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.

Out west with slide film

Two of my favourite trips were in 2014 when I visited Yellowstone and, a few months later, Glacier National Park. I took a ton of photography gear, but looking back I'm glad my Bronica accompanied me. I shot 3 rolls of Fuji Provia between these two trips, the first time I had shot slide film in 120 format, and so it was a bit of a gamble. I still was (and today still am) trying to master judging the optimal exposure with my Gossen incident meter. Shooting slide film was ambitious, and the narrow latitude indeed caught my exposure judgement lacking in more frames than I would have liked. However looking back at the images I'm struck by the intense vivid colours when I managed to get the exposure just about right. One day I would love to visit again!

TetonWyoming, 2014. Bronica SQA + 150mm f3.5 + Fuji Provia 100.
Mammoth Hot SpringsWyoming, 2014. Bronica SQA + 50mm f3.5 + Fuji Provia 100.
Lamar ValleyYellowstone (Wyoming), 2014. Bronica SQ-A + 50mm f3.5 + Fuji Provia.
Grand PrismaticYellowstone (Wyoming), 2014. Bronica SQ-A + 50mm f3.5 + Fuji Provia.
Mammoth Hot SpringsWyoming, 2014. Bronica SQA + 150mm f3.5 + Fuji Provia 100.
Logan PassMontana, 2014. Bronica SQ-A + 50mm f3.5 + Fuji Provia.
Glacier National ParkMontana, USA (2014)

Memories of Martha's Vineyard

A short weekend trip to Martha's Vineyard after visiting NY resulted in less rain and even enough sun poking through the overcast sky to get burnt on the beach.

East ChopNikon F3 + Series E 50mm + Kodak TMax 400.
Menemsha Fish MarketNikon F3 + Series E 50mm + Kodak TMax 400.
AquinnahNikon F3 + Series E 50mm + Kodak TMax 400.
CharNikon F3 + Series E 50mm + Kodak TMax 400.

NYC Snapshots on a Nikon F3

CitifieldNYC, 2018. Nikon F3 + Series E 50mm + Kodak TMax 400.
Padres v MetsNYC, 2018. Nikon F3 + Series E 50mm + Kodak TMax 400.

Accompanying me on a trip to NYC during July was my Nikon F3 loaded with some TMax 400. Despite living here for a couple of years and visiting numerous times since, there are still plenty of places I want to photograph here. I took the opportunity one evening to see the NY Mets beat the San Diego padres on one of the few dry evenings of the week. I'd seen a game here before and at that point I was interested in using a telephoto lens on my digital to get some images close to the action - I must have taken a couple hundred in machine gun mode. One of the things I like about using film is restraint in pressing the shutter. These two photos are enough for me to remember the occasion this time and I like how B&W brings out the texture in a very visually noisy stadium of brightly coloured advertisements. Both were shot with the 50mm series E lens but next time a wide and tele lens would also be fun to take.

Fulton Center ExteriorNYC, 2018. Nikon F3 + 20mm f4 + Kodak TMax 400.
Fulton CenterNYC, 2018. Nikon F3 + 20mm f4 + Kodak TMax 400.

The Fulton center was opened after I moved away from the city and hadn't visited since. I was keen to check out its distinctive architecture and scout out photographic opportunities. The bottom shot is about a stop underexposed from where I wanted it; as the day was so overcast I was actually struggling to get a decent f-stop and shutter speed to use on the Nikon 20mm f4 lens, which needs to be stopped down well for sharpness. Outside (top shot) was better - only a 1/3rd stop underexposed and I increased contrast and black levels a bit in Lightroom before export. This is a common theme for me with the F3 and I should really increase the exposure compensation I use by default with TMax 400.

FlatironNYC, 2018. Nikon F3 + 20mm f4 + Kodak TMax 400.

I quite like this last shot, even if it suffers from being a bit cluttered and with the hot dog seller being in more of a shadow than I'd like. I've tried many times now to photograph the Flatiron building as a backdrop for some street photography and never quite been able to get the shot I wanted. With this one its clear I should've got close to the hot dog stand to feature that more prominently in the foreground!

Bronica SQ 2x Teleconverter Review

Mountain DetailIceland, 2018. Bronica SQA + 250mm f5.6 + 2x TC + Kodak TMax 100. Exposure 1/4 f8.

It was a bit of an impulse purchase to get the 2x TC for my Bronica SQ. It was a few weeks before I departed for Iceland and given how useful I had found the 250mm f5.6 lens I impulse bought for my Scotland trip a few months prior, I convinced myself it would be worth seeing if 500mm would be a useful focal length to pick out detail in Iceland's landscapes. Before picking up this lens I couldn't find any really useful sample images online for this combination, so hopefully this post will help someone in a similar position in the future.

In theory, yes, having a focal length of 500mm on a 6x6 Bronica (approx 321mm 35mm equivalent) is very useful. Traveling Iceland via the main highway 1 there are plenty of places to stop where there are some interesting mountains and waterfalls far in the distance. This focal length will enable you to get some pretty unique shots.

Mountain TonesIceland, 2018. Bronica SQA + 250mm f5.6 + 2x TC + Hoy R25 filter + Kodak TMax 100. Exposure 1/4 f16. (No shutter release cable)

However here comes the rub; the practicalities of using this 2x TC on the 250mm f5.6 Zenzanon lens make it difficult to get the clarity and sharpness you might be used to with this 6x6 medium format camera. For a start the effective aperture wide open (f5.6 on the lens) becomes f11 as you lose two stops of light. The focussing screen is surprisingly bright though, and if you're focusing at infinity anyway, that isn't such a big deal. It does however mean you'll probably be using a slow shutter speed making the sharpness of the final image incredibly vulnerable to vibrations, be it from even the slightest amount of wind, or even from the significant mirror slap from the bronica itself. Obviously the latter can be mitigated by using the mirror lock up mode, which I did, but even with a pretty sturdy Giottos tripod the wind definitely had an effect. The TC + 250mm combo is huge and has plenty of surface area for the wind to catch.

All of the practical considerations described above are in addition the the fact that using the TC degrades sharpness even in perfect conditions. Frankly its hard to differentiate the two factors with my images; there was always at least a bit of wind present and even though I took every reasonable precaution to minimise the effects of wind this will still have been a factor. The other concerning thing was that the TC actually got jammed onto the 250mm lens. It was a source of frustration at the time, trying to remedy the issue on top of the ridge around the Krafla crater, but eventually I prised it free with a metal key and some brute force applied to the lens release slider.

Kefla Power StationIcleand 2018. Bronica SQ + 250mm f5.6 + 2x TC + Kodak TMax 100 + Hoya R25 Filter. Exposure: 1/4s f16

The images displayed here all demonstrate the sharpness issues that I refer to above. Is this acceptable to me? Kind-of. The final image was really disappointing, potentially there was more wind here influencing the sharpness, but the first two are OK. Yes I do think the softness in the image reduces their impact but then again the TC was crucial in framing these shots. To be honest I'll be thinking twice before taking this TC with me on a trip again. Its heavy, bulky and with the loss in image quality it might be worth thinking of using alternate compositions with the 250mm on its own, cropping down, or in fact using a 35mm camera with a 300mm lens instead.

Jökulsárlón ShapesIcleand, 2018. 

Bronica SQA + 250mm f5.6 + 2x TC + Kodak TMax 100. Exposure 1/60 f8.