Category Archives: Camera talk

The weirdest camera – the Noblex 150u Pro

I write here before about my endeavors with the old horizon panorama camera. The odyssey continued since the next role I shot had light leaks again. However, I didn’t want to miss that film format. I started looking for all kinds of panorama cameras on eBay. There were some new horizons on the market but I hesitated because there i already one in the household. The Noblex 135 for a decent price are mostly “sport” versions without a level inside the viewfinder. One day I saw a Noblex 150, the medium format version for a decent price. I wrote the guy that he will never sell for this price but I’m willing to go for €100 less. He agreed, started a new buy-it-now and I got the camera. 

The camera arrived in a nice aluminum case it seemed to work as well, but of course I’m not that lucky. Exposing the first real film, I discovered that the camera doesn’t always fire or when it does it’s way to slow. The price I paid was too high to just take the loss. Therefore my first reaction was to return it. Thinking about, I still had such an attractive price that it might be ok to get it fixed. So, I postponed this decision after getting the opinion of my favorite if not the only camera repair guy I know. He told me that it’s most likely the rubber belts driving the movement of the lens that a dry and loose after so many years. The €100 he charged to fix it made the decision easy. 

I ran the first roll through the camera on the same day. I still struggled a bit with loading the film and keeping the 1.8kg heavy thing straight. The horizontal level is inside the viewfinder while the vertical tilt can be seen only outside. The camera was originally developed for landscape photography assuming the camera is mounted on a tripod. However, I think it’s much more fun to use it in urban or suburban places using to camera tilt as means of expression especially in narrow places.

I was wonderung what exposure speeds are possible handheld. The rotation of the lens seems even at 1/250 awfully slow. Online I’ve found the information that it’s safe to hold 1/250 or 1/125 of a second and I didn’t have any problems with it. I guess it’s always good to choose a fast film to be able to do that. The images are extremely sharp. There is just a little bit of distortion in the extreme corners of the image. The model I have has a built in 5mm lens shift upwards. That helps with the composition without tilting the camera. Another cool feature is the three step zone focus. One meter, five and infinity can be chosen. I haven’t tried it yet but I always find it more interesting to have a limited depth of field.

There are two things that I didn’t get used to yet: the fingers need to stay away from the orbit of the lens. Otherwise, you have them on the negative. Also the camera back opens fairly easily. You will loose at least two of the 6 frames of a film.

It’s truly a cool camera. A bit heavy for sure but the five times twelve centimeter negative covering an angle of one hundred and fourth six degree is worth hauling that thing around. Stay tuned. There will be more soon.

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It’s working. Finally. The Pentacon Six TL

Most of my camera purchases are emotional. I don’t sit down and compare features, draw a chart and make a decision based on technical facts. I listen to the resonance a camera leaves behind. I guess that’s the reason I buy and sell quite frequently since I give a new camera a shot but get rid of it again when we’re not becoming good buddies.

The Pentacon Six TL is one of these cameras I always wanted to have since I believe it’s the best looking 6×6 camera. Growing up in East Germany where the camera was made, i had no chance to get my hands on one. The cameras were almost exclusively made for export or for professional photographers. After the reunification I forget about the camera and focused on Japanese made SLRs with all bells and whistles. After my digital era, my analog work horse became a Hasselblad 500c/m but I started to look into finding a Pentacon Six TL.

The first one I got on eBay was cheap, didn’t look that good and fell apart when I unwrapped it. I was pretty frustrated and sold it as defect again. After that I kept looking on eBay but was concerned buying from a private seller and a bit scared by the high prices of the stores. Finally, I found one that was  in great shape cosmetically and seemed to work as well. Only the film counter seemed broken. 

I took the camera on a weekend trip, shot a couple of rolls only to find out that the filmtransport wasn’t working and that most of the shutter speeds were off as well. While the speeds were easily fixed by cleaning the mechanics, the transport is apparently not easy to fix. It took the repair guy about a year to heal the camera. I went by a couple of times and he continued telling me that he hates dealing with Six TLs. 

Since the camera is ready I’ve shot a couple of roles. Honestly, I love the camera even though it’s far from perfect. The waist level finder is bright and allows easy focusing. The ergonomics of shutter and film winder is quite good. It rather feels like a heavy 35mm than a MF camera. I’m not gonna go into much more technical detail describing the few knobs and wheels. It’s worth to mention that inserting the film always makes me nervous. If the counter is working, the camera is ready when it points to the “1”. Otherwise, advance and release three times to be on the first frame. The camera also allows you to shoot a thirteens frame but where to put this extra frame if the film sleeve only holds twelve 6×6 images. The biometar 80/2.8 is a good lens. It’s sharp and quite high contrast. Light falls of towards the edge giving the images quite a vintage look. I haven’t done a lot of crazy testing yet but I like what I see even shooting with wide open aperture. I recently also acquired a Flektogon 50mm/4 and looking forward taking it out together with the Six TL.

Here a little update after I got a response on twitter: I’ve decided to love the camera as long as it works. She’s an old lady on her last mile and we will enjoy this time.

The images are taken on Ilford Delta 400 pushed to ISO 800 and developed in Spürsinn HCDnew.

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Camera talk – an affordable panorama camera

Let me put one thing straight right at the beginning. What I really want is a Fuji 6×17 or maybe a medium format Widelux. On a good day I might settle for a MF Noblex. However, these are pretty much out of reach right now. So I settled for an older Russian Horizont made in the years of 1972 and 1973. The younger “plastic” version Horizont 202 can also be found on eBay and lomography even sells a range of new Horizon cameras.

Soon after my camera arrived, I shot the first roll on top of Saentis mountain in Switzerland. After developing the roll, I found lots of light leaks. Also some the shutter speeds were pretty off. All images seemed to be out of focus due to camera shakes. I got the problems fixed, shot the next film and found some more light leaks while the speed issues were resolved. The camera went back to the clinic. I shot another roll when I got it back and all frames were just a little bit out of focus. Oh well, I thought, and put the camera into the shelve to spend the rest of its days there. When I picked up another camera from the repair shot, I gave it a try and ask the guy to take a look again and he found out that the lens was a bit lose changing focus a tiny bit. I went to the nearest store selling film, got a roll of Ilford FP4+ with twenty four exposures to have another test run. I didn’t have high hopes but tried anyway.

I strolled along Munich’s Christmasmarket and up Kaufinger Straße to Stachus. People seem to look at this strange apparatus but don’t seem to get its function. An American guy asked me what that thing is and I showed him how the camera worked with its rotating lens. Then I had a cup of hot punch, shot one more frame and the film was done.

Since it was a dark and wet December day, I shot the film at ISO400. I developed in Rodinal (1+25, 20min) and when I scanned the film, I was happy to see all was good and well focused. To be honest, I was surprised how sharp these images were and also how well FP4+ behaved being pushed about two stops. The contrast is as expected a bit higher and the shadow detail is suffering a bit but all things considered the images look quite good. The sharpness is excellent and the detail free grain in the dark areas isn’t annoying at all.

There is not much thrill handling the camera. It has shutter speeds from 1/30 down to 1/250 of a second and aperture from 2.8 to 16. The lens is a 2.8/28mm lens. The depth of field depends on the chosen aperture, for example at 2.8 it starts at about 5m to infinity while it’s just 1m for aperture 16. Inserting the film can be tricky but YouTube features some how to do it videos. The most difficult thing is not to get a finger in the way of the lens. Shooting becomes a bit “inconvenient” since holding the camera, as I normally do, would certainly be visible on the negs. The new versions like the 202 have a special grip while you just need to be careful with the older releases.

The entire process from buying to having a functioning camera took me about a year. Now I have a working panorama camera that gives excellent output (as long as it lasts). The It doesn’t really replace the wish of having a Fuji 6×17 but it helps that craving to shoot wide for a while.

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Camera talk – the Rolleiflex 6008, should I stay or should I go

There is one piece of German engineering that is hopelessly overdone, heavy, bulky to call out a few things and you don’t really want that thing in your house: the Rolleiflex 6008, a powerplay that can be used to shoot square photos on medium format film as well. But it seems, I can’t really sell it either. Some voice is saying “keep me, keep me, I’m worth every penny you paid for me”. Hope dies last and I still resist to hit that “sell” button on eBay.

The thing that bothers me the most is weight and form factor. While a Hasselblad hugs your hands smoothly and quietly hangs lens down when not using it, the Rolleiflex drags you down like a pair of cement boots while shooting and is always in the way somehow when not. What I mean is that a Hasselblad’s weight is distributed horizontally and it’s almost like a sleeping baby in your hands. The Rolleiflex with its motor drive and prism finder tends to be more vertical and the heavy lens makes it hang on your shoulders like a sack of potatoes. Believe me, the camera is always in the way. 

Another very annoying thing is that the camera has some kind of malfunction. Randomly the camera would open and close the leaf shutter in the lens as it’s supposed to do. However, the mirror doesn’t go back down, the shutter stays close and the film wouldn’t advance. The entire camera is stuck for a random amount of time. At some point pressing the shutter again will bring the camera back to life. The problem with the Rolleiflex 6008 is that everything is electronic. The lens has ten contacts to the body, the film back six and the battery four. The first thing I did was to make sure there is always a fresh battery in the camera. Sometimes these old electronic parts have high leakage and the battery runs down much faster. However, that wasn’t the issue. Then I cleaned all the contacts and it seemed to work in the dry run for at least two weeks. I even shot one full film without the malfunction occurring. When I put in the next film it happened again and I was back brainstorming. Checking all the contacts again, one pin going to the film holder was shorter than the others hinting a loose spring. I fixed it with some aluminum foil and finished the roll without issues. Now, I’ll be back on the dry run and at some point I’ll load the next film without removing the back. 

It seems the camera really drives me nuts while it also has its perks. The 80mm HFT lens is one of the sharpest I’ve ever shot with. It even beats the Hasselblad 80mm Planar and I wouldn’t complain about it at all. The camera also has three metering modes. I have to say the matrix metering is quite good and the 1% spotmeter comes in very handy. There is another mode that calculates the average of five spots as well. As far as I can tell this is pretty advanced for a MF camera and the metering hasn’t failed me. I also like the film Magazin with the built in dark slide. It is most certainly one of the more brilliant strokes the German engineers had designing this camera. How often did you misplace a dark slide of the Hasselblad?

I’m still not sure to keep it or sell it. The camera is not the same fun like my Hasselblad 500c/m and of course it’s not good to always worry about the malfunction occurring again. But sellin* it on eBay as defect would score me almost no money anymore. I just can hope the aluminum foil fixed the issue with the shorter magazin to body contact. 

I’ll also throw some ballast off shooting the next film. The so called action grip as well as the prismn finder have to go. Maybe using the camera in a Hasselblad fashion will help me to like it more. 

Enjoy the images below. They are shot on Fuji Superia 400 which isn’t available for MF any longer. I don’t shoot a lot of color but that’s a film I really like. 

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taking the hasselblad to a concert

A hasselblad isn’t really known for its use during a concert. Actually the camera isn’t known to be very versatile outside a photo studio. Although I like to take my hasselblad anywhere but the studio and I started to enjoy the results of images taken in low light. A film that is very versatile and push-able to the extreme is Kodak’s TriX. I’ve used the film at ISO 6400 and beyond developed in Spuersinn HCDnew.

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I have discussed the camera as well as the film. The next question is about the best lens. My thinking for a concert and low light is going wide. Focusing is a bit easier since the depth of field is increased and I have a better chance hitting the focus in dim lighting.

I also think I’m able to get interesting angles and a bit more drama using a wide lens. But this brings me to the next problem: location. Shooting wide means I gotta get close to the stage and that might be a problem in a tiny  crowded place.

Finally, I chose the 40mm/4 Distagon this time. I just got the lens on ebay and was really keen to try it out. I set it on f4 and 1/30 at and started shooting. I also measured and saw that I need a stop more to develop at ISO 6400. Anyway, the setting was the lowest anyway and I started shooting. Maybe I could get away with 1/15s with a 40mm lens but I didn’t want to risk it knowing the hasselblad doesn’t do really well with long shutter speeds.

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The concert took place in a small bar called Gabanyi, a cosy place with a long bar and a few tables while the stuff runs around in white aprons, the kind that people wear in labs. There was a little stage with the piano just lid by two old fashioned lamps on the wall.

The bar was getting pretty crowded. There were some tables right in front of the stage with all seats taken. When the concert started, I quickly finished my beer and squeezed myself between two tables standing right in front of the stage. I realized that the camera plus the lens are quite big and it needs a bit of juggling in a narrow space. I also needed to be careful where to put the camera when not shooting. A small digital point-and-shoot might be more practical. I just wonder if I even would look at the results. Part of the fun is the challenge to master all weird circumstances: the big medium format camera plus the monster 40mm lens, the narrow space, the low light and the film chosen for the task, the shooting location. Considering all this and a bit of luck will lead to some interesting images for sure. I always try to find a good balance between shooting and thinking before clicking. Shooting with film means every time you click the shutter you also use a frame of film. Thinking too much means you never get a full film.

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Finding a balance especially while shooting a band is important. Some out of focus frames will be lost as well as some due to unexpected movements. I tried to limit myself to one film since changing the film or back might have been too much trouble.

Observing the images I see that most are done from a low point of view. That can be explained with the usage of the hasselblad’s waistlevel finder which makes it easier to choose a low view point than a high one. I’ve tried over the head and upside down but I seldom hit the right focus. I also tried during this shoot and it was a wasted frame. Sometimes I get the finder very close to my face and try to stand on my toes to raise the camera as much as possible. Yet, a view from above is only possible from a raised position. These are the things you don’t even realize while shooting but when looking at the results much later.

20150115_theCapitols_TriX_Hasselblad_010-EditMaybe I shortly get back to the film used here: Kodak TriX. There were times I shot a lot of TriX but when I started analog photography again in 2012 I didn’t like it at first and I mostly used Ilford HP5+ and Delta 400. On a recent trips I started shooting TriX again and tried some different developers like Spur Ultraspeed Vario, the new Tetenal Ultrafin T-Plus and Spuersinn HCDnew for push development. After taming the high contrast, it’s now one of my most favorite films again.

I think I need to say some words about the band as well. Hey, they were the real heroes of the evening. “The Capitols” is a young band based in Munich, Germany which usually plays good and solid rock. In the relatively small Gabanyi Bar they tried to go “unplugged”. I think even the band wasn’t sure if this is going to work but it did. The acoustic versions of “Inhale/Exhale” and “Neon Ghetto” totally worked for me. There are three songs promoted on their webpage.

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Santa’s big surprise

Every boy has got a little dream and mine had been to own and shoot with a Leica rangefinder camera. This Christmas Santa and his great little helper brought me a Leica IIIf “red dial” made between 1952 and 1953. The camera came with the original Leica Elmar 3.5/50 made between 1921 and 1965. The camera is a real cutie. It’s smaller and lighter compared to the M series. Releasing the shutter is a dream. You press it and just a soft gentle sound is heard. Honestly, the IIIf has the quietest shutter sound I’ve ever listened to.

Ken Rockwell has a nice write up here with lots of details and he says: “The IIIf looks so crazy and ancient that no one will give you a hard time photographing with it. Superstitious people who confuse DSLRs with weapons are not afraid of the IIIf.”

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All the dials and knobs work perfectly fine even though the camera is 60 years old. The shutter speed is set in top of the camera and the aperture in front of the lens. The film transport runs smooth and exact with leaving less than 2mm between the frames. The viewfinder is nice and bright but isn’t used to focus. The little magnifier left of the viewfinder is for focusing by means of overlaying the two images. Switching between both finders seems easy enough. So, I put a Kodak TMAX 100 in and took it out shooting.

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TMAX 100 isn’t my favorite film and I never know what to develop it in. However, I do like its small grain in a 35mm film. I developed it in Rodinal to get a smooth but visible grain, good sharpness as well as some contrast.

I went to the horse farm just across my place and shot an entire film. I chose an open aperture and speeds between 1/25 and 1/50 to push the camera, the lens and me a bit. It wasn’t easy to focus on the moving horses. The wide open aperture didn’t help either. However, the images came out alright.

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After the first shots the sun came out and I tried some shots right into it. Focusing wasn’t a problem and I more or less guessed the exposure. Lens flare is quite nice even shooting directly into the sun.

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The camera handles nice and it’s fun to use. The process of setting exposure, focusing and framing on the subject takes some time and the camera won’t take pictures of high speed action. But this way of taking photographs slows me down and makes me think about the image. Maybe I couldn’t catch every image I saw that day. Yet, I’m happy with what I got on film. The process of thinking about the final result before and right while taking the image is the real thrill of film photography. Here are the last images of an afternoon walk.

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Camera Talk – the last fun camera made

Hey, you know what I'm talking about? Do you know a camera that doesn't have dozens of functions and you don't need to click through layers of menus. You don't even need to wait for the autofocus to over-sharpen your image because it just can't. You know what I'm talking about? Yes, a simple point and shoot roll film camera in bakelite housing: The VEB Rheinmetall Perfekta.

 

The camera doesn't have much controls. It's got a fixed focus and a shutter speed of about 1/30sec and a bulb mode. The release needs be cocked by the film transport wheel on top of the camera. And last but not least, the finder are two funny frames which can be flipped in and out. Aiming the camera at anything between 5 and 10m will get you something in focus. Any object nearer will be just blurry while anything further away is just not totally sharp. You need to hold the camera steady. The about 80mm lens and the fixed shutter speed can lead to blurred images. There are no other controls on this camera. It's really up to you what kind of photography you do with it. I think it's best when you take it out to your neighborhood and see what you can find.

The body was made of bakelite and still has this funny plastic smell to it. The controls are cream colored which gives the camera a fancy look. Around 1 million pieces of this modern streamline design box cameras were made between 1953 and 1957 and it looks very much the same as the Druopta Efekta which is difficult to find already. I also found a nice Perfekta II on ebay. But about about that baby later.

I took the bakelite wonder on a trip to Salzburg. It was a sunny day but still decided to got for my favorite film: Ilford HP5+. Even though a very nwell behaving film, I like the over all look of contrast, grey tones and grain. I guessed the exposure and set 7.7 in shady spaces, 11or 16 when it was sunnier. As usual with the uncertainty of the exposure, I stand developed in highly diluted Rodinal (1+100 for 1h) leading to the effect to develop stronger in the shadows compared to the lights and making edges of higher contrast a bit sharper having the low quality of the lens in mind. 

Here are some results which are actually quite OK. Sharpness drops quickly from the center to the edge but the lens does have a beautiful and subtle darker and out of focus vignette. 

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Camera Talk -The Pentax 645N

Back in 2002, I got my first Pentax 645NII. Even though digital photography was certainly winning more and more ground, I decided to give it a shot. I was shooting mostly color slides and a bit of b&w film back than and I just recently sold a Contax G2 to get my first digital SLR, a Fujifilm S2.

I think I used the camera for about a year on trips to Cambodia, Japan, Germany, China and in Taiwan where I recited at the time. I even have some framed prints left from these rolls but mostly scanned the slides which are sitting somewhere on my hard disk now.

I sold the piece at the B&H store in New York and got a Voigtlaender Bessa R.

Just a year ago when still living in Singapore, I saw a good deal for a Pentax 645N with a 45-85mm, 1:4.5 lens on ebay. I got it even though my memories were mixed.

First of all that thing is heavy. It ways about 2kg with lens and still 1.2kg without. It’s a real pain to haul around. Yet, it works like a 35mm SLR. The autofocus is fast and reliable. The camera got spot, center weighted and matrix exposure measurement and you can adjust the exposure by +/-3 stops in 1/3 steps. You even can bracket your shots. Maybe someone uses it for “film” HDR. But it did come handy when shooting slides.

Here are a couple of slides I shot 2003 in Cambodia

The Pentax 645N was released in 1997. Autofocus was added to the 645 and a new series of autofocus lenses was released as well. It seems to me that the 45-85mm zoom lens I got isn’t the sharpest. I was looking around online but only found good reviews. I guess it doesn’t help to scan and zoom in to 200%. It is film after all.

Apparently, the 645 series was developed for amateur wedding photographers. Today, the camera is bargain for landscape and fine art photography. Even though, Hasselblad and Mamiya 7 lenses are going to beat the Pentax lenses but what you get is more speed and fun shooting.

Here are a couple of images I shot recently on Ilford FP4+ and HP5+:

Ilford HP5+ developed in Spuersinn HCD

Ilford FP4+ developed in SPUR Acurol

Ilford HP5+ developed Spuersinn HCD

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