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

Yashica 35-ME and a Plustek Scanner

A while back I picked up a Yashica 35-ME (the link is wrong by the way, it’s not a rangefider, it’s zone focused) for very good money in a deal with an Olympus Trip.

It all seemed okay so I took it out in London and shot with it, processed the roll of film….and my scanner broke! Given that it was nudging 10 years old this probably wasn’t surprising. After much thought I decided, rather than get another flatbed I’d go for a proper film scanner and bought a Plustek OpticFilm 8200i SE. So after a hiatus of several weeks, I can now share some of the photos from the Yashica. I dont’ think they’re as good as the ones from the Trip, but for a camera to keep loaded in my pocket they are, as my old dad would have said, good enough for a coal boat.

Hurdy Gurdy Man

My scanner is out of action at the moment, so there is neither any new work nor can I delve into the photos from my past (seeing as most of what I’m sharing at the moment is film based). But we can go back to the distant past of summer 2017 for this photo which I like. It’s shot on Ilford FP4 which I’d have rated at box speed, which frankly in the UK normally means a summer day with lots of sun; I suspect the reason we shoot so much HP5 and Tri-X here, and so many british film youtubers discuss pushing film is the weather. Interestingly though, back in the 70s I remember shooting almost exclusively FP4 and only occasionally going up to HP5. We always remember our younger days as being perpetually sunny, maybe it was true!

I’ve done a bit of online research and the musician is Mike Smith, who is also a painter – here are links to his website, and his Instagram

St James’ Place – Bauhaus of the Cotswolds

Okay, I win the award for Clickbait of the Day on wordpress if such a think exists for that title, but hey we’re all allowed a bit of clickbaiting now and again. Though frankly my readership isn’t the sort to fall for clickbait.

Last year, year before maybe, the financial company St James’ Place (not a sponsored post) demolished an old garage and car dealership and built themselves a swanky new office block in the ultra modern style. I was very exited by this because, well frankly I thought you’d never get to build anything in the Cotswolds if it wasnt’ made of stone effect blocks and somehow resembled something from a remake of a costume drama. I blame ‘A Vision of Britain‘ by HRH, a book which probably has a huge readership in these parts. But build it they did. Well the other day I was out and about with my new Olympus Trip looking for something to photograph with it, and the sun was shining on the SJP building and I thought “It’s like Dessau…” Full disclosure, I’ve never been to Dessau (though I’m hoping to go later this year) but I’ve seen the pictures and something about the SJP building in cirencester made me think of them. So I used up half a roll on it.

I don’t normally do posts with multiple photos, but I’m really pleased with these and wanted to share them. I’m coming to the idea that I’m an urban landscape photographer if I’m going to have a label. I don’t really do well photographing the great outdoors, the majestic views and so forth. I like some sign of human occuapation for my images and I think I produce better work when there is some.

Early Morning; Buscot Weir

This one is just a photo post. Last week I got up early because it was supposed to be sunny all day and I was hoping or spectacular dawn light at Buscot in Oxfordshire which is one of my favourite locations. Well the spectacular light didn’t happen, but I was quite pleased with what did.

These are all taken on my Mamiya 645, shot on Portra 400. Processed and scannned by A G Photolab who do all my colour stuff, and then tweaked in Lightroom.

I was hoping the early light would break right over the old pillbox, and TPE said it would, but the cloud just sat, though there was a faint hint of pink on the horizon. Needless to say, half an hour later when the sun was up the clouds had cleared, but that’s photography for you.

said it would, but the cloud just sat, though there was a faint hint of pink on the horizon. Needless to say, half an hour later when the sun was up the clouds had cleared, but that’s photography for you.

Oh, and yes, I do know there’s a bit of grit or something in my film holder! 🙂

The Go Players

Another photo from my youth this one, I’ve got lots of negatives in thef file, I just need to remember to scan one now and again!

Back in the late 70s or early 80s, at Olympia in London, there used to be held the festival of Mind, Body and Spirit, which was a deeply alternative, or at least tried to be deeply alternative, event for a whole raft of faintly alternative activities. It was never really Alternative with a capital A, the people exhibiting were always rather clean cut (the same could not always be said for those attending), and there was never a hint you were going to be munching a nut burger one minute and on the minibus to Los Angeles the next as somebody I once worked with used to say. But you could go there and find out about lots of and lots of interesting things, eat interesting vegetarian food, and nobody minded you taking photos; none of this ‘you can’t photograph me because my aura will be damaged’ stuff.

It was never all just spiritual practices, as this photo of some people playing Go illustrates. At this time it was really quite unknown in the UK, remember before t’Internet pretty much all this stuff was pretty much unknown in the UK unless you could make it in to London for the bookshops or were lucky enough to have a genunine grow your own sandles wholefood shop in your town. Those were great of course, pity they’re dying out. It’s going to be taken on my Pentax K100 using Ilford HP5, scanned using VueScan and cleaned up in Photoshop. I love their expressions, it’s as though they’re okay but not okay with being photographed, and sort of don’t really know what to do so they’ve just opted to look at the camera, apart from the beared guy who is either contemplating his next move or definitely NOT being photographed.

Wind, Click, Ker-Clunk: Shooting Film

First of all, I’m not going to say anything revelatory about why I shoot film, nor anything which really every content creator on the Internet says about why they shoot film. So spoiler alert, no revelations coming. But I don’t think there is any law which says I can’t add my voice to this one, if there is, then talk to my lawyer, if I had one.

Like most people of my age I started out shooting film, it was the only game in town back then so if you took photos film is what you used. Looking back, oddly, one never thought about the act of shooting film very much, one just did it. Got the roll, opened it, loaded it, shot it. Job done. It was the process of photography. I used to do a bit of monochrome darkroom and there was always magic in that, seeing the image appear in the developer tray from nothing. The almost monastic feeling of being alone in the dark with the smell of the chemicals (always use in a ventilated space my arse). I used to have a pair of cut off jeans I called my painting shorts because they were comfortable in the warm room and I knew I could wipe my hands on the legs without ruining anything. Or maybe it was just an affectation? Who knows.

Then once it became an option I made the move to digital. It was so easy, and as we had small children then it was a godsend, you could take as many photos as you liked and be pretty sure of winding up with ones you were happy to keep. I make no bones, at all, for the value of ‘spray and pray’ photography when you’ve got small children, it’s what you need. Upgraded the camera, shot digital everything, got into Lightroom and was really enjoying my photography.

Then for shit and giggles I shot a roll of film again.

It was so different, for the first time in ages I had no idea what the photo was going to look like. Hell I even stared at the back of the camera reflexively and wondered why there wasn’t a screen. It was a blast, so I did it again, and again. Film began to inhabit the top shelf in the fridge door once more. It was just fun. I acquired a couple of film Canon SLRs from my mother in law who no longer used them, I always shot Pentax before. It’s quite nice to have a camera with which I’ve got no emotional history and which I haven’t had since before I met my wife. I can shove one in my bag when I’m going out and about and not worry about it getting stolen or knocked about.

The word you hear, a lot, among film photographers is ‘tactile’ and that’s really the crux of shooting film. It’s amazingly tactile; even more so if you’ve got a camera without autowind as you thumb the film advance lever to cock the shutter. There is that satisfying mechanical ‘clunk’ as you push the button and the shutter releases. Wind, click, ker-clunk – the sound of film. There is also the fact that with film your photo is a thing, you have to manually load (with a degree of difficulty related to the camera) the roll of film and then every time you take a photo the environment physically reacts with the film surface. It’s not hitting a sensor which writes some data to a memory card which you can (and will) just over-write when you’re done. The image is a physical thing which has altered that frame of film forever. You can’t just over write it and reuse it. That fraction of a second is forever recorded onto the film. At the end of the shoot there’s no just popping the card in and downloading the data stream, you have to take that roll of film and then develop it. Once more the physical medium is forever altered and your image appears, and then when you look at the negative there, in that small square, is that fraction of a second forever frozen in time.

Now, I’m not getting all luddite and dewy eyed over this. I’m not even thinking of giving up digital and going all film. I’d not want to go back to taking n rolls of film away on holiday with me and then trying to get them through the modern X ray equipment without fogging. I love being able to take bracketed insurance exposures of things, and also taking images which aren’t worth taking as photographs but because I’ll know that whenever I look at them I’ll remember being in ‘that’ place and time taking it. With film you’re careful about using your film stock up. I love being able to take out my phone when I see something interesting, photograph it, edit it and upload it to Instagram. Digital lets you do great things and I’m all for that.

But I’m also absolutely going to keep shooting film too

Wendy in Drewstaignton ’79

 

Time for another ‘photos from my past’ post, we’re still in 1979 but we’ve had a camera ‘upgrade’.

This photo was taken in August ’79, in a small village in Devon called Drewstaignton, which is just on the edge of Dartmoor. I was there on a National Trust working holiday, which were then called ‘Acorn Camps’ (they still exist, but are no longer called this) where we spent a week living in the village hall and doing menial jobs on behalf of the trust in the nearby woodland of the Castle Drogo estate. It was great fun when I was 18, probably would be less so now.. The girl in called Wendy, and she came from Yeovil, and oddly enough at the time we looked enough alike to be plausible as fraternal twins.

I’d bought my Pentax K1000 by this time but as it was very new and I was very nervous about taking it out and about (in a way I’d never be with a camera now) I didn’t take it. I took a Russian FED 4 which I picked up cheaply in the now defunct Logan Cameras in Walton centre. I’m pretty sure this was actually one of the only times I actually used the thing because while today they have something of a cult following, it’s actually a bloody pig to use and the rangefinder focussing was always far more a matter of luck than anything! I still have it and periodically think I ought to put a roll of film through it for old time’s sake, and also because now I’d be able to write a blog post about retro camera use. Though over the intervening quarter century the rangefinder focussing appears to have got even less user friendly: possibly as a result of it sitting in the bottom of cupboards…brooding my photographic demise.

As you can see, I still wan’t really much of a photographer. Clearly nobody had told me the Robert Capa dictum about being close enough as I could have taken about 30 paces forwards and still got her all in. Why in retrospect I went for a full body shot at all is a mystery, head and shoulders would have been better if what I wanted was a photo of her. But even full length did I really need so much of the traffic island? I think not. I left the exposure up to the FED’s light meter, I suspect the light wasn’t great but even so I can see it plotting my photographic demise even then. She’s also standing funny, I think now I’d have done something about that too. If anybody reading this knows Wendy Ball (now probably Wendy ‘something else’) late of Yeovil, feel free to re-unite her with this photo…for which she will then probably hunt me down and kill me.

It’s shot on Kodak Kodacolour II and scanned in using the Epson Scan software on a Perfection 3490 flatbed scanner.

Museum of Mankind, ’79

This is what is going to be the first of an occasional series over the coming year which I’m calling ‘Photos of my Past’ in which I’m going to delve into my negative folder, dig out an image I took before the turn of the millennium, scan it, post it and say a bit about it. Hope you enjoy it..

I’m going to kick off with this one of an Aztec skull mask…

Museum of Mankind - Aztec Skull - 79

Okay, so first off it’s not a great photo, in fact it’s not even a mediocre photo. It’s not a photo its best friends could say is okay. So why have I picked this one? Well it’s because it’s from the first sheet of negatives in the file, it’s from ‘film 1’, it’s one of my very first images. I can work out that it was taken in 1978 or 79, almost certainly on a point and shoot Halina camera. I don’t have it any more, I gave to my mate Nick Harvey (who I haven’t seen in decades) once I got my first Pentax as he really enjoyed using it. Not totally sure of the model but this looks very much like I remember it. I bought it in a small camera shop in Walton-on-Thames where I grew up, Logan Cameras was the big camera shop in town but I think it was a bit intimidating to me at the age of 17 or 18 and more or less  buying a camera on a whim. I say camera shop but I remember buying a transistor radio there too….

It’s taken in the Museum of Mankind, which used to house the British Museum Ethnography collections in Burlington Gardens, it’s not there now. It never got a lot of visitors, which may be why it’s not there now, but they did really good exhibitions. They used to create rooms and streets from places in which you could walk around, as well as having great permanent collections. I used to go there loads and take lots of photographs which, frankly, weren’t any better than this one. In my defence, I knew absolutely naff all about photography then, basically I knew what the old bloke in the sort of camera shop had taught me to get things more or less sharp and correctly exposed. This of course, is neither.

It’s shot on Kodacolour II, and I must have been the master or false economy then as pretty much all of the early things in the folder are from 24 exposure rolls rather than 36s. Pretty much certain it would have been processed in Boots, and I’ve found the originally print in one of my ancient albums. It may have a date on the back but it’s one of the ones which held photos by a sort of static cling and I’m worried that if I try to remove the cover sheet it will pull the emulsion off.

Hope you enjoyed this self-indulgent wander down memory lane, if you did there will be more of them over the next year.