Go Wide- Using A Fixed Prime Wide Angle Lens- First Thoughts

When I started out in digital photography, I used to think that shooting with a wide angle lens was all about “getting it all in”, and a lens best used for sweeping landscapes, and for great depth of field. Then, after getting into film photography, I read from a few sources that a fixed prime such as the 28mm lens was popular as a photojournalist lens. Huh? Wide angle for photojournalism?

Then, it started making some sense. In the days before auto focus, digital/auto everything, using a lens of such a focal length would allow for fast, precise focusing, without a lot of adjustment necessary after the fact. And, being able to “get up close” to a subject was also a huge benefit. Unlike the barrel distorted wide/normal/superzoom zoom lenses, this one will have virtually no barrel or line distortion. Otherwise great glass, such as the Nikkor 17-55 f/2.8 DX lens is a nightmare at the wide end, because of the geometric distortion. Without software corrections in port, you are going to have straight lines that bend all over the place. You are going to experience edge distortion. Not with a lens like this one- no corrections necessary.

I have been reluctant to invest in wide Nikkor or Canon glass, as the primes are just about cost prohibitive. As I recently have been dabbling with Minoltas, and their gorgeous Rokkor glass, it only made sense to start with the Minolta system. Great glass, for a fraction of the cost of Nikkor and Canon. So, a 28mm f/2.8 Rokkor recently arrived. The lens is amazingly compact, sharp, and contrasty. It is a very easy lens to establish selective focus with. On the other hand, this is not a “shallow depth of field”, like the fast, longer counterpart focal lengths. Even wide open, it seems as though there is lots of DOF always there. Lens flare seems to be a bit of a challenge- a good lens hood might make sense here.

Here are a few samples from a recent visit to Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts. These were taken with the Minolta XG-7, and the Rokkor 28mm. A red filter, I believe, was in use here. Maybe a yellow. The film was Kodak TMax 100.

Taken From WPI Foot Bridge

Taken From WPI Foot Bridge

Experimenting With Selective Focus, Here On The Hand Rail

Experimenting With Selective Focus, Here On The Hand Rail

Lens Flare Can Work To Your Advantage In Some Scenes

Lens Flare Can Work To Your Advantage In Some Scenes

A Wide Even Looks Cool In Portrait Mode For Certain Compositions

A Wide Even Looks Cool In Portrait Mode For Certain Compositions

Adding Contrast During Development

I am still fairly new to home darkroom developing. Just a matter of months into it. Since inception, following pretty much the same workflow, with the goal of achieving repeatable, consistent results. This has worked well for both D-76, and HC-110, with some variation. But for the most part, I haven’t really experimented that much. Keeping by and large the same dilutions and development times. The only exception to this being changing D:76 development from stock to a 1:1 working solution.

I do love contrast. This has been something that has eluded me, until last night. With these shots I took in downtown Worcester, MA the other night, I decided to increase the contrast of my development by about 20%, by increasing development times by 20%. Kodak’s TMax data sheets make mention of this, so it made sense to go for it. Pushing film is not something I have really tried. These shots were taken at box speed., ISO/ASA 400. But the results are really making me think about 1-2 stop pushing, to take advantage of some higher shutter speeds. But, based on this experiment, I could not be more thrilled. The blacks are what I remember seeing in print in newspapers, and in publications such as Life Magazine. The tonality and shadows, well, not what is achievable with digital photography without huddling over Photoshop for hours, certainly not right at capture. The dynamic range simply isn’t there.

Knowing now how to do this, there is additional, powerful creative control. Maybe a great bridge towards, someday, trying more esoteric, exotic developers. It makes the process far less intimidating.

These shots were taken with my Minolta XG-7, with a 50mm Rokkor f/1.4. The developer of choice, D:76, 1:1 dilution, at 15 minute development time. The Minolta was a Christmas gift to myself this year, and for special reasons. A blog entry on this amazing camera is due soon.

Main Office Of The Worcester Telegram And Gazzette, Worcester, Massachusetts' Newspaper

Main Office Of The Worcester Telegram And Gazzette, Worcester, Massachusetts' Newspaper.

These Were Taken Just Before Christmas.

These Were Taken Just Before Christmas.

This Is At The Intersection Of Main And Pleasant Streets.

This Is At The Intersection Of Main And Pleasant Streets.

Not Wide Angle, But A 50mm Rokkor.

Not Wide Angle, But A 50mm Rokkor.

Christmas Lights

Took the Minolta XG-7, 50mm f/1.4 Rokkor, and a roll of TMax 400 into downtown Worcester, MA recently, to capture some Christmas lights. No tripod, handheld, with some rather slow shutter speeds, it was indeed at times a challenge to keep camera blur/motion shake at bay. But this was a lot of fun, and a rather warm late fall/early winter evening. And, no snow in Central Massachusetts since the freak snowstorm captured in this blog for October.

These were home developed with Kodak HC-110, utilizing my usual 49:1 dilution. This has indeed been a joyful year for film photography, one I will not soon forget. I am grateful for my family, my health, and the new friends I have made through this wonderful passion.

Get out there and photograph Christmas, before it comes and goes for another year. Merry Christmas, film photographers. And, digital photographers.

Street Lanterns Are Decorated

Street Lanterns Are Decorated

Jack In The Box

Jack In The Box

Caroler Singing

Caroler Singing

Christmas Tree Behind City Hall, City Square Bank Office Building In Background

Christmas Tree Behind City Hall, City Square Bank Office Building In Background

“Signs, Signs, Everywhere There’s Signs…..”

Took the Minolta XG-7 downtown, late one afternoon. Several signs captured my attention. With the shadows, and falling sun, they can make for great subjects late in the day. These closed business establishments in Worcester, MA were shot with TMax 400, and developed in HC-110. These with the Rokkor 50mm. A wide prime would have been great here. Have a 28mm f/2.8 Rokkor on order. Thrilled with these results, though-

Another Photo Shiop Bites The Dust....

Another Photo Shiop Bites The Dust....

Not Sure If Bluri Is Still In Business- The School Is

Not Sure If Bluri Is Still In Business- The School Is

The Venue Is Also Out, But The Awning Remains.

The Venue Is Also Out, But The Awning Remains.

Getting Reaquainted With The Minolta XG-7

My father’s 1st SLR camera was the Minolta XG-7. As a teenager, I remember being fascinated with the look and feel of the camera. It had a magical mystique to it. From the LED light meter, to the nearly indestructible metal top and bottom plates, to the gorgeous Rokkor lens. This camera was cooler than cool.

I think he sold it to a coworker, a fellow engineer, before switching to Nikon. Decades later, and pretty much a Nikon shooter myself, I wanted to get one. For nostalgia, for fun, and to experience what a Rokkor lens was all about. So I got a complete kit from KEH.com . The body, Rokkor 50mm f/1.4, motor drive, and electronic flash. After loading it up with some Tri-X, I took it out for a spin. After a couple of exposures, the curtain started remaining open. Then, the winder, normally a very smooth working lever, stuck. After powering the camera down, and back on, things freed up for a while, then, stuck again. I maybe got 18 out of 36 exposures. After calling KEH, they sent me a replacement body, no questions asked, and let me keep the faulty one for parts. Incredible. The “new” one works like a charm. I keep telling myself this is a 33-year-old film body here, and while normally bulletproof, things can happen. Sometimes, magic can-

1st XG-7 Shot- The Food Court

1st XG-7 Shot- The Food Court

The bokeh of the Rokkor is smooth, creamy, and dreamy. the light meter, while a bit sluggish getting up to speed after changing aperture (using CdS, “older” technology”, is nonetheless, accurate. The shutter is crisp and snappy. The form factor is perfect- not too big, not too small. The fresnel focusing screen is the best on any SLR I have ever used, film or digital. The XG-7 was loaded with firsts. It was the first in the Minolta XG series. the world’s first camera with aperture priority. The first camera with a conductive touch sensitive light meter button, which to this day, is lightning fast.

The camera does have some flaws and compromises. Of course, there are no free rides with photography. The finder is only about 93% coverage. Manual mode, while available, turns off the light meter, forcing one to either use Aperture Priority as a guide, and then dial in the exposure manually, use an external light meter, or Sunny 16. There is no mirror lock up, or depth of field preview. The fastest shutter speed is limited to 1/1000 of a second. If your meter calls for a shutter speed, your shutter is automatically disables. In a way, a cool feature.

It was a very pricey camera for its day. Miniolta later introduced the somewhat lesser XG-1, with fewer features and performance, and brought in a pre-cosmetic surgery Bruce Jenner in as their pitchman.

The Rokkor glass is fast, sharp, contrasty, and in my opinon, without parallel for a consumer/prosumer 35mm lineup. I love my Nikkors, but have yet to achieve results like these, even with the same era counterpart Nikkor 50 f/1.4. Results are subjective, of course, but this is the kind of look I love from a 35mm SLR camera system. Rather than to go on, here are a few more sample shots from the 1st roll. These were all shot wide open-

Hot Dog Diner At Night

Hot Dog Diner At Night

Worcester And Providence Railroad

Worcester And Providence Railroad

The Lights From This Gas Station, Shot With A Brownie Earlier This Summer, Lit The Previous Shot Of The Train

The Lights From This Gas Station, Shot With A Brownie Earlier This Summer, Lit The Previous Photograph Of The Train

On a related note, KEH is a joy to do business with. I cannot recommend doing business with them more highly. Their prices are reasonable, and their customer service, the best. And purchases now carry a full 6 month warranty.