Friday, December 11, 2015

Happy 5th analogversary!

Five years ago, on December 11th 2010, I posted my first film picture on flickr. These have been definitely the most exciting years of my (short) photographic adventures.

For me, it all boils down to a fascination with simplicity, to the quest for a minimalistic picture taking setup. Film has been liberating in many aspects. No more coming back from a short excursion with 200+ digital pictures to find out that I have neither the time nor the willingness to process and sort them out. No more forgetting about spare batteries or memory cards. No more search for total picture perfection. I think we humans tend to overdo a bit: we wanted music perfection and along came high fidelity and digital audio to deliver just that. Then we realized that perfection was almost akin to lack of "soul", that what we actually loved was the background scratching noise of the good old vinyls. We asked for picture perfection and along came a herd of engineering and electronic wonders able to deliver just that. Still, we realized perfect pictures did not deliver the emotional response we were used to. On the other hand, film did just that for years, and still does. And here I am.

There have been many new old cameras this year. Each and every one with a certain meaning or purpose. But, in many cases, the collector has won over the photographer. There are certain sequences, certain regularities, certain historically significant milestones, that I now recognize as quite valid reasons to purchase a camera, although from a user point of view it has little or no added value. This year, as I will explain in a minute, the collector in me has been driven almost exclusively by a single word: Contax.

I am very happy after this fifth film year. When I look back at the pictures I took this year, I realize that I definitely grew up. There is a gut feeling about exposure, there is a familiarity with certain films, with certain lenses, with certain cameras, that is new and very reassuring. Of course I make mistakes every now and then, but this year there are a number of pictures that I am quite proud of. Last year I felt the photographer was the weak link in the chain. It still is, but I am happy to realize that I am working on it.

toy car time
(Contax II, Solution Super VX 200, expired, ISO 200/24°)

The year started with an ongoing fascination for Contax rangefinders. Through active scouting and a couple of good luck strikes, I am now the proud owner of an almost complete lineup of Zeiss Ikon Contax 35mm rangefinders: both prewar Contax II (1938) and Contax III (1938) and postwar Contax IIa (1952) and Contax IIIa (1950-1951). The only one missing would be a Contax I, the first one introduced in 1932. They command prohibitive prices and have a reputation for being mechanically fragile. The collector in me is on the look. The user keeps telling him there is no hurry. These four cameras have been the ones I most used this year: 25 films in total, 10 alone with the Contax II. As a nice counterpoint to the Contax family, in late summer came along their arch-rival, the measure of all things, a wonderful Leica IIIa (1936).

zeiss ikon contax ii

This rangefinder love story has not been just on 35mm film, though. I already owned Super Ikontas for 6x6 and 6x4.5 format on medium format 120 film. A relatively battered but functionally sound Voigtländer Bessa RF (1939) arrived to cover the wonderfully large 6x9 format with the reassurance of a rangefinder to set the focus distance right. With the unforgiving shallow depth of field of the 105mm lenses normal for this format, this is truly a great help. Again the Super Ikonta BX (6 rolls) and this Bessa RF (5 rolls) have been among the medium format cameras that I used the most this year.

Another interesting turn this year has been the (re)discovery of 35mm SLR cameras. Again, it all started with a Contax, but now the East German one, the first camera with a fixed pentaprism, the one that laid out the design that every single SLR camera followed for the next 60+ years (yes, dSLRs are still built after the Contax SLR today). First a Contax F (1956-1959), then a very early and still non working Contax S (1950). In order to learn the skills and tricks needed to return the Contax S to working order, I acquired a number of nonfunctional Contax F/Pentacon F "test objects" for little money, with the idea of repairing them, learn a lot and then sell them away. Two of the Fs, though, are so accurate and fine after getting a new set of shutter curtains that I have trouble parting with them... One of them, probably the Pentacon F, is definitely going to stay, because this way I can use the lens that came with the Contax S, a magnificent Carl Zeiss Jena Biotar 58mm 1:2.0 that seems to transform every single picture into a work of art. An Ihagee Kine-Exakta II (1949-1950) was, again, a nice counterpoint to the Contax family, to enjoy the reversed image on its waist level finder.

contax f

Talking about lineups and families, I could not resist an early F&H Rolleiflex Automat 6x6 (1938-1939) that came with a bunch of accessories and has been too (with 6 rolls) among the most used medium format cameras this year. The Rolleiflexes I own now are a Rolleiflex Original 611 (1929), a Rolleiflex Old Standard 621 (1935) and this Rolleiflex Automat 631 (1938-1939). See the sequence there? As I said, I could not resist... :) There is a very interesting story about the repair process of this camera, but as it is still not fully completed, I hope I will find time later on for it. It involves a missing piece that was, in fact, not missing but dormant inside the camera for decades...

rolleiflex automat 631

And finally, as the year was almost over, a revival of the venerable 9x12 sheet film format came with a Voigtländer Avus 9x12 horizontal (1925). As the online seller did not manage to open up the camera front, I got it without knowing what lens was on it or, for that matter, if it even had a lens! The price was really attractive though, so I got it anyway. As the camera arrived, I did manage to open the front and discovered a lens (Voigtländer Dynar 135mm 1:5.5) about which I did not know much. To my surprise, as I researched a bit, I discovered that the Dynar is no other than a second generation Heliar (one of my strongest longstanding favorite lenses of all time, as you can read here, here and here) that got another name to not mess with the sales and reputation of the first generation Heliar. Pictures taken with it reveal its true pedigree. Again, the story about transferring this lens to a more convenient 9x12 camera body (no other than a Voigtländer Bergheil 9x12) remains to be told soon. As it involves a certain amount of McGyver-esque use of cardboard adapter rings and had a happy ending, I hope it will be an amusing one.

When it comes to the films I used, this year has been a very balanced one (22 black&white, 24 color negative, 21 color slide). The ones I shot the most: Ilford HP5 Plus 400 for black&white, Kodak Portra 160NC for color negative and Agfaphoto CT Precisa 100 for color slide, with 5 rolls each. This year I experienced a reconciliation with long expired film. In fact, I shot much more expired than non-expired film this year. I did it, though, in a much more mindful way. I tried to adapt my shooting to the shortcomings and special needs that I learnt the hard way in the past. It is beginning to work out, I think.

red cast
(Rolleiflex Automat 631, Fujicolor HR 100, expired 1986, ISO 100/21°)

Although this year I kept developing my black&white films at home (18 rolls in total), lately I found myself being lazy and bringing b&w film to the lab for development, too. I got myself a color negative development kit, but I did not manage to find the time and the motivation to try it. I guess the need to do my development in the evening or even late at night, when our son is already sleeping, does not help, as it neither does having to store everything in the broom closet afterwards. Alas, I guess there might come a time where I am more inspired to develop.

What I kept doing, though, is fixing and servicing my cameras. This year I am particularly proud of the successful rangefinder adjustment of my Bessa RF, on which I went almost exclusively by feeling, after realizing that the only hints I found online were in fact meant to solve another issue. Another fun repair was the sticky film advance/cocking lever on a Zeiss Ikon Taxona, for which I needed an almost complete strip down to remove the hardened grease that was preventing a smooth operation. I have become relatively proficient at replacing stiff shutter curtains on East German Contaxes, although the whole point of this learning, bringing back the Zeiss Ikon Contax S to life, has not been reached yet. And not to forget the repairs that I mentioned before: first, recovering infinity focus on my Rolleiflex Automat 631 and recovering its automatic stop on film advance (still a work in progress), and second, transferring Compur shutter and Dynar lens from an early Voigtländer Avus 9x12 horizontal to a later Voigtländer Bergheil 9x12 body with Bergheil bayonet. What I still did not have the guts to tackle, though, was the one repair that I told about one year ago: replacing the broken shutter ribbons and the slow speeds on a Zeiss Ikon Contax II. I must admit I cheated a little bit on this one, since the Contax II that has become my favorite this year is in fact another (working) one which I came across. Still, the prewar Contax II is high in my to-do list.

cart and ball (49/52)
(Contax IIa, Fujichrome Provia 400, expired 2000, ISO 400/27°)

(Super Ikonta BX, Fujichrome Provia 400X, ISO 400/27°)

As I said, I am quite happy with the pictures I took this year. About the shooting, there seems to be a deeper understanding of the naked camera and its four controls (aperture, shutter speed, focus and framing). Sometimes I realize I did not consciously think about any of them, yet the picture was taken. A long time ago, a photographer acquaintance of mine told me that "you have to know your light". Maybe this is what he meant. Like when you are riding your bicycle and you do not think about how you are steering, yet you drive safely through the corner. Of course there are differences between the cameras (focus is not the same with a rangefinder than with a plate camera!), yet I found I did not have to struggle much after taking a different one.

(Contax F, Ilford HP5 Plus 400, expired, ISO 400/27°)

into the light
(Baby Ikonta 521/18, Kodak Ektar 100, ISO 100/21°)

For my next year I wish I manage to keep taking as many pictures as I did this last one. Because I realized how nice it is being able to create memories, the ones that reach to your soul, and what a warm feeling it is to look at pictures of my family, of my friends. I realized, too, that my strongest motivation to grab a camera is, simply, to take pictures of my loved ones. I wish, too, not to loose the direction my photography seems to be taking. I guess I am defining my photographic style, and it feels right to me.

tessar summer sunset
(Rolleiflex Automat 631, Kodak Portra 160NC, expired, ISO 160/23°)

(Contax IIa, Ilford HP5 Plus 400, expired, EI 1600/32°)

And, of course, I wish I manage to find more time to write about this journey more often than this last year. I will be honored if you keep sharing it with me! :)

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Series - b&w week october 2015

Last month the usual suspects contributed to yet another black&white week on flickr/facebook. Although this time the b&w week came a little later (one and half years passed since the last one), it felt like everyone was really eager to contribute. I am already longing for the next one! :)

point of view
(Taxona 111/24, Kodak Tri-X 400, ISO 400/27°)

(Ikonta 522/24, Legacy Pro 100, expired, ISO 100/21°)

(Kine-Exakta II, Ilford HP5 Plus 400, expired, ISO 400/27°)

film casino
(Bessa RF, Ilford Pan F 50, expired 1982, ISO 50/18°)

(Tenax I, Ilford HP5 Plus 400, expired, ISO 400/27°)

snowy branches
(Icarette 6x6, Kodak T-MAX 400, ISO 400/27°)

(Contessa 533/24, Rollei Retro 100, expired, ISO 100/21°)

Take a look at all contributions in this flickr group.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Series - coffe2go

(Kodak Recomar 33, Lomography Redscale 100, ISO 100/21°)

(Rollei 35, Lomography Color 400, ISO 400/27°)

(Rolleiflex Automat 631, Kodak Portra 400VC, ISO 400/27°)

(Vitomatic IIa, Porst Color-X 200, expired, ISO 200/24°)

(Ideal 250/3, Kodak Ektar 100, ISO 100/21°)

(Inos I, Kodak Portra 160NC, expired, ISO 160/23°)

(Rolleicord I, Kodak Portra 160VC, expired, ISO 160/23°)

Monday, March 23, 2015

Two cameras for a lens - Voigtländer Inos I

Last November I got a Voigtländer Inos I at a fairly low price. I decided to get it mainly because of the lens, an early Voigtländer Heliar f/4.5. I already have such a lens on my Voigtländer Rollfilm 5x8 and I am deeply in love with the very unique pictures that it produces. Unfortunately, the relatively exotic 127 film format that the Rollfilm 5x8 requires is not very convenient: film choice is very limited and the prices are on the high side. For this reason, I thought a 6x9 folder using 120 film (readily available in a decent variety of films at reasonable prices) with a Heliar lens was a good idea.

I was not able to check the camera in person before I got it. I could just look at a single low-quality picture, enough to see that the lens was in fact a Heliar but not much more. As the camera arrived and I opened up the package, the camera turned up to be in quite poor condition: leather was missing from the front and sides, rust had found its way onto many spots, sports and wire frame finder were not there and it felt like it had not been taken care of in the last sixty years. The lens, though, looked pretty clear, which was the whole point of it. I improvised a crude "leather" covering and got the thing running again.

crude camera covering job... #diy #electricaltape #vintagecameras #voigtländer

A photo posted by tonicito (@tonicito75) on

The shutter though, showed quite a strange behaviour: slow speeds were a little too slow, which is common because of hardening lubricants in the mechanism, but time and bulb settings, in which the shutter can be opened and closed manually through the release lever, would not respond at all and 1/250, the shortest speed, sounded and looked to me more like 1/50 or 1/100. This called for a closer inspection, so I carefully opened the shutter and discovered that a number of important pieces were missing: the B-lever, which connects the shutter release to the blade operating ring for T and B operation, was nowhere to be found. This could still be OK, since these are speeds that are rarely used except for long exposures. Unfortunately the booster spring was missing, too. This is one strong coiled spring that gives the shutter the extra tension needed to achieve its highest speed, a tension which is very noticeable when cocking the shutter at 1/250. Without the highest speed, I needed to stop down the iris to compensate, and "large" apertures (we are still talking f/4.5, so were the figures in the 20s-30s) is a favourite spot for me using a Heliar.

I accepted the facts, shot a roll of film with the camera and shutter as they were, fell in love deeply (again!) with the Heliar lens, and let it sleep. In the background I searched for a similar 6x9 folder with a compatible Compur shutter to obtain the missing parts, or to exchange mine, but found nothing. Last month, though, I did find such a 6x9 camera. And, ironically, it was yet another Voigtländer Inos I, in much better condition, and again with a fairly low price tag. This one sported an Anastigmat-Skopar f/4.5 lens which, for all that matters, is an excellent performer. It is no Heliar, though.

... but that #Heliar lens is oh so wonderful! #diy #vintagecameras #voigtländer

A photo posted by tonicito (@tonicito75) on

The shutter on the second Inos has all its parts in place. The camera has even the body piece of the sports finder which, incidentally, proved that it was indeed the relatively rare Inos I for dual format (6x9 and 4.5x6) and not the much more common Rollfilm 6x9. The shutter required a little service because the slow speeds would run much much too slow. The booster spring needed attention, too, because sometimes it fell out of position when tensioning and let 1/250 run like 1/50 or so. A little pressure, lovingly applied with pliers, brought it back to a shape with which such out of position accidents seldom happened. I need to tension 1/250 with buttery fingers, though; I hope I'd manage to notice when the booster spring falls out of position when tensioning the shutter!

Both lenses having the same focal length (105 mm), the easiest way was to replace the lenses and use this nicer camera with its working shutter. I removed the Skopar lens from the "new" Inos and replaced it with the Heliar. The threads might not have been "exactly" compatible, since the front element needed a fair amount of torque to screw, but I checked infinity focus and it looked tack sharp. The first roll of film is in the making, I hope it turns out OK.

It is interesting that both my Inos I cameras are not at all very far away in time from one another. The Inos I (back then it was just called Inos) had a relatively short production run, from 1930 to 1933 (some sources say 1932), and it was quickly superseded by the Inos II. I would say both cameras were built in the same batch: their body serial numbers are just 48000 numbers apart (I guess these body serial numbers applied not only to this model but to all Voigtländer models, but I am not sure). The battered one has a higher body serial number (947270) than the nicer one (899432). Interestingly, though, both lens and shutter were a little newer (higher serial number)in the battered one. The lenses are only 747 numbers apart (760623 for the Skopar, 759876 for the Heliar). Both point to September 1933 as fabrication date. The shutter serial numbers point to 1933, too, and again the nicer Inos has a slightly newer one.

voigtländer inos i

I am happy with this camera: It is hardly possible to get a larger film format (6x9 on 120 film, that is more than six times as much area as provided by a standard 35mm camera) in a package that fits into any coat pocket so nicely as this one. The folded camera is not heavier or bulkier than the average cell phone that we used to carry around by the end of the 90s. Also, being a true Voigtländer, the quality and precision of every single component is exquisite, and its more than 70 years of various adventures are hardly noticeable when the folding bed closes nicely with a reassuring snap or the film advance key rotates as smoothly as it did in the mid thirties. And the Heliar, ah, that magical Heliar now in a much more usable package, is the whole reason why I took care of these two cameras, these almost twins that, after a long journey, reunited again.

Voigtländer Inos I
My Voigtländer Inos I flickr set

Maker Voigtländer
Model Inos I
Type folding bed camera
Lens Voigtländer Heliar 105mm f/4.5 (No. 759876, Sep 1933)
Shutter Compur, rim set, size #0, 1 - 1/250 + B + T
Film type 120 6x9, 4.5x6
Year 1933
Country Germany

Monday, March 16, 2015

Series - storefronts

One of the first things that met my eye after moving to Vienna was the rich and interesting amount of typefaces, signs and lettering of its various shops. In fact, I already posted a weekly series about them. Of course, after that I kept finding and photographing lots of interesting signs. This weekly series is about several storefronts in Vienna.

I decided to post this new series because I wanted to tell you about the wonderful photographic project that two friends of mine (Martin and Philipp) are undertaking: Wiener Geschäfte mit Geschichte, a huge compilation of storefronts, captured on pictures forever. They recently reached their 100th storefront.

Life keeps going at an ever accelerating pace, and for me it is very important to stop, take a breath and look at the sides of the road, because the most interesting things tend to happen there, on the invisible background. For this reason I think such projects like Philipp and Martin's are important.

Hope you enjoy Wiener Geschäfte mit Geschichte and my weekly series! :)

(Exakta Varex IIa, Fujichrome Velvia 50, expired, ISO 50/18°)

(Contaflex IV, Solution Super VX 200, expired, ISO 200/24°)

(Kiev 4, Kodak Elite Chrome Extra Color 100, ISO 100/21°)

(Contaflex IV, Solution Super VX 200, expired, ISO 200/24°)

(Bergheil 6.5x9, Ilford HP4, expired 1980, ISO 400/27°)

(Rolleicord I, Kodak Portra 160 VC, expired, ISO 160/23°)

glaserei spiegel
(Contaflex IV, Solution Super VX 200, expired, ISO 200/24°)

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A Year of film Sundays 2014 :)

On Sunday January 12th, 2014, I took the first picture of my first 52-week series: A Year of Film Sundays.

(Voigtländer Bessa 6x9, Ilford FP4 Plus 125, ISO 125/22°)

The idea was simple: take a film picture each and every Sunday for a whole year and (try to) post them each and every Sunday for a whole year. Of course, a couple weeks delay needed to be taken into account for development and scanning.

On Sunday January 4th, 2015, I took the last picture of my series.

ginesta (52/52)
(Super Ikonta BX, Kodak Ektachrome E100VS, ISO 100/21°)

It was a very interesting experience. Some weeks I discovered myself thinking about which camera and film I would use already on Thursday, other weeks I needed to improvise a bit more. I took the opportunity of the Sunday pictures to do a little experimenting. Some of them came out fine, especially with sheet film and home development.

caseta nova (32/52)
(Kodak Recomar 33, Fujichrome Velvia 50, ISO 50/18°)

synchronicity (47/52)
(Zeiss Ikon Contax IIa, Fuji Neopan 1600, EI 3200/36°)

In other fronts it was a complete fiasco, like with Minox subminiature film: 2 out of 2 attempts came out blank! :(

epic fail :( (22/52)

I used 21 cameras, most used on medium format film was my Voigtländer Bessa 6x9 (6 Sundays) and on 35mm film both my Kiev 4 and my Contax IIa (4 Sundays each).

It is difficult to pick up a favorite from the 52 Sundays. But, if I had to, I would say 07/52 (Sunday, February 23rd, 2014) is it.

high angle breakfast (07/52)
(Kiev 4, Porst Color-X 200, ISO 200/24°)

To me, it conveys the feeling of an early breakfast on a winter Sunday before taking out our whole winter equipment and go for a hike in the woods.

Thanks for coming along with me all this year. I hope you enjoyed it at least as much as I did :)