Just got my first roll of Portra 800 back from the lab that I shot with my Fuji GS645W. This is an old trike that I had as a kid and my parents dutifully kept for the arrival of grandkids. I couldn't resist trying out an Eggleston rip-off shot of the bike and it worked pretty well although I probably should've made an effort to find a slightly less distracting background. Eggleston must have been lying right on the floor to get his shot and I should've gone lower myself. I'll post some more images from the roll soon but the colours that it has generated have blown me away, particularly on the shots from overcast days. The grain is alot finer than I expected and the colours really pop. I have another roll of this stock in my Rolleicord that I need to get on and finish.
Now that COVID-19 restrictions have eased I have been able to get out of the city and do some walking. I realised that the Cotswolds was pretty much halfway between where my sister and I live and so this has quickly become a destination to explore on foot via the excellent network of public footpaths. My first fond impressions of the Leica III have persevered and I think it will turn out to be a great travel camera. Its pretty small, particularly with the collapsable Elmar 50mm lens, and the quality of craftsmanship makes the camera a joy to use, slowly that is. There are a couple of issues though that I'll need to take care of probably by getting it serviced - the rangefinder is very dim making focusing a challenge and quite a few frames did miss the mark. When the focus is right the lens has a really great character, it's sharp enough but has a creamy texture to the out of focus areas. I'm not looking for sharpness when using this camera, instead I'm looking for the antique texture to the images, to capture more of an idea of a memory than a precise recording of it. The form factor meant that it wasn't too burdensome to attached the camera with a Peak Imaging clip to my baby carrying hiking backpack. Walking 10 miles with around 20kg on my back was a challenge, but at least I couldn't blame too much of that on the camera choice.
In the first image you can see quite a frustrating issue - the negative was scratched most of the way and I think this must be due to some grit inside the body. It mostly edited out OK with the heal tool in Lightroom - good job we have digital tools too. I will try and use some compressed air to blow anything out, and also try running a dead film through it to see if I can sort it myself. I hope I can, because the repair shop I have in mind has a waiting list upwards of 6 months. I guess with people being stuck indoors they have decided this was a good time to send of their Leica to be serviced!
The roll was finished with a trip to the Suffolk coast in Harwich and Covehithe. The latter reminded me alot of Martha's Vineyard's northern shoreline in the US and although I was mainly shooting long exposures with my Bronica SQ I got a few snapshots on the Leica to finish the roll so as not to let it linger.
As for the Ilford Ortho 80, to be honest I've not been that impressed so far. It seems fine but I haven't seen any remarkable results in my images that would make me choose this over go for Tri-X (although price will probably start to become a factor as Kodak is outpacing Ilford in that regard).
IR film has been on my 'to try again' list for quite some time but it has taken me quite some time, 3 years in fact, to give it another go after a relatively lacklustre experience with some 35mm Ilford SFX. The experience with SFX helped me learn the hard way that its probably not best to experiment with a new film or process on a trip like the one I did to the National Parks of Utah in 2017. I had mistakenly through that a R25 filter would be deep red enough to get some good contrasty results with the SFX but really an R72 was what was needed. The results were not favourable leaving me with images that fell flat and leaving me wishing I'd opted for my normal TMax instead.
So I finally got round to ordering some more IR film, this time going for the Rollei Infrared 400 offering. This film should have slightly more sensitivity up the IR spectrum than SFX and this time I had also got my hands on a Hoya R72 that I would use for all of the images. I loaded up the Rollei in the 120J 6x4.5 back I have for my Bronica SQ and decided to use most of the 15 exposures on a recent, post lockdown trip to my parents farm in Shropshire.
I had my fingers crossed for some sunshine, or at least some dramatic light between the clouds. No such luck - the sky way overcast most days - and so I didn't know if I would be able to get very dramatic results. When I got the negatives back I was very pleasantly surprised. The crops were bright white and the contrast was good (although the scans did take a bit of tweaking with the clarity, contrast and black point). In the shots where I had also stacked my deep red R25 filter the sky was really striking and black. I had also been concerned that maybe the images would come back looking a bit gimmicky and would be a nice oddity for me to try out but may not hold out as a choice for when I'm out on special trip (particularly given my prior experience with Ilford SFX).
To me these images do not feel gimmicky, but instead have offered me a new perspective on a landscape that I thought I had exhausted my creativity in finding new compositions. The farm where I grew up is so familiar, that even though it changes each year, I sometimes struggle to see new interesting compositions. In fact one of my favourite images ever captured of the landscape on the farm reminds me alot of an infrared picture due to the unique consistency of the snow that day that settled in the trees.
I metered with the R72 blocking 5 stops of light and the R25 when sued as an additional 3. The Long Exposure app on iPhone comes in handy for easily calculating the real exposure of the base and I did account for some reciprocity failure with a factor of 1.52 (e.g. 30 seconds became 2.93 minutes and 90 seconds became 15.57 minutes). Most of my exposures were within this range and so freezing motion was not an option, North Shropshire can be quite a windy place and this week was no exception.
Now for some negatives. The first being that the negs came out with a mottling effect that I believe to be due to the backing paper interacting with the emulsion. Potentially this is caused by bad storage, or at least condensation in the wrapper when coming out of the freezer. Its not too bad for this test roll but I really hope the 4 other rolls I have in the freeze do not exhibit this! I'm not sure if it is my freezing or I bought it from a source that did not store it correctly. The other downside is the same as long exposures with an ND filter - the screw on filters are a pain to be taking on and off again to recompose on an SLR like the Bronica. I think my next roll will be in my Fuji GW690 rangefinder which will not require me to take off the filters in between shots. Luckily both the Bronica and the Fuji have focus correction marks for IR on the lens barrel as IR does focus at a different point to visible wavelengths of light.
I really like the ethereal qualities of this film and I'm definitely looking forward to using it more for some high contrast long exposures.
These things are pretty rare and therefore expensive. This back alone cost more than what you could probably buy an SQ system with body, lens and back and for a long time I suppressed an urge to get one of these on account of cost. I'm pretty long into the Bronica SQ system now with quite a collection that I regularly use and so I figured this would still be worth trying out. Sure there are cheaper alternatives - cropping 120 film for a start, or making your own 35mm adapter as I had done in the past. The former doesn't appeal to me much - I prefer to make my framing decisions at the time of shot and stick with them and the latter does work well and something I have done in the past, but the problem is you're stuck to vertical (well I guess horizontal is possible but rotating the SQ to one side is not much fun with the waist level finder). Panoramic shots are more naturally suited to horizontal. At over £300 this is pretty much the most expensive addition to my Bronica set up and incredibly it was in practically in mint condition, including the box.
Despite the condition one thing it did not come with is a focusing screen, which is pretty much essential for using this back effectively. In my SQ-A I have a focussing screen with 645 frame lines on it, and so this not good for this back. However in my backup SQ body there is a grid focusing screen and I guessed, correctly as it turns out, that the centre two grid square lines would be a good approximate guide. A 35mm focussing screen did turn up on eBay and despite placing a pretty high bid it surprisingly went for more (+£100 for a focusing screen is some serious money). Several web searches later though I stumbled across a forum post that mentioned some plastic framing guides produced by ARAX (the company that bought the Kiev factory when it was being shut down and now sell upgraded soviet medium format cameras). £10 on eBay and a couple of weeks later 3 sheets of plastic 6x6 framing guides appeared at my door from Ukraine. I simply cut one out and placed it on top of my existing focussing screen in my SQ-A. It works like a charm, so now I can easily frame for 6x6, 6x4.5 and wide 35mm on the same body.
Regretfully it took me several months to complete the 24 exposures on my first roll of Portra film that I put through it. The Bronica isn't really a walk around camera for me and with COVID-19 situation there was not alot of opportunity to get out of London on a photography specific trip. But still I managed to get out to Alexandra Palace and Hampstead Heath to get a few shots, finishing off the roll with a trip to the Suffolk coast once lockdown was over. These photos are all just snapshots but the panoramic format does make them more interesting, perhaps just because it is unusual or maybe because we associate wide shots as cinematic. The eye is drawn across the frame in different ways and I also think they look good stacked as part of a montage. With this 35W, the 120J 645 and 6x6 backs I now have quite alot of flexibility in framing with my Bronica system.
This is a roll I shot a few weeks before the UK implemented its COVID lockdown, shortly after which I made sure to stock up on some home development equiptment to ensure I could process the backlog of film I'd been waiting to send to the lab. Developing two rolls of 120 at a time is a game changer, and it was well worth investing in a bigger Patterson tank to do this. I'd only every shot Ilford Delta 3200 and Kodak TMax 3200 before so I was interested to see how HP5 pushed compared. These shots have come out with lovely contrast, helped I'm sure by the yellow filter that was on most of these shots. I expected the grain to be far more prominent and its remarkable that its not a huge feature of these images. Admittedly most were shot in relatively bright conditions but still 3200 is much less in your face in medium format compared to the grainfest you get on 35mm. The GS645W was a pleasure to use, lightweight to carry and almost all of the shots are in the camera's default portrait orientation. This feature makes it a nice change from my other cameras and leads me to capture images i wouldn't have bothered with otherwise. The scale focus and wide angle puts you in more of a point and shoot mentality which makes using the camera a bit more impulsive than when I use my SLRs.
With the FED 2 not hitting the mark and curiousity getting the better of me for yet another time, it seemed like a natural conclusion that I'd have to try out a real Leica. I stumbled across a store on eBay (The Latent Image) from my hometown of Shrewsbury when I unwittingly sold an item to them. Its good to see a business like this crop up in a town like this and is a sign of analogue photography's rude health right now. Immediately after unpacking the item I could tell the build of this camera was precise and the FED's was crude in comparison and there would be no going back. For a camera made in 1936 it was in decent condition with only some brassing on the Chrome. The image above shows me cutting the film leader, as required for this camera. I can see how this is a bit of an annoyance and would require some forward planning if you want to shoot multiple rolls while out and about.
One of the big differences between the FED 2 and the Leica III is that the rangefinder has its own window rather than being a patch in the viewfinder. I wasn't sure how I'd like this as you have to move your eye back and forth, but in reality you're not using a camera made in 1936 for speed shooting, and actually the seperate window I found to be much better for me than a dim patch. The rangefinder window is zoomed in significantly compared to the 50mm viewfinder window and this helps for accurate focusing. My camera is usable but its still pretty dim and I think I'll have to send it off to be serviced and have new split prisms put in it to get it working better. The other big noticable difference for me was the film counter actually stuck in the correct place so I could tell which frame I was on, unlike the FED 2 which seemed to lose its place immediately. The film advance and rewind also feels like a finely tuned machine rather than a blunt tool that will leave your fingertips needing some TLC. As for the lens, whilst not the same optical design as the copycat Industar-22, its ergonomically the same. Changing the aperture is still a pain, but the compactness of it being folded up is fantastic. I haven't done a proper test to check the Industar against the Elmar so maybe I'll do that on the next roll.
Most likely I'll sell the Industar as I have already done with the FED. This Leica and Elmar definitely feel like a keeper for the long term. As for these shots, they were taken on Easter Bank Holiday 2020 as part of a bike ride for my daily exercise during the lockdown. It was crazy to see central london so empty. Film is Kentmere 400 and developed in Ilfotec LC-29.