Whet your appetite Wednesday

I’ve been for a few walks in a small local wood over the last four days. Accompanied by an Intrepid 5×4 large format camera, a couple of lenses and a bagful of assorted black & white sheet film I have battled dry, damp, dull and dimly lit conditions in the pursuance of my art. Blog post to follow when I’ve finished developing and scanning.

A Wanderer in Wilsden

Walsden is a large village near to Todmorden on the western fringes of West Yorkshire. Apparently, it has few claims to fame, or few that Wikipedia bother to list, but it does have a sprawling garden centre which is why I was there last week – as chauffeur for my garden-centre-loving wife. The Rochdale Canal also runs through Walsden, hugging quite close to the main road. So, after first consuming my wages of a bacon sandwich and strong black tea, I set off down the road to find the canal whilst the wife went off for her retail therapy. I was light of heart despite knowing I’d be light of wallet later and despite the nagging headache I’d woken up with.

As ever I was travelling very light with just a small shoulder bag. A mini-tripod, a few rolls of film, a couple of filters and an umbrella were the only accompaniments to the Nikon L35AF and Horizon S3 Pro, both loaded with Ilford Delta 100, a film I rarely use but had bought on a whim earlier in the month.

I had no real agenda or project in mind but instead was keeping my mind and my eyes open as I wandered. A few hundred yards along the main road I stopped to look at the textures of an old wooden fence, crudely patched with a wire mesh in places. I heard a bus pulling up fifty yards behind me and almost simultaneously I saw two ladies running towards me gesticulating at the bus. The camera in my hand was the Horizon S3 Pro and I instinctively raised it but then paused, realising that the image would have more impact if I could give the viewer some context. I waited for them to pass and then photographed them running towards the distant bus. It was I knew a good start to my wander.

All images: Delta 100 developed in ID11
Cameras: Nikon L35AF and Horizon S3 Pro

Moving on down the road I wasn’t sure where I could access the canal but knew it would be on my right. Coming to a large junction I spotted my route and turned right to join the canal at a road bridge. There were five potential routes from this one spot and so I was glad I’d plumped for the right one.

Reaching the canal I turned left and continued walking out of the village. I knew I would have to turn around fairly soon but was keen to explore a little way in both directions.

I got talking to a chap walking his dog and enquired as to whether when I turned to head back I could come off the canal nearer to the garden centre. He explained I could but that it was easy to miss the point of exit as it wasn’t obviously a footpath. Armed with full instructions and a warning that if the garden centre appeared on my right then I’d missed the turning I turned and started walking back in towards Walsden.

I found the exit very easily with the instructions I had been given and I almost certainly wouldn’t have noticed the way out without the clear description from the chap I’d chatted to earlier..

By this time I had wandered for around an hour, using both rolls of Delta and enjoying the opportunity to wander out of doors. I made the last exposures with the S3 Pro just yards from the point at which I would rejoin the main road and decided not to load new rolls but to return to the car. My headache was no more, I had a few new nettle stings and the opportunity for a cool bottle of water was very appealing.

My favourite from the day

Back at the car I unloaded both cameras, checked Twitter on my phone and caught up with notifications and new posts from overnight and enjoyed a drink of cool water (always park in the shade folks). My wife is known for completely losing track of time at a garden centre, or any shop for that matter, but in the event she was only in there for three hours or so which by her standards is a quick visit. We celebrated this achievement by sitting in the car with an ice cream each before heading for home. Driving back, with some decent latent images (I hoped) on the films nestling in the pocket of my shoulder bag I reflected that it had been a grand day out.

I #believeinfilm

“How do we want to use our artistic voices? Do we want to elicit a favourable response from others by playing to the crowd, or do we want to speak the Truth as we see it with the things that we make, even if the response from people isn’t the one we want?”

Sean Tucker – The Meaning in the Making

These are not my words, they are from photographer Sean Tucker, known to many for his YouTube channel but watched I suspect by many people just to hear his philosophies on life and in particular the art of photography. He articulates better than I’ve ever done a recurring theme in my own personal philosophy towards my photography. I was only truly happy with my work when I stopped playing to the gallery.

This conscious ploughing of my own photographic furrow started a few years back and pre-dates me joining Twitter and engaging with fellow photographers, mostly film photographers, and encountering the #believeinfilm community. I have found that by consistently being true to myself I’ve connected with like-minded souls. Some have similar tastes to mine but many have different tastes and I’ve enjoyed seeing and discussing their work immensely. I have also enjoyed seeing the pleasure others derive from their own work and this encourages me to stay true to myself. Whilst it’s not necessarily influenced changes in my own approach it has definitely led to a greater appreciation of other approaches and been a source of inspiration and motivation. Oft times too it has sparked an idea which I’ve then run with on my own terms as it were.

That’s not to say that I don’t sometimes post a “crowd-pleaser” for the enjoyment of others. I do – but only work that remains true to myself and thus I hope that it is not solely for my own gratification (although we all appreciate an ego stroke occasionally). I’ve also learnt how much pleasure, and at times inspiration, these images give to others. I make that last assertion carefully, it’s not intended as arrogance but in recognition of the mutual support the community gives to each other.

This support ranges from the emotional to the practical and I’ve encountered so much of it in the twelve months I’ve been active on Twitter that it’s changed my own attitudes too. In the last few months I’ve loaned out five different cameras, one of which is doing a UK Tour, gifted many items that I no longer need but others would find useful and provided support in many other ways by sharing my experience and learnings from the last 45 or more years. In return, I’ve had the chance to borrow cameras and even glass plate holders, tap in to a wealth of knowledge, exchange ideas and experiences and learn from so many talented photographers. This corner of social media has for me turned out to be a friendly, supportive one that I look forward to dipping into every day.

Another quote from ST:

“… find joy in the act of photographing alone and not necessarily from the results.”

Sean Tucker – The Meaning in the Making

Again, this captures exactly how I feel. There have been many times when I have been totally underwhelmed by a strip of negatives yet have had so much pleasure in the process, from loading the film through to hanging the negatives to dry that I don’t feel in the slightest bit disheartened. The physical act of creating those negatives in all its tactile glory has often been enough for me. This quote also ties in nicely with my philosophy of creating work that makes you happy and count any positivity from others as a bonus.

I know that this has in some degree trodden old ground for me, but it has hopefully put that into its current context. I shall continue making film photographs until I stop enjoying it or until I’m robbed of the faculty to do so. I hope that I will continue to plough my own furrow, to share and interact with like-minded photographers around the globe and gain enjoyment from the sum of the many parts that form the hobby and not get fixated on simply the outcome – however important it is.

Posted to my blog with thanks to the whole #believeinfilm community on Twitter.

A stream of consciousness

My last blog post generated a fair bit of conversation over on Twitter even though the images themselves were only to be seen in the accompanying video. To rectify that here are a few “views”extracted from the rather long negative.

As experiments go it was one of my more successful and whilst I cannot claim it as an original idea, I’m sure its been done many, many times in the past, it was new to me. Roman on Twitter kindly commented:

I like these photos a lot. Feels like a kaleidoscopic impression of a walk.

Roman W S on Twitter

I’d seen them as a visual stream of consciousness but like Roman’s description too. It’s given me an idea for a variation on the occasional 9 in 45 series. Just need to find the right opportunity – perhaps Holga Week in October?

It’s a hobby!

It’s drizzling this morning. That fine, almost unnoticeable kind of rain that leaves you soaked in under ten minutes. The sky is like a huge soft box; white, tending towards grey, unbroken cloud lining the heavens and ensuring that there are no places for shadows to lurk. It’s a lose-lose situation for the photographer. Everything is dull and uninspiring, colours seem to be hiding, shyly withholding their colourful bounty. The contrasts between light and shade, the black and white photographers stock in trade, are barely noticeable.  In short, a morning that will be challenging for both colour and black & white practitioners of this dark art we call film photography.

It’s also the first day this week when I’m free to indulge my hobby and get out with a camera and a roll of film.  There’s something special in getting out with a camera especially these days when we’ve spent so long confined to our houses. As a result even a wander around my local patch, something I’ve been restricted to in many ways, is still a pleasure.  Whilst I was “shielding” I didn’t leave the house except to sit in the garden. Four months, which could have been a nightmare, but were not thanks to my hobby. Since Lockdowns have eased and then subsequently been lifted I’ve made a few trips outside of the area but photography has still been largely confined to a one or two mile radius of my front door.

Infrared film photography in the front yard

Returning to my four months confinement. Four months in which I actually bought a new camera kit despite not being able to get out and play with it.  I spent the time instead playing with apples and pears, photographing them using window light on my new-to-me Bronica medium format kit and even making the effort to set up the monorail large format Calumet camera.  I even made some darkroom prints, something I don’t often do outside of the Winter months.  Determined not to be defined by my incarceration I actively looked for things to do to keep me active, to keep me interested and to keep me from getting down in the dumps. I bought some black and white toners and played with those. I decommissioned the darkroom in my cellar and relocated it to my study taking advantage of the growing number of places now willing to deliver almost anything including large sheets of MDF.

Moving the darkroom upstairs

Freed from the shackles of confinement I bounded out of the door every morning with a camera and a roll or two of film and became better acquainted with my local patch.  With families not allowed to mix and my live-in daughter furloughed my child minding services were not required. For the first time in years I was free to do what I wanted. And I did.  I discovered an aptitude for urban photography hitherto hidden from me. The very ordinariness and familiarity of my surroundings made me work harder and with this came the rewards associated with working harder.   A few months later I was to discover the world of swing-lens panoramic cameras but that’s well documented already.

Two minutes from my back door

But, back to today. It’s an hour later and I’m sat in a local cafe enjoying a Full English with a mug of strong, black tea. It can truly be called builders tea not least because most of the clients this morning are from a couple of local building sites.  The light has changed, it’s one EV brighter, but other than that it’s still the same.  The drizzle hasn’t abated and the pavements have a dark sheen, damp but not yet wet enough to provide reflections and the opportunity for the canny photographer to make images from these.    It’s sat here, that those months of walking the streets around my home looking with fresh eyes at familiar places, starts to repay in spades.  I’ve a plan and a pinhole camera, a roll of Fomapan 100 and a mini tripod.  All I lack is the cable release that will help keep everything stable with exposures in the minutes. 

Breakfast eaten, tea drunk and the bill paid I’m back on the streets again, armed only with a pinhole and a roll of film I’m ready to take on the day!

My experiences using the KMZ FT-2

I’ve already written several times about this camera. I have talked about the camera itself, cogitated on my first experiences using a loaned KMZ FT-2 and of course written about loading the film into the cassettes and into the camera itself. To conclude the series I am going to reflect on my first few months with this camera and what I’ve learnt.

Perhaps I should start by saying that this camera can be a fair bit of work. For a start, as we’ve already discussed, it needs two special film cassettes (I only have one) but even with two, loading is a bit of a chore. I borrowed one with both cassettes before buying my own. Firstly, film has to be transferred from a standard 35mm cassette into a special cassette, in the dark. This then needs to be attached to a second special cassette, in the dark, before being loaded into the camera … in the dark. I made a video demonstrating this aspect. To make it more helpful I made the video … in the dark (not).

Let’s skip the using of the camera at this point and jump ahead to unloading the film from the camera … in the dark. I simply dump the camera in the changing bag, pop in a pair of scissors, tank and reel and take the film directly from the camera onto the reel and into the tank. From that point on its business as usual as the film is standard 35mm film. With negatives the size of three “normal” 35mm negatives however there’s only two per strip in the filing sheet.

Now, if you like using a camera one-handed then this one isn’t for you. Similarly, if you like to “run ‘n’ gun” then this one isn’t for you. Shaped like a brick and weighing in at just over 1kg in its case this isn’t a camera you carry about just-in-case you might need it. With just 12 frames (assuming you respool a 36 exposure film) and an awkward loading/unloading regime it is best used when you’ve a definite plan in mind. Not that I take my own advice there of course! I tend to pop it in my shoulder bag alongside my main camera for the day although do occasionally make a trip with just the KMZ FT-2 or, more often, take it partnered with the Horizon S3 Pro.

I’ve never thought of these panoramic cameras as being for specific subjects or situations. My approach has always been to proactively look for compositions that work well in the format. Over time my hit rate has improved and one thing I’ve learnt is that a straight, long, thin, linear subject only works occasionally. In general it is better to look for compositions where the viewer has a choice of where to let his eye be led. Urban images at intersections of two, three or more streets are usually more effective (see below) than a straight-on view of a row of houses for example. There’s exceptions to every “rule” however.

In truth, the principles that apply to other formats also work with the panoramic form. Don’t be afraid to turn the camera on its side to create long, thin and tall vertoramas.

I’ve found that leading lines work very strongly in this vertical format, really dragging the viewers eye up through the frame.

Presenting these vertoramas as diptychs or triptychs works nicely too.

The speed of the exposure is determined by a spring which pulls the lens turret around. Brakes are used to vary the speed giving the four shutter speeds found on the FT-2. At 1/400th second when all the brakes are off the camera physically bucks in your hand from the force. Pop the camera on a tripod, set it to 1/400th, cock the shutter and watch the whole thing shudder when you release the shutter. Which explains why I believe the best results from this camera come from using it on a tripod. That said, I do tend to use it handheld, especially when photographing urban locations such as my own local patch.

Book-ending subjects can work well too, as in the example above where a very simple scene has been bookended by trees which give added context and hold the viewers attention in the central portion of the frame.

Count the leading lines

One thing I’ve not mentioned is that as the film wind-on and cocking of the shutter are two distinct operations the opportunity for double, triple, whatever exposures is the photographers for the taking. The one below is three or four exposures for example.

Don’t be frightened to crop as there’s plenty of real estate available.

In summary, it isn’t the easiest camera to work with but I’ve never been afraid of working for my images. Despite everything I’ve said about its idiosyncrasies it is however great fun and worth the effort in my view – your mileage may vary of course!

A tale of two cameras

I have a couple of fully automatic point-and-shoot cameras from the 1980s in my collection, as those who have read some of my recent posts will know. Both are well-respected members of the 1980s P&S community and both have produced some very pleasing results for me. But how do they compare?

I don’t propose providing the full technical specifications of these two cameras, that information is readily available on the internet for those who might be interested. I am going to consider how they have handled for me over a few different scenarios. If you are looking for test charts and graphs then I will save you some time and suggest you stop reading now; this post relates to my real-world usage of both cameras and I definitely did’t get my white lab coat out for this comparison.

Yashica – Kodak Tri-X

SCENARIO ONE: Both cameras loaded with bulk-rolled Fomapan 100 from the same batch. We were indoors with a toddler and a three-year old in a dimly lit room who’s play was mainly running around giggling interspersed with sitting on the floor. Both cameras kept up with what was going on and the leisurely pace suited them both. See also the section on Flash below.

SCENARIO TWO: Outdoors in a back garden, changeable light and four youngsters (aged three to nine) were playing on a makeshift water slide. Both cameras had 400 speed films loaded (one had Fomapan 400 the other Kentmere 400). In the event I mainly used the Yashica, given the overcast light I was forcing fill-flash to try to freeze motion and the fast refresh cycle of the Yashica proved a clear winner.

SCENARIO THREE: Urban wanders in Salford (Nikon) and Elland (both). This is my main photographic activity at the moment. Wandering the urban environment making images of whatever takes my eye has since the pandemic been the mainstay of my photographic output. Both handle very well for this type of photography. The automatic exposure on the Yashica particularly impressed on its first outing whilst the Nikon performed consistently and reliably. The filter thread on the Nikon would make it my preferred choice for B&W work (see below) but that would be my only reason for choosing the one over the other in this scenario.

Nikon – Kodak Tri-X

In terms of handling then there is very little to choose. Both have a decent grip, both feel comfortable in the hand and on both the few controls that they do have all fall easily to an appropriate digit. The speed of the auto-focus was generally OK although pre-focusing and recomposing was a big feature as both use a single, central focus spot. The Nikon didn’t miss a beat focus-wise although the Yashica only missed on a couple of occasions. The shutter release is fairly sensitive on the Yashica whereas the Nikon needs a very definite push downwards. Not a major problem as you know about it so can adapt, however, if using both cameras simultaneously its easy to forget and I’ve several “premature exposures” from the Yashica as a result.

Fomapan 100 – handheld

Batteries – being fully automatic cameras both need batteries to enable them to function. No mechanical fall-back either – it’s either working or it isn’t. The Yashica uses the 2CR5 6v battery, not something I tend to keep in the drawer whereas the Nikon uses two AA batteries which I not only keep in the house but are also readily available in all sorts of shops. I use rechargeable AA batteries which helps with cost but all told the Nikon is cheaper to set up; what I don’t know yet is how this works out longer term as I’ve not used other for long enough to judge. The manufacturer claims 1,000 exposures for the Yashica (500 with and 500 without flash). The Nikon manual claims around 100 24 exposure rolls without flash or 10 with constant use of flash. My crude calculation equates this to around 1,320 frames on a 50/50 like for basis compared to the Yashica’s 1,000. Even if they were the same the Nikon with its AA batteries would be more economical to run however.

But there’s another side to the battery equation – flash recycling times. As I mentioned in scenario two above the Yashica’s bigger battery and faster recycling times proved a real winner when the flash was being used for very image. This might be a consideration when deciding which camera to take with me therefore depending on what I think I will be photographing. I think I’d chose the Yashica for a family get-together over the Nikon for example.

Fomapan 100

Flash – the Yashica tended to bring the flash into play much quicker than the Nikon especially in the indoor scenario one. So, it was helpful that the 6V battery enabled almost instant recycling on most occasions; meaning that I wasn’t waiting for the camera to catch up with me before taking the next image. The same couldn’t be said for the Nikon sadly.

Several times I forced the Nikon to use the flash to give me some comparison images but looking back at the scenario one negatives the Yashica fired the flash on EVERY frame. As was to be expected from small, onboard flashes the results were nothing special although on a couple of occasions the Yashica managed a nicely balance image (bottom left in the grid below). The top two images are from the Nikon, with the lefthand one being flash-free. The bottom two are both Yashica and both used flash. Image-wise there’s little to choose however when using flash indoors although on the whole I don’t really like the results from either camera in this situation!

Fomapan 100
Yashica – Fomapan 100

The little storage area above was very dim, with very little light penetrating the gloom. The Yashica did a sterling job with the help of its flash. This was a “grab and run” as I was leaving the cafe.

In the second scenario I was photographing the kids coming down a water slide in a back garden. I forced the flash to fire during this experiment. The recharging speed of the Yashica meant that I favoured it in this instance – however, when I looked at the negatives the Nikon had captured the kids more sharply, more often relative to the Yashica which surprised me. There was a fair bit of motion blur evident in some of these images.


Now, filters, particularly coloured contrast filters, are primarily of concern I guess to black and white workers but it’s something that I certainly look for. You’d look in vain for one on the Yashica although the proper 46mm filter thread on the front of the Nikon lens will be a delight to those who use contrast filters in particular. For an urban photographer, with a tendency to keep a yellow/green filter in place, this one facto alone makes the Nikon the first choice for urban or even landscape photography.

Fomapan 100 – YG filter on the Nikon and I believe the Yashica fired the flash!

I have been more than happy with the quality of the negatives from both cameras. The first roll from Yashica for example scanned very easily and responded to a gentle Curves adjustment very nicely too. I’ve not yet printed from any of the negatives in the darkroom as that’s a Winter occupation for me. Negatives have been sharp though showing the quality of both lenses. I’ve used a variety of films both 100 and 400 iso and I’ve developed them in both my go-to Ilford ID11 and Kodak HC-110.

Nikon L35AF & Kentmere 400
Yashica T2 – IlfrdFP4+

I’ve used both cameras a lot over the last couple of weeks putting a dozen or more films through them during this time. With little to choose between them its fair to say that either camera would be worth looking at in my view.

But, which is best?

Yashica T2 – Ilford FP4+
Nikon L35 AF & Kentmere 400

Well, as ever, it depends. Indoors or at family gatherings the Yashica definitely gets my vote largely due to the speedy flash recycling. This means I’m not left waiting before I take the next frame – important when your subjects are grandchildren! There is a “no flash” option too if needed which is worth knowing given the Yashica’s tendency to pop the flash whenever it fancies (it even did it outdoors yesterday).

For general outdoor use however then the Nikon wins hands down for me simply due to that filter ring. I am a traditional black and white worker and the use of contrast filters is second nature to me. Given that both cameras produce lovely images out of doors then the choice comes down to what some people might consider minor differences but which to me are of some importance.

I hope that my ramblings are useful to someone, somewhere and if even one reader finds them helpful then my job is done. Thanks as ever for reading this far (unless of course you’ve simply skipped to the end – in which case shame on you! 🙂


FOOTNOTE: I used both cameras with home-rolled Fomapan 100 from a bulk roll. I put two rolls of each through each camera and on one occasion the wind-on motor of the Yashica ripped the film straight out of the cassette. It cannot be rewound in that situation and unless you have the means of providing a completely dark space (I use changing bags) it is impossible to rectify without losing the roll. Mind you, if you’re rolling your own you probably have a changing bag at least but I thought it prudent to mention it.