Author Archives: Ijon Tichy

One roll, one topic – the Bauhaus Meisterhaeuser in Dessau

I think I tried several times to take decent images of the Bauhaus Meisterhaeuser in Dessau and I’m not sure I succeeded this time. The three double houses for the Bauhaus masters and the single house for the director were built in a small pine forest between 1925 and 1926. The architect Walter Gropius assembled cubic shapes of different sizes and envisioned an industrial Lego to build the houses. The houses have spacious patios and balconies as well as large windows on the sides illuminating the stairways. The    street side of the houses are mostly shaped by the large atelier windows. 

Now let me talk about the challenges of shooting these houses. There is trees allover the place. They are everywhere and really ruin the light as well as an unblocked view. On the other hand, these tall parallel pine trees somehow underline the cubic architecture and sometimes a tree cleverly breaks the parallelism. I guess I was rather luck with the light and the sun even broke through the clouds. I took this as a chance to use a dark red filter and together with the Rollei Retro 400s film it lightened the greens which looks quite fresh compared to the expected heavy dark above the white buildings.

Another quite annoying issue is that the space is very limited. Regardless of the lens used, lines will be falling and nothing is worse trying to portrait a design based on parallel lines and 90deg angles. Sometimes it seems beneficial to make the falling lines even stronger by using a wide angle lens or a low point of view but except using a large format camera or a tiltshift lens, we need to live with it. 

None of the images show the street side views of the houses. I tried one out of twelve and didn’t find it worthy to be shown here. The issues with the trees, the light and the falling lines just seem to be worse. However, maybe a good reason to return and focus on the street facing side.

Last but not least, I want to make some comments about the choice of film. Rollei Retro 400s is a fine grain emulsion that is also very sharp as well as high contrast. I think it’s a good pick to shoot architecture. However, I usually tame the contrast a bit by shooting at ISO 200 and reducing agitation during development. 

The last image doesn’t show one of the original houses. The homes of the directors were destroyed during the last days of WWII. In 2014 new houses were built but they do not resemble the originals. These two houses are new interpretations of the old without being the old.

i will continue with a bit more Bauhaus in a couple of days. Until then, enjoy.

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Umbrellas and reflection

Hey, it’s raining today. Let’s take the umbrella, load the hasselblad with fast film and play in the puddles outside. You don’t have to ask twice, your kids and most of the photographers will always follow the first call. My good friends from Tel Alviv, Victor and Sergio Bezrukov, accompanied me on this rainy September day to explore a different look of Munich. By the way, both make excellent  models as well.

A couple of hours in the city are always a good reason to get out the bulky and heavy 40mm distagon for the hasselblad. I also left the back with the TriX pushed to ISO 1600 on the camera to gain some freedom in exposure but also for the increased contrast by means of extended development. While TriX pushes well, the film starts to lose details in the shadows pushed to ISO 1600 adding to the already strong high “contrasty” feeling.

Next time you get out in the rain, find umbrellas that add pattern and shape to your images. Don’t forget to look out for the reflections in the puddles of rain water. 

Check out Victor Bezrukov’s images here. These were taken with a Fuji GA645 and Bergger Pancro pushed to ISO 800.

 

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Cars, cars, cars

I don’t take the distagon c 40mm f/4 out very often. It’s a really nice wide angle lens but it’s bulky and heavy. The lens is sharp and looking through the waistlevel finder is amazing. The lens still has a small enough depth of field at f/5.6 to work with (compared to the 24mm equivalent for 35mm film). Another very nice feature is the close focus of 45cm: the lens gets close and is wide which is a very special way approaching photographic objects.

The images below were taken during a car show using Rollei Retro 400s developed in Rodinal (1:50, 20C, 22min, reduced agitation: 2x every two minutes). 

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Praktica history – chapter three – the BX20s and the 135/2.8 tele lens

I acquired a Prakticar 135/2.8 with the Praktica BX20s. I haven’t used a tele lens for at least five years and shooting with it was feeling strange. Everything seemed so close looking through the finder and instead of moving closer to the subject, I suddenly had to move backward. Also the 2m minimum focus distance is more than different from what I’m used to.

Anyway, looking at the images, there are two very nice things to observe: the pronounced separation of subject from for- and background and the nice bokeh. I don’t think the 135mm/2.8 will become my favorite lens now but I might take it out of the cabinet every once in a while. 

The images are taken on Fomapan 400 and developed in Kodak HC110.

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Praktica history – chapter two – the bx20s

I started my shopping for Praktica SLR with the KW and an older Tessar 50/2.8. Now I’m going straight to the last model the BX20s which was manufactured between 1992 and 2001. Altogether 33,319 BX20s were built during these nine years. I got three prakticar lenses with the camera: 50/1.8 standard lens, a 135/2.8 tele and a 35-70/3.5 zoom lens. I took out the later first since I haven’t used a zoom lens in ages.

The camera comes with a pretty convenient auto ISO detection as long as the film has a DX code. You can also choose to push or pull two stops. Setting the ISO manually is a bit limited and only allows a range from 25 to 400. I also haven’t figured out a way to switch the ISO detection off. However, I’m not sure if this is needed since the +/-2 stops seem sufficient.

Using the centerweighted metering combined with the aperture priority “automatic” mode also comes in handy. I like to choose the aperture to decide what depth of field I want and let the camera do the rest and just watch that the speed isn’t too slow. Of course you can also use the manual mode, set the speed you wish to use and then choose the aperture according to the meter reading. 

After taking the camera out of the box and holding it in my hands, it felt kind of “plasticy”, light and not very robust. The back door seems lose and together with the “rapid” film advance lever a bit flimsy. However, I didn’t observe any leaks and the film advance works as well.  Inserting the film is easy and it didn’t take long to get familiar with the features and to start shooting. The finder is very bright and focusing using the split screen is fairly straightforward even for a semi blind person like myself. 

The camera was built at a time when autofocus SLRs already dominated the market. The BX20s was basically the last camera designed and developed in East Germany before the wall collapsed but sold afterwards. Comparing with the Contax RTSIII released around the same time, the BX20s was short of many things e.g. embedded motor drive, 1/8000s shutter speed, the first ttl  spot meter and others. I wonder if the by 1989 more and more declining GDR industry also impacted the once prestigious camera industry. It seems the Pentacon development wasn’t able to keep up with the speed of the industry since the first AF cameras hit the markets in 1985/86. The company had plans to build an AF camera but even though they continued selling the BX20s, they were not able to take the next steps and compete on a very different market.

The lenses are built extremely solid when compared with the camera. It’s all metal and big Carl Zeiss glass. The first roll in the camera was shot with a zoom 35-70mm zoom. Honestly, I didn’t expect much but the lens surprised me. The pictures are sharp, the bokeh is reasonable and taken shots right into the sun is reasonable as well. The macro mode with a magnification of 2:1 is quite usable as well. 

The first roll shot was a Kodak Gold 200 which is a bit on the grainy side but has very natural colors and it’s easy to scan. The camera is easy to handle and is, in spite of being manual, reasonably fast. The automatic aperture priority mode helps a lot and seems to be quite accurate. The BX20s doesn’t add a lot of weight to your bag and is a convenient and reliable companion. I don’t think it will replace my Contax RTSII but I will only know after testing the 50mm/1.8 and 1.4 lenses as well. 

I’ll post images taken with the 135mm/2.8 followed by the 50mm/1.8 next. 

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Some more images with the Yashica ML Macro 55mm 1:4

Here is a quick follow up to my last entry about the Yashica 55mm/4 macro lens. This time I was shooting Fomapan 400 with a bit of grain. The film was developed in Kodak HC110 at 24C to shorten the developing time. As for the previous post, no extra sharpening was applied to the images after scanning. I adjusted contrast, highlights and shadows only.

I can still not believe how sharp the lens is. These images are taken with a wide open aperture and are still spot on. I also like the angle covered by the 55mm lens. I used to have a Nikkor 90/2.8 and I always found the view to tight and restricted.

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How I feel about macro lenses – Yashica ML Macro 55mm 1:4

in the old days of film I went out there with my Nikkor 90mm/2.8 macro to shoot flowers and bugs. The slides are sitting now in the basement where they went from the unreachable top of the shelf and I always tell myself one of these days I will scan these beautiful slides. Although I guess I never will. I sold the Nikkor lens and honestly I never missed it. I could even argue to myself that a macro lens is pretty stupid.

Recently, I was thinking about getting a macro lens again because I wanted to get close and personal. The next step was choosing the camera system and the Contax RTS made the most sense. I have two RTS and a Yashica bodies with a couple of lenses going with it. Of course I was looking for a Carl Zeiss lens fitting the Contax mount but had to settle for the Yashica. I admit I’m a skeptic and would prefer to go for the “original”. However, the ratings for the Yashica 55mm/4 were very good and of course the cost is easier to digest than the price of a similar Carl Zeiss lens.

So I found a lens in beautiful condition with a sustainable price tag on ebay.de. The feeling of the lens built is quite nice. It’s all metal and makes a very solid impression. The focus ring runs really smooth while the aperture ring is quite “defined” and not loose at all. Maybe the maximum opening of 4 is a bit limiting but how much sense does shooting with an aperture of 2.8 really make. The ratings the lens gets drop down a bit at aperture 4 but are pretty much excellent thereafter. 

I mostly shoot anyway with an aperture of 4 or maybe 5.6 but hardly any more stepping down. I want to feel that small depth of field and really focus on the one feature. Only than getting close and personal makes sense to me as the two examples here show. I also tried taking portraits with a macro lens but I’m still failing just catching the essential and the images come out messy instead of very focused. I keep trying and maybe concentrating on just one feature is the answer.

The images here are taken on Kodak Portraits 160 rated at nominal speed. They are not sharpened for screen or anything else. What is shown is the scan with only minor modifications of color, contrast and brightness in LR. I think that’s really amazing for a 35mm film. Also since Portra is certainly not the sharpest kid on the block.

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Polaroid in Bangalore

There is never much time during a business trip to go out and take photos. This is especially true for trips to India since there isn’t much ground to cover between the hotel and the office. I didn’t have much time to add an extra today to look around. So, I chose a one of the cheapest cameras I have, a Euro10 Polaroid Supercolor 1000 which is a no thrill point and shoot being stuffed with Impossible SX-70. I got a couple of b&w and color film packs, loaded the electronic flash and planned to shoot some portraits. First I was a bit concerned going “Gilden” style flashing people from a close distance right in the face. However, when you are a 2m tall western guy with a friendly smile, people start to be interested and I even started talking to some. Although, I wanted to keep the feeling of rushing by, taking the shot and moving on. Sometimes I took a second shot and gave it to the people I photographed. The smile in their faces when the picture appeared had no price. Maybe the picture sticks now on a wall somewhere in Bangalore. 

Looking at the originals, they look just fine. Viewed from maximum of 40cm they look fairly sharp and detailed. But scanning them shows the “truth”. They are not really sharp but what is to expect from a tiny lens and a chemical process that happens all right there in the paper. To me, it’s still pretty amazing  thanks to Edwin H. Land who invented the instant photography. I”m also happy that the Impossible guys picked up the old machines and were able to create their very own instant films. 

 

Looking at the recent appearance of new instant film cameras by lomography, fuji as well as leica, there seems to be a segment that is very popular with young and old. All in all it’s good news for analog photography.

The only thing I haven’t figured out yet is how to display these tiny images. Best thing is just to hang them on a wire to be seen but the’ get dusty. Second option is individual frames. I’ll never be finished drilling hold in the walls.

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Ilford HP5+ – the expired film page

The other day I rushed out of my place, grabbed the Konica Hexar AF for the AF and the ‘ease of use’, took a roll of HP5+ and thought that this would serve my intend. I set the ISO to 800 with the believe that HP5+ pushes with some ‘grace’.  I developed the film in Kodak HC110, dilution B, 21C for 7min.

When I looked at the finished film, I realized that it might have been a roll that expired long ago. I checked the canister and it gave an experation date of 1993. Damn, that thing has been expired for 24 years and I treated it as just coming out of the factory. 

What do the years of unknown storage conditions do to a roll of HP5+? First thing I noticed is the totally foggy film base which really doesn’t help the details in the shadows: they are pretty much gone. In the lights you can still find quite some separation and the scan gets this perculiar semi high contrast look of having separation up to the middle of the tonal scale and falling off right after. Some time ago I observed the same with expired UP400 by Maco. The emulsion is apparaently the same as HP5+. So no surprises here.

What I should have done knowing about the film being expired is to rate the film at ISO 100 or 200 and do a semistand development with 1g of potassium bromide added to avoid extensive fogging. However, it’s obviously too late now. I can try the 2nd roll I still keep in the fridge. Or, I might just get rid of it. Sometimes, if the results look like this, using expired film isn’t fun at all.

My cat Maya served as the model of the example images posted here. The rest of the film is far from usable. Images I imagined to be quite well composed were extremely underexposed. 

THIS AIN’T FUN. SAD.

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praktica history – chapter one – the praktica kw

the history of the series of praktica cameras is in a way connected to me growing up in eastern germany. I think I got my first plastic point and shoot when I was 6 years old. It was a beirette sl100 and I would carry the camera loaded with a 12 frames fast loading cassette everywhere. Later I got a beirette vsn, also a point and shoot but already loaded with 36 frames. But what I wanted was a SLR. My brother had a Exa 1b and I always wanted what my brother had. But I wanted a praktica, the bigger brand of the east german SLRs. When I had saved up the money, my parents and I would drive to Berlin to get the current model since the cameras weren’t widely available. Berlin was a good guess since the east german capital was preferred for its many international visitors as well as Leipzig during the internally trade fair in spring and autumn. My first own SLR was an MTL 5B with a pentacon auto 1.8/50mm multi-coated lens. All this happened in 1985 and I was about to enter high-school. The camera was used heavily until about 1990, the year of the german re-unification, when I got a Canon SLR with auto focus, motor drive and a zoom lens.

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The canon has been sold for many years already but the MTL 5B I still posses. I even shot a couple of rolls until it started having issues with the film transport. Repair would be more expensive than getting the same camera on ebay. So, the camera sits on the shelf and it’s being looked at with sentimental feelings which are even strengthened by the fact that my farther threw all my negatives away in the summer of 1989.

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Recently, I had the rather weird idea to start to collect praktica cameras from the first model introduced in 1949 simply named “praktica” to the last model “bx20s” made until 2001. I also found a nice looking praktica according to the serial number manufactured in 1950/51 with a zeiss tessar 2.8/50mm lens right away on ebay which started this new project. The camera was the successor of the praktiflex which was only the third 35mm SLR introduced. The praktiflex was the first camera with a returning mirror as well as an interchangeable lens with a 40mm screw mount. The later prakticas introduced the 42mm thread mount which was an industry standard until the seventies.

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After shooting the first roll, I also realize that this will take me through many years of 35mm photography, how it advanced and how the photographic opportunities developed. On the other side also the way viewing an image changed a lot throughout these years of ever changing technologies. already while deciding whether to scan an image or not, I was thinking if I had done a darkroom print many years ago. Looking through photo magazines of the fifties and sixties, it’s easy to conclude that the perception of sharpness, detail, contrast have changed significantly throughout the years. I don’t even claim that the biggest steps in photographic development were made in the digital age. This honor is undeserved by bits and bytes but goes to many step by step innovations of the cameras, the film material as well as the ever improving chemicals and darkroom techniques. The aim is not only to collect great work of engineering but the re-creation of the conditions at the time the camera was made.

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The camera has just a few knobs to do things. The waist level finder is fixed with a condenser type ground glass as focusing screen. On the upper right side is the wheel to advance the film with a frame counter and left the know to rewind the 35mm film. The exposure times can be chosen with the remaining third wheel. The release button is in front of the housing and makes a nice pleasant sound when hit. The mirror remains up after the release and needs to be charged by advancing the film first. The fact that there is no “communication” of body and lens takes a bit of getting used to since focus needs to be adjusted with an open lens before stepping down the aperture for shooting. I don’t think I’d be able to work fast with the camera. But looking trough old magazines photographers were still able to catch fast moving. For some shots I tried to use the largest depth of field possible by moving the infinity marker to the aperture used but these images turned out to be out of focus throughout while the manually focused images are OK.

The 2.8/50 tessar lens is quite OK considering its age. It’ fairly sharp and responses well shooting against the light. Of course it can’t be compared with today’s fancy and expensive glass. I’m not sure if I will run many more films through the camera. Yet, forcing myself to shoot with this camera is a re-thinking process and not just hit the shutter and go to the next frame. However, it will also look nice in my just started praktica collection.

These images here were taken on an long expired ORWO NP20 (ASA 80) and semi-stand developed in 1:100 Rodinal. What the camera looks like can be seen here.

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