Random colour

Slightly OTT – but at least on my terms (see below).
Friday morning Salford Quays

As a follow-up to last nights post here’s a few random colour images from yesterday and this morning. The phone will capture in black and white, although I rarely do so preferring to convert the images myself in Snapseed. Still on the phone but I at least take control. The first image above is a case in point. Despite constantly turning it off the wretched phone keeps turning Live Picture on. This not only captures a gaudy HDR-style image on many an occasion but also captures a few seconds of video either side of the actual image. I converted this one to B&W for a Twitter update but when I decided to post some colour images I was torn. I liked the composition but not the colours. I therefore desaturated it and added a negative vignette to tame the image. It’s still a bit over the top for me but it kinda works I think.

I was terrified I was going to drop the phone – the hotel window was restricted so only a few inches gap to push phone into.
Thursday evening – Salford Quays

I have a love-hate relationship with colour. I stopped using colour negative film a while back as I had massive problems getting natural colours when processing the negatives on the computer. My daily urban style of working probably isn’t best suited to colour slide film although I enjoy playing with Instax instant colour print film. However, some scenes scream out to be photographed in colour, Autumn in particular, and for this I have my digital cameras.

Thursday morning – Salford Quays
Thursday afternoon – yes it is colour!
Thursday lunchtime – I also photographed this scene with my Nikon L35 AF, will be interested in seeing a comparison

So, as I was using a Nikon L35 yesterday loaded with Kodak Tri-X I also made a few images with my phone. My phone was also in my pocket early this morning when I went out to photograph before breakfast. The glorious morning light will look very nice on my Tri-X negatives but it also looked very pleasant on my phone too.

Worth getting up for whilst the wife snoozed on

When I made yesterday’s post I added a tongue-in-cheek plea for people not to judge me for using a phone when I had a fully-loaded camera with me. For clarification I’m of the firm opinion that we should make use of whatever tools we have at our disposal. Whether that’s an Intrepid 5×4, a KMZ FT-2, a mirrorless digital camera or a phone. Each of these is capable of producing images worth enjoying and I wouldn’t hesitate in using any of them. I forgot that a dry sense of humour isn’t always appreciated in the written form 😊

Checking compositions ready for the morning

Another use for the phone is in checking compositions especially when the light isn’t quite as I would like it and I’m planning on returning another day. I did this Thursday evening as we walked back to the hotel from our pub meal. I’d deliberately left the camera in our room but the phone enabled me to check a few compositions before returning before breakfast on Friday morning.

The other thing I regularly use my phone for, especially if I don’t have my Fuji digital camera with me, is behind the scenes style images for my blog. Friday morning was no exception and the final image here, already converted to black and white and inserted into the blog post awaiting me developing the films from this short trip, is a case in point.

My weapon of choice for these couple of days away.

So, there you have it. Two iPhone posts in as many days and one in colour too. Normal service will be resumed in the next day or so.

Have phone will photograph

Out for an early evening meal with the better half we left the pub to find the rain had gone and the blanket of grey above was starting to break up. I’d promised an evening without a camera … but still took my iPhone. Back at the hotel I looked at the pictures on the phone and thought that I might as well have some fun with the processing too – don’t judge me! So, for a bit of fun here’s some phone pics direct to you from my hotel room.

120 into 5×4 does go

Some time ago I bought a 120 roll film back made by Horseman which has a plate to mount the back to a 5×4 camera fitted with a Graflok back. The Graflok fitting has been the de-facto large format accessory mounting standard internationally for the past seventy years or more. My simple aim was to use 120 roll film with my Intrepid 5×4. My first roll was a disaster, I simply couldn’t get the film advance to work correctly, and try as I might I couldn’t get to grips with it. I had been able to load it correctly and that first test roll eventually became a sacrificial lamb as I struggled in vain. I decided to leave it for another day, but I was at least confident in actually loading the back so I loaded a roll of Fomapan 100 ready to try again in a day or so.

That was last October.

Yesterday afternoon, I came across the back, along with its cardboard template, in a cupboard and with time available decided to work it out once and for all. I reread the manual, not once but a few times, and after playing with the back noted what I’d been doing wrong. There’s a silver switch you move to the left to enable wind on. I’d been holding it to the left which was why the film was continually advancing as I stroked the wind on lever. It needed pushing to the left and immediately releasing! Bingo! And Doh!

The template sits on the ground glass of the 5×4 Intrepid to show the area of the scene covered by the 120 film (see example of the mask in use below)

Time to expose some film in earnest. I’d used my Zero Image 5×4 as the host camera whilst I experimented, and eventually solved, the problem yesterday and had ended up with six exposed frames (the back is 6×9 so I should have got eight.)

Zero Image 5×4 pinhole camera and 120 Fomapan 100
I just love pinhole sunlight scattering – flare? Fomapan 100

Encouraged, I developed the film to make sure all was well. It was – see examples above. So, I loaded a roll of Fomapan 400, collected the Intrepid 5×4, and exposed a couple of frames in the dining room with the 180mm lens fitted.

The next morning I took the Intrepid and the 90mm lens into the backyard and exposed the final six frames. Forty minutes later there is a roll of film hanging to dry with eight successful negatives.

Cracked it!

The 6×9 mask in place. I remove the mask for focusing.
This what happens if you don’t use the mask – that’s the full negative on the right. The view of the ground glass has been rotated for ease of comparison – it is usually upside down

The beauty of this is four-fold I think. Firstly, I can practice with the Intrepid without wasting more expensive sheets of film. Secondly, it gives me access to a much larger range of films to use in my 5×4 cameras. Thirdly, I can change film whilst out; as I finish a roll I can put another in and keep working. Finally (fourthly), I can also use this film back on both my Zero Image 5×4 pinhole and my Intrepid field camera meaning I can get both pinhole and lens-based images on one roll of film.

90mm Fomapan 400
90mm f16 1/4sec Fomapan 400

Despite the unintended crop I do like the image of the two wine bottles (one mine and one the Boss’s). It was an oversight to forget the mask but serendipity was on my side as I had photographed the ground glass with my phone so it was an opportunity to illustrate the value of the mask.

Backlit (window light) 180mm f16 with front tilt and 230mm extension.
3.5 minutes exposure allowing for reciprocity failure and bellows extension. Fomapan 400
Only here because I was pleased with my spot metering! Fomapan 400

So, there you have it. A 5×4 camera and a 120 roll of film. All the benefits of tilt etcetera and quality large format less with the convenience and economy of medium format roll film. Eight 5×4 sheets of Fomapan would set me back around £6 whilst a roll of 120 is around £3.50. But, cost isn’t the big factor her, film choice is. In particular colour film. I have stopped using colour film almost totally but with Autumn approaching I’m beginning to wonder what a few rolls of Ektar 100 would look like through this combination. I can send the exposed film to Peak Imaging for developing and if needs be scanning too – a tempting proposition.

Film is the drug

“Love is the drug …” sang Roxy Music in 1975. Probably whilst I was loading some Tri-X in my Zenith E. But Mr Ferry was wrong. Love isn’t the drug – film is. Let me explain.

Birch trees on limestone outcrop
Hasselblad 500C/M, Ilford FP4+, Fotospeed RCVC Oyster
(scan of darkroom print)

I was out and about early yesterday. A list of jobs to do which included taking garden waste to the tip and visiting the Post Office amongst others. Whilst I was out I made an image for my picture-a-day project (1,385 consecutive days and counting) and uploaded that to Flickr whilst sat in the car. Chores completed I returned home for breakfast and a strong black tea.

I’ve been child minding all week and this is my first day off so I have a long list of personal tasks to address. Producing the first draft of the club’s quarterly magazine was high on the list. Reworking my nascent zine, A Sense of Place, is well overdue too. There’s a roll of 35mm film to scan and sleeve, a box of items I’ve decided to sell on a certain auction site, I’ve an idea for a new video; the list is seemingly endless and my list doesn’t include the “little” jobs the wife has lined up for me.

So, which did I do first?

Well, none of them.

No. Breakfast eaten and tea drunk I got up from my armchair, took the Nikkormat FT2 from my shoulder bag, loaded a roll of Orwo UN54 and headed out of the door. What the??

An hour later, having taken 35 photographs (I didn’t load the film as well as usual – don’t judge me) I returned home and immediately got on with tidying the kitchen and loading the dishwasher. Ten minutes later I had a clear kitchen and could get the changing bag etcetera out and set about developing the film. Ulterior motive there clearly.

This isn’t an isolated occurrence however. I’ve done this almost every day for weeks. Even when childminding on my own I still manage a roll of film a day just recently. Almost every day. Today is day 226 of the year and I have exposed 155 rolls of film, dozens of sheets of 5×4 film and getting on for 20 dry glass plates. In January it was one or two rolls a week.

Do I have a problem?

Answers below please 😊

Don’t force it

Those who actually know me will know that I haven’t been a member of a traditional camera club since the 1970s. For transparency I will note that I have been a member of a postal photographic club for the past ten-plus years however. I’m not going to discourse here on my reasons for not being a camera club member nor am I going to discuss why I have been a member of a postal one for some years. I may (or may not) do that another day. But what I do want to talk about is in some way linked to a key aspect of both.

Competitions.

When I first joined the postal club the monthly and annual competitions were the main attraction. Pitting my skills against other photographers, seeing my success rate in competition grow and being accepted as a “good” photographer we’re all key drivers. All was good in the world it seemed. But the bubble burst a few years back when I suddenly realised that all I was doing was producing photographs to satisfy the whims and fashions of camera club judges. Monthly, peer-judged competitions started to annoy me because they were microcosms of everything I disliked about club judging.

“Fred” doesn’t like landscapes so never scores them highly, “Jim” doesn’t understand macro photography so always scores 6/10 regardless. If “Tom” sees another ‘tit-on-a-stick’ he will be ill. “Bill” meantime is highly competitive and more than once has been suspected of tactical scoring. Which meant that you start to look for images that will play to the prejudices and whims of your peer group.

So, it’s the worst of both worlds. A lack of constructive commentary and having to make my own artistic preferences subservient to the whims of others. Slowly, it dawned on me that I had stopped growing as an artist and was merely rushing around trying to make images that worked for others in order to gain plaudits that meant nothing at the end of the day. I’ve an impressive list of competition wins and associated silverware but very few of the winning images mean a lot to me.

Here be Rats. Have you ever peered behind the facade of your town centre? I do reglarly, in the name of urban photography.

The thing is I like dark, gritty images. I like to play with chiaroscuro and I’m not bothered if there isn’t “a full range of tones (well done)”. I am also drawn not to the picturesque and colourful but to the reality of urban life, usually in black and white to boot. Remember “Here be Rats”? It doesn’t help that I am mainly a black and white film photographer these days. I once entered a darkroom print in a monthly peer-judged print competition. Eleven digital prints and one silver. The comment that, with hindsight, led to me turning away from club competitions, was:

“nice pic Dave but do think that you could add a gentle S-curve to add some bite to the image and perhaps check the histogram and tidy things up with a Levels adjustment”.

Really!

I spent three fruitless hours looking for the S-Curve and Levels sliders on my enlarger – not!

So, although I maintain my postal membership I no longer participate in monthly peer-judged competitions nor do I enter any of the annual club-wide competitions.

What I’ve realised over the last few years is that only one persons opinion matters. Mine. That not being egocentric, I make photographs for my own amusement and enjoyment after all. I am not being paid to follow a brief and if I were I would move heaven and earth to give the client exactly what they want regardless of whether it’s to my taste or not. I once made a reasonable secondary income photographing children, not posed portraits but informal and natural images. This often involved me crawling around the floor or playing games outside but it enabled me to capture the images their parents wanted and were paying me for. A few of these, with appropriate permissions and model releases, won me “Best Image”, Best Portrait” and “Best Monochrome” trophies in annual competitions but by entering these I was only pandering to the judges, deliberately picking images I knew would appeal to them.

It won me no plaudits but the collaboration with a local sculptor gave me enormous satisfaction.

I am very aware that given the way my photographic tastes have evolved I am moving ever further away from current club ideals. That’s fine as I get great enjoyment from making them. I’m also very pleased when some of these images strike a chord with the couple of online communities I use. Let’s face it will all like a pat on the back sometimes and I’m no exception. The appreciation of others is a cherished bonus.

So, I guess all of the above could be summarised in just one paragraph. Rather than forcing your photography down a path to create images to please others look first at what pleases you. That is the path to follow, the one that leads to your own artistic expression and the one that will in the longer term give you the most pleasure. Be yourself, don’t try to be something you are not. Of course, if you like winning competitions then you have to follow the fashions and trends; there is nothing wrong with that so long as you are happy doing it. But when the fun of competition starts to pall then it’s time for you to stop, reassess and refocus (pun intended). I did and I’m very glad I did too.

Hands on with another FT2

I’ve written a fair bit recently about the KMZ FT-2 but you will notice that the FT2 of today’s title has no hyphen. That’s because it is neither a swing-lens camera nor a panoramic one. It is however still a 35mm camera. You’ve no doubt realised by now the titular camera is a Nikkormat FT2. Introduced in 1975 the FT2 has been dubbed “the poor mans Nikon F”. Whilst the Nikon F series were aimed at professionals the Nikkormat FT series were squarely targeted at the amateur market. With a build quality comparable with the Nikon F series however the Nikkormats were no slouches and can still hold their own today.

Like my KMZ FT-2, the Nikkormat FT2 is a very idiosyncratic camera, I guess that’s another thing the two have in common. The layout of the camera controls on Nikkormats is, to put it mildly, unconventional. Rather than a shutter-speed dial, Nikkormats feature a concentric shutter speed ring located around the lens mount, whilst ISO settings are selected using a sliding dial situated at the bottom of the lens. That said it is so well thought through that it can still be operated without removing the camera from my eye. ISO is set once whilst loading the film. My left hand is used for focusing (manual no auto focus here), changing the aperture (which I typically set before I start frame up the picture) and I can change shutter speed with a single finger (there is also a basic display in the viewfinder showing the selected shutter speed).

Negative > Positive

I haven’t really used any of my SLR cameras since I picked up the Horizon S3 ten months or so ago. The odd roll here and there but nowhere near the number of rolls of film that have been through the Horizons and most recently the KMZ FT-2. It was a misunderstanding from Phil on Twitter that prompted me to dust off the Nikkormat; until then I’d not noted the similarity between the camera’s names nor indeed that both were quirky in their own right.

Fear not, I’m not about to launch into a review of a 45+ year old camera, it’s not my style and it wouldn’t actually make much sense. Instead I’m going to share some images from a couple of rolls of HP5+ that I have used over the last few days and ruminate gently on the joy of using a fully manual camera.

The FT2 has a metal focal-plane shutter with vertical (downward) movement; speeds from 1 to 1/1000 sec., plus Bulb mode. Compared to the 30 seconds to 1/8000th of the mighty Nikon F5 this is fairly mundane BUT I’ve yet to find a need for anything more. If I’m using a shutter speed below 1/30th I’m most likely on a tripod anyway and Bulb is just as easy to use as a dedicated 30 seconds option on the dial.

Tactile. If you like tactile you would enjoy this relatively hefty camera. It’s has a comforting weight (almost two pounds without a lens) and bulk that reassures you it’s in your hand. Mine doesn’t currently have a strap (most of my cameras are devoid of any strap) which saves my neck! Everything, as you’d expect, is set on the camera itself as we’ve seen. Aperture via a ring, shutter speed via a lever on the lens itself.

As for metering, It has a through-the-lens CdS meter, centre-weighted at full aperture. In terms of informing the user, there is a needle which is visible in the viewfinder but also, and this is a useful feature for tripod users, on the top plate. The camera will not set anything itself, but silently let’s you know what it feels is the correct combination of aperture and shutter speed. Usefully, the camera does not need a battery to be used. A dead battery simply removes the safety net of the exposure metering system. I’m well used to metering for myself but having checked the onboard meter against a handheld I’m confident enough to trust that the camera isn’t steering me wrong.

Cheers!

I’ve been using 35mm single lens reflex cameras since the mid-1970s and whilst I’ve used fully electronic marvels I still gravitate towards the more manual cameras. I like doing everything myself it seems. Used in fully automatic mode there’s not much difference between using a fully modern electronic SLR and a digital camera. I’ll just leave that there and wait for the flak!

I mentioned how tactile the FT2 is and this is the most compelling reason for me choosing to use what is in effect a manual camera. I enjoy the full experience; from choosing and loading the film, setting the aperture and shutter speed appropriate to my vision, tripping the shutter and winding on the film – pure ASMR to this photographer. I even enjoy rewinding film manually (not least because this way the film leader doesn’t disappear).

For John Martin

So, there we are. Some random thoughts on the Nikkormat FT2 and some even more random images!

Demolition

They’ve been demolishing an old building this week that’s been laying empty for over 19 years and of course getting increasingly vandalised and dangerous. There’s a fence around the site which is around seven or eight feet high so even a six-footer like me has to wave a camera over his head to get a picture. Still, it was an interesting subject for the KMZ FT-2 so I gave it a go.

All images KMZ FT-2

So, there you have it, four panoramas and two vertoramas and to round it off here’s one from the first visit.

Horizon S3 Pro, Ilford HP5+ at 250 ISO Deeloped in Perceptol (stock) 13 minutes 5th August 2021

Loading the KMZ FT-2

The KMZ is an idiosyncratic camera and nowhere else is this more apparent than in terms of loading film. Whilst it uses normal 35mm film that’s as far as normal goes. The film needs to be transferred into the proprietary cassette before loading. It then needs to be attached to the four-part take up cassette before being loaded. Now, all of this can be done in daylight but you do lose a good lump of film in the process and given how few frames you actually get the loss of even one is a big reduction.

Add in the fact that I do not have a cassette to hold the film before it is exposed and so I am having to fudge matters a little then you will appreciate that this process becomes even more interesting. All things considered I have made the decision that whilst some parts can be done in daylight and others need to be done in the dark, for simplicity I am doing everything in a large changing bag.

Whilst researching how to load the camera before Jon forwarded his to me I found these instructions on Flickr. They might have been uploaded nine years ago but they illustrate very clearly the process when using the proprietary cassettes and I found them very easy to follow.

Having transferred the film into the right-hand cassette and attaching the take-up cassette I popped everything into the changing bag to actually load the cassettes.

Jon’s camera as I have said came with both of the cassettes and I found that by following these instructions and then using a changing bag to load the film into the camera I was getting the maximum number of frames per roll. I should add that when I finished the roll I popped the camera back into a changing bag and immediately transferred the film directly from the camera and onto a reel and into the developing tank.

But, with just one cassette matters are a little different and I have experimented with a couple of ways of loading the film so far. Both methods that I’ve tried to date need some simple DIY however.

The simplest is to cut down the spindle from a normal 35mm cassette as shown (left) removing the top and also filing down the ridge at the bottom of the spindle. I used a hacksaw and a sheet of sandpaper for this job.

This hacked about spindle slides snuggly into the FT-2 and from my experiments with a roll of Fomapan, my copy of the FT-2 remains light tight and the film remains scratch-free. Leaving film loose in the camera body isn’t ideal I guess but it works. My concern is whether or not every copy of the FT-2 gives such a light-tight environment.

So, on to experiment two.

A bit of flare from pointing at the sun but no evidence of light leaks

Wanting to protect the film to some degree I took a plastic reloadable cassette. The spindle was hacked as before. Removing the locking cap from the cassette I proceeded to remove plastic from top and bottom, reducing the height of the cassette until it slid snugly into the camera. It turned out that I had to remove the top and bottom completely so this wasn’t going to be a totally light tight solution. However, with the spindle inserted it did keep out most of the light and of course would give some protection from scratches. The natural light-tight property of my FT-2 would do the rest.

Spindle-only or partial cassette … both worked for me

Everything still needs to be done in the changing bag of course.

I am going to keep looking for a more robust solution of course (and for a second cassette) and as I try out other ideas I will share the results here.

An early image taken with Jon’s camera but still a favourite

FOOTNOTE: Bill T, if you are reading this I was going to create a video showing transferring the film and loading the cassette before loading everything into the FT-2; a picture can often be worth a thousand words after all. However, my FT-2 is currently loaded so I haven’t been able to do so as yet. If you would find it useful however then DM me on Twitter and I will do it for you when I’ve used this roll.

A short stroll

Urban details – all the images here are uncropped, in all their full-frame glory

After that first success I wanted to give the HP5+ in Perceptol a try in 120 format too not least because, panoramic cameras aside, I use more 120 film than 35mm. The camera I chose was the Zeiss Ikon Nettar 518/16 mainly because I had loaded it with a roll of HP5+ a few weeks ago to take with me on a trip out and then never used it (because I forgot to pick it up as I left the house if I’m honest). I only took a short stroll but it encompassed a scene dominated by trees and greenery, some of my usual urban details and a view across the valley. All things I’ve photographed before so I knew what to expect.

I’ve captured this scene many times which makes it a good one to test out this new combination

After reminding myself how this camera focuses, or more accurately remembering to actually set the focus ring, I made a first exposure thirty yards from my garden gate before heading to Gog Hill to recreate an oft-captured scene. The light in the lane under the trees was too low for me to handhold so I walked further down to a point where the overhead trees are less intrusive and where I could get a shutter speed I was more comfortable with. When I pulled the film out of the developing tank to hang it to dry, this negative (see above) blew me away with its detail and clarity. This camera was made from 1949 until 1957 so is older than myself (one day I will make the effort to narrow down its age more precisely).

Missed my focus slightly – tree sharp, wall not quite so

Whilst I was making images to test the new-to-me film/developer combination I couldn’t but help to notice how instinctively I was using the Nettar. I haven’t used it since a trip to Liverpool in 2018/2019. Aperture and shutter speed are set around the lens which needs to be cocked before each exposure – it’s like using a large format lens but in miniature. The thing I need to remember to adjust is the focusing ring, hence the slightly off focus above, but I think I only forgot to do that the once.

Sun in frame (top left) but detail holds up well
The histogram suggests this has every shade from black to white

For the record, this was the second roll of film I had developed in this initial batch of stock Perceptol. Reading the information sheet that Andrew had sent me I noted that development time should be increased by ten percent for the second film so the original thirteen minute development time now became fourteen. The only off-putting thing is going to be development times I suspect but I’m just going to think of the rewards.

Packed full of detail and texture – not the best light but a lovely result

So, there you have it. A typically dull day but the negatives are full of detail and texture. I tried a variety of scenes with foliage, brickwork and sky all represented and even let the rather milky sun creep into the top left corner of one image. I was already a convert after one roll but this just consolidates my thoughts. My bulk roll of 35mm HP5+ is due to arrive today and I’m ready for the off.

Gog Hill – Zeiss Ikon Nettar, Ilford HP5+, Perceptol