Four little bits of Magic

Following on from yesterday’s post four more images from that first roll.

All of these were taken on the Rollei Magic using Ilford HP5+ which was developed in Ilford ID11, diluted 1+3 for twenty minutes at 20°.

Thus far I’ve put three rolls through the Magic and been very happy with the results. I’ve used several TLR cameras over the years but none have ever left me looking forward to taking them out again the way this little marvel does. Give me a few months and I will try to write a more balanced report! For now though there’s a fresh roll loaded and I’m waiting for a break in the wall-to-wall deluge to get outdoors.

Embrace the plastic

I recently dusted off the almost forgotten Lubitel 166B and popped a couple of rolls of Ilford FP4+ through its plastic goodness. I’m not going to write a review of the camera however as pretty much everything that needs to be said has already graced the online world and I don’t propose adding to the wordage (is that even a word?) afforded this delightfully quirky box.

The crop
The full frame

It’s a kinda magic

Or a Rollei Magic to be accurate.

The Magic, as I shall hereafter call it, is a medium format, twin-lens reflex (TLR) camera manufactured by German company Franke & Heidecke. It was Rollei’s answer to the demand for a TLR with an automated exposure control. The camera uses 120 roll film so there are no issues finding film. As is to be expected, twelve 6x6cm square images can be captured for each roll of film. By using a special mask set the camera can be adapted to produce 16 images of 4×4 or 4×5.5cm on a roll however that’s not something I have in my kit bag.

The Magic’s successor, the Rollei Magic II, has full manual controls whereas the Magic has very limited capability in this respect; it was designed to be quick and easy to use. Load, compose, click! A true point and shoot really even if it’s in a TLR body.

Automatic Perfect Pictures!

Rollei Magic brochure

I’d seen the camera several weeks ago in the local camera shop’s window. Compared to prices on a certain internet site it was very modestly priced so I did some further research. In a nutshell, if the meter is knackered then it’s an interesting paperweight – very nice to look at but very little practical use. So, when my wife went in to town again recently I asked her to pop in and ask about the meter, explaining it was a good buy if the meter worked. I fully expected her to return home with an answer, which she did, but wasn’t expecting her to have the camera in her bag though!

My first task was to check the meter. The needle reacted to varying light levels which was a good start. The shop, who I trust implicitly, said it worked and had even given a 3-month warranty to back up this assertion. I loaded a roll of HP5+ and headed out for a wander.

It works! Twelve evenly-spaced, properly exposed negatives. Result.

I’m looking forward to more time with this magic little camera and perhaps a few more blog posts too!

The Dentist

Since the pandemic started our weekly routine has undergone a massive change and as a result so has my photography. We no longer pop into Halifax or Huddersfield just to wander (me with a camera), have a look at the shops, enjoy a coffee or some lunch. Such trips are now based on necessity rather than leisure and so I’ve photographed closer to home far more extensively in the last two and a half years.

Can’t resist a shadow-selfie

These last few months though I’ve had an ongoing issue which has necessitated regular trips to my dentist which although I no longer work in the town is still based in Halifax. And a trip to the dentist always includes a wander with a camera. It’s my one photographic “rule”.

So, here are a few images from my most recent dental appointment and there’s not a molar or a drill in sight!

I got rain!

Last time out I was bemoaning the lack of rain. Well, not today. I’d already had a taste of light drizzle when I took the grandkids to school but as I set out for a wander with the cameras half an hour later it had stopped.

I turned right and walked to the end of our street. I decided that it was time I photographed the small row of shops opposite the entrance to Albert Street so took my battered Weston Master V from my jacket pocket. One glance at the dial and I knew I was going to have a challenging morning.

Challenging light … but at least not raining

The KMZ FT2 was loaded with Ilford Pan F, a 50 ISO film. Even the fixed aperture of f5 wasn’t enough to give me my preferred 1/200th second shutter speed. In fact even the “secret” 1/50th option wasn’t enough as the needle hovered between 1/20th and 1/30th. I’m a pragmatist though and accept that my choice of such basic, some might say crude, tools comes with such limitations. I’d deal with the problem later when I came to develop the film and once I knew what other compromises I’d had to make on this roll.

The other camera in my bag, you knew there’d be another I’m sure, was the Horizon S3 Pro. I have plenty of options with this one although I prefer to use it at f16 and 1/125th second. Again, my film choice was against me.

A partly used roll of Kodak Double X, was forcing me down to f8 at 1/30th. I rarely use any apertures other than f16 as images get quite soft from f8 onwards in my experience. The sweet spot is undoubtedly f16 with f11 as wide as I usually go.

I spent ten minutes at this spot. Using both cameras and seeing if I could get some blurry traffic but mainly waiting for a moment with no traffic. A moment which never came!

Nearly empty of cars!

Putting the S3 back in the bag and turning left I was debating walking straight on into the town centre or heading south through the back streets. Debate was cut short by a cloudburst though and I darted left under some well established trees to escape the worst of the rain. I’d wanted rain and now I had it!

Sheltering under the trees

I amused myself with some compositions under the trees, with even less light than before and employing the same settings though. I’d decided at that point that semi-stand development was going to be the way to go. The rain was clearly settling in so I decided to move on, across the playing field towards the town centre.

Half way around the field and I was already soaked. It was the classic situation, I had the right clothes on … but not for the prevailing weather. Ever the pragmatist I decided to cut my losses. The film in the KMZ was finished and there were only a few frames left in the S3. I was wet through, I’d not had any breakfast … so I headed north towards my favourite local cafe.

“Good morning! Your usual?”

No better greeting!

Whilst I ate the usual the rain eased and by the time I left the sun was making a feeble effort to peep out. I though had a date with a developing tank and some Rodinal!

#InstantRegret (not)

Throughout August my Twitter feed has been full of regret, of the instant kind!

The event is run by @ShittyCameraChallenge who are “a grass roots photography contest that encourages photographers to get out & make art using shitty cameras.” It’s not for the purists or the anal. The emphasis is on having fun and the only real restriction is that you can only use a camera of dubious quality. This August was dedicated to instant cameras and with plastic lenses and uncompromising recording media there was a heck of a lot of dubious quality but aesthetically wonderful images on display. From Polaroid and Instax to thermal printing paper there was a lot of variety to enjoy.

For a truly analogue experience I also chose to use a typewriter for the captions and for the same reason typed each only once, seeing errors and typos as part of the authentic vibe.

Whilst instant photography on the whole has a built-in lo-fi aesthetic it’s not a genre where you can just point and shoot willy-nilly and expect to get consistently great images. At least not in my experience. Much like traditional transparency films instant film is not the most tolerant of extremes of contrast for example. I therefore tend to look at a scene reasonably carefully (not to an anal degree though) and consider what will happen to highlights and shadows before pressing the button. Some of these cameras have a limited degree of manual control, emphasis on limited, but nevertheless this can be a real benefit in certain situations.

Polaroid SX-70 Sonar

Week 1 was all about Polaroid for me, the SX-70 Sonar to be precise. At £18 per pack (the cheapest I could find) this works out at £2.25 per image. It’s definitely not a camera to wave around indiscriminately! That said, I still experimented and so not every frame was a “keeper”. I shortlisted 19 of the 24 frames however and posted 16 to my INSTANTREGRET album.

But, it’s not just about cost. It’s about the aesthetic and the experience.

Before anyone who knows me objects, I know that I don’t usually like the word “experience” as in “customer experience” applied to visiting the bank to withdraw money. That’s a necessary chore … an experience for me is something outside of the realm of the daily humdrum of life. So, using a camera is definitely in the category of an “experience “ in my view. But I digress.

The SX-70 is a lovely old SLR camera using SX70 instant film, introduced in 1972 although my Sonar model hails from around 1978. It is of the right vintage for my first serious photography phase during my teenage years but at the time I worked exclusively with a couple of 35mm film cameras and never dabbled with instant photography. It sits very nicely in the (my) hand and handles beautifully. Even my 10-year old Grandson can handle it with confidence (see pic). Mine has no “frog tongue” to protect the newly ejected print, however I have developed a technique of twisting the camera upside down at the moment the print starts to eject which appears to do the same thing. It’s an odd looking camera compared to a standard SLR with no obvious hand grip … but as Zac demonstrates, it is incredibly easy to hold.

Week 2 saw the Instax Wide 300 camera in action. A large, chunky and clunky affair with some limited manual control available, it is my preferred instant film format. The image area is similar to the Polaroid and I also have a Wide printer that I use to print iPhone pics for giving to others.

Instax Wide 300

This printer allows me to instantly print phone pictures and also demonstrates that the film itself isn’t that bad. Limitations in the images from the Wide 300 are down to the camera rather than the film.

Week 3 Instax Square with the Instax SQ6 was the camera of choice next. I enjoy the square format. My Bronica SQ-A medium format camera produces fabulous 6x6cm negatives and whilst I know some people struggle with the format I thoroughly enjoy creating images within the square field of view. The only struggle this week was with time for photography. My wife and I provide childcare during the school holidays for our four daughters. With up to six grandchildren at a time and never less than two it’s been a busy time.

Instax SQ6

Week 4 is currently underway and was originally intended to be devoted to the Lomo Instant which uses Fuji Instax Mini film. However, the week isn’t going exactly to plan. With additional, unplanned, childcare our free time is less than expected. In addition I had an attack of FOMO* and rather recklessly added another instant camera at the last minute.

So, in addition to the Lomo Instant, with which I have a love-hate relationship, I also have a kids thermal print camera in the bag vying for attention. I will write about this latest addition at a later date but the images it produces are truly “shitty” and I love them!

Kids Thermal Print Camera

So, a quick update from the midst of the Challenge. I shall return to the theme several times over the coming weeks I’m sure. I will also share more images from the Challenge as I start to work through them prior to pulling together a commemorative zine.

Watch this space!

*FOMO – fear of missing out

Wednesday

After a day stuck indoors yesterday I decided I needed a wander before breakfast this morning. The wife was still asleep and as I had three cameras with part-exposed films in this was an ideal opportunity to kill two birds with the proverbial stone.

I surprised myself by heading for the front door. Taking the two or three strides from door to gate I hesitated. Left or right? I wasn’t used to exiting via the front of the house and momentarily I was confused. Turning right I noticed the light on West Vale, nestled down in the valley, I clearly had my photographer’s hat on this morning as I headed toward the top of the hill and a view down into the valley.

Horizon S3 Pro

I stopped to admire the view; it never fails to delight me. With the sun bright in a cloud bedecked sky I watched the patches of light and shade ripple across the landscape before reaching for the first camera.

Having captured images with all three cameras I hesitated again. Down the hill and then a long loop home with much of it uphill? Retrace my steps slightly and wander down Gog Hill which would also necessitate an uphill return. Or walk south, past my own front gate, and into the maze of streets that I wander so often? In the end my stomach decided. Part way down Gog Hill, then cut up behind the sheltered housing and down into the high street and my favourite café.

Gog Hill is the oldest extant street in Elland. Much changed, it had houses along part of its length at one point, it drops steeply down from the top of Elland to the River Calder and the Calder & Hebble Navigation. It is cobbled, poorly maintained and dry or wet it’s slippery but nevertheless I have walked up and down this overgrown lane countless times. For most of its length it is overhung by trees with walls on the opposite side and in the Summer the canopy of leaves keeps the lane shaded for most of the day.

Part way down I turned off the cobbles and turned right up some muddy steps. This part is nearly always dank and dark, little sunlight penetrates in the Summer and being Yorkshire it rains for much of the Autumn and Winter. It’s particularly overgrown at present and I had to duck and walk bent over before popping out onto the street behind the flats. Following the service road I passed the garages and came to the end of the road.

Turning left the familiar bulk of the rear of the Savile Arms pub was partly silhouetted by the sun rising behind it. The sun itself was partly screened by clouds and I thought the resulting contrasts would suit the long-expired ORWO NP27. I took a light reading, dialled it into the KMZ FT-2, making an allowance for the limited shutter speeds available. It was then that the sun, which had been playing silly-beggars from the moment I’d left the house, started a game of hide and seek with the clouds.

KMZ FT-2

By now I was conscious that I hadn’t broken my fast and with just a few frames left in my cameras I made the best of the opportunity before heading to the café which was now less than a hundred metres around two corners. A final couple of frames on the first corner saw all three cameras empty and with no further reason to dawdle I gladly sought out a medium breakfast and mug of Yorkshire tea.

By the way if you’re wondering what the two Polaroid images are all about you’ll need to watch for the forthcoming #InstantRegret post once it’s written! Or just find me on Twitter – @elland_in

Streetlife – shapes and shadows

For many photographers “street photography” conjures up thoughts of candid imagery of strangers but it isn’t what springs to my mind. For me, making images on the street is more about the interesting juxtaposition of elements in the scene, contrasts between the old and new perhaps or patterns created by light and shade. So much so that I tend not to use the term “street” preferring to label my images as “urban”. It’s not that I don’t use people in my photographs from the streets but they are generally contextual elements rather than the main subject.

Figures add scale and context but are not the main subject

Where I am more in tune with “street” is in the use of black and white imagery for the vast majority of my street/urban photography. Typically, but not exclusively, black and white film. The choice of film stock can have a strong impact on the final image and one of my current favourites is Kodak XX although I’ve used many others with Ilford HP5+ my most-used film stock over the last few years. I also like Kodak Tri-X when I can get it at a decent price.

The “right” light is important – this scene needed harsh sunlight to accentuate the contrasts

My cameras of choice for my urban wanders are typically smaller and quieter; I’m thinking of the Fuji X100T or X-Pro1 for digital work or the Nikon L35 AF or the half-frame Olympus Pen EE3 for 35mm film photography. That said I regularly use my Horizon S3 Pro which is to discrete as chalk is to cheese! Recently I found myself in Llangollen with a less-than-inconspicuous Bronica SQ-A in my hand and was surprised that it didn’t attract that much attention. I guess that as a tourist destination it was less out of place perhaps.

Medium format film camera on the high street
I’ve walked passed many, many times but only photographed the butty shop this once
Some scenes work well as pairs – this was the Nikon L35 but I often use the Olympus EE3 for these

I rarely have a preconceived plan when I take my urban walks preferring to react to what I see. There are some locations I’m more familiar with of course and I can often tailor my walk to suit the conditions when visiting one of these. As I mentioned above I’m generally looking for contrasts. These can be architectural as in an old church against a modern glass and chrome office building. Whilst the interplay of light and shade is a perennial favourite the use of solitary figures walking into patches of light has become a bit of a cliché, but that’s no reason not to include them in your own portfolio.

Opposite ends of the same complex

I would argue that the most important tool for the street/urban photographer however is an open mind. Keep the gear simple and your mind unfettered of preconceived notions. An experienced photographer sees opportunities in even the most banal of locations and this comes from a combination of experience and keeping an open mind that is receptive to the visual stimuli that are all around us.

It’s not always the picturesque that attract my eye – Llangollen
Halifax town centre
Just shapes and light

In an Instant

I posted recently about the Spring Polaroid Week and commented that I wouldn’t be contributing for various reasons. However, the act of blogging about ‘roid week motivated me to get the Instax Wide 300 camera off the shelf and to make a few images with it.

My collection of shadow images

Now, whilst I did make these images during the week I was insufficiently organised to get any of them posted to the Flickr group that I joined specifically for this purpose. Rather than leave them on the table unused though I have shared them here.

I’m a fan of the Instax Monochrome film too

There are two Instax Wide films – colour and monochrome. I like both although the colour, contrary to the norm, is cheaper to buy so tends to be my first choice. The monochrome does what it says, it produces monochrome prints. Not strictly black and white but definitely monochrome; to my eyes they have a blue/grey hue (see first image) but that’s easily cured if desired (above). For context, I do have mild colour blindness – one of the reasons I mainly use black and white film.

I’ve been sat here this morning wondering what it is about instant images that appeals so much. I’ve not come up with anything erudite however I do think the clue is in the title. It’s instant. It is the nearest a film photographer gets to the instant gratification of the digital worker. It is also very easy to share around with others and in the moment as it were. From capture to consumption – instantly.

So, having missed the boat for the Spring edition I am keeping my eyes open for the Autumn date. In the meantime I had a look back through my more recent instant images – the only proper way to do so was of course to get the box down from the shelf and tip them on the bed!

Instax Wide 300

Zero Image 5×4 Pinhole with Graflock Back, Instax Wide film
Intrepid 5×4 camera, Graflock back and Instax wide film

These first three are all Instax Wide film but with three very different cameras. As well as my Instax cameras (I own a mini and a square, the Wide belongs to my grandson) I also have a LomoGraflok back which enables the use of Instax Wide film with one of my 5×4 cameras.

The next couple I guess help answer the question “why?”, the ability of an instant camera to capture then immediately share the fun moments in life. Be they fun selfies with the grandkids or double exposure selfies, they capture spontaneous moments wonderfully.

Instax Square
Instax Mini – selfies and double exposures

The oldest instant camera in my small collection is a Polaroid SX-70 Sonar. A rather temperamental old warrior that has a charm all of its own although doesn’t always want to play ball.

Polaroid SX-70 and some slightly out of date film
Polaroid SX-70: same day, same location, same pack of film but different results

So, there you have it. A romp back through the (physical) archive of instant photographs covering the last 18-20 months. Looking through the box I kept the duds as well as the successes – hoping perhaps that they will become fashionable one day?

Polaroid Week 2022

This is Polaroid Week, an annual celebration of instant photography. I’ve had all sorts of instant cameras over the years but these days just a couple of Instax cameras adorn my shelf. However, there is a vibrant online community and I do enjoy seeing what is posted. From straightforward images of everyday life to fabulous fantasy creations the instant film community is thriving.

Out of date film is a lottery
But instant photography can be very rewarding
An instant twist on an iconic scene
One camera that I owned and used for a while is the Lomo’ Instant

I have however gone through occasional phases of using instant film as well as a fair number of different cameras and formats. I have blogged about it too of course on several occasions. My Perfectly Imperfect series springs to mind in this context too.

Priceless! Harry and the pepper plant he grew

So, whilst Instant photography isn’t something I do that often, it is priceless for capturing and sharing little moments. Harry is very proud of the pepper he grew from seed … this morning we took his picture with an Instax Wide and he’s proudly carried it to school to show his teachers. Priceless!

ps – the print behind mine is one he took himself

Lomography camera – Instax film
Double exposure: Instax Mini 90, Neo Classic.

So, to those of you celebrating Polaroid Week 2022, good luck, have fun and I’m with you in spirit!


The Big Orange
Finally, a link to the online ‘roid week album on Flickr