Party Crasher- Street Photography With An SLR

The Block Party in Fitchburg that I blogged about a couple of days ago seemed custom-made for a rangefinder, such as the Canonet. As I am relatively new to calculation of hyperfocal distance, and rangefinder photography in general, I also brought the much larger Canon AE-1, also loaded up with Portra 400. While not by any means a stealthy street photography tool, the shutter priority feature really helped with some of the more fluid shots, such as this street juggler. Here, at an exposure of 1/30th of a second:

Go slow for these shots, and motion is easily conveyed.

Go slow for these shots, and motion is easily conveyed.

I think the next shot was at the same relatively slow speed. While many do not suggest hand holding an SLR with such a slow exposure, it really can work out nicely if you do not want to freeze the action, and want trails along with the moving objects, while keeping the more static ones sharp.

He also showed up in Monday's blog, with a crowd around him.

He also showed up in Monday’s blog, with a crowd around him.

A few “dignitaries” were at the party- such as Congresswoman Niki Tsongas-

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Rep. Tsongas speaking with reconfigured 3rd District residents.

Mayor Lisa Wong of Fitchburg is one of the youngest mayors in Massachusetts-

Mayor Lisa Wong watches kids make sand castles, with their moms.

Mayor Lisa Wong (center) watches kids make sand castles, with their moms.

Finally, while not likely qualifying as a dignitary, I saw this guy at last year’s Block Party. I am not sure if I got any photographs of him then, but was glad to see him again this year. He sings, and plays the accordion. And claims to be driving one of the longest driven Ford Model A’s in existence, and drives it every day-

Playing the accordion, on the bumper of his Model A.

Playing the accordion, on the bumper of his Model A.

I don’t know if he is over 100 years old, or his tire is (see the sign, lower left). His Model A can’t be, as this model was built by Ford from 1927-1931.

Block Party

Earlier this month, I took in a Block Party in Fitchburg, MA. As part of its Civic Days 4th of July celebration every year, the entire downtown of the city is closed off, and local vendors sell food, crafts, as well as participate in various activities. Of course, there are the standard vintage car exhibits, and fun for the kids.

This year, I decided to take two Canon cameras, the Canonet, and the AE-1.  Both loaded up with Portra 400. For candid street photography, I chose the zone focusing approach on the Canonet, f/11, at a range of 10 feet. I think I used exposures of 1/250th of a second. It was a heck of a lot of fun to try. Here are a few of the shots from that roll:

Taking in the various vendors and sites.

Taking in the various vendors and sites.

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Chatting amidst the crowd.

Shooting from the hip with a rangefinder is indeed a very different experience from that of SLR photography. You are not “limited” by the physical constraints of the viewfinder. And, of course, it is a much quieter experience, without that traditional mirror slap.

Family stroll.

Family stroll.

The use of color for street photography does seem odd. But as I have yet to shoot B&W with the Canonet, and the local CVS has been doing a great job scanning my Portra film. And, at less than $5/roll with scans, it is pretty hard to go wrong. There are rumors out there that CVS is going to eliminate many film machines from their stores. So, maybe I’m shooting color like a maniac for a reason.

Watching a juggler.

Watching a juggler.

This could be a very addictive genre. Once you get some cool shots, you want to keep getting more and more keepers. At the preset aperture distance, and focal length I’ve chosen here, chances are pretty good that I will get something in focus. The challenge is getting a good composition, while not using the viewfinder. But when you do, it can be very rewarding indeed.

Color Street Photography (With Expired Film)

One of the earliest rolls of film I put into the Canonet  QL17 G-III was a roll of 24 exposure expired FujiColor 400. While most likely not a top choice for street photography, well, I had to make due with what I had. I still have yet to see a good explanation, online, or anywhere, of zone focusing. My understanding of it is that on a rangefinder, you can basically preset your aperture, and your distance, and, more often than not, catch something in sharp focus.

I settled on f/11, a distance of 10 feet, at exposures of 1/500th/sec. The event was the Food Truck Festival of New England. People shoveling food down their pipes, while walking, talking, and refusing to sit down. The city of Worcester shut down a large part of Park Avenue, in front of Elm Park, for this event.

I have yet to use any B&W film in the Canonet , as I have a lot of color film in the fridge, and have also gotten used to having the scans and negatives back in under an hour. For about $6/roll, it really is a bargain. And, given the hot, humid summer months, time not in the darkroom pulling film out of canisters and into the tank, has been very liberating.

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Discussing Gun Violence.

The colors, while a bit off on this roll, weren’t really that bad. The graininess was definitely there, but the exposure really wouldn’t have benefitted from any ASA compensation. I would use this film expired again.

Highlights are a little hot, not bad.

Highlights are a little hot, not bad.

The following shot is a favorite, mainly because the focus seemed to be pretty much spot on-

Not bad for trying out zone focusing for the first time.

Not bad for trying out zone focusing for the first time.

400 speed film has been pretty much a fixture shooting with the Canonet. 160 or 200 speed film, given the brightness of the midday sun would have been fine. But it works here, in this next shot, as it pulled up some details from the stand area-

Thumbs Up!

Thumbs Up!

Rangefinder photography certainly is very different from “traditional” SLR photography. The space you have to the left of the viewfinder’s floating lines allows you to watch things as they move into the scene. And, you always have the option of using the zone focusing approach. I am not sure if there are better standard baseline settings for the Canonet, but these seem to be working out nicely so far.

Finding Range- More Thoughts On The Canonet QL17 G-III

Shooting with a small rangefinder can be liberating, as the photographer is not bogged down with bags and bags of camera bodies, lenses, accessories. After shooting several rolls of film with the Canonet QL17 G-III, I’ve realized that most of the time I have spent out in the field has been limited creatively, and physically, carrying gear. Add a D-SLR to the mix, and well, you’ve got a workout regimen.

The camera has some really neat “hidden” features. It has, in the “A” mode, an exposure lock. You can half press the shutter button, and the meter will lock in the aperture it thinks will result in the best exposure for a given scene. You could maybe meter off of a gray card, or, in a high contrast scene, maybe meter for the sky, lock the value, recompose, and then shoot.

This is not really a “feature” as such, but as seen by the below exposure, double exposures are indeed possible. after getting to the last frame, I was able to somehow wind the film. Thinking the shutter might not fire, I gave it a go, and it did. This last frame of the roll resulted in a very cool double exposure-

Double exposure, Canonet QL17 G-III, Portra 400.

Double exposure, Canonet QL17 G-III, Portra 400.

I see lots and lots of reviews online, from people stating that the outstanding 40mm f/1.7 Canon Lens is not “sharp” wide open at f/1.7. Of course, very few lenses are sharp wide open. But this one certainly can yield some great results. No flash, here at f/1.7-

Shot with only available light, wide open at f/1.7.

Shot with only available light, wide open at f/1.7.

Sharp enough to even see the rivets on the door trim, and the labels on the pipes. Yes, Portra is sharp film. But, you can’t have sharp results without sharp glass. There is indeed some corner vignetting, as seen below in the upper left hand corner of the shot-

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Maybe a shadow, but based on the location, and compared to the previous shot, I think it is a vignette.

This art deco elevator is a great way to show off the spectacular results the Canonet is capable of. Like the others, this had very low available light.

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This Car Up

Color C-41 processing can be fast, convenient, and yes, relatively inexpensive. If you find a lab that does a good job, stay with them. In about four years of C-41 processing, I have really only had one roll completely ruined, and the other, well, the colors shifted through some bad chemistry or temperature. I think I am going to have to try some B&W in this camera, and get into the darkroom. Just to mix it up. Portra 400 itself, unfortunately, is getting quite expensive. Might be a good time to dig into the fridge, and pull out some Tri-X. And, hunt down some 48mm filters. Yes, the Canonet is different, in many ways.

The Canon Canonet QL17 G-III – Not “The Poor Man’s Leica”- It’s Better Than That

My Canon Canonet QL17 G-III

My Canon Canonet QL17 G-III

Sitting down to write this blog, after a few weeks off, I thought I was suffering from “Writer’s Block”. I am now realizing that what has been keeping me from updating the blog has been the fact that I’ve been shooting Kodak Portra like a maniac. With what? My second rangefinder, the Canon Canonet QL17 G-III, 1972 vintage. I’ve shot with, and blogged about, rangefinders in the past- 35mm Argus, and yes, the Polaroid Land Cameras do indeed use rangefinder focusing. Maybe the most refined in a series of Canon Canonet’s, and the most compact, this seems to be the most sought after model. The original Canonets are surprisingly large, almost SLR size. yet, were the rage when introduced in the early 60’s. It has a sharp, fast, bright 40mm f/1.7 fixed lens, perfect for street photography. It has, like the Canon Ftb, Canon’s proprietary Quick Load (QL) feature, which was the precursor to  automatic DX coding loading on 35mm cartridges. Simply pull the leader across the film plane, line it up over the sprocket advance, and to the red tab. Close the back, advance and shoot a couple of blanks, and the camera is ready to rock.

You can shoot completely manual (unmetered), or, in shutter priority, with an amazingly accurate internal couples light meter, with a CDS cell located right on the filter ring. One might not think that light meters of this vintage are accurate. It really is. Limitation? The fastest film you can load is ASA/ISO 800. And, the leaf shutter’s fastest shutter speed is 1/500th/sec. Portra 160, or 400, are great choices. I haven’t even shot any black and white with it, but am looking forward to shooting some Tri-X. I have the Canolite D electronic flash with it. I’ve tested it, it works, but have not shot with it. It is fully automatic, coupled to the rangefinder distancing. Ingenious.

The camera takes the “dreaded” 625 Mercury cells. Really, this is not that big of a deal. Wein Cells work great. They were designed as a direct replacement, and deliver a constant, correct voltage. Keep a couple of spares handy. I am thinking they would last a few months with regular use. But, remember, this is a mechanical leaf shutter. No batteries needed, unless that is, you choose “A”. Even that mode is smart- it locks the shutter in the event of under, or over exposure, into pre designated red zones, smaller than f/16, or larger than f/1.7.  Don’t lose the Canonet lens cap- it essentially shuts off the light meter sensor in “A” when you cap the lens.

I’ve read a lot of reports online from folks complaining that the lens is “not sharp” at f/1.7. It is. And, to them, well, be happy that you can shoot the camera at all at such a wide open aperture. Not too many lenses are “tack sharp” at f/1.7. Not even some Leica’s. it maybe has the form factor of the Leica CL, but remember, this is a fixed lens rangefinder. There were many similar models from Yashica, Minolta, Olympus, Konica. I know I am leaving a few out. But, you get the idea. It is a different class.

Speaking of which, this camera is often referred to, incorrectly, as “the poor man’s Leica”. Not a fair generalization. The camera is better than that. Not better than a Leica, no, I am not saying that at all. But better than a poor man’s Leica. It is a camera in its own class. What to look out for? The usual stuff. But, most notoriously? The light seals will, no question, be complete goo. If you are buying from someone online, and they say the seals are in great shape, do not believe them. I replaced mine with a kit, available online for about 9 dollars. It is a very easy job.

OK, how are the results? I love this camera. A few samples here, from the first roll, Portra 400:

Vintage mailbox, in an office building lobby.

Vintage mailbox, in an office building lobby.

Lobby columns.

Lobby columns.

Street performer, at a road race, performing for the runners at the finish line.

Street performer, at a road race, performing for the runners at the finish line.

Heading for the home stretch.

Heading for the home stretch.

Strike a pose...

Strike a pose…

I’ve said it before- I love this camera.

The Diner

I shot these in the morning, with the Canon AE-1, 28mm FD, and Kodak Ektar. It was about 9:30, and “the golden hour” was already fading away, to harsh bluish tones. Ektar proved to be the ideal film for the conditions. And the subject. The colors of the 5 & Diner, now closed, were perfect for the film as well. I’d love to come back to this site, and maybe photograph it with patrons, if it does indeed ever reopen.

Breakfast? Lunch? Dinner? None- now closed.

Breakfast? Lunch? Dinner? None- now closed.

Another opportunity here may be to go even wider, with a 24mm. But for these shots, 24mm worked out so nicely.

This shot reminds me of the Oracle headquarters in Redwood Shores, CA. Stacks.

This shot reminds me of the Oracle headquarters in Redwood Shores, CA. Stacks.

I love wide-angle shots that take advantage of shallow depth of field. The example below is quite illustrative of this.

Shot close to wide open.

Shot close to wide open.

The Five & Diner is much too nice of a new school diner concept to remain closed. Here’s hoping it comes back to life soon.

The doors remain closed for now.

The doors remain closed for now.

Found Along The Tracks

A few weeks ago, I took these shots along the railroad tracks near the office. There are always interesting things to photograph near the tracks, aside the trains and railways themselves. I also wanted to “test out” the higher shutter speeds of the F3. Of course, this was a moot experiment, as I ended up sending the camera back to California, for a brand new shutter. Portra 400, at box speed, and the 50 f/1.4 Ai.

What is a Charlie Card?

What is a Charlie Card?

You ask, what is a Charlie Card? The Massachusetts public transportation system is known as the MBTA. A song that came out years ago by The Kingston Trio was “M.T.A.”, as the system was called in the 1950’s. It told the story of Charlie, who was stuck on the system. It is a much improved system, but yes, the prepaid subway/bus/train card is now known amusingly as a Charlie Card.

Graffiti

Graffiti

Thinking this might be some kind of gang symbol or communication. Then again, this is in Concord, Mass, hardly the hotbed of gangland crime.

Pipe

Pipe

Years of corrosion and rust can make for a great subject. This pipe, I am guessing, has been exposed to the elements since The Kingston Trio sang about Charlie. The sharpness of Portra really does work out wonderfully for these types of shots. Of course, sharp glass always helps. But a subject like this would look maybe too sharp digitally. I’m going to be shooting some Fuji 400 soon, a whole new color palette and characteristics. Portra does really bring out warm oranges and reds. Not like Ektar, of course, but still warm and reddish. Thinking Fuji emulsions are more towards the green.

Courtyard- The F3 Comes Back, The F3 Goes Back Out

I just got my Nikon F3 back in from service. Frustratingly, the shutter I had asked to be replaced was only serviced. Twice Nikon USA had attempted to adjust the tension of the shutter brake mechanism. The last time, they told me that the shutter itself would need replacement. Nikon USA itself no longer stocks brand new F3 shutters, so I looked everywhere. Including Nikon Japan, and many, many independent service organizations. I found one in California that stocks them. When I sent a detailed explanation to these folks, telling them what needed to be done, they had the camera for about a month. When it came back, I was told, yes, the tensioners were once again adjusted. And, I was charged the same amount of money as the original service quote to replace the shutter. Back it went, out to California, hopefully, not to be gone again for another month. Based on these shots, it does appear that the shutter capping issue was kept at bay. I shot them with Portra 400, on a fairly bright day, so as to use higher shutter speeds.

This stone wall is in the courtyard at my office.

This stone wall is in the courtyard at my office.

The Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 Ai is one of my favorite lenses, along with the 50 1.8, which is maybe more contrasty and colorful. However, they are both spectacular pieces of glass.

A test shot, which came out pretty good, actually.

A test shot, which came out pretty good, actually.

So, am I nuts for wanting to have the shutter replaced? I don’t think so. If I was to accept that the repairs they made would solve the problem, I’d only have a 90 day warranty on the work. By sending it back in, and having the shutter replaced with a bad new one, the F3 will likely outlive me. I think it is worth having the camera out of commission a while longer.

The 50 f/1.4 Nikkor has insane bokeh wide open.

The 50 f/1.4 Nikkor has insane bokeh wide open.

Not like there aren’t plenty of other photographic tools to stay busy with, but the F3 really is special. it will be well worth the wait, to get it done right. That’s all I asked for in the first place.