Freedom Is Not Free- Memorial Day, 2012

I thought with Memorial Day in the US right around the corner, this might be very timely. Last month, I visited the Worcester County Korean War Memorial in Worcester, MA. As I was at the dedication in 2007, I have wanted to return to this beautiful, moving statue, showing a protective, stoic Army soldier, with a sweet, proud little Korean boy standing side by side with him. It is very hard not to be moved to tears, as it shows strength and courage in what truly was a brutal bloodbath of a war. Yet, beautiful stories came out of it, such as US soldiers feeding and protecting orphaned children.

Remembering them, these were taken with my FE-2, 105mm f/2.5, 50mm f/1.8, and Kodak Tri-X. Never forget. Enjoy your Memorial Day.

From http://www.kwmworcester.org/index.asp :

The Worcester County Korean War Memorial on Foster Street (formerly Worcester Center Boulevard), Worcester, honors the 191 young soldiers who made the supreme sacrifice in the Korean War. This phase of the memorial was dedicated on November 9, 2003. Thousands of people attended the ceremony, which was the culmination of an effort that spanned decades.

Phase II construction completed the memorial and a final dedication was held on October 20, 2007. Phase II includes educational signs, additional flagpoles and a new Walkway of Honor situated in a park-like, tree-lined setting. It also includes Heroic-sized statues of a Korean War American soldier and a Korean child, representing the 100,000 orphans helped by the GIs during the war and symbolizes the hope and bright prospects for Korea’s future. Plus, the new Walkway of Honor includes bricks for fallen heroes of Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, Somalia and Philippines, as well as American ex-POWs. Bricks are also inscribed for six American news correspondents who died in Iraq and Pakistan.

For Information or to make a donation to the Memorial call Toll Free 1-800-343-0939, ext. 0234.

Standing side by side, St. Vincent's Hospital in the background.

Standing side by side, St. Vincent’s Hospital in the background.

The little boy is so strong and proud.

The little boy is so strong and proud.

Side profile- the statue truly is lifesized.

Side profile- the statue truly is life-sized.

Zoom Nation

“A more elegant weapon,  for a more civilized age. ” Sir Alec Guinness, as Obi-Wan Kenobi, in Star Wars

The Plastic Fantastic- Leominster State Forest, Massachusetts- Canon 50mm f/1.8, Rebel G, Hoya Red Filter, The Late Kodak Plus-X, HC-110 49:1, +20% Dev. Time For Contrast

The Plastic Fantastic- Leominster State Forest, Massachusetts- Canon 50mm f/1.8, Rebel G, Hoya Red Filter, The Late Kodak Plus-X, HC-110 49:1, +20% Dev. Time For Contrast

Decades ago, when film photography was not only the rage, but the only photographic choice, the “kit” lens that most of the manufacturers supplied with their stock camera body kits was the 50 millimeter lens. These were once called “normal” lenses, because on a 35mm sized focal plane, they approximate the field of view of the human eye. Some makers provided three options, an f/1.4, 1.8, and a f/2.0 maximum aperture, or thereabouts. These little workhorse lenses are usually fast (as in, large maximum aperture), well-built, and simple- just a few optical elements, not a lot that can go wrong.

Then, the zoom lens became popular, particularly in the US. As noted nature and wildlife photographer Scott Bourne, host of the excellent “Photofocus” podcast (www.photofocus.com) is often fond of saying, there are no free lunches in photography. You cannot gain one feature without having to sacrifice a performance reduction somewhere else.  The zoom lens is like the “Swiss Army Knife” of photography. Carry one on holiday or in the field for a day trip, you have many focal lengths at your fingertips to use.

OK,  so how did zooms catch on, particularly in the States? Lenses of inferior performance and build became the lenses of the masses. And manufacturer marketing trended accordingly. Don’t carry a bag of heavy lenses- take one out for the day, and shoot landscapes and portraits on the same shoot. Sounds great, doesn’t it?

The “fast food” culture we live in wants everything closer, bigger, magnified, now. People no longer wanted to “zoom with their feet”, and move up closer to the subject. Additionally, we are simply not receptive to having people close up to us, with a lens in our face. I went to a photography seminar a couple of years ago, where a street photographer confessed to using a “sniper approach”, using a taped up d-SLR with a zoom lens, to photograph people out on the street. To the photographer, this technique reduced the risk of the dreaded “don’t take my picture” outcry from a suspecting street subject.  (Note- ask before taking). A digital photographer once asked me, when showing off my Nikon F with the 50/f/1.4 “but how close can you get??”, as if focal length deemed the quality of the lens. That is what those who market digital photography have created, though, and it really was not his fault. Yes, the lenses are interchangeable. Isn’t that why the SLR format became the de facto standard? That was where the discussion next went. “Oh, now I get it!”

But, what is lost here with a zoom? A lot. Speed, for one. The fastest zoom lenses I own have a constant aperture of f/2.8.  The classic Nikkor zooms from the late 70’s, such as my 28-50, and 50-135, while built like tanks, can only open up to f/3.5 maximum aperture. They need lots of good available light. I really won’t go into build quality, contrast, color rendition, sharpness, barrel distortion, chromatic aberration, flare, fringing, ghosting. I simply am not technically proficient enough to delve into those. But suffice to say, a prime of a fixed focal length usually will outperform zooms at the same given focal length. Less truly is more.

Zoom ahead to 2011. The age of digital. Digital SLR bodies, particularly those with the “crop sensor” (Nikon DX bodies at 1.5 crop factor, Canon Rebel’s with 1.6 crop factor), usually come bundled with a rather filmsy, plastic mount, plastic barreled 18-55 zoom. Slow, with maximum apertures of f/3.5 to f/5.6, depending on the chosen focal length, these variable aperture lenses are good enough for a budding photographer to start with, while at the same time, tantalizingly inspiring those who want to take their photography to the next level and to try out some better glass.

Having shot with primes from Canon, Minolta, Nikon, and yes, Argus, these are all amazing pieces of glass. While not as versatile as a zoom, the beauty of SLR’s is the interchangeability of the lenses. One amazing development in digital photography over the last few years came about when photographers started using fixed primes, and while exploiting the once deemed “lower” DX/crop factor. Thus, a Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 becomes a 75mm little portrait lens, for about $100 US. The gorgeous “Plastic Fantastic” Canon 50mm f/1.8, available online for less than $100 US, now becomes a world-class 80mm portrait lens on a Rebel. So what are now some of the hardest to find lenses out in the market today? Yes, the 50. Once out of vogue, they are now highly desirable, for market driven (digital) reasons.

Even manufacturers such as Nikon caught on. Usually very slow to change, and rather conservative in their sales and marketing philosophies, Nikon introduced a 35mm f/1.8 DX- format only lens, featuring a silent wave motor (SWM). So, if you are shooting say with a D40, D40X, or D5000, you now have a “normal” lens, in addition to the 50mm to use for portraiture. The 35mm is a DX-only lens, and while it would mount on a film body Nikon, or a D3/D700, it will also vignette accordingly on those bodies. The 50, designed from inception as a full frame lens, will potentially work on 35mm film, cropped digital, and full frame digital bodies, working either as a normal, or a short portrait lens accordingly.

Primes can be pretty pricey. The only real complete prime kit I have used is the Minolta system, consisting of a 28mm (wide), two 50’s (f/1.4 and 1.7), and a 135 (telephoto). The Minolta Rokkor glass is surprisingly affordable, and was really gorgeously coated and manufactured. For Nikkors, I have used three 50’s, the 1.8 Ai (maybe the best), 1.4 Ai, 1.8 AF, the 105 f/2.5 (really need to do a blog entry on that one), and 135 f/2.8. I’d love to try some Nikkor wides, but wow, are they pricey. And for Canon, the aforementioned “Plastic Fantastic” thrifty fifty. Canon primes are, for the most part, extremely expensive, and because  Canon really markets their Rebel line to people new to photography, they have lots of zooms in their lineup. Note here- the Canon 50 literally is , well, plastic, barrel, mount, and filter threading. The comparable Nikkor, a few dollars more, is less placticky, and has a metal mount. Subjectively, I do feel the Canon wins out in the optical performance comparison between the two. The Nikkor auto focuses slightly faster. Not the purpose of this blog, though. Yes, the Canon vs. Nikon battle will wage on endlessly elsewhere, for decades to come. I don’t even try to fight that battle, as they both are truly great systems.

Shoot film? Try a prime. Shoot digital? Try a prime. Your zoom may end up in the closet, or on eBay, pretty quickly. Please note, I am not in any way with this blog entry attempting to bash zoom lenses here, but to potentially introduce, or reintroduce, a high performance alternative. Certainly there are some great zooms out there, both new and used.

Bancroft’s Folly – Taking New Kodak Portra 160 For A Test Run

A strange tower stands in Salisbury Park in Worcester, MA. A monument to George Bancroft, former US Secretary of The Navy, as well as a historian and statesman, the tower looks more like an ancient castle. Known by locals as “Bancroft’s Folly”, it looks like an incomplete, unfinished work in progress. Nearby WPI students were known to visit it in the 1960’s, during finals, and have beer bashes to help unwind. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.

I thought this might make a nice test spot for my 1st 35 mm roll of New Kodak Portra 160. Like Portra 400, this is also a beautiful looking film. The incredible wide latitude of Portra 400 really has made that my ‘go to” color negative film, but if outdoors, shooting landscape or architecture, and without low available light as a concern, this stuff is magic. The color pallet is rich, without venturing into super saturation, which maybe Ektar admittedly does on occasion. It seems to like a good supply of light. With some metering accuracy and skill, one will not get the dreaded “blown out” grayish skies typical of the metering that digital SLR’s usually provide. If you want your skies blue, this is the film for you.

It is the perfect “outdoor companion” to Portra 400. Yet, I can only imagine flesh tones for well lit indoor portraiture. What was four Portra emulsions, now down to two, really has created the strongest color negative line imaginable. The buzz really is all that and more. What are your thoughts on these films?

I shot these with the Nikon F3HP,  Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 Ai, and  Nikkor 135mm f/2.8 Ai.

Even midday shooting produced spectacular color and texture.

Even midday shooting produced spectacular color and texture.

The sky here would likely be exposed as 18% gray in digital.

The sky here would likely be exposed as 18% gray in digital.

Stone chart maps out different points on Worcester, so the visitor can know where the tower is located relative to landmarks.

Stone chart maps out different points on Worcester, so the visitor can know where the tower is located relative to landmarks.

Color And Shadows

I shot this last month with my Nikon FE-2, in Aperture Priority, guessing at about f/11. The light meter, to me, seems very prone towards overexposure. However, having shot this at midday, even with 100 speed film, it is likely understandable. Very happy with the amount of shadow detail in the lower right hand corner. As I blogged a few posts ago here, broke that rule, and the vertical landscape one. Once again, at Moore State Park. This sight is begging for a sunrise or sunset shot with the Hasselblad, or the Polaroid. Love it.

Nikon FE-2, Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 Ai, Kodak Ektar 100

Nikon FE-2, Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 Ai, Kodak Ektar 100

Slow Shutter, Handheld

Not too much to say about this one. I hate tripods, and try to handhold as much as possible. This was at a slow shutter speed, with my FE-2, and 50 f/1.8 Ai. And, Extar 100. I have no idea what the vertical “wipe” is to the left- maybe a double exposure, or the shutter doing something wacky. I seem to remember the wind priefly sticking before taking the shot. Anyways, this was at beautiful Moore State Park, Paxton, MA. Very pleased with it. Nice change of pace from B&W, too. What better way than with Kodak Ektar.

Ektar, Slow Shutter Speeds, H2O

Ektar, Slow Shutter Speeds, H2O

Stumps On The Water……

Shot these recently at Wachusett Reservoir in West Boylston, MA. While not particularly interesting subjects, they really do help to show off the D-76 development capabilities. Sharp, without being overly sharp, full of contrast, moderate grain, yet, beautiful.

6/12/11 Wachusett Reservoir, West Boylston, MA - Tri-X, Of Course.

6/12/11 Wachusett Reservoir, West Boylston, MA - Tri-X, Of Course

Tonality, and detail, is something many digital photographers neglect to talk about, as they seemingly fixate over sharpness, and lack of “noise”. Yet, they forget that some of the world’s greatest photographs, from the likes of Cartier-Bresson, and Adams, did indeed have grain, beautiful grain. And that for years, Tri-X was the gold standard of black and white film. I think it still is.

400 Speed B&W Film Continues To Mesmerize- A Stump Afloat

400 Speed B&W Film Continues To Mesmerize- A Stump Afloat

Let the grain speak for itself. Long live Kodak Tri-X.

Lessons Learned In The Darkroom – What Home Film Developing Taught Me

I have never been patient. All through high school and college, I skimmed mandatory reading material, always finding shortcuts and “angles”. Is it possible for a creature of habit to become patient? Start developing your own film. You may learn some patience. What I have learned so far-

  1. “No violence!” To borrow a Film Photography Podcast (FPP) motto, be gentle, don’t yank, and act slowly and methodically. Yesterday, in the darkroom, I had one reel that I just could not get a roll of Tri-X onto to save my life. I had the confidence to know I would eventually get it. There is no rush at all.
  2. This is easy. I was scared to death when I developed my 1st roll of film almost a month ago. It’s a process, a logical, step-by-step one. Like making an omelette. This is not hard. Don’t overengineer it.
  3. If you have a 2-roll developing tank, develop 2 rolls at a time. You save a little of developer per roll. This is how I have been conserving my D-76. Two rolls yesterday, two rolls this morning.
  4. You are in COMPLETE control of the traditional analog photographic process. I really started developing my own film out of curiosity, and because my local lab no longer sends B&W film out to be developed. When they did so, my negatives would sometimes come back scratched, poorly developed, and with dust. The care extended to even an average home developing process will blow away what you have sent out. Think hand care, versus “mass production”.
  5. It’s yours, soup to nuts. You own it, from the moment the shutter clicks, to when you are loading the tank, pouring your chemistry, and scanning the completed negative. This is unbelievable fun.

Here is some of what I developed this weekend. these were taken at The Old Stone Church, in West Boylston, Massachusetts, on the banks of the Wachusett Reservoir. This beautiful spot is on The National Register Of Historic Places. Well worth the effort-

The Old Stone Church, West Boylston, Massachusetts, As Seen From The Wachusett Reservoir

The Old Stone Church, West Boylston, Massachusetts, As Seen From The Wachusett Reservoir

The Old Stone Church, Up Close- A Very Popular Central Mass. Photographic Subject

The Old Stone Church, Up Close- A Very Popular Central Mass. Photographic Subject

Steeple And Roof

Steeple And Roof

The Best Glass In Your Bag – “The Nifty Fifty”

The Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 Ai

The Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 Ai

Despite having spent a small fortune on glass over the years, this one is the best one in any bag. The “normal” 50mm. Sharp, fast, it was looked down on when zooms became the rage. Now, 50’s are some of the most sought after lenses. They just are beautiful optically. I have this 50mm f/1.8 Ai, and the AF-D. Without a doubt, the Ai is the most gorgeous piece of glass I have ever used. Sharp and contrasty, the coating alone is awe-inspiring. Distortion is virtually non existent. On a digital “DX” Nikon body, they are the consummate small portrait lens. On an FE-2, or N80, they are a joy to use. Yes, the cliché “zoom with your feet” holds true here. But, you also have a neat little street photography kit when paired up with a film body.

The original “kit lens”, these little lenses can produce breathtaking results. Took this one with my Nikon FE-2, and the 50mm f/1.8 Ai, at Institute Park, Worcester, MA, with Kodak Ektar. The FE-2’s split prism focus screen makes it easy and fun-

Institute Park, Worcester, MA Nikon FE-2, Nikkor 50mm 1.8 Ai, Kodak Ektar

Institute Park, Worcester, MA Nikon FE-2, Nikkor 50mm 1.8 Ai, Kodak Ektar

Worcester Polytechnic Institute – Ektar

Was visiting the campus at Worcester Polytechnic Institute last month. Located on Boynton Hill in Worcester, Massachusetts, it is a private polytech university, which despite beling located in the city, has very much a suburban feel. Despite being private, it is not gated, and the public can walk through the campus. Took my Nikon FE-2, 50mm f/1.8 Ai Nikkor, and Kodak Ektar 100. Despite being late afternoon, with the bluish color temperature, managed to take some nice shots. This is Boynton Hall-

Boynton Hall, WPI, Worcester, MA

Boynton Hall, WPI, Worcester, MA

And this is Alden Memorial, where performances are held, as well as computer music laboratories-

Alden Memorial, WPI

Alden Memorial, WPI

Colleges and universities are great places to explore and photograph. This campus is incredible in the fall, and may call for another photowalk this September.