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Monday, November 19

More format thoughts

One of the (many) challenging things as you grow older is dealing with deteriorating eyesight. I've been quite short-sighted since my pre-teen days but have never found that much of a problem beyond my glasses preventing me from seeing the whole viewfinder with some SLRs and all 35mm rangefinders. For about 25 years I wore contact lenses but can't be bothered with the hassle nowadays, especially since giving up squash which was my main reason for wearing them, fearing a wild swing by a playing partner might shatter them and cause me real eyesight problems.

The eye issue that's bugging me just now is the one of "floaters", those annoying shadowy shapes that float in and out of a person's direct point of focus. Normally, they're only rarely a nuisance and mostly go unseen. Lately, though, I have a particularly annoying one that seems to delight in settling on the point of focus of my dominant right eye. It's annoying enough that I've started to use my left eye when looking through the grain magnifier during printing.

I can usually get it to shift by moving my eyeball around but then run the risk of being called a swivel-eyed loon! So, rather than having people casting aspersions on my mental health, I went for the line of least resistance and have started using the old Nikon F90x with two autofocus lenses, the 35mm f2 AF-D and the 85mm f1.8 AF-D.

I think I've mentioned in the past what a high quality and versatile combination this outfit is and recent use has only confirmed that. If 35mm in general is easy and convenient then AF and matrix metering is doubly so. I know there will be a couple of large format practitioners (naming no names - the guilty know who they are) wondering if the F90x came with a McDonald's Happy Meal or from the bankrupt stock of Toys were Us but, as Father Ted might have said, I'm all out of fecks.

Photography, in my opinion, is about enjoying the process whilst striving for an image that matches or exceeds the visualisation made at the taking stage. I can achieve that to my own satisfaction with toy cameras like the F90x and LF would probably just increase the number of pointless, bland but technically superb photographs I'd take.

Of course, there are some photographs you need an LF camera for (architectural photography and, eh, architectural photography) but there are also many others that suit a 35mm SLR much more so. In fact, the pic at the top of this post was really only possible because I had an AF, matrix metering machine in my hand. I say "hand" because it was raining quite heavily the day I took it and there was no way I would have been standing out in that weather setting up a tripod with the Speed Graphic or SL66e on board.

However, having slotted the 85mm on the toy camera, I was able to venture outside with an umbrella in my left hand and the camera in my right confident that the AF would do its job just fine and the matrix metering would deliver the goods with no weird lighting to screw it up. And so it proved.

This has become one of my favourite photographs of the Perthshire village of Clunie, a regular childhood haunt of mine and one that I returned to again and again as an adult when I had a family of my own. The main attraction for me is the plethora of chestnut trees - our family have always been "conker" enthusiasts. Here's a bit of boring trivia: the chestnuts this year were the biggest I've encountered.

We used to have a wee competition to see who could find the biggest one so I know from previous years that 22g-23g is about as heavy as they normally get. Somewhat sadly now that our kids have all flown the nest, there was only Cath and I enjoying the sweet autumn air at Clunie this year so the fact that I picked up a 28g conker was a bit of a Pyrrhic victory. Still, a record is a record and one to tell the grandchildren about when our brood can stop working and playing long enough to actually get down to obeying the biological imperative.

The film for the Clunie shot, as for the others scanned and presented here, was Tmax 100, rated at an ISO of 200 (this is where all you "EI" nitpickers can jump in. Haha) and developed in ID11 1+1.  I didn't give it the recommended time (can't remember what that is now but probably around 11' 30" to 12') but agitated normally for 11' and then let it stand for 2' 30". That's a favourite method of Phil Rogers and a very handy tip as the resultant negs were just about spot on from my point of view.

Next up is The White Line. It was taken on the same miserable day as Clunie and was another hastily-grabbed shot but without the protection of an umbrella. The neg has plenty of shadow detail but I felt it needed to be quite dark to highlight the line and the wet tarmac. I'm not quite sure that I'd print it as dark as it it here.

Stepladder was a charming scene I stumbled across on Auchtermuchty Common in Fife. It's almost as I found it but not quite. The problem was that the stepladder was much closer to the tree trunk and actually overlapped part of it. There was so much undergrowth all around that I couldn't find a spot from which I could take a shot showing good separation between the ladder and tree. I eventually ended up moving the ladder closer to the camera position and still had to stand in amongst a thicket of brambles and tall weeds to get the shot.

The shot of the reflected telephone pole appealed to me because of the reflection in the big puddle and also the two fence posts mirrored in the smaller puddle. It's pretty standard fare for me, to be honest, with all the elements I like such as a little mist/drizzle, surface water and general dreichness.

All three of the photographs after Clunie were made with the 35mm lens and I've just realised the final one of Luthrie Church wasn't taken on the 85mm as I led you to believe at the start of the post but on a 70-210 Nikkor AF zoom. I'd forgotten about that.

Luthrie Church is yet another reminder for me why I prefer 35mm to other formats. Apart from the telephone pole shot, I wouldn't have taken any of the others had I been totting the Sl66e or a large format camera - the two rainy day shots because of the weather and the stepladder one because of the heavy undergrowth around the shooting position.

Luthrie Church was another 35mm only photo - at least for me. Aside from the fact that it was shot around the 150mm mark, it was another where the shooting position was key. The important bit of the photograph was the four spires and their relationship to the background. The spot where I'd parked the car - it was to the right of where I ended up taking the shot - gave me a good vantage point but the spires were somewhat lost in amongst the trees.

I had to walk about 100 yards down the road and through more tall - and wet - weeds on the verge to get to a sloping spot leading down to a fence. I was able to balance the F90x on a fence post which was just as well as the shutter speed was 1/60th. Again, there was really no place to set up a tripod and, with an LF camera, I don't think I'd have been carrying the 5x4 equivalent of a 150mm lens anyway.

I suppose, had I been in my 20s and a bit more adventurous, I might have tried taking the photographs in this post with the SL66e or the Speed Graphic, putting up with a soaking in the rain or possibly hacking away at weeds and brambles with the tripod legs to carve out a viable shooting position but I doubt it. The fact is that it's taken me far too long to realise that I'm a 35mm SLR man. I like the versatility of the 35mm SLR, the range of lenses, the convenience, the portability, etc. The rest is far too much like a really scratchy hair shirt for my liking.


Roger Bradbury said...

As I was saying to a friend who used his 127 Brownie in the 1950s to take B&W photos of trees and statues (because of the shadows and forms) black and white is all about shapes and tones.

Especially in some of your photos here, where there's a strong graphic element. This is something I often do myself, when to my surprise I find I'm taking landscape photos. Again.

Dave Jenkins said...

I used the Olympus OM system in my business as a commercial and documentary photographer from 1979 to 1992. Unfortunately, by the early ’90s aging eyes made it necessary to switch to an autofocus system. I held on to my Olympi in hope that they would develop a professional-level autofocus system, but ultimately and reluctantly had to switch to Canon, which had very much the best AF at that time.

right-writes said...

Er... Have ye tried APS-C digital Bruce?

The camera fits in your pocket, and the sensor is capable of recording fog, mist and dreichness, no need for film or a dark room either.

I am not Fuji user, but I went out with a few of them in London a couple of years back and during a coffee, I learned that one of them, even though he used a Fuji X1 (I think), didn't have a computer or a mobile phone and had no plans to get either.

He just took a few shots with his camera, and then every so often, he popped into Jessops and got them "developed".

He was happy as Larry, and he had a good eye too, the other members showed him a good deal of respect, he had previously been into Nikon 35mm, and darkrooms.

As I say this, I am just preparing to drive to Bexhill, 60 miles from home to collect an antique 8x10 field camera circa 1895 that I have just won on the Bay. I won the Cooke Triplet that goes with it, last week. God knows what I am going to do with it... Probably get some of that Foma emulsion and some glass and pretend to fabricate some dry plates, although it does have sheaths for sheet film.

Fortunately, I also have a Yashica MF TLR camera, three pinhole cameras, all MF, as well as three 35mm Leicas of various vintages, and a new APS-C Leica, which is by far the most convenient tool for taking snaps, and are the ones that get the oohs and ahhs too.

My favourite combination is the latter with the 40mm Summicron from the old CL, they work really well and the EVF lets my bad eyes tune in to the shot, without doing everything for me.

Herman Sheephouse said...

I'm glad you posted these to the world in general Bruce - I said they were good at the time and they are - cracking landscapes actually. And you're right, if it suits you, use what you are happiest with . . . I'll stick with my hair shirt and barbed-wire underpants. I find the most useful photographic tool to be the split-image screen - since I put one in the 500C/M, things have changed a lot.

With regards to floaters, apparently they're there from birth, and the viewing of them is all down to how your brain processes the signals. That might be bollocks but I read it somewhere.
And as for preserving your eyesight - I have railed against glasses for a while now - sure my sight isn't brilliant - left eye is more dominant, but I can still view things without them, except really close-up.
Oh, and there's a technique called Palming, which helps your eyes - it is very relaxing too.

andy nutter said...

The Luthrie church shot is excellent Bruce, lovely framing. It demonstrates beautifully the value of the medium telephoto in landscape work. I use 135mm on my Leica rangefinder(tricky) 250mm in medium format and 370mm in 5x4. As someone who has never needed glasses but who now finds they don't make road signs as sharp as they used to and my arms are only just long enough to hold a book far enough away to be readable. What type of optical assistance is needed for accurate focusing with any camera. I.E on my SLR I could be focusing on infinity whilst the SLR screen is only a cm from my eye. Whereas a medium format screen or large format screen could be 30cm from my eye as I focus on infinity. Also when you auto-focus on your SLR does the screen image it produces look blurred to you at the point of shooting? Being a tight arsed Yorkshire man the important question is do I invest in reading glasses (from pound world)or do I focus on acquiring a free eye test coupon for spec savers......?

Elliot said...

Happy Holidays from Northern Florida, USA.

These are wonderful images Bruce. I especially enjoyed seeing the melding of the old village with the beautiful building in the center with the modern telephone equipment on the left.

As always, thanks for taking the time to pose these images.


Dave Jenkins said...

I meant (but forgot) to say in my previous comment that I had a serious problem with floaters in the early '90s. A big, brown floater would frequently move into the center of my field of vision as I attempted to focus my cameras. I was in my early/mid 50s at the time. The floaters were pretty much gone by the time I was 60 and I have had no problem with them for years.

DavidM said...

Good stuff here. You're working well with the excellent F90. I have one, tucked away on the shelf to my left. A satisfying size and weight in the hand.
It seems to me, looking back, that you're not specifically a 35mm man, but you are certainly a hand-holding man and 35mm is the most popular format for that. (Well, nowadays, it takes second place to the iPhone, but this is the Online Darkroom not the Online iPhone Fan-Club) You seem to do well with slightly larger formats and one of the great benefits of both roll- and sheet-film is that by limiting the number of shots available, they can make you think a little bit more. Ever noticed how many excellent shots seem to come on frames 32-37? Another benefit is that you seldom have to wait to use up the rest of the film before you see what you've done.
Perhaps a tiny monopod might fit into the bag? I've heard that a piece of string looped round the foot can steady a camera and that may be the case, but where do you keep the muddy string afterwards?

The great thing about an OM1 is that you can eat the Kinder egg first.

And now, I put my critic's hat on. I really like the white line picture. You seem to be able to extract remarkable images from humble road markings. The "but" is that I'd like to see the boundary between the water and the bank in the very dark foreground. It's only a tiny but...

Eric Rose said...

I have my first cataract operation Nov 27th and the other eye done Dec 4th, 2018. Over the past 3 years it's has been getting harder and harder to focus manual focus cameras. It's now at the point that I can't use my grain focuser in the darkroom. Forget about colour correcting images in PS! My colour perception is all off due to the yellowing of my natural lenses.

My wife is legally blind without her glasses so when we travel or hike in the mountains she always has me take a spare pair for her. Just in case. Smart lady!

One interesting side effect of my cataracts growing was that I went from being near sighted to having better than 20/20 vision. This was great until I could not see anything in the middle of my field of vision. It's amazing how the brain works though. Unless I am trying to specifically use the middle of my eye for focusing I don't really notice to much degradation in my vision. Except for the yellowing of everything. The brain somehow seems to be able to put it all together for general walking around etc.

I love the photos you have displayed in this post. Just goes to show you don't need bright blue skies and puffy clouds to produce stunning photographs.


Aaron De Lazzer said...


Beyond any comment about the photos or chiding of the choice of camera that the petty and idle of mind might be tempted by; I must simply applaud (is that the light patter of a golf clap I hear?) the fact that you got off your a$$, out the door, hunted down a frame or 36. Developed, scanned, made an edit of said photos and then, if that wasn't enough to earn a wee dram, cobbled together a coherent comment to surround said photos. Obviously you must have had a feck or two yet to give and for that I thank you. There is something that stirs me when I see and read your posts. I fall in love for the both humble and yet extravagant pursuit of B&W film in the year of our Lord 2018. And for that I thank you.


Bruce Robbins said...

Thanks for all the comments everyone. It's very encouraging when you take the time to leave some feedback. Unfortunately, Blogger doesn't allow me to reply directly to each individual comment and it gets a bit cumbersome if I tag replies on in a big list at the end. I'll try in future to respond straight away to each new comment so it's obvious who I'm replying to. And I'm happy to take emails through the link on the blog if there's anything you want to discuss in more detail.

DavidM said...

You are going to see a brand new world.

John Carter said...

Glasses, format, and ease of shooting: I've thought about this a lot. Even though you and I have similar thoughts I do find the my Bessa R is my easiest camera to use. It has a good viewfinder, I can focus it quickly, and although not as versatile as a SLR to me it is easier. I still like the mid-format negative better but the cameras slow you down and are inconvenient.

Aaron De Lazzer said...


Have you seen what Ilford is doing on their Youtube channel?
Like, finally...
Oddly, most corporate entities engage SO poorly if at all....Kodak an example of the former and Ilford the latter in my mind.
I've often wondered how these guys (Ilford) one of the last standing, were not doubling down on the steadily rising tide of film users again? The combination of the immutable dead wood like ourselves, plus this younger, film curious group (millenials+)that is tapping into everything we already know that is cool about film and film cameras.
How skateboarding and Leica ever climbed into bed together will forever be a mystery to me BUT I love the marriage; the characters, the style; awesome. Finally, finally, finally Ilford is sort of pseudo sponsoring some cool creation of content to fan the're only one man!
Anyway, hope you've seen it (if not, get over there!) and would love to hear that even an old codger like you felt something. :)

DavidM said...

Happy New Year.