Sunday, September 27, 2020

Kodak Verichrome Pan

 Verichrome Pan is one of those films a lot of old guys would like to see on the shelves again.  It yielded a rich tonal range and very fine grain that very few modern films can match.  Kodak stopped making VP 120 about twenty-five years ago, but it ages well and there is a pretty good chance of getting some images with it even from a roll that is well expired.  The two rolls I was given recently are definitely in that category; the one that recorded this set of pictures had a use-before-date of Dec. 1973.  I decided to shoot the film in my Kodak No.1 Autographic Special folder that was built around 1917.

All the exposures were at 1/100 and f8 in bright morning sun, two stops wider than the 125 ASA box speed.  The negatives were pretty light, so a stop or two more probably would have been better.  I processed semi-stand for fifty minutes in Rodinal 1:100.

I did a poor job of framing my shots through the open frame viewfinder which I taped to the side of the camera,  so I cropped all the shots to match my intentions.  The uncoated Tessar lens never fails to astound me with its sharpness.

The bellows on my No.1 Special seems fine, but a small light leak has shown up in previous outings with the camera.  This time I ran some black electrical tape all around the back, and that seems to have solved the problem.  Given the fine performance the camera delivered on this last occasion, I think it deserves another go with some fresh film.

Friday, September 25, 2020

 I took walks through my usual haunts including the neighborhood, the riverside bosque,  and the botanic garden with my Kodak Retina Reflex.

I shot the roll of Kentmere 400 at box speed and developed semi-stand in L110 with just 4ml in 640ml of water.  I thought the Kentmere in this instance did not show quite the tonal range I have gotten from processing with the L110 dilution B or with PMK Pyro.

Saturday, September 19, 2020


 In the Plaza Vieja it is a line of restored classics, with the owners sitting in the shade nearby.

Thanks mostly to the determined leadership of the governor, New Mexico has done pretty well in holding down infection levels compared to its neighbors on either side.  In Albuquerque the rate per 100,000 is just 2.6.  There are some trouble spots in the southeast corner including Chavez County which has a rate ten times higher.  In Lea County nextdoor with a rate of 13 per 100,000 a Republican legislator is trying to sue the State for preventing the reopening of public schools there because of the spike in cases.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Shooting the Nikon F

 I had some good luck in finding my perfectly working Nikon F locally at a negligible cost.  I already had several more advanced examples from the same line which performed very well.  However, the opportunity to use the camera which initiated a new era in photography has been a fine personal experience, even though I will not be able to do justice to the camera's potential at this point in my photographic trajectory.

The Nikkor-SC Auto 1.4/50 that came with my F is a very fine lens and faultless in its performance.  However, the lens that has consistently produced the most satisfying results for me is the Nikkor-P Auto f:2.5/105mm which came along with my F2 that I found in a thrift shop.  I used that lens on an early morning walk through downtown Albuquerque.

I had a few frames left on the roll of Kentmere 400 when I got home, so I used them for some portraits of my cat which was relaxing in a rather dark corner of the house.  The focal length of the lens let me stay far enough from the subject to avoid alarming her, and the weight of the camera and lens helped me to shoot at 1/60 with the lens wide open.  

The bright viewfinder of the Nikon F along with the f2.5 aperture let me achieve perfect focus on the subject's features, and a hundred percent enlargement of the 1600 dpi scan shows perfectly rendered detail. I rated the Kentmere 400 at 200 and processed in PMK Pyro.

Friday, September 11, 2020


 I got online this morning and googled "online education research during covid".  The gratifying result was an instant display of links to a trove of information on the subject.  The first link was a whole list of scholarly articles on the topic which included quickly digested abstracts.  It was immediately apparent that educational researchers around the world did quickly mobilize knowledge about online teaching and learning and make it available to policy makers and educational institutions.

It was also clear that the public school system in the U.S. is likely to be far behind those in many other countries to take advantage of the rapid development of knowledge and practices.  As we have seen in regard to the response of the country's health system to the challenge of the pandemic, the lack of a coherent national education strategy will further emphasize deficiencies and inequities, and the nation's paralytic political apparatus shows little inclination to set a rational course to reform.

In spite of the way things look at the moment, I am still optimistic about the potential for a radical shift in consciousness as we face such a broad array of health and environmental challenges.  Sometimes it takes a disaster to get things going in the right direction.

(The Sunday NY Times has an excellent piece on Remote Learning, how it is succeeding and failing around the country.)

Thursday, September 10, 2020

School Days

Thanks to a storm-caused loss of power affecting 1,500 homes in Albuquerque, we had a chance to observe our granddaughter's on line school day at our house as we were unaffected by the outage.  Cate's middle-school schedule for the day included several classes, with one devoted to PE exercises.  She seemed very comfortable in the on line environment, as did the teachers.

No on line encounters seem complete without the need to iron out a few unexpected glitches.  In this case we discovered after Cate's first class session that her backpack did not include her laptop's charger.  That was quite a small issue as we have six computers in the house, but it did give me the chance to have Cate test drive the laptop I had recently converted to a chromebook with the free Neverware CloudReady operating system.  Cate, with no coaching from me, instantly navigated the connection to her classroom interface.

What we are seeing may not be representative of the state of the on line educational experience across the country, but it does seem to show that there is some justification for optimism in regard to the potential for meeting both the current health crisis and the longer term challenge of achieving excellence in universal public education.

The pandemic has unquestionably caused great hardship and suffering, but the interruption in every routine of daily life has also enabled a reexamination of assumptions about all our institutions including the whole process of education.  There is currently a vast - unplanned - experiment in progress regarding the value of on line instruction, and I hope that academic researchers and entrepreneurs are jumping quickly to take advantage of this extraordinary chance to evaluate performance  and develop practical applications.  We will also have to hope that the money becomes available which is needed to support the realization of the full potential of this opportunity.

In the near term, particularly in New Mexico, there is a pressing need to find many more teachers, in part because of many older experienced educators leaving due to increased vulnerability to contagion.  Also, the State was already critically short of teachers because of low starting salaries.  Network access and hardware availability  are getting appropriate attention in many school districts, but there likely needs to be a greatly stepped-up increase everywhere in technical support staff that are critical to making it all work.

The sense of urgency for getting children back into schools is understandable, but if all that is accomplished is to return to what we had before, then it seems a great opportunity will have been lost.

Friday, September 04, 2020

The Ricoh 500 Returns !

I bought my Ricoh 500 about fifteen years ago.  Nine years ago I finally got around to shooting a roll of film in the camera.  Another roll went through the Ricoh a year later.  The day before yesterday I retrieved the camera from the back of a drawer and decided it was time to use it again.  A brief inspection showed me that some issues would need to be resolved before I could make more pictures with the Ricoh.

The shutter was sticky below 1/200, apparently because of some congealed grease and dirt on the shutter blades.   Fortunately, it is pretty easy to get at the front of the shutter blades by removing the forward aluminum ring on the lens.  There are three little screws that just need to be loosened, giving access to the front lens group.  Unscrewing the front lens reveals the surface of the shutter blades.

I gently scrubbed the shutter blades with a q-tip soaked in electrical contact cleaner until I could see no more black stains on the surface.  It would have been nice to get at the back of the shutter blades as well, but that would require disassembling the whole lens and shutter.  So, after checking the infinity focus I reassembled everything and, after letting the shutter dry over night,  it seemed to be working fine at all speeds the next morning.

I loaded some film in the camera and discovered that there was one more problem to be resolved.  When I worked the advance lever on the bottom of the camera, the film advanced properly to the next frame, but a second small crank on the lever was needed to get the shutter to cock.  I then removed the back of the camera to examine the advance mechanism to see if there was some way to adjust it so that the film advance and shutter cocking could be accomplished with a single throw of the advance lever.

When the advance lever is cranked, the spring washer in the center of the picture rotates with the raised edge engaging the gear train in the camera body to advance the film by one frame and cock the shutter at the end of the process.  Removing the large screw in the middle of the washer allows removal of the washer which is connected to a toothed gear which rotates as the lever is cranked.  Since it was clear that the gear was just not traveling far enough to complete the process, the obvious thing to try was to reposition the gear slightly.  I did that by very slightly advancing the lever which moved the gear one or two teeth, and I then replaced the washer and gear and tightened down the screw.  That did get the advance working properly with a single throw.

So, time for the real test.  Thanks to the gift of a pile of old film from a friend I had a roll of ten-year-expired Agfa APX 100 to serve as my camera-testing guinea pig.  I managed to expose all 36 frames on a walk into Albuquerque's Old Town, shooting at two stops below box speed to compensate for the film's age.  Back home with the completed roll of film I mixed up a batch of Rodinal at 1:100 dilution and developed the APX 100 semi-stand for forty-five minutes.  I was pleased to see that the camera had worked nearly perfectly, with just a small bit of variation in frame spacing, possibly due to worn teeth on the brass gears.

I cannot make any judgments about the quality of the old APX 100 due to the film's age when I got it; I was just pleased it helped accomplish the job I gave it.  I'm curious, however, about how a fresh roll of the new APX 100 might perform, so maybe I'll try that for my next roll through the Ricoh 500.

I mentioned in my last two posts about the Ricoh 500 that the reason it took me so long to get started using the camera was that I had bought into some allegations about the quality of the Ricomat 4.5cm/f2.8 lens that I had seen on the net.  In fact, it is a very sharp 5-element design, and the Seikosha shutter is accurate and reliable, and one of the quietest leaf shutters I have in my collection.  The design, construction and materials throughout the camera are all first-rate.

In reviewing information about the Ricoh 500 available on the net I came across a 2002 blog post that I believe was the origin of often repeated misjudgments about the quality of the camera's lens.  The  blog author was Karen Nakamura; she was a good writer and a generally good source of information on old film cameras at the time when I was just getting started again with them.  In the case of the Ricoh 500, however, I think she was way off the mark.  Here is what she had to say about the Ricomat lens:

"Unfortunately, while the camera is nice to handle, the optics are clearly from the consumer end of the 1950s, very low in contrast. Nothing to write home about."


"The little known successor to the Ricoh 500 is the Ricoh 519. The same camera with a much better 45mm f/1.9 lens. I had never heard of it..."

Looking at the whole blog post, however, those damning judgments are unsupported.  There are no pictures shown from the camera.  There is no indication that the author had shot more than one roll of film before posting her opinions, nor did she apparently examine the camera closely to see if there were any correctible problems with the lens or shutter.  Furthermore, she accepted the idea that the Ricoh 519 had a "much better" lens based on the experience of someone who apparently had no basis for comparing the two cameras.

So, some lessons to take away:

  • A lot of opinions one finds on the web about old film cameras are based on samples of one and are in reference to complex old machines with unknown histories.
  • Ideas get propagated on the web with great ease, be they right or wrong.
  • Bad information on the web has a long life.

Meanwhile, there are a lot of listings on ebay for the Ricoh 500.  Prices are all over the map, but examples of the camera can often be found going for as little as $20.  Take it from me; it's a bargain.