One Last Trip – “Lemur Island”

Given today’s justifiable flak surrounding the keeping of pet lemurs or the existence of lemur “petting zoos” that rely on capturing lemurs from the wild, Madagascar’s “Lemur Island” (officially “Vakona Private Reserve”) near Andasibe-Mantadia National Park is seen by some as controversial. The reserve consists of several different islands (lemurs don’t cross water) criss-crossed with canals, and each island houses a small group of lemurs rescued from pet or captive situations. The animals can’t live on their own in the wild, and their density is too high for the islands without augmenting their food. So tourists help pay the bills.

This reserve also gets a bad rap because some species of lemurs, already quite trusting of humans, have gotten quite aggressive and will jump on visitors to get at bananas and other fruit. Which has made some of them a bit chubby. But while some species are difficult to keep in captivity, all of the lemurs at this attraction are pretty hardy types, and among the more common of Madagascar’s 107-ish species of lemurs – some of which are endangered or threatened.

So on our final trip in Madagascar, we decided to make one more stop at the popular tourist attraction. You can buy tickets at Vakona Forest Lodge, near lemur island in the southern edge of Andasibe-Mantadia National Park. We first visited this place in 2012 with our kids, back when we had no idea we’d end up living in Madagascar for three years (2016-2019). Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to do a full visit of the national park – if you are reading this as travel advice, we strongly encourage you to visit for 2-3 days and see the lemurs in the wild, hear the indri’s call, and do a night walk to see some of the smaller wildlife and nocturnal lemurs. In the meantime, here’s a short clip of what you can expect to see/experience on Lemur Island:

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Off the Beaten Path in Vatomandry, Madagascar

You could live in Madagascar – for as long as three years – and have trouble getting to see all of the on the beaten path things there are to see in that country–in fact, that’s what I just did, and I can confirm this. But for one of my final posts on traveling in Madagascar, I’d like to share one of the places we visited in Madagascar that’s off the beaten path.

Vatomandry is roughly on the midpoint of the east coast of Madagascar. It sits on national road 11a, between the smallish towns of Mahanoro and Brickaville, each with less than 50,000 inhabitants. The road is sometimes good, sometimes completely covered in potholes. But traffic is pretty sparse and it’s a pleasant trip as long as you keep a watch for the potholes.

Vatomandry sits astride the Pangalanes canal, a series of waterways, lakes and canals that stretches 645 km along Madagascar’s eastern coast. While the actual canal runs west of the town, an inland waterway about 300 meters wide runs to the east of the town, separating the town from a thin band of land approximately the same width.

it is on that thin band of land that Ms. Jeanine and her husband decided to retire some years ago. I suppose things got a little too quiet, and so they decided to build a handful of bungalows to house guests. They have two brick-and-mortar units, each with a couple of bedrooms, and a half-dozen smaller units modeled after traditional family homes, made of locally-harvested building materials and thatch roofs.

The facilities are a bit rustic – don’t look for a hot shower or multiple outlets to charge all your devices – but it’s clean and comfortable…and absolutely quiet. Some of the local women are employed to prepare fresh meals – which were excellent, and more than we could eat. There’s no need for shoes, and if you walk east (away from the mainland) about 50 meters from the house, you see the open sea across an expansive beach that extends in both directions. When it gets dark, there’s not much to do but go to sleep, and you wake up again when the sun comes up, rested and refreshed.

If you’d like to stay here – it costs 120,000 ariary (about 35 dollars) plus a bit for meals (30,000, or $8, to include dinner and breakfast) and tips – you can give Jeanine a call at (+261) (0)34 94 787 81. If you’ve got your own car, they’ll have you park it at the Shell station on the mainland, and someone will get your suitcases and paddle you across the water in a traditional pirogue. You’ll find less expensive places to stay, but they won’t be anywhere as nice or as charming as this one. And Jeanine loves to chat, and speaks a bit of English for those who are French-challenged.

Be sure and bring mosquito repellent if you go. The breeze keeps them away much of the time, but once things quiet down you’ll be grateful you did.

We ran into a French couple there who were visiting the place for the second time in as many years. They said the peace and quiet was exactly what they had been looking for, and they planned to stay in one of the traditional huts the following year. Asked where they were headed next, they answered, “We have no idea.” 

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Testing Kentmere 400 Film

I’m not sure why I’ve never really heard of this film – most online discussion refers to it as a “cheaper” film produced by Ilford Photo, but I was quite impressed.

Paying Attention in Class

I found the tones and the grain very pleasant, and found the results nicely balanced despite having shot both day and night, indoor, outdoor, and with and without flash.

I received a roll of this in the 2017 Emulsive Santa gift exchange, and it’s sat in my freezer for nearly a year. In December 2018 I took it along in my Nikon F100 on a trip to New Orleans and carried it along well after dark in the French Quarter.

Entertainer Double Portrait Singer

About half the night shots came out blurry. I didn’t use the flash a whole lot, and I simply wasn’t holding the camera still enough. But I like the balanced results – you can tell it’s night, but you don’t see a lot of noise or crushed blacks like I’ve seen in other films.

At the other extreme, daytime shots in sunlight were equally balanced. I tend to prefer a bit more contrast, but I think that’s something I’ve subconsciously absorbed from looking at too many post-Lightroom digital shots where people have slid the ‘clarity’ and ‘detail’ sliders too far to the right. Once I successfuly fought the urge to push the contrast slider to the right, I found the grays grew on me – and this is how black and white exposures should look, I think.

Motorcycle Gang Royal Enfield Family Photo

A little online research reveals that Kentmere 400 (and 100) are indeed among the cheapest films available – less even than the Arista EDU I like to use when I’m testing a camera’s functionality. And aside from a bit less sharpness than I’ve seen in some other black and white films (I actually find the fuzziness pleasant) I don’t really see why I should be paying double for higher end films, as a hobbyist – and even as a professional, depending on the effect I’m looking for. Will definitely check this out again!

Taking a Load Off
Grandmother takes a load off and soaks her feet in the cool laundry while holding her grandchild. Antananarivo, Madagascar.
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Locust Swarm in Madagascar

Shortly after arriving in Madagascar a few years ago, we watched the BBC’s Planet Earth II episode in which a film crew found it amazingly difficult to track down a swarm containing more than a billion of the tiny, destructive creatures. Apparently, it can be surprisingly difficult to find and film them. We had also seen footage, prior to coming here, of the swarms that occurred when locust populations exploded in 2013. But, thankfully – given the impact they can have on already-meager crop yields in parts of the country – we had not seen any since our arrival; it seems international organizations are working with the authorities to keep them in check.

But we were returning from Madagascar’s Isalo National Park, some four hours by road from Toliara, on the island country’s southeast coast, when we spotted several large swarms along the Route Nationale 7. They were nowhere near as large as those filmed on Planet Earth II, but they nonetheless made an expression. We pulled over to the side of the road, and I quickly launched my drone to get (and film) a closer look.

Needless to say, a number of the insects were caught by the drone’s propeller blades and I had a cleanup job later. I also had trouble with the drone’s obstacle avoidance system – it kept braking because locusts were flying in front of its sensors – but I was happy to get a decent amount of footage from inside the swarm itself.

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Camera Review: the Pho-Tak Traveler 120

Pho-Tak Traveler 120
The Pho-Tak Traveler 120

Never heard of the Pho-Tak Corporation and the cameras they manufactured around 1948-1950 in Chicago? Neither had I, until I unwrapped this Christmas gift from my daughter, who sparked my interest in vintage cameras about 6 years ago.

It’s a solid little tank of a camera, made almost entirely of metal, with a worn black leather strap on top that tends to flop in front of the viewfinder at inopportune times. It takes eight 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 inch exposures on a roll of 120 film through it’s fixed focus lens and single blade shutter that offers either 1/50 second or “time” exposures. It apparently cost $6.95 back in 1950, but I’m sure it costs a bit more nowadays, pretty much wherever you can find it. On eBay, expect to pay anywhere from $15 to $40 for this 70-year-old camera.

Fun fact about this camera: some of this type were manufactured with the word “time” printed to the left of the word “Traveler,” making this, for some, the “Time Traveler” 120. Mine is not one of those, but arguably shooting with one of these cameras is still traveling in time.

Pho-Tak Traveler 120

It’s a simple camera, really – much like most other box cameras. No aperture or focus settings, just a switch for 1/50 second or “time” exposures, a shutter button, and a film winder. There are inputs for a flash, but I’m guessing you’ll be hard pressed to find one of those, much less put it into actual use. So this is a camera you’ll want to use outside in bright sun. I took mine out for a test run in New Orleans after I found a shop selling overpriced Tri-X 400 and Fuji 400H film. I bought one roll of each.

the Quarter
French Quarter, New Orleans, Christmas 2018

With color film, the results were mixed. The camera is a bit bulky and heavy to carry around, but the leather strap is handy as long as you move it from in front of the viewfinder when you shoot. But the results were generally sharp and well-exposed at 1/50s. Unfortunately, I realized partway through the roll that the little red plastic window was no longer attached where it belongs and I used my thumb to block bright sunlight as much as I could, but was not always successful.

Blue Bicycle

The other issue I had, clearly visible in the image above, was that the film didn’t advance smoothly, and it seems that forcing the film to advance caused it to scrape across the rollers so that the emulsion was scratched – not much in the beginning, but increasingly as I worked my way through the roll.

New Orleans
Murals on the streets of New Orleans

In a number of the photos – both black and white – the film appeared to loosen in the camera, causing the bottom (and sometimes the top) of the exposure to be not-quite-straight, requiring cropping.

Posing in Front of Trains

The black and white photos were much better. I took care to tape the red plastic window in place and I didn’t have any more scratching of the emulsion. Nearly all the pictures turned out – even in low light (may be more a testament to the film than the camera) and at closer distances.

Test photos taken with a Pho-Tak Traveler 120.  New Orleans, Christmas 2018.
Mural in an alley in the French Quarter of New Orleans
Flower Boxes
Window boxes, New Orleans
Street view from a small restaurant in New Orleans

View from a Cafe

Verdict: This camera is virtually indestructible – apparently except for the plastic window protecting the film from light leaks. A bit chunky and bulky but as long as the film moves freely, seems to take reliably good photos. If nothing else, it will definitely start conversations.

Thanks to my daughter for passing along this unique “time traveler” of a camera. As I take more photos with this camera, they’ll show up here.

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Ektachrome Returns!

I followed with interest the hype surrounding the re-release by Kodak Alaris of Ektachrome 100 slide film, announced in early 2017, after having been completely phased out by 2013. Honestly, initially I wasn’t that interested, but as time wore on I become more intrigued as to what the slide film might offer. When the long-awaited and long-delayed release finally happened on September 25, 2018, I was ready, having pre-ordered from Freestyle Photo.

Quite possibly the first rebooted Ektachrome to arrive in Madagascar. Oct 26, 2018.

Unlike many photographers out there who have reviewed the film, I suffer from logistical delays. My film shipped on September 26, and arrived weeks later. But this film wasn’t cheap, so I waited for the right opportunity to shoot it, over the course of December. And then shipped it off to Blue Moon Camera in Portland, because E6 chemicals only appear to be available in liquid form, meaning I can’t get it in Madagascar.

I grew up in the 70s, and I remember adults shooting slide film. I remember the jokes about being invited to look at others’ vacation slides. But I never shot slide film myself. So I was curious what was so special about it – other than the fact that it’s positive film, not negative.

A condemned storefront in New Orleans, Louisiana
W Hotel
The W Hotel in the French Quarter of New Orleans

When the film arrived in late January, neatly framed in slide frames just like I had seen growing up, holding the slides up to the light, I was impressed by the bright colors. None of the faded colors I sometimes see with underexposed negative film – I always feel like I need to process the scans with software to make them “pop” – in the case of these slides, every single photo was as bright and as vibrant as I remembered from the day I had taken the photos.

New Orleans’ French Quarter at night, Christmas 2018
Jazz Club in New Orleans

I was especially impressed with the night shots – even the ones that were blurred because the shutter was forced to stay open too long. Blacks were black, neon was bright and crisp, not blown out – and there was none of the noise and grain that so often disappoints when I shoot color (or black and white) film at night and I think, “it seems like there’s probably enough light, I’ll just risk it.” And firing the flash did the trick – no blur, and none of the overdone highlights like I often get with negative film.

Same scene as above, but with flash

I chuckle as I think of folks from my parent’s generation, who have been trying for years to figure out what to do with their slides, and wishing there were a cheap service to convert them all to digital. Because now I have two 36-exposure rolls of slides, neatly mounted in frames and stored in transparent sheets. And unlike the previous generation, I have no projector for them, no idea where to get one, and even if I did, I can’t imagine the reaction I’d get if I invited friends to come and “look at our vacation slides.”

Preferred Candidate
Rajoelina supporters just ahead of Madagascar’s 2018 election
Two Girls
Malagasy Girls

So what should we look forward to from the Ektachrome re-release? Can we expect a resurgence of slide projectors (currently only available from eBay and other vintage resellers)? What are people going to do with their slides?

My dog Storm

One thing is for sure – the consistent, bright colors offered by Ektachrome aren’t offered by any other film on the market today. Unfortunately, it costs over $12 per roll, and then there’s the development cost if you haven’t invested in the chemicals. And you end up with a product that takes up space but has to be scanned back to digital if you want to share it.


So what’s the point?

I don’t know – there are a lot of “cons” – but regardless, Kodak Alaris is gearing up to release Ektachrome in medium and large format sizes. And I have no idea what I’md do with it once developed, but I’m looking forward to ordering some as soon as it is!

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Rice Harvest in Antananarivo

After three years living in Antananarivo, you gradually stop noticing the things that you found so fascinating and unique about this city as a newcomer.

Antananarivo is a city of 1.5 million people. It has a downtown – an older, French-looking “haute ville” (high city) – cobblestone roads running along, over, and under the hills that characterize this central highlands capital of Madagascar.


The low areas between the hills are filled with the accumulation of centuries – millenia – of silt that has run down with the seasonal rains. Raised digues – or earthen dikes – crisscross the low-lying areas, along with traffic arteries. They separate the rice fields, and also serve as earthen roadways. Others have been widened and paved over, and 1970s Renault and Citroen taxis, big Mercedes “bush taxis” and SUVs operated by government officials and expats move in stop-and-go traffic, while in the rice fields below, people living on a few dollars a day continue planting and harvesting rice as they have for generations. Running or biking through these areas, you feel like you’re in rural Madagascar – yet you’re in the middle of an African capital. And after awhile, it doesn’t seem all that unusual anymore.

Village in the Middle of the City

Many days when we head to work, the morning light is amazing. A yellow-orange light hangs over endless bright green rice fields that stretch into the distance, interspersed with areas of reflective water that reflect that light, the occasional egret fishing for minnows.

But every January, the race is on to harvest all of that rice.

Many of Madagascar’s people can trace their roots to Borneo. Much of their culture and traditions comes from that part of the world, to include architecture, rice cultivation, and the worship of the ancestors and their ways. Consequently, even though it may not make economic sense to an outsider, Malagasy people insist on growing rice when it might be more practical to grow other crops, and sell that to purchase rice. Planting and harvesting often appears inefficient, labor intensive, and wasteful, but it’s how the ancestors did it. And the city of Antananarivo accomodates the practice by operating locks and waterways in such a way as to flood and drain the rice fields in accordance with the needs of the growers.

En Route

After nearly three years in country, we decided to spend a day taking a closer look at the rice harvest in Antananarivo. Throughout the rice fields, small groups of people can be seen heading out early in the morning carrying small scythes, tarps, bundles of rice straw, and a 50-gallon drum or similar item. Around 8 am the work begins.

Cutting the Rice Cutting the Rice

The workers deftly cut handfuls of rice using scythes, dropping the chest-deep rice grass where it is cut. Behind them, others wander into the knee-deep water carrying bundles of dried rice straw, and they drop them in the water, where they float. We watch, wondering what the dried bundles are for, and we finally realize they are pulling individual pieces of rice straw from each dried bundle, and using those to tie the freshly-harvested rice into bundles of wet rice straw.

Some of them stretch out a tarp on the water, which inexplicably floats as they toss the freshly tied bundles onto it. In other locations, pirogues are used to gather the rice and take it to the digue pathways, where they are piled up for the next step in the process.

Boatload of Rice

Up on the raised trails that crisscross the rice paddies, others are preparing for those next steps. Tarps are spread out across the full width of the path, and a 50-gallon-drum or something along those lines (we saw a wide variety of implements – main thing is it needs to be about the size of a drum, and not too heavy to carry from miles away) is rolled to the center of the path.

Morning Steam

Bundles of rice, either just collected from the paddies or stacked the previous day, are then individually beaten on the drum (or other implement). The people doing the work are typically wearing some sort of apron and often also have a piece of plastic to protect their hands, because once this part of the process begins, rice starts flying everywhere, and it can sting.


Bear in mind that these digues also serve as roads of sorts. They are used by people to get from village to village – not only on foot, but by bicycle, by zebu cart, occasionally a small Renault, and in our case, by motorcycle. The tarps cover the entire expanse of the raised pathway, and you feel a bit odd walking – or driving – over what is essentially these peoples’ food, but they will cheerfully pause what they are doing and wave you through.

Zebu Cart

After the rice is “beaten” from the grass, the grains, still in their woody hulls, are collected in 50kg rice bags. Later, they will need to be spread out to dry – over the coming weeks, we’ll see rice hulls spread along roadways, sidewalks, in the middle of roundabouts…. Once it’s dry, flat trays will be used to toss the rice in the air so that the wind catches the lighter hulls and blows them away. These are in turn collected and used as fuel for the brick kilns that wil follow in the coming months. And the straw? The straw is immediately tossed aside, but will be spread on, and next to the roadways, and once dry, will be collected in piles to be used as feed for the zebus. Nothing is wasted.

Well, sort of. To be honest, a lot of rice is wasted.

As an aside, the footage above was captured with my newest toy/gadget, the DJI Osmo Pocket.
You should check it out.

As outsiders, one thing we ask ourselves is why the Malagasy insist on using such a labor-intensive and frankly wasteful method to harvest the rice. As you can see from the video, rice is literally flying everywhere – into the canal, off the tarp…in the villages there are chickens eating it almost as soon as it is harvested. Much rice remains on the plant and is discarded. So much rice is wasted that later in the year, on these pathways, the rice will start to poke out of the ground like a new lawn.

We wonder why there are not more entrepreneurs using hand-portable rice mills. Or industrial rice mills, which will capture a much higher percentage of the rice that has been painstakingly planted by hand months before, in exchange for a small “fee” – say, 5% of the harvest. Or why they even grow rice in the first place, when it’s relatively cheap, compared to other products. But we remind ourselves that we’re outsiders, and many of the mysteries of rice growing that were brought from distant Borneo as much as two millennia ago are simply not known to us “vazaha.” Maybe they’re not known to the Malagasy either – some will tell us, “the ancestors also didn’t know why they did it this way, but they did it anyway.”

But that’s how the rice gets harvested in Antananarivo.

Photo by Alex Cottin
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Great News: Jerome is Learning English and Coding!

Way back in 2016 when I was still new to Madagascar, Anne and I saw an online notice that a crowdfunding initiative on the eastern coast of the country was looking for a photographer and a videographer to produce a crowdfunding video and associated imagery to support a project (at the time still unnamed) to teach young Malagasy people English and coding skills.  If successful, this project would potentially have a huge positive impact on the lives of hundreds of young, talented Malagasy people.

A few years have gone by and thanks to a lot of hard work by Onja founder Sam Lucas and innumerable volunteers who have supported his dream, and tens of thousands of dollars in pledges and donations, the first wave of 30 students in this innovative program have started in their quest to become Africa’s next top coders!

Supporting this project was an amazing adventure for us.  I blogged about this amazing experience here, here and here, if you’re interested.  But if you recall the video I created in collaboration with Sam (who taught this retired U.S. Army PSYOP officer a thing or two about appealing to millenials), we centered the appeal around a charismatic young fellow named Jerome.

Jerome was the highest scorer in Sam’s aptitude test, administered in a number of remote villages, but we caught up with him after several days’ travel just as he was heading out to a religious retreat with all of his friends.  He selflessly decided to stay back from his retreat and help us with our crowdfunding video, and since then I’ve often wondered if things ended up working out for Jerome and his mom, who was singlehandedly trying to raise her kids the best she could.

Well it turns out that Jerome is a part of this first cohort – he’s on the far right, second row from the back in the grey shirt.  We plan to make a trip to the coast when we can to see how things are going for the group, who now face the challenge of achieving English fluency in the next 12 months.  We’re told Jerome has done quite well so far, and we hope that along with his 29 classmates, he’ll be able to make a difference in the well-being of his family and his community.

If you think this is a great project (we do!) please consider supporting it financially.  They can’t do this without your help.

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Swimming with Whale Sharks in Madagascar

Check another item off the bucket list:  in November, we made it to Nosy Be to see the whale sharks – considered endangered by some – feeding on the plankton that “bloom” there the same time every year.  This capped off an amazing year in Madagascar – just a month prior, we managed to get out to Ile Sainte Marie to see the whales that come there every year to give birth to their young.

Whale sharks are the world’s largest fish, and the largest non-cetacean (whale) animal in the world, measuring up to nearly 13 meters (40 feet) in length and up to 20 tons, though larger (non-verified) exemplars have been reported.  The whale sharks off the coast of northwestern Madagascar, near the island of Nosy Be, are allegedly smaller than those found in the open sea, but when you’re in the water with an animal whose mouth is easily four feet wide, such distinctions become academic.

I didn’t really know much about whale sharks when we set out to find them, and I was curious how people manage to spot them, given that they don’t spend a lot of time leaping out of the water like the whales we had seen in October.  Our host at the Coco-Komba lodge (on the island of Nosy Komba) explained to us that it’s just a matter of finding the “birds that dive”; the “fish that jump”; and, of course, all of the other boats containing tourists that swarm around any sighting.  And fortunately, since we were only scheduled to be there three days, the first morning he would be able to take us out personally on his own boat – without any other tourists!

The next morning, we had a leisurely breakfast and Patrick, our host, equipped us with fins, snorkels, and a picnic lunch and, together with his first mate, we launched out in search of the world’s largest fish.

Once we were a few miles out, it didn’t take long to see what Patrick had been talking about.  We came to a series of places where the sea birds were frantically diving into the water while footlong bonitos and yellowfin tuna leaped out of the water constantly, creating a churning area of water about 30 meters across.  Thankfully, there were never any other boats swarming around these sites.  And after a few different such areas, Patrick finally spotted the gaping mouth of a whale shark poking above the surface, where the shark was skimming the orange plankton that formed a film on the surface and clouded the water…and so he shut off the motors and told us, “go, go go!”  Armed with GoPro cameras, we slid into the water, minimizing the splash to avoid spooking the fish.  And here’s what we saw:

It was an amazing morning – between 8 am and noon, we must have seen a two dozen of these amazing animals, called “marokintana,” or “many stars” in Malagasy, for the pattern of white dots that cover everything but their bellies.  Most of the time, they would ignore us, lazily moving through the water while scores of other fish – basically a floating mini-ecosystem – accompanied them.  A few times I’d lose track of the shark in the murky water and come to the surface, where I’d be even more disoriented due to the fish jumping and sea birds diving all around me.  “He’s right behind you!” they would shout from the boat.  Once, I came to the surface and asked Patrick, “Um, there appear to be ‘normal’ sharks in the water with the whale shark – should I be concerned?”

The next day, our host was busy with other guests, and so he arranged for us to go with a local operator specializing in whale shark spotting.  We joined 6 or 7 other tourists and spent hours looking for the fish, but only managed to spot a few juvenile sharks that dived as we entered the water.  We noticed that they didn’t appear to be accompanied by the other fish we had seen the day prior.  Eventually, the operator gave up, and we found a place where others had reported manta ray spottings.  We swam around for a bit, and eventually we started spotting the rays 10-15 meters below the surface as they “flew” through the ocean waters below.

From whale shark watching, we continued to Nosy Sakatia, to an area where green sea turtles are known to feed on the sea grass in waters.  We swam with half a dozen or so of these amazing sea reptiles before heading back to the lodge.

Madagascar has been wonderful, not only in terms of the people we have met, but also in terms of its flora and fauna, much of which is not found anywhere else in the world.  Green sea turtles and whale sharks can be found elsewhere, but Nosy Be and the small islands that surround it are one of the prime locations to see both of these animals up close, and so our bucket least was just shortened by a couple of items.  I highly encourage you to do the same – every year in November.  While supplies last.

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…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.


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.


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:


Mt Shasta

Allegheny Cemetery 2010 #1

Update (March 2019): I’ve run another roll of film through the camera, this time color (Fuji 400H) and the results are much better. I’m still getting a bit of the odd “ghosting” on a few images. I suspect there is still a small light leak somewhere. But this time the camera gave me different problems: after five (and a half) frames, I could no longer advance the film. I also discovered that if you let this one get dusty on a shelf, it’s good to clean the mirror in the viewfinder with a Q-tip. It’s open so it can fold flat when the camera is closed, and dust can build up on it, preventing you from framing your image properly.

This one is probably going to spend a fair amount of time on the shelf in the future, given the problems I’ve had with it. Still quite amazing photos for a 100-year-old camera though!

Old Car
old car in a village north of Antananarivo, Madagascar.
Students from the American School work with local kids in a vulnerable community in Antananarivo
Anjezika, Antananarivo
Motorcycle Riders
Evidence of a light leak, top left. Still nice colors otherwise.
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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  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

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.


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.



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.




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


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.


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.


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.


….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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.

Posted in film processing, Photography, general, Vintage cameras | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.


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




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?


Phones for Sale


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.




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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