central city and has the great virtue of being the gateway to Topanga Canyon with its spectacular two-lane curvy road leading down to the coast about twenty miles to the south.

At the end of the canyon road I got my first look at the ocean in twelve years.  The sea was sparkling and calm.

We drove south and parked near the Santa Monica Pier, then took a long walk along the broad sandy beach.

The noon temperature was about 75 degrees; it seemed like a warm Spring day at the beach.

The beach front with its small snack bars and luxury hotels has a timeless quality to it.


I learned much later that there had been a tsunami warning occasioned by an Alaska earthquake that morning, but none of the strollers, bikers, or surfers showed any evidence of concern for that eventuality, or any of the other natural calamities that have beset the state recently.

A spectacular day in a dream-like place.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018


I took a walk by the river today with one of my old Kodak Brownies.  These folding Kodaks can be a challenge to shoot unless one spends some time becoming accustomed to the camera's features.  The weakest point for the user is the tiny reflex finder which provides only a dim suggestion about what is in front of the camera.  My answer to this is to tape a simple open frame finder from another camera on the handle side of the camera.

The other main barrier to overcome in using this No. 2 Folding Autographic Brownie is the rudimentary distance scale with settings (in feet) limited to "8", "Fixed", and "100".   With a focal length around 90mm those values are adequate for bright lighting and small apertures, but dim light calls for some practiced guesswork.

The camera, however, does have a couple redeeming features which outweigh the inconveniences.  Perhaps the biggest strength is the 6x9 image format on 120 roll film.  Putting even a very simple meniscus lens in front of a piece of film that size produces and image that can rival that made with the best of  35mm camera glass that money can buy.  As it turns out this Brownie is equipped with an old but excellent lens, a Rapid Rectilinear, the design of which dates back to Civil War days.

Also known as the Aplanat, the Rapid Rectilinear lens has two cemented doublets in symmetrically opposite positions on either side of the shutter's aperture.  The result of that arrangement is an image that is very sharp across the frame and with no apparent linear distortion.   Many of the best quality Kodak cameras of the early 20th Century were equipped with a Rapid Rectilinear, and a lot of the early photography luminaries including Edward Weston used the lens on their view cameras.

Judging from the results I got from my recent outing with the Brownie, I'm clearly out of practice with this camera.  I thought this one picture of a footbridge over a side channel of the river did show some of the surprisingly nice qualities in the images which the camera can provide.

I'm hoping to find the time and opportunity to use this folder and several other old Kodaks more often.  I've never made any portraits with my folders, and I think they could be very interesting to attempt.  I would also like some time to have the opportunity to put a Rapid Rectilinear on a camera with ground glass focusing to enable further exploration of the unique character of this classic design.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Industar 61 L/D

We made a trip down to the river so Cate could collect some shells and the dog could run off some energy.  I took along my FED 3 with the Industar 61 L/D lens.  The camera performed well; the lens not so much.
    I cleaned and greased the helical and checked the infinity focus which seemed perfect. There is a little play between the lens and the camera's lens mount, though it doesn't seem enough to be a problem.
    Some of the river shots turned out ok, but the full enlargements don't show the crisp sharpness of my other FED and Industar lenses.  The Industar 61 L/D has a good reputation, but that doesn't seem to have rubbed off on my example.  I may try to find another.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Thursday, January 11, 2018


My Pentax K1000 came to me in poor shape.  I was able to revive it enough to shoot a roll of film, and then I put it aside for a long while.  There was still a small issue with the lens, and the through-the-lens meter looked dead.   Yesterday, I decided to take another look at the camera.

The 50mm f-2 Pentax-M lens was clean and sharp, but the rubber focus ring was loose and slipped at either end of the scale.  Looking at the lens more closely I saw that the rubber focus ring could be lifted up and off with a small screwdriver.  A couple drops of glue solved the slippage issue.
     The light meter problem was also easily diagnosed.  Removing three screws allows the camera's bottom plate to come off.  Taking out three more little screws frees the battery compartment.  Not unexpectedly, the wire to the battery holder was corroded and disconnected.  Splicing in an extension to reconnect the wire to the bottom of the battery compartment seemed an intimidating task because of the tiny diameter of the wires.  Really nothing to lose, however, so I screwed up my courage, picked up a little Weller soldering kit at ACE Hardware and tackled the job.
     Stripping the tiny wires is tricky.  If you try to use a knife or a wire stripper, the likely result is that the tiny wires will be destroyed.  It turns out, however, that you can just use a lit match to burn off the insulation.  I took a short piece of small-diameter wire from an old video card and joined it with my solder gun to the battery holder and the stub of wire from the camera body.  My soldering won't win me any ribbons at the county fair, but it was good enough to bring the meter back to life.

I like the uncluttered view through the K1000 finder, and the meter seems to give me the exposure I am looking for better than some of my more sophisticated cameras.  I only have a couple of normal K-mount lenses at this point as I gave away my previous K1000 kit with the wide-angle and telephoto lenses.  I guess I'll see if I can find a couple more lenses.  Even if I decide against keeping the K1000, I could use the lenses with the nice little Pentax ME which is just one step from being fully restored.