Stoating with the Zorki 4K

I’ve been playing with rangefinder cameras recently, a topic I will return to in future posts. On Monday I needed to nip out to the post office to post a parcel and as the sun was tentatively shining I popped a camera in my pocket. With my chore complete, and with the sun still flitting in and out, I took myself for a twenty minute wander around the bottom end of town. As my regular reader will know, this activity has recently been christened “stoating”, hence the title for this piece.

My way of choosing a camera for an impromptu wander hasn’t changed in years; I pick up the nearest camera that has either a fully charged battery or a roll of film loaded. This time it was a Zorki 4K, fitted with a Jupiter 8 50mm lens and an orange filter, loaded with Ilford HP5+. I set the lens to f11, set the infinity mark to f11 and popped a light meter in the cold shoe and headed off.

I’ve used the orange filter a lot with this lens recently and have very much enjoyed the results. The images, whether on film or digital with the lens on a Fujifilm X-Pro1, have a distinct character that works well for my style of urban imagery. The orange filter helps tweak a bit more detail and out of our dull, winter skies and the combination of the two has been very pleasing.

So, there you have it. The fruits of a quick stoat about with a Zorki 4K, the Jupiter 8 lens and an orange filter. Add a roll of Ilford HP5+ and jobs a good ‘un!

Next up will be some more Chroma Double Glass imagery … but I need to get that written up first!

A bit more Glass

Following on from an earlier post, I’ve had another play with the Chroma Double Glass lens and thought I’d share a few more images. I will do a “proper” review at some point but to be fair, images speak louder than words when considering a lens, especially a fixed focus one such as this.

All images: Zorki 4K, Chroma Double Glass, Y/G filter and Ilford HP5+

Take one image

Just one image.

Every now and then one makes an exposure and immediately knows, or perhaps more accurately, feels, that it will be a good image. As a film photographer there isn’t the immediate validation of a preview on the LCD screen of course, it’s definitely more of a “feeling”. As an aside, I’ve not always found the LCD preview to be helpful; sometimes it convinces me that it’s a rubbish picture and so I move on disappointed and demotivated. You could argue that it’s a bonus when you get the file on a larger screen and see it’s a keeper after all but to my way of thinking the damage was done when the flow was interrupted in the field. But, once again, I digress.

In Chester recently I made an image in a churchyard of a man, sat on a bench feeding the birds, seemingly enveloped by trees. He is a tiny but important part of the scene. I raised the camera to my eye, quickly focused and made two exposures. I quietly walked on and “knew” it was a keeper.

Fast forward three days and I’m just taking the film from the developing reel to hang it to dry and I can see instantly that the first half of the roll is badly under exposed. I instantly suspect user-error. I tend to take a meter reading periodically when out on the streets, tweaking it as required using experience as a guide. I only re-meter when the scene or lighting changes noticeably, I’d clearly got this base reading wrong as I know that the exposures were tweaked and the degree of under-exposure is consistent from frame to frame across the first half of that roll.

If that wasn’t enough, the first part of the roll, including the under-exposed churchyard images, had suffered from light-piping. Again user error (I’d had a bad hour in Chester it seems) as I’d forgotten the requirement to load that film stock in subdued light.

But, these are part and parcel of the film photographer’s daily lot and que sera sera as Doris Day sang. You might argue that had I been able to view it on an LCD screen I’d have noticed and possibly had the chance to try again and you’d be correct. But that’s not an argument in my book for going back to digital. I am a film photographer in part because it isn’t as easy. There are fewer failsafes and checkpoints. Indeed, it’s the absence of the ability to check, review and reconsider that makes photography on the street with a film camera such a fluid experience.

And I’m not alone in this belief. I was watching a video on YouTube recently from Jeff Ascough, a professional photographer with a passion for street photography. In his words, looking at the screen after every shot is a “really, really bad thing” as it takes your eye away from the scene and down to the back of your camera. This breaks the visual flow and you are likely to miss other opportunities whilst “chimping”. For the record, Ascough uses Leica digital cameras and so his views aren’t based on it being Hobson’s Choice.

Realising that I’d made an error was disappointing, but it’s part of the process and proves we are human I guess. I simply didn’t copy the first half of that roll when I was digitising the negatives with my digital camera later that evening and moved on.

Now, I recently replaced my ancient computer and have bit by bit been installing software and peripherals. It takes me weeks as it’s not a chore I enjoy. Fast forward four days from developing that fateful roll of film and I’m sat in my study installing scanner software. I had just installed the Plustek OpticFilm 8100 35mm scanner and needing to test it I took out a strip of negatives which coincidentally included the “lost” churchyard image.

The scanner functioned as expected, saved the scans to Dropbox as instructed and was clearly functioning as expected so I moved on to the next job on the list. Later that evening though I remembered the churchyard image that I’d scanned and downloaded it to my iPad for a better look.

I was not expecting to be able to create a usable image but was curious as to what could be done.

I needed to crop out the effects of the light-piping, evident only across the foreground of the image and the sprocket holes fortunately – my first bit of luck with this roll. I then proceeded to apply global and local adjustments to the image to tease out the best from the scene that I could (see below). Of course, I was doing this in Snapseed on my tablet rather than in Photoshop on the computer but remember I habitually work this way as I avoid the computer as much as possible. Half a dozen steps is my norm, this one has eleven!

My Snapseed workflow – “Brush” is where the dodging and burning happens

I rarely spend more than a few minutes with an image on the tablet. If I wanted to spend hours on individual images I know from experience that the computer is far easier to use so I deliberately restrict post processing to a few minutes. A gentle toning was applied followed by some light dodging and burning before adding a border and clicking “save”.

“Contemplation” – Leica IIIf, Elmar 50mm, Washi Z film

I was happy with the result. It’s not exactly as I’d envisaged being darker and moodier and of course has had to be salvaged as it were but it’s still a pleasing result. I hope both my readers enjoy this final image too.

LINK to larger file on Flickr

A Touch of Glass

Last time out I talked about Chroma Cameras and my recent purchases. One item I mentioned was the Chroma Double Glass, a double coated glass optic with two elements weighing virtually nothing (well, 16 grams to be exact). I’ve had it on the Zorki 4 twice this week and whilst that’s not long enough for a considered review I thought I’d share some images from today’s roll.

All images Zorki 4, Chroma Double Glass, yellow filter and Ilford HP5+

So, there we are. A very enjoyable couple of outings, I’m going to have fun with this lens.

Overlapping frames

Recently, whilst moving files across to a new-to-me computer, I found some in-camera panoramas from a couple of years back. Created by making a series of consecutive images as the camera is passed across the scene. The negatives are then copied/printed as a block to create a joiner-cum-panorama style image. I posted one to my Twitter account (see below) and it gathered a fair bit of attention including some comments about applying the technique to the urban or built environment.

The “tweet” that started this post

I took it as a Challenge.

Challenge accepted … from my armchair.

Within a matter of minutes I’d picked up the Olympus Pen EE3 half-frame 35mm film camera that is my go-to tool for these images. A roll of Ilford HP5+ was quickly loaded and I couldn’t resist a cheeky five-frames from my armchair.

My approach to making these images is very simple and the key is not moving my feet, just my upper body. So, standing (or sitting) still throughout the process, I start with my torso slightly pointing to the left and move the upper half of my body until my torso is pointing slightly right. I’ve found that it helps to decide how many frames I’m planning on before starting so that the middle frame is made looking straight ahead. It is actually easier to do than write down. I typically make three or five exposures per sweep but have also made these images with four, six, seven and even nine. These are usually as a single strip but I do occasionally make nine exposures in a grid pattern.

Diptych, 9-frame grid, multiple-frame panoramas … all grist to the mill
I typically leave sprocket holes as part of the final image to show they are consecutive frames.
Negative … to positive
Two six-frame panoramic joiners ready to process.
And the two finished images.
I live in “Happy Valley” apparently – this is next-door but one to my house.

There’s nothing complex about my technique, see above, but that leaves me free to concentrate on composition. The Olympus EE3 is also an automatic camera which really does mean freedom for this technique.

In terms of post production I cut the negatives into strips corresponding to the composition. So, instead of six strips each containing six negatives (or twelve, this is a half-frame camera) I have lots of strips of three, five or six half-sized negatives. Rather than sleeve these I place the negatives in an envelope knowing the frame numbers will help me reconstitute the grid-style joiners.

If not printing these in the darkroom I digitise them in my usual way with a digital camera. I use a diffuser to place the negatives on (the one from my Pixl-latr works well) and also a small piece of clean glass to hold them flat and in place. I will at some point invest in a piece of newton glass but for now am happy cloning out any newton rings.

In hindsight I should have gone with five frames here

So, there you have it. My simple approach to multi-frame panoramic joiners or whatever you’d like to call them. It’s a technique I’d typically only used whilst away on holiday but apart from the tweeted image at the start all of these were made in my local urban environment a couple of days ago especially for this blog post.

Something borrowed …

… something blue.

The something borrowed was a Minolta X-300 with a Hoya 28-85mm f4 lens. The something blue was a roll of Fomapan 100, OK the packaging is blue, a film I normally only use in 5×4 sheets and rarely, if ever, in 35mm.

Jim (@Gravmadboris on Twitter) recently offered me the loan of his Minolta X-300, a well-respected 35mm SLR film camera which was produced between 1984 and 1990. The X-300 was also marketed as the X-370 in the U.S. and Canada so anyone looking for more information online needs to keep this additional model number in mind.

It’s a very simple camera to use but nevertheless still a very pleasurable experience I found. In fact it’s probably the ease of use that makes it a joy to use. I set the ISO on the camera, set the aperture to the desired value and just keep an eye on the shutter speed in the right hand side of the viewfinder. The view finder itself is bright and consequently easy to use.

As it was a dull, grey, dismal morning I wasn’t expecting any photographic masterpieces (not that I ever do if we are honest) but that didn’t really matter. I enjoy using cameras and was soon forgetting the conditions as I concentrated on composition and the tactile pleasures of a well considered piece of photographic machinery.

Given the conditions and the likelihood of rather low contrast images I opted for developing in Rodinal at 1+50. I normally use Fomadon Excel with Fomapan 100 but felt that this would benefit from the extra bite of Rodinal. It was a good choice and whilst there is grain clearly present it works well I think with the subjects and the conditions.

So, in conclusion this was a lovely camera to use. The Hoya zoom is a very nice lens but rather heavy to my taste, making the camera front heavy. If I decide to add a Minolta to my kit bag (and the chances are high I will) then I will definitely look for a couple of primes rather than a single zoom and from my researches there is a nice little 45mm f2 available in this mount. I reckon that this combination would fit in my winter coat pocket very easily.

The Frugal Film Project – February images

After reading my previous update, one of my contacts remarked that it was “Dave’s not-so frugal film project”. Which was probably fair comment but hopefully January’s shaky start is now behind us and it will be much smoother sailing moving forward.

I soon got in the zone with this new-to-me camera

The inaugural roll of Kentmere 400 through the Zenit 12XP certainly gave no cause for concern. Despite not having a working meter (a defect since remedied by installing fresh batteries) I found it a joy to use. My preference for simple, intuitive cameras was well and truly satisfied with this sturdy and unpretentious camera. Zenit quality control often gets a bad rap but I was perfectly happy by the way this copy functioned and handled. Bear in mind too that this was its maiden voyage under my stewardship.

I did find that the field of view from the 58mm lens was a strange one to work with. It’s longer than the 35mm I typically use but not as obviously short telephoto as a 135mm lens would be. It’s stuck in an optical no-man’s land for my style of urban photography but was quite useful when moving in close for a more intimate composition. As there is still room within my FFP budget I might see if I can pick up something a little wider to use alongside the 58mm lens.

The 58mm lens is prone to flare, especially with the low winter sun in the scene

So, with the malfunctioning Sprocket Rocket RIP drama a thing of the past we start the next chapter in my FFP for 2023. I’m hoping it’s not going to be a saga!

Sprocket Rocket RIP

Testing the Rocket (II)

So, it’s been a few days since I tested the Sprocket Rocket with a roll of HP5+ and although the camera has been back on the shelf whilst I’ve pursued my nocturnal project I’ve still been cogitating quietly on the matter behind the scenes. Key questions in my head have been, will my metering plan work with the Kentmere 400 and should I wait until the February roll to find out?

My reader knows that doing nothing is rarely my answer to matters photographic however, especially when I have the means for doing something so readily available. I accordingly made up a short roll of the Kentmere 400 and loading the Rocket once again headed out.

Now, I’d already decided that I’d assume the camera was f11 and 1/200th (it could equally be f22 and 1/40th of course) and that I’d meter accordingly. The other question was at what speed to rate the film. I’d done some more online research and also consulted friend and technical consultant Andy (@holga_pics)and had decided to rate the film initially at ISO 200 although I might even move to ISO 125 at some point. A handy scrap of paper enabled me to check my logic (see below) and if the meter reading was 1/30th then I’d need seven shutter actuations to build the necessary exposure. Unless I took a tripod then I’d probably be looking at ICM [(un)intended camera movement perhaps?] given the typically grey day here in West Yorkshire.


I wasn’t looking for portfolio images but for the answer to the question “is it worth pursuing this quest for another 12 months?” As Andy had said:

The film is sub par and the camera is junk, so you’re trying to make a silk purse from a sows ear.

Sir Andy of Holga
Could Sir Andy be right?

In fairness I have to agree. The roll I put through the Nikon F801 was perfectly acceptable; not on a par with HP5+, why should it be, but OK. The camera is plastic, made with virtually no noticeable quality control that I can see and will almost certainly be donated to an unsuspecting victim once the December roll is in the tank. Form an orderly queue please!

I developed the film in Perceptol, freshly made stock solution, for ten minutes which is the recommended time for the film exposed at 400 ISO. The resulting negatives were an improvement but decidedly lacking in contrast. Perhaps this is a feature of the film but regardless as I’m digitising the negatives for this project it is not an issue. Every exposure was made using the principals outlined above. Where the metered exposure was shorter than 1/250th I gave just one shutter activation but on the whole erred on over exposing. Only one of the fifteen negatives exhibits any over exposure so I’m heading in the right direction. For February I will rate the film at 125 and develop in stock Perceptol I think.

Metered at 1/350th so single shutter actuation
Quite pleased with this – it’s definitely a distinctly lo-fi aesthetic
My favourite from this test and the last frame on the roll

I’ve now used six rolls of film testing this set up, including a roll of HP5+ and a roll of Kentmere 400 that I sent to a friend for an independent view. I have nine further rolls made up and stored in the cellar which should see me through until the October roll. There should be enough of the bulk film left for me to make rolls for November and December once I have a couple of donor cassettes available!

Next update will, hopefully, be in February.

Snapshots in the dark

A couple of days ago I reached an intermediate milestone in my 365 project – 1,900 consecutive daily images in an unbroken sequence from October 30th 2017. I wanted to mark the occasion suitably and after some cogitation decided to bring forward the handheld 5×4 in the dark idea I’ve been contemplating.

The choice of camera was easy. I recently purchased a 5×4 camera specifically for handheld large format photography. The Chroma Snapshot was the logical choice and whilst I’d some experience with a loaned copy this would be my first outing with my own which had arrived prior to Christmas but which a bout of the flu had prevented me from christening.

Chroma Snapshot, 65mm lens f5.6 1/30th handheld

As I’ve already written in an earlier post I’ve been using a Nikon F801 and Ilford HP5+ to gain some experience of photography in the dark with film so I was confident that, whilst I’d not finished my experiments, I had enough knowledge to make it a feasible proposition. I had a few sheets of HP5+ in 5×4 left from a project last year and so I loaded up a couple of film holders and set forth.

The lens I have paired with the Snapshot is a wide-angled 65mm but it only has a maximum aperture of f5.6, two stops slower than the f2.8 of my Nikon 24mm which I’d been using on the Nikon F801. Looking back at my notes, 1/15th to 1/60th of a second at ISO 3200 was the ballpark for exposure depending on how much streetlight was in the frame. Bear in mind that I was planning on handholding the Snapshot, I would have preferred to have set 1/60th but needing to make up at least two stops I went for the pragmatic choice of 1/30th and bumping ISO to 6400, knowing that I was heading beyond the 3200 limit that both Ilford and many online commentators considered the maximum for this film stock.

A bit of extra detail pulled out at the expense of some increase in grain

I had four sheets so would photograph one scene (top image) where the subject was reasonably well lit (well lit is a relative term at night) and I would get in close, a second would be a similar scene but from a distance of around 15 feet (middle image) and then two others where the scene was a wider field of view with the light points well scattered (bottom image).

Would have benefited from a little extra exposure

So, as the results above show this experiment was a reasonable success albeit with room for improvement in terms of my technique and perhaps also my copying of the negatives and subsequent processing. I will cogitate and come back to this in a future blog post.

For completeness, these sheets were developed in stock Microphen for twenty three minutes; the suggested time was twenty minutes thirty seconds which I rounded to twenty three to allow for the fact that I’d already used the chemicals for a previous roll.

The other thing to note is that all the images here were created by copying the whole negatives with a mirrorless camera as a single frame and then inverting the images in Snapseed. For improved quality I need to copy the negatives in three or four segments, stitching and processing them in Lightroom. I shall do that for the next stage of the experiment.

Watch this space!