Geometry And Texture- Blackstone Canal

“To take a photograph is to align the head, the eye and the heart. It’s a way of life. To take a photograph is to hold one’s breath when all faculties converge in the face of fleeting reality.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson

I love the geometry of Cartier-Bresson’s work. While many identify him with photojournalism, and being the master of “the decisive moment”, what often goes forgotten is how brilliant his composition was. And the lines that his subjects naturally created. And yes, Cartier-Bresson did, on occasion, shoot landscapes- sometimes including people, sometimes not. It is easy to “pigeon hole’ Cartier-Bresson as simply a street photographer or photojournalist. But, he really did try new things visually. And took full advantage of lines, curves, shadows, shapes. Mostly within the physical size limitations the 35mm format.

Last November, in a rare creative frenzy, I decided to challenge my eye, and incorporate some textures, shadows, and geometry. The Blackstone Canal, which links Worcester, MA to Providence, RI, was a great spot for this exercise. While the canal technically is closed today, it is listed in The National Register Of Historic Places. And is loaded with, you guessed it, geometry.

I shot these at sunset, with my Nikon N80, and 50mm f/1.8 D. May need to get back there with the wide-angle sometime soon. Kodak Tri-X, shot at box speed, contrast to the max.

Favorite Shot From The Day- This Bridge Spans Overhead

Favorite shot from the day- this bridge spans overhead

That's a minivan racing underneath

That’s a minivan racing underneath

Inside the overpass

Inside the overpass

Abandoned tracks, and branches- love the track's symmetry, and asymetric branches, and how they contrast

Abandoned tracks, and branches- love the track’s symmetry, and asymetric branches, and how they contrast

Purposeful underexposure can be a good thing. Actually glad I underexposed here, as it contrasts with the water movement.

Purposeful underexposure can be a good thing. Actually glad I underexposed here, as it contrasts with the water movement.

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.

My 1st Experience Shooting Ilford Film- Pan F Plus 50

Kodak has always been stocked up in my fridge. And Polaroid. And, on occasion, Fuji. But recently, I shot some Ilford Pan F Plus 50. Photographers online rave about its sharpness. As a true novice to the genre, I guess the 1st goof I made was not using a different developer. I used 1:1 D-76, although I read afterwards that it makes this emulsion look like “mud”. While I would not quite go that far, yes, the final results could have been sharper. Some other observations, though this film has textures unlike any I have ever used. It really shows up in the tree bark in some of these shots. The tonality is incredible.

A word of advice- if you are loading this film into a DX-coding “auto loading” SLR, such as the Nikon N-80 used here, make sure the proper ISO is coded upon loading, and after you turn the camera off, and back on. Mine was defaulting to ISo-25, where this is a box speed of ISO-50. Not sure if this was a quirk peculiar to the N-80, or the coding on the film canister. I experienced the same problem with a few rolls of the now defunct Kodak Plus-X, wanting to rate it at ISO-400. Some, but not all.

Finally, I used a Hoya yellow filter, which I thought was supposed to darken the skies. No such luck. Filters can be somewhat baffling to me, as can not blowing a sky out as 18% gray. May have to dig out Dad’s old Hoya filter guide. But yes, they continue to perplex.

I picked up a few rolls of HP5 Plus as well. I am sure there are not many differences from Tri-X, but should be fun to try out.

Here are some samples from the roll of Pan F-

This shows off the film's texture, and tonality.

This shows off the film's texture, and tonality.

Institute Park- Maybe My Favorite Shot From The Roll.

Institute Park- Maybe My Favorite Shot From The Roll.

Not Sure If This Was Metered At ISO-25, or ISO-50. Still Came Out Pretty Nice.

Not Sure If This Was Metered At ISO-25, or ISO-50. Still Came Out Pretty Nice.

More From The Thomas Card Camera Collection

Here are a few more shots. Special thanks go out to my son, who was so patient as I took these photographs. He loved seeing this stuff, too, and even helped me choose what to photograph. Thanks, little buddy!

Rolleiflex TLR

Rolleiflex TLR

Busch Precision With Technika Symmar Linhof Lens- Our Favorite Of The Exhibit

Busch Precision With Technika Symmar Linhof Lens- Our Favorite Of The Exhibit

Next To The Rollei- Kodak Brownies And Vest Pocket Cameras

Next To The Rollei- Kodak Brownies And Vest Pocket Cameras

Living Large- The Large Format Cameras And A LARGE Enlarger!

Living Large- The Large Format Cameras And A LARGE Enlarger!

Exiting The Lobby Area- Thanks For Having Us, WPI, And For Letting Us See All This Gorgeous Vintage Gear.

Exiting The Lobby Area- Thanks For Having Us, WPI, And For Letting Us See All This Gorgeous Vintage Gear.

The Thomas Card Camera Collection, On Display At WPI, Worcester, MA

Col. Thomas Card was a freshman at Worcester Polytechnic Institute from 1916-1917. He didn’t finish his degree at WPI, but many years later, partly due to his love and fondness for the school, donated his large camera and photographic equipment collection to it in 1977.

My son and I went to a concert there, as detailed earlier in this blog. On the way back to the car, we found a postcard, featuring the location and times of the display. On our second week of vacation this summer, we had the pleasure of seeing the display. It is sheer nirvana for a vintage camera and film photography buff. Here are a few shots- taken with the Nikon N80, with a 50mm f/1.8D, wide open at f/1.8, no flash, and shot with TriX 400 at box speed, and developed in HC-110. Thrilled with the results. The display runs through September 14th. If you are in the area, make sure you visit WPI. Cannot recommend this exhibit enough-

Vintage Box Camera With Voightlander Lenses

Vintage Box Camera With Voigtlander Lenses

Filter Kits

Filter Kits

Honeywell Tilt A Mite Flash With Accessories

Honeywell Tilt A Mite Flash With Accessories

Lens Cleaning And Flash Accessories- Note The Kodak Lens Cleaning Fluid, Sylvania Bulb Packaging

Lens Cleaning And Flash Accessories- Note The Kodak Lens Cleaning Fluid, Sylvania Bulb Packaging, Gossen Light Meter Box In Lower Right

Nikor Developing Tank With Original Instructions- Being New To Film Developing, This Was A Thrill To See.

Nikor Developing Tank With Original Instructions- Being New To Film Developing, This Was A Thrill To See.

The Spirit Of Boston

Recently, it was my pleasure to cruise on The Spirit Of Boston, a ship that takes beautiful, scenic, chartered lunch and dinner cruises in Boston Harbor. To get the most of it, I took the Nikon N80, a fast 50mm, and a couple of rolls of Plus-X. Developed In D-76. Here are a few results-

The Spirit Of Boston

The Spirit Of Boston

As Seen From The Ship- A 747 Heads For Touchdown At Logan Airport

As Seen From The Ship- A 747 Heads For Touchdown At Logan Airport

A View From The Stern

A View From The Stern

The Boston Skyline, As Seen From The Spirit Of Boston

The Boston Skyline, As Seen From The Spirit Of Boston

Doing What I Said I Wouldn’t Do – Working With Kodak HC-110 Developer…. First Thoughts

OK, I broke down, and did it. A few weeks ago, I picked up a bottle of Kodak’s legendary HC-110 developer. Highly concentrated (HC-get it?), this stuff is like a thick STP oil additive, or a syrup. I had to see what the buzz has been all about with this legendary developer. After a couple of rolls, here are some pros-

  • Extremely economical, this stuff will likely last forever in its concentrated bottle form
  • Fairly sharp
  • Good shadow detail
  • Fairly fine grain

And, some cons-

  • Kodak’s dilutions and rituals with this stuff are nightmarish to figure out
  • Intermediate “working solutions?”- really, don’t bother
  • Online development and mixing charts that are more like Space Shuttle flight plans
  • To my untrained eyes, D-76 flushes out more detail, especially in the shadows, and just looks nice.

So, how did I make this more simple? By using it as a “one-shot” developer, while ensuring purity and consistency. A metric dilution that works out to one part developer to forty-nine parts H2O (1+49). At 68 degrees F, a development time of 8 minutes, constant agitation the first thirty seconds, with two inversions every thirty. I credit photographer Jason Brunner (www.jasonbrunner.com), who I corresponded with, for this simplified formula. When measuring out such small amounts, I got a syringe like device, used to measure out individual millilitres. Yes, these can obviously be tweaked. I almost found the results too sharp, and had to add some Gaussian Blur into some scans. I followed my normal workflow the rest of the way.

The following were taken at Moore State Park in Paxton, MA, and you can see one of the largest manmade stone structural building foundations in the state. These were shot with Tri-X. Just developed some Plus-X tonight- should be interesting to see. In looking at the scans closely, well, I still love the overall look of D-76. But, it really is nice to have this as an economical option. An urban legend says Ansel Adams used HC-110. So, one asks, it must be good? He did use it as a compensating developer, to help bring out shadow detail. He used “Dillution G”, with long development times, of 18 minutes at 68 degrees.

I Saw The Light....

I Saw The Light....

Crooked Storage

Crooked Storage

Rhododendrons, Usually A Mid To Late Spring Shrub, In Mid July

Rhododendrons, Usually A Mid To Late Spring Shrub, In Mid July

400 Speed Film On A Bright Day? Why? It's Tri-X!

400 Speed Film On A Bright Day? Why? It's Tri-X! High Speed Shutter To The Rescue.

Favorite Exposure From This Roll

Favorite Exposure From This Roll

The Norton Company, Worcester, MA.- Now Owned By Saint Gobain

In 1858 Franklin B. Norton and his older cousin Frederick Hancock left
Bennington, Vermont, and opened a pottery shop at Washington Square in
Worcester. When they had to move in 1866 because of railroad-related
construction, they relocated to Water Street. At first they made only redware
pottery, but soon added stoneware to their production. They supplied Worcester
and surrounding towns with an incredible variety of jugs, preserve jars, storage
and cooking pots, pitchers, spittoons, beer bottles and water kegs.

Today Norton is the largest manufacturer of abrasives
in the world, and it has also expanded into other fields. Their production
divides into three groups: abrasives, engineering materials, and petroleum and
mining. After more than a century of local ownership, the company was purchased
in 1990 by Compagnie de Saint-Gobain of France. Norton Company remains a
significant presence in Worcester.

-Source : www.worcesterhistory.org

Norton abrasive products are still found at Home Depot, Lowes, etc. Saint Gobain manufactured glass can be found on cars such as Volvo’s. Many of Norton’s buildings, smokestacks, signage, etc has been rebranded with Saint Gobain logos. There are a few remnants, and the brand lives on. The facility, while not especially a great photographic subject, has always fascinated me as a Worcester landmark. A couple of shots from last month- Tri-X, and D-76-

Crossing The Railroad Tracks To Enter The Facility

Crossing The Railroad Tracks To Enter The Facility

Pipes And Fences Surround The Old Buildings, Ugly But Still Working And Profitable

Pipes And Fences Surround The Old Buildings- Ugly, But Still Working And Profitable

PS- do they still manufacture beer bottles and spittoons? Doubtful.

Why I Hesitate To Try Another Developer Other Than Kodak D-76 (For Now…)

Kodak D-76 developer has been around forever. It is pretty much “bullet-proof”, and if anything, continues to get better. For about $5.00 US, you can mix up a packet into a litre of distilled water that will do about 4 rolls of film. About $1.25 per roll. Yes, of course there are “sharper”, more exotic developers out there. I am just starting out with home developing. A classic must-read book still in print, and a must read for all home developer enthusiasts out there is by the great Ansel Adams, “The Negative”. Adams was maybe the world’s 1st “pixel peeper”, years before digital insanity. But, of course, his images were perfect, and beautiful. And rather than to get into pissing contests with other photographers, and split hairs, rather, he presented what worked for him. And was giving of his time and vast knowledge. he didn’t “keep secrets”, unlike today’s Photoshop junkies, who mistake PS for photography. In it, and I am paraphrasing here, Adams states that one should really use a developer for a while, pushing it to its limits, before venturing off to try another developer. In other words, the grass is not always greener. Everything in photography is a “trade-off”. There is no free lunch, every action results in a reaction. Every tweak or adjustment results in a compromise.

That said, it is the developer for me, for a while. Yes, it is pretty much the Rodney Dangerfield of developers- not really getting the respect it deserves. To my eyes, the contrast and sharpness, and shadow detail, continue to amaze. These, and other reasons, are why I am staying with it. Here are a few more photographs from the July 4th parade, this past week, in Chelmsford, Massachusetts. Developed in D-76, at 65  degrees F, for 8 minutes-

Conductor- Slightly Cropped After Straightening In Photoshop

Conductor- Slightly Cropped After Straightening In Photoshop

Long-Winded

Long-Winded

Marching Orders

Marching Orders

I Love A Parade

Ok, on the 4th of July I looked like a total geek, with my N80 and D40 slung over each shoulder. And a Tamrac bag loaded up with TriX. Thankfully, my beautiful son was with me to offset the nerd factor. We are on vacation this week, and my nights have been spent in the darkroom. Starting to catch up. These were taken at the Chelmsford 4th of July parade, one of the largest of its kind in Massachusetts. At 10:30 AM on a hot summer day, of course the exposures are going to be on the hot side. Still, thrilled with the level of detail, contrast, and the shadows. Here is a drum corps-

Drum Corps- Love The Detail Here

Drum Corps- Love The Detail Here

This one made me chuckle at those who think digital is “sharper” than film. Not going to go down that slippery slope of a wormhole here, but please. Really?-

D-76 Continues To Prove Its Mettle- Not Changing Developers Anytime Soon. Zoom In To The Faces And The Flutes - Amazing.

D-76 Continues To Prove Its Mettle - Not Changing Developers Anytime Soon. Zoom In To The Faces And The Flutes - Amazing.

Not enough hours in the day to scan this stuff. Hope all in the States had a happy 4th. Back to the film scanner.