Praktica history – chapter four – the Praktica FX2

In my first post a about the history of praktica cameras, I wrote about the very first praktica manufactured by Kamera Werkstaette Niederselitz near the Saxonian city Dresden. The target was to make an effortable camera for the people who had an increased desire to take pictures of their lives after WWII. In 1952 the original camera was replaced by the praktica fx. The big new thing were the flash synchronisation ports for fast syncing bulbs (F) and electronic flashes (X). Otherwise the camera stayed pretty much the same with waiste level finder and the fact that the aperture wasn’t automatically set when hitting the shutter but needed to be pre-set. 

In 1955 a new model was introduced, the praktica III or FX2 or FX3. The model I got was made in 1956 and was one of the last without automatic aperture setting. However, my camera came with an insert to change the waiste level finder into a nice and bright prismn finder. Also, the camera was sold with a Carl Zeiss Biotar 58mm/f2 lens which i desperately wanted to have. There aren’t many differences between the FX versions optically. Aperantly the finder of the FX2 is improved to be brighter. Also later versions come with the automatic aperture setting which improves focusing a lot. For me one of the most painful things of my FX2 is the focusing: open up aperture, then focus and then back to the target aperture. It makes me want to shoot fully open all the time.

In general the FX2 handles quite intuitive. Focusing takes time but works well especially with the prismn finder. The release in front needs a bit of getting used to but it’s smooth and makes a nice dull sound. Yeah, dull and deep, not as annoyingly high pitched as a Leica. These old cameras often have problems with the film transport. This one does as well. I can never get the film tightly wrapped around the empty reel which makes it harder and harder to advance the film and leads to horrible scratches and half winded frames towards the end. That’s and the fact that I took quite a number of personal photos is the reason that there are only three images coming from two rolls of film here. I have an idea how I can insert the film a bit better and make sure it’s tight. I’ll lose a couple of frames but still better than losing many later.

At this point I wanted to say a couple of things about the lens on my FX2: the Biotar 58mm/f2. However, I think the lens is worth to have its own post but to get there I have to shoot some more rolls. In the first picture below taken on Fomapan 400, it can already be seen how incredibly sharp the lens is. I didn’t have a chance to check the bokeh yet which is the other outstanding feature of the lens. 

The other two images are taken on Fomapan Retro 320, a low contrast, high grain film with anti-halation layer that gives the last image a certain gloominess. I like the grain and I think the film is good for contrast scenes without many small details. 

Coming back to the camera for the summary: in 1956 the FX2 was everything one needed to have a great tool to take pictures. I certainly don’t need all the fancy things dSLRs have nowadays but I really look forward to the introduction of the automatic preset of the aperture in one of the next Praktika I’ll get. Focusing will be so much more convenient and efficient.

In my next posts I’ll write some more about the Rolleiflex 6008 nightmare and pushing and pulling of Ilford’s HP5+. 

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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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One roll, one topic – autumn mood in b&w

All you need to catch the mood during fall is a film camera, some black and white film and a little bit of determination to find the spirit of autumn beyond the warm colors. Yes, you’ve heard right: black and white film and I’ll explain why.

There is more to autumn than its warm, yellow, red and brown colors. There is the low sun and the long shadows, the decay of last summer’s flowers, bushes and trees, the muddy smell in the woods. There are so many aspects b&w film can capture with exception of the smell of course. And I didn’t catch any fog yet which certainly belongs to autumn as well. 

What made me choose Ilford PanF+? The easy answer is: I still had a roll in the fridge, winter is coming and I better use it before the really dark days come. I seldom shoot ISO 50 and when I do I ask myself afterwards why don’t I use it more often. I love shooting with a wide open aperture getting that limited DoF that makes images so much more exciting and I’m not yet talking about the lovely bokeh an open lens produces. At least the 80mm/2.8 Planar on my Hasselblad gives pleasing pentagonal shapes. In addition PanF+ performs excellently renditioning grey tones and the contrast is very pleasing. The grain is hardly visible which makes the film the perfect choice for nature shots and details.

The low ISO of the PanF+ as well as the high contrast call for a balanced development and I think a semi-stand in Rodinal works best. I developed the film for one hour in a highly diluted (1:100) solution. I usually agitate medium format film two times after the initial one minute of agitation after ten and thirty minutes. 

You might wonder why there are only eight frames instead of twelve here. The calculation is quite easy. Two images are of private nature since I never post images of family, friends or myself with the exception of having acquired a permission to do so. One frame I shot twice since I wasn’t sure about the framing. And last but not least, frame number twelve was never shot. That makes it eight frames you can see here.

Enjoy and don’t hesitate to comment. In my next post I’ll show some colorful fall images taken with a Rolleiflex 6008. However, it’s less about the colors but reasoning whether to keep the camera or sell it.


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Film talk – Adox Colour Implosion

When I shopped for films last summer, I came acros an experimental film that is only available for a limited time by Adox. The name of the film sounded intriguing “Adox Colour Implosion”. Yeah, what do you make out of this?

Adox itself writes about the following about the film:

“Did your parents drop off a roll of film in the 70ies in a one dollar shop for cheap development and you just found it on your attic? In this case your images might look like if they were taken on color implosion. Colour implosion fears the grain of an 800 ISO film combined with the effective speed of a 100 ASA film. On top we pre-treated it so the color coupling system partially collapsed. With this grain and these light desaturated colors no one will think that you are still shooting digital.” 

Wow, sounds weird and quite a bit hipster-ish. I tried anyway, got a role, left it in the fridge for a while and shot it a couple of weeks ago to catch some imploded autumn colors using the Contax RTSII, a 50mm/1.8 and a 55mm/4 macro. 

My first thought when I saw the blue-magenta vase color was, am I going to be able to scan that beast? However, it scanned surprisingly well. It seems the Silverfast software can handle a wide range of base colors. I played a bit with the film profiles and ended up with Fuji NPH. I tried to set a grey point where I had one but didn’t bother too much. The colors weren’t “real” anyway and I did the final adjustment according to my liking in Lightroom. 

At the time I scanned the film, I haven’t read the Adox info about the film yet. I looked at the grain and I went “Wow, this is an ISO100 film. How can that be?  The grain looks more like an ISO800.” Ok, the Adox intro explains it. It’s supposed to be this way. Honestly speaking it works for me. There is a lot of grain but one could almost call it fine and subtile. The grain is also responsible for this incredible detail in the focus areas.

I’ve seen lots of images online with a yellow-greenish colorcast and really flat colors. However, I didn’t really experience any of these. For sure, the colors aren’t as saturated as a normal color film. And yes, if the reds are correct, the blue of the sky might end up wrong. I followed my personal taste and hardly modified anything in Lightroom.

Enjoy the images! Feedback is very much appreciated. There is quite a number of great photos shot on Adox Colour Implosion in this Flickr group.

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The last roll – I sold my Konica Hexar AF

I love to get new cameras and try them out. However, I’ve come to a point having so many cameras and not being neither able nor willing to use them all. Yeah, I have cameras that cost €30. I shot one or two films with it and they are sitting in the shelf now waiting for better days or just enjoying a well deserved retirement. I’m not going to bother about these anyway. 

Then, I have cameras that were quite expensive (range of €300 to €800), that are loaded with features or gimmicks (from the eye of the beholder) and I still don’t use them. The first item on the chopping block is a Konica Hexar AF. I believe I’ve owned it for about two years and I shot three (tops four) films with it.

Why did I buy the camera in the first place? Since giving up 100% on digital photography, I’ve slowed down a lot. I only own one autofocus camera and that is a heavy and bulky Mamiya 645AF. So, i thought it’s time to get a bit faster again and to invest in that little AF support since my eyesight is deteriorating more and more. The article  of the Japan Camera Hunter certainly intrigued me into getting the Hexar AF, It is interesting how the “advanced” compact camera market changed and how more and more people are going crazy to get their hands on a Ricoh GR, a Contax G and a Konica Hexar AF. 

What bothers me about the camera? I guess I never got warm with the feel and the handling of the camera. I shot a film. It was ok but i wasn’t really thrilled with the results. Sometimes when I focus on a subject close to me by pressing the shutter half way and move the frame and press the shutter, the camera starts to focus like crazy and the shot has its focus far behind the chosen object. Yes, I’m in single AF mode and not continuous AF. Often it just works but it is annoying since the behavior reduces the number of good frames.

Second and in my opinion the main reason, I can’t get attached to the camera, is it’s speed. I shoot, the machine loads the next frame automatically, and I shoot again. It’s like shot after shot and feels like digital photography without its advantages of course. Also, before even a couple of satisfying images had built up in my head, the film is already gone. In other words, the camera doesn’t slow me down enough and I just don’t enjoy the “autobahn” style of photography.

There is another thing that drives me nuts. I love high speed films and hardly use film rated under 400. I love pushing films even in normal daylight. The problem is the fastest shutter speed is 1/250 and end up shooting with arpartures of 16 or 22. It’s a nightmare to come up with images that all look like taken with a phone. 

Some minor things that bother me are: finding the manual ISO settings, manual focus is pretty much unusable, exposure adjustment is always reset when the camera is switched off.

Here are the last images I took with the Konica Hexar AF before selling it on eBay. I took the camera to a Renaissance fair close to my home. As usual quite a number of shots are focused somewhere behind the main subject as I described before. However, the shots that are focused correctly are spot on. The lens is incredibly sharp and the autofocus is quite fast to be able the react fast and take the right shot. It also reminded me of the days when I was shooting right into people’s faces more often. But, as I said before, the yield of good shots is quite low. 

While I scanned and edited the images, I felt a bit of regret but it was too late. The camera had been sold already. I know I wouldn’t use it often and hopefully the next owner knows how to appreciate the camera better.

The images are taken on Ilford Delta 400 pulled to ISO 200 and developed in Spuersinn HCDnew. 

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A walk along the river Elbe with a Hasselblad, Rollei Retro 400s and a red filter

One of the largest man made park landscapes in Europe can be found close to Dessau in the German state of Sachsen-Anhalt. The area is great for hiking and cycling since it’s loaded with parks and their noble residences. Also 1919 The Bauhaus art and design school settled in Dessau and many typical Bauhaus landmarks can be found here. In my last post I wrote about the “Meisterhaeuser”, the houses of the Bauhaus masters. In my new post you can find some images of the Kornhaus designed and built by the Bauhaus architect Carl Fieger as an restaurant and event complex in 1930. In 2012 the restaurant was re-opened and I certainly enjoyed having lunch on the terrace. 

Ok, let me write about the photography now. The format 6×6: that’s something that was hard for me when I started taking images with the Hasselblad. However, soon enough I realized that the square is a great format and it doesn’t have the limitations of other “cuts”. The subject can as well be centered as off center. All that matters that the extra space is “filled” with something interesting compared to a portrait or landscape shot. 

The film Rollei Retro 400s: usually I’d use it for urban subjects but not for landscapes. The fine grain, the high contrast and the excellent sharpness work well for architectural  photos. I’m positively surprised that the film also has a wide range of grey tones and that the contrast can be tamed. 

The red filter: in short it darkens the blues, lightens the reds. A nice effect is the brighter greens as well. Although, it’s not that strong in summer compared with the fresh greens in spring time. I like how white clouds and bright buildings get this natural glow against the darker blue sky. The effect can certainly be driven to an extreme as  it’s done in infrared photography. Here I appreciate the filter’s subtleness. My favorite is the last image. The sun was setting against a cloudy sky. The llight green of the trees and all these nice grey tones work harmonically together. I didn’t know the red filter would work this well in the evening.

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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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