…but what’s there to do in southern Madagascar?

In our quest to see everything there is to see in Madagascar (for which, honestly speaking, there is simply not enough time, but we’re trying our absolute best!) we recently made our way to south Madagascar.  Specifically, we went to “Fort Dauphin” – which was renamed Tolagnaro, (or Toalagnaro), in 1975 and yet inexplicably, everyone continues to refer to it as Fort Dauphin.

Mangroves

To be honest, the city of Tolagnaro itself is not exactly the world’s top tourist destination.  It’s a small, quaint town with amazing sea views that’s a bit neglected by the center (of Madagascar) since it was initially founded in the 1600s.

When we visited the area, we only ended up staying a day in the town itself, and then headed toward the northeast to Manafiafy Beach & Rainforest Lodge.  The trip up goes pretty quickly in the beginning – about halfway to the resort, it’s a beautifully paved road, courtesy of QMM/Rio Tinto, which mines ilmenite nearby.  After that, it’s unpaved although still pleasant and scenic.  Which brings up an odd fact about the Tolagnaro region:  as you drive through local villages, rather than the usual “salut, vazaha,” the kids will call out “eh-lo” (hello).  This is apparently because the region was the target of English-speaking missionaries (British, Norwegian, and finally American – for a century!) for quite some time.  In fact, many of the staff at local resorts speak English – but not French!

Beach RocksOnce you arrive at Manafiafy Beach Resort, you’re immediately struck by the amazing scenery, thanks to offshore rocks that protect small bays and beaches.  Upon arrival, the resort assigns you a personal guide who works with you to identify daily activities that cater to your personal interests.  If you’re not into being waited on hand and foot, they quickly get the message, however.

Among the activities we chose were a night walk to a nearby littoral rain forest, nearly unchanged from the way it was when humans first arrived in Madagascar.  A local guide helped us find and identify several local lemurs and reptile species.

Nocturnal Lemur A nocturnal “sportive lemur” stares down at us from a tree.

Brookesia The tiny Brookesia chameleon is sought after by herpetologists.

Leaf Tailed Gecko It’s usually difficult to spot the leaf-tailed gecko.  it helps when they are in the open.

Probably our favorite outing was when we got up before sunrise and took a boat trip into the nearby rivers and lakes.  The brackish water is lined by mangroves and is home to numerous water birds and kingfishers looking for a meal in the abundant shallow waters.  We were treated to a stunning sunrise, and then made our way deep into the winding river system.

We spotted countless birds and enjoyed the amazing scenery.  you could clearly see the difference between one side of the river, which was primary forest, and the other side, which was available for human exploitation.  I got my drone to follow us out, and eventually lost track until the drone “decided” it lacked the battery power to return to its start point, and apparently lost its will to “survive” by attempting to land in the shallow water.

Sunrise A tiny kingfisher sits on a rock at sunrise (above) and an hour or so later (below)

Kingfisher on the Rocks

Taking Off  Wings are a blur as a Malagasy kingfisher decides we’ve gotten too close.

We also headed into a nearby fishing village with our assigned guide, who provided important details about the local village, such as its prohibition on four-legged animals, which had been in place for generations since having been put in place by a king with a leg deformity.  Local fishermen arrived every 10 or 15 minutes with their catch of the day, which became the object of endless haggling by the villagers who had walked from as far away as the distant mountains that could be seen in the distance.

Tuna ranging in length from four to five feet were arranged on nearby tables, and we wondered where the ice in a nearby chest had come from.  We were told that it had been brought from the city to preserve the fish.

Future FishermenLocal children seemed fascinated with us, though we knew we were certainly not the first “vazaha” to visit their village.

Butcher

As you look out to sea from Manafiafy Resort, to the left, a long rock stretches a few hundred yards into the sea.  We were told it’s the one place where (if you’re lucky) you can get a bit of cell phone reception.  At the top there’s a bench where you can enjoy the idyllic scenery, and there’s these odd wooden carvings in clusters nearby.  We had fun one cloudy night playing around with long-exposure night photography, using red or white flashlights.  But it’s also quite pleasant just sitting up there and alternate between simply gazing out to sea, and doing nothing at all.

Wooden heads

Wooden heads

 

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Vintage Camera Test: the No. 1A Autographic Kodak Junior

No. 1A Autographic Kodak Junior

The No. 1A Autographic Junior was made in various versions between 1914 and 1927.  it’s got a beautifully detailed brass and enamel faceplate, a fold-out foot with the Kodak logo, and its name engraved on a brass plate below the shutter assembly.  They all shot 6.5 by 11 cm frames on size 116 autographic film (which allowed you to add details to the photo via a small window on the back and a slim metal “pen”) and cost between 11 and 24 bucks back in the day.

No. 1A Autographic Kodak Junior

This particular version, with its Kodak Anastigmat f/7.7-45 lens and Kodak ball bearing shutter, was made between 1915 and 1925.  As the lens name implies, it allows apertures from f/7.7 to f/45, with f/11, 16, 22 and 32 in between, and the shutter takes T, B, and 1/25, 1/50, or 1/100s exposures.  Apparently some versions had fixed focal lengths, but this one lets you slide out the bellows and click the lens into a slot anywhere between 6 and 100 feet camera to subject distance.

I’ve had this camera for a few years, but I never tried running any film through it until last year’s Let it Develop 365 project.  It’s an easy enough camera to use, and I used fresh Tri-X 400 (size 120) but disappointingly all the pictures ended up fogged.  This camera is in amazing shape, but even so, I suspect the bellows have been replaced at least once because they’re absolutely pristine without any worn corners that might hide pinholes that would ruin the exposures.  And none of this explains why my photos didn’t really turn out.

Hill ViewStreet View

Toy Truck I do like this photo of this little fellow, who wasn’t paying attention when I snapped his picture.  But the odd light band running vertically through most of the picture doesn’t really make sense.

Antananarivo Skyline

Verdict:  Should have taken much better pictures:  clean lens, smooth operating shutter with plenty of settings for any light conditions, pristine bellows.  Maybe some controlled bracketing/testing would help identify the problem?  Sharing a few other folks’ results below for comparison:

Untitled

Mt Shasta

Allegheny Cemetery 2010 #1

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My Experience with Kodak AEROCHROME

A few months ago, I’d never heard of “Aerochrome” film.  What is aerochrome?  According to Kodak, “KODAK AEROCHROME III Infrared Film 1443 is an infrared-sensitive, false-color reversal film intended for various aerial photographic applications where infrared discriminations may yield practical results.”  It was discontinued in 2010 and the last bit of it expired in 2011.

I heard about it from an article on Emulsive.com.  He (“Em”) was so enthusiastic about this film, and it was such a curious story – apparently a fellow named Dean Bennici took it upon himself to rescue and re-roll and/or recut all the remaining Aerochrome in existence – that I decided to do a bit more digging to see whether I could find some of this odd film.

I found my answer on eBay, where this Bennici fellow apparently sells the film himself.  I was a bit wary; $38 for a roll of 120 film (plus shipping from Europe) was pretty steep, and I started poking around on the internet to see what other people had to say about the stuff.  It turns out there are all sorts of warnings and pitfalls out there – some people insist that the film has to be stored at sub-freezing temperatures (apparently the tech specs state this) or it will be instantly ruined.  Others warn that all the containers it could possibly be stored in are somehow porous to infrared light, and thus the film will become hopelessly fogged unless you keep it in the equivalent of a lead-lined underground bunker.

Given that I planned to order the stuff from Madagascar, meaning it would be shipped international post from Europe to the United States, and then halfway around the world again to me, I figured my odds of receiving any usable film were pretty slim.  So I sent a note to Dean Bennici on eBay, who assured me that he had been shipping this film all over the world for some time, and I had little to worry about.  So I ordered two rolls.

So what’s so special about this film?  Well, it’s a bit experimental and fun.  Apparently anything living and green reflects infrared light from the sunlight hitting it, causing the greenery to appear bright red (or pink) on the film.  What’s the point of that, you ask?  Not really much point, I guess – it’s just for fun.  You can get pictures that are otherwise not achievable using photoshop or other techniques.  Otherworldly stuff.  Like this:

(borrowed, for illustration purposes, from thephoblographer.com.)

Admittedly, not everyone’s cup of tea.  But then again, neither is film photography, in general.

It seems that in addition, to make the effect work properly, you need a yellow or orange filter.  Which I did not have.  Fortunately, I managed to find a yellow filter for my Rolleiflex 2.8c on eBay for around 20 bucks.  So I ordered that too.  Once the film arrived two weeks later, I did some more reading and discovered that unlike most color film available these days, it has a relatively narrow exposure range – meaning it’s easily under- or overexposed, ruining the overall effect.  As a result, people suggest bracketing to ensure at least one good photo, but at 12 exposures per (expensive) roll, I decided to rely on my iPhone light meter and hope for the best, shooting 12 different shots rather than four bracketed shots.

One of the good things about Madagascar is that there’s lots and lots of vegetation.  So plenty of places to use this film.  I decided to bring it along with me as we travelled with our daughter throughout Madagascar.  We went to Ile Ste-Marie, an island off the northeast coast, which meant the film would be exposed to x-rays yet again since a flight was involved, and also warm temperatures, because, well, that’s why people go to Ile Ste-Marie.  So my odds of getting usable photos was continuing to decline.  We also took it on a road trip to south-central Madagascar, past Ranomafana National Park and onward to Andringitra.

I ended up shooting both rolls while I was up there, and considered whether to try and develop the film myself – maybe one roll in C41 (essentially cross-processed) at home, and send the other roll off to be processed E6.  In the end, I decided to entrust both rolls to the professionals at Blue Moon Camera in Oregon (USA), meaning my film faced yet another three weeks of travel, and additional x-ray machines.

By this point, I wasn’t holding out much hope for usable images, but I found out via their Facebook group that my film had arrived safely in Oregon, been developed and shipped back out, and that the staff there clearly remembered seeing usable images on the film!  Just two more weeks, and the negatives finally arrived in Madagascar again.

Here are my favorite shots.  It’s hard to narrow things down, given that they’re all so different from your “typical” Madagascar tourist photo.  In fact, unlike most trips I’ve taken, I can say with a fair amount of certainty that no one has ever taken photos like these at these locations.

Rice Field Farmers tend to their rice fields in Madagascar.  Most of the fields have just been plowed, and only the red indicates vegetation.

Under the Trees View from Ile aux Nattes, a smaller island just off the southern tip of Ile Ste-Marie, which is east/northeast of Madagascar.

Blossoms From a viewing platform at Ranomafana National Park, in Madagascar.

Lone Tree

Red Palms Near the airport of Ile Ste Marie, Madagscar.

Pirogue In a pirogue of the coast of Ile Ste Marie, Madagascar.

Red Riverbank Taken from the bridge entering Ranomafana National Park, one of Madagascar’s most visited.

Just for illustration purposes, here’s an example of what over- and underexposure look like when you’re using Aerochrome.  I’ll admit I regret somewhat not having bracketed these, because they potentially could have been really good /interesting.

Red Chameleon Underexposed shot of “le Cameleon,” a mountain near Andringitra Park in southern Madagascar.  On the top of the mountain a series of boulders look just like the namesake animal.

Tombstones Tomb markers in the rain forest from many hundreds of years ago.

Verdict:  I’m glad I tried this film and agree with Emulsive that you simply need to try this at least once.  It would be fun to continue experimenting with it, but given that each roll ended up costing about $60 (or $5 per photo – $10 if you consider that only half turned out) I’m not sure I’ll do this again.  It might be fun to keep a roll in a camera just for those rare occasions where I might say, “This would make a good aerochrome shot” but I still worry frankly that the film would degrade over the 3 to 6 months it would likely take to get through a roll in that manner.  So for the time being I’ll just admire all of the other aerochrome people have taken and put up on the net – there are plenty that have turned out much more interesting than mind.

For a couple of other examples of really interesting Aerochrome shots, try this post on Emulsive from a trip he took to Yucatan.  Or check out this post, where Em interviews Dean Bennici himself, who has shot a couple thousand rolls of the stuff.

You can browse the complete two rolls I shot myself here on Flickr.  If I ever try the stuff again, that’s where it’ll be posted.

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Making a Camera Work: The No. 2 Folding Pocket Kodak Model C or Maybe D…

Among the growing group of people who collect and operate vintage film cameras, there are two types of people:  those who quickly figure out a way to make an old camera work again, and those who obsess way too long over making an old camera work, to the point that it’s no longer really about the camera.  But, by gosh, you’re going to make that camera work.

This is the definition of obsession.

So let’s talk about the No. 2 Folding Pocket Kodak (Model C).  Or maybe it’s a (Model D).  The inside of the back cover says D, but print under the front rails says (Model C).

There’s not a whole lot of information on these, other than the No. 2’s were all manufactured between 1899 and 1915, and the bellows went black in 1913.  So this one is probabably from 1909 to 1913 or so.  It’s a typical folder of that time in that you press a hidden button to open a flap that opens parallel to the long side of the camera, revealing metal rails on a wooden bed that allow you to pull the shutter mechanism consisting of an FPK automatic shutter and a rapid rectilinear lens forward, revealing the beautiful, red bellows.  It’s made of aluminum and covered in black leather and allows aperture settings from f/4 to f/128.

The No. 2 FPK was designed to take twelve 3.5 by 3.5 inch square exposures and used 101 film.  Which is the very first kind of rollfilm produced – for the No. 2 bullet camera, introduced in 1895.  The “No. 2” in the camera designation gives away the film size, 101.  Learn more about early film designations here.

So the challenge of making this camera work properly was to get as close as possible to the 101 film standard.  Even 11 decades later, the shutter on this particular camera works like a charm, the leather is intact, and the aperture opens and closes as it should.  No fungus on the lens, so everything should theoretically work out fine.

It’s the 101 film, however, that would turn out to be the headache.  To make one of these work, you first need a second spool – one to hold the film, and another to take up the film as it is exposed.  There are other solutions involving 3D printers, but I don’t have the patience to deal with those.  But 101 film spools are difficult to search for.  It could be that there simply aren’t many out there (the film was discontinued in 1956) or it could be that the 101 moniker is overused – SRT-101, for example.  But no spools were turning up.

By sheer coincidence, however, I learned that 122 film spools, which hold slightly smaller film (3.25 inches) appear to fit in this camera.  The spool itself appears to be just a hair larger than the 101 – I used it as the takeup spool and it was difficult to turn but doable.  As a bonus, it came with backing paper.

I had planned to use 120 film even though it’s only 2.4 inches wide, but the fact that you end up losing more than an inch of image, and I had a backing paper on hand made me wonder whether a better solution might be an option.

Despite a difference of 1/4 inch in film width, it seems that 101 and 122 film spools are actually very similar in length.

I realized I have a box of 4×5 Bergger Pancro 400 in the freezer.  So in theory I could cut pieces of 4×5 inch sheet film to size and if I could find a way to attach them to the backing paper, I’d be able to take images the full 3.5 by 3.5 inches.  So I made myself a cardboard template (in retrospect a hard plastic would have been better) 3.5 by 3.5 inches.  I knew I’d have to work in the dark, so I creased the backing paper every 3.6 to 3.7 inches.  The plan was to use masking tape to attach the sheet film pieces to the backing paper, leaving a space for the tape to stick.

The other issue was knowing how far to turn the film advance knob to avoid overlapping exposures and maximize the length of the backing paper.  The round window that allows you to see the numbers on the back of the paper is in the middle of the camera back.  So I used a sharpie to mark the exposure numbers in the middle of the backing paper, exactly between each set of creases.

Next, it was time to prepare the film.  I sat on the floor of my pitch black bathroom with the box of Pancro, a roll of masking tape, scissors, my 3.5 by 3.5 template, the film spool and backing paper, with the creases indicating where the film should be taped.  In complete darkness, I cut the sheet film to size, ensuring I kept track which way the emulsion was facing.  Then I taped a sheet between each set of creases, ensuring as much as I could in the dark that I had enough masking tape to hold the film in place without covering too much of the film that would be exposed.

This all sounds great, but when you’re sitting in the dark doing this, and the spool and backing paper want to return to their rolled-up state, but the sheet film is thicker and less flexible than you expected, meaning it resists being rolled up, and you only have two hands, the process can be challenging and nerve-wracking.  Add to the equation sweath fingers, starting from about 20 minutes in and gradually increasing as time goes on.

Eventually I managed to attach 10 pieces of sheet film to the backing paper, and painstakingly rolled it as tightly as I could to try and fit it in the camera.  I think 12 would have made the roll too thick, honestly.  And I walked home from work one day and snapped a bunch of photos in the late afternoon light.

When it came time to develop the film, I had to first separate the sheets from the backing paper, and then develop 10 individual sheets of Pancro film – which can be challenging for me as I don’t have any equipment for sheet film.  Some of the corners of individual sheets had bent, but by and large the film was correctly placed and aligned, and when I saw the processed film, it was clear I had usable images to work with.

The final piece to the puzzle was scanning the film.  My scanner maxes out at around 70mm, so I had to make two scans of each sheet, and stitch them together with photoshop.  But in the end I had 10 somewhat decent exposures.  Not as nice as others I’ve seen online for a similar camera by any stretch, but they were decent.  Here are a few samples, and then I’ll offer my verdict.

Father and Child

 In Madagascar, I’ve noticed a special closeness between fathers and young children, and I’ve wanted to do a series.  Every time I mention it to a Malagasy person they seem surprised at my observation.  As this man was when I asked him if I could snap a photo.

Ladies WalkingI snapped this shot at waist level, and I don’t think these ladies realized what was going on until I passed them and they wondered what strange device I was holding.  Clearly a novice photographer, I can’t bother to ensure my own shadow doesn’t spoil the picture.  This is not the only shot I did this in.

ShoulderThe streets of Madagascar are home to some of the oldest cars in the world.

Car and ShadowThis car has seen better days.  Again, my shadow spoils it all.

Verdict:  Clearly, many of the problems in these photos are due to the method I chose to process them.  Sometimes when you’re doing a lot of sheet film at once, the sharp corners (the Bergger Pancro is thick and its corners don’t give way) will scratch other photos.  The fact that two of them had bent corners didn’t help the issue.  But this film is not cheap, and it’s supposed to be pretty good quality.  On some of the photos there is a bit of damage along the edges where I used photoshop to “repair” where the masking tape had been, but I’m stumped by the fogging in some of the darker photos – especially the one below.  The pattern is a bit mottled, and so I wonder if, despite not having any holes in the bellows, the corners are simply no longer light-tight?  I could test this by covering the bellows with black plastic, but preparing the roll was such a pain, I’m not sure when I’ll work up the motivation to do so…  So I’m hoping instead someone else has run into this and will advice accordingly.

Rice Fields The rest of the photos for this camera can be found here.

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Results, #ShittyCameraChallenge, October Edition

Back in June, I was excited to post my results in the first Shitty Camera Challenge.  At the time, the results were completely appropriate for the camera I used at the time, and I still lie awake at night wondering how my life would have been different, had I been selected (at random) as that contest’s winner, making me the proud owner of a vinyl copy of Chicago’s first album.

I’ve managed o work through the trauma and the self blame, and have taken all of that guilt and remorse and squeezed it into a tiny ball and tucked it away in the recesses of my large intestine.  Appropriate, given the name of the contest.  I’ve turned over a new leaf, because it’s October, and a new challenge has unfolded on Twitter.

I searched far and wide for the camera to be used in this month’s challenge, and I came up with this wonderful plastic Samyang no-name camera that comes with tele and wide options, auto focus, and a built in automatic flash that still works.

It came to me with a roll of film already inside – maybe 5 or so exposures already taken.  I happily went off and snapped the rest of the roll, developed it in my kitchen sink, and was surprised to see that all of the photos were completely identical:

Given my past performance in this event, my fragile self-esteem was already shattered, and I would have given up at this point, but I had already started a new roll by the time I realized the extent of my failure.  It took the rest of the month for my noticeably less enthusiastic self to complete that roll, and when I hit the “rewind” button on the camera, it made a grinding sound, but nothing else.  The battery was OK (the flash still worked) but I had to pull the film out of the camera in the dark, using some force.  A metal pin, which may have been the cause or the result of my problems, came tumbling out with the film.

When I unrolled the film from the developing spool, my worst fears were confirmed when I didn’t see any pictures on the film.

But then I looked closer, and I could see faint shapes and shadows when I held the film in front of a lamp, and so I decided to run it through the scanner after all.  And to my surprise I learned that I had a full roll of horribly underexposed photos.  A bit of enhancement in Lightroom to see the images and it seemed that about halfway through, something happened which caused all of the photos to have long scratches/scrapes horizontally.  All perfectly legal and appropriate for this type of contest.  Here are some of my favorites.   The first three are from the island of Anjouan, in the Comoros; the rest are in and around Antananarivo, Madagascar.

Did I win?

 

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Vintage Camera Review: No. 3A Folding Pocket Kodak No. B-4

The No. 3A Folding Pocket Kodak No. B-4, despite its “pocket” moniker, is a hefty folding camera made between June 1908 and April 1909 which I got from my parents for Christmas a few years ago.  It consists of a leatherbound wood-and-aluminum case with shiny nickel fittings that conceals intricate, shiny brass knobs, dials and gauges, along with a set of pristine red bellows.  You’d have needed pretty big pockets to be able to fit this inside – closed, the camera measures 1 7/8 x 4 3/4 x 9 1/2 inches!

No. 3A Folding Pocket Kodak Model B-4

The B-4 model was one in a series of 3A folding pocket Kodaks that were manufactured by Eastman Kodak from 1903 to 1915, in various models including B, B-2, B-3, B-4, B-5, C, and G.

no-3a-folding-pocket-kodak

Depending on the lens and shutter, original price ranged from $20.00 to $78.00 and took 3 1/4 x 5 1/2 inch images (postcard size) on No. 122 film.  A clue to its film size is in the name:  122 film, which was developed by Kodak specifically for this line of cameras, was initially referred to as size 3A film.  The cool thing about this one is that it arrived with a still-intact roll of exposed 122 film inside.  Amazingly, thanks to the folks at Film Rescue International (in this case I wasn’t confident in my own ability to get it right), four images on that roll were still salvageable and suggests this camera was used well into the 1960s.  Which is pretty impressive when you consider (a) how quickly a modern camera becomes obsolete and (b) that the camera, leather bellows and all, still appears to be intact six decades after the last time it was used – 110 years after manufacture!

Here’s one of those photos, by the way:

Below is a close-up of the shutter and lens. This one is equipped with a Bausch & Lomb Optical Company Rapid Rectilinear, with a 6 1/2 inch focal length, with apertures ranging from f/4 o f/128.  You get your standard options of bulb and timed shots, in addition to 1/25, 1/50 and 1/100s – which is helpful with today’s faster films when you’re shooting on a bright sunny day.

No. 3A Folding Pocket Kodak Model B-4

The waist-level viewfinder can be rotated to take both portrait and landscape format photos, along with corresponding tripod sockets that would fit a modern tripod.  It also has knobs to raise and lower the lens board, or to move it left and right.  People who use press cameras understand the purposes of these movement options, but I tend to keep everything centered because I’m not one of those people.

You open the camera by pressing a hidden button under the leather, which pops open the front cover; you can then slide the lens mechanism forward along a set of metal rails mounted on an attractive wooden bed.  In the case of mine, things have shifted and bent over time, so it can be a bit challenging to slide in and out.  When I was shooting with it, I simply carried it around in fully open position, which got me some curious stares.  You adjust the focus by sliding it out to a pointer that aligns with a focusing scale on the bed, thoughtfully indicating both feet and meters.

Although I knew this camera worked just fine in 1960 and appeared to be in working condition, I was skeptical as to whether it would still work in 2018 – so many things can go wrong; the shutter timing can be off or the shutter can stick, or, most commonly, the bellows could have pinholes that are not immediately obvious.  Thankfully, the viewfinder looked pretty clear, which is good because there doesn’t appear to be any way to open it for cleaning.

So here’s how things turned out:

Drying Laundry

Through the Fence

Waders Needed

Hyacinth and Sunspots

My verdict is that the camera appears to be in working condition, despite its 110-year age.  I’m treating what appears to be a light leak in one exposure as an anomaly that could have happened during developing or who knows when.  There were a few other shots on the roll, but they were duplicates taken at different f-stops or shutter speeds, and none of them appeared to have any leakage.  The shots are not 100% sharp, which could be user error – I’d need to practice a bit more to be sure – but bear in mind this particular model has the lens putting it at the $20 range, not the fancy Zeiss lens that would have put it at $78, the pinnacle of camera prices for pre-1910.

I do think the postcard format is best used for horizontal shots – I think it’s too narrow for vertical exposures except in limited cases.  If you find one of these in working order, it’s not impossible to find a few 122 spools – I think I have three at this point – and maybe a roll of intact backing paper you can use a few times before eventually trying your luck with 120 film.  If you use 120 film, I suspect you’ll need to come up with a workaround with the numbering on the back to avoid overlapping exposures.  But I’ll leave that up to you.

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Vintage Camera Review: Kodak No. 1A Folding Hawk-Eye Model 1

This was once a beautiful camera.  It’s made of sheet metal painted black and covered in leatherette, with a wooden baseboard and shiny nickel and black metal parts, and a little brass, complemented by red leather bellows.  It folds open to sit horizontally on a shelf, or can be folded to be carried with its genuine leather strap.

No. 1A Folding Hawk-Eye Model 1

Mine has seen better days.  The leatherette is peeling off in places, and has been missing entirely from the front long enough that the black paint covering the case has been scratched off in many places.  The viewfinder won’t stay up for some reason, but the bellows are intact, the shutter appears to work perfectly, and the leather strap is even still there.

I struggled a bit to identify what kind of camera this was.  Often the model name is engraved inside the cover.  In this case I finally discovered the model name engraved in iny letters below the shutter assembly.

To open the camera, you depress a button on top which releases a latch and the cover drops open.  Though it’s tempting to want to squeeze them when the camera gets stuck (from age, you pull the camera in and out of its case by grasping the tabs below and to the left and right of the shutter.  You focus by setting your distance from the subject using the lever under the shutter/lens assembly – shown to the left on the photo above.  You can either select 6, 10, 25 or 100 feet.  The shutter speed is not adjustable, but probably around 1/50s – it’s a Rapid Rectilinear Lens with what I’m guessing is a ball bearing shutter with a pneumatic remote.  You can choose apertures of f/4, 8, 16, 32, 64 and f/128.  Given that film speeds when this camera was manufactured, from 1908 to 1912, were almost certainly slower than the ISO film I was using (probably ISO 25 or 50), the f/128 probably got some use back in day when it was sunny.  With 400 speed film, you’re limited to somewhat overcast or cloudy days because the shutter speed is so slow.  I don’t have a phone-app light meter that handles these aperture sizes, so I just guessed the best I could.

Like many early 1900s folders, offers an “I” (instant), “T” (time) and “B” (bulb) setting.  I’ve never tried leaving the shutter open – I suppose if I found some slow film it might be worth a shot.

Which brings me to my results.

Panorama Outside Antananarivo

Not too bad.  In the mid-range, everything is pretty sharp; but of course up close and near the horizon things get fuzzy.

This camera uses 116 film, which is 70mm wide.  This means you need to acquire a second film spool and in a film bag or a very dark room, spool a roll of 120 film onto it.  Ideally that spool will come with a roll of backing paper, so that your 120 film, which is a few millimeters narrower than the spools, won’t end up exposed on the edges if it winds unevenly, which can happen on these older cameras.

A common issue with old folders using this kind of viewfinder is that the mirror has become corroded.  You hold the camera at waist level and look down into it, and if all goes well you’ll see your image reflected nicely in the viewfinder so you can frame it.  Normally a few millimeters here and there don’t matter.  But in my case, the viewfinder is pretty corroded and framing becomes guesswork.  So on the long dimension I was pretty good at getting what I wanted onto the frame, but on the narrow dimension, not so much.

I’ll share two other photos from this roll to show where I had problems.

You can really see the water spots on these.  But because these aren’t really keepers, given they’re blurry, I’m not going to bother trying to clean them.

As an overall assessment, if you can find one of these with the leatherette intact, it looks really nice on a shelf.  Generally it’s the leather that goes bad, or the shutter sticks, so I got pretty lucky as someone who likes to shoot with the old cameras I collect.  But the corroded mirror is kind of a showstopper – it takes some of the fun out of shooting since you’re really just pointing the camera in the (generally) right direction and hoping.  The viewfinder’s constant flopping downward is irritating and could probably be fixed with a spring, but given there’s no clear way to take it apart to at least try and clean the mirror, that would be one thing to check.  Other than that, the clear lens and the flexible shutter and aperture options give you plenty of options.

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Vintage Camera Review: No. 1A Folding Pocket Kodak

Of all my cameras, this has probably been one of the most difficult to work with.  But once I figured out the problem, I firmly kicked myself.  A couple of times, for good measure.

No. 1A Pocket Folding Kodak

Made of brass, wood, stainless steel and covered with leather, this 1906-1912 folder with red leather bellows is a beautiful camera.  It has four aperture settings, marked simply 1 thru 4, and I, B and T settings.  The finder flips sideways for landscape photos and the back cover slides off when you release a latch and takes 116 film.

And I’ve been trying to get it to produce some decent photos for quite some time. Initially, the lens was sticking.  There is a tab you can press which allows you to pop the entire lens/shutter assembly right off – something I’ve never seen on any camera – and I took it apart and tried to clean and repair it.  No luck.  Irritated and frustrated, I eventually decided to look for the exact same camera on eBay and ordered a second copy.  The second one works like a charm, and you can contact me if you’re willing to pay 30 bucks plus shipping to put the first one on your shelf.

With 116 film there’s generally no issue, but you have to spool 120 film onto a 116 spool with intact backing paper in complete darkness.  These spools with backing paper can run you 10 to 20 bucks on eBay, so you want to be careful with them and reuse them as many times as you can.  You end up losing a few millimeters at the top and bottom, but it’s pretty much the same size and the numbers line up in the window correctly.   For the technical folks, 120 film is about 60mm wide and 116 film was 70mm, so you lose 5 mm at the top and bottom.

So once I had a working shutter, I probably ran three rolls of film through this camera, and every time, but the 2nd or 3rd frame, the film would stop advancing and I’d realize the backing paper had torn.  Each time, I would take out the film and carefully examine the camera to try and figure out where the backing paper was catching, without seeing any obvious causes.  And go on eBay and order a new spool with backing paper, of course.  There’s only so much packing tape repair you can do before it’s time to just throw it out.

And then finally I noticed the fine print on the wooden cross piece.  “Start the paper under this cross piece.”  Printed on both sides in tiny black letters.  Which my 50-year-old eyes hadn’t noticed.  So the next roll I followed the instructions, and the camera worked like a charm.  And I kicked myself again.

Once I sorted out how to work it and got a working shutter, the camera worked beautifully.  I shot a roll of Tri-X 400 through the camera and for unexplained reasons most of the shots were ruined, but then ran a roll of Fuji 400H color film through it and everything worked out fine.  There is a light leak somewhere I haven’t managed to diagnose (it’s not the bellows) but if you take a bit of care to keep the camera out of unnecessary sunlight I think it will be fine.

Boy

Landscape

Country Road

Some of the photos lack sharpness, but it’s interesting to note how sharp the third b/w photo is in the near areas of the scene. This camera has no focusing mechanism, so smaller apertures would generally be better. Noting the earlier remarks about the apertures being marked 1 thru 4, the number one aperture is surprisingly large for a camera with no focus mechanism. However, I kept forgetting whether #1 or #4 were the largest aperture, and so therefore shot nearly everything on #2 or #3.

Mountain

Landscape

Mountain

In the above photo it’s clear that I wasn’t aiming the camera correctly.  The mirror in the finder was corroded.  My solution?  After I finished developing and scanning these photos I swapped out the mirrors of the two cameras to make one that works properly.

Dog on the Trail

Valley

In the color exposures we can see the same tendency of the foreground to be sharper than distant objects.  If it’s calibrated correctly, I’d guess the manufacturers imagined the owner of the camera would mainly be shooting scenes between 10 and 25 feet – i.e. portraits and family scenes – rather than landscapes with distant mountains.

But – and I admit I should have done this before shooting these rolls – as I was scanning these pictures I noticed some dust (or fungus?) on the lens and did some cleaning – and in the process noticed that the lens was partially unscrewed.  The two or three turns I tightened it may make the difference for landscapes.  Fortunately I had a second version of this camera to compare to, or else I’d never have known.

The camera is fun to shoot and is clearly still capable of taking decent photos, even after 110 years.  The amount of detail in these 150 MB negative scans is amazing, and now that I’ve adjusted and cleaned the lens, as well as fixing the finder, this camera may take even better photos, with sharper focus at infinity distances.  I plan to try one more roll of color film – once I’ve determined where the light leak is.

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Whale Watching in Madagascar

Every June or July, thousands of humpback whales migrate thousands of miles north from Antarctica to have their young just off the coast of Madagascar. And finally we made it up in time to see them (September is best!) Not only did I want to go out and see them, but it was also one of those videos I had dreamed about capturing ever since I bought my first drone a few years ago. So in the second week of September, we were off. I’d finally get the opportunity.

Periscope Whale

As we arrived at Ile Sainte Marie and we settled into our hotel room, I worried.  We were going to sign up for a whale watching boat trip, but what if they didn’t let me fly the drone from the boat?  And if they did, would it even be possible to safely catch it (since the boat would be too unsteady to land, not to mention other passengers).  We attended the evening briefing by the volunteer leading the tour, but I didn’t raise the question.  I figured I’d just bring it along and hope for the best.

Breaching Whale

The next morning as I lay awake wondering whether I should get up, my daughter came to our door.  “There’s whales just offshore.”  She said a bit out of breath.  “They said we can kayak out to them.”  I peered out of the room just in time to see a whale breaching, maybe 250 meters from the beach.  As the others rushed for the kayaks, I grabbed my drone and ran out to set things up.

But this wasn’t looking like it was going to be my day.  As the others kayaked out to the whale, I struggled to get the drone, the phone, and the remote to connect.  This had never been an issue previously, but if there was a time for things to go wrong….

Whale Fin Slap

I heard shouting from the water and continued to fumble with the drone, restarting it several times, and finally running inside to get my ipad to look up troubleshooting tutorials.  The groundskeeping staff was raking the beach and watching with interest.  “Tsy mandeha” (it won’t go) I said.  They seemed disappointed they wouldn’t get to see the whale close-up.  Not as disappointed as me!!

I quickly followed the instructions on a YouTube video and after what seemed like forever but was in reality only 4-5 minutes, I managed to launch the drone successfully.  The groundskeepers ran over to get a look and helped direct me, pointing to the left.  As I homed in on the whales and positioned the drone just above them, I marvelled at the amazing footage I was getting.  A mother and its calf had left my kayaker family and was swimming in a wide arc across the bay, no more than 150 meters from the shore.  At times, the whales filled the entire screen of my phone (and thus, the drone’s camera) and the calf would repeatedly jump out of the water.

As the flight time approached 9 minutes and the whale began fading in the distance, I brought it back in time to catch the kayakers making their way to shore.

Whale with BirdsThis photo, like the other stills in this post, were taken during the boat ride later in the day.  In this shot, I couldn’t believe my luck as I tracked a flock of birds swimming close to the water, and suddenly a whale leaped out of the water just behind them.  This was taken with a Nikon F100 film camera.

They quickly dropped the kayaks and rushed over to me, out of breath.  “Where was the drone??  Did you film that?  The whale swam right at us and we had to paddle for our lives!!”  I told them that sadly, I had missed everything, and had neither seen nor filmed them.  As I told them what had happened, they were relieved I had managed to get it airborne while the whales were near, even if I hadn’t managed to capture this supposed whale attack.  “There was malice in her eyes,” my daughter said, (half) jokingly.

Later that day, we would go out on a boat and see plenty of whales nearby – an amazing experience.  Not quite as exciting as having a whale come after you in your kayak, I’m sure.  But as it turns out, launching a drone from the boat was a non-starter – there’s no way we’d have been able to retrieve it in those swells.

Fast forward to our return home, and I plugged the drone SD card into my laptop:  “File unreadable.”  I was dejected.  Again, something that has never happened with my DJI Mavic.  Murphy was alive and well.  I would spend a few days researching the issue, and eventually plunked down 50 bucks for a program that seemed reputable and had a money-back guarantee.  I installed it and selected my corrupt video file.  After half an hour of churning and asking for other files made with the same camera as a reference, the program announced. “file repaired successfully.”

Not only was the file repaired, when I reviewed the video I had captured, I discovered that I had managed to just capture the tail end of my daughter’s adrenaline-filled mad kayak dash to escape the (as I had been told) angry, malevolent mother whale protecting its young.  So that would become my first video editing project, just for fun:

And here is the other video. It’s amazing when you think of all of the new perspectives drones have made available to amateur videographers and photographers.

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Twelve Months, Twelve Cameras, Twelve Decades…and One Film. #ATG365

In August 2017, the hosts of podcast Against the Grain discussed photographers’ tendency to immediately look at photos they’ve shot (chimping) and how film photography slows the process down, resulting in an increased emphasis on capturing the photo, without constantly worrying about the end result.  They suggested taking this idea of removing “chimping” to an extreme by putting a complete hold on film development for a year.  Not necessarily stopping all film photography, but maybe one type of film, one camera, one shot per month or roll per month for the project – whatever the listener might come up with.

This sounded like a fun project to me.  In my variation of this project, I would exclusively use Kodak Tri-X 400, but every month, I would shoot a roll with a camera from a different decade.  I knew I had enough cameras to be able to shoot with one camera every month, from the 1890s to the 2000s, which works out to exactly 12 months.  Each month, the roll would go into the freezer, and I’d develop the whole pile in September, 2018.  You can read about the project proposal in more detail here.

Here is the pile of film I took out of my freezer at the beginning of September:

It’s been a pretty busy month, but I’ve finally managed to develop, scan and curate each roll.  I describe my results below.  For each month, I initially provide the thoughts I had before shooting (i.e., the camera description and maybe why I chose that camera).  This is followed by my four favorite shots of each month and a comment about the results.

September 2017:  1890s – Rochester Camera Company “Cycle Poco”

The Cycle Poco is my oldest camera, having been manufactured somewhere between 1897 and 1903.  It’s a brass and mahogany thing of beauty hidden inside a pretty unremarkable, beaten-up black box.  Before this project I had only taken two photos with it, and it took some time to re-learn its peculiarities, such as its tendency for the sheet film to fall into the camera and get stuck there (and ruined) when I put the slide cover back into the holder.  I used Tri-X 320 and probably ruined at least 4 of the 10 sheets, but the rest are stored in the freezer.  I also, on a lark, checked eBay and found a leather case and 4 additional film holders – meaning I can now take a total of 10 photos (2 per holder) per outing, rather than the two to which I was originally limited.

The result:

Given the time and expense it took to shoot photos in the 1890s, I’m surprised it caught on!  As hinted in the intro, I expected most would not turn out, and I was correct – only three of these four were properly in focus.  I kind of like the one at bottom left, with the kid in mid-air, jumping from the bridge when school was cancelled due to the plague outbreak in Madagascar!

October 2017:  1900s – Kodak No. 3A Folding Hawk-Eye Model 1 and the Kodak No. 3A Folding Pocket Kodak Model B-4.

So I basically cheated this month and used two cameras – but this is because both cameras are untested and there is always a chance they don’t actually work.  I had considered a pair of No. 1A Folding Pocket Kodaks but neither shutter was working properly, even though they both used to work fine.  The Hawk-Eye is kind of a mystery, because I had previously catalogued it as a No. 1A Folding Hawk-Eye, but it seems I was wrong.  It looks like a 3A, but it uses 116 film like the 1A instead of 122 film like the 3A.  And strangely, has an aperture setting but no shutter speed setting.  It’s missing the leatherette on the front but appears to be in working condition.  So in the end I don’t really know the model number, but there’s enough evidence to be fairly certain it’s a 1905-ish era camera.

Addendum:  It’s a No. 1A Folding Hawk-Eye, Model 1.  It says so on the metal plate below the lens/shutter.  It was manufactured between 1908 and 1912.

The problem with these early cameras is that they were manufactured at a time when ISO 50 film was the norm.  So with ISO 400 film on a bright sunny day you’d have to choose apertures like f/64 or f/128 (which the camera has) but my iPhone light meter app simply doesn’t go that high.  So you have to either wait for a cloudy day or shoot as the sun is starting to set – about a 20-minute window.  So a lot of this light metering using Tri-X 400 is going to be guesswork, but I am optimistic about the outcome, as long as there aren’t any hidden bellows holes.

The results:

Kodak 3A Folding Hawk-Eye Model 1:

For this camera I got 4 shots total but I’m only sharing one.  The main problem with using 120 film in a camera that’s designed to take pictures much wider than 120 film is that you forget to take into account the part that will go missing.  So the photo that turned out somewhat usable was the inadvertent panorama.  There should have been more at the top and bottom but in spite of this, I think it turned out OK.

Kodak No. 3A Folding Pocket Kodak No. B-4:

I was really pleased with the results of this camera.  I’m not sure where the light leak came from (there are two such exposures but I’m only sharing one) but this is a camera from the 1900s that lets you choose shutter speeds of 1/25, 1/50 and 1/100 second, and set apertures from f/4 to f/128; and you focus by moving the lens forward and backward.  And after more than a century, it seems that everything still works!

November 2017:  1910s – Kodak No. 0 Kodak Brownie

I thought this month it was time to try something simpler.  The Kodak Number 0 is a humble little wood-and-cardboard box camera that sold for a buck and a quarter during the first world war and it uses 127 film.  To be able to stick with Kodak Tri-X film, I had to cut down a roll of 120.  It’s always a tight fit because the 120 roll has more film and paper; and it seems I lost the first few exposures because the numbers don’t line up with the little window.  Let’s see what kind of pictures we can coax from it.

Results:

This is not the first time I’ve made this mistake.  The numbers on the back of 120 film are printed to line up with the openings on the back of the camera, depending on the type of camera you’re using – some take bigger exposures than others.  Many cameras that use 127 film take square pictures, and I have generally had good luck with those.  But in this case we have a camera that takes 6cm by 4cm photos but the numbers that showed up in the window were for square photos.  So all the photos overlap each other.  Ultimately, I think some of the effects and combinations happen to be interesting, but I don’t take credit when it was by accident.

No. 1A Autographic Kodak JuniorDecember 20171920s – No. 1A Autographic Kodak Junior

This month, I’m taking a risk – I’m using a camera that is completely untested – at least in my hands.  It’s also not 100% certain to have been manufactured in the ’20s – I’ve narrowed it down to 1915-1925.  Close enough, I guess.

I’ve spooled a roll of Tri-X 120 into a 116 backing paper – so a couple of mm will be missing top and bottom (or sides), but otherwise let’s hope for the best!  I’ll be using it without the cable release.

Results:

These are photos from the hill overlooking downtown Antananarivo.  I was hopeful the shot of the boy would turn out well and am pleased it did.  I somewhat sneakily took it sideways and shot from the hip.  From the standpoint of modern photography, these pictures aren’t any good, but I don’t think they’re all that bad either.  Hey, it’s 1920s tech.

Kodak Six-20 Model CJanuary 20181930s – Kodak Six-20 Model C

For January I’ll be shooting with another untested camera – in addition one that has a few pinhole leaks in the bellows.  I think I have them all sealed up with electrician’s tape.

This camera, from 1932, is supposedly the one which, along with the Six-16, Kodak introduced to start using 620 and 616 film.  So I’ll be respooling the Tri-X onto a 620 spool.  Easy stuff.

Results:

….aaand clearly that tape I put on the bellows didn’t fix the problem.  Although I’m not entirely convinced the problems with these photos is due to light leaks – normally I’d expect bright streaks rather than dark bands.  Disappointing.  But it may be worth trying once again, but with color film, just to help diagnose what’s wrong with the camera…and to see what kind of results I’d get!

Ansco Shur-Shot Jr.February 20181940s – Ansco Shur-Shot.  Falling a bit behind here, but there are only 8 frames on a roll of the 120 film that will go in this box camera.  I’ve taken photos with it before and they turned out pretty well, so I’m hopeful this will also yield some nice results.

Results:  For a 1940s box camera, the results were pretty good.  But given the results I’ve gotten from this camera previously, they could have been better.  For some reason, the long edges of the film were all much darker than the center; I had to play around with photoshop a bit to make the pictures workable.

I like these street scenes from Antananarivo.  In case it’s not clear, the people in the third photo are reading posted newspaper pages, a common sight in the city.  I wish the results had been a bit less “muddy,” given it was a clear, sunny day.

March 2018:  1950s – Kodak Signet 35.   Kodak Signet 35

The Kodak Signet 35 was Kodak’s top American-made 35mm camera of the 1950’s and the first of the Kodak Signet camera line.  The Signet 35 originally sold for $95 USD (app. $810 USD in 2007). The design was by Arthur H Crapsey, and it was made between February 1951 – March 1958.

I have managed to get some good images from this camera on previous efforts, but have not yet done a full review as I usually do.  The results I’ve gotten prior to this project can be seen here.

Results:

To get these shots, I spent a few hours in the morning walking around town while my car’s radiator was being repaired (yes, that’s a thing where I live!).  This was the first month I was shooting a film format that offers more than 8 or 12 exposures.  So most of the photos were crap – disappointing for this particular camera, of which I expected better – but I did find four – or five or six – that I thought came out pretty well.

All my photos after this point suffer from a kind of “sprocket shadow” along one edge.  At first, I thought this was due to the film being curled lengthwise and not sitting flat in the holder.  But eventually I realized the marks were on the film itself.  I used HC110 (B) for all this film – in fact, the same batch for everything – and given that the problem showed up in different cameras, the best I can figure from consulting the online forums is that I was over-agitating, and somehow more developer was getting sucked in through the sprocket holes.  If anyone has other idea, I’d be happy to know.

Kodak Brownie Starmite II in boxApril 2018:  1960s – The Kodak Starmite II.  I bought an “outfit” on eBay that appeared to be virtually unused, with 3 of the 4 bulbs that came with the camera unused, the camera still in the box and in pristine condition, so it should work.  This is a fun little plastic cameras that, with its look and name, embodies the 60s for me.

Results:

I’m actually kind of disappointed by these results.  This could literally be the second or third roll of film through this camera, judging by its condition and the packaging, and the film is top of the line.  I feel like the results should be better.  Literally the most interesting shot is the one from the beginning of the roll that was an accidental partial double exposure, followed by the shot that was underexposed and out of focus.  Oh well.  I did catch those guys pushing the car up the hill and the standard Antananarivo skyline that I didn’t realize I was taking on almost every roll.

Canon FTbMay 2018:  1970s – The Canon FTb, from the early 1970s, is a nice SLR from which I have gotten great results – some of my favorite photos – even if the Kalimar 80-200mm lens I have attached (the only compatible lens I own) isn’t quite stellar quality.  The exposure meter on the camera doesn’t work, and if I remember correctly, I have to compensate for the length of the lens by allowing more light into the camera than you’d normally need.  We’ll see what happens!

A bit surprised that this film turned out as grainy as it did.  With the long lens, I compensated a bit for the decreased light getting through (the light meter doesn’t work and I’ve had problems before) and it was a bright sunny day.  I kind of like the photos, but I’m still surprised and I think they could have been better.

I’ve bought a new lens – not that expensive, but shorter – and I hope to get better photos in the future using this lens, from a camera that ought to do better than this.

Kodak Instamatic X-15FJune 2018 – 1980s – For the 1980s, I’ve chosen the humble Kodak Instamatic X-15F.  The X-15F was the final model in a long line of Kodak Instamatics manufactured in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s to accept the 126 cartridge.  Nearly all of them are simple, cheap (made from plastic) and have simple, low quality lenses.  I believe they take square pictures (24mm by 24mm?) but we’ll see what comes out!  I believe this may be the only 1980s-era camera I own, so I’ll need to figure out how to respool 35mm film into a 126 cartridge.  I know it’s possible and that other people have done it, but for some reason I have never managed to get it right and I always give up when it goes wrong.  We do know this particular camera probably works, because when it arrived via eBay, it had a roll of pictures inside it, which I developed.

The X-15F is a close cousin of the very first camera I owned, and thus I was especially hopeful this roll of film would turn out well.  When I pulled it out of the camera to spool it for the developer, I noticed that a lot of the film was still on the wrong side of the camera and I was afraid the roll had failed – but happily I ended up with 5 decent exposures.  This is also the first time I successfully spooled 35mm film into a re-used 126 cartridge and used that to shoot photos, so this was pretty exciting.

Given this is a cheap lens in a plastic camera, I’m very happy with these photos, though I am surprised they weren’t 24mm by 36mm exposures, but instead (almost) square exposures that extended onto the area used by the sprocket holes.  In retrospect, this makes sense, because 126 film has the occasional sprocket hole but only on one edge of the film.

Ricoh KR-5 Super IIJuly 2018 – 1990s – The Ricoh Kr-5 Super II (what a mouthful!) is one of my favorite cameras for producing reliable results.  Everything is manual but the light meter works and it’s easy to focus through the lens.  It was introduced in 1993 and is great for students of film photography.  Here some of the many photos I’ve taken with this one.

Results:

This Ricoh is one of my favorite camera, and is generally very reliable.  Unfortunately, when I set out to take this roll I discovered that the battery seemed to be empty, meaning the light meter would not work.  I did the best I could using an iPhone app and adjusting from there on the fly.  Many of my photos ended up too dark and grainy, but fortunately on a roll of 36 I was able to get a variety of decent shots.

August 2018 – 2000s – Nikon F100.  Made between 1999 and 2007, the F100 is not only my only film camera made in the current century, but also my go-to camera these days.  According to the Fstoppers website, “the F100 was Nikon’s state-of-the-art prosumer / high end 35mm camera, falling just under the professional F5. The F100 was, at the time, one of the best featured cameras ever made and still remains the 135 camera of choice for film enthusiasts, wedding photographers, and many fine artists.”

Results:

Brickmaking in Madagascar is always a fun subject for Tri-X film photography, due to the patterns and grit you get with this particular film.  If you’re wondering what you’re looking at at top left, it’s a kind of pad someone has made (and subsequently discarded) which allows them to carry piles of 10-12 bricks on the tops of their heads without hurting their heads and without the bricks falling off.  They’ve wrapped it with rags to make the surface softer.

What Did I Learn?

To be honest, I don’t think I learned anything related to the original intent of the project.  I think the nature of film photography and the fact that shooting and seeing your results are naturally separated by hours, at a minimum, already does the trick of isolating shooting from “chimping” and the additional months to a full year don’t really change this.

I did enjoy choosing a different camera from a different decade every month and seeing the results of 120 years of cameras, using the exact same film, was pretty interesting.  But developing this many rolls / sets of film, and subsequently scanning and adjusting all of the exposures was a big and tedious job.  Did waiting a year add that much?

I’d say that this particular project shares a lot in common with many other 365/52 weeks type photography projects:  sometimes you get in a rush to keep with the schedule, and you end up rushing your shots in such a way that you’re not necessarily doing your best work in terms of finding interesting subjects and light.  Generally, I kept up with the month-by-month timing, but sometimes I fell behind and was more focused on finishing the roll than capturing good shots.  To be frank, this is a bigger detractor from the process than chimping would have been.

Regardless, I thank the folks at Against the Grain for inspiring me to take on this project, and I hope the writeup ends up being of interest to a few folks out there.

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Andringitra Park in Madagascar: Sheer Cliffs and Ringtails

Andringitra National Park is one of those places where adventure travelers go.  It’s got peaks that people go out and climb over a four-day period.  The one in the photo above is just a two-day climb for rock climbers, not quite in the park.   People will climb the sheer cliff and sleep the first night in the cleft and then continue up the next day to the top.  And then sometimes they jump off the top, like in this video.  Just to be clear, we are not like these people.  But we took a trip down there and stayed in a wonderful hiker’s resort called Tsara Soa.

Tsara Soa is a wonderfully hospitable  camp with an amazing view, at the base of a 600 meter mountain called “Le Cameleon” and in the Tsaranoro valley.  In addition to enjoying the fresh air and the amazing view, we decided to hike to the top of the chameleon one morning.  And this is what we saw.

 If that seems scary, you might want to refer back to the video of the base jumpers we posted earlier.

One of the cool things about these super-isolated places in Madagascar is that you can get an amazing view of the night sky.  Typically when we know we’re headed somewhere like this, we’ll try and do some night photography.  We took our tripods and cameras a bit down the road, and I consulted my astrology app and was pleasantly surprised to learn that the south celestial pole was just to the left of the Chameleon – i.e. the point of rotation of the night sky would be just to the left of the mountain behind the resort.  But sadly it turns out I had forgotten my camera remote, meaning I would have some camera shake.  So we didn’t spend a super long amount of time shooting the stars, but here is the result of about 15 minutes of 30-second exposures:

While we were shooting the stars, we also managed to capture a shooting star.  It’s briefly visible in the video:

 After a few days at Tsara Soa, sadly it was time to start making our way homeward to Antananarivo again.  But a visit to Andringitra is also an opportunity to stop by Anja Community Reserve, which is a wonderful community initiative to showcase an area that is not only a spectacular site in its own right, but also happens to be the largest concentration of the ringtail lemurs, or maki, the one of 107 lemur species for which Madagascar is perhaps best known.  Just a few hours is enough time to see the ringtails and other wildlife for which this small reserve is known, and it’s definitely worth a stop before the long ride back to Tana:

It turns out that late August/early September is when ringtails typically give birth to the one offspring they tend to have each year, and it was really amazing to see these mammals up close, and see how the entire colony works together to ensure the week-old baby ringtail is well taken care of.

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New Project: Mini-Documentaries on Madagascar’s Informal Sector

I’m excited to be working on a new and admittedly somewhat ambitious project:  a series of short documentaries examining some jobs in Madagascar’s informal sector.  I plan to describe the work itself, but also spend some time thinking about why these jobs exist in Madagascar (and probably other developing countries), but not elsewhere.

I’ve played around a bit with short documentaries over the years – just for fun – but I’ve always thought it would be fun (if I had a lot of time) to do some more serious work on the untold stories that are all around us – the street kids, the cart-pullers, the people we see every day on the streets.  I decided to take it on when we spoke to a turkey-seller on the street back in June – he was doing everything he could to stop the turkeys from wandering out onto a busy four-lane road, and when he told me he and two friends walked the turkeys from a mile away every day I was hooked.

Unfortunately by the time we went back to him to make the arrangements, he had nearly sold all his turkeys and we realized they were especially for Madagascar’s independence day (June 26).  But we’ve arranged to see him again in November, when he plans to repeat the process for Christmas turkeys.

In the meantime, we’ve started work on short films covering two other professions:  blacksmiths and brick-makers.

Blacksmiths in Madagascar are a different sort than you’d expect back home.  Sure, there is your “traditional” blacksmith, such as this guy making knives for butchers:

But the kind I’m talking about wander around town all day long looking for small fixit jobs.  You see them during the rainy season carrying a small contraption with a metal bike wheel, and carrying a metal can with charcoal.  During the rainy season they repair umbrellas.  Because in Madagascar it actually makes economic sense for someone to repair your umbrella, rather than simply throwing it in the trash and buying a new one for, say, $8.99.  During the rest of the year they repair plastic tubs, roofs, and sharpen knives.  We spent the day walking around with some of these guys:

I’m almost done editing the first short docu.  The second, which we’ve already filmed, is on brick makers.  In Madagascar, after the rice growing season while it’s cool, people often use the clay mud that the rice grows in to make bricks – and the rice hulls are burned to heat the kilns, which can often be seen glowing red at night.  Kilns can be seen all over Antananarivo, and on some days the brick smoke hangs in the air.  It’s something we noticed when we first came to Madagascar way back in 2012 – women and children can often be seen carrying bricks on their heads to a collection point where they’ll be transported and sold.

So that’s what’s in the works.  Right now, the biggest challenge is the fact that the interviews are in Malagasy, which I don’t speak.  This can make editing quite a challenge!  But we’ve already figured out the jobs that will follow the blacksmiths and brick makers, in a series I’m calling “Artisan.”  But I’ll save that for another time.  In the meantime, have a look at a short video I did in the same vein – rushed, in about 48 hours – a couple of years ago before I thought of doing this series.

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Review: Canon FTb

I received my Canon FTb in a box of cameras I ordered on eBay when I was bored a few years ago and have run several rolls of film through it over the years (after I repaired it) with outstanding results, so I thought it would be appropriate to finally do a formal review on the camera.

Canon FTb

Given that this camera dates from the 1970s, making it much newer than most of the cameras in my collection, there are already a number of reviews and discussion on the forums.  This camera has a good reputation as a solid, dependable SLR with a wide range of compatible lenses and common-sense adjustment knobs that make it great for students of film photography.  As noted in Ken Rockwell’s review, the shutter operation is vibration-free, and I’d add to that that the sound of the shutter is delicious.  I love the sound of certain cameras’ shutters, and this is one of my favorites.

When I received my FTb, it was missing the film rewind knob, but this is oddly something you can order on eBay.  So I replaced that, and then I tried to get the light meter working.  Film photography project points out an issue – apparently the camera requires a mercury battery, which is no longer manufactured.  I did some searching around and ordered a replacement battery that should work, but I have never gotten the light meter to work properly.  But most of my cameras don’t have light meters anyway, and it doesn’t take long to learn to estimate light levels (or use a phone app if you’re unsure).

The Canon FTb is simple to use – you simply tuck the leader of the film into the right side of the camera and it will wind it for you.  Set the aperture on your lense and then choose a shutter speed from 1 to 1/1000 second (or bulb).  As options, it’s got a timer function and a hot shoe for a flash, and if your light meter works, you simply line up the needle with the circle and shoot.

I don’t exactly have the best lens for this camera – the lens was also in the box – I have a Kalimar f/4.5-5.6 80-200mm zoom lens.  If this were my one go-to camera, I would take Ken Rockwell’s recommendation and buy one of these nifty 50mm f/1.2 lenses for anywhere from $500-$800 or even higher.  But shooting with my Kalimar and a non-working light meter, it’s still possible to get decent shots – in fact, some of my favorite photos have been taken on this camera.

Smile

Boat Workers

Hull Number

I really like the vibrant colors and sharp images I was able to get despite having a long lens not known for its quality.  I’ll also include a couple of b/w photos.  I remember the gentleman in the last photo showing such diligence as he washed his cows – I wish I’d gotten a better photo of it.

Fishing Boats

Bathing the Cow

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Camera Review: Ansco B-2 Cadet

For reasons known only to them, camera manufacturers have, over the years, felt that “cadet” was a good name for a camera.  There are at least 20 or so cameras (plus an exposure meter and an enlarger) called Cadets, to include at least eight made by the Ansco company.   There’s the Ansco Cadet A8, B2, D6, Flash, Cadet I, II and III, and the Cadet Reflex, for example.

Ansco B2 Cadet

Ansco (formerly the Anthony & Scovill company dating from the 1880s) narrowly avoided bankruptcy in the early 1900s as a result of intense competition from Eastman Kodak, and in 1928, merged with the Germany firm Agfa.  As a result, many of its cameras were sold under both the Agfa and Ansco  names.  The number/letter designations (A8, B2, D6) of its early cameras refer to film sizes, of which there have been many.  Today we know film sizes by the designations given by Eastman Kodak, but Agfa’s A8 is equivalent to Eastman’s 127; D6 is equivalent to 116; and B2 is equivalent to 120.  Ironically, these are Agfa’s film sizes – Ansco used yet a different naming convention!

But the point of this is that the Agfa/Ansco B-2 Cadet takes 120 film, which is manufactured to this day, 70 or 80 years after this camera was on the market.  If you forget, a handy little sticker inside the back cover tells you so.

Like most box cameras, the B-2 cadet is a simple camera.  It has a (useless, really) carrying handle with the name of the camera stamped into it; two viewfinders (allowing portrait and landscape photos), and a lever to operate the shutter.  That’s it; unlike some other box cameras, there are no aperture sliders or switches to keep the shutter open.  It’s point and shoot, period.

The camera is made out of cardboard, covered in faux leather, with a metal back door and a metal/cardboard inner piece that slides out the back to load the film.  I haven’t found any information on its aperture and shutter speed, but for a camera like this to work at most distances, it needs to be about f/11 and 1/50 or 1/60s shutter speed.

To load the camera, you simply flip open the back cover, pull the winding knob and pull out the camera’s innards.  From there, you insert the film between the clips on the bottom, wind it around the back, and insert the end into the spool on the top.  Reinsert, push the winding knob in, and turn until you see the number appear in the small red window at the back.  The camera will take 6 by 9 cm photos – eight of them on a roll of 120 film.

As mentioned earlier, the carrying handle is pretty much useless – you carry this camera in your hand, and if you want to properly frame a shot, you hold it at waist level in the orientation you prefer, elbows at your sides, look through the (amazingly clear after all this time!) viewfinder, and operate the shutter lever.  Done.

Although it’s ridiculously simple, taking pictures with the B-2 can still be fun.  It’s useful for street photography – nobody suspects this is a camera, so you can walk around town, cast a glance at the viewfinder, and (hold the camera steady!!) operate the switch with your thumb.

One note:  unlike most other box cameras (as far as I know), the Cadet’s lens is actually behind the shutter.  There is simply a hole in the front of the camera through which you see the shutter operate, and you can’t really see the lens unless you look inside the camera.  If you come across one of these, it’s wise to clean the lens with a Q-tip and some alcohol, which is easy from the inside, but to clean the front, you’ll have to catch the shutter as it opens and insert the Q-tip that way.

The camera takes pretty clear pictures, but you do need a fair amount of light if you want them to turn out. As you can see in the first photo, below, if you don’t have enough light, it ends up being a bit murky.  Here are a few I’ve taken:

Man WalkingMan walking in Chennai, India

Not Impressed by the WelwitschiaStudying an odd welwitschia plant in Namibia

ShipwreckShipwreck on Namibia’s Skeleton Coast

Aging MachineryUnknown metallic structure rusting on Namibia’s Skeleton Coast

BicycleBicycle leaning against the wall.  Still one of my favorite pics.

Check out my HatIf you managed to read this far, I’ll share with you that there was a roll of film inside this camera when it came to me.  I developed the film and two photos turned out.  This was one of them.

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Testing the 1937/8 Falcon Model F

Falcon Model F

yes, it came to me with a roll of film inside!  Sadly, I was unable to rescue any images from it.

I have no idea why, but I really wanted this old Falcon camera to work well.  Sadly, I would end up being frustrated.  Made by the Utility Manufacturing Company in 1937 or so (there’s not a whole lot of information on the company or the camera), it appears to be a fairly sophisticated camera for its time, with a number of innovative features.

The camera is made from Neilite, an early plastic predating Bakelite.  The back is made of heavy cast metal, with metal viewfinder, knobs, lens/shutter assembly, and the little “foot” that folds out (see above) to keep it from tipping forward when it sits on your shelf.  The shutter/lens assembly is on a helical mount that can be extended when you push the little chrome button to the right (left in photo above).  When retracted, the word “Falcon” is at the top, and as you extend it from infinity to four feet, the ring with the name of the camera and the company rotates until “Falcon” ends up at seven o’clock at its farthest, clicking into place at each of the focus distances.

It’s got a Deltax shutter that can be set for time, bulb, 1/25, 1/50 and 1/100s, with apertures on the two-inch Velostigmat lens that open from f/3.5 to f/22.  Unlike many cameras that were made well after 1937, the shutter is self-cocking.  As you’ll note from the photos I snapped, there is no double exposure prevention mechanism.

Falcon Model F

The Falcon takes 3×4 cm photos on 127 film, yielding 16 shots per roll.  It’s the first 127 camera I’ve used that didn’t take twelve square photos, and I’ve never come across the system used in the Falcon to control film advance.  You slide the A/B button down, revealing two red windows, and advance the film so the “1” appears in the “A” window, shoot, advance it so the “1” appears in the “B” window, and shoot – and so on.  Given that there’s no double exposure prevention, it’s a bit tricky to keep track of where you are on the roll.

Given the shutter and aperture options, it’s best to use 100 or 50 speed film on the Falcon, rather than the 400 I normally use – on a sunny day, you’d either need a 1/200s shutter speed or an f/32 aperture to make it work.

It’s a fun little camera to shoot – like all vintage cameras, it’ll get you some curious looks.  With the lens/shutter retracted, it fits nicely in a pocket.  The viewfinder is a bit small and tricky to see through, but once you get the hang of it and have your settings right, I find it’s best to operate the shutter with your middle finger.

As I hinted earlier, however, in terms of photo quality, I was disappointed.  With a relatively sophisticated lens and shutter (for 1937!) and no evidence of dust or fungus, I was hoping to get better results than I did.  The first roll I shot had a number of out-of-focus exposures, which is to be expected from time to time when you’re guessing distance.  But I didn’t expect the overall haziness, and for some reason in about half the shots, the backing paper markings somehow came through!  My best guess is that the Efke 100 film was a bit old – it came with us from India to Washington and back to Madagascar, and though it was in the freezer when it was with me, I think it may have degraded while it was not.

Street Scene

Cart

Prohibition

Graffiti

Posing with the DogFor the second roll, things went a bit better.  I believe this would have been a roll of Arista 100 that I cut down to 127 size.  Still, I can’t explain the “speckling” effect on some of the photos – both in light areas and in dark.  The other issue with the camera is the scratch marks from advancing the film.  I checked the inside of the camera and didn’t find any rough edges, so am unsure how to remedy this – it may help to spool the film more loosely next time.  Notice also the double exposure!  Or was it triple?

Sorting

Phones for Sale

Anjezika

Multiple Exposure

Junk for Sale

Watching from Outside

Demonstrating Tippy Taps

Anjezika Intersection

Posing on the Walkway

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Reviewing my Newest Addition: A Rolleiflex 2.8c

One of the most attractive and most iconic vintage cameras ever made, in my opinion, is the Rolleiflex Twin Lens Reflex (TLR) camera.

Rolleiflex 2.8c

Manufactured from 1929 until (in some form) 2015, the Rolleiflex was one of the longest-running camera models ever made.  It remains one of the best-known twin-lens reflex cameras, which were a big step in the evolution of camera technology.  Before the TLR, cameras either required the photographer to first set the focus, and then insert the film, which could be time-consuming (see this review for an example) or employed a mirror that swung out of the way at the moment the shutter opened – which made the camera large and bulky.  Putting two lenses in the camera let the photographer focus using one lens and then immediately take the shot through the other lens.  Allowing continuous viewing of the subject at the moment of capture made the TLR good for portraiture – the photographer could see if the subject blinked or moved at the last minute and retake the shot immediately, rather than waiting until the film was developed to discover the shot was ruined.  Eliminating the moving mirror also reduced camera shake, which was important for the slower films at the time.  This article lists additional advantages and disadvantages of the TLR.

There are also “pseudo” twin lens reflex cameras.  In addition to being much less expensive, differ from “real” TLRs in that the “viewing” lens is stationary and not coupled with the “taking” lens, which moves when you focus.  Although you can keep viewing what you’re photographing even when the shutter opens, you can’t see in the viewing lens whether the taking lens is correctly focused.  Instead, you focus the taking lens by estimating the distance to the subject, which can be both tricky.  But even pseudo TLRs share some of the “real” TLR’s advantages, especially for street photography.  First, the finder is the entire top of the camera and is BIG – usually 6×6 cm – giving an excellent view of the subject, rather than making you squint through a tiny viewfinder.  Second, the camera hangs at your waist, and you compose your photo by looking downward, rather than looking through a camera pointed at your subject.  With a TLR, your subject is often completely unaware that you’re photographing them.

pseudo TLRs in my collection

The Rolleiflex viewing and taking lenses are coupled and move in unison when you focus.  This means that what you see in the viewing lens should match what your film “sees” in the taking lens, minus a bit of parallax effect because the lenses are a few inches apart.

This is the first camera I’ve bought that was CLA’ed  (cleaned, lubricated and adjusted by a specialist) prior to purchase.  Most of the cameras I buy are your typical “junk store camera” that can be had for less than 50 bucks, and are not worth the several hundred dollar cost of a CLA. A Rolleiflex in good condition, however, will run you hundreds of dollars without a CLA, however – and it’s not uncommon to see them running four figures if they’re in excellent condition and have been recently serviced.  This particular camera was an excellent deal, having been recently serviced but still selling for a reasonable price, so when I spotted it for sale, I made the leap and patiently waited for it to arrive in Madagascar.

And so it was with some anticipation and excitement that I loaded my first roll of film into the camera when it finally did arrive.  A roll of Ektar 100 color film.  The late afternoon light was fading, but I couldn’t wait to snap a few shots, so I had the dogs pose by the pond and shot a few potted plants.  The next day, I took it along with me on the (motorcycle) commute to work and snapped a few photos along the way.

How does it shoot?

This is a hefty camera that feels solid and well-built in your hands.  But its size and shape make it a bit awkward in your hand – I constantly felt like I didn’t have a solid grip and worried I’d bump into something and drop it.  So I ordered a neck strap for it – they’re readily available online.  The shutter and aperture adjustment knobs take a bit of getting used to – you have to press inward on a release as you rotate the knob, and the shutter release also has a lock that has to be moved out of the way in order to be able to shoot.  But once it’s set, it stays in place.

I really like the solid sound and feel of the shutter on many vintage cameras.  On this camera, you barely notice it, so it’s not quite as satisfying.  But a lot less happens when you press the shutter button on a Rolleiflex, I reminded myself.  There is no fabric shutter or mirror being moved out of the way – just the 10 leaves of the taking lens shutter, and nothing else.  The silence of the shutter can be an advantage.

I was also surprised to find that focusing was a bit more difficult than I expected.  Overall, the clarity, size and brightness of the viewfinder are a real joy to look at.  The image you see reflected in the viewfinder has a real 3-D feel to it, with the subject looking sharp and the background somehow less sharp.  In fact, it raises your expectation of the photo that will result.  But you have to remind yourself to focus, which is done using only the center of the viewfinder, just a few millimeters across.  It’s difficult to tell if something is focused correctly unless you flip out the additional magnifying lens – and all of this takes time.  But I imagine this is something I’ll get the hang of – just like I’ll get the hang of moving the camera to the right and the image in the viewfinder moves left; composing the photo takes a few seconds longer than through an SLR.

Results:  First Roll – “This One is Too Dark”

To be honest, the first roll was disappointing.  As I said, the bright viewfinder fools you into thinking the pictures will turn out perfect; but immediately after processing the film, as I unspooled the roll to dry, I could see that things hadn’t turned out.  Several overlapping shots, several areas where a few faint marks on the negative and not much else told me I had significantly underexposed the roll.  Scanning would confirm this, and in addition, several shots that looked fine initially were out of focus.  The few correctly exposed and focused shots were ruined because I had kinked the film while spooling it (I’m a bit out of practice with 120).

Though the photos were disappointing, I accepted this as user error and didn’t blame the camera.  I could see there was potential – correctly focused, the lenses were sharp and clear, and a 6cm by 6cm negative has a lot of advantages.  Sure, the images are square, which is unusual and may not be your cup of tea.  As far as I know, all TLR and pseudo TLR cameras take square photos – maybe a good thing, given you can’t really turn it sideways to switch from portrait to landscape.  But the size of the negatives means there’s an enormous amount of visual information recorded – the scans are 30 MB each – meaning you can crop to whatever size and aspect ratio you want without any problem.  To illustrate the amount of detail in each photo, here’s a small square from the photo above, shown at “full” size:

Results:  Second Roll – “This One is Too Light”

So I decided to have another go at it.  This time with a roll of Tri-X 400.  I used a light meter app on my iPhone I’ve used without any issues previously and headed out into the countryside.  We went to Antongona with the dogs, an archaeological site near Antananarivo, Madagascar, which has two traditional houses built on top of a rock that offers amazing 360-degree vistas.

Once again, the results were less than ideal.  The faded area along the left side was from not having used enough developer – stupid rookie error, except I’m not really a rookie.  What I can’t figure out is why there appear to be odd reflections in some of the images.  I vaguely remember at some point noticing that the bottom of the camera wasn’t fully closed – but I can’t remember if this happened when I had this film loaded.  This camera is supposedly so carefully engineered that it manages to be light-tight without having to add the thin layer of felt or rubber so often seen lining the seams of many older camera.  So it’s conceivable I didnt have the back door of the camera completely snapped in place.  Hopefully!

The other issue is that all the shots on this roll are slightly overexposed.  No idea why, but this will come back in roll 3.

Results:  Third Roll – “This One is Just Right”

Once I was done with the Tri-X roll, I decided to pop another roll of Ektar 100 into the camera, not knowing that my Tri-X had been overexposed.  Except for whatever reason, I thought the Ektar was 400 speed.  So that’s what I input into the light meter app in my iPhone.  And shortly after I started shooting, I realized that, for whatever reason, the focus knob was having no effect on the camera. (I’d later realize, thanks to advice from Jimmy Koh, who did the CLA for the camera, that the screw under the focus knob was loose and simply tightening it solved the problem).  So all the photos were shot at infinity focus.

And yet somehow, everything turned out.  Every single photo was beautiful, in focus, and correctly exposed – but only because I was metering for 400 film and shooting with 100 film, and my focus was stuck at infinity.

Antongona

Antongona

Antongona

So the verdict on this camera?  Amazing detail, sharp lens, and great potential when you manage to get it right.  I look forward to many years of additional experimentation with this camera – the neck strap is in the mail and I’ve got plenty of 120 film in the freezer.  But  I will be bracketing for exposure until I can figure out what kind of exposure this camera “likes.”

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South African Safari – Addo Elephant Park

I previously posted about Ironman South Africa last April.  Well, naturally you don’t go all the way to South Africa for a sporting event and then go back home.  Nope – safari time!

Majestic

There are a number of parks and reserves in and around Port Elizabeth, South Africa. To be honest, you don’t even have to go far beyond town to see natural beauty! The main road heading south and west of Port Elizabeth gives a fantastic overlook of the sea, and the waves crashing on the rocky coastline.

No Fires

Head just a bit further and you’ll reach Cape Recife.  For a small fee, you can drive in – be sure to stop by the sea bird rehabilitation center, where you’ll see penguins and other birds.

Gannets and Cormorants

A bit farther on you’ll reach the end of the cape, a wild beach with sand dunes and marine birds. Be sure and keep an eye out along the way as well, for birds and other wildlife. Bring binoculars and/or a long lens to spot birds sunning themselves on the spectacular rocks just off the cape.

Dune

Refuge

Then, head out of town to Addo Elephant Park, one of South Africa’s 19 national parks.  It’s a few hours to the northeast, on the Sunday River.  To fully appreciate the self-drive park, it’s best to stay overnight and enter the park first thing in the morning.  We stayed at the park lodges just inside the south entrance.  The north end of the park appears to be more popular and has a restaurant.  But we were here to see wildlife, not other people!  The good news about the lodge in the south is that you’re just a few hundred yards outside the park and can drive straight in when the park opens at 6.  This can be the best time to catch a glimpse of some of the rarer animals – like this spotted genet (disappeared too quickly to get a photo!).  As the sun rises, all sorts of animals will gradually take shape around you.  You smell them before you see them!

Eland at Dawn

I should also mention we were warned about the mischievous monkeys at the lodge.  Kind of the real reason we stayed there.


(pc: Anne Daugherty)

Driving around the park at your own pace, you’ll see all sorts of large and small creatures.  Herds of wildebeest, Cape buffalo…

Buffalo

The main feature of the park, of course, it its namesake: elephants. You’ll see evidence of them everywhere. You’ll see them alone, and you’ll see them in large groups. We watched them for quite some time, splashing and playing and bathing in a muddy watering hole.

Joy

Entangled

Bath Time 2

For us, one of the most exciting moments was when we spotted (pun intended) an animal we’ve never seen in all of our travels in southern africa:  the spotted hyena!

Hyena Watching

We spotted the lone hyena (they are usually in groups) loping along the road and as we got closer, he crossed the road and faced off against a zebra.

Standoff

I guess a lone hyena is not usually capable of taking down a zebra, so after a brief staring contest, they both retreated. But then I caught my breath as he turned and came straight at the car. We had the windows down and were taking pictures out the window, and he sniffed at the air a few times and came around to the side to get a closer look. As we quickly rolled up the windows, that is.

Fearless

Eventually he gave up and headed out for something more his size.

We stayed in Addo a few days – I think two full days is plenty. Then we headed toward the coast, in search of the marine part of the park. We eventually found a visitor’s center after a 10km trek down a dirt road, where a sleepy park administrator explained that it was mostly hikers that come here, but we were welcome to continue down the road and have a look at the sea. We eventually found our way to the Woody Cape Lodge, being remodeled. They let us park (for a fee) and we headed down the trail to see the beach, which required us to climb a wooden trail over the dunes, and on the other side, there were ropes to help us climb down.

Oddly when we parked the sky was almost completely blue. As we came over the top of the dunes, billowing clouds began pouring over the top of the dunes like fog, and the temperature must have dropped ten degrees! We continued on, but the suddenly-gloomy weather made a big difference in the mood on the other side!

Whale Spine

Whale Bone

All in all, a great trip, however. South Africa is always a great place to go!  You can see more photos from South Africa at this Flickr album.

Zebra Hug

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A Barefoot (?) Ironman South Africa

I’ve been a runner for about four decades.  I was never especially good at it, but I’ve managed to pull off nearly twenty marathons and uncountable 5k, 10k and other distance races.  About twenty years ago I thought I’d give triathlons a try.  It took a few years to learn how to swim properly, but that kept things interesting.  In all those years, I never seriously considered tackling an ironman distance race.  Until one day in early 2015 and for no apparent reason, I did.

It was a newspaper article or something that triggered it.  Living in Chennai, India, I read about some Indian movie star I’d never heard of who had done the “amazing” feat of completing an Ironman at age 50.  I put “amazing” in quotes because I was 48 myself, and while I thought doing an Ironman is certainly amazing, clearly the main thing that impressed the writer was clearly the actor’s “advanced” age.  In the same event, I read how another local runner in my club who had finished his inaugural Ironman just minutes ahead of the 18-hour time limit.  I wondered what must have gone through his mind those last few hours – after swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles, and then running a marathon, agonizing through the last 10 miles of a grueling day – whether it would all end up being for nothing when he missed the time limit.

So that seemed like a fun thing to try…an Ironman at age 50!

But as we headed to Madagascar post-India I was in an awful state, athletically.  I arrived a couple weeks shy of my 49th.  I wasn’t running at all, really – I’d been in physical therapy to deal with various forms of tendinitis stemming from bad running form and a stubborn insistence on running barefoot (since 2010).  Over the last few years I’d found it increasingly difficult to run two days in succession, and sometimes needed not one but two days in between runs, because I was constantly sore everywhere.  Once I settled in, a colleague showed me the trails I could bike to and from work in Antananarivo.  I fantasized about getting my bare feet onto the red clay that was speeding by under my knobby tires.

Eventually I was able to start running 3, 4 miles – sometimes 3 times a week – and then actually started running the 5-mile commute to work!  I was starting to get back my old running form.  In October I signed up for the local 10k and I was smiling as I left the starting line.  I had torn my foot when I whacked it against an unseen rock but I had run a few days prior with no issues and I was confident I’d be fine.  This race was to be an important milestone if I had any hope of doing Ironman South Africa in April 2017 – the only Ironman on the African continent.

But a mile later I was on my cell phone asking to be picked up.  I had a sharp pain in my right foot and couldn’t go another step.  To the local clinic, and after a misdiagnosed anaerobic infection (???), a 10-dollar x-ray revealed a broken metatarsal.  Sidelined again!!

It took about three months to heal my aging bones, but by January I was back on the trails.  Slowly.  But eventually I surprised myself when I was able to run successive days.  Sometimes three days in a row, without being sore.  A couple of times I managed to run the five miles to work, and then, 8 hours later, run five miles back home.

I turned 50 in April and started to think seriously about doing Ironman South Africa in April 2018 – still ten days before my 51st.  Ordered training guides on Amazon, and by July I had signed up for an account on TrainingPeaks.  And Zwift, which would be a lifesaver, given that it’s nearly impossible to do any serious road training in Antananarivo.  Things started to come together.  As the possibility started to become real, I thought I’d make things a bit more interesting.

Cycling training was only possible thanks to Zwift, an online cycling and running platform that allows you to virtually cycle with – or race against – thousands of others in real time.  The helmet and glasses are clearly unnecessary, but I was trying it out for comfort.  Never try something for the first time when you’re racing.

I’ve been running almost exclusively barefoot since about 2010, and as people learned about my plans they naturally asked whether I planned to do the Ironman barefoot.  Honestly, I didn’t know.  I had never had the courage to do a full marathon barefoot – the closest I had come was wearing Vibram Fivefingers in Namibia in 2013.  But I had this crazy idea that I could pull it off.  International Triathlon Union rules are pretty serious – there are rules about how you pass other cyclists to avoid a drafting penalty, even a rule about not unzipping your shirt below your sternum (or get a penalty!).  But I checked and re-checked, and it seems there’s no rule about running in shoes.

Just before the 2017 Antananarivo Marathon.  I met one other barefooter – the only one in the race, as far as I know.

So I decided I’d give it a shot and singed up for the Antananarivo Marathon.  Not only that – I also decided to dedicate my race to my Dad, a former marathoner and Boston Marathon finisher – currently battling Parkinson’s Disease.  So I put up a fundraising page and continued to train.  In October I’d do the Antananarivo marathon fully barefoot to validate it could be done, and in November, a longer-than-Olympic triathlon with a grueling climb in Mauritius (but the organizers insisted on shoes).  The marathon ended up being postponed to December (plague outbreak and all) but I managed to pull it off.  But it drilled home again:  a marathon is SO LONG!!  I couldn’t really wrap my mind around the idea of an Ironman.

My Dad and I ran the 2003 Berlin Marathon together.  It was the tenth marathon for both of us.  I was still in my mid-30s, but he was approaching 60.  We finished in under four hours, with less than 10 seconds to spare!

In December I brought back (from the U.S.) a shiny new (for me) triathlon bike that cost (used!) four times what any other bike I have ever owned cost.  And the nice lady at the airport somehow arranged it so it didn’t cost me a time to get it from Oregon to Madagascar, even inside it’s big black plastic box.

In February and March reality started to sink in.  I was routinely on the bike trainer for 4 and 5 hours at a time, and my training was starting to slip as I found myself unable to pull off 2+ hour runs.  Swimming was going great and I backed off the running (but was worried) because I was afraid of an injury at this point.  The hardest part about doing an Ironman, in retrospect, is the training commitment and the sheer number of hours involved.  I was routinely telling my wife we couldn’t go away on a trip or do this or do that because I had to spend the day training.  I still don’t know how people with kids at home, or jobs with unpredictable hours, manage to do it.

Eventually, however, April arrived.  I had cycled the course virtually (another virtual cycling platform, Rouvy), and I had finally peeked at the Ironman South Africa website and we had our travel plans in order.  The final few weeks I was extra careful – I’m notoriously clumsy – to try and avoid getting hurt but that didn’t go well.  In the opening days of April I was cut off on my mountain bike in traffic.  I was practically standing still, and my cleat wouldn’t unhook as I slowly began tipping sideways, and only broke free as I fell on the street.  I felt a pain in my foot but continued on, and as I parked my bike at work I looked more closely and realized I could see inside my foot into the space where the achilles is, through a one-inch vertical gash.  There was almost no blood, but with every step, my achilles would pull the skin open.  We have a doc at work, and my office mates brought me a cup of coffee and took pictures of the ordeal as I had nine stitches put into my foot two weeks before my first Ironman.

But I had done too much training (and spent too much money) at this point to back down.  My plan was to only ever have to do this once – I had told people that if I posted a respectable time, that would be it for me.  So that was my goal:  a respectable time.

Port Elizabeth, South Africa was buzzing with excitement.  Or maybe it was just me.  Everything was a blur at this point – following the detailed instructions, checking in, biometrics, race expo, putting all my gear into piles and numbered, colored bags, visualizing the race and what I’d need when…  On race morning, my stomach was a mess – but I wasn’t alone at 5 am as there were lines waiting for toilets everywhere.  Hugs, pictures, “good luck” – “one more banana?”  My patient wife, my biggest supporter was helping me remember things because I was off in some distant, pain and stress-filled imaginary land.  And then before I knew it, I found myself surrounded by a few thousand people covered in black rubber were in chutes, pressing forward to the inevitable start.

Like a duck – looking calm above the water, but paddling like hell below the surface.

The swim was an absolute joy.  We were released ten at a time into the water and I quickly glided into a nice rhythm.  The sea was the perfect temperature for wetsuits, and while I couldn’t see the next buoy easily from the previous one, I soon figured out that the crane in the distant port lined up perfectly with the course, making sighting easier.  As I rounded the far turn (roughly halfway) I dared look at my watch and was overjoyed to learn that I was well ahead of schedule.  I rounded the turn and again quickly learned that the left edge of Port Elizabeth’s skyline lined up perfectly with the line of buoys that stretched ahead.  When I came out of the water at 1:12 or so (I had expected 1:30) I felt like I had a stupid grin on my face, though none of the photos reflect this.  As we exited the water and approached the transition area, we had the option to take advantage of a freebie I’ve never seen in a triathlon – you open the top part of your wetsuit, plop down in a plastic white chair, and a couple of volunteers yank your wetsuit off!  A great service, because normally getting it over your ankles is a huge hassle.

I took way too long in transition, but…I figured I’d be on the bike for a good seven hours, so a couple of minutes wouldn’t make a difference.

For the bike course, you ride out of town along a beautiful rocky coastline for about half an hour or so, then turn inland up a hill, and eventually end up coasting down a looong, slightly downhill, straight stretch until you hit the coast again.  I was conscious of the stringent anti-drafting rules but it was difficult to maintain the distance required between bikes (I’ve always used three bike lengths, but the organizers had said 12 meters).  This appeared to be routinely ignored, but I realized I’d wear myself out mentally if I focused on this too much, as people were constantly getting into my space and passing each other as the cyclists sorted themselves out.  Occasionally I’d hear one of the official motorcycles come up behind and slowly pass as the referee on the back with his clipboard carefully eyed the riders.  Getting called for a penalty would result in having to sit out a few minutes in a penalty tent.  To be honest I wasn’t worred about the time as much as I was simply not remembering to (or finding) the penalty tent at the right time – which would then result in a disqualification.

As I made my way back to the start (the course is out-and-back, out-and-back (twice!)) that looong downhill became a long uphill into a slight, but steady breeze.  which I knew would increase as the day went on.  Before I knew it, I was back in town, finishing my first 56-mile/90-km loop.  I was relaxed, and pedaling easily, well back from the guy in front of me when a race official (?) jumped out of the crowd and barked, “THAT’S NOT TWELVE METERS!!”  This put a damper on things, but thankfully I was allowed to continue, made the turn, and went in for the second loop.  And as I went down the long downhill stretch i could feel the wind at my back and I knew it would be a slog coming back up.  And it was.  My thighs were starting to feel the impact of the morning, it was getting warm, and the sensitive parts that bear your weight on a bicycle were getting tender.  But eventually I made it up, and again was pleasantly surprised I’d managed to finish the bike in 6 1/2 hours, well ahead of my expected time.  But now I started to become more and more preoccupied with the idea of having to run a marathon shortly.

As I came out of the second transition and started my run, here’s what that “preoccupation” actually looked like:

Less than a mile into the run, I stepped on a tiny bit of wire (this happens maybe once every six months, normally) that embedded in my foot.  I sat down briefly to try and pull it out, but failing, decided that the pain from that would likely fade in comparison to what lay ahead, and got back on my feet.

I was surprised at the amount of focus on my bare feet from the crowd.  The run course is basically 5 km long, on the main street of the city, with an uphill stretch at either end.  So you end up running the thing four times one way and four times the other way – alternating.  It was super hot still (a disadvantage of swimming and biking well!) and it seemed that every 200 meters someone shouted “Where’s your shoes?”  I tried to remain upbeat and smile and wave, but gradually it became irritating.

As I rounded the first loop wearing the first of four colored wristbands that would be given to me as I passed the checkpoint, I was still in good spirits – it had taken an hour, and though I knew the next three laps would be slower, things were going well.  Anne was getting regular updates via the SMS system offered by the organizers, and I broke the race into eight chunks – eight times I would pass her, in addition to the four wristbands, and the eight times I’d have to U-turn at the far ends of the course.

At one point, a teenage girl called, “Barefoot man!” and when I came closer, she handed me a note with her name and contact information, wrapped inside a piece of plastic bag so I wouldn’t sweat on it – “I’m a barefoot runner too!”  She seemed disappointed when I told her I lived in Madagascar, having been genuinely excited to see another barefooter.

But the rough roads were not kind to my feet.  Besides the constant calls from the crowd, the rough road surface wasn’t so much painful, as overstimulating.  In India, and even most of the course in Antananarivo, the roads are worn so flat the surface is quite smooth.  But this road seemed to have more rocks embedded into it.  At the 15-km mark, I finally threw in the towel.  As I sat down, a woman asked what was wrong and I used the phrase “throwing in the towel” and she became extremely upset.  It was only when she said “I will wait here until you finish, no matter how late” that I realized she thought I was quitting altogether.  “No, I’m just putting on shoes,” I said, but she wouldn’t be swayed – “Even if you walk, just keep moving!!”  I had fortunately packed a pair of Vibram Fivefingers in my fanny pack (see above photo).  But even after putting on the shoes, my feet would burn painfully the rest of the course.  I kept hoping it would fade, but it didn’t.

The second loop was still 1:20, which was reasonable – but at this point I was getting a real sense that the remaining 13 miles would not be kind to me.  The sun was setting, and I was both amazed and somewhat irritated as people ran past me easily, while I struggled to keep walking at times.  I’d run 300 meters and walk 500.  My stomach had been hurting and I felt nauseated.  The next time I passed Anne, I explained this to her, and then promptly emptied whatever sports drink I had in my stomach onto the grass.  Of course this was captured in photos but I won’t share that here.  A South African bystander kindly offered help and advice, but having lightened my burden somewhat, I felt much better and continued on my way.  For a mile or so, anyway.  Then I was walking again.

The rest is a blur, really.  People were so encouraging – I remember that.  I spoke with a few other runners who were also having difficulty – we’d set a goal to run to a certain point, or “once we reach the top/turnaround, we’ll run down the hill.”  My stomach still hurt, but my goal became reaching the next water point and asking for two half-glasses of coke – they were handing out cold Coca-Cola by now, and it felt wonderful going down but I knew it wasn’t helping.  And as the “will I make it under five hours” gradually turned into “will I make it under 5 1/2 hours” and then “I am going to make it, right?” the air got a bit cooler and I could see the worry in Anne’s eyes but each time I passed I’d try to put on a brave face and keep plodding along.

In the end I did finish the marathon in under 5 1/2 hours, in a total time of about 13 hours and 17 minutes.  I’d find out later that this is about 15 minutes slower than the average for my age, but I had told myself that anything under 14 hours would be okay.  I approached the finish line and as I jogged down the lit red carpet and the announcer boomed, “Thomas Brouns, YOU are an Ironman,” the emotions welling up from the previous years’ efforts and training and worry, and the last 13 hours of wondering if I’d make it, are indescribable.  Hugs from the relieved wife, even a hug from Raghul, an Ironman I knew from Chennai and whom I’d seen a few times on the course, a medal, shivering in spite of my fleece, a slice of watermelon go get your bike and stuff and hobbling back to the car in the dark past all the other athletes and their families who had supported them throughout all of this.

A few weeks afterward, I got an email telling me that they’d captured video of me along the way.  So I paid the nice people the money they wanted and (after all, this is a one-time thing, right?) edited down the video to where I was actually in it.  Probably not all that interesting to anyone but the closest friends and family – like this entire post – but sometimes this blog offers useful information, and sometimes it’s really just a diary.  But here it is if you’re interested.

Postscript:  Training for an Ironman is super time consuming, and I only intended to do this once.  But I’ve already identified other places I’d be interested in giving this a shot.  Maastricht?  Langkawi?  Who knows?  It’s quite an experience, and there’s nothing quite like having a goal, working for it for 6, 9 months – maybe more – and then managing to pull it off.  I suppose that’s why thousands of people do this all over the world every year.  It’s addictive.

And there is also the unresolved matter of the “barefoot” Ironman.  Hmmm…I wonder how many of these I can fit on my leg?

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Shooting with the (1949-1959) Kodak Pony 828

I finally got around to shooting with a camera I’ve had for quite some time, the Kodak Pony 828, a bakelite camera produced from 1949 to 1959, as a transition between rollfilm and 35mm film. I have actually owned two of these, but the first had a sticky shutter and I passed it on to someone else.
Kodak Pony 828

The Pony 828 still uses a small version of rollfilm but was quickly followed by the Pony 135, using 35mm film. The 828 film roll is a small roll – smaller than 127. It’s the width of 35mm film, but designed to produce an exposure that is 28mm by 40mm, rather than 24x36mm. In other words, 35mm film would work, were it not for the perforations.

I bought “828” film (for too much money), which I thought would be unperforated, but was really just Tri-X rolled inside an 828 backing paper. So my first set of exposures extended onto the perforations area, but the film holder for my scanner can’t handle that, so my exposures ended up being 24x40mm. To make matters worse, it seems that 828 film only includes 8 exposures. Between the exposures are 20mm gaps, meaning if the backing paper were marked to maximize the space available, they could have easily fit 14 or 15 exposures.

The camera is simple. It sold for $30 in 1950, which was not cheap, and it is pretty much manual everything. The lens/shutter assembly is retractable. To take a picture, you set your shutter speed (up to 1/200s); your aperture (from f/4.5 to f/22); and after estimating the distance to your subject (can be from 2.5 feet to infinity), manually focus. And then you cock the shutter. Now you’re ready to shoot.

I was initially disappointed with my first roll, the respoooled Tri-X. But the issue was mainly user error. The Pony 828 has a decent lens, made out of glass and comprised of multiple elements, and the film was forgiving. But I was framing in a hurry. Consequently, some of my shots were off target and I won’t bother sharing them. But the ones I’m sharing were respectable for a 70-year-old camera.

Downtown Antananarivo

Others were blurry because I didn’t estimate distances properly, or flat out forgot to focus.

Baby Doll

However, realizing that this “fancy” 828 film I had bought was simply respoooled Tri-X 35mm, I decided I would try another roll. So I spooled some Fuji 400H. These photos turned out much better.

Bougainvillea
Using the manual focus, despite shooting in f/11, I was able to create some bokeh and have the background be out of focus.

Rice Paddy Diagonal
At the same time, when I took a wider landscape shot, everything was nicely in focus. I’ll admit I only shot at 1/200s – since I was using 400 speed film and I didn’t have a whole lot of f-stops to play with – but this was sufficient to freeze movement.

Pigeons

Jumping Dog

All eight of my color photos turned out the way they were intended. The down side of this camera is (a) I feel like the colors were a bit muddy. Increasing exposure might help this a bit. In addition, you might notice in all of the color exposures that there is some scratching of the negatives. This could be a result of my poor film winding job – but since they don’t make 828 film anymore, this is going to be a fact of life with this camera. Lastly, I’ll just reiterate the fact that there are only eight exposures per roll. This fact alone makes me wonder why they produced this camera for a full ten years.

Water LilyAlways fun, however, to shoot an old camera and see how it performs!

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My Entries in the #ShittyCameraChallenge

I laughed when I saw the announcement on Twitter:

As I am known to use shitty cameras to make shitty pictures, this seemed perfect for me.  I decided this would be a great opportunity to try out this camera I spotted some time ago in a camera shop in Chennai, India.  It looks like a large 35mm film roll but opens up to expose the shitty lens.  You advance the film by rotating the left side of the camera.  It even has a flash!  I’m not telling whether the camera cost more than the film.  It’s close.

….and here are the entries:

The photo above is my favorite on the roll.  Kids at the Youth Center we built are curious about my odd camera.

Scenes from Antananarivo make full use of the full range of the camera’s shittiness.  Incidentally, I’m using Tri-X 400 film.

The photo above is one of the few indoors photos I took with the flash.  Nothing too remarkable, but it seems to work ok.

Weird things happening along the sky of the photo above and below.  Above, rice fields in Antananarivo; below, Antananarivo skyline.

Two boys, begging, keep haranguing me for money but eventually their curiosity gets the better of them as they watch me fiddle with my strange camera with no screen you can swipe.  Below, another view from the bridge on which we’re standing.

Finally, I ran into this man who was keeping his turkeys from running out into the street.  He told me that he and a couple of his friends daily walked these turkeys from another neighborhood about a mile away and then walked the unsold ones back home.  He stayed all day to sell what he could, using two sticks to keep them in line.

So there’s my entry in the Shitty Camera Challenge.  I sure hope I can score me a slightly used Chicago album.  And the camera is going right back on the shelf with the others, probably never to be used again.

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Testing Silberra’s New Film

Tell most people there’s a new kind of photo film and they’ll think you’re crazy.  But there have been a number of new film types over the last year or two – some reboots by companies like Kodak, new film types by existing film companies – even companies entering the film market altogether!

Silberra is a young photographic supply company in Russia and the latest to enter the fray.  I first heard about their Indiegogo campaign, followed by a fascinating Sunny16 podcast with one of their co-founders.  You can also get a rundown on what they’re doing on Emulsive.  The more you read about them, the more you realize just how challenging it can be to start an entirely new film line – their dedication in the face of challenges and setbacks is simply amazing.  In any case, I signed up for a couple of their film samples via their crowdfunding campaign and have thus far received a roll of PAN200 and a roll of Ultima PAN200, which I tested.  I think I’m supposed to eventually get a couple of their other film types, but to be honest, I’ve forgotten.

I shot both rolls on my Nikon F100, but I had trouble with the roll of PAN200.  I was able to snap two photos and then the camera rewound the film as if it had reached the end of the roll.  It has never done this before, but it’s a recent acquisition (replacing an older one that broke), so I’m not necessarily blaming the film.  But it was a bummer, considering I only had one roll to experiment with.

Then when it came time to develop I realized I had another problem.  The film is so new that the Massive Development Chart (and the company website) only list development times for a few (relatively) developers.  Given that I live in Madagascar, the developer I have is the developer I have.  So by comparing to other films and developing times, I extrapolated and came up with 7:45 using HC100 (B) at 22C.  As I spooled the film onto the reel, the Ultima seemed much thinner and flimsier than any other film I’ve ever dealt with.  This made spooling the film more difficult, and as I would only realize later that I had misrouted the film a couple of times, causing me to ruin 4 or 5 photos on the roll.  As it turns out, the Ultima is 0.06mm thick, versus the PAN200, which is 0.1mm thick (and felt like “normal” film).  Something to be aware of.

Despite the challenges, the photos I got turned out great – a nice amount of grain, dark blacks and a full range of grays.  They’re generally comparable to other samples I’ve seen of this film, so for HC110, I’d say 7:45 is about right.  At 22C however, so adjust accordingly.

First, I’ll share my PAN200 photo (both photos on the roll were of the same thing):

No Entry

I won’t hide that in the photo above (and some of the others) I accidentally had the camera set on aperture priority, with an aperture of f/1.8.  The photo above is an ocean pier in Mahajanga, Madagascar, with a sign prohibiting entry.

And then some of the best examples from the Ultima 200 roll. The first is my favorite – a herd of goats in the streets of Mahajanga, Madagascar.

Goats

The gentleman below is in Moroni, the Comoros, on his front porch.  I quickly snapped his photo from a (slowly) moving car.  I don’t think he noticed, but that explains the mirror at the bottom left…

Man Outside my Car

The remaining photos are taken in Mahajanga, Madagascar.  In the first photo, those are in fact rickshaws.  The streets are full of them.

Rickshaws

Harbor

I think the photo below is a bit dark.  I wish the lady in the vehicle had showed up a bit better.

Phone Call from a TukTuk

Mahajanga Market

I guess one of the things I like about this film is the way cloudy skies show up – like in the photo below:

Masts

If you’re interested in seeing the rest of the roll (there are a few more) or (eventually) other photos I’ll be taking with Silberra film (yes, I plan to buy more), you can check out this album on Flickr.  Also, here’s another review of Silberra film, with similar results.

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Test: Three Plastic Cameras

If you’ve spent 20 minutes clicking around on my blog, you’ll know that one of the things I enjoy doing is loading up old, often inexpensive, but working cameras with film and taking them out for a spin to see how they perform.  In this post, I review not one, but three cameras – one from the 1950s and two from the 1960s.

I’ll start with the cheapest of the bunch.  How cheap?  Only $5…plus five bottom panels from certain cigarette packages!  The Kodak Flashfun was one of a number of cameras that Kodak included among its many promotions to spread photography to the masses.  Early photography was a difficult craft which involved expensive equipment, chemicals and lots of know-how.  Kodak wanted you to snap away, and they’d take care of the rest!  As in, sell you film and process your photos…

Kodak Hawkeye Flashfun

The Flashfun came in a few different 1960s-typical colors and took 127 film and square, 4cm-by-4cm photos.  This camera was made from 1961 to 1967 from mostly plastic with a few metal parts inside, mainly for the shutter.  You could add a flash (hence the name) but I’ve never gotten any of the bulbs (yes, I have some) to work.  Here are a few photos I shot with it, all in New Orleans:

Parked Cars\

Street Corner

No Parking

Clearly there is a light leak at the bottom of the pictures – and while I’d love to claim that this is due to a problem with the camera, it’s my own fault.  There are only a few people who still sell 127 film, all cut down from 120 size, and all go for about 18 bucks a roll.  Me, I decide, “why not just take a pocket knife and saw away at a roll of 120 film until I’ve cut it down to 127 size?”  Well, this worked, but unfortunately at some point I allowed the roll to loosen and light leaked in the end.  That’s my theory.  The entire flashfun roll (what turned out, anyway) can be seen here.

The second camera in the bunch is the Kodak Brownie Fiesta.  This was also a promotional camera.  It came in a number of different colors and versions, sometimes with a flash attachment; but the one you see pictured below could apparently be had for either 15 Campbell’s soup labels, or $5.95.  This camera also takes 4 cm square photos, but for some reason, I ended up not having the light leak issue despite also trimming down a roll of 120 film to get the 127 size needed for this camera.

Kodak Fiesta

The photos, all taken in Tucson, all turned out a bit overexposed, and I ended up darkening them a bit and increasing the contrast.  But it’s not the camera’s fault – like the camera above and below, there is very little technology involved; there are no focus knobs, no light sensors, and no shutter or aperture settings.  Like many simple cameras of this era, they use an f/11 aperture and a shutter speed of around 1/40 of a second, which means just about everything beyond five feet will be in focus, and on a bright day your film will be correctly exposed.  But New Orleans’s cloudy sky ended up producing a darker photo than Tucson’s summer sky – which makes sense.

Horseshoes

Tucson

High Desert 2

As the cheapest camera in the bunch, I’d have to say that the photos on this one turned out the best of all three.  You can see the rest of this roll here.

Finally, let’s turn to the Kodak Brownie Bulls-Eye.  It’s a bit heftier than the other two cameras I’ve reviewed, and is made of a thicker bakelite – an early plastic – than the later models, which seem to be made from a more modern, lighter plastic.  it came in a black-and-silver version as shown below, and for awhile they also made a gold version.  It sold for a whopping $13 (or $15 for the gold version).  That might not seem like much, but it’s $138.50 in today’s dollars.

Kodak Brownie Bulls-Eye

The Bulls-Eye is a bit fancier; despite having been manufactured in the 1950s (1954-1960), it has a couple of settings to adjust exposures:  a short/long exposure switch, and a focusing ring.  Now you have to estimate distance and adjust for lighting, and judging from the results, the additional skill required by the photographer ultimately led to my undoing as far as this roll was concerned.  The good news with this camera, however, is that you can still buy film for it.  It takes 620 film, which is no longer sold, but if you take a roll of 120 and, using nail clippers, clip off the outer millimeter of both spools and make sure it’s smooth, it should work just fine.

Locomotive

Walk Don't Walk

Station

You can see the rest of this roll here.

Check out the rest of the camera collection, along with photos taken with most of them, here.

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Mauritius: Like a Slice of Southern India…and More!

We love Madagascar but from time to time we need a break – a change in scenery, a change in pace.  Mauritius is great for that.  It’s green, with a pleasant climate, and…nice.  Mauritius has come a long way in a short time, and today boasts Africa’s highest Human Development Index.   This post is a bit of a hodgepodge of our trips there – we’ve been there a few times – but hopefully it will highlight the variety and character of this small island nation off the eastern coast of Africa.

PieterBoth3

First, meet Pieter Both.  No – not the first governor-general of the Dutch East Indies company in the late 1500s.  I mean the second highest mountain (by 8 meters) in Mauritius.  You can see this odd formation from much of the island – from some angles it looks like a part of the mountain is hovering above the rest.  It can be climbed.  If you do so, the last bit, a 30-foot rock perched on top, has handholds hammered into it that will allow you to climb onto the very top.  There you can balance in the wind on a six-foot flat area with absolutely no handrails and survey the green fields as far as the eye can see.  As far as the real Pieter Both, as far as I know, he never lived in Mauritius, which was a resupply point for the Dutch East Indies company as its ships traveled from the Netherlands to what is now Indonesia.  In 1615, he left the Dutch East Indies for the last time, with four ships.  Two of them sank off the coast of Mauritius, and he drowned.  And that’s how the second highest peak on an island nation off the east coast of mainland Africa ended up getting named after some Dutch dude who lived in Indonesia 500 years ago.

The Portuguese discovered Mauritius, and weren’t interested in it.  Mauritius became a Dutch colony in the 1500s.  A rare case of a European colony established in a place that didn’t already have inhabitants.  Then the French took over, and finally the English.  As for the Dutch, they are responsible for the extinction, 75 years after its discovery, of the bird Mauritius’s beer is now named after:  the dodo.  I don’t think it was very tasty – it was nicknamed the “walgvogel,” or “disgusting bird,” but I guess if you’re hungry enough…  Nowadays, there’s plenty of much tastier food.  I guess that’s a French contribution.

The island is very ethnically diverse.  Not only descendants of the colonists, but also former slaves – many from Madagascar – and half a million indentured laborers from India, brought in by the English after slavery was outlawed in 1835, resulting in a unique ethnic and religious tapestry.  Looking at the island nowadays, it would appear that the group which left the biggest mark on the ethnic makeup of the island are the Indians.  Everywhere we you go in Mauritius, you can see the ornate Hindu temples we came to know and appreciate in our time in Tamil Nadu.

Sclupture

Colorful

Much of the work on Tamil temples, often carved by craftsmen brought from Tamil Nadu, is brightly colored and has a distinct style, like this representation of Ganesh, above.  But other works were carved in black granite, or in more muted colors like the cat, below.

Cat

Sleeping GuideAnd just like in Tamil Nadu, everyone was super friendly.  They didn’t even get mad when we woke them up from an afternoon nap, even when we were trying to secretly take a picture of them napping.

The lake is peaceful in the low season – a quiet place for reflection, no matter what your religious beliefs.  And yes, pun intended.

During one of our visits we discovered the Grand Bassin, a crater lake which, commonly known as “Ganga Talao” (Ganges pool), has become one of Hinduism’s largest pilgrimage sites.  Hardly anyone was there when we visited, but if you carefully watch the video below, you’ll see the wide, paved walkway that has been laid parallel to the road.  Imagine up to 400,000 people on that walkway, coming to visit the lake, make offerings, and worship at the temples that surround it.

The lake was discovered and designated a holy site by a Hindu priest in the late 1800s, but in 1972, sacred water from the Ganges was added, giving the lake its current name.  You can read more about it here.

Even for non-Hindus, it’s not only pleasant but also quite fascinating to stroll around the lake and to see the countless offerings that have been made on the surrounding pillars, or to climb the stairs to a hilltop temple where you may spot a monkey or two, or the holy trees with strings winding around them or different artifacts and items left at their base by worshippers.  The large quantity of food left by worshippers for the various Hindu gods ends up, to a large extent, in the lake.  As a result, the lake supports a huge population of fish swirling in the water in all directions everywhere you look.  And there is a clan of local cats which has mastered the art of catching these fish.  Eager to see them in action, visitors will throw bread near the edge of the water, which sends them into a frenzy, and this in turn allows the patiently waiting cats to scoop them up in one quick movement.  Once a cat catches a fish (often twice as wide as its head), it will dash off into the bushes, fish in mouth, to consume it before the competition shows up and demands a share.

This is a representation of Hanuman, the monkey god.  With offerings at his feet.  That’s correct – Hanuman is not an invention of the film “Black Panther.”

There are plenty of other things to do in Mauritius, of course.  If you’re an American living in Madagascar, your interests may be different than the typical tourist – for us, a stop at McDonalds or a visit to a movie theater or shopping mall held a special attraction.  But for everyone else, there are plenty of other things to do as well.  Mauritius has beautiful beaches for swimming, diving, or just relaxing.  As noted in a previous post, you can go out and actually swim with a pod of dolphins (video).  You can take a relaxing drive through the countryside.  Eat excellent food.  Or you can go for a hike in the mountains – for hours and hours, if you like.

We also recommend the “adventure of sugar.”  Mauritius’s agricultural land is covered with sugar cane, and the island has a long history of processing this cane into sugar…or rum!  A now-defunct sugar refining/processing plant has been turned into a museum, where you can easily spend two to three hours learning all sorts of fascinating things about a food we all take for granted, and honestly, I never gave much thought.  And at the end, you can sample over a dozen different types of sugar (honestly, I had no idea!) in addition to just as many varieties of rum.  Bring a credit card, because you’ll definitely want to take home either some sugar, some rum, or both!

So that wraps up what we’ve experienced so far of Mauritius.  If you visit this country, regardless what you choose to do, be sure and take a camera!

 

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Favorite Film, Favorite Camera

I finally got around to trying something a photographer friend suggested a couple of years ago.  At the time, I was new to film photography and not trying anything too fancy, beyond simply getting the 50, 60, 70-year-old cameras I was finding on eBay to take reasonable pictures (also no small feat).  I had discovered the combination of Kodak Tri-X 400 film and the gritty streets and buildings of Chennai, India combined to produce interesting, grainy black-and-white photos.  Elise suggested it might be fun to “push” the film, but at the time, I was using completely manual cameras and metering by “feel,” and trying to factor in underexposure and overdeveloping (or was it overexposure and underdeveloping?) was too much to handle at once.

Shoe Mobile
Shoes are displayed for sale in an informal, roadside shop in Antananarivo, Madagascar

Since then, I’ve gotten more confident, and more importantly, bought fancier cameras that do some of the work for me (and discovered an iPhone light meter when that doesn’t work).  Tri-X 400 is still my favorite film, and now I’ve acquired a Nikon F100 that has become my favorite camera.  Combining the two seemed like a great opportunity to try pushing the Tri-X.  And I’m happy with how things turned out!

In particular, I like how the breaking waves and ripples of the Indian Ocean turned out.  I don’t normally think of the sea as a good black-and-white subject, but when we were visiting Reunion Island, that’s the film that happened to be in the camera.  So that’s what you shoot.

Wave

Rocks

I like the contrast and the grain.  Though I think in some of the darker parts of the photos, it’s maybe too dark.  I prefer solid, dark blacks, but these blacks feel like I’m losing some detail. This meat stall in Antananarivo, for example.

Meat Market

But in most of the shots, this is not an issue. I didn’t take that many shots of people, but I like how they turned out. Lots of greys, but still grain and dark blacks where they look good.  The two shots below are also from Antananarivo.

BucketLoads of Fun

Laughs

The last two examples have a little bit of a story behind them.  The photo below shows how many – probably the majority – of people in Antananarivo do their laundry.  The lakes and canals have dirty water, but without other options, people can be seen (often on Sundays) doing the family’s wash.  The clothes are spread out on rocks, bushes or grass to dry.  And while my own shirts get bleached and washed in an automatic machine with the water set on hot, I find they are gradually turning gray.  Yet the white clothing I see laying out to dry is often whiter than white, and spotless.  We can’t figure it out.

Laundry Day
Finally, the photo below really confused the vendor.  I had been told that prisoners in Madagascar receive a daily ration of 300 grams of cassava.  It turns out that’s incorrect – it’s actually around 700 grams – not a huge improvement, but different nonetheless.  Anyway, I had been on the lookout for weeks for a cassava vendor with an old-timey scale, to capture what 300 grams looks like.  Through hand gestures and bits of French, we managed to convey that we didn’t want to BUY the cassava, I only wanted to photograph the cassava.  I ended up paying her what the cassava was worth (maybe a quarter dollar) to compensate her for her time.  We wondered as we left what they were saying about us.

Not to Scale

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Kodak T-Max P3200: My First Roll

A notification from 35mmc today with Hamish Gill’s review of Kodak’s re-released P3200 reminded me that I, too, recently shot my first roll of P3200 – I just hadn’t gotten around to sharing my results.  I’m a little bit late to the game, given that the film was re-released in mid-March – but it takes two to three weeks to get film shipped to Madagascar, so there are a few other reviews with which I can compare my results – for example, here and here.

I was (and still am) admittedly a bit confused about exactly what this film is.  I initially thought this was simply a counterpart to Ilford’s Delta 3200, which I’ve recently experimented with.  But Alaris’s website says this film is actually rated 800, and the “P” in P3200 stands for “push.”  So that’s what I decided to do.  My Nikon F100 reads this film as ISO 3200, but it’s ISO 800, so I was unsure whether shooting at 3200 was “pushing” or not.  Comparing the datasheet times and the Massive Development Chart, I opted to shoot it as ISO 1600 and push one stop in development.

Given what I had read about the film, I thought it might be fun to bring this along to South Africa.  We’d be doing a self-drive safari into Addo National Park, entering at 6 am, nearly an hour before sunrise.  It’s supposed to work well in low light, and I thought elephants (textures!), zebras and Cape buffalo at dawn sounded like a fun use of this black and white film.  Results were as expected – super grainy – though about a third of the shots were either slightly overexposed…or out of focus – probably because of camera shake and slow shutter speeds.  I have one more roll, and I plan to go the other direction – pulling one stop.

Kudu

Bull Elephant

Cape Buffalo

Zebra

Baby Elephant

Old Bull

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