The Online Darkroom Store

Tuesday, February 21

Park bench

Yes, you've guessed it. Another Super Ikonta shot. I've sold all my other gear and kept just the Zeiss. That last sentence wasn't true, of course, but you never know... This was taken in a light mist in a public park in my home town of Dundee. I'd dropped Cath off for an appointment and had about 40 minutes to kill. I decided I'd go for a walk around the park hand-in-hand with the Super Ikonta.

There's not a lot to say about this photo really other than that it's all about a feeling of emptiness. I'm sitting in the living room listening to Frank Sinatra's A Man Alone album, my favourite of his although not one of his better known ones. It's all about loneliness, melancholy and what might have been. Seems to fit this picture rather well.

As usual, the film was Tmax 400 developed in D76 1+1.

Thursday, February 16

More from the Super Ikonta

What a good buy the old Zeiss Ikon is proving to be. As a walkabout camera it takes a bit of beating - fairly lightweight, compact when folded and capable of producing very nice results from its (one!) 75mm Tessar lens.

I've been using it a lot more than I thought I would and loving every minute with it. Being a rangefinder, it gives me pretty much the same problem as all other rangefinders: it's difficult seeing the field of view with glasses on. My method is to focus with specs on and then take them off for the final, somewhat blurry, composition.

I'm hoping this lack of clarity at the vital moment of releasing the shutter is responsible for the bloody annoying left-leaning tilt I'm still getting. The pics on this page weren't too bad from that point of view but the latest film I've developed from the Super Ikonta - I'll post some results in a few days - had some hellish horizons. What makes it worse was that I was making a real effort to keep the horizons level! Maybe one leg has suddenly become shorter than the other, or something.

The first pic at the top is another view of Forter Castle in Glenisla. You'll maybe recognise it from a couple of similar pics I've posted previously. This is my first medium format shot of it and the snow makes it a little different from the others.

This (above) is an early morning shot I took just north of Dundee. It was a little frosty, one of those hard, crisp days that make life worthwhile in the middle of winter. The light was lovely and I hid the sun behind the tree to stop it dominating the scene. There's a dry stone dyke nearby that I climbed over whilst on the hunt for other pics. Here's what I found:

There was a full set of clubs in the bag and some balls. Bizarre. I know that secondhand golf clubs don't have a great value these days but chucking them over a wall instead of selling them or giving them away is just weird. Maybe the owner had just had the round from hell and his temper got the better of him. They're probably still there as there aren't too many of us dyke hurdlers around. 

Reminds me of a story about a well-known, club-throwing pro from the 1950s and '60s called Tommy "Thunder" Bolt. It was the last hole of a difficult round and Bolt had a second shot of about 120 yards to the pin. His caddy handed him a 1 iron. "What the hell are you giving me a 1 iron for," asked an angry Bolt. "It's the only club we've got left, boss," was the reply. Incidentally, Bolt grumbled away to the ripe old age of 92, "nursing his wrath to keep it warm", to mis-quote Burns.

On the way home from Glenisla we stumbled across one of those dreich, dismal shots I like. Doesn't look too hospitable, does it? I love these scenes - the puddle makes a more interesting foreground than a ploughed field and the low-lying cloud on the hills adds a bit of mystery and moodiness. Looking at these pics must make you think I'm some sort of intrepid hill walker but they were all taken no more than 20 yards from the car.

Another shot from the Glenisla trip, a nice, gentle one this time. Not much to say about this except that I didn't even have to walk 20 yards - I was leaning on the bonnet.

The final Glenisla pic. Come to think of it, I had to park the car and walk about 50 yards up the road for this one so maybe that does qualify me as a hill walker or rambler or something. The light was going a bit by the time I took it and the branches were doing their best to stop what light there was reaching the ground. I was leaning on a fence post for extra support.

The shutter speed was around 1/30th - probably hand-holdable with the Super Ikonta without the support. There's not enough depth of field for front to back sharpness but I like the overall mood of this one. I can just see a fairy prancing about in the snow. Or maybe that was me making my way back to the car...

Tuesday, February 14

Some answers...

There were a few questions in the comments to my last post about "one-lensing" but rather than respond to them there, which can get a bit messy, I'll answer them here if that's OK.

First up was my pal Phil Rogers (Herman Sheephouse) who wondered whether it might be the weight of my Benbo tripod that was putting me off carrying a lot of gear. Should I not be thinking about hand-holding the Rollei SL66 if the tripod is too much of a back killer? He said, "Remember the quality of those Zeiss lenses is such that you could shoot wide open and still get superb results -it's worth thinking about." He also wondered if a lighter tripod such as a Gitzo or a Chinese copy might help matters.

Yes, the Benbo, fantastic though it is, is definitely on the heavy side. Rumour has it that when Benbo discovered they were over-stocked, their surplus tripod tubes were bought up by a Middle Eastern concern and used for the foundation piles in the Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai. I have a lighter tripod with no quick release plate so I might either get one for it or buy a ball head to save a little weight.

Hand-holding the SL66 isn't much fun. Maybe I'd get away with it if I had a waist level finder but it's the 45 degree prism finder on the camera and that has to be held up to eye level - not so easy with a heavy camera.

Steve Weston asked if I considered using a zoom lens. I've nothing against zooms really apart from the fact that, all things being equal, a prime lens is likely to be better. The shot at the top of this post was taken a couple of weeks ago on a Nikkor AF 70-210 zoom which isn't too bad at all. The one below was done with the Nikkor AF 28-105 which I like a lot.

I don't think any zooms were made for the SL66 and they'd be huge if there were any around but certainly for 35mm SLRs it's an option. I've got what's reputedly the best zoom made for the OM system - the 35-80 f2.8 Zuiko - but it has some fungus issues so I haven't used it. Maybe if it cleaned up well it would be a possibility.

War-time building at Errol Airfield

Nasir asked about the D76 250ml stock "rule" that I touched on in the post. Specifically, "By following the 250ml of D76 stock rule, what do you do if you only want to develop one roll of 35mm? Mix up 500ml working solution if you want to use 1+1 dilution? My stainless tanks only require 250ml of solution to cover a 35mm spiral. Am I just better off using 250ml stock and going with a shorter dev time?"

I'm afraid that's the way it is, Nasir. It's wasteful but I don't see what else can be done. You could try mixing just 250ml at 1+1 on a test film and see how it works out. There are plenty of people on the forums who don't bother with the rule who say their films come out fine. It might be worth trying it yourself.

I can't be bothered with test films so I just stick to the rule but I think I'll go back to Firstcall's Superfine, otherwise known as Rollei RHS, when my D76 has been used up. It would still work out a little more expensive but there wouldn't be a lot in it and the consistency I got with Superfine was great. It works really well with Tmax 400 and that's all I'm using now.

My only slight concern is that I haven't actually made any prints from Superfine/Tmax 400 negatives. They look nice but they might be grainier than the D76/Tmax 400 combination. Whether that proves to be the case and whether or not it's something that would bother me remains to be seen. From the scans I've made from both combinations, they look pretty much the same to me.

Thanks to everyone else who left comments and suggestions. It's amazing how small the percentage of commenters is relative to the number of readers I have and I appreciate you all. :)

Saturday, February 11

Three into one doesn't go

Back in October, I wrote a post about my difficulties in going out for a few hours with just one lens. I know there are readers who can do this and they're probably bemused by my rumblings of discontent.

The photo trip in question was to the Fife village of Crail on a picturesque stretch of coastline known as the East Neuk. That wee outing caused me to do some thinking as I was pretty fed up carting the Rollei SL66 and heavyweight Benbo tripod over soggy beaches and rocks made slippery by the retreating tide.

There must be a better way of tackling this sort of thing, I thought at the time, and still do, to be honest. It was in the comments that a couple of people advised just taking the camera and one lens. True, this cuts down on a lot of faffing about and the heavy weight but I find it leaves the compositions I can achieve being dictated more by the lack of the "right" lens than by creativity.

I know you can never have the right lens for every photograph otherwise we'd all be followed around by a pack horse and a small Himalayan sherpa but it's still nice to tilt the odds in one's favour. Generally speaking, I'm happy with the 35mm format equivalents of 28mm, 50mm and 135mm in the bag with a 300mm lens in the car. As I wrote in the Crail post, I took three photographs there - one with the 80mm, one with the 40mm and a third on the 250mm. With just one lens, I'd have missed out on two photos.

I developed the film last week and posted here are the three pics I was referring to. They're nothing special but do illustrate the point. The first was taken on the standard lens and the second on the wide angle. The last one of the Isle of May was on the long tele.

I suppose if I'd used the wide angle on the harbour shot then I would have got the whole of the reflected house in the frame had that been bothering me but I'd have got masses on top of that as well. We're talking about the difference between a 24mm and 50mm lens on the 35mm format. The shot of the old cobble stones depends on the exaggerated perspective of the 40mm for its effect. Yes, I could have used the 80mm but there would have been little point in taking that photograph at all.

Here's the Isle of May. At the time, I thought I really needed something longer than the 250mm - which I don't have - but, looking at it now, I quite like the bit of foreshore. Again, I wouldn't have taken this pic with anything wider.

I was making the same complaints in October when visiting Alyth Den (never realised I was such a  moaning old bugger!) again in the company of the SL66, its four lenses and the light-as-lead Benbo. I wasn't very happy with the pics I took - they were, eh, a bit boring - but here are a couple anyway which were taken with the 80mm (top) and 40mm.

So, they may not have been the most interesting photographs of Alyth Den but at least I had the right lenses! When I leave the house, I haven't a clue what I'm going to be photographing - absolutely no idea. So how do I decide which lens to take if I'm going to be a one-lens chap? Speak to the local seer? Have a wild guess? Or just accept that I'm going to miss quite a few pics that day?

That's why I'll never be a one-lenser. I had a similar problem today when Cath and I went for a run up to Glenisla. I took the lovely recent addition of the Super Ikonta and meant to throw my bag with some Nikon 35mm gear into the boot - but forgot. That meant I was up a lonely glen with light snow and mist with only a standard lens. I spent half the time telling Cath that I'd just seen a pic but needed a telephoto. I took a couple of those shots with the aim of blowing up the centre of the neg but it's hardly ideal.

But enough of my gripes. I've got a few options: stick to 35mm, put up with the heavy medium format gear, or go for something like the 645 format. I've been here a couple of time already in the recent past and I'm in no rush to make up my mind.

One good thing that came out of these rolls of 120 Tmax was the fact that you can develop a few rolls  in a tank of D76 1+1 without any problems provided you stick to Kodak's recommendations. In this post, I wrote about how a couple of 35mm rolls had come out a little under-developed because I'd failed to stick to Kodak's recommended 250ml of stock solution per film. This time, I developed three 120 rolls in the one tank with the proper amount of stock and had no problems.

In between those two multi-reel sessions, I'd developed a roll of 35mm Tmax with 250ml stock at 1+1 and went with Kodak's fairly vigorous agitation sequence. That led to over-development so my regime now (D76 1+1) is the 250ml stock rule, ten minutes development and agitation of four inversions at the start and four every minute thereafter. I still don't like the results as much as with Firstcall Superfine (Rollei RHS) but that's another matter.

Thursday, February 2

Ferrania P30 resurrection: BRAND NEW black and white film

From early testing of the new Ferrania P30 panchromatic film.
More sample pics from Ferrania below.

* Hat tip to readers Ian Lee and ZZPZA for this story

This IS exciting news. Ferrania, the Italian company determined to bring back the glamour days of 1960s Italian film manufacture, has announced that it's entered the "Alpha" stage of its new 80 ISO P30 panchromatic black and white film. Not a rebadged film from another manufacturer but an entirely new emulsion. It should be available from the middle of this month - but only in the 35mm format. Who said film was dead?

P30 is a famous old name deriving from a very popular movie film stock from decades ago. The new Ferrania company bought up some of the old film making plant from the original firm a few years back and has been beavering away on new emulsions. They're working on bringing a colour slide film to market and now they're ready to proceed with what could be a wonderful, silver-rich mono film - once they've ironed out the inevitable glitches bedevilling them at this early stage of production.

To that end, Ferrania have come up with the singular idea of asking photographers to buy the film and report back with any faults encountered and their impressions of the product - in the same way that beta testers help out software developers. This feedback will help Ferrania improve the film. No doubt people will have different views on this but we live in different times from the peak film years. But more of this later.

The film's specification sounds nice. It doesn't offer anything new on the ISO scale as there are already a few films clustered around the 80 ISO mark such as Fuji Acros 100, Foma 100, Rollei Retro 80s and even the likes of Pan F in the right developer. However, if P30 is faithful to the original emulsion then we'll benefit from a silver heavy film that promises "the look" from old Italian movies of the 1960s. Sounds like it could be the perfect partner for a Leica M and 50mm Summicron!

Here's Ferrania's enthusiastic announcement:

Cairo Montenotte (SV), Italy – FILM Ferrania is proud to announce its first product, FERRANIA P30®, in a limited ALPHA edition. 
FERRANIA P30® ALPHA reproduces, with modern techniques developed by FILM Ferrania scientists, the exact film that made Ferrania world-famous more than 50 years ago. 
With its cinema pedigree, ultra fine grain, and very high silver content, FERRANIA P30® ALPHA has no peers in the modern analog film market. 
FILM Ferrania CEO Nicola Baldini said, “Each frame is like a piece of jewellery.” Pasolini, Rossellini, Visconti and many other Italian directors powered their masterpieces with P30 film. 
In 1961, Sophia Loren won the Academy Award for “La Cio ciara” ( Two Women) by Vittorio De Sica and the entire world started to appreciate the beauty of FERRANIA P30® . In 1963, the legendary film 8 ½ by Federico Fellini was shot on FERRANIA P30® stock, cementing its place in cinema history.

"Each frame is like a piece of jewellery." I love Italians. I really do. OK, it's a bit over the top but at least it shows the passion for which Italians are famous around the world - and the film industry could do with some more of that. Personally, it's thoroughly whetted my appetite and I can't wait to try it out.

Pre-sales of P30 in 36-exposure 35mm format will begin around mid-February through the company's online shop,

P30 is coated on a triacetate base and features what Ferrania describes as "an incredibly high silver content" of 5 grams per square meter. I'm not sure how this compares with other films - maybe someone can chime in below in the comments.

From the examples the company has released, P30 looks to be a very high contrast film but I can't see the fully developed product having quite that look. From memory, the Italian black and white movies had a long tonal range and I'd expect the final version of P30 to be similar, depending on the developer of course.

In an email interview I did with Ferrari's David Bias in 2013, the company said they were interested in one day resurrecting P30 and it's great to see them follow through.

With regard to the beta testing of P30, here's what Ferrania had to say:

Just like software goes through Alpha and Beta stages, we expect our P30 film to go through these same stages. However, we want to make it perfectly clear that the worst of these issues are being resolved before sales begin. 
In the coming days, we will share numerous updates from the factory, explaining the problems you see in the sample images below, as well as the solutions that are being created every day to ensure that the film you will purchase is amazing. 
That said, this film is an ALPHA edition for a clear reason. When the shop launches, every customer will be invited to share their experiences with us - and this data will be fed directly to the factory team. 
When released, the data you provide will directly affect the progress of this film from ALPHA, to BETA, to the final product.

So, the film you'll be buying - and please buy some if you can to encourage Ferrania - will be well-developed but probably still with some room for improvement. Isn't it great to think that we might be able to contribute to the development of a new black and white film! Or do you expect the product to be fully developed by the company before being sold?

Finally, it's time for some early, contrasty test shots taken with the new film and just released by Ferrania. Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 31

The Super Ikonta's naked negs

Phil Rogers requested in the comments to an earlier post about my latest acquisition that I show the negs from the Super Ikonta - so here they are. This is the first roll from the camera - Tmax 400 developed in D76 1+1. They were popped on the lightbox and snapped with the iPhone.

I was keen to get out and about with the Zeiss just to make sure it was working properly and the bellows was light tight. So far so good. I wasn't doing any actual "testing" - photographing things close-up, etc, to check the rangefinder's accuracy - rather I just nipped along to my favourite allotment and snapped anything with a bit of detail in it.

A few pics were taken in the countryside as well when we were out for a drive. The compact dimensions of the folding camera are great for this sort of shooting. It's no wonder these cameras were once also known as "car cameras" in some circles.

This was a lovely bit of light that I had to capture. Finding
an interesting foreground was the challenge. This one's not
too bad.

The Tessar lens seems to be well up to the expected standard with good sharpness and contrast when stopped down a couple. Most of these pics were taken at f8-f11. There's a little bit of contrast-reducing flare shooting into the sun but nothing too bad. Reading some stuff on the internet, it seems that the front focusing of the Super Ikonta's lens, where the front element moves in and out, is not as good as the "unit focusing" of the Tessar in the likes of a Rolleiflex where the entire lens is on the move.

Wisdom has it that front focusing lenses have to compromise either close up or at infinity. The Super Ikonta is supposed to be better from 10ft to infinity so it's maybe not the best for close-up, bokeh shots if that's your thing. I can't see me using it like that very often anyway as I prefer a reflex for that sort of thing. I'll have to do a couple of close-ups with the next film to see how accurate the rangefinder focusing is. It seems fine at normal distances.

Yes, it's the famous allotment again! Use the search function
if you want to see more pics like this - I've got a few. :)

The good thing with the allotment is that there's a variety
of shots available, ideal if you want to finish a film quickly
to check the results. I liked the kettle in the window.

One of the other quirks of the Super Ikonta is that it has an automatic loading system like the Rolleiflex Automat. This senses the film as it's loading and stops automatically at the first frame without having to look for the number 1 in a red window. This wasn't a quirk when the camera was made but it is now since the backing paper on 120 rolls is thinner than of old.

This can result in badly spaced or even overlapping frames. It can be circumvented by threading the film at the start as normal but, before closing the back, sticking a post it note or a bit of thickish tape onto the backing paper. This fools the camera into thinking it's been fed the good old stuff and keeps it happy. I used a couple of pieces of tape and the spacing has worked out just fine.

I love this old greenhouse with it's higgledy-piggledy
collection of old bumph. This scan looks sharp and it
was shot through a none-to-clean window pane.

It has to be said that the Super Ikonta IV is a brilliant camera in everyday use. Easy to load, easy to focus, compact, reasonably light and capable of producing very nice negatives. What's not to like? It's much easier to use than the Rolleiflex Old Standard purely because of the focusing.

The Super Ikonta does have one wee problem, though - or maybe I should say that the problem is one I have with the Ikonta. I pride myself in taking photographs that are dead level or as near to it. I hate unintentionally tilted horizons. Sad to say that quite a few of these negs are distinctly leaning to the left - well, enough to bother me anyway. The need to straighten them up meant I had to forego the black film border on most. I'll need to pay more attention when looking through the viewfinder. A distinctly right-leaning view is a lot more acceptable to my way of thinking.

Wednesday, January 25

When jobs were jobs

At the end of World War II, when Britain was pretty much on its knees, there was competition amongst cities for US inward investment. My home town of Dundee landed a peach when it attracted cash register manufacturers, NCR, to a greenfield site on the northern outskirts of the city.

The company provided solid, good-paying jobs for a couple of generations of the city's inhabitants - just the sort of boost that was needed with rationing still on the go across the country. NCR was, by all accounts, a good employer and even provided a bowling green, tennis courts and changing facilities for the workforce just a stone's throw from the factory and funded a competitive swimming club for employees' families. All good things come to an end, though, and NCR eventually shut up shop in 1980, their factory taken over by a polypropylene bag manufacturer six years later.

The gate leading to the "Bowling Green". I think that's what must
have been printed on the sign but it's hard to tell now.

That company, Van Leer, also decided their time in Dundee was up, closing in 1995, and the factory buildings and surrounding land were ignored and neglected for a number of years before being turned into a leisure park. In the process, all but one of the factory buildings were demolished and the sole standing survivor (below) looks like going the same way despite, for some strange reason, being a category B listed building. It's crumbling now and open to pigeons, vandals and the elements.

Doesn't look much like a listed building - and this is its good side!

This is the entrance to the tennis courts with the rear of the
leisure park ice rink in the background.

The leisure park has a McDonald's takeaway* and it's our regular stop after walking the dogs. I might be a bit of a vulgarian but I just like McD's coffee. What can I say? We sometimes park beside the listed building and take the dogs for another wander round the car park and I've often wondered what remained of the NCR's tennis and bowling facilities.

An aerial shot of the site. The bowling club/tennis courts are near the
top of the frame - the two green squares with the changing facilities
in between.

An iPhone pic of the "tennis courts".

I knew them quite well since, not only did I walk the old family dog there in my late teens, but the adjacent grassy area also served as my personal golf practice ground. Earlier this week, I thought I'd take a look and it was a sorry sight indeed. Overgrown isn't the word for it: derelict is nearer the mark.

And the bowling green itself. I wonder what the greenkeeper
would make of this now were he still alive.

I knew it would be like this but it's still disappointing when something you remember from the "good old days" ends up in such a state. As much as anything, it's a sad indictment on the city's manufacturing base which is in a similar condition thanks to free trade and globalisation.

So what was there? Well, the immaculate bowling green has been taken over by tufts of rough grass and looks more like a stormy sea. The tennis court nets have long since rotted away leaving just the upright posts that once held them in place. The chainlink fence surrounding the facility is broken and rusted. Litter and detritus lie everywhere What a shame.

Being a naturally sensitive individual (ahem), this touched me deeply so I wanted to commit it to film. I have some rolls of out-of-date Tmax 400 roll film and thought this would be a nice, wee project for the Rolleiflex Old Standard. It's a lovely camera but not without its quirks. One of these is that the ground glass requires the ability to focus the eye quite closely whilst the pop-up magnifier stresses a longer focus. This is fine when you have good eyesight but when you're short-sighted like me it means glasses on for the magnifier and off for the ground glass.

The net-less tennis court posts.

This is where the changing facilities stood but the tiles
are all that's left of them.

I don't much like this hokey-cokey photography (hokey pokey if you're in the colonies) and it's all the more annoying when you're hand-holding the Rollei so I bolted it to a tripod for these pics. The ground glass is also quite dim by more modern standards and the tripod helps in that respect, too, making it slightly easier to focus.

This white fence seems to have marked the southern boundary
of the bowling green.

Having said that, I missed focus on a couple of shots and didn't get the depth of field right on another couple so six-out-of-ten for me in that regard. I was racking the camera's front panel in and out but it was a devil to recognise the exact focus point on some shots. You might see one or two of these shortcomings if you enlarge the pics on this page. In my defence, it was quite gloomy and I couldn't really stop the lens down far enough as I don't seem to have a cable release that fits the somewhat recessed threads of the Rollei. Since I was firing the shutter "normally", I wanted to stay away from speeds less than 1/25th.

The other thing you might well catch a glimpse of are some fine Newton's Rings and some light-struck or fogged film edges. I still haven't found my negative holder for the scanner so I popped a glass from a negative carrier over the negs - hence the oily-looking circles in some places.

I was trying to capture some atmosphere in these photographs. If you've seen the Burt Lancaster film, The Swimmer, then just picture his old house when he finally returns home. If you haven't seen it then it's worth looking out for it. One of Burt's best performances and a very sad ending. One or two of the photographs worked, others didn't. I'm going to have another go when the lighting is different - and pay more attention to focusing and depth of field!

* I realise that nobody will give a toss about it but I quite like this iPhone pic of our local McD's, so there.

Thursday, January 19

Grange Orchard

I'm missing a key bit of kit from my photographic arsenal - a pair of wellies. The Carse of Cowrie, in which this orchard lies, is mostly at sea level, or even slightly below in places. At this time of year, the ground can often be a little sodden and the field in which these fruit trees grow is usually quite wet.

As a result, I've never actually ventured over the fence that rings it to really do it justice. I'd get back to the car with absolutely ringing wet feet if I did. I do have a pair of wellies but they're in a box somewhere in the garage and I've not really had any need for them for a few years.

I'll be digging them out shortly, though, as I really want to have a wander around this old orchard - even more so since learning that it's supposed to be haunted by the ghost of a monk. The trees look on the gnarled side and it doesn't take much of an imagination, especially on the sort of day that greeted me when I visited the place last weekend, to picture a hooded figure walking amongst them.

If you read my post about the foggy Carse of Gowrie then these are the pictures I managed before the 24mm Takumar lens got "stuck" to the old Pentax SV I was using that day. I gave up when that happened but there really aren't any good views of the orchard from outwith the fence so, in the absence of wellies, I wasn't too bothered.

Both of these pics were taken with the 85mm f1.8 Takumar, something of a cult lens amongst users of screw mount cameras, with TMax 400 rated at 400 ISO and developed in D76 at 1+1. It will be interesting printing from the negs rather than scanning them as that's the best way of judging how a lens performs in my opinion. For the time being, I'll have to make do with scans but even from those digital files I can see that the 85mm Takumar is a fine piece of glass and one I'll probably use quite a bit.

Saturday, January 14

A very nice Zeiss

Picked up the Super Ikonta yesterday and was pleased to find that it's in great shape with no faults at all from what I can see (although I won't know for sure about the bellows until I've run a film through it). It certainly doesn't look like a 60-year-old camera. The shutter speeds, as I discovered at the auction, sound about right and, crucially, the lens is very clear indeed with no fungus or haze and just a few of the usual dust specs.

I found a great tutorial on line which showed in some detail exactly how to remove the top plate if any cleaning is needed and how to dismantle the lens. Thankfully, I'm not going to need it - at least for the time being. The viewfinder looked quite murky but probably 80% of that was on the outside surfaces and it cleaned off easily enough. Here's a couple of iPhone pics through the viewfinder pre-cleaning:

Doesn't look great, does it? I took these whilst sitting at the dining room table checking the camera's functions. The pic of Cath's roses turned out very well in a Holga-esque way with a certain romantic look to it. In fact, I did think for a brief instant that I could start a new project taking iPhone photographs through the Ikonta's viewfinder. But then I realised that there's probably already an app for that look - the "Ikonta Filter", or something.

It would have been nice to have taken the same pics for comparison through the cleaned-up viewfinder but I was too impatient and so, instead, here's a through-the-finder snap when I was out and about earlier today. You'll have to take my word for it that there's been a big improvement.

As you can see, there are no frame lines in the viewfinder: what you see is what you get. The only bit that could do with a light cleaning now is the beam splitter glass that sits at a 45 degree angle to the viewfinder eyepiece. I think it's a little cloudy but not enough that I'd want to take the top off and there's always the chance that the fine, mirror coating on the glass could be damaged in the cleaning so best to leave it alone.

A ruggedly handsome chap in the mould of Jack Hawkins who also happened
to be at his peak in the 1950s.

The rangefinder spot is quite clear and the rangefinder itself is fine although it will be interesting to see what the results are like up close and at open aperture. Even the selenium light meter that seemed dead now looks sort of OK. I think it was just too dark in the auction hall when I tried it for the few photons kicking about to deflect the meter needle. Out in the read world, the needle is responding quite enthusiastically. BUT, the actual meter mechanism - the pointer that has to be lined up with the needle to tell what the exposure should be - isn't working properly.

When I try to match it up with the needle, it moves part of the way and then no further. You can see it in the pic below. Fixing that would be a top-off job but the chances of the meter being accurate even if I managed to sort it aren't great really. I'll be using my Sekonic anyway so it seems a pointless exercise unless I decided to sell it in which case it might matter to a collector.

That's about as far as the round-eyed needle moves in pursuit of the meter needle.
Something must have either broken or become disconnected beneath this dial.
Perhaps I'll get round to fixing it one day.

The baffle covering the selenium cell and the hinged cover that keeps it in
the dark when it's not needed.

The Tessar was a little grubby, too, but has also cleaned up well. So, all-in-all, not a bad bit of kit! As you'd imagine for such an illustrious name, there's quite a bit of information on the 'net about the Super Ikonta IV, the last of a long line produced between 1956 and 1959/60. The Super Ikonta IV was also the last of any folding cameras to be produced in West Germany. It's supposed to be the zenith of these cameras but I reckon the earlier Super Ikontas were better made - they certainly feel more substantial.

Of course, there's more to a camera that the gauge of metal it's made from and I've no doubt that the IV will prove to be the more user friendly and the Tessar will give the best results short of a similarly-equipped 6x9 cm Ikonta.

The camera, in common with some other folders, has one drawback and that's down to the thinner backing paper now used with 120 film. Unlike most other folders, there's no need to use a red window when winding the film on as the process is automatic. The Super Ikonta IV is able to judge when the film has been wound on to the first frame - or at least it could with the old, thicker backing papers from long ago.

Today's roll film causes the camera to mis-calculate and the results can range from very closely spaced frames, no spaces between frames or even over-lapping frames. The answer seems to be to attach some duck tape - just a two-inch or so length - to the leader just after threading the film onto the spool. That extra thickness is enough to sort out the problem. Some photographers say that Foma use slightly thicker backing paper on their 120 films and that these can be used today without modification. Either way, it's not a big deal.

Slide back the cover on the wee window on the back and there's just a "hole"
for checking if there's a film loaded. Film loading is automatic so no red window.

A nice, clean lens. The impression I get is that this camera didn't see
an awful lot of use or was very well treated by a careful owner.

Reader Kerstin Jonsson said in a comment to my previous post about the Super Ikonta that, "The output Q/M (quality per mass) you get from the Zeiss is hard to beat." That's an interesting way to look at it. There may be 35mm cameras with sharper lenses but they're hampered to some extent by the smaller negative and the need for a bigger degree of enlargement. Large format would be a clear step up but with a considerable weight penalty. Maybe 6x6 folders are the sweet spot?

The more I thought about it, the more I realised that a relatively lightweight Super Ikonta with a good rangefinder and fine lens hanging around my neck wouldn't be the worst tool for walkabout photography in the countryside. I have a feeling I'm going to enjoy feeding this one some film.

Thursday, January 12

Is it too late for New Year's resolutions?

Pic from Jurgen Kreckel's excellent website

I desperately need to stop going to auctions as almost every time I do I come back with another camera. I might have to self ban myself otherwise I'll be needing a bigger house. I'm really chuffed with this acquisition, though. Can you guess what it is yet? It's German, has a Tessar lens, coupled rangefinder and (had) a built-in light meter. For those who aren't camera geeks, it's a Zeiss Super Ikonta IV, the last of the legendary Super Ikonta line.

I'm hoping I've really "lucked out" with the Super Ikonta and not counting chickens, the reason for the uncertainty being that I didn't check it as thoroughly as I'd normally do at the auction viewing. This local auction had about eight camera lots in amongst the usual bric-a-brac, furniture, crockery and what have you. I'd gone there to check out these lots, not even aware that the Super Ikonta was up for sale.

You really don't have much to go on from the auction website. Here, for instance, are the pics associated with three of the camera lots I'd gone to check out:

Poor pics, no condition reports, not a lot to go on really. That's why viewing in person is vital. There were some nice cameras there, though, and although I didn't need anything it's difficult turning down a bargain so I couldn't resist the temptation to have a look. Sadly, genuine bargains are few and far between because the internet has turned everyone into an expert and it's easy to get a value for something in just a few clicks. Still, no harm in trying, is there?

The above lots came up with a search for "camera" on the auction site. What didn't come up was the Super Ikonta so I wasn't looking for it. I'd had a good look at the lots above but decided that everything was too dodgy either because batteries were flat, lenses were scratched or "fungusy" or cameras just wouldn't fire or had some other obvious mechanical fault. Because there were some big ticket items in there - a Hasselblad, Mamiya RB67, Rollei SLX, etc - I knew there'd be a lot of interest and the chances of picking something up cheaply were low. I decided not to bother bidding.

It was on the way out of the auction house that I saw a brown leather case in a cardboard box surrounded by pottery, glassware, etc (see below). The auctioneer likes to heap disparate items together for some reason. I'm guessing experience tells him he'll make more commission that way. Anyway, I almost kept going as old brown-leather-cased Voigtlanders, Agfas and Ilfords are ten-a-penny in these places. Something told me to stop. The case was in good condition, high quality and was embossed with ZEISS IKON on the front.

The cardboard box with it's barely noticeable German treasure.

It could have been a Nettar or similar, one of the cameras from lower down the Zeiss line-up but it turned out to be the range-topping 534/16 Super Ikonta IV. Although the "16" might suggest it's for the 6x4.5cm format, it's a 6x6 folder with a 75mm f3.5 Tessar lens. It was in great condition and appeared to be fully functional, apart from the selenium light meter which was fairly unresponsive.

Normally and somewhat ironically, constant exposure to light tends to kill the selenium cells over time but the Super Ikonta has a wee hinged shutter that covers the cell. Apparently, that hadn't been enough to save the meter. The Ikonta's viewfinder could do with a clean but the rangefinder seemed spot-on. Attached to the neck strap was a smaller leather case with the original lens hood and a green Zeiss filter in it.

The camera seemed OK but you never know for sure until you see results from it. Even the slow shutter speeds were running smoothly and the lens was rock solid with not a hint of movement.

The light meter works on the EV principle. You take a reading, set the EV number on the camera and the shutter speed and aperture rings get locked together so that you can switch from speed to speed or aperture to aperture without having to make any further calculations. I wasn't exactly sure how to disengage this function and I didn't want to force anything so I couldn't see through the lens at open aperture on B to check its condition. And it's also difficult to tell what shape the bellows is in beyond noting that it seemed in once piece and wasn't moth-eaten or crumbly.

When I got back to the car, I had a look on my phone for the Ikonta on the auction website and couldn't find it. It didn't appear under "camera", "Zeiss" or "Super Ikonta". When I searched for the lot number, which I'd noted at the viewing, all that came up was the pic above and the description beneath it. No mention at all of a camera. I knew that Super Ikontas were worth a bit of money and, since, like me, you'd have to have been lucky to have spotted it, I wondered if this might be bargain time.

I had a 1930s/40s Super Ikonta once and sold it for about £150. When I did an Ebay search for the Super Ikonta IV, I found out that it's in a different price band altogether. One in a similar condition to the auction camera recently sold in the UK for just short of £450. The lens hood alone sells for around £30. As I mentioned earlier, I need another camera like a centipede needs an extra pair of legs so I didn't want to bid much for it. I emailed my maximum offer of £62 and ended up winning it for a nice, round £50. Result! I'll pick it up tomorrow and will find out pretty quickly if it has any nasty surprises that I failed to identify. Fingers crossed.

Incidentally, the auction was a good opportunity to play with some other cameras I hadn't tried before and form some brief opinions. I've never handled an RB67 off a tripod and found that it's a bloody monster. I'll never complain about the weight of the SL66E again. I footered with one a few years ago in the studio at the newspaper I used to work for and I'd never consider using one any other way now. It's just far too heavy for handheld work in my opinion. There was a Hasselblad 501c which was very nice but, like the SL66E, it sits out from the body because of the film magazine on the back.

The Rollei SLX was a very pleasant surprise. It's not as sturdily made as the SL66E or a Rolleiflex 2.8F but there's no separate magazine so it lies close to the body like a TLR. Being an SLR, though, there's no parallax issue and it has built-in auto exposure and motorised film advance. The focusing screen is nice and bright as well. To be honest, I'd rather have an SLX outfit than the SL66. The latter isn't very good for hand-holding whereas the SLX is just like a TLR in that respect and I'd make far more use of it. However, the electronic SLX isn't perfect as they have a reputation for unreliability and knackered batteries.

Anyway, back to the Super Ikonta. What am I going to do with it? I'm not sure yet. I'll keep it for a wee while and test it out but I suspect it will ultimately find its way onto the big auction site where its sacrifice will hopefully liberate enough cash for another lens for my Leica M2 - or maybe just pay the winter fuel bill.

The big, big question is what am I going to do with the crockery, candle holders, clocks, glasses, etc that come in the box with the Zeiss! The council skip beckons...