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!

Salford Quays Panoramas

Have you ever tried working with a KMZ FT-2, in its (n)ever-ready case, in the rain with an umbrella in one hand and the camera in the other?

I have … and even attempted some “street” at the same time.

The thing though, is that this camera has such a wide field of view that even with people just a few feet away they are still very small in the frame! This couple were no more than six feet away when I pressed the shutter release.

As ever, the FT-2 excelled with the architecture and not for the first time I was a little frustrated that I only get 12 images when I take the camera out. I’m not yet ready to take out a changing bag and the rest of the kit that would enable me to change film on the go however! You really need to think with this limitation. Perhaps next time I will take the kit and change rolls in the hotel overnight and that way get a roll, or twelve frames, a day. One to ponder.

I did try the typical “street” approach of finding a spot and waiting for someone to walk into frame but could only devote two frames to the experiment. Again, even with people reasonably close they are still tiny in the frame. However, I did manage to combine my two “allocated” vertorama frames with people in the frame so made the best of it.

A couple of vertoramas to finish

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.

New Tricks

It’s no secret that one of my film/developer favourite combinations is Ilford HP5+ and ID11 diluted 1+1. A couple of times recently however I’ve been caught out with HP5+ in my camera in totally the wrong situation and I’ve ended up knowingly overexposing the film and pulling it from the developer early to compensate. But is there a better way of dealing with this situation? It’s something I’ve been giving some thought to recently.

Coincidentally, at around the same time that I was quietly pondering this matter I also posed a question to the #believeinfilm community on Twitter regarding the developer Perceptol as I’d been given a few boxes a while back and it wasn’t a developer I am familiar with. Amongst the responses was a direct message from Andy (author of The Death of Photography) who is not only familiar with Perceptol but was wondering why I’d not used it with my overexposed HP5+. Was serendipity about to offer me a solution that resolved both questions?

“… when you did it, I thought Perceptol might be better …”

Andy Smale

Andy and I continued to exchange messages on the subject, whilst at the same time others were chipping in on Twitter and I also set to it, researching further and eventually formulating a plan. Not an original plan mind you, turns out this is a fairly common approach but it’s new to me.

Which is why after breakfast I loaded a roll of HP5+ into the Horizon S3, set my meter to 250 and went for a walk around the block. Now, admittedly, it’s distracted me from writing up my thoughts on loading the KMZ FT-2 (sorry Bill T) but I needed to check this out for myself. And I needed to do it … now!

One of the reasons that developing HP5+ in Perceptol is a common approach is that this is a very fine grain developer and properly exposed negatives have a very clean and detailed look to them. There seems to be some debate at whether or not you should meter at box speed of 400 or at 250 although in photography this sort of disagreement is normal. I decided to take Andy’s advice not least because another photographer, co-host of The Lensless Podcast no less, also got in touch to recommend metering at ISO 250. You don’t ignore good advice when given so freely and it was also the whole point of the exercise – dealing with a theoretically overexposed roll of film.

The Ilford website recommends developing HP5+ rated at 250 in stock Perceptol for 13 minutes and at this stage I see no reason to ignore this advice. Whether or not I vary from that in the future will depend upon the results over the next few months. So, I will be taking a break from writing this post to develop the film and will be back later with my conclusions.

INTERLUDE: Insert Muzak of your choice …

So, welcome back. Hopefully you enjoyed your choice of music … but don’t blame me if you didn’t!

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

We have negatives and they look very nice to me. Bags of detail, crisp and clean. Unfortunately, the digital scans that I am able to produce at home, whilst perfectly good for most things cannot do total justice to any negative. These have a pleasant, well-controlled grain and when compared on a light box with some pulled negatives using ID11 are noticeably cleaner.

So, from an online discussion on Wednesday I was out with the camera on Thursday morning to expose a roll of film, which was developed Thursday afternoon and now a blog post uploaded on the same Thursday teatime.

Very bright – f16 1/250th (Sunny 16 no less)
A simple inversion – no global or local adjustments. The detail is clear to see
Bags of detail under that bench – a simple inversion with just a Levels adjustment to improve global contrast

Am I happy? Yes. The developer gave me everything I was looking for and I wish I’d been aware of this before I pulled my over-exposed HP5+ prematurely from a tank of ID11 on Tuesday. It is however another tool in my personal tool kit and that is a positive. I am going to deliberately over-expose some HP5+ over the coming weeks to see if these results are repeatable (I strongly suspect they are). As I already enjoy HP5+ rated at 400 and I regularly rate it at 800 it’s looking as if this film might also fulfil my needs at lower ISOs too. No wonder someone described it to me recently as the Swiss Army knife of black and white films

In closing, I would reiterate that photography is a very personal thing and just because one, or a hundred people say something is the way to go doesn’t mean to say it’s the way for you. Your tastes, your aesthetic are personal to you and I’d always recommend listening to the advice and thoughts of others but then trying things for yourself before committing to a method. I followed my own advice today and tried the suggestions of various people for myself, was very pleased with the results and have just order a bulk roll of HP5+ which by my estimation will use up the four litres of Perceptol I have here … by the end of that I will have tested thoroughly and will know if this is to become a regular feature of my photography.

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

My 365 Project picture of the day for 5th August 2021

Finally, thanks to Andy, Andrew, Jason and John amongst others for their thoughts on this process and for helping me down this particular rabbit hole! Also a huge shout out to John Martin who saved me from a technical meltdown!

I can never resist a vertorama!

An A-F of the KMZ

I introduced the KMZ FT-2 swing-lens panoramic camera in an earlier post and today I would like to talk about operating the camera. Loading the camera is … let’s say interesting. I will therefore dedicate all of the next “KMZ post” to the subject. Finally, in a future post I will try to reflect on my experiences using and composing images with this camera and offer some thoughts on getting the best from the format.

First off, the top plate, which contains all the controls, looks complicated but in reality this is a very simple camera to operate. Handling and getting the best from the camera may not be simple but the mechanical operation is. Let’s look at these.

  • A – wind-on knob
  • B – shutter cocking lever
  • C – shutter release
  • D – frame counter
  • E – shutter speed selectors and aide memoire
  • F – bullseye level

So, let’s take A and D together. The wind-on knob (A) can only be turned in a clockwise direction and there’s a small arrow to remind the user which way this is. With film loaded the action of turning the wind-on also moves the indicator on the frame counter (D). Given the length of each negative three full turns are required following each exposure ro advance the film to the next frame. It’s not difficult though, before winding on, check what frame number you are on. You then turn the knob three times, each time it comes back to that starting number counts as one rotation. Do this three times and then finally twist a little more to move the dial to the next frame number. In fact, it’s easier to do than explain in writing.

Because it’s my blog post I’m going to turn now to E. Two little levers which can be set in four different configurations as displayed in the handy reference schematic. You will have noticed that there are only three configurations shown. Placing both levers horizontally gives the equivalent of 1/50th second. It’s not well documented but an open “secret” amongst users. The levers apply brakes to the rotating lens turret which in turn enables the different shutter speeds. In the vertical position the relevant brake is off so when both levers are set to vertical the brakes are truly off. More of that in a moment.

Moving to B, the shutter cocking lever. When you are ready to make your exposure, simply turn it to the right and click it in place. It needs a positive action, no namby pamby twists here. When you trip the shutter release (C) the lever will clunk back in place with a very definite thud, especially at the 1/400th setting. At this point, let’s take a short detour and talk about torque.

Having done some reading, I believe that torque is the rotational equivalent of linear force … and boy does the FT-2 have some torque, especially at 1/400th second when all the brakes are off. 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. You can feel the camera kick in your hand too. All of 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. But, let me stop before I digress even further.

Double, triple … multiple exposures are yours with the KMZ FT-2

The final item on the top of the camera is a bulls-eye spirit level (F). A bull’s eye level is a type of spirit level that allows for the leveling of planes in two dimensions — both the ‘pitch’ and ‘roll’ I’m told by those who talk in nautical terms. Standard tubular levels only consider one dimension so this is a handy addition. It takes practice but is easy to use once you get the hang of it. However, it’s only really of any use if you can see the top of the camera whilst using it, which means when using the camera at eye level, you’re on your own!

One quirk of this camera is that it doesn’t accept our usual 35mm film cassettes. Film has to be transferred into one of the special film cassettes before it can be loaded. Owing to the fact that Jon’s camera came with both of these bespoke film cassettes whereas mine has just the one, operation of the two differs slightly and I’ve also had to create some workarounds for my own circumstances. But more of that next time.

So, there we have it. A simple enough camera to operate once the film is loaded (more of that next time). It’s almost a point and shoot in some ways, albeit a very quirky one with manual exposure control. It’s biggest selling points, the 120° angle of view and triple-sized 35mm negatives, however make this a fabulous creative tool especially with some practice.

Going with the swing

My partiality to Russian-made, swing lens panoramic cameras is no secret. I’ve owned and used three Horizon cameras in the last ten months: the Kompakt, 202 and S3 Pro. I eventually made a decision to reduce my collection to just one, mainly because two of them were gathering dust as I evolved a workflow that combined the flexibility of the S3 Pro with the spontaneity of the Kompakt.

Horizon S3 Pro

I was therefore comfortably set up with the S3 Pro, a pocketful of Ilford HP5+ (Tri-X on the rare occasions when it was affordable) and my eye was becoming ever more attuned to the panoramic 24 x 58mm format and the 120° field of view. And then along came … not Johnny but Jon!

Once more down the rabbit hole …

That short exchange on social media contains two seeds which bring us to where we are today. The offer of the loan of a KMZ FT-2 and the lead which ended in the subsequent purchase of my own copy of this quirky, odd-looking camera. Rather than re-hash what’s already been written into my own words here’s what the Lomography website has to say about the KMZ FT-2:

Manufactured by the Krasnogorsky Mechanichesky Zavod (KMZ) between 1958 and 1965, the FT in its name stands for “Fotoapparat Tokareva” which means “Tokarev’s camera.” Interestingly, camera historians say that “Tokarev” actually refers to the Russian weapon designer Fedor Vasilievich Tokarev, who was a personal friend of Joseph Stalin.

Lomography.com

Odd-looking certainly, but this is a compact and surprisingly hefty little camera. In theory it should give you 12 negatives measuring 24 x 110mm on a roll of 36 exposure film. However, in my, admittedly limited experience thus far, I’ve only reached the dizzy heights of 11 frames on one occasion and never 12! The film also needs to be loaded into special light-proof cassettes which are notoriously difficult to get hold of. The camera I borrowed had both but (spoiler alert) the copy I bought had just the one.

Unlike the S3 which has a 28mm lens the FT-2 sports a 50mm lens which swings through 120° from right to left. The viewfinder is a simple metal frame that can be folded over the camera’s back when not in use. On top of the camera, amongst an initially bewildering array of knobs and dials, is a very basic, round spirit level. Let’s take a look.

Confused? It’s easier than it appears at first glance.

My regular reader has already seen some images from both the borrowed FT-2 and my own copy. In my next FT-2 post I will cover the challenges of loading this camera, the added complications of only having one cassette instead of two and my initial thoughts on how the camera handles.

The FT-2 packs a lot of real estate into every frame