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Thursday, January 11

Lost for words

It's been a while since my last post and I've had a few enquiries from readers wondering what I'm up to and if I'm still above ground so I thought it was about time for an explanation. Probably long overdue to be honest.

The post title sums up the situation nicely: I just haven't had much to say recently. I haven't taken a photograph for about ten weeks or so and haven't felt any urge to do so. It coincides with my better half, Cath, deciding to join me in early retirement. Far from making use of all this free time and getting stuff done we've sort of kicked back, changed into joggers and slippers (metaphorically speaking) and have been taking it easy.

When I'm in full photographic mode I'm constantly on the look out for pictures even when I don't have a camera to hand. I just can't help it. For the last couple of months, that tendency has come to a complete halt. I've just stopped looking altogether. When I realised that, I got a bit worried that I'd lost my enthusiasm and I've resolved to get clicking once more. No doubt, as soon as I get serious about photography again, I'll slot straight back into picture-hunting mode.

I haven't been completely inactive on the hobby front as I've been working on a couple of my vintage bicycle projects (a 1950s Flying Scot and a 1944 F. C. Parkes if anyone is interested). They're not totally unrelated to my photography, however. If you read my last post you'll recall the idea I have to document the Carse of Gowrie? Well, I decided that the best way of seeing the whole area would be by bike rather than in a car.

I love driving and know the Carse very well already but there are plenty of wee dirt tracks and farm roads that are better explored on two wheels. Then there's the opportunity with a bike of stopping wherever I fancy and not having to find somewhere to park a car that doesn't block the narrow country roads.

Unbelievably for someone who has enough frames and parts to equip a small Tour de France team I don't have a functional bike of my own! That's because I like bikes from the 30s, 40s and 50s and everything is old and in need of restoration. It's not just a case of walking into my nearest bike shop and buying some bits and pieces: the stuff I need isn't readily available unless I want to ditch the idea of a "period correct" build. I've got boxes of old bike parts but there always seems to be one wee part that stalls a restoration. So I decided it was time to sort myself out and do up a couple of bikes that seemed to be more or less complete in terms of having all the right bits - and that's why my darkroom now resembles a bicycle workshop.

The type of bike best suited for the job is one with fat, comfortable tyres, an upright riding style so I can see over hedgerows and "relaxed geometry" for stable handling when carrying a heavy camera bag and tripod on a rear carrier. I had a little bit of Christmas money burning a hole in my pocket and happened across a nice Raleigh Superbe (that's it below) on Gumtree that's about an hours drive away. I made the seller an offer, he accepted and, as soon as he's shaken off the 'flu, I'll nip over and pick it up.

The Raleigh Superbe. I'll replace the ladies saddle with a nice Brooks Pro and
lose the dress guard over the back wheel - I don't wear long enough skirts to need
one of those.

It's nothing like the type of bike I normally go for being too modern (1980) and a roadster type rather than a vintage racer but it should be perfect for pootling around the Carse. Plus, the basic design of the Superbe changed very little over its near 60 year life span so a pre-war one isn't much different from the later versions. So hopefully, within a couple of weeks or so, I'll be back out there with a camera and getting some much-needed exercise into the bargain.

The pic at the top of this post, which is just for decorative purposes, was taken back in October and was the last print I made in the darkroom prior to its temporary change of use. It's a not-very-original view of Broughty Ferry, a small, well-to-do suburb of Dundee,  which I took whilst waiting for Cath to emerge from the hairdressers. The castle in the distance is 15th century Broughty Castle. I was facing east taking the photo and it was mid-morning but I've printed it on the heavy side for dramatic effect. This is a very common view of Broughty Ferry so I can't claim much credit in the artistic stakes.

I wasn't sure at the taking stage whether I saw this as a silhouette or with some detail in the land so I hedged my bets and took a shot on auto on the Contax RTS and another at plus two stops. My walkabout camera has morphed into the RTS with a 28-135 Tamron SP zoom, shoved into a Lowepro holster bag. It's not the lightest combination ever but it's very versatile.

The zoom is nice except at the 135mm end where the contrast drops off a little. There's a little more distortion as well but that sort of things is to be expected and is one of the penalties for having the equivalent of 28mm, 50mm and 135mm lenses in the one package. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how sharp the lens was at 135mm on this occasion and the pic was handheld at f11.

It was really the Cormorant sitting on the wee spit of land jutting into the river in the foreground that caught my eye. It was a case of waiting until it turned it's head so I could catch it in profile and not just record it as a shapeless lump. Exposure on Ilford MGIV FB matt was 5 seconds at f11 on the Leitz 1C. I was using a Grade 4 filter and the sky got a total of another 10 seconds at the same grade to give it a bit of oomph.

Thursday, November 9

On Projects...

Grange Orchard, Carse of Gowrie.
Zeiss Super Ikonta, Tmax 400, printed on Ilford MG IV FB

"Project" is proving to be a right four-letter word for me at the moment. As we all know, projects are a brilliant way of providing some direction for our photography, of keeping the senses keen and - at the very least - giving us something to point the camera at when inspiration is in short supply.

I'm great at starting projects. In fact, I could be the best there's ever been. Sadly, I'm the worst at finishing them. I've never finished anything I've started really. They're not failures as such as they're open-ended and I can go back to them at any time. Who knows, I might pick one or two of them up in future. However, the fact that I haven't so far shouldn't be ignored when assessing my ability to start something and see it through to the end.

And yet, here I am again kicking around some ideas for projects. Will I be able to complete the deal this time? Is there any point to a half-finished project? I've been thinking about embarking on a big (for me) project but I've been keeping quiet about it because I didn't know if I was up to the task. It was James Ravilious that got me thinking about it. Or rather, his book, A Corner of England.

Photography largely performs two functions, as decorative art and social documentary. It's the art side of things that I've always been more interested in but the book planted a documentary seed in my brain that has since germinated and flowered. It either needs to be harvested now or zapped with weedkiller.

This project idea is quite simple. I want to document The Carse of Gowrie over the next two years with the idea of, hopefully, putting on a wee exhibition somewhere at the end of it. I should say that part of me wants to document it. The other part says, "It's too big a job and you don't like photographing people." Brutally honest, that other part.


For whatever reason, I've always had a fear of failure. It's what spurred me on at school and in sport. I used to be fiercely competitive as a lad but have mellowed like a fine wine as I've grown older. Some would say I've just grown foostie*. I suppose I'm worried that I might "fail" if I took on the project.

So I sought to define failure in this context. What would it look like in social documentary terms? Well, I can handle the technical side of things so I'm not worried about that. But what if, heaven forbid, I spent two years producing lots of boring, mundane photographs? Yes, I'd classify that as failure. How real is that possibility?

The Carse has an amazing variety of things happening within a quite restricted geographical area so, on the face of it, there shouldn't be too much difficulty finding stuff to point a lens at. However, I know from past experience that there's not a lot in terms of countryside or environment that has the "wow factor" so we're not talking Ansel Adams country here. Or even Gomez Addams.

But, and, as they say, it's a big but, does that really matter? The aim must be to show the Carse as it is now, boring bits, warts and all. The idea is that people will hopefully look at my pictures in years to come and say so that's what life was like then. Not, "Wow, look at the bokeh on that shot".  Or, "Yes, that 300mm lens really has compressed the perspective nicely." And, if worst came to the worst and I failed according to my own criteria, what would it matter? Who'd give a toss beyond me? There's no piper to pay if you're playing your own tune, is there?

Photographic Gold

Another obstacle to overcome is my penchant for trying to photograph things as they were and not as they are. Ravilious was mining photographic gold in his quiet corner of England both in terms of the landscape and the people, a way of life that hadn't changed too significantly for much of the 20th century. A comprehensive account of the Carse would look quite 21st century as you might expect and just couldn't possess the same charm as 1970s/80s rural England. And people? Yes, I'd have to photograph lots of them in covering the area's varied commercial and industrial aspects and one thing this blog is not over-endowed with is pics of people.

Unusually for a journalist, I just never found people as interesting as buildings and things. I know that must sound terrible to many folk but "human interest" stories never did much for me - and I wrote more than my fair share of them, tear-jerkers and all. It's pretty much the same when it comes to photographing people: if they're not family or friends then they don't hold my attention as much (although Ravilious's people shots are making me re-think that somewhat). I photographed people almost every working day during my first year as a reporter in a district office (and learned a lot from the local Fife freelance, David Ireland) and I suppose I could get used to it again - if I had to.

Here's another "but". The prospect of having to photograph people changed the whole exercise for me. It went from being something I was really beginning to look forward to with some excitement to a job of work. I always knew it would be difficult building enough enthusiasm for the people shots. I just get no creative buzz from that type of photography. And the creative buzz is the only reason I pick up a camera.

I even, sort of, made a start to the Carse project. It happened a few weeks ago. It was a day filled with drizzle and showers - perfect photography weather for me. I hadn't been out to the Carse for a couple of months so decided to visit the biggest village, Errol. In the bag were a Nikon F90 and 35mm and 85mm Nikkors - an almost perfect little outfit. A roll of Tmax 400 was standing by for duty.

Clotted Cream

There was an interesting-looking building on the main street running through the village that I wanted to photograph whilst standing up a pend on the opposite side of the road. It was all old brick with mortar highlights the colour of clotted cream, some of which were reflected in the puddles on the road. It was nice but it lacked something - a human figure. There weren't too many people about - understandable given the weather - and those that were seemed to be running from car to shop and back again. Then I saw a young woman, hood up, pushing a pram and towing a West Highland Terrier. She was on the same side of the road as the building and walking towards it. Superb!

So, I'm standing under the roof of the pend, looking through the viewfinder with trigger finger cocked and the safety off and waiting for her to appear in front of the building - when she suddenly loomed directly in front of me! She'd crossed the road to enter the same pend! I started laughing and said, "You've just spoiled my photograph." I explained about my idea of a figure in front of the building and she volunteered to cross the road and walk past - in the rain.** What a lass.

Back in the pend, she asked me why I was photographing Errol and I heard myself saying, "Well, I've got this idea for a photographic project about the Carse with maybe a wee exhibition at the end of it..." I thought that might have been my "crossing the Rubicon" moment but no. Since then I've hummed and hawed, weighed the pros and cons and sought out countless other hackneyed expressions useful to the arch-procrastinator until I was almost catatonic. Then I did it all over again.

You're probably sitting there wondering why I'm over-thinking this instead of just going and doing it. The truth is I over-think a lot of things in life. You know how a big dog needs a lot of exercise? Well, a big brain is the same. Haha. So that's Project One - parked in neutral while I try to summon up enough revs to get started.


Project Two is a little easier but I'm still nowhere near committed to it either. During the 19th and 20th centuries, governments bought up privately-owned land, divided it into bite-sized chunks and rented it to various categories of people, including war veterans, so that they could earn a subsistence living working their plot in some way. These "smallholdings" became quite popular. Scotland has around 20,000 of them at the last count. There's a sub-division of these called, if I remember correctly, small landholdings. Smallholdings can be rented or privately-owned but small landholdings are always tenanted.

In Scotland, there are fewer than 100 small landholdings left and it's anyone's guess how long they'll be around although the Scottish Government has been taking an interest in them recently. They would seem like a good subject for a project especially since I think we have a handful here on the northern outskirts of Dundee which might make a good start.

So what's the problem with this project? I think I'm about 30 years too late. Had I started in the 1980s I think I would have found some of the older practices and customs extant. Now? Well, I've skirted around the edges of what I believe are the small landholdings with a camera whilst photographing a nearby beech wood and the plots didn't look all that different from ordinary countryside gardens, only bigger. There are one or two small tractors, a couple of big sheds, some signs of livestock and a general air of untidiness but nothing too bad - or too good from a photographic point of view, if you know what I mean. Would I be able to get anything vaguely coherent in project terms from these plots? I'm going to have a closer look over the next few days. I wouldn't describe Project Two as "parked": it's more like I'm just driving by very slowly with the window down taking it all in.

Mid-life Crisis

Project Three is dead easy but isn't likely to be very fulfilling from an artistic point of view. I want to photograph my youth. I've had this idea kicking around for ages, made a tentative start a few years ago but didn't take it any further (sounds familiar?). The idea, in a nutshell, is that I'd make a list of memorable places from my youth into my teenage years and photograph them. Prints would be made and pasted in a project journal with a write-up for each one explaining the photograph's significance.

I thought my off-spring might find something like this interesting. I'd certainly have loved it had my own father been able to do something similar but we're all different and computers have fried the minds of most young people in my experience so my best effort could end up at the local dump at some indeterminate point in the future. Despite that, I think I'll go ahead with this project partly because it's so accessible: I can walk to a lot of the significant places I'm talking about and many of them are still standing. Official status? I've just chucked the keys to the valet parking attendant and I'm headed to the bar for some refreshment before getting started.

So that's where I'm standing with regard to possible projects. One should go ahead but the other two will need yet more thought - unless I adopt the "Screw it - let's do it!" attitude of Richard Branson.

* Urban Dictionary: Scottish. "disgusting, putrid, over-ripe, mouldy, etc."

** Despite writing above that I was confident I could handle the technical side, I failed miserably with this photograph. For some reason that still escapes me, I'd loaded Tmax 100 into the Nikon but had over-ridden the DX coding and set the ISO dial to 400 ISO. I tried to recover the situation a little by extending development in Rollei RHS DC and got a very under-developed set of negs. A bit of research showed that a two-stop push is a big no-no for Tmax 100 in this brew. I think the shot was just never meant to be.

Friday, November 3

Old cameras and old cars

Some photographers, collectors mainly, refuse to use their cameras in the real world in case the instrument suffers a mark or sustains a fall, rendering it less than perfect. I remember reading about one photographer - not a collector - who loved his Leica M6 so much that he would never take it on holiday with him and struggled to even give it an airing outdoors.

It's easy to have a chuckle at that sort of behaviour as a camera is there to be used and damage, slight or otherwise, is one of the risks we take when subjecting what is after all a tool to the rigours of the countryside or street. Imagine a joiner leaving his favourite plane in a display cabinet.

And yet, although I don't have the camera version of this disorder, I do, sadly, have the old car variant. When it comes to cameras, I've always treated my equipment with great respect, taking good care of it and making sure never to drop a camera or lens (still haven't, touch wood) or bash it about with reckless abandon as I've seen some photographers doing.

My old Saab 900 (above) is a different matter, though. I've been treating "Magnus" a bit like a camera collector treats his mint, black-painted M3. I've had it two-and-a-half years and in all that time I've done fewer than 4,000 miles in it. Saabs were well-made cars but they're not indestructible and I'm wary of the effect our salt-laden roads will have on the vulnerable bodywork in the depths of winter.

I've restricted it to occasional summer outings on good days, limiting the car's exposure to rain. Every fortnight I empty the best part of a can of WD40 on the wheelarches and the inside bottoms of the doors, both particularly good areas at cultivating large quantities of rust if not given regular attention. The underside of the bonnet gets similar treatment and any other suspect areas are slathered in water dispersing grease.

The upshot is that, for a 28-year-old car that's spent its life on British roads, it's in very nice condition. At least, that's what I believed until recently. I was cleaning out the boot area when I thought I felt some roughness on the metal work at the back of the rear offside wheelarch. I looked down into the corner and saw a light red staining that set alarm bells ringing. Out came the iphone and I took a pic of an area I couldn't actually see from where I was standing as it was underneath the overhanging parcel shelf and supporting metalwork. It showed this:

It was a surprise to say the least and means that a little welding will need to be done to the affected area. It's not a huge problem but I'd always liked the idea that the car had remained unmolested by any welder since it left the Saab factory. It was undersealed from new and there is no sign of the rusty patch from the outside of the car. Obviously, though, water has been finding its way into that remote corner, probably through a pin hole or two in the underseal, and has been able to work away undisturbed and out of reach of my can of WD40.

The discovery got me thinking about the use I was making of Magnus. But instead of becoming overly protective and locking the car away in the garage for even longer periods, I decided to get it out on the road more often instead. The thing is, I love the Saab 900. I drove hundreds of cars when I wrote a weekly motoring column for my paper but it was always the robust and dependable Swede that I liked the most.

Plenty of other cars were "better" than the Saab but none had its character or quirkiness. I suppose it was a bit like me - solid, reliable, not flashy but, in Turbo guise, with a distinctly sporty nature. Haha. It just fitted me like a glove. It was also good to discover that several surveys in the 1970s and 1980s found that Saab drivers were rated the best, nicest and most considerate on the road. How could I take issue with those findings?

So my mint, black M3, so to speak, is going to have its protective wrapping removed, the doors of its display cabinet left open and lots of time spent in my company. I'll still try my best not to drop it or bang the rangefinder off a door but it will have to take its chances from now on. I'm 56 and the Saab, properly maintained will see my boots off. The key is regular preventative maintenance. Yes, had it continued its cossetted life in the garage it might have been in better condition when we finally went our separate ways but all that would have meant was that my two sons would have inherited a splendid vehicle for which they had no real interest.

Much better, I think, that the one who really appreciates the Saab 900 gets to use it on an almost daily basis - even it that means, in time, almost wearing it out. I was helped in reaching this conclusion by a local chap who I see out regularly in his late 1960s Old-English White Morris Minor Traveller. The car's not perfect by any manner of means but he obviously loves his Moggie and wants to drive it every day. So he does. That's how I feel about the Saab and it's why the car will now become a more common sight on Dundee roads.

This is the garage at our old house but it's the kind of view Magnus will have to
get used to.

Friday, October 27

The imperfect Leica bag

People all over the internet spend an inordinate amount of time searching for the perfect bag in which to carry their Leica(s). Of course, there can be no such thing: only the perfect bag for you. No surprise then that there are myriad suggestions for this particular holy grail. Here, then, is another.

I spoke a few days ago about the Leica man jewellery industry that guys like Steve Huff and others milk - and there's nothing at all wrong with that. Fortunately, I've not been attracted down that particular road, except where the Ona Bowery bag is concerned. They make two with that name - leather and canvas. It's the leather one I like and any colour would do. I can feel the high quality of the full grain leather through the pictures.

This is what a leather Ona bag looks like when new!

Not huge but big enough.

Don't recognise that Leica - obviously a fake. They even left off the
wind-on lever. Amateurs.

The bags are very compact but big enough for a Leica film body and a few lenses. A Nikon F and a couple of lenses would do as well. They wear quickly but look better the more they age. As luck would have it, I'm too grounded (aka impoverished) to meet the £250 asking price so I started looking around for something that would do the job for a lot less money even if it was likely to mean a lot less style. As it turned out, the price of membership to this not so elite club was most affordable. Let me introduce the Lowepro Nova 2.

The Nova 2. My studio assistant decided to literally take a back seat for this shoot.

I've had a couple of Lowepro bags over the years and they've always been well-made and hard-wearing. This one was an Ebay purchase and is in excellent condition with very little apparent wear. It was a bit of a risk since it's difficult knowing exactly how big or small a bag is until you've got it in front of you. But the opening bid was just £4.99, there were no takers and I got lucky. Mind you. it's not the bargain of the century as I've since seen one at Ffordes for a tenner. They just don't seem to be in big demand. The Nova 2 is no longer made but they do come up not infrequently on the usual sites.

I took to the Nova 2 straight away. I offered up the M2 and 50mm Summicron, the MDa and 35mm Summaron and the 90mm Elmar and everything fitted perfectly. Those bits filled the main compartment but there were still several pockets left for things like filters, a cable release, notebook and pencil, film and my exposure meter. All in a very compact package - just what I was looking for.

My notebook and pencil are in the zipped rear pocket. Waist pack conversion
possible via the vertical belt loops.

Net pockets on either side fine for a few rolls of film,

The underside of the shoulder strap showing the grippy anti-slide pad.

As is usually the case with a new bag, I started mucking about to see what other configurations I could come up with. Out came the MDa and Summaron to be replaced by my Konica Hexar AF. The Super Ikonta fits in place of the Elmar and a Rollei TLR could pair up nicely with the M2 and Summicron. Or a Rollei and the Hexar AF, perhaps.

So, the accommodation of the A2 comprises: main compartment with two dividers, zipped pockets at the rear and the top flap, springy net pockets on either side and a zipped net pocket on the underside of the "lid", front zipped pocket enclosing zipped net pocket and two small flap-type pockets. The main compartment is protected on all sides, top and bottom by some nice, thick padding. None of the other pockets has any padding. There's a grab handle on the lid and a permanently attached shoulder strap and stitched-in shoulder pad with a grippy underside to prevent it sliding down your nylon anorak. The bag also has two loops at the rear so you can attach it to your belt as a waist bag.

Access to the main compartment is good, particularly if you wear the bag diagonally across your body rather than hanging from a shoulder. It's also safe enough to leave the lid unzipped and close the bag using the plastic buckle on the top flap.

Access to the zipped main compartment beneath the flap.

Left to right: M2 and 50mm Summicron, 90 mm Elmar and Hexar AF.

The bag is quite tall and will swallow a TLR without any bother.

Front pocket is good for accessories and odds and ends.

It would have been handy if the shoulder strap had been detachable when using it as a waist bag. A padded side pocket or, better still, two in place of the side nets would have provided somewhere safe to store another wee rangefinder lens. There are no "feet" on the underside so you wouldn't want to sit the bag down on a muddy surface but the overall design does seem to suggest that the Nova 2 would be fairly water resistant. Hopefully that will prove the case as there's no pull out waterproof cover.

One of the few great advantages of the Nova 2 over the Ona Bowery is that the Lowepro is almost disposable. Spill a mug of coffee over your Ona and it might spoil your week. Spill it over the Nova 2 and you'll just order another coffee. So am I saying I'd rather have a Nova 2 than an Ona Bowery? Are you mad? Give me the Ona every time. But, style aside, I now have a nice, wee, imperfect Leica bag that should do the job perfectly. All that's left to do is find out how to spend the £245 I've just saved.

Monday, October 23

Olympus OM to Leica M adapter

MDa with 35mm Olympus finder and 24mm Zuiko.

As revealed in an earlier post, I'm planning on using a 24mm Zuiko lens from my Olympus SLR outfit on the viewfinder-less Leica MDa or the M2 along with a separate finder in the cold shoe. I ordered the adapter for the OM lens from Amazon (adapters for other SLR makers' lenses are also available) and it came the following day.

It's a K&F Concept brand that was about £17 and first impressions are good. The adapter, described as an "OM-L/M", looks to be quite well engineered although some slightly rough edges show where savings have been made. They're nothing problematic but had this been, say, a £150 Leitz adapter, every part would have been finished to the same high standard. I'd give the build quality and finish about 6.5 out of ten. Not stellar but certainly good enough to do the job required.

Everything lines up nicely with the focus and f-stop marks in the right place.

Everything considered, I think the Zuiko looks fine on a Leica.

The adapter fits onto the Leica M mount very well indeed, clicking securely into place and showing no signs of wobble or looseness. It also attaches well to the Zuiko but requires just a little bit more effort to slide it round and lock it into place. With the lens attached to the camera, I can find no sloppiness or wobble anywhere. It's a good, solid adapter that seems to have been made with quite fine tolerances. The interior of the adapter appears to be well blackened so, hopefully, flare won't be an issue. So far, so good.

There's no physical connection with the M2's rangefinder and the MDa doesn't have one so hyperfocal or zone focusing are likely the order of the day. With a 24mm lens stopped down to f8, depth of field at 8 feet stretches from 4 feet to infinity so it's not much of a problem. Even at f4 you're getting 9 feet to infinity in focus. Of course, some people have a handy knack of being able to estimate distances quite well and will find this sort of thing a breeze.

Without an adapter (had this been possible) the Zuiko wouldn't have looked
 out of place at all.

There's no need for any glass elements in the adapter to enable infinity focus to be achieved so, in theory, I should be able to get the same lens quality from the Zuiko/M2 that I get using the wide angle on an Olympus body. That's very decent quality indeed. The 24mm f2.8 Zuiko has yet to disappoint me and I've used it quite a bit. With the lens mounted, the stop-down lever is depressed so you're always at the indicated aperture. That means that even if your Zuiko has lazy aperture blades, not uncommon with some older lenses, it would still be usable in this fashion.

The Zuiko, were it possible to attach it to the camera without an adapter, would be quite a good match size-wise for the MDa. Yoshihisa Maitani, the designer of the OM line, was a great admirer of Leica cameras and deliberately tried to match the dimensions of his SLR masterpiece to the rangefinder so it's no surprise that the compact Zuiko prime looks the part. With the K&F Concept adapter, it grows by about 18mm and doesn't look as good although it's by no means an ugly union. The lens won't intrude, I don't think, into the field of view as seen through a separate finder on the M2 or MDa. Yes, a 25mm Voigtlander Skopar would look neater but the Zuiko promises to be just fine.

Just a case of lining up the dots.

I've not had a chance yet to take some photos with the Zuiko in place but will do in the next day or two, just guessing the framing or maybe using a 24mm lens on an SLR to indicate the field of view. With a 24mm or 25mm viewfinder in place on the M2 or MDa, I can't really see there being much difference in use between the Zuiko and an equivalent Leica or Voigtlander lens. There is, however, a big difference in price.

Thursday, October 19

North Sea Storm

Print made on Ilford MGIV FB glossy

I've learned a couple of things since starting back in the darkroom. One is that darkroom prints are so much nicer than anything I've produced by way of a scan. The other is that Adox Silvermax is a really nice film.

The scanning issue reared it's ugly head recently when I attempted to scan some negatives with a view to using the process as a quick contact sheet so I could check out the images. The files just looked horrible on screen, all grainy and blotchy. At least they did in comparison with scans from prints I've made.

Print scans look much nicer to my eyes although I suppose you might ultimately get more information from a good neg scan. The problem is that it's far easier scanning a print than it is achieving a quality neg scan so this doesn't always work out in practice.

The upshot of it is that, if you use film, then please, please make the effort to get into a darkroom to print your work or you'll never know what you're missing. If you haven't room for one at home and you don't want to create one in a shed in the garden (it's been done successfully loads of times) then try to find a local community facility or printmakers' workshop and get cracking.

It's all very well using film but manufacturers make their profit off the paper and chemical sales so every time you buy something for the darkroom you're doing more to support them. If everyone who used film started printing then Ilford, Adox, Foma, Kodak, Rollei and the like would see a strong upsurge in their turnover which would only be good for the industry's future prospects.

An old Agfa APX 100 shot of Forneth House overlooking
Clunie Loch in Perthshire. I used a Nikon EL2 with 105mm
Nikkor lens for this one.

Looking through the darkroom notes I've been keeping made me realise that some of my favourite pics have been shot on Adox Silvermax. I haven't used any for ages but I might try to rectify that. It's a film with strong, robust tonality, well-controlled grain and good sharpness. Adox aimed for the look of the "real", original Agfa APX 100, the film that had quite a devoted following, and I do see some similarities although I never shot a lot of APX 100. The print I've scanned for this post (the first pic) is typical of the look I've been getting from Silvermax. The print scan immediately above is from an APX 100 negative for comparison.

The Silvermax print was done on the 1C at grade 1 at a basic exposure of 8 seconds. The sky got another 21 seconds at the same grade and then another 50 seconds at grade 5 to spice it up a bit. Some bright areas of water were burned in for 21 seconds at grade 1 and the bottom edge got another couple of seconds. The concrete encasing the water outfall pipe was dodged a little. The camera was the OM2 with a 24mm Zuiko. I must have taken about 20 shots of this scene as the storm passed over and I haven't decided yet which is my favourite one.

Adox introduced Silvermax with its own Spur-made dedicated developer but I've never used it with the film. It seems to do well enough in the usual suspects. I'd love to see some done in Perceptol. Mind you, I seem to want to see everything done in Perceptol at the moment. Must get some soon.

Saturday, October 14

What's not to Leica?

Well, that didn't take too long. My Leica gear arrived back from Miles Whitehead sooner than I'd anticipated. I'm pleased with the way everything has cleaned up but not ecstatic. Miles has done a very good job from what I can see but there was a limit to what he could do for the Summicron and Summaron.

The 50mm has had some fungus on a rear element at some point and this has slightly etched the glass. The lens appears sparkly when you look through it but use a torch to light it up and you can see some spidery traces. I'd have loved it if the Summicron had emerged like new but I'm not too bothered really. It was a good sharp lens before it was cleaned and it should only be even better now. The Summaron is better than it was but it proved impossible to remove all the haze that you could see when looking through it. There's still a thin veil of mistiness visible. Again, though, it was fully usable before and will be better now. Both have been rebuilt with new helical grease and are buttery smooth.

Despite Miles finding some interior corrosion in the M2 which he reckoned prevented it being as smooth as when it was new, it feels good to me! The MDa is about 15 years younger than the M2 but I can't really discern any difference in the smoothness quotient between the two when it comes to winding on. The M2 shutter is firing properly again and the viewfinder is nice and clear. The MDa's shutter problem has also been sorted. OK, I don't have an outfit that will perform quite as well as when it was made but it's still in pretty good nick - cosmetically excellent, I'd say - and fully capable of doing a job of work.

So on now to finding a 25mm finder to match the 24mm Zuiko that will soon be attached on a semi-permanent basis (assuming it works well) to the MDa. And if anyone has any leads for a not-too-expensive 90mm Elmarit, please let me know.

I'm thinking about getting a pair of wrist straps as well for the cameras. It's not been my practice in the past to hang the cameras around my neck, preferring to keep them in a Domke bag and just bringing them out as needed. Having neck straps on the cameras causes a bit of a guddle in the camera bag, I've found. It would make more sense to have short straps on them to provide a bit of security when hand-holding but without everything being snarled up in the bag.

I had a quick look at what's available and there's a mind-blowing variety out there. It seems a wrist strap cottage industry has sprung up with every man and his dog riveting, stitching, gluing and binding bits of leather to metal clasps and split rings. Some of this is about man jewellery. In fact, most of it is about man jewellery if we're being honest. (See Steve Huff's website for more sordid details about the seedier side of Leica ownership but remember to clear your browser history.) I'll be going for something strong and cheap.

I've got a tough test in store for Miles now if he fancies it. A very fungusy 35-80mm f2.8 Zuiko - one of the best OM lenses ever made. If he can sort that one out I'll be chuffed to bits. I also have a partially dismantled 6x4.5cm Ensign Selfix Autorange folder that I'd love to get going. I took the lens apart a while back to repair a broken shutter, fixed it using a part from a similar shutter, put it all back together again and, just when I was feeling quite proud of myself, managed to lose three tiny grub screws vital to the focusing action. They disappeared into the ether and are probably nestled up against the ball bearing that flew out from my 40mm Focotar enlarging lens when I was giving it a clean, leaving me without click stops. Despair! And increasingly, I've found, that's my default condition.

Thursday, October 12

The LEICA Diaries - Part Twelve

M2 and 50mm Summicron

I get emails from time-to-time from readers wondering if I'll be adding any more entries to The Leica Diaries series. There are 11 posts in the series but the last one was written on June 12, 2015. It's made me realise that my Leica photography just sort of stopped all of a sudden.

The reason for that, as some regular readers might recall, is simply that the M2 needed a service to sort out a shutter curtain issue that can sometimes leave a narrow band of under-exposure down the right hand side of the negative. My Leica lenses are also in need of some TLC. The 50mm Summicron has some fine fungus, the 35mm f3.5 Summaron suffers from haze and the 90mm f4 Elmar has a bit of both those ailments.

Obviously, had the Leica been my only photographic tool then it would have gone straight to a repairer for the necessary work. Regular readers will also know that it's far from my only photographic tool (!) so I just put the Leica outfit aside with the intention of having a service done at some point and bashed on with my Olympus stuff.

However, I finally got myself going, packaged up the Leica outfit - the M2, MDa, Summaron and Summicron - and sent it off to Miles Whitehead who seems to be about the best value amongst camera repairers. Yes, Malcolm Taylor or CRC would have been more obvious choices for Leica work but Miles charges about half of their rates and there's good stuff about him on the forums.

I didn't send the Elmar off because I fancy a 90mm f2.8 Elmarit instead so I'll put the cash saved towards that. I swithered about the viewfinderless MDa as well but it would be perfect for a 24 mm lens with a separate viewfinder. The plan had been to get a 25mm Voigtlander and finder but then I discovered that there's an adapter that allows the fitment of Olympus lenses to the Leica with infinity focus (and no dodgy additional lens elements) so I'm going to give my 24mm Zuiko a whirl on the MDa. There's no rangefinder focusing but it's easy enough to get by with the wide angle's depth of field.

To be honest, it's only the want of a longish tele that stops me using the Leica outfit for everything 35mm related. Visoflex, anyone? For those who aren't familiar with Leica, the Visoflex is a separate reflex system that turns the rangefinder into an SLR. It's used mainly for close-up work and telephoto photography using lenses beyond the 90mm or 135mm optics that are normally the limit for rangefinder viewing. I can't remember looking through a Visoflex but I've read that they're a bit dim and there's no TTL metering but it might be worth a try.

Having the Leica stuff serviced had taken on a greater sense of urgency lately as I've been thinking about embarking on what, for me, would be a rather large two-year project and I quite fancy doing it all with the Leica. I don't want to go into details about the project at this stage as it would be a big commitment and I haven't decided yet if I want to take it on.

But it's a social documentary project that's a big departure for me and the Leica has such a history of this sort of thing that it would seem fitting to use it exclusively. Talking to my pal Phil Rogers about it, he thinks that using more than one format would give a variety to the images when, as my tentative plan goes, the prints are hung in an exhibition somewhere at the end of the project. I can see where he's coming from.

I think so much of photography is based on a romantic notion that, with the right equipment, we can transform ourselves into our heroes and prance along in their footsteps. Personally, I imagine myself as being a latter-day, Leica-totting Eugene Smith. The only thing holding me back is the lack of a pith helmet. I could also be a somewhat less urbane James Ravilious.

Eugene Smith striking a Bruce Robbins pose.

I'm still mulling it over. The project wouldn't get underway until the start of 2018 so there's still time to make a decision. It will take something to dissuade me from the Leica although I can also see the benefit in using a 35mm SLR with TTL flash for indoor shots of people. I got on fine using a basic flash and manual SLR when acting as unofficial press photographer whilst a reporter at a district office for a year but that wasn't yesterday and I hardly ever use flash now unless it's the built-in one on the D700 so I'm bound to be a bit rusty. My last serious flash photography was photographing my sister-in-law's graduation party about four years ago - all on the D700...

But, back to the topic at hand. Miles has just about finished working on my Leica stuff and will be sending it home shortly. There was some interior rust on the M2 that has caused a bit of damage so Miles said it won't feel as smooth as when it was made in 1960. I felt it was smooth enough before it went away so if it's better than that I'll be happy.

So, hopefully, I'll have the M2 back in my chubby hands within a few days and can once again get to grips with its foibles and idiosyncrasies. The OM lens adapter should be here shortly as well although I haven't yet bought a viewfinder for the 24mm. It'll not be long before I'm using the Leica in anger again and perhaps able to add another entry or two to The Leica Diaries.

Monday, October 9

More on borders


I've always though that a narrow, black frame with a white card mount was the classiest way to present a black and white print. It still is in many instances. However, having just spent some time mucking about in Photoshop with various borders, I've developed a liking for a black card mount with a thin white border to the print, possibly finished by a narrow silver or aluminium frame.

See what you think yourself - there are quite a few options for you to view below. The first two prints, Paddling Pool and The Suburban Line, definitely, to my eyes, look better with the white border and black mount.  I probably prefer the third one, Mattress, with a white mount but there's not a lot in it. I've captioned them 1A, 1B, etc, again for ease of reference.

There's no doubt that the mat and frame make a significant difference to the appearance of the print, more so, I'd say, than any slight differences between developers, films or lenses and yet we're far more likely to obsess over these minor details than mounting and framing. Food for thought.















2K This one added for Alan in the comments.