Well, on Friday night we had the consecration of Ukraine and Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. As a Catholic, and, as somebody who has actually been to Fatima, and knows what a big thing this is, it was a very moving and special moment. The majority of us wish peace for Ukraine and wish for an end to Putin’s invasion, and anyone who says it’s just a special military operation is in serious error! Since the beginning of the invasion, this is a start of hope in this grizzly war. Let’s keep praying for them! What else was Pope Francis supposed to do?
I’m sorry if Catholicism isn’t your thing, but it is mine, and I wanted to get that out there. You can hate me later.
On Saturday, I felt slightly out of it, especially after the emotion of the previous evening. I felt tired and just wanted to sleep and rest. During the week, I had started reading up on using an ultra-wide lens as a portrait lens. As it happens, I have one for my Canon 6D Mark II. The infamous 16-35mm. If you look at previous articles and on my Instagram feed, you can see the results that I have managed to get from this setup. I love the distortion that this lens gives me. It allows me to create images that although taken in real life seem to have an otherworldly feel to them. “They” say it’s all about creating images that “stand out” and I’m all for that!
So instead of just reading up on it and wishing, the best thing to do is to pull the proverbial finger out, get the kit out of the camera cupboard and use it! I’ve been using my Fuji camera systems lately and I thought it would be good to have a change. I’ve been so happy with the Canon and the 16-35mm lens in the past, and have had such great results with it, so I was feeling really geared up and positive.
Then I got out and for some reason, I just couldn’t get into the zone. I was fortunate enough to get a couple of half-decent photos, but I certainly wasn’t feeling it. I kept at it with my legendary stubbornness, but I knew it wasn’t a good day. I know you can’t have a good day every day, but I usually do better than that. Let me assure you, however, that this is only temporary, and that next Friday afternoon I will have another go. Not every photo was useless as you can see in the gallery, but you do feel a certain frustration. You’re all geared up to create and then you get performance issues. Still no idea why, but it could always be worse. I could have given the booze up for Lent and therefore not be able to have a pint of Guinness to console me. Oh, wait…
There’s a difference between knowing the theory, having practised, and being able to reproduce great results every time. That is probably the reason that I am still an amateur and not a pro.
I will not let this discourage me and next time is next time. If this ever happens to you then please don’t fret about it. Sometimes it’s just not your day. It doesn’t mean that you are a bad photographer, it just means that it’s not a good day on a given day. Be stubborn. Keep going. Don’t give up. Show the buggers what you can do!
Here are the photos. Not all of them were horrible, and one or two shine out, which is actually quite good. Tell me what you think. How should I change my approach for the next time?
In my last article Dear Reader, I promised you some colour photography and in this article, you’re going to get it. The sun was still warming my back and it felt good to be alive again! I talked about missing out on the Jaune in the Grue Jaune, but not this time. Shorter article maybe but some great colour for you. When I bought the Fujifilm X100f one of the things that had was the Classic Chrome film simulation, which was supposed to emulate Kodachrome which of course died in 2009 and can no longer be processed. The X100f of course has other film simulations, which you can look up on the web, but that Classic Chrome look just got me. A slightly more subdued colour range with a certain warmness and something that you just can’t quite put your finger on, which reminded you of an age gone by in photography.
I mean the whole camera seems to have a certain vintage vibe to it despite all the technology hidden away inside. The little knobs and buttons everywhere just remind you of a film camera. How was I supposed to resist? As you can see in various articles and various photo galleries, I didn’t resist and I’m still OK with that! I even went on to acquire an XT2 with interchangeable lenses, which offer me more variety in the kinds of shots I can take, as well as keeping the same feel to my shots.
Everyone says to shoot in RAW. I can hear them even now saying, “Shoot in RAW you fool!” Well I do, but I also shoot jpegs to have those images already colour edited to fit that Chrome feeling. It’s consistent and I still have my RAW files to fall back on if needed. The Fuji Jpegs are amazing and it helps me to cut down on the amount of editing that I have to do. I’m basically lazy, so if I can avoid doing something and yet get a perfectly satisfactory result, then I’m going with the path of least resistance.
On this outing, I was using the 18mm (24mm equivalent) lens with the XT2. Again, I’ve talked before how I decided to go wider instead of longer, and if any of you are laughing at this point, get your minds out of the gutter! I’m talking photography!!
So without much further ado, let me present you with some colour photography taken on the XT2 in Nantes.
Back in 2009 I had a camera that died on me. It might only be a camera to you but to me it was everything. It was my first camera. I was heartbroken. To those of you mocking me, just think back to your first car and to your first accident in that car. Alright, you may not be shedding a tear you unemotive bastard, but you might just have the smallest of inklings about my loss. It was my fist camera that had taught me the basics of photography, and since 1987 had been a relatively constant companion, and part of me. My son now has it on a shelf looking pretty damn cool on one of his shelves.
It was at that time that I had come back to film from digital. Why bother using filters that would emulate film photography when you could get the same thing straight out of camera without going through the rigmaroles of messing around in Photoshop to get that result? At that time, although digital gave me a lot, there was something missing. Like most of us I was looking for something authentic.
I went to the camera shop to see if anything could be done to repair my camera and bring it back to life. With hope I entered the shop that would become a familiar haunt, and had to face the brutal truth. My Praktica MTL3 was dead. It had passed on, this camera was no more. It had ceased to be. It had expired and gone to meet its maker. It was a stiff. Bereft of photographic life. It was resting in peace. It was pushing up daisies. Its metabolic processes were now history. It was off the twig. It had kicked the bucket. It had shuffled off its mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bloody choir invisible. IT WAS AN EX Praktica MTL 3! Any similarity to a Norwegian Blue parrot pining for the Fjords is a mere coincidence! So I asked him if I could buy the one in the display cabinet and he said of course I could and that yes it was a little expensive, it came with a 6 month guarantee, and here was a film for it, and no mention of Bolton or Ipswitch. Although not exactly the same it was a purchase that set me off on a series of events that lead me to “collecting” a certain quantity of cameras. It was either that or becoming a lumberjack.
Through YouTube, articles on the net, and my own research, I learnt about some of the iconic cameras that I never had, and at that stage, the hipsters hadn’t bought up everything on EBay and you could still get something very decent for un £50, which now of course might set you back between £150 to £200! So I was very fortunate to start collecting when I did.
On the famous YouTube, and its infamous photography videos that I still seem to watch on a regular basis, I went down the rabbit hole of specialising in film cameras. There was one guy, called Matt Day, who waxed lyrical about his Leica M6, and how much he loved using it to take images from his everyday life. I started thinking, could this be my next acquisition. And then I started looking at the prices that these things cost. Megabucks, which is something that I don’t have and even if I did, such a purchase would be grounds for divorce. It’s cheaper to keep her, as the classic Rhythm and Blues (before it became R’nB) so wisely reminded us.
Therefore, what is the difference between my new old Praktica MTL3 and a Leica M6 I hear you say. Well, both are German. One is a classic camera from a West German manufacturer, and was the gold standard of 35mm cameras from pre war times right up to the modern day, and was a rangefinder, the other one being a relatively cheap and yet very solid SLR from the old East Germany.
So both were made by the Boche, one further to the left that the other. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so a video must be worth two thousand words! Earlier I talked about a certain Matt Day, well here is a video of his from last year talking about the differences. I’ll let you watch it, and then we will be both on the same page! I can tell you’re impressed.
Soooooo, I wanted to learn about a rangefinder and see how they worked out in real life. But, as I said earlier it’s cheaper to keep her, so I was going to have to find another way of doing things. As many photographers on a budget but wanting to get some half decent materiel, I looked East, towards Mother Russia. Communism is messed up, but it did leave some rather solid cameras, and to the rangefinder aficionados, the names Zorky, and FED will be familiar. The Zorky looks very vintage, rather sexy and exclusive with its Cyrillic writing on the top of the body, but I was not comfortable about using a camera without a light meter. The Sunny 16 rule should be easy enough to follow, and with the latitude that black and white film photography gives you, you shouldn’t go too far wrong, but I was being stubborn, which is so out of character for me.
I moved on to looking at the FED 5, especially since I had found one for only 15€ imported directly from the Ukraine, which at the time was not at war or hadn’t been annexed either by Mother Russia. Oh you naughty boy Vladimir!!
Let’s get the boring stuff out of the way first. The FED 5 was produced in the Ukrainian city of Kharkov from 1977 until 1990. It is a 35mm format rangefinder camera, with interchangeable lenses with a Leica M39 screw thread, (mine has a 35mm f2.8 lens, which is great for street photography). It has a focal plane shutter, shutter speeds of 1 second to 1/500th of a second, bulb mode, and the flash sync speed is 1/30th of a second. What more could you ask for. The film loading is similar to the Leica where you remove the base of the camera, load your film etc. and then put that base back on. Because you know that it’s about the bass, ‘bout that bass no treble…
To do the metering you have to put your faith in the selenium cell light meter, on the top right of the front of the camera. This will give you a reading on an EV meter on top of the camera next to the “calculation wheel”. One dial is for the speed of you your film. Now don’t go looking for Din, ISO, or ASA, but look for GOCT, or GOST. 90 GOST is 100ASA, 180 being 200ASA etc. For 400ASA I just turn the little dot to the S in GOCT. It’s one of those Soviet things that is just a quirk of this camera. This will give me a reading on the outer dial with my shutter speeds and F Stops combinations to nail that exposure!
As with other Soviet-era rangefinders, the shutter-speed selector rotates when the shutter is released, and this should not be changed “until after” the shutter has been cocked. If you change the shutter speed before you cock the shutter first, the setting pin can be broken when you advance the film and cock the shutter! Don’t even bother trying. I never have, and it still works today!
Focussing is easy which is always something that catches my eye, no zone focussing, and it’s slightly different to the SLR. As you saw in the video, there is a ghost image in the middle of the viewfinder and as soon as that ghost image disappears, it means that you have focussed successfully.
Anyway, I paid my 15 Euros and a Ukrainian camera arrived two weeks later in an original box which is still in a display cabinet in my hallway. The leather case still smells of leather! So I tried the damn thing out. Worked out how to load the film which as completely foreign to me but still doable and not too demanding even for me. It is supposed to be the street photography camera par excellence for a few reasons. Firstly it looks pretty sexy around my neck and the leather is top notch without necessarily having a leather fetish, but each to his own! You can use zone focussing with the lens as you can see at such and such an F-stop, the part of your photo which will be in focus is shown on the lens. There is no mirror that slaps up, and the camera is relatively silent, and can be used to close to your subject and get that trendy and yet timeless street portrait. Shooting from the hip.
I can hear you saying, well thank you Ian for all this information. Really great, and almost useful. But pray tell, is it any good? What’s it like to shoot with? Is it worth me looking into? Can I buy you a Leica M6 for your birthday?
Well Dear Reader, let me address your interrogations. Firstly is it any good? It is definitely slightly sexy and certainly looks the part! I wasn’t used to the focussing of a rangefinder but found the focussing to be spot on. I’ll let you have a look at the photos and let you judge! What’s it like to shoot with? Once you get used to the way a Soviet camera functions it’s actually pretty neat! What I do like is being able to get my exposition without having to look through the viewfinder. You know that you’re going to be spot on, and indeed I was. That’s half the battle won, which is what we’re all about. It works mate, it works! You need to be able to get that sot that you want and I think that’s pretty simple to do. Is it worth me looking into? All depends on what you’re looking for. If you can get one for a relatively cheap price then get one just to try out; you can always sell on. I certainly have no regrets and it’s still in my collection which just goes to show you! Can I buy you a Leica M6 for your birthday? Who am I to refuse such generosity?
The photos in this article were taken in Montaigu, Vendée in 2016 and feature my daughter. The film is Illford XP, which is a black and white film that is developed with colour film chemicals and processes. C41 for those in the know. It’s always strange seeing photos from nearly 6 years ago and I remember that outing with my daughter as if it were yesterday. It was one of the ways I used to cope with my depression. I might not know what day it was but I remember taking each photo. We all cope in our own individual ways I suppose…
I have a friend here who said that I am always contradicting myself and that it isn’t logical and how can I say two things at the same time, and I replied that the two things, although contradictory in appearance, are both as true. That person is a production of French education with philosophy as the subject that all French teenagers go through to learn how to think the way the Education Nationale tells them to think, under the guise of learning all about freethinking and critical thinking. I, however, am a lot less French despite what some people might like to think, and I will think any blooming way I desire, with or without contradictions.
I’m not talking about my mental state, for once, but photography. I love both digital photography and analogic photography. I am bewildered by modern technology and could be classed as a geek, and yet the experience of using old technology that is obsolete for some gets me all excited as a small child waiting for Father Christmas, but being told by their mother to go to bed, otherwise, he won’t come. It didn’t stop me from waking up at the crack of dawn, and I think my parents might have regretted the decision to buy me a guitar for Christmas and hearing me playing at some ungodly hour of the morning. As a 49, fat middle-aged gentleman, I can understand them, but my 6 or 7-year-old self didn’t and couldn’t imagine the disturbance that I had caused them.
Oh, how times change! While I’m on the nostalgia train going to the “good” old days, I have vivid memories of a drawer at my grandparents’ house, where my mother was brought up, and in whose room I would be staying. Inside this drawer, many “old” things just fascinated me. It could be my grandfather’s old plumbing ruler or golf tees. It could be anything but it was an entrance into another world for me. My grandmother’s kitchen, because at that time, my Grandfather wouldn’t be in the kitchen, was a place where everything was from the 1930s and it all just fitted together. There was the Anderson shelter, which had been turned into a proper pantry, was a relic from the Second World War where they would have sheltered from German bombs falling on the town and trying to stop my Great Uncle’s shipyards from operating correctly. My Great Aunt would drive around in an ambulance taking care of casualties. Amazing people from an amazing time.
What does this have to do with photography? Not a huge amount, but is that a problem? Oh yes, it tells you about my fascination for the old and very new. I have “a number” of cameras, the eldest being from the 1940s and the newest from 2021, with nearly every decade being represented in-between the two dates.
So I was going somewhere with all this. Ah yes, lately I seem to be getting back into film again. In the last but one article, you may have seen the photos from the Mamiya, which is a relatively modern camera being from the early ’80s. Well, this time, I’m still using a camera from the 1980s, the Pentax ME Super. For once, I wasn’t using Ilford HP5, which is my “go-to” film. No, I decided to be different and get out of my comfort zone, and use a new film. I say new film, I mean Rollei has been around for donkey’s years, but this was a “new to me” film. May I introduce you to Rollei RPX 100. I never use 100ASA film, but was turned by Fomapan 100, which you can see in the photos from the Hangar à Bananes. A fine-grain film, especially when you compare it to the grain from HP even when shot at box speed, let alone 800ASA or even 1600ASA.
The film was developed in ILFOSIL 3, and I thought it was great. I tried in town and country and was thrilled. The thing that pleased me the most was that it kept flat, which means a lot to somebody who has ever tried to scan film. The last time I bought a film I played wild cards, and it was also a lot cheaper than HP5 which is a very convincing argument. I still dream of Kodak Portra 160, but it is getting more and more scarce, and therefore more expensive. A beginning of the month kind of film. Oh look at that, my pay has just gone in…
So yesterday evening I was scanning a film my son had shot on a 1960s Kodak camera, and thinking about how he has changed since 2016 when I picked up my Fuji XT2, a slightly more modern mirrorless digital camera. I hadn’t used a modern camera in quite a while and it almost felt foreign to me, and yet familiar at the same time. My fingers seemed to find the controls without looking very far, and it felt very natural. Maybe my love of digital and analogue isn’t that contradictory after all?
Now it’s time to show you the results of the Rollei RPX 100. I liked it and am happy I bought more than one roll. The camera, as I think I said earlier, was the Pentax ME Super.
My Dear Reader, welcome to yet another article where I will try to find something interesting or witty to tell you. I have neglected you over August, but as most French people do, I closed shop and was on holiday. Since Covid and the world going base over apex, my company has decided that we only need three weeks’ holiday in August compared to the more traditional four weeks. I am about to sing the praises of my wife, so for those of you who hate the luvvy-duvvy side of things, turn away now. I take it you have all turned away.
For the first ten days of my holidays, I was camping in my living room. My wife and I literally carried our bed downstairs and set up camp. That was the less agreeable part of those first ten days. However, my wife had decided to decorate our bedroom and change all the furniture and replace it with nice new furniture from the infamous Swedish flat-pack place that we all know. I have a love-hate relationship with flat packs. Firstly, they’re heavy and hardly fit into the car without all the seats down and your wife in the back of the car telling you how to drive, you bloody moron! Secondly, they take up an awful amount of space in the garage whilst your wife gets to grips with decorating the room. Painting the ceiling, putting up wallpaper you agreed to ages ago because it’s easier and you love avoiding conflict. You don’t sleep well because everything feels strange in the living room and it’s hot too. Thirdly, they have to be taken upstairs to be put together and there’s always something missing, and you know it’s going to be your fault, you useless fool!
Anyway, with the help of friends, my son, and a mad screaming bitch, sorry, wife, we now have a haven of peace. We not only have a haven of peace, but fitted wardrobes that took three days to put together, but look great, and I have a cabinet for all my photography gear and, most importantly, a desk.
She is a champion, and let me assure you all, she has become human again! It has been a life-changer.
During the pre-let’s get this done otherwise I’ll go mad, clear out, we found some films that needed to be developed. You do not know what might lurk on those reels of film, but you tell yourself that you must have taken them, so it shouldn’t be too bad. I took in 9 rolls of film in. I was told by the amiable lady that if any of them hadn’t been exposed that there would be no charge for the development. Seems fair.
I returned to get the films and the contact sheets. That still sweet lady told me I would be in for a surprise! She was right. I looked through the sheets of paper and saw images of my son, who was still a toddler, and having baths, and being dried by his mother and his godmother. It took me right back to the end of the last century! My beard was in colour in those days!
Encouraged by all this photographic success, I went out and took even more photos. For those of you who follow me on Twitter, or Instagram you will have seen the stories and saw the cameras for the day: the Mamiya C220, and the Pentax ME Super, which were both gifts from a former teacher, and now a friend of mine! Merci Mr McM!
I do like taking photos and using cameras. There’s something I don’t think you knew!! It was good to be back out. I am now double jabbed. Thank you to that lovely lady at the chemists who reassured me and said that I wasn’t the only guy in the world that has a phobia of injections. Not only am I double jabbed, but I also have my Covid Passport, so I can go to the pub again without having part of my brain scraped out by a nurse with a long plastic thingy! I have rejoined the general population.
If you’re wondering what the French title of this article is doing there, let me explain. Quickly though, I’m already at 750 words here. The Rentrée is the re-entry into normal daily life after the summer holidays where people just weren’t there. The children go back to school. Those of use in employment, go back to that employment. Our extracurricular activities start again. Last night was my first wind band rehearsal in over a year (thank you, COVID), and it feels as if some relative normality has come back into my life.
Back to the photos. I shot the square photos on the Mamiya C220, using Ilford HP5+ film shot at box speed, developed in Ilfosol 3, and I took the other photos on the Pentax ME Super, using Fomapan 100 film developed in the same chemistry. Fine grain with the Fomapan and not something I’m used to, but a change is good, right? Oh, and I took them at the Hangar à Bananes, and HAB Gallerie in Nantes.