One camera, one month, one film

I recently took part in a challenge over at the excellent www.filmwasters.com site, to use one camera exclusively for one month, November 2014. Now I have to admit that this wasn’t too much different to my normal way of working because I’d  just come out of October and my trip to Skye when I used only the Mamiya RZ67; although I have a few cameras I’ve been thinning them out to concentrate on a smaller range so it seemed like a natural thing to participate in.

Although the challenge didn’t require a single choice of film, I decided to add in to the constraints just using Kodak Ektar; I’ve used a lot of Kodak Portra over the last year and just wanted to explore Ektar a bit more.

So here’s the results, drawn from three 120 films, spread over five locations. All images were home-developed with a Jobo CPE2 processor and the Digibase C41 kit.

Wallington, Northumberland

I thought Ektar did a good job with the boathouse image below; it was very dark inside and I thought I would an exposure blend to handle the dynamic range, so I took three exposures. As it happened the middle exposure was enough, with selective lightening and darkening in Adobe Lightroom.

Wallington Boathouse

 

A foggy morning in Earsdon, North Tyneside

2014-11 Earsdon churchyard, RZ67, Ektar, Digibase,  001

Ektar converted to mono in Adobe Lightroom

 

 

Actually, this one is TMax 100 - a slight deviation

Actually, this one is TMax 100 – a slight deviation

 

Rothbury, Northumberland

 

Arcot Lake

2014-11-22, Arcot Lake, RZ67, Ektar, Digibase,  002

Freshwater Mussel

Freshwater Mussel

2014-11 Arcot Lake, RZ67, Ektar, Digibase,  004

Marina

2014-11-30, Rothbury, RZ67, Ektar, Digibase,  006 2014-11-30, Rothbury, RZ67, Ektar, Digibase,  007

 

 

One camera on the Isle of Skye

In my last post I wrote about moving away from 35mm. Part of that process, as well as selling off most of my 35mm cameras, was to spend a week on the Isle of Skye with just one medium format camera, my Mamiya RZ67.

At the Storr with the RZ67

At the Storr with the RZ67

 

 

The resulting image on Kodak Portra 160 film

The resulting image on Kodak Portra 160 film

Lots of people on the internet describe the RZ67 as being “only for the studio” or perhaps “only for use near the car”. I can see why people think this – the camera weighs 2.65 kg with a waist level finder, one film back, and 110mm lens. Add a 50mm and 65mm lens and an extra film back will take it up about 3.2kg, that’s before you think about a tripod.

However I have used the RZ, together with a Manfrotto 075 tripod and 029 three-way head, for walks of up 5 or 6 miles. I don’t find the weight that outrageous if I’m on a trip where the main purpose is photography. By the way, that’s not because I’m particularly young and fit – I’m a slightly tubby 52-year old with arthritis. Granted, if the trip is a casual outing with family and the slight possibility of taking an image or two, then you might not want to carry that lot around.

So that I can get more use out the RZ, I made a couple of changes; first by adding a lighter tripod to my collection (now standing at four plus one monopod); secondly by choosing to carry the kit in a proper walking rucksack with a metal frame and hip belt, rather than a photo-specific bag.

Here is my “old” carrying arrangements, with a Lowepro Fastpack 250 loaded with the RZ, three lenses, an extra film back, and Sekonic spotmeter. 
L1190715-2

It does just fit in but there isn’t much room for anything else. The longer the walk (and the more remote the countryside) the more you need to factor in the space to carry waterproofs, food, drink, etc.

Hence the new arrangement pictured below, for longer walks. The Karrimor rucksack has been in my possession since the 1980s, but very little used. I created some extra padding in the base compartment by using an old Camera Case Systems over-the-shoulder bag and cutting bits off. I purchased the bag for £2.49 in a charity shop – it was very dirty hence the low price, and cut off the lid and strap.

L1190718-2

 

I have also used bits of foam to line the compartment; this works OK but the cut-off camera bag stays in place better. The bottom compartment only really has enough room for the camera body, film back, and lens – I could squeeze another item in but I prefer to carry the lenses, extra back and meter in the other rucksack compartments. There is loads of space in the top compartment for maps, guides, food, drink, waterproofs, etc, and the hip belt + metal frame makes it much easier to carry the weight for several hours.

Next we see the “new” tripod side by side with the “old” 075 tripod, first at minimum height and then at max height. The new model is an old Manfrotto 055 aluminium model with a ball head which I purchased for £65 in ebay. I haven’t been able to accurately weight the two ‘pods but the 055 seems about half the weight of the 075.

L1190629

 

The difference in minimum height does not seem too significant in the image above, but in many situations such as rocks, you can’t really use the 075 at this height because the struts which make the tripod so strong get in the way of objects on the ground.

L1190624

 

I  also modified the 055 tripod (using as my guide this youtube video by Mike Sowsun) to remove the centre column. On most tripods I would avoid using the centre column if at all possible, as stability drops dramatically. The 075 is however an exception, as the geared centre column is very strong and can be safely used:

It helps to be 8 foot tall if you need to use the tripod in this configuration

It helps to be 8 foot tall if you need to use the tripod in this configuration

I’ll come back to talk about how the new tripod worked out, after taking a tour around Skye with some of the photos I took during the week. Most of the colour photos were on Kodak Portra 160, plus a couple of rolls of Ektar, and the black and white shots were either TMax 100 or Ilford XP2 Super. In total I used 12 rolls of colour and four rolls of black and white. The Mamiya takes 10 shots per roll so that was 160 images.

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Farewell to 35mm ?

I’ve been thinking recently about moving away from 35mm to concentrate on medium format film. I already shoot more rolls of 120 film than I do of 35mm, but I’ve become increasingly dissatisfied with the quality of 35mm. There’s no doubt that the bigger negative helps produce a smoother image; my Mamiya RZ67 produces negatives which are about 4.5 times the area of 35mm. Quite often I’ve taken a photo on 35mm that I think is promising but not quite there, and if I’ve travelled a distance on that occasion, I feel that the outing was wasted by compromise too much on the portability vs resolution spectrum.

Of course an advantage of 35mm is the relative weight and portability of the equipment. My Pentax MX fits easily into a small bag with 28mm, 35mm, and 50mm prime lenses; my Olympus XA fits into almost any pocket.

Top view of the Pentax MX

Top view of the Pentax MX

But having said that, my Yashicamat 124G is pretty light, and slung over my shoulder it’s almost un-noticeable. However, the Yashicamat has a fixed 80mm lens (50mm equivalent in 35mm terms) which isn’t as wide as I would like for landscape work.

Yashicamat 124G

The Mamiya RZ67 is my next step up from the Yashicamat, having the advantage of removable and revolving film backs, a very bright and clear viewfinder, and high quality interchangeable lens ; I have lenses in 50mm, 65mm, 110mm, and 180mm focal lengths, which equate to 25mm, 32mm, 55mm, and 90mm in 35mm terms.

The Mamiya RZ67

The Mamiya RZ67

The big disadvantage of the RZ67 is weight – I tried to weigh it for the purpose of this blog post, but managed to break the cheap kitchen scales – although to be fair that happened when I dropped them on the floor rather than from weighing the camera. According the manual, it weighs 2.4kg with the 110mm lens, that’s before you add a couple more lenses and a film back to your pack.

Despite the weight, I’m making a conscious effort to use the RZ67 for a higher proportion of my photography outings. I’m going to the Isle of Skye for a week’s photography soon and I’ve adapted a 65L walking backpack to carry the kit, including foam padding in the bottom compartment. The alloy frame and substantial shoulder and hip straps should make the weight manageable and there will be lots of space left over for food, spare clothing, etc. I find that the majority of photo-specific backpacks just don’t leave enough room for walking equipment.

After the Skye trip I’ll blog about how things worked out with the backpack and hopefully have some decent images to the post too.

Having spent a few paragraphs bemoaning 35mm, I’m now going to show some 35mm images … I had decided I needed to use up some of my existing 35mm film, particularly a few half-used films loaded into cameras, so I took the Pentax MX and an Olympus XA to Beamish Museum. I have to say that, despite everything I’ve just said about 35mm, I was happy with the results from this outing.

All the images were taken with Rollei RPX100 film, which is the same thing as Kentmere 100, and developed in Kodak TMax developer.

The trainee blacksmith Pentax MX with 35mm lens

The trainee blacksmith
Pentax MX with 35mm lens


I often find that I’m attracted to odd corners containing rubbish as much as the more obvious scenes. The image below is my favourite from the set and was just behind where the blacksmiths were working. I just liked the interplay of the shapes and I thought that the brambles helped create the slightest suggestion of a “crown of thorns” theme:

Ironwork shapes.  Pentax MX and 50mm lens

Ironwork shapes.
Pentax MX and 50mm lens



2014-8-11, London, Olympus XA, RPX100, Tmax Dev 4mins, Jobo 23C, 029

2014-8-11, London, Olympus XA, RPX100, Tmax Dev 4mins, Jobo 23C, 036

2014-8-11, London, Olympus XA, RPX100, Tmax Dev 4mins, Jobo 23C, 022

Beamish Home Farm

 

The sewing spot

 

 

2014-8-11, London, Olympus XA, RPX100, Tmax Dev 4mins, Jobo 23C, 021

Ready to fire, I mean cook

 

The images above were all taken in one small area of Beamish museum, the “Home Farm” area, which is set in the style of the early 1940s.  The interior shots were taken with a tripod – there’s no restrictions on using tripods at Beamish although obviously you have to show consideration for others if it is busy.

As well as the Pentax, I had with me an Olympus XA, also loaded with RPX100 film. Unfortunately due to a developing error most of these had serious fogging on the side of the film nearest the lid of the developing tank. Later I realised that, after having dismantled the lid of a Jobo tank, I had put the funnel back in the wrong way round, so it wasn’t light tight. The film from the Pentax was further away from the lid and mostly avoided the fogging. When it comes to developing, I’m close to having committed every mistake it is possible to make !

This one did survive from the Olympus with a fair bit of cropping:

The ace of spades

The ace of spades

Finally here’s a few images taken on a previous trip to Beamish, again with the Pentax MX but this time loaded with Kodak Ektar colour negative film, although I converted two to mono because they just didn’t need colour. On that occasion I carried just the 35mm f2.8 lens, which is my choice when I really don’t want to be changing lenses. That was a trip with my family when faffing around for too long causes issues ….

Captain Mainwaring goes to Beamish

Pure Milk

Pure Milk

 

The kitchen at Pockerley Manor. I didn't have a tripod on this occasion so  had to for 1/15s at f2.8 with Kodak Ektar film at IS0100

The kitchen at Pockerley Manor. I didn’t have a tripod on this occasion so had to settle for 1/15s at f2.8 with Kodak Ektar film at IS0100

So will I actually be giving up 35mm altogether ?

Well, these trips to Beamish reminded me that 35mm can have a role when you’re in a crowd and have to select your viewing angle quckly to match a moving subject. But I think I will, at least, be reducing the numbers of cameras I use so that I’m concentrating more on making the image rather than trying out different cameras.

I have been finding that the quality of the viewfinder is becoming more important to me – maybe associated with age and deteriorating eyesight – so I like the good clear viewfinder in a 35mm SLR such as the Pentax MX, and even more so the waist-level finders of the Yashicamat and Mamiya.

The waist-level viewfinder of the Mamiya RZ67

The waist-level viewfinder of the Mamiya RZ67

The smaller viewfinders of my Olympus XA, Zeiss Ikon Contina, Voigtlander Bessa 6*9 folder, and my other 6*6 folders, are more difficult. Accurately framing the image, and ensuring it is level, is much more difficult with these cameras.

So I’ll certainly be doing more of my photography with the Mamiya RZ67, and the Yashicamat, but the Pentax MX may still have a role in using up the remaining 9 or 10 rolls of 35mm film. And then, there’s also the Baby Rollei which is currently in the repair shop and has 12 rolls of 127 film waiting to be used… camera choice remains a complicated issue.

 

 

 

 

 

Recently in the darkroom – sepia toning

I really enjoy working in the darkroom, but my activities have been intermittent, for no good reason, with long stretches without a trip into the darkroom. I’m hoping to fit in more regular printing sessions in future and thought that I might add some pressure by committing to regular blog posts featuring the results.

So I thought of having a series of posts called “this week in the darkroom” … but that sounds a bit ambitious. “This month in the darkroom” … maybe but not sure. “Recently in the darkroom” …. now that sounds fairly safe. Recently could mean anything couldn’t it ?

Anyway my “recent” activity has been to try sepia toning for the first time. I like the aged feeling that sepia toning gives and sometimes use it on scanned negatives by applying toning in Lightroom. Sepia toning in the darkroom gives a much more organic and unpredictable result which can be, at the same time, both satisfying and frustrating.

Print Scan, Woodland Shelter, RZ67, TMax100,FD10, Ilford MGIV FB, Sepia, 700px

Thornley woods, Mamiya RZ67, Kodak TMax 100

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Thoughts on tripod height

Advance warning – this might turn into a rant …

I was out walking on the Simonside Hills today. As the focus was more on walking than on photography, I just took a 35mm camera, loaded with Fuji Sensia slide film, plus 50mm and 24mm lenses, together with the lightest of my three tripods. I took about twenty shots in the forest, and on the tops, of rock outcrops looming out the mists. During the course of the day, the tripod height was varied from the lowest possible, to get really close to the ground, to the highest possible – whatever each image needed to get the most interesting (in my opinion) composition.

Fast forward a few hours and I find myself reading reviews of tripods on internet forums. I’m thinking of buying another tripod for use my with my Mamiya RZ67 medium format kit. At the moment I use an Manfrotto 075 with 029 head, a combination which is incredibly strong and stable (and heavy) but which doesn’t go down as low to the ground as I would like.

Anyway, here’s the ranty bit .. I came across a lot of discussions where people were searching for tripods that were the “right” height for them; by which they meant that when the tripod legs were fully extended they should present the camera at eye level. These photographers thought it was too much trouble to have to adjust the tripod legs to anything other than the maximum height !

I see two problems with this point of view.

First, the right height for the tripod is the height which is appropriate for each individual image. As I said above, I will vary the tripod from low to high during the course of a photoshoot, to meet the needs of each image. As a photographer, primarily, of landscapes, I use low viewpoints quite a lot. This means that I have to get low down, often on my knees and occasionally lie on the ground, to see through the viewfinder. Admittedly this is why I prefer waist-level viewfinders, which the Canon EOS300 I was using today doesn’t have. It’s also why I will often wear waterproof overtrousers on a landscape photography shoot.

Secondly, for maximum stability, extending the tripod to maximum height should be seen as a last resort. The lower sections of the legs are always the thinnest and weakest, and the more the legs are extended, the more surface area there is to be caught by the wind, possibly leading to camera shake.

Of course, these are only my opinions and everyone’s opinion is valid. Others may have specific photographic needs which mean that eye level is best for them. The needs of a sports or portrait photographer may differ from those of a landscape photographer.

On a final point, the maximum height of my Manfrotto 075 tripod is over seven feet, I think, rather higher than my eye level. But I have made use of that height when standing on the edge of a rock ledge with the tripod legs on lower ground below, or standing on a rock in a river with the tripod legs in two feet of water. That’s what I did for the image below. If you select a tripod which extends only to your face level, you may not have the extra reach needed for such a situation.

The River Allen, Northumberland - Mamiya RZ67, Kodak TMax 100, Manfrotto 075 tripod

Like most photographers, I’m still searching for the “ideal” tripod – featherweight, incredibly strong, easy to carry, and can change from ground level to seven feet height with a flick of a switch. Of, and free would be nice too !

 

Location:Tanfield Railway

I was surprised to realise that I’d never properly blogged about Tanfield Railway, apart from a passing mention in my review of the Olympus 35RECR camera, despite the fact that it’s one of my most frequent photo locations. So, time to put that right with a small selection of images from two visits in December 2013.

Tanfield Railway, located between Stanley in County Durham and Gateshead,  is apparently the oldest working railway in the world, having been constructed in 1725. Of course there were trains then but there was a waggonway with horses pulling coal-wagons and the railway is still operating with vintage steam and diesel locomotives.

Tanfield offers a variety of photographic opportunities. There are of course, vintage engines and carriages, in regular use, and potential people shots, of the volunteers who run the railways or the paying passengers. My own preference is to seek out the quieter corners in and near Marley Hill engine shed. The engine shed looks like a museum – not unlike the nearby Beamish museum – but here there are no ropes beyond which you cannot step. As long as you don’t disturb the work going on, you can get close to the engines, tools, and miscellaneous paraphernalia.

Outside the engine shed there’s a large area with about 30 engines, carriages, cranes, etc, in various states – some working, some being actively restored, and others close to ruin. So you can expect lots of rust, flaking paint, spare parts, and industrial heritage partly covered by grass.

Since my trip to Glen Affric in November 2013, I didn’t do much photography for a while – partly because the weather was very grey and wet, and partly because I had lots of developing and scanning to attend to. But I did make two short visits to Tanfield in December; it’s only about 15 minutes drive.

The first trip was with a Canon FTb 35mm SLR which I’d had for a while but used very little. I had a roll of Kodak TMax 100 loaded which I wanted to finish off; it took another trip to Durham the following March before the film was finished so it was in the camera at least 4 months – which isn’t uncommon because I’m fairly sparing in how many times I press the shutter and usually have a few different cameras loaded with film and vying for my attention.

The following images were all taken with either 28mm/f2.8 or 50mm/f1.8 prime lenses, and the film was developed in Rodinal diluted 1+50.

Although there’s a lot to be said for taking just one camera and one film type on a trip, I did see a few possible images which really cried out for colour, so I returned two weeks later with the Mamiya RZ67 loaded with Fuji Velvia 50, which I developed in the Tetenal E6 kit.

 

 

The weather was even more wet and cold than the previous trip, but the Velvia was a good choice to bring the colours out of the gloom. The “Santa Special” trains were running so I queued up with the waiting families for a hot chocolate and mince pie to warm up before heading for home.

To sign off, here’s an older image to show that these engines do work !

Whoosh !

 

Glen Affric trip – Day 4 – a ducking for the Yashicamat

The WalkHighlands website again served as my guide for Day 4 of my Glen Affric trip as I set out for the Loch Affric Circuit on what turned out to be a very wet day. I should have taken more notice of the line in the route description that reads “stream crossings may be hazardous in wet weather” … more about that later. As this was billed as an 11.25 miles walk I decided just to take the Yashicamat 124G and a tripod, and leave the Mamiya RZ67 behind.

I had one frame of Rollei IR400 film left in the camera from the previous day which I used to take the image below, approaching Affric Lodge. Some of the images on the film weren’t brilliant due I think to poor processing on my part; as this one was a bit grungy I decided to grunge it up some more with Adobe Lightroom.

2011-11-12, Glen Affric, Yashicamat, IR400, 2_

The road to Affric Lodge – Yashicamat 124G and Rollei IR400 film

After that, I switched to slide film – first a roll of Provia 400X, then Velvia 50.

2011-11-16, Yashicamat, Provia 400X, Loch Affric, 5

Giant hedgehog taking a drink ? Yashicamat 124G and Fuji Provia 400X

At this point it was raining softly and I was beginning to wonder why the guides made a fuss about stream crossings. I did come to one spot where a stream decided to divert itself down the path, and a bit of boulder-hopping was needed, but nothing difficult.

2011-11-16, Yashicamat, Provia 400X, Loch Affric, 9

By the time I arrived at this bridge crossing the Allt Coire Leachavie, (Allt just means stream) it was starting to rain harder, and I could also see more clearly the effect that rain in previous days was having on the amount of water running off the hills. I also managed to drop the Yashicamat in the stream at one point and was a little worried about the effects (try doing that with a digital). I’m happy to say there were no ill-effects, even though I could feel the film was wet when I loaded it for processing a week later !

2011-11-16, Yashicamat, Provia 400X, Loch Affric, 2

Bridge over the Allt Coire Lochavie – Yashicamat and Provia 400X

Yashicamat 124G and Provia 400X

2011-11-16, Yashicamat, Provia 400X, Loch Affric, 3

Lunch spot. Yashicamat 124G and Provia 400X

After another couple of hundred metres I got my first glimpse of the Allt Coulavie, and specifically of the series of waterfalls called “Sputan Ban” which tumble down for about 700 metres. Now, anywhere in England, this would be a well-known feature, endlessly portrayed in gudebooks, and perhaps with two coffee shops, one at each end. But here in the Scottish Highlands, it just passes as one more stupendous sight in an array of natural wonders. If you search on flickr right now for “Sputan Ban” you will see just four images, and two of those are mine.

2011-11-13, Yashicamat, Velvia 50, Loch Affric 6

As I wandered along I admired the scale and force of the falls but it hadn’t yet dawned on me that I was going to have to cross this raging torrent, if I was to follow the full “Affric Circuit” walk. Perhaps because an estate landrover track had veered over to the right into a side glen, perhaps for deer-stalking, the quality of the track was deteriorating and there was no bridge over the Allt Coulavie, and in its’ current state boulder-hopping was not feasible. I had read somewhere that walking upstream might provide a better crossing option.

2011-11-13, Yashicamat, Velvia 50, Loch Affric 1

By this time I’d changed to Velvia 50 and the weather required 1s exposure at f11; I quite like the resulting movement in the heather.

So I wandered slowly up the side of the stream, admiring the views, stopping for photographs, noticing that the rain was getting heavier all the time, and slowly realising that a crossing point was unlikely to be found.

2011-11-13, Yashicamat, Velvia 50, Loch Affric 4

The Velvia struggled with the dynamic range here, hence the burnt highlights on the water – and a lens wider than the 80mm fixed lens on the Yashicamat would have been useful.

2011-11-13, Yashicamat, Velvia 50, Loch Affric 7

Looking down towards Loch Affric and the smaller Loch Coulavie

Nearing the top of the falls I stopped to take my last image of the day before consigning the camera to the rucksack.

Original waterfall shot with strange colours

Original waterfall shot with strange colours

The shot as taken on Fuji Velvia 50, above, has some strange colours – almost as if it had been cross-processed, i.e. slide film processed in C41 chemicals, but that wasn’t the case. Anyway, I generally find that waterfall shots work best in mono, so here’s the mono conversion.

2011-11-13, Yashicamat, Velvia 50, Loch Affric 3

Near the top of Sputan Ban falls – Fuji Velvia converted to mono in Adobe Lightroom

Soon after this point, the gradient eased off and it probably would have been possible to cross over the stream, climb down the other side of the falls, and resume the route around Loch Affric. But I’d spent so long clambering up besides the falls, and stopping to take images, that I doubted that I would complete the route in daylight, as it would be dark by 4.00pm. I also suspected that the rest of the route would, relatively, be routine after the thrill of observing these falls.

The OS map showed a path going diagonally down the hillside, and back to the footbridge where I’d enjoyed lunch. The path turned out to be more of an indication of a possible route than a firm guide .. on the damp slippery slope I fell down and got soaked so many times I figured that if I had taken my boots off and waded across the stream I couldn’t have ended up any wetter.

On the return route, the days’ rainfall was visibly increasing the amount of rain on the path by the hour, and I soon realised that I needed to replace my old waterproof coat. When I got back to the car, I was totally soaked and tired, had failed in my original objective, but had enjoyed a great day !

Photographically, the decision to take just the Yashicamat (and the middle-sized of my three tripods) was the right one for weight reasons, although having a wider lenses would have been handy at one point. I wanted to take more slides with the Yashicamat, in the hope of getting a few to mount in a very old 6*6 slide projector I had been given; but I would have obtained a higher proportion of “keepers” with colour negative film.

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