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Tuesday, August 7

Back at the allotment

There are a few things in life I really can't stand such as progressive socialism, taxation and dumbed down TV (did you notice at the Olympics how the asymmetric bars have become the "uneven bars"?). Food shopping maybe doesn't quite make it into that hit list but it's not far off. That's why when there's a big shop to be done I always try to wriggle out of it and leave Cath to crack on while I go and take some photographs.

What do you mean that's selfish? If it wasn't for my aversion to Asda you wouldn't be seeing these pics as the only time I find to visit this allotment is under those circumstances! Anyway, I took advantage of a break in our foul summer weather to shoot a roll of Agfa APX 100 in the Contax 137MD. Allotments are great places. If you want to see decay in action, you should take a run along to your nearest community gardens. It's not the plants that are neglected - they always seem to be thriving - but the garden sheds, greenhouses and assorted outbuildings and stores.

The reason for this is quite simple: the gardeners just rent their allotments. Since they have no stake in ownership, investment in maintenance is usually minimal. Sometimes just enough to keep the buildings wind and watertight, sometimes not even that. Repairs appear to be made using whatever materials are found lying around or can be scrounged from a neighbour. Sometimes a gardener will be offered a double glazed door for free and will use that as the portal to his shed - a somewhat incongruous affair akin to taping a Zeiss lens onto the front of a disposable camera. Before someone comes at me with a spade, I'm happy to acknowledge that there are a few immaculately maintained allotments...

The upshot of all this is that allotments can be quite photogenic in a grungy way that I love. On this visit, I had the 28mm F2.8 Distagon and the 50mm F1.4 Planar with me and it was the wide angle that proved the more useful in the narrow paths between gardens.

The 137MD was criticised in some journals when it was introduced for its lack of manual shutter speeds. In the late 1970s, it was felt that a camera that didn't offer control over shutter speeds was for snapshooters and was not to be taken too seriously by enthusiasts. This, of course, was before the days of matrix metering, program modes and autofocus. What some reviewers didn't give enough credit to, though, was the 137MD's great autoexposure lock. By flicking a well-placed switch, the shutter speed selected by the camera according to the aperture you've picked can be locked in. You can shoot at this combination if you like or open or close the aperture to adjust the exposure. Or you can quickly point the camera at another scene until you see in the viewfinder that the camera has selected the shutter speed you want and lock that one in, freeing you to choose whatever aperture you like.

With a bit of practise, this system is quicker in use than manually selecting shutter speeds from a separate dial. If you're determined to have manual shutter speeds, the 137MA is essentially the same camera but with the addition of a shutter speed dial around the rewind crank. I have one but never use the extra dial, preferring the exposure lock, and the dial uglifies the camera a little by detracting from the 137MD's clean lines.

These Contax SLRs are ridiculously inexpensive for what they offer. For whatever reason they seem to have been overlooked by photographers. Yes, the electronics used in them are getting on a bit but the bodies are cheap enough that they can be "stockpiled" for later use or cannibalised for spare parts. The bodies are very well made with a nice heft to them. Add the great Zeiss lenses and you have a 35mm outfit that gives nothing away in quality to any other system.

The weather for my visit was just the way I like it: a bit overcast and with some rainwater on the ground. All of the pics on this page are unfiltered (filter as in the round, glass "screw on the lens" type) although they've had some edge burning for extra moodiness. The negatives are really lovely. APX 100 and D76 1:1 is a great combination. Tonally, the negs are beautiful and I'm sure this has something to do with the Zeiss glass. They're also very, very sharp even though all the exposures were handheld. With no access to my darkroom yet, I'm starting to gather quite a number of negatives that I'd love to print. Scanning is OK as a stop-gap but the negs look better than the scans, giving me confidence that these images will print very nicely.


Eric the Snapper said...

Your blog inspired me to give film a go. Still using digital but now about fifty fifty. Like you - no regrets. Might even give up digital. Sadly no darkroom so scanning only. Would love the chance to print from negatives. Thanks!

David Findlay said...

Hi Bruce. I'm still shooting digitally....although I really like reading your posts and about film photography ingeneral. Years back it was all film for me but then I had to give up photography cos I had no I have some time but digital is so easy and convenient. Maybe its time to get out my old Pentax slr and shoot a coupla rolls.


Thanks for the comments guys. Dave, take a look at the post below if you haven't already done so. I think it shows what you're up against if you try to shoot film and digital at the same time.

Anonymous said...

Nice images. I love the one of the old fag signs. Zeiss lenses are the best imho. Are you trying to pun intended!..on Zeiss as it seems to be all Zeiss glass your using! I have an RTS which is the bees knees imo. Great blog -- please keep writing!


Thanks for your comment. No deliberate plan to concentrate on Zeiss lenses but it's not a bad idea! I had an RTS as well about 25 years ago. It was a lovely camera apart from one area - the wind on mechanism. It had quite a rough feel that didn't quite fit with the luxury market the RTS was pitched at. One of the best-designed 35mm cameras ever made, though.