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.

Shadows, mainly in the kitchen

Like everybody else with much reduced horizons I’m looking for things to photograph around the house; I am allowed to go for my daily walk, but stopping to take photos is somewhat frowned up as not being in the spirit of the thing. So I’m largely falling back onto my two old standbys of photographing the garden and photographing shadows. One of the nice things about our house is that the west facing windows mean the low, bright, sunshine in the late afternoon often casts amazing shadows…

A Cat Can Always Be Counted Upon for a Descisive Moment


It is a fact universally acknowleged that one of the two main uses for the Internet, a technology which can communicate instantly across the globe, is the sharing of cat photos (the other being starting fights with random strangers). The reason is, I think, more than the fact that moggies tend to be very photogenic…it’s that generally their desicsive moments are less than, well, ‘moments’ and more like descisive hour or twos. Unless of course they are doing something very, very photogenic and you have to go and get a camera, in which case they’ll decide that they need to move just as you set the autofocus point; another reason I suspect for their popularity on Instagram as generally you can grab your phone and get the shot. Which is what I did here, black and white cat, white windowsill: monochrome conversion, who needs it?

Biscuit the Dog, and his Owner

With the new scanner, I can continue my occasional walk down photgraphic memory lane – yes it’s a ‘photos from my past’ post

Oddly enough, this pack of negatives were actually dated, so I can say with confidence this is 1980, and also therefore that it’s taken on my K1000 (though I can remember which camera I used when I took them). If you notice the super hard shadows you can also tell it’s done with flash, which was a more primitive technology then than it is now (also I wasn’t very good at it). They lived a couple of doors down the road and I needed to shoot off the last few frames on a roll of film. I wanted to take some more of her later on but she wasn’t up for sitting. Biscuit was also the first Weimarana dog I ever met, they weren’t as common then, and was a fairly pleasent pooch…though he is one of the only dogs to have bitten me, albite accidentally. The lack of dynamic range, and with photoshop I’ve managed retrieve a lot of dynamic range which gives you an idea of how far out they were, was due to a misreading of the temperature when I processed the film.

Who do I think I am, David Bailey?

If you’re British, and of a certain age, you’ll remember the commercials for the Olympus Trip with Brian Pringle as the wedding photographer and David Bailey as, well, himself. If you don’t remember them, or just want a rip down nostalgia lane, you can see it on here on youtube. I never owned one in the 70s mind you, way out of my price range.

But a while back I found myself thinking of getting a nice film compact camera, something I could put in my pocket. There was also an element of the fact that we’re going to Berlin later this year and I rather liked the idea of shooting film in that most creative of cities, on a vintage camera. Sort of get in touch with Bowie changing popular music, that sort of thing. So when I found myself thinking ‘vintage point and shoot’, well there really was only one camera springing to mind. An Olympus Trip. I checked on eBay and they were consistently available, and I read some online reviews by people who said that a good one really held up well and produced some great photos, almost certainly due to that bit of Zuiko glass at the front. So I started following them and set myself a ceiling price of forty quid and it had to be a decent one. I missed several as they were going for forty plus, and I’m in no time pressure, when somebody advertised one going with a Yashica 35 (for which I also found postive stuff online), so I set a celing of fifty five on the grounds there were two of them and got them for fifty one. The whole thing being made even better by the fact that while they weren’t tested the seller said if they didn’t work he’d take them back for a refund.

Well the box arrived, and the trip wasn’t in good condition, it was pretty much factory new! Not a mark on it, no scuffs, dents, none of that stuff cameras pick up in the process of being used. It felt mechanically okay so I stuck a roll of hp5 in it and saw what it could do. I was blown away, the results were great. The selenium light meter coped admirably with snow, which is a challenge for anything and I got crisp and clean images well on a par with those I get from film SLRs. There wasn’t any flaring, but I checked and the light seals are shot and will need to be replaced. I even went out and got a genunine original skylight filter and a lens cap for it to protect the glass.

Fairford in Snow
Fairford in Snow – taken with the Olympus Trip on HP5 (you really need to leave the edge of the frame when scanning :-))

Okay, so Bailey really used a Rolleiflex for most of his stuff, but he didn’t really care much about the hardware so I can believe he might well have shot with one…well I want to believe he did anyway.

Looking for somebody edgy

I’m a fairly regular, though by no means exclusive, film shooter; of course coming from the pre-digital days what all the hipster types are calling retro I’m just treating as normal. I’m not especially brand loyal, but I do tend to buy HP5 like I did back in the 70s. Side note of course, back in the 70s I mainly bought Kodachrome….all hail Kodachrome….bring it back….pause for nostalgia.

Okay, nostalgia break over and back to the post. I was looking on the Lomography site and found they were offering a film called Berlin Kino 400. Now I’m self-knowing enough to realise that this is buying right into the whole aesthetic of an arty, edgy middle europe, the one in which Bowie re-invented himself and wrote Heroes, in which people created art communes in the shadow of the wall, of students sitting around talking about important things, etc. Heck I know what’s going on here! On top of that the reviews and sample images from people who’ve tried it were positive, and now I can do my own monochrome processing (you did read my blog post on that didn’t you?) it’s more economical and fun. Also, got to admit the packaging is gorgeous (it’s actually a colour pack, but hey, it’s a mono film)!

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So I bit the bullet and ordered 5 rolls of it, I’ve never actually bought film by more than a single before so this was a bit of a first; I have ‘stock’. My wife is very good about not commenting on the erosion of the top shelf in the fridge door to film too..

Well, the thing is of course, I want to use it for, well, photos which have the air of something Bowie might have appeared in while heading to the studio, photos with an edge, perhaps a bit of somewhat run down industrial (I do like a bit of run down industrial). I want to consider the images I want to make, and then go out and make them. I want to look at them and be pleased with them and how they fit in with my vision. But, and there’s a but.

What I really need now is somebody with the right sort of 70s or 80s continental art student edgy look: the Cotswolds is a bit from the Brandenburg Gate for that.

Motor Bike, front end remains – 79

Motor Bike Front End

Should you not have guessed, we’re into ‘photos of my past’ territory again with this one, and I can date it pretty much spot on to 1979. What you’re looking at here is the remains of the front end of a Honda CD175 in blue, which you can’t see in this photo, not a million miles away from this one. It’s in this state after a reasonable speed impact with the front end of a Renault something or other on the Jacob’s Well road near Guildford. This is apparently a well known accident black spot due to it’s tight bends and poor visibility, a fact to which I can heartily testify. Now, to put the record straight, this was totally and entirely my fault, something on which the police had already decided leading to a £60 fine and 3 points on my licence. Luckily I walked away from this, well I walked out of the casualty department which is broadly the same thing, and never got on a motor bike again.

If this is 79 then my guess is that we’re in the first years of the Pentax K100 and I think, from the depth of field on this, that the standard 50mm lens was probably quite far open.  I’m taking a punt on FP4 as that was rather my monochrome film of choice at the time. I rather like the effect of the high contrast monochrome on this with the shiny chrome,  the deep shadows and the pebble dash of my old mum’s kitchen wall in the background. There are actually lots of fun textures in this and what looks like a bit of motion blur on the wall but not on the bike, something I have no idea how I achieved (to label this ‘intentional camera movement’ would be taking ‘stretching the truth’ right out to ‘downright lying’). All in all, I’m rather taken with this image now I’ve re-discovered it after so many years!

The Inspiration Wall is Bare

This does not mean I’m actually devoid of inspiration, well no more devoid than normally I might say.

I have, in the bathroom, where I can see it from the bath, when brushing my teeth or doing other things one might do in the bathroom, two things. One is a calendar and the other is a large cork board. The calendar serves no calendric function whatsoever, it’s there for the images. The ‘rule’, which I imposed on myself, is that the calendar must be purchased from the sale ones left after Christmas from Cirencester Waterstones. This means that the choices isn’t unworkably large but also that it rather self-selects for the less popular ones. Over the years they’ve been varied: Hopper, Vintage Vogue covers, Matisse and Kandinsky. This year it’s monochrome photos of New York, chosen because this year is going to be, for me, the year of monochrome work.

The cork board has pictures from magazines, postcards, packaging, etc which I like and which get pinned up to be inspiring. To be honest, I’m not sure I’ve ever produced work which has been actually inspired by anything on it, but I’ve wanted to. I was looking at it the other day, and thinking it needed a revamp, when I decided that actually what it wanted was clearing off entirely. An Amazon prime order of a couple of old fashioned scrapbooks and a couple of evenings with a pritt stick (and yes, it was a genuine one, none of your own brand imitations) and all the images were transferred to the books and the cork board is now bare, it’s a huge, slightly intimidating, sheet of, well…cork.

Oddly though, while slightly intimidating it is, in itself, actually inspiring. It needs some images, it needs me to start seeing images in magazines and packaging and deciding they’re going to be in line with the whole ‘year of monochrome’ thing. I’m going to need to start seeing different images to put on the board from the ones I’ve done in the past.

So while the inspiration wall is bare, it’s not bare of inspiration.

Dipping a toe into medium format

I’ve spent the last year or so trying to not express an interest in buying a Mamiya 645 a friend of mine wasn’t using. Eventually I bowed to the inevitable and asked if I could borrow it for a while to find out if I liked it. Not only do people still rave about the image quality to be had from the old medium format film cameras, but also let’s face it the 645 was the type of camera I could never have afforded back in the 70s and 80s, so the chance to own one now is pretty damn attractive.

The thing is a beast. The concept of medium is, once you think about it, based around the idea that it’s going to be midway between 35mm and 10″ by 8″, and that’s pretty massive when all is said and done. The lenses are huge (yes, it has a range of lenses) and hand holding it one realises early on requires a steady hand. Automation comes down to a light meter, none of this auto-focus malarky. I spent a fun afternoon putting new batteries in and and reading the manual to work out how to load the 120 roll of HP5 I’d decided would make a good test roll of film (another roll of HP5 and a Portrait 400 are in the fridge). It’s been ages since I had to read the manual to learn how to do something basic on a camera, the entire thing was a voyage into the unknown and was great fun.

So I shot off the roll of film around the garden, using either the onboard light meter, the one on my phone or my Sekonic hand held meter, so I could see how accurate the onboard one was. I realised early on that it needed good light to get the shutter speeds up enough for confident hand holding; the tripod adapter being large enough to dry dock a ship I decided it would be something for another day. So once I’d got to frame 15 it was back to the manual to unload it and off to A.G. Photolab (who are my processors of choice) for developing and scanning.

The image quality is stunning. It’s everything you love about film (I’m assuming that you do love film? everybody loves film! it’s like vinyl for your eyes..). It has the feel of 35mm with crispness and detail. But, people say the depth of field on medium format is small at large apertures, yes it is, it really really really is. No place for sloppy focussing with this puppy I can tell you.

Take a look at this one of our new patio and you’ll see what I mean.

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That’s f/11 at a 250th focussed on the seat. On my cropped frame 450d at f/11 I can pretty much get sharp from here to Timbuktu. In this the fountain is blurred, but just look at how crisp the leaves on the maple are.

And at f3.5 this sunflower photo redefines bokeh

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So the medium format experiment will continue, I’ll be loading up the next roll of HP5 and, equipped with my discoveries from this first roll, I’ll be attempting to make some images I’m pleased with. I think I’ll be breaking out that tripod adapter though.