Nikon pre-ai 50mm f1.4 - with fungus...

Sometimes an eBay purchase goes wrong and there is noone to blame but yourself. Deciding the need to try out one of the old Nikkor-S 50mm f1.4 lenses on a whim I neglected to read the item description with the rigor one should when purchasing from an online auction site. The lens was inexpensive and to be shipped directly from Japan and the listing actually had a remarkable amount of detail on the condition of the lens. Unfortunately I missed one key line until after purchase: 'some small fungus present'. Unboxing the lens upon its arrival some 3 weeks later I was optimistic the lens would still be usable. Visibly there isn't too much too see through the lens and so I'd hoped exposing the lens to UV light would kill the fungus leaving me with a usable lens. Looking back at a couple of test shots with this lens I'm a little perplexed. The lens looks incredibly sharp on the dog photo before but the brokeh looks weird and mushy in the background. The wheelbarrow is certainly not as sharp and has a similar mush. This will be a lens I think that I'll have to let go and serve as a reminder to read those listings more closely before bidding!

MillieNikon F + 50mm f1.4 Pre-Ai + Kodak TMax 400
Nikon F + 50mm f1.4 Pre-Ai + Kodak TMax 400

First Thoughts: Nikon 85mm f1.8 Pre-Ai

AnthonyNikon F + 85mm f1.8 Pre-Ai + Kodak TMax 400

This is a focal length I was keen to try out for some time, and so when I saw a pre-ai copy pop up on an internet auction site for a reasonable amount, I couldn't resist. To my surprise upon arrival I found it to be an Ai'd copy, a nice bonus meaning that I can use it on all of my Nikon cameras. Perhaps the Ai conversion job was DIY - the aperture ring does not quite snap on the numbered markings and feels a little soft on the click. So much so that the Photomic metered head on the Nikon F pulls back the aperture at f1.8 with enough force it wont stay in position. As for performance, I'm very impressed by the sharpness and character of the lens, particularly in the portrait above (1/500 f2.8 if I recall correctly), with the subject really popping. Its interesting to see just how well this 60+ year lens holds up to modern counterparts on the blog post here. I'm looking forward to shooting with it some more!

MF65 sideNikon F + 85mm f1.8 Pre-Ai + Kodak TMax 400
MF65 faceNikon F + 85mm f1.8 Pre-Ai + Kodak TMax 400

Lanzarote in Monochrome

The rugged volcanic Canary Island Lanzarote offers much for the Landscape photographer. I visited at the end of October hoping for a little winter sun, but the cloudy days gave me good excuse to take my Bronica to the ample photogenic spots on the island. A full write up of the trip will come soon, for now, enjoy these shots!

Mirrorless or DSLR?

Mirrorless cameras appear to be on an unstoppable rise, and appear to be diminishing the popularity of DSLRs, if not making them seem archaic.

The benefits over a DSLR are compelling, primarily the size and weight. I am also drawn to the trend of styling harking back to the film rangefinder era; the resurgence of aperture rings and shutter speed dials in particular. Widely available adapters for almost all lens mounts and the focus peaking available within EVFs is a huge boon to using old manual focus lenses, like the collection of Ai (and pre-ai) Nikkors in my collection.

I’m rarely a first mover when it comes to camera gear. As an amateur I think it’s far more financially prudent to buy gear that is second hand, a model that has been out a while or both. So when I saw a second hand FujiFilm XE2 in the window of my local camera shop earlier this year for around £200 I thought this was a great opportunity to see what all the fuss was about and to fill a gap for a lightweight performant camera that had existed since I sold my Canon G15 compact.

Personally I love the design and ergonomics of this camera. The whole FujiFilm line looks great from my perspective. As for weight - partnered with one of Fuji’s compact primes (I use the 18mm f2) it’s far less heavy and compact than any option I have with my Nikon D7100 DSLR. This is important for me for activities like hiking, but also for when I’m doing a trip with my Bronica medium format camera. Taking a full DSLR and Medium format film set up equates to a very heavy bag (10KG+) which isn’t much fun to lug around.

So how did it perform? I took this camera along with my Bronica to Lanzarote in October and gave it a proper run out. Overall very good! I didn’t miss the bulk of my DSLR and was great for hiking with. Sharpness / resolution of the sensor + 18mm lens is well upto my standards (although maybe the 18mm f2 is a bit softer in the corners than I’d like). I also accompanied it with the Nikon 50mm and 100mm Series E lenses, two of the most compact Nikon F mount lenses available, and whilst that worked OK, the focus peaking around infinity seemed a bit problematic. The Fuji to F mount adapter is not designed to retain the exact focus of the lens - I.e. the infinity hard stop ends up well past infinity on my copy. This will be important to bear in mind in future.

A couple of surprises, for long exposures with an ND64 or 10x ND filter the EVF would adjust its brightness so you could actually compose and focus your shot whilst using these filters. A nice change from the blackout you get in a DSLR viewfinder! I was a bit confused when trying my first long exposure though, as it seemed impossible to set the shutter speed (with the T setting) to multiple seconds. It turns out that you need to disable the electronic shutter to do this - a case for reading the manual before using the camera!

As for the images they're perfectly fine. It doesn't seem entirely fair to compare these photos to ones from my D7100 as the lens selection I have for the F mount far surpasses the Fuji, although that being said I do prefer the overall image rendition from the D7100 so far. Insofar as the quality to size/weight ratio this Fuji has thoroughly impressed me and seems to fully fit the gap I had - a small lightweight performant camera for short trips where photography was a secondary purpose and/or involved alot of hiking.

So in conclusion when judging this camera on price/performance/size/weight it excels. Its a great digital companion to the film shooter with similar ergonomics and also little details like the standard threaded shutter release is very helpful for using the same gear between this and a film camera. Whilst the EVF took me a while to get used to (and frankly I still prefer the optical finder in all situations except using strong ND filters) its overall not so bad and is a boon especially when using an adapter with old film lenses to see focus peaking and exposure. Mirror-less probably represents a significant fraction of the future for digital photography and leaves me with a bit of a conundrum. Really I had wanted Nikon to come out with a mirrorless that was a native F mount and kept with their design choices to maximise compatibility with their older lenses. The Z6/7 cameras don't use the F mount, so an adapter is needed anyway, plus they are positioned at a much higher market than something like the XE2. How I do wish they would come out with a mirrorless Nikon FM styled body at a reasonable price. This does mean if I wanted to swap to a mirrorless system I'd probably be better selling all of my Nikon gear and migrating to another brand like Fuji. Given my sunk cost in Nikon gear and my love for their film SLRs I don't think a switch will be anytime soon, so this Fujifilm XE2 works quite well as a comprimise.


Bronica on tour: Dorset

For the late August bank holiday I ventured to the south coast with the aim of capturing a few shots of the Jurassic coast with my Bronica. Its not a part of the country I had ever visited before and Durdle Door had been on my to-see list for some time. So I took the train out of Waterloo station to Poole on the Saturday, rented a car there and took off to Old Harry Rocks. My Bronica accompanied me with some Kodak Ektar and TMax 400 loaded. I had two rolls of Ektar loaded, one in 35mm and one 120mm. Previously I have written about using a DIY adapter to shoot panoramic 35mm film in the Bronica but recently I saw a normal 35mm back for sale in my local camera shop and decided to pick it up. I'm only halfway through finishing the roll and I'll do a writeup of that experience when its done.

It's a longer than expected but easy stroll to the cliffs from the National Trust car park. Upon arrival its quite striking to see the cliffs. They're common sights on Instagram and from the air the cliffs look like a big block of white cheese someone has been busy taking bites out of around the edges. Still cool sights to see from the top but not quite as impressive as seen from the sky. Reviewing these images I do wish I'd made use of my 10 stop ND filter - the texture of the rock would benefit from the sea being smoothed out.

Next I proceeded on to Lulworth and the quintessential sight of Durdle Door. The village of Lulworth was the most picturesque traffic jam I've been in for a while. The old tiny streets straining to keep up with the numbers of tourists and busses passing through on a busy bank holiday weekend. Despite it being cold and very windy it was a surprise to see a large number of people of the beach down below by the arch. The sun was crawling lower in the late afternoon sky and I decided to stay up on the clifftop path to get my shots. The one at the top of this article is my clear favourite and makes use of the 10 stop B+W filter in my arsenal. I'm not really sure why I didn't use it for the two photos above also.

I finished up my photography on the trip with a visit to the Isle of Portland and Pulpit rock. The weather here was that of ferocious wind, so much so that even with my tripod a long exposure would suffer from significant shake. The tide was in and the waves were large and so didn't enable me to get any of the shots I'd envisioned. Despite not being anywhere near what I wanted the shot above still took a great deal of patience as people would stand by the rock for 10-15 minutes at a time taking selfies and so I had to time my shot whilst people were walking away. This was made even more challenging by the constant spray covering the lens.

Overall a really great trip and a part of the world I'd definitely like to visit again with my camera!

5 frames with an 80+ year old camera

The Zeiss Ikon Ikonta 520/2 is a german made 6x9 camera that takes 8 frames on regular medium format 120 film. It was produced between 1929 and 1937 meaning that the model I acquired on eBay last year must be 80+ years old. My appreciation of Zeiss Ikon folding cameras was started when a a relative gave me an old 517 6x6 camera they found in the closet. It was in immaculate condition and my first time using 120 film - I was hooked, not only on medium format but also the compact size of these nifty folding cameras.

I think it was on Reddit's analog channel that I saw an inspirational 6x9 image of the great wall of china taken with a folding camera which prompted intrigue for me to see what folding 6x9 cameras there were available on eBay. Mint condition Ikontas appeared to go for several hundred pounds, too much for me to try on a whim, but if I was willing to take a risk on one that looked pretty beat up it could be mine for a tenner. So I took the chance. Maybe the bellows would actually not have any light leaks after all?

The first roll of film I put through this camera was interesting (see here) - it actually worked! I mainly took portraits of family, which broadly failed due to poor judgement focusing, but it was cool to see the sharpness of a landscape shot on the roll. One thing I noticed from this test roll was a red light leak onto the film in the bottom corner. The 520/2 has a red window to view the frame number on the film backing, but unlike the later produced 517 I own it does not have a shutter window to close. I guessed this must have been the culprit and so deduced that the test roll was promising enough to try another roll through the camera and going forward I would tape some card over this red window in an attempt to limit the light through this hole.

So this camera accompanied me on my Scotland road trip as a third camera. Getting the negatives back from the lab I was excited. The negs looked pretty well exposed in most cases and after scanning them in with my Epson v500 many were also pretty sharp too! The red light leak was diminished compared to previously, but still present on most images. As it was more pronounced on some images, and almost invisible on other, I guess that the time taken to take the shot after removing the camera from the leather case must have been an issue. A few shots appeared to be blurry due to camera shake. Although all shots were taken on a tripod with a cable release, the tripod mount on the camera is awkward - it needs an adapter to change a 3/8 inch thread to a standard 1/4. Then the tripod mount needs to be at 90 degrees to normal, otherwise the mount blocks the base plat of the bellows from folding out completely. The tripod mount screw does not go in all the way and left the camera a bit wobbly, which I guess must have been the reason. It was also likely exacerbated if I didn't use the maximum 1/100 shutter speed of the Telma shutter (this model has 100, 50 and 25th of a second settings along with bulb). The example below shows this and also illustrates how it is somewhat had to frame the image with this camera. You have a small ground glass framing screen just above the lens of the camera. It was be hard to really get a good appreciation of how the framing is lining up. As can also be seen by the poor framing of the below image.

So overall I like the 6x9 format, the convenience of the compact size and also the way that this 80+ year old camera is still working. Of the images in the roll I really like the the Quaraing shot (top) and its pretty remarkable a camera of this age can produce a shot like this today. I was lucky that the bellows on this camera don't appear to have any significant light leaks and although I need to research it more I wonder if the light leak from the red window is because the camera was designed for orthochromatic film (not sensitive to red light) and although covering the window is a good step, I just need to be more diligent in how long I have the camera out in the light. Trying old cameras and their quirks is one of the fun things about film photography and this certainly was no different to normal. It might be some time before this camera gets another roll and next time I think I'll try some low speed B+W film instead which should mitigate the impact of any light leaks.