Art Hike: A walk through history

I love being outdoors, it's one of my favourite things to do - there's really no substitute for a day spent tramping across open fields, walking amidst the trees and drinking in the views from the top of a just crested hill.

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Earlier this summer i joined 'art hike' for a creative stroll through history and an opportunity to combine my love of art, nature and history.

I would highly recommend you check out Art Hike if any of the above is of interest to you - it's an informal get together organised by my friends Robin & Adele. For this latest one apprx 20 people came out for this walk all creative minded folks with an interest in art and the outdoors - it was great to meet everyone and I'll definitely be going on further expeditions with them! For more details about Art Hike check out their fb page HERE

For this particular walk the group was led by local chap Adrian who has a passion for the pre-history of the area and shared his knowledge and thoughts with us on the neolithic peoples who once strode this landscape, and how even today we can catch a glimpse of their world - if we have eyes to see it.

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I too have a keen interest in this phase of human history - the landscape around Huddersfield is so rich with features that our ancient ancestors would've recognised and made use of that it's easy to get carried away imagining how they would've looked in times past, there are three topographical features which really stick out (literally) in the geography, history and phsychology of Huddersfield these are (most prominently) Castle Hill and (less well know but more mysterious) are the twin high points of Shooters nab and West nab - these three sites are quite clearly visible to/from one another. There is archeological evidence of neolithic occupation at all three sites - but our understanding of what our ancient forebears were up to is fairly limited.

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Castle Hill is a remarkable feature and it makes it's presence known on the landscape - it's history is ancient going back at least 4,000 years having at one time being a hill fort, enclosure and later a Norman castle - the pub that used to stand atop the hill was much missed (especially after a long walk) but the hill still plays host to a Victorian folly which is open to the public and I have some photos from that on another roll of film so we;ll see how that turns out! There's more info on Castle Hill to be found HERE. For me it's certainly been a much visited place but it was great to hear Adrians stories and get more details about how unique a feature it is and how unusual the hill fort is - i knew it was special but had no idea just how much!

 West Nab on the left and Shooters nab on the right - enclosing Meltham Moor in between

West Nab on the left and Shooters nab on the right - enclosing Meltham Moor in between

West Nab is a firm favourite place of mine to visit - a rocky outcrop with clear signs of human activity in the shape of carvings and bowls cut from the rock, the summit appears to consist of a collapsed ancient burial mound - so little is known about the site and the people's who left these reminders of their passing though, the aptly named shooters nab is not open to the public thanks to the shooting range from which it takes it's name.

The two nabs form a cradle shaped feature which is visible from pretty much anywhere in Huddersfield (although to my shame i was blind to it for many years) but once my interest was 'peaked' (groan) I couldn't take my eyes from it!

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Our route took us from the top of Castle Hill down to 'Deadmans Stone' and then up through the mills of Armitage Bridge and a woodland track into Mag Wood, here we walked on towards Netherron bank where I was amazed at how much visible evidence of prehistoric earthworks remain on the ground - albeit very slight traces and without Adrian's guidance I would have walked straight over them!

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We walked back through beautiful woodland and along the edge of famland and traces of more modern human activity...

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More recent stone structures abound, from wonky field boundaries to this half submerged stone circle of unknown date (probs about a week old)

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Walking back up to Castle Hill we bravely ventured through the tunnel off doom.....

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Emerging safe into the bright sunlight and a pleasant (but steep) hike up the hill

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A side of Castle Hill I hadn't seen before - open fields and scatterd tress across the lower slopes of the hill... This image of the tree is possibly my fav from the whole roll and a candidate for wet printing in the darkroom I think :)

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Returning at last to our point of origin :)
A wonderful summers day walking and talking with likeminded folks, I can't think of a better way to spend a sunny sunday afternoon! I shot these on my trusty Olympus OM2n with a 28mm lens and an orange filter which helps to accentuate the contrast and in bright conditions helps retain details in the clouds as you can see! The film was Rollei Retro 80S which is one of my favourite emulsions, smooth and contrasty - i developed this roll at home in Bellini Foto 'Eco Film Developer'

There are more photos from this walk waiting to emerge from their photochromatic slumber so stay tuned for more pictures in pt2!

Pentax 645 medium format camera review: My new favourite portrait camera

Some cameras attract your attention because of their sleek industrial design others with their classic style and charm - the Pentax 645 is not one of those cameras!

 Seen here lurking in it's natural environment -the pentax 645 sneaks up on an unsuspecting roll of Fuji pro 400H.....

Seen here lurking in it's natural environment -the pentax 645 sneaks up on an unsuspecting roll of Fuji pro 400H.....

At first glance the Pentax 645 looks like a big plastic box with a lens sticking out of the front and at second glance it also looks like a big plastic box with a lens sticking out the front, but hey this ain't a beauty contest! it's a camera and a bloody awesome one too! in fact (and yes I know that I say this a lot) it's my new fave camera and i really, really,really-really-really mean it this time, honest.... no, really....

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I think I've reached that point in my film camera tomfoolery where I'm looking for my cameras to do different things or have specific purposes - I've shot loads of different cameras so I can speak with some experience that most 35mm film SLR cameras are a variation on a theme - they have various control layouts/feature sets etc but ultimately they are much of a muchness so whilst I am thinning out my collection of 35mm film cameras which all do pretty much the same thing I am also expanding the collection to include cameras which do things a little bit differently - and therefore in my warped Gear Acquisition Syndrome afflicted brain I can be justified in purchasing...the Pentax 645 which is a medium format film camera and it's amazing, let me introduce you..

The first thing that is obvious is what era this camera hails from - this thing is so 80's it hurts!! the buttons and the chunky design are total give aways and i love it!! despite it's brick like subtlety the 645 is actually very ergonomic and I love the button placement, there are loads of hokey reviews out there on the net talking about all sorts of nonsense about this camera like the viewfinder being dim (it's not - it's VERY bright and HUGE) and there is an even larger amount of claptrap out there about the shutter being VERY LOUD (it's not.... yeah you can hear it but it's not THAT bad) what else... oh yeah people complain about the button placement, for me this is just not an issue at all....this thing is so easy to shoot with!! it has a full range of shutter priority, aperture priority and full manual modes (there are also people out there claiming that the 645 doesn't have a full manual mode, erm yes it does)..... the great thing about all these crap reviews and internet forums recylcing this duff info about the camera is that nobody wants to buy it - so it's CHEAP!!! like REALLY cheap!! hurray!

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These cameras are not particularly common in the UK these days so I imported mine from Japan and even with shipping and Her Majesty's rip off merchants at UK customs it was still a good deal! If you think you want a Pentax 645 then buy one - you will not be dissapointed! Mine came with the standard 75mm 2.8 lens attached already and I very quickly added a 150mm 3.5 lens too - the pentax 645 glass is AMAZING! it's a totally manual focus system and that's the way (a ha a ha) I like it! very smooth focussing action and a lovely bright viewfinder to nail focus - Love it!!

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Above you can see my set up - the Pentax 645 itself sporting the 150mm lens, a spare film back which can be preloaded with film making it much easier in the field to load a new film, a light meter which I've just started using to help nail exposure and of course a few rolls of film - the 645 is a bulky beast, but it's not mega heavy, I use my Joby slingstrap with it and I've carried around for a few hours at a time during a shoot with no bothers.

Anyway enough with the camera review stuff - I don't shoot film just so I can review cameras, in fact the real reason I shoot film is in no small part becuase as a photographer what I like to do is take photographs!! yes i know! crazy! what I mean is I'd like to spend a little more time on the photograph taking side and a little less on the sitting in front of the computer editing side of the euqation - I fully believe that editing and processing is an important part of the photographic process but with film it's a much more hands on process, film also gives you some constraints to work within and I like that too, oh and it looks flipping awesome too - did i mention that already?

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Anyway for someone who is trying to reduce the amount of camera review waffling I don't half bang on about cameras - let's call it a work in progress, now let's talk about the photos instead though shall we? These images were created on a modelshoot with the amazingly talented Pandora Belle - for the shoot we took a walk in the woods on a bright sunny day just outside Bradford in a place called Judy Woods, a beautiful setting with soft light filtered through the trees, the bluebells were in full swing and Pandora suggested a goth look which I think works great in this setting. Over the moon with how these turned out - this is how I want to work from now on, spend more time being much more intentional about visualising the shot and getting the compostion and exposure right during the shoot so that the images look how I imagined right off the bat - beautiful!

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I've been wanting to incorporate film into my professional work for some time now - in particular for portraits, but to do that i first needed to build some experience of shooting portraits on film and at the same time build my portfolio in that direction so i have something to show people, this is where working with models on a TF (Time For) basis is a great option as it helps us both build our portfolios so it's mutually beneficial - it's also a good creative outlet and you can test out new ideas (like shooting with film) without the pressure of a paying client.

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These images were shot on Fuji pro 400H film and wow!! I love how they look - i intentionally overexposed the film which is a way of creating a more light and airy feel to the images and I think it's worked great, what this means is I rate the film as 200 speed so in effect treating it as though it requires twice the amount of light and voila! amazing tones and lovely feel to the photos - I did next to nothing with the scans I got back from Exposure Film Lab because to my eye they look exactly how I'd envisioned things, fantastic stuff :)

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Exposure Film Lab did such a great job of developing and scanning the film - it was my first time using these guys but I have to say they did a wonderful job and I cannot recommend them highly enough, and also a huge thank you to Pandora Belle for working with me on this shoot - she's a very creative and talented model and I'm sure we'll work together again soon!

 

Learning how to make Darkroom Prints

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As I've become more involved with film photography over recent years I've come to appreciate and value working with a tengible substance - a film negative. I find the challenge of working with a physical substance requires a different thought process and approach than working on digital there's the lack of an immediate opportunity to see if you got 'it' so you need to be more careful about your lighting and compostion but also I can't just hit delete and start again like I can with digital not only does this slow my creative process down it makes me much more intentional when I do (eventually) press the shutter button.

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So if you're such a big fan of actual factual 'things' then why the flipping heck don't you print more of your work I hear you cry! great question!! I am the first to admit that I don't print enough of my photographic work - film or digital! In fact I hardly print any of it! In this digital age the vast majority of photographs I've shot in either format are just floating around on the web somewhere or hidden away on hard drives or filed away in actual files in the case of negatives - probably never to see the light of day! Worse than that, in the case of my digital files - if I wait too long they might NEVER see the light of day.

Have you tried extracting files off a zip drive lately? what about a floppy disk?remember them? Where is technology going to be in 5 or 10 years time? Who knows what kind of electronic storage devices we'll all be using in the future and even if I can access them, data routinely gets corrupted and is lost for all time. But a 35mm negative is here with us in the real world! A different proposition entirely! My interest in film photography as tangible 'thing' is a combination of the challenge of working with a finitie, physical substance and there are literally physical limits to how far I can push this physical 'thing' to achieve my creative intentions (this is a good erm 'thing' - note to self, stop saying thing now)

OK so we get it, negatives are physical things (aaargh) and this is interesting to you, but then you just scan them into the computer so....what's that all about? Exactly my point!! A film negative is a finished article in waiting - it's a halfway point a pre-photograph, these days most people digitise their negatives to complete them but then we're back in the realm of electronic ephemera again, originally the negative was a halfway point on it's journey to becoming a photographic print and I want some of my film negatives to finally reach that destination!

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I've been wanting to learn how to make proper darkroom prints of my work for aaaages and a recent BIG birthday presented the perfect opportunity to do so (thanks mom)! I found a course being run by Dave Butcher a master printer who worked for Ilford and was trained by them in darkroom printing techniques, Dave is also a professional photographer too and his work is A-mazing! You can check out Dave's work here http://www.davebutcher.co.uk and also the oodles of resources and guides on darkroom printing he has created too by visiting http://www.darkroomdave.com if you are so inclined then I can heartily recommend Dave's Darkroom workshop, it was an awesome experience! I would like to say a huge thank you to Dave and his wife Jan for making feel so welcome during the course, it was fantastic and I cannot recommend it enough! :)

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I won't try to explain the finder details of how to use a darkroom becasue a: there are a few steps involved and b: there are load of resources out there that explain the basic steps including Dave's websites linked above - suffice it to say that I spent the day at Dave's house being shown how to use all of the darkroom kit and process invovled to create black and white prints of my negatives - I took a selection of some of my fav images and I was away!! The process itself is remarkably straight forward although there is a significant amount of kit and caboodle required to enable all this - Dave is a fantastic teacher and it was great to be able to learn from someone with such a depth of knowledge on the subject, of course I am only scratching the surface and just at the beginning of this journey, what I discovered is that with the right kit, some knowledge and a bit of practice you can make decent prints and be happy - but then spend an entire lifetime learning how to make GREAT prints!!

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I was over the moon to leave my first day in the darkroom with these prints to show for it! the detail, sharpness and tone of images that until now I had only viewed on a screen blew me away - I chose a selection of travel, street and architectural images along with a couple of shots of my little boy (had to be done) it was difficult to choose a small selection! but what now? surely you need a load of kit and space to set this kind of thing up right? well - yes, but not as much as you'd think and fortunately I was very lucky to have been given a complete set of darkroom equipment a few years ago which has been patiently waiting in the loft for just this very occasion!!

So here it is! my very own darkroom enlarger which i got along with a box full of bits and bobs that actually make sense to me now I've been on the course - before which I was really not sure what I was looking at TBH!

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So there we have it - a thouroughly enjoyable experience! I am intrigued at how different our experience of photographic prints is to viewing images digitally on a screen - ever been round to someones house and they get the family photo album out? how does that compare to viewing some images on a screen? no value judgements here (ok well maybe some) but it's just different isn't it? our emotional response is different it's a tactile, tangible physical experience - we respond, relate and react differently to it as a medium - and this is fascinating to me, why haven't I been printing my photos more you ask, well that's about to change - big time!

Semi stand developing black and white 35mm film at home

A how to develop 35mm film at home blog has been at the back of my mind for flipping ages so here it is at last! I wanted to share the process invovled for developing your own black and white negatives at home using basic equipment and to show the steps involved.

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A few years ago I was very fortunate to have been able to purchase a job lot of home developing equipment for the absolute bargain price of £25 which had belonged to a local photographer who had very sadly passed away - in fact when I went to collect the film developing kit I was also given enough equipment to set up my own darkroom (which i fully intend to do when i have the space)! I am very grateful to have been given this kit and will treasure it always by continuing to put it to the use it was originally intended. :)

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The kit to develop your own film at home is as follows:

1: Developing Tank - with reels to load the film on

2: Change Bag

3: Chemicals - Film Developer, Stop bath and Fixer (I'll explain more about these in a minute)

4: Measuring Jugs to pour out and mix the chemicals

5: Thermometers to control temperature of your chemicals

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And basically that's it! Oh and somewhere preferably with running water in which to conduct this alchemy - for me the bathroom is best.

So we've got our kit together, the process involved is as follows:

1: Load film onto the reel and seal up the developing tank (this bit has to take place in the dark, I use the changing bag which I'll explain later - it takes some getting used to but if I can do it then anyone can)!

2: pour in the developer and leave for a specified amount of time - sometimes giving it a spin every couple of minutes and other times leaving it alone altogther depending on the particular developing technique you want to use

3: pour out the developer and pour in the stop bath - this stops the developer from doing anything else then pour out the stop bath (you can re-use this)

4: pour in the fixing solution

So in effect what you are doing is mixing all of the chemicals up, soaking the film in the developing tank in the developing solution for an alloted amount of time, then washing it in a 'stop bath' to stop the development and finally a fixing solution to 'fix' the image onto the negative - it's a very hands on tactile process and I'll try to explain it without making it sound complicated!

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This being the 21st century as per usual there is an app which comes in very handy when considering all of this - for reasons best known to themselves it's called the 'Digital Truth' Massive Film Developing Chart the digital truth part sounds a bit odd when we're dealing with an analogue film but hey who am I to question these things?! whatever, it's a resource of 1000's of film types and developer combinations and it can work out the correct developing time for the outcome that you want - you see that's an element of the creative control you have, want more contrast? OK well we're going to have to agitate the developing tank in a particular way to achieve that you can see more about the Massive Development Chart HERE

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The app works great on my iphone and as you can see here it gives me the times for each element of the process - simples! You can also create your own timings and this is one that i did for this particular process which is a 1 hour semi stand development in Rodinal film developer.

Now there are loads of different techniques for developing films so there's loads to go at, one technique which I think I've mentioned before in a previous blog HERE is called Semi Stand Development and it's a beautifully simple way of developing - basically you pour your developer into the tank, give it one or two turns to mix things up and then leave it for 30 mins, give it another spin and leave for another 30 mins and you're done.... there's an even more simple method called Stand Development in which you don't even bother with the spin at the 30 minutes mark! but I prefer to give it that one or two spins just to make sure that the chemicals aren't getting spent and we get a nice even finish.... anyway it works really well with slower speed films of around 100 ISO and below and as with all things in life there are compromises to the simple developing process that it tends to average out shadow and highlight areas and it does bring out the film grain although personally I love film grain so that doesnt bother me!

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Developing your own film might sound a bit complicated but actually it's fairly straight forward - albeit a bit technical process - there's a ton of information out there on the internet to help guide you, I'll put some links in a little later for good places to get you started.

Developing my own film is a whole other aspect of film photography and the creative process that I really enjoy and one which gives you another layer of control over the final outcome of the image. The films in question are Fomapan 200 and Berger Pancro 400  - Foma is a relatively cheap film but I really like it, it's got a classic black and white film 'look' to it which appeals to my eye, the Berger film is brand new on to the market so I was very excited to shoot this - I'll let you into a secret now, I messed up this roll of film and got no images from it :( it's sod's law that the one time I decide to document the development process is the only time in the 3 or 4 years I've been shooting film that this happens but hey ho! that's film photography for ya I guess! I'll go into how I managed to cock it up so spectacularly later (completely operater error i might add, I am sure Beger Pancro 400 is a lovely film, we'll just have to wait for another day to see it)!

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The snazzy device on the left of the pic above is a film extractor - it pulls the film back out of the canister so i can load it on to the reel. In the image below you can see the changing bag which is a light tight erm... bag... you place the developing tank, the reel, the film and a pair of scissors in the bag and zip it closed, then stick your arms in the two arm holes at the top and you then have to load your film on to the reel, wind it on, cut it free from the canister and then load it into the developing tank and seal it shut... all without being able to see what your hands are doing as it's inside the bag! it's a bit of a head twister at first but you soon get the hang of it!!

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The sharp eyed amongst you will notice that that's a roll of medium format film not 35mm in the bag - these pics were taken seperately to the films I'm talking about today but it was only when putting this blog together that i realised i didn't take any pics of me loading the foma or berger film in the changing bag...anyway you get the idea, film in bag, load it in the dark, bobs yer uncle!

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So we've got our film loaded in to the developing tank - i usually pour in some water at 20 degrees C so that the film is at the same temp as the chemicals (temperature control is important - especially with a stand development process) - above I've got my developer, stop and fixer ready - handily labelled so I don't confuse myself! ADOX Adonal is a lovely developer - i bought mine from my favourite film supplies shop NT Photo Services check them out HERE

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I also use a washing up bowl which i fill up with water of the requisite temperate and stand my developing tank in that whilst it's developing as another means of controling the temperature (it's important)!

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After I've followed all the steps outlined above it's time to wash the film and look at the results.....

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... And there you can see on the left I have a lovely set of negatives developed and on the right.... nothing... nada... bollox! the one time i decide to document my film developing process is the one (and only time) i have a problem :( turns out that i messed up loading the film into the camera - it didn't catch on the take up spool so when I was taking photos the film wasn't being exposed... hence blank roll of film! IDIOT!

So after hanging up the film to dry, i scan the negatives into the computer and here are the results! I'm pleased with how the Foma turned out - some examples below

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A key thing with Semi Stand Development is that you can develop different speed films at the same time! 100 speed, 50 speed 400 speed?? stick them all in the same tank if you have the room - your timings, dilution and process will remain the same, sure the final effect varis depending on different factors but you'll get a solid image

A final note to say that all of these photos were taken with my much loved Olympus OM2n camera with a 28mm f2.8 Zuiko lens - a winning combo for travel/being out and about!

 

Nikon FE Review

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I have been on the look out to join the Nikon film camera gang for ages - it's a proper gang with hats and handshakes and everything - and now I have! Welcome the Nikon FE!! Is this another case of Gear Acquistion Syndrome you ask? yes, probably! Does this camera do anything special that my other 35mm SLR's don't? no. not really? do I love it anyway? Damn straight I do!! here's why!

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So upon handling the camera the first thing you notice is the build quality it's really well put together, feels solid and the mechanical components feel smooth and sounds great (the all important shutter 'schtick' noise is present and correct) but obviously you'd expect that since back in the day Nikon were undisputed purveyors of quality cameras.

In fact (at least initially anyway) the only fly in the ointment is the lens - or should i say the action of the lens, coming from a line up of OM and Pentax cameras I have to say that at first glance the basic Nikkor 50mm 1.8 lens didn't pass muster with me in terms of the focus ring which manages to feel loose and notchy all at the same time and makes fine focussing a bit of a faff to be honest.... I've gotten more used to it having shot a few rolls of film with it now so perhaps it just takes a bit of getting used to, the flip side of this is that now all my OM and Pentax lenses feel a bit stiff! (will the madness never end)?!!! :P

I'll have to see how I go with this lens though it is more likley is that my copy has seen one too many turns and is literally a bit worse for wear - it's ok to use but it doesn't exactly scream 'quality' when you're using it, and achieving fine focus is a bit of a chore twisting the focus ring back and forth so I'm now actively on the look out for it's posher older brother the 50mm 1.4

 A juicy red apple is nice, but not every apple is red..... super sharp shooter Nikkor 50mm 1.8

A juicy red apple is nice, but not every apple is red..... super sharp shooter Nikkor 50mm 1.8

You cannot argue with the quality of the optics on the 50mm 1.8 thought - seriously very good! The next couple of images were taken on a short walk around my village - the people's republic of Slawit, shot on Lomography 400 Colour film, unfortunately some of the frames have what appears to be a light leak across one side with a band of blue ish light affecting the image, bit of a pain really, or maybe that'sa special 'Lomo' feature for the film!! I'll change the light seals and see if there's an improvement - otherwise I like the Lomo 400 film it's a cheap alternative colour film, in fact I'm going to be shooting a LOT more colour film as I've been totally focussing on Black and White for ages and feel like a change. The weird thing is that I don't think it's the camera as the roll of HP5 i shot doesn't have any of these issues - ah the joys of shooting 40 year old cameras I guess, comes with the territory!

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Focus ring faffing aside shooting with the FE is otherwise great, the controls are well placed (although at the risk of offending my new Nikon gang mates) I still prefer the OM2n layout - being able to control aperture and shutter with one hand whilst not taking your eye away from the viewfinder is a dream! again - it's probably just my technique having grown accustomed to the Olympus 'way'

These next three images were shot on Kodak Portra 400 with my recently added Series E 100mm 2,8 lens and I have to say that I love this combination! the lens was very cheap for how well it performs and of course Portra 400 is a fantastic film to play with, I took it for a spin around Huddersfield town centre and also grabbed a portrait of my friend Marco too.

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My Nikon FE is in great condition - it's clearly been used over the years with a bit of brassing and the odd dent/scrape here and there but in my experience that's a good sign! Mechanically the FE is smooth as silk and runs really well, whenever I've bought cosmetically 'mint' cameras they can often have internal issues as the reason they are 'mint' is they've sat in uncle nobheads cupboard since 1972 and never had a roll of film put through them, it's usually much better to have a camera that has been used as intended although it may have picked up a bit of battle damage along the way.

I bought mine from West Yorkshire Cameras - a big thank you to Howard and Hattie for being super helpful and for running such an awesome shop, if you're ever in Leeds I highly recommend a visit!

The following black and white images were a good test of the Nikkor 50mm 1.8 focussing whilst trying to get my little boy to sit still for half a second (an impossible task)! I shot HP5 rated at 800 and developed semi stand in Rodinal and I'm really happy with how they came out, the 50mm 1.8 lens really is very sharp and contrasty so I can forgive it's wobbly focussing!

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So in short I flippin love this camera, it's very well put together, the lenses are sharp and contrasty just the way I like! I'm now on the look out for some more of the legendary Nikon glass to put in front of the FE so watch this space as the next few blogs are likley to be all about those!

In the meantime if you've enjoyed today's blog post why not subscribe to the blog and get updates on new posts - see you next time! :)

Guest blogging - Emulsive and World on Film

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Just a quick post today to basically say YAY and Hurray as I share the news that I am appearing as a guest contributor/blogger/waffler on the amazing film photography website Emulsive! here's a link to my first article and hopefully the first of many more to come -a huge thank you EM from Emulsive for accepting me into the fold, it's a great website with loads of fantastic images and stories from around the wold so I am mighty pleased to join their ranks :)  Take a look HERE

You'll recognise the images from a street shooting trip to Leeds last summer with a Rollei 35S and some Rollei Retro 400S film.

And double yay becuase I've also been featuured in World on Film which you can see HERE a this one was another street shooting advenutre to wildest Sheffield! huge thank you to Stephen at World on Film - it's a greta resource with some amazing photographers sharing their stories and I am delighted to be part of that! More to come!

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Fear not - I'll be back very soon with more Camera, Lens and film review goings on and also an update on some of my recent commercial projects too that help pay for all this film photography tomfoolery!

 

The Ineffable Pathos of Ruin....

I flipping love a good ruin, don't you? I also love hiking and film photography - if you like those things too then today's blog will be right up your street, or path or moorland, whatever - you're in the right place!

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Raistrick Greave is an ancient derelict farmhouse atop Heptonstall Moor in West Yorkshire - these photos were taken on a walk in 2017 but the roll of film has been languishing in the fridge since then (i keep film in the fridge - it's a thing, honest) but no longer, the images have been awoken from their icy slumber to tell the tale of the haunted ruins of... RAISTRICK GREAVE!!! (que thunder sound effects and scary music)!

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Not only do I love a good ruin but I flipping love an open moorland too, the seemingly endless expanse of sky and undulating sea of grass - I can't resist the urge to stick my walking boots on and head for the horizon, which sounds like a really polite way of telling someone to bugger off doesn't it?! These photos were taken on one of my all to infrequent jaunts out into the wilds, on this occasion accompanied by my mate Dom who had discovered the ruined farm house on a previous walk and suggested we take a look.

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On the approach to the site the first traces of human occupation appear - the remains of rough stone walls sunken into the ground tracing the boundary of what must have once been grazing or even farm land but is now very definitely open moor - this just adds to the sense of dereliction and dissaray.

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It is difficult to obtain much detail about the history of the place except for it's name Rasitrick Greave and that it was (obviously) a farm house - when I say difficult to obtain I don't mean that the information is hidden away behind myriad booby traps in an Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom kind of way, just that having spent, ooh... litreally minutes on google I couldn't find anything - anyway myself and my esteemed Colleague Mr. Dominic Ranson Esq reckoned it to be 17th Century ish and that's good enough for me - alternative suggestions are welcomed!

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Looking back at the photos now It's difficult not to get into a reflective mood -  this was once a home, build to withstand the elements and provide shelter and warmth, a place to live! People lived here, the buildings were... alive....host to all the mundanities of daily life, the hustle and bustle, the highs and lows, the births and the deaths....but now fallen silent, deprived of the one thing that brought them meaning - life! Home now only to the wind whistling through the cracks in the wall

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I wonder how many people sat around that hearth warming themselves by the fire after a hard days work in the fields,how many times did they sit at the window and take in the views, what were there hopes, dreams and aspirations? All that's left are these tumbledown stones, monuments to forlorn hope. I wonder if in a few hundred years enough will remain of my own home for some itinerant soul to ponder....

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I'm feeling far too reflective to bang on about the film gear used to create these images suffice it to say that they were shot on Rollei Retro 80S on my trusty Olympus OM2n and developed in Adonal which has once again prove itself to be a great means of creating images with contrast, depth and sharpness.

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Shooting 35mm film in the studio

Using film in the studio is a really enjoyable experience, I was fortunate to be asked to second shoot my friend and fellow Photographer Ruth's fashion shoot in her studio a while back and had the opportunity to grab a few shots of very awesome model, Zivvy. All of the black and white shots were taken on Fuji Acros 100 film on a Canon EOS 3 camera, all the colour images on a Canon 6D DSLR.

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I love working in the studio - it's a real treat, most of the time I shoot on location which requires some flexibility in your approach to allow for all sorts of variables in lighting and the general randomness that comes from shooting on location (although that is part of the fun)! However in the studio YOU are in full control!  In these images there are three studio strobes - one either side and another overhead, with a fourth light providing a backlight to the white background so there's a lot to take into consideration, it's an exercise in balancing and shaping light to achieve a certain effect depending on the look you're trying to achieve. I take no credit for coming up with the concept or the lighting arrangements for this shoot - that was all Ruth!

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It can take a while to get your lighting and composition worked out even when using a digital camera with the benefit of being able to instantly review  your shot, the process becomes slightly more protracted when using film, which is why I recommend using a combined approach - shoot film AND digital!

Back in the day photographers would often use a polaroid camera (or back for their medium format camera) to assess how the light was falling on their subject, polaroid is still available but it's expensive stuff, you can also get flash meters but they're not cheap either so I used my Canon 6D DSLR to meter the shots and judge the lighting - think of it as a digital polaroid! :)

  Zivvy, Gav and Ruth reviewing the mood board and deciding on final styling

Zivvy, Gav and Ruth reviewing the mood board and deciding on final styling

As second shooter I took some behind the scenes photos on my 6D as Ruth, Zivvy and Gav the Hair Stylist did their thing - I really enjoy shooting candid, reportage images like this as it shows the hard work that goes in to making the final images - it's normal to spend a long time getting ready for even a simple shot and it's all part of the creative process that often gets missed out, behind the scenes shooting allows you to tell that story.

  Zivvy trying out some vintage bling

Zivvy trying out some vintage bling

The key to a successful model shoot is not lighting, or kit it's....wait for it.... team work! Your ability to communicate, collaborate and ultimately create with the stylist, model, hair and make up artist is fundamental, I was fortunate in that Ruth had put together a great team and concept (and also put her make up skills to good use), Zivvy is a very talented model and the hair stylist Gav was also awesome, having a good team of people working together towards a shared goal is much more important that a whizzbang camera or lens or whatever (although of course they're nice to have too) ;)

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In order to integrate my digital and film sets ups when working in the studio I used a Canon EOS3 which has exactly the same mounts, inputs as the 6D so i could use the same lenses and flash triggers switching between film and digital as required, nice and simple it's no good spending ages faffing about trying to get ancient film gear to talk to modern studio lighting whilst the model, Hair and MUA, stylist et al are waiting for me to figure it all out, I like to shoot quickly and keep the energy going as I think this translates to the final images so having a fully integrated set up is a real bonus.

All of the black and white images you see here are Fuji Acros 100 35mm film which I semi stand developed myself in Adonal (on reflection probably not the best developer/process for the job as it's known to bring out the grain of the film and Acros is renowned for being smooth - next time I'll use something else)! I love the high contrast though!

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After the shoot I had a couple of frames left so I used them up around the studio.....

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Fuji Acros 100 is a lovely film, I kind of wish I'd been more patient and bought some more appropriate developer/used a more appropriate process but I was impatient to see the final images! Don't get me wrong though I love the images and am very happy with them I just think that a developer like Xtol or D76 would've made for a smoother finish perhaps - oh well! live and learn!

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Of course I wasn't just metering with the 6D - I enjoy digital photography very very much also, here are a few of my digital shots...

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So that's it then - I hope you've enjoyed this latest blog post. I'm really looking forward to working with a combination of film and digital cameras in the studio again soon :)

Rollei 35S review - shooting from the hip!

Today we'll be getting to grips with the Rollei 35 S pictured here with a 50p next to it for scale (50p being the internationally recognised unit of scale) and really just to make the point that this thing is TINY!! I mean really tiny.... look at it.... next to the 50p and everything... tichy...

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I was VERY fortunate to have been gifted this camera by a friend of a friend and I am very grateful especially so since I absoltuely love this camera!! At first glance I thought it might be something special and whilst I hadn't heard of a Rollei 35S before I was familar with the brand Rollei as they manufactured the legendary series of 'Rollei-flex' cameras and also some of my favourite 35mm film Rollei 80S (they really like the designation 'S' don't they)? which i have banged on about in a previous blog post HERE so I had high hopes for this camera - and a after bit of googling I was pleasantly surprised to learn that this is a very highly regarded piece of kit. Even without the internet's say so it's apparent from the build quality - this thing is very solidly built and feels well put together with the body being mostly metal, although still fairly light.

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The other thing I noticed on closer inspection was the lens - a 40mm f2.8 'sonnar' lens.... again this is something i have heard of, Sonnar being the designation of a Zeiss lens design... Zeiss being the name of the supremo German lens manufacturer who are basically super awesome....so in short this thing is 1: tiny, 2: VERY well built and 3: has a super sharp lens on the front of it.... that my friends is a win, win, win!!

In practice the control and use of this camera is quite unusual - in fact at first i was a bit put off by it, I'll attempt to explain but take it from me that having shot a couple of rolls of film through this thing now, it's actually really easy to use and it's probably more complicated to explain, or at least it'll probably sound more complicated but trust me it's not really complicated....oh god it already sounds complicated and I haven't even started yet, right.... here goes....

The lens is not connected to the view finder so you have to focus the lens by judging the distance between yourself and your subject and then using the scale on top of the lens to set focus..... so that means that you have to read the numbers of the dial around the lens so looking at the image below we can see that with the lens focussed thusly then at f16 I'd have everything from about 4 feet to about 10 feet in focus -with the centre point being 6 feet - a top tip when shooting with this camera is to keep the aperture small, i generally didn't go below f8 so that you know you've got enough depth of field to compensate for the lack of fine focussing ability and guesstimating the distances (unless you want to go around wth a tape measure and literally work out the distance)! so it took a bit of getting used to but as I said it's actually more difficult to explain than it is to actually do! 

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the dial on the left of the pic above adjusts shutter speed and the on on the right of the image does the aperture - it's actually very ergonomically designed and easy to use and adjust settings, the meter is untested as they don't make the batteries for this anymore but my trusty i-phone app is more than up to the job so it's no bother. (I might do a review of the app soon).

As I mentioned using the depth of field to help focus is key to successfully using this camera,  the images above demonstrate - on the right is an aperture of about f4 so only the front portion of the wall is focus whilst the iage on the right is about f11 so a really small aperture and therefore most of the image is in focus - simples!

Becuase the focus is done in this manner and the lens isn't linked to the viewfinder makes the Rollei 35S perfect for street shooting becuase you don't have to hold it up to your eye to focus, it's tiny size also supports this stealthy approach - I've always been a bit self conscious when it comes to shooting street photos and these days folks don't really take too kindly to having their photos taken which kind of kills the 'documenting life as it happens' ethos of street photography - but no longer! with this I can snap away completely under the radar..... it opens up a whole new realm of creative possibilities which I find very exciting!

Enough techno babble! more photos! I've shot two rolls of Rollei Retro 400S with this camera - the first on an afternoon in Leeds City Centre and the second back in what is seemingly becoming my fave street shooting destination... Dewsbury! I developed both rolls of film at the same time using a semi stand development process and I have to say I am very pleased with the results, really great contrast and detail with a good grain texture - it has a painterly feel to it in some of the images which is really appealing....this is my fave development technique not least becuase my time is so limited these days that it's just easier for me to throw the film in the developing tank and get on with something else while the Rodinal does it's thing! Sorry - that was even more technobabble! ENOUGH!

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And now on to Dewsbury - different conditions it was quite overcast vs the bright sunny day I spent in Leeds with a much darker feel, I like!

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Fomapan 200 35mm film review

Film photography is a dear doo, don't let anyone tell you otherwise - if it's not cameras, lenses or film then it's developing kit or just random bits of film related paraphenalia all of which takes it's toll on the old bank account! So it can be very welcome to discover some relatively cheap film - enter Fomapan 200...but is it any good? well if you can't be bothered to read the rest of this review then the short answer is YES! Hopefully you'd like a little more insight than that, and hopefully I can oblige!

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The first group of images were taken on a photo walk around the fair city of Bradford in West Yorkshire on my Olympus OM2n and trusty Zuiko 28mm 2.8 lens - I wax lyrical about this combo HERE,and the second group of photos were shot with the same camera and lens many months later in the fair town of Dewsbury West Yorkshire with a couple of shots in Hull and Huddersfield for good measure - it's like a tour of all the most glamorous towns in the world!!

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I started my Bradford photo walk in the National Media museum - hoping to catch the National Photography collection before it was pilfered (sorry I mean transfered) to London... as sods law would have it I missed out by two days and was presented with nothing but this snazzily decorated staircase leading to a locked door :( whilst i was gutted to have missed the exhibition I was quite impressed how Fomapan 200 handled the dimly lit scene, helped along no doubt by my chosen development process of Semi Stand developing in Adox Adonal (Rodinal) for 1 hour (with 3 inversions at 30 mintues) at a dilution of 1:100 - this is my go to sem stand process and as you can see from the results here the Fomapan 200 responded very well to it, I was slightly nervious first time round for two reasons 1: at that point 200 speed film was the fastest film I'd semi stand developed and 2: Fomapann 200 is a 'Tabular' grain film (in the same vein as Kodak Tmax and Ilford Delta) formulations which traditionally do not respond well to stand development. Your mileage may vary but I think it works great in this developer - there is a grain texture which looks more like a classic old school film grain rather than 'Tabular' grain which is inherenlty smoother but for me grain is a good thing, when I shoot film I want it to look like, well - film! I've recenlty bought some developer specifically for Tabular grain films so I'll be interested to compare the results some day.

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Fomapan Creative 200 (to give it's full name) is manufactured in the Czech Republic by long standing film producers Foma, there aren't really that many 200 speed films around most manufacturers offfer a choice of 100 or 400 films but Foma in their infinite wisdom have provided for those who would like a little more flexibility - in fact they claim that the film can be rated anywhere between 100 and 800 ISO but I've only ever shot it at box speed so I can't comment on how it performs when pushed/pulled in that way, what I can say is that on photowalks in varied lighting in and around busy city centres, inside buildings and the like it performs wonderfully!

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They do a good line in 60's architecture in Bradford - here I've used the perspective to enhance the brutalist vibe of this civic building, the home of some truly brutal bureaucracy no doubts!

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I find that the tonal range is very pleasing with rich blacks, smooth greys and clean white areas, look at he mod scooter above! very smooth image with a nice texture and finish - proper two tone! BELL BOOOOY!!!!!

The following two images are from Bank Bottom Mill - a semi abandoned building near where I live, I was just using up the last couple of frames on my roll after my visit to Bradford - again a great balance of tones, quite high contrast and nice detail and grain throughout.

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We leave Bradford behind us and our travels now take us to Dewsbury - same camera, same lens, same make of film, same bottle of developer and guess what..... same outcome! Very balanced images with perhaps a touch more grain in than the roll I shot in Bradford - this could be from the development process maybe I introduced some extra inversions (which encourages grain) and of course the two rolls were shot months a part from each other so lighting was totally different, either way once again I am very pleased with the results so the first roll wasn't a fluke!

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I've walked past this doorway so many times I can't remember, it's amazing how having a camera in hand encourages the eyes to pick out previously unseen details and generally be more open to your surroundings....in this case my eye was drawn to the faded paintwork where a Christian Cross was once fixed...suddenly this dilapidated old doorway was transformed, it had a story to tell - one that spoke of a once proud heritage but no current sense of purpose, a forgotten place echoing with the ghosts of finery long since faded... or something like that, whatever... either way cool doorway eh?!

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Change your perspective and see the world afresh! For me this is part of the enjoyment of  photography, how do you show a subject (in the case above a building) in a new light, how do you generate interest through form and structure - it's a constant challenging to your composition to make the most of your surroundings within the confines of a 35mm frame, and of course you dont get to look at the results until you've developed the film! It's also one of the many valid reasons for shooting with a fixed focal length/prime lens - if you want to change your perspective then you need to move your body! it's a more physical and therefore meaningful experience - this is a lesson I need to translate into my digital work more and stop relying on telephoto zooms to do the work for me!

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I suspect that films are NOT developed there anymore, in fact last time I cheked this building was covered in even more scaffolding so perhaps (unusually for Dewsbury Town Centre) it's about to be redeveloped - I'm not bashing Dewsbury although I think anyone would agree that it's a bit rundown - this makes it a great subject for street photography as many of the buildings have an evocative (if somewhat forlorn) sense of what used to be which I find quite visually appealing "the ineffable pathos of ruin" indeed! Having said that I do hope things start to change for the better for the town!

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We leave Bradford and Dewsbury behind and head East for the next image which was snapped whilst on the train to another fair City - Hull, capital of culture no less - and what better subject than the Humber bridge, I really must go back and shoot this properly (i.e. whilst not on a train) it's an amazing structure - looks so graceful in the distance spanning the Humber estuary, for those who are interested in it's history have a look HERE

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Photographically speaking (this is a photo blog after all) I quite like the reflection of the train lighting in the image and the blurred foreground which gives a sense of motion and direction to an otherwise static image, the shot was literally from the hip before the view was obscurred by trees and stuff so I was pleased it came out as well as it did.

A big yorkshire sky filled with cloud (it's default setting) underpinned by the Emley Moor Mast which is the seventh-tallest freestanding structure in the UK, fourth-tallest tower in the EU (sorry brexiteers) and 24th tallest in the world! At the risk of this turning into some sort of public information service about the buildings, bridges and towers of Yorkshire (that would be a niche website) there's a link for more info about Emley Moor Mast HERE

I like the simple composition a thin band of landscape and the tower piercing the huge blanket of sky - this image just presented itself to me as I was driving along one day, my view of the foreground obscurred by a wall and I literally abandoned the car in a grass verge and jumped out to see if I could match the image that originally caught my eye - and I did! The number of times I've been out and about without a camera and seen sweeping vistas, tiny details and all manner of scenes that I would have wished to capture are imeasureable.. all these moments are now lost, like tears in the (yorkshire) rain...

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We've seen lots of buildings on our tour of Yorkshire with Fomapan 200 but what's it like on other subjects - portraits and the like? well the above photo taken in the fields behind my house attests to the loveliness of the film (and the horse)!  great contrast and level of detail and that grain structure that by now we've come to know and love too. it also works on people - here's a shot of my son when he was about 6 months old :) in it he's doing a great impresssion of one of those old Soviet propognda photos like he's a baby Kosmonaut or something!

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So in summary then I am a huge fan of Fomapan 200, it's versatile, works well in mixed lighting, gives great contrast and high levels of detail, works well in a semi stand development process and ultimately it's very reasonably priced - you can buy 3 rolls of it for £14.99, which these days is pretty bloomin good! I heartily recommend this film, it's lovely, there is no compromise in quality in my experience and it creates a really useable alternative to all those 100 and 400 speed films out there, give it a whirl!

Pentax Spotmatic F Review

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I'm gonna get a bit of camera geekery out of the way and walk you through the controls and features of the Spotmatic F and then we'll get in to the more important business of sharing some images taken with it.

The controls are well laid out - there's a shutter control dial (pictured below left) which incorporates ISO setting and next to that is the film advance lever which is well positioned and ergonomically curved with a smooth action and quick return so it's easy to rattle off a few shots in quick succession, on the opposite side of the camera is the film rewind lever and a helpful dial which you can set with details of the film loaded (B&W, Colour, Tungsten number of frames on the loaded film) this is just visual guide in case you forget what film you've loaded it doesn't control any settings in the camera.

The thing that sets the 'F' model apart from other cameras of it's age is that it also includes the ability to use 'open aperture metering' when used with Pentax own branded lenses (which are in themselves legendary) this means that it can be used as an Aperture Priority camera thanks to the the built in light meter - what's that? Yawnsville Arizona you say??! how VERY dare you! I'll have you know that this was ground breaking stuff back in the day!! ;)

On mine the meter is slightly out of whack by a couple of stops so I usually use my iphone light meter app to double check exposure and then just correct it whilst im shooting. If you wanted to use non brand M42 mount lenses on this camera you can do but without the open aperture function - in the second image from the right (above) you can see on the side of the lens mount a switch which you can use to activate the stop down metering function.

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Looking through the viewfinder the classic simplicity continues - you get an elector mechanical needle read out on the right hand side which tells you if you are under/over exposing the scene and a focus screen with a circular etched centre to allow you to visually check focus and that's it! nothing else to clutter the view and get in the way of your eye and the subject - lovely!

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They just don't make em like this anymore....it's as silky smooth to operate as the day it was made (although obviously I have no way of double checking that unless i can literally go back in time - maybe it was even silkier and smoother back then). The design is simple with classically understated clean lines which I like very much but it's the superb construction, fine handling and top notch build quality that really sets it apart from the crowd.

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I picked mine up for a measly £30 on evilbay which included the amazing Pentax SMC 55mm 1.8 lens and is therefore a complete bargain!! the low price was due to the very visible dent on the prism viewfinder casing but it doesn't affect the use of the camera so whilst it would be nice to have a mint copy I don't want to pay £100 for one! it is otherwise in mint condition though and mechanically excellent with a very satisfying 'schtick' shutter sound.

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t's so nice to use that in the first couple of weeks of owning it I burned my way through 8 rolls of film which is something i haven't done before with any of my film cameras (and probably won't again as it's a very dear doo) but the Spotmatic F is such an enjoyable camera to use that it kind of makes you want to shoot more and more!

It's a little heavier than my OM2n and whilst it's only a bit of a difference after a day lugging it round you do notice so on long hauls I would probably go with the Olympus if only for it being so light - the reason that the Pentax is heavier is becuase it hails from a time when no expense was spared on the internal moving parts of the camera which are therefore predominantley brass as opposed to the plastic of the slightly later OM2n so whilst it adds weight it also adds to the smooth handling and feeling of quality.

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The lenses are totally amazing also - i was dimmly aware prior to purchasing the camera that the 'Takumar' range of lenses were very highly regarded by the internet (which in real terms means basically nowt most of the time) but I am very happy to report that it is indeed true! these are very very very good lenses - so much so that I very very very quickly added a 135mm 3.5 lens and a 35mm 3.5 AND most i just the other day added the almost legendary 50mm 1.4 lens to my collection. So yeah I could probably pontificate on the pentax's perfect performance inperpetuity - but leaving my alliterative allusions aside...I won't - I'll save the lenses their own mini reviews for a future date as I'd like to get them involved in some digital action with the old SONY NEX3n as well.

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So in summary then I flipping well LOVE this camera it is quite firmly on my list of cameras that I would never part with, it's a very well made and very simple camera with no bells and whistles, it just does what you need it to do without getting in the way which is what all the best cameras should do, if you have the chance to try one or even better own one then I heartily recommend you do it! 

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All of these images were shot on a visit to Brighton earlier this year on the Pentax Spotmatic F (of course) on Fomapan 200 and Ilford FP4 film (except for the one below which is Fuji Acros 100) and using either a Chinon 35mm 2.8 or an SMC Pentax 55mm 1.8 lens.

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