Svema fn64 and a 40 year old Pentax lens

Okay, so that title is not as punchy as ‘four weddings and a funeral’, I admit it. But it does accurately explain the post content. Does what it says on the film can and all that.

A few months back I bought two rolls of Svema fn64 from Analogue Wonderland to try out because it was different and a bit of a new line: and the blue package is quite nice, though that wasn’t really something which influenced my descision. I popped it in the fridge for when I felt like using it. In retrospect that wasn’t a great idea, because I hadn’t read the warnings about light piping with this film on the webpage of the Film Photography Project who supply this film to Analogue Wonderland. As an aside, I have to wonder why the FPP supply this film in translucent containers under the circumstances, putting it in opaque ones might be more user friendly? So several months in the door of our fridge being opened in our nice light kitchen wasn’t a great choice as we shall see.

Well, the UK plunged into lockdown, and the school where I work closed leaving me working at home, but with more free time and energy. Normally I walk about 10k steps every day at work, and with both going down the shop to get bread and needing to go out for a walk every day, I decided that I was going to do a couple of photography projects. The first was that for my Instagram I was going to take a mono abstract photo every day (inspired by this interesting video about Maarten Rots on Sean Tucker’s Youtube). I also decided that when I was out and about I was going to take a camera and shoot film every day, and as I was working on my monochrome skills I’d shoot only mono film seeing as how I had some in the fridge of various kinds. The weather has been bright and sunny so I thought a good time to try out the 64 ISO Svema (‘bright’, ‘sunny’, see ‘light piping’ above).

I decided that if I was going analogue I was going to go proper analogue and shoot on my Pentax MX with the the 50mm Pentax f2 lens which I bought with my K1000 in 1979 (calm down, it’s the K mount one, not one of the semi mythical Super Takumars). I’d been watching Daniel Milnor on using on a 50mm lens so you learn how to shoot with it, this lockdown does mean I watch a lot of photography Youtube, so I’d made my choice. Mono film, vintage 50mm lens. There was a slight added wrinkle in that I’d picked up a 50mm Yashica f1.9 lens in a charity shop for which I had a converter so I did shoot a few frames with that. Very interesting effects, definitely the ‘vintage lens’ look, however I’m not sure the stop down is working properly with the MX shutter as the exposures were signficantly off, so no more using that one till I sort that.

I shot the first roll and developed it, as per massive dev, in Rodinal 1:25. Actually it’s not Rodinal itself it’s a Rodinal clone, nature identical Rodinal as one might say. First impressions were that the film is physically nice to handle, I sure I read somebody somewhere say they worried about it tearing but I didn’t find it fragile, or feel as though it might be. The film dried as flat as my normal Fomapan does….and then I noticed that somehow the negatives didn’t look ‘right’, my first impression was that they were quite dark, but it was ISO64 and maybe I’d tended to overexpose a bit. Once I scanned them I found they were a bit on the overexposed side, but I liked the results, they had that quality to them which is the reason for shooting film on 40 year old lenses in the first place. If they were pin sharp and with massive dynamic range you might as well shoot digital. So here are some from that first roll.

Now, if you look at the long edge of each frame you’ll notice that it’s a bit paler, a bit more overexposed, as though a beam of light had shone along the edges of the film. In a strange way I quite, sort of like the effect, but I’d rather this had been an effect over which I had control. The two images of the tumbledown shed and the river are with the Yashica lens, the other two are the Pentax one.

So I attempted to learn my lesson a bit and when I wanted to let the film warm up I took it out of the translucent container and put it in a plain black one. Then loaded it quick and out of the light. Shot the film off, all with the Pentax lens and repeated the Rodinal 1:25 development. This time a number of the frames at the leader end were blown out entirely, and the rest also had the light margins. But again in a lot of cases I quite liked the effect and I do like the way the images look. With the clarity pushed up in lightroom the structure of things like wood and bark come out really nicely. I’m really pleased with the one of the bridge and the one of the bench, and the way the film has handled the scene.

So what’s my take home thoughts after this experient with Svema, and this rather longer than normal blog post? Overall I liked it, and I enjoyed shooting with it. I’d like to experiment more with it, maybe try different developers, or shoot it through a more modern film camera with a newer lens. For me though the problem is that in the UK there is a not inconsiderable price premium on this film: a 24 exposure roll is over twice as much as a 36 of FP4 or Foma 100. I’d love to shoot more with it, but really I can’t justfy the cost though I’d buy some if it turned up short dated or discounted (or if Analogue Wonderland or the FPP gave me some, hint, if you’re reading this…). I’d say it’s definitely a film to have a go with if you’re into trying something new and worth the cost of a roll to see if you like it.

Just read that article on light-piping first.

Morocco Revisited – tis done

It’s taken a while but finally I’ve sorted, selected, scanned and sequenced the photos from our 1988 trip to Morocco. It’s been a fun project in which I’ve found the images are so different in many ways to the machine processed enprints (remember when they were called enprints?) from SuperSnaps then. I’d say about 75% of this final selection had been in my original sort, while the remainder were ones I’d discounted at the time; in some cases I’m just not sure why. I’ve captioned where I ‘believe’ they are, but if anybody wants to correct me then feel free in the comments: I’m not precious about this…

One thing which is notiable is that the colours are often more punchy, even without processing on the scans and the dynamic range is greater – apart from the baker who still has that huge sinister black pit of an oven next to him. I also noticed differences between rolls which must be down to processing as while they all (there are 8 in total) were bought at the same time and place and so must be out of the same batch, were processed at intervals. The film is almost certainly Kodak Gold 200, though I can’t prove this it was very much a goto film at that time for me and the photos would have been taken on a Pentax K1000 with the 50mm Pentax lens and a Super Paragon 135mm telephoto.

From what I’ve seen in videos now, Morocco in 2020 is a different place to Morocco in 1988, so these are in some ways an historical document!

So, here you are now

Back in the USSR

I’ve been scanning a few more of the frames from the old film / even older Fed photoshoot and I’m wondering if maybe I was a bit harsh on the old comrade because, while some are frankly dire a couple of them are really quite nice once I accept them for what they are. I particularly liked this one of the plants, the muted colours I think really work and the focus is as close to there as it’s reasonable to expect. I possibly could improve things with a bit more lightroom tweaking but I think I like it just as it is

There’s also a bit of me which suspects that my lack of familiarity with the rangefinder focussing might be an issue too here. The nice hard edges to the leaves in this do provide a decent focus target and the light is good (the rangefinder patch on the FED isn’t that big or that bright, especially with my older eyesight). I’ve also given it a really good clean up to see if that improves the focussing possiblities, though of course another solution would be to get to be a better judge of distance against aperture and just trust to that rather than the focussing spot.

This one I thought worked well too, though it’s had more added clarity to bring out the details. One thing I can’t decided is wether the colour shifts are a feature of the way the lens deals with the colour, or if that film was in some way past it’s best. I didn’t buy it and have no idea of it’s provenance prior to my having it. The only other roll I ever shot with the FED, when it was new, was the one this image came from (it featured in a past blog post) which while the colour isn’t perfect lacks the extreme desaturation seen in the one from this year, the trees behind her are definitely a brighter green.

A significant part of me wants to persevere with the FED, or at least try another roll or two through it. Definitely some monochrome, something with some contrast and another roll of my certain colour to satisfy my curiousity about whether it’s the film or the camera. I also want to see if improving my focussing skills with the rangefinder improves the sharpness of the images or if they’re always just going to be a wee bit blurred. But there’s also a bit of me which rather thinks that this product of the former soviet union just deserves to be used..

(Incidentally, while writing this article I discovered for the first time that the name FED are the initials of Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky, first head of the Soviet Secret Police – now how’s that for a camera pedigree!)

The Russians are Coming..

Well, the film from my test shoot with my aging FED IV is back from the process lab. On the plus side there is something on every frame…that’s sort of it really. I’ve taken a look at a couple on the scanner and this one is so far the best.

So, being positive, it’s got that vintage feel which many people spend a fortune on presets attempting to achieve and much of it is almost sharp. Straight out of the scanner it was badly lacking contrast and the colour rendition wasn’t great but Lightroom has put some of that back into the image, and actually I kind of like that muted, slightly desaturated pallette. The biggest problem with some of the others is that they’re way off sharp, however I’m not used to a rangefinder, and as some are sharp(ish) that might be me having problems using it. Amazingly, the exposure isn’t far off, which suprises me as I had doubts about that shutter speed accuracy. I’m definitely going to explore some of the other images with the scanner, and I think I’m going to put more film through it; possibly a fairly contrasty monochrome…

A Photoshoot doomed by technology (possibly)

I’ve just sent off for processing a roll of film on which, frankly, I’ll be astounded if there is anything worth looking at. Any failures I shall, justifiably I think, lay directly at the door of the equipment!

First, the film. A while back my son’s girlfriend came to visit the UK (she’s Dutch) and for fun picked up an old Olympus Trip to try out. She’d never shot film in her life, I forget that lots of people have never shot film, when did I get old? Anyway, to cut a long story (and roll of film) short she’d not made sure the film was tight and it had wound itself so loosely round the takup spool it had popped the back off the camera. I took one look at the, by now, fogged mess, took it out of the camera and loaded a fresh roll of film from the fridge. I was just going to bin the damaged roll but thought that by my guestimate there were probably about about twentyish shots left on the roll. Seemed a pity to waste it so I trimmed a new leader and put it in the fridge on the grounds it was going to come in handy one day..maybe…

Now the camera. In 1979 I bought a FED IV, which were of course new and shiny (if the FED was ever ‘new and shiny) in 1979 as a backup camera for my K1000. I shot a roll of film with it to try it out and discovered that the K1000 was so reliable that I never needed a backup camera. The fact that I still shoot the K1000 now and again demonstrates that. The photos from the FED were, well, okay. It’s sat in various cupboards as we’ve moved house ever since and I sort of felt that I’d quite like to give it a spin again. I have a dark suspicion that I might have at some stage checked it was working mechanically and forgot the golden rule of the soviet rangefinder…never set the shutter speed without cocking the shutter first. Whatever, it felt a bit rough.

So I put the two together, the half(ish) roll of possibly slightly fogged film into a camera which hasn’t seen any film in 4 decades – what can possibly go wrong? Well in a few days I’ll let you know when it comes back from A G Photolab.

I decided not to spend the extra on the optional scanning….

Oh, that’s an old copy of Black and White Photography from 2004. Somebody I know donated me a bag of old issues from the loft. You’ve not missed an issue!

Five Photos of a Woman Drummer

A few weeks ago I was walking down Oxford St, heading towards Paddington, when I heard amazing drumming; on getting closer it became apparent that it was a young woman seriously getting her groove on. I headed over for a closer look and then realised that not only was it great drumming, it was a great photo opportunity. Check out her Instagram @ladybananamusic

I was shooting Kodak Ultramax 400 on my old Pentax MX, but it was a really sunny day so I managed to shoot at 1/500 or 1/1000 to freeze (more or less) the action. I really like the way these turned out, and while I didn’t see the bystanders when I was shooting, but they make a couple of these images.

Delta 3200

I’ve had a couple of rolls of Delta 3200 which I got from a friend in the fridge for a while, there’s going to be a chance for some city centre evening photography coming up this weekend so I thought I’d break it out. Expiry date of 2004 so I’m going to rate it at 1600, which is the highest ISO my Pentax MX can take. Coupled with the f2 widest apature on the vintage 50mm I bought in 1978 (or maybe the 2.8 22mm of the same vintage, not decided yet) I reckon I could be in with a chance of getting something at least…

I prophesy grain like marbles though!