Tuesday, March 20, 2018


Schneider Xenon
I decided to continue my exploration of the faster lenses that started showing up in the late 1930s by shooting my post-war Retina IIc.  The IIc has a very sharp and nicely coated six-element Xenon which makes excellent images.  The camera incorporates many design innovations that set a pattern for future developments, but also included some features that today seem more novel than useful.  The placement of the advance lever on the bottom of the camera seems awkward to me, as does the coupling of the aperture and speed controls.  The shroud around the bellows helped to avoid light leaks, but the side-opening front door just about rules out one-hand shooting.  One does get used to those features with use, however.  My own example looks almost new and works very well, though the viewfinder would probably benefit from a little cleaning.

Curiously, the IIc on the lower left below has a maximum aperture of f2.8 while the earlier II and IIa models and the later Retina Reflex all offer an f2 maximum f-stop.

Putting the cameras head to head clearly indicates that the lenses are the same in all four cameras, so it is not obvious why the IIc lens was limited to the f2.8 aperture.  A possible answer may be found in the need to fit the Xenon into the rather small housing of the IIc's Synchro-Compur shutter.  It is possible that the interchangeable front lens group had something to do with the restriction also, but the slr has an identical removable front mount and retains the f2 maximum.   At this point it seems that only the ghosts of Kodak know the real answer. 

My opinion is that the Xenon lenses on the Retinas were as good as anything being made in their time, as was the general design and construction of the whole camera line.  Kodak continued for a couple decades to develop the Retina cameras, incorporating additional innovations including coupled light metering.  However, the improvements were quickly matched by Japanese makers who were also ultimately able to attain an insuperable lead in price competitiveness.

I have seldom posted landscape images on the blog.  My excuse has always been that I am just not good at seeing the compositional possibilities of the broad view. That is probably not true, though.  I likely have just as much (or as little) talent for landscape as other forms, but I just haven't made an effort in the past to come to grips with the challenge.  So, my plan is to start devoting a few frames of every roll of film to landscapes to see if I can develop some actual practical skills.

And, lastly, a goodbye to my loyal friend, Rio, who patiently endured many photo sessions, including this one with a Retina Reflex.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

New Mexico Film Photographers

New Mexico has a secure place in the history of photography.  Many of photography's great practitioners were attracted to the state by the special light and the persistence of the ancient cultural ways.  Ansel Adams did his best early work in Taos under the tutelage of Paul Strand.  Russell Lee, John Collier and Jack Delano  carried documentary photography to new heights in New Mexico during the Depression years with FSA and OWI sponsorship.  Van Deren Coke was the UNM Art Department head and the first director of the Art Museum in the 1960s.  Beaumont Newhall developed the school's graduate program in the history of photography in the 1970s.  New Mexico today remains a mecca for photographers, including quite a few who persist in the practice of film photography.

The following is a list of links to New Mexico film photographers whose work I follow on line.

* * * * *

Jon Caradies (Santa Fe)
Carefully crafted b&w images of Northern NM made with Leica, Nikon and Hasselblad.

Robert Christensen (Belen)
A specialist in vernacular architecture  whose work was featured in an exhibit at the Albuquerque Art Museum. A review of the Museum show and a description of Christensen's technique is available in an article at the New Mexico Magazine site.

Anthony Gross aka: Fixinater (Portales)
"I buy / sell / trade / fix old film cameras"
He also makes very fine photos with a great variety of  classic cameras.

Stephanie Lakos (Las Vegas)
Excels in capturing the essence of northern NM with Holgas, Polaroids and an assortment of classic film cameras

Jorge Guadalupe Lizárraga (Albuquerque)
Under the screen name "el zopilote" Lizárraga has gained a large following on Flickr where he posts almost daily.  He has a unique style with a focus on architecture and landscape with very little difference evident between the film and digital images.

Lee Palmer (Albuquerque)
Technically excellent b&w work with classic cameras and films, often expertly processed in pyro developers.

Gregory Peterson (Albuquerque)
Documenter of the University District.  His fine collection of old cameras was recently on display in the UNM Fine Arts Library.

Becky Ramotowsky (Tijeras)
A multimedia artist whose photo work is often accomplished with the simplest of pinhole cameras and processed in home-brew caffenol.  Besides showing her work in her blog, Palomino Pinhole and Other Distractions, she is also an active participant in the excellent Filmwasters forum.

Mike Tungate (Albuquerque)
A versatile photographer whose work encompasses a wide variety of subjects throughout New Mexico.  In addition to showing his photos on Flickr he also maintains a blog, mtungate, where he shows his 35mm and medium format work.

Joe Van Cleave (Albuquerque)
An innovator and experimenter with alternative photographic processes and equipment who often makes extraordinarily fine images from paper negatives.

* * * * *

There is a  New Mexico Film Photographers group at Flickr which was started nine years ago.  The group has not had many contributions lately, but some of the best photographers in the state posted examples of their work there in the past.  Perhaps with a bit of encouragement they could be lured back along with some who are newly arrived to the pleasures and challenges of film photograpy.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Bentzin X 2

Bentzin cameras were produced in Görlitz for over fifty years.  There were many models, but production runs were relatively small compared to the other major manufacturers like Zeiss and Voigtlander.  All of the Bentzin cameras featured innovative design and excellent materials and construction.  Because of their high quality and relative scarcity, most of the Bentzin models command high prices from collectors.  However, the company did devote some production to meeting the needs of average amateur photographers, and even the "economy" models from the company showed a lot of originality in design.  I was very impressed with the small size and sturdy construction of my Bentzin plate camera, so when I found a listing for a 6x9 roll film model from the company at less that $40 I grabbed it.

My Bentzin roll film folder looks like it hardly had any use; the exterior metal parts showed only a very little tarnish, and the bellows are perfect.  I did open the Compur shutter to clean it and the Meyer Gorlitz Trioplan lens.  I also adjusted the infinity focus on the lens, and that is a rather difficult hit-or-miss procedure.  Like the same lens mount on the Certo Dolly Super-Sport, the focus stop is on a ring underneath the front lens group and keeping it in position while tightening down the lens is a tricky affair.  Bentzin made a very similar model throughout the 1930s, but mine is clearly a post-war camera as evidenced by the self-erecting lens mount which clicks into position as the front is opened.  Once I had everything properly adjusted, I loaded some Tri-X and took the camera for a test drive to the Tingley Beach station of the little railroad that runs between Albuquerque's Botanic Garden and the Zoo.

I decided to process the Tri-X in hc-110 so that I could take advantage of the film's full box speed.  That let me shoot in bright sun at 1/250 and f-22.  The results were satisfyingly sharp, pretty much what I expected given my previous experience with the same lens on my Super-Sport Dolly.

My Bentzin 6x9 folder is superficially similar to a lot of other European and American cameras of the period, but there are many small details in the camera's construction which set it a step above the ordinary of its time.  There is no wasted space at all in the design and the result is a level of sleekness and reliability that was not often equaled.  The two ruby windows on the back indicate that there was a frame mask accessory for allowing 16 shots in 6x4.5 format rather than the full 2-1/4 x 3-1/4 negative size.

Both of my Bentzin cameras have "Bentzin Primar"  embossed on the backs.  Ads from the time refer to the plate camera as the Bentzin Plan-Primar. 

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Learning to shoot the Nikon FE

Nikon FE
My early interest in photography got put on hold in favor of other interests and the requirement to attend to my family's needs.  When I got back to photography after retirement I basically picked up where I had left off with my Pentax Spotmatic which I had acquired in 1970.  I made a lot of pictures with the Spotmatic slr in the 1990s and also started picking up other film cameras that preceded the Pentax, mostly old folders and box cameras.
    Meanwhile, of course, the photo industry had gone on developing new technology after the Spotmatic which I largely ignored.  The major contenders introduced sophisticated multi-point metering, aperture-priority auto-exposure and lenses with computer generated aspherical designs and many multi-coated elements to resist internal reflections. Electronics replaced mechanical linkages and actuators, leading ultimately to auto-focusing, and film technology kept pace.  Thanks to some generous gifts of equipment recently I have enjoyed the opportunity to explore film camera tech developments in the latter half of the Twentieth Century before the whole industry jumped off the digital cliff.

The Nikon FE incorporates all of the tech refinements of its period allowing the photographer to stay focused on compositional issues while the camera takes care of exposure.  However, the user also retains the capacity to operate the camera in full manual mode, with user-selected shutter speeds ranging from 8 seconds to 1/1000 sec.  The viewfinder is very bright, with concentric circles to refine focus, and the display shows both aperture and shutter speed.  The construction of the camera and the smoothness of operation inspires confidence in the system's capacity to deliver images as envisioned.  The range of lenses available to the Nikon user were seemingly endless and of unsurpassed quality. 

I am particularly impressed with the ergonomic design of the FE.  All the controls seem to be in just the right place, and nothing important has been omitted.  I especially like the lever location of the depth-of-focus feature which is right where your shutter finger can easily find it. 

I'm still not inclined to leave behind my old folders and box cameras, but I do think that a sophisticated late-film-period camera like the FE can teach any photographer some new tricks.  I have certainly been encouraged in using the camera to explore image possibilities that I might have overlooked with some of my simpler machines.  Not every imaging experiment is a success, but I think there is no doubt that failures too are an important source of new understanding.

I liked the mid-morning light on this new Fiat during a walk through Albuquerque's downtown.  I harbor a special fondness for the little Italian; I bought one new in 1963, drove it a couple years and sold it for near what I paid for it.  It was great speeding down the highway at 100 -- kph, of course.  Even though it was only 60mph it sounded like 100 miles per hour.  Another place, another time, another life.

The Bernalillo County District Courthouse is a prominent downtown landmark.  The first-floor facade does not quite fit the rest of the design, but both the morning sun and the night-time lighting create impactful architectural impressions.  I snapped this shot from the grounds of the Federal Court House across the street, as well as a couple shots of some nice landscaping there.  Right afterward I was approached by a blazer-clad security person who informed me that photography was not permitted on federal property.  That seems like it takes in a lot of territory.  I'm going to have to look into the particulars of that assertion.

On the walk back home I found this nice unclassified agave to photograph without concern for security clearances.

I should probably paying royalties to the owners of this fine old pickup given the number of pictures I have made of it on my regular morning walks.  It is always parked in a different place in the vicinity, so it is nice to know it is still in daily use.

Up to now I have most always used color film in my slr cameras and most often reserved black and white for use in my rangefinders and simpler cameras.  The results I have been getting recently from the Nikon and the Pentax ME have encouraged me to further explore the pairing of newer technology with black and white processing, particularly in regard to my new-found interest in pyro developers.

Saturday, March 03, 2018


I liked these shots of Cate, but I had a lot of trouble in getting the contrast and tonality adjusted in a way I thought suitable.  I generally do the initial scanning and adjustments on my old Dell desktop because I have the Silverfast scanning software on that computer.  I also like the version of Photoshop better on that computer than the version on my laptop.  However, I think the screen on the laptop is better calibrated in regard to what others are able to see, so I end up doing the final adjustments and the jpg image on the laptop.
   After all that, the ambient light has quite an influence on how the images appear to me, so I always have to review the final result during the day and during the night.  I'm a bit sorry that I don't have the capability of making prints myself any longer as it seems that would give me a more stable result in the end.  I guess the problem ultimately boils down to the limitations of the digital medium.

mf + tri-x + pmk

I haven't shot my medium format cameras much for a while.  When I do, I always end up questioning why I bother to use any of the smaller film formats.  Of course, there are good reasons for 35mm and smaller sizes, but the question still always lurks in the background.

I shot a roll of tri-x in my Mamiya C330 over a couple days.  I used the Porroflex eye-level finder which is a bit dim compared to the waist-level finder, but it does make shooting the big camera a little less awkward.

This was the first roll of film I've developed in PMK Pyro in which the negatives have shown a distinct sepia tonality which contributes to good contrast and better detail in both shadows and highlights.  The thing I did differently this time was to wash the film for a full 30 minutes as the Photographers' Formulary instructions recommend.  They say that "The image stain intensifies during the wash cycle."  Why that would be I have no idea, but I can't dispute the results. The negatives looked a bit over exposed, so I may try shooting the tri-x at box speed for the next round.