Postcard from Berlin Pt1 - Travel Photography on Rollei Retro 80S

Recently I was lucky enough to spend a couple of days in Berlin! I was there working for my other job (yes that’s right I have yet to find a way to make waffling on about film photography pay for my lifestyle - yet….) I made some extra time to visit my super cool cousin in law(is cousin in law a thing)?? anyway we’re family and I was really excited to explore Berlin, I’ll just get this out of the way right now… the place is amazing!! I was struck by how laid back and chilled it was especially for a big Capital City - I mean yeah the place was buzzing but just a proper friendly vibe about it, I really loved my time spent there.

Having finished my work I hit the street armed with my trusty NIkon FE2, Nikkor 50mm f2 (a new lens) and some Rollei Retro 80S film - one of my faves film stocks and fitting to shoot the German capital on some German film :)

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This isn’t really a camera review type blog but I would be remiss in my duties if I didn’t spare a word or two about my kit for this expedition - so first up the camera body; the Nikon FE2. A wonderful camera, I wrote a blog about it’s older sibling the FE HERE a fine camera itself, but I have long since replaced it with the marvellous FE2. On the surface it looks like a fairly standard 1980’s era SLR but it has a trick up it’s sleeve which makes it a standout - a 1/4000 second top shutter speed :) it is very solidly built and although mine has a few scars gathered during the course of it’s life it works perfectly!

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Attached to the camera you can see the Nikkor 50mm f2 - as you’ll see in the images that follow this lens is very capable!! I picked it up on ebay attached to a Nikkormat FT2 which cost me £40 - I sold the FT2 for £30 so this lens basically cost me £10!! This makes it a perfect travel lens as I’m not carrying around some big expensive piece of kit - but the key here is that there is no compromise on image quality, this thing is amazing!

The 50mm f2 is also very solidly built, the focus ring is lovely and smooth and even though the lens looks like it’s been booted down the road (and probably has a few times during it’s life) it can create beautifully rendered images with great contrast. It is also an enjoyable challenge to just take a simple 50mm lens with you - no more fretting about which focal length to use, no lugging about loads of lenses which you probably wont use anyway. I enjoy the creative possibilities that working within limitations brings and choosing one lens does this effectively, anyway - enough gear talk!! (for now)

Two key things to note - Firstly you can see some Adox Silvermax and Agfa APX films pictured here that i purchased whilst in Berlin but the images that follow were shot on Rollei Retro 80S which was loaded in the camera at the time of the ‘look at me and my camera, film and booze’ lifestyle type tomfoolery and Secondly, yes the beer was a very good accompaniment to the proceedings.

So, without further ado - willkommen in Berlin!!

The images are presented in roughly chronological order of when I shot them, first up is this interesting monument in ‘Invaliden Park’ and was just round the corner from my Hotel - I’m a fan of brutalist architecture so obviously this really ticked that box for me!

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It was a bright, swelteringly hot day - cloudless blue sky, these sunny conditions worked well with the Rollei film which has a good deal of contrast and lovely tones.

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There is LOADS of graffiti in Berlin, I mean LOOOOAAADS! and stickers too! everything is either covered in graffiti or stickers - I love it!!

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Remember what I said about Graffiti? Well there’s loads of street art too! This piece really captured my attention - the building is an abandoned Art School which was either in the process of being knocked down or possibly renovated (or something in between) The building high mural makes the bold statement ‘How Long is Now’ (note no question mark) the blank face, the staring eyes - dark portals keeping watch over the machines at their work.

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The City is alive with the sound of construction work - cranes, diggers, the whole shebang - there was a palpable sense of ‘growth’ about the place

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The Berliner Dom sits right next to the River Spree, most of this side of the building was in shade but a patch of shimmering light reflected from the River illuminated the middle row of windows. And below the dome of the building - really love the contrast in these images, a combination of the light in the scene, the film and the lens all coming together!

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From the lofty heights of the splendid Cathedral to the minute details of human life - these are ‘love locks’ left by couples seeking to declare their undying love to the universe by placing the lock and casting the keys into the nearest water course, hence there are often to be found on or near bridges.

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Maybe it’s a natural impulse to give physical form to such an intangiable emotion, warding off future relationship woes by locking that loved up feeling in place, space and time… or maybe it’s just a daft tourist fad… whatever their intent, whoever and wherever they are now - I wish them well :)

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Neptune sits atop the fountain - again wonderful tones and dynamic range with this film, shot in mid afternoon bright sunshine but the camera meter, the film and developer all working to produce an image which captures the detail in these carved statues, the water stains rendered in white adding a layer of depth to the carved features.

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The Alexanderplatz TV tower dominates the skyline of the City - if someone asked me to design a TV tower, it would definitely look something like this! I have no idea what purpose the huge disco ball serves (in fact we have a huge TV tower near home which seems to function perfectly well without one) but if the choice is “do you want the huge massive disco ball or not” then the answer has to be yes! Good work people of Berlin!

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Overhead Tram lines make for some interesting compositions…

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Details at street level - Rollei Retor 80S is such a lovely film, it sings in bright sunlight and can also render wonderfully contrasty tones too, the front of the image was awash with light - it made the bicylce wheel really stand out from the background which has translated onto the film as a difference of tone and contrast, the lens is showing off it’s sharpness here too.

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I am a sucker for leading lines, come on - who isn’t? whether it’s a run down, poster covered side street or a neo classical collonade the effect is always the same; a visual invitation… step right this way!

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Neo classical architecture abounds…..

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….none more so than the Reichstag!! I wasn’t quite prepared for just how HUGE the building is! such a wonderful piece of architecture and rich in history.

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Just visible in the background is the huge glass dome which surmounts the building (it’s a shame i didn’t have more time to go and visit properly but it gets very busy and you have to book)

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The final stop on our mini tour of Berlin is the Brandenburg Gate - a beautiful neoclassical monument and famous landmark of the city, during my visit it was closed off in preparation for a concert so I couldn’t get a full length photo of the columns, but it prompted me to work the angles and I quite like how these compositions came out.

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The final shot from this roll of film is taken looking up as I walked alongside the Brandenburg gate; I love the gradation of light to shade on the right hand side and also the contrast of the neo classical and the clean, straight lined modern building next door.

It’s worth noting at this point that I developed the film in Kodak HC110 dilution H as per the Massive Development Chart for Rollei Retro 80S, this is one of my fave film and developer combinations especially for work in bright sunlight.

Berlin is a city with a rich history - one that it wears on it’s sleeve; it’s such an eclectic and vibrant mix which I hope I have conveyed in some small way here! This is Part 1 of my postcard from Berlin - next time I’ll share some images that I took with some film bought locally from the good people at Fotoimpex, in the meantime thanks for joining me on this trip!

Portraits on film - Night shoot with Cinestill 800T and Lomography 800 Colour

Sharing details of another portrait shoot, this is part of a major ongoing series I’ll be working on as a I rebuild my portfolio - it gives me an opportunity to share some insights on the cameras/films I’m using, the story behind the shoot itself as well as a place to share those photos which might not make it into my main portfolio.

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Having made the switch to full time film only and also recently adopting the very wonderful Pentax 67 as my main camera I have been keen as mustard to rebuild my portfolio, to explore the creative possibilities (and challenges) that shooting with film offers and basically have a shed load of fun along the way :) To that end I have been seeking out opportunities to collaborate with some of the very creative souls I am fortunate enough to know - hence this series of blogs! :)

This shoot was for my mate Paul who is a Music Producer under the pseudonym ‘Gamma Prime’ he’s been working on some new material and wanted a set of publicity images to help promote the new work.

The idea was to shoot at night and make use of available artificial lighting to add some creativity to the portraits, this assignment called for some special film stocks - Cinestill 800T and Lomography 800 and I also used a roll of Kodak Portra 400 too. I’ll give you a bit of an overview of these film stocks along the way and some thoughts on their particular qualities in use. I hadn’t used either the Cinestill of Lomo films before so I was excited to try them out - Cinestill is an expensive option and Lomo is more of a budget offering so we’ll see how they stacked up against each other.

First thing to consider when shooting in low light/night time is to take account of sunset! Golden hour light is there for the taking either side of the actual sunset so before I broke out the Cinestill and Lomo films I used a roll of Kodak Portra 400 to snag some of that golden hour light.

Kodak Portra 400

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Shooting with the Pentax 67 you only get 10 frames per roll of film so you really have to make each frame count! As the light fell I loaded the roll of Lomography 800 and since we were still in golden hour I used the first few frames here. At this point it’s worth stating that in a stand up contest Portra 400 vs Lomo 800 there’s really not a huge amount in it, they’re both great films although I think Portra has the edge - crisp grain structure as you’d expect from portra and shadows hold up well with lots of detail. That being said the Lomo film is no slouch and it has a very definite character and feel all it’s own.

Lomography 800

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We drove into town for the night shots and took a walk through the University Campus to take advantage of the artificial lighting and interesting architectural features. These first couple of frames are still on Lomo 800 and I really like how they came out - a very definite grain charachter which I like very much, shadows don’t hang on to too much detail but in this artificial lighting I think it adds to the effect.

Lomography 800

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The images below are all shot on Cinestill 800T - this film stock is repackaged motion picture film, the stuff they use to make Hollywood movies! I was very excited to try it out and it did not dissapoint! the letter ‘T’ in it’s name designates that it’s a Tungsten balanced film so it was designed to be shot under artificial lighting - as you can see the tonality and detail are really great here.

Cinestill 800T

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Note my iphone acting as a fill light here! Focussing was getting a little difficult as it got darker so this helped - I’m thinking of getting a little LED light to help in future

Note my iphone acting as a fill light here! Focussing was getting a little difficult as it got darker so this helped - I’m thinking of getting a little LED light to help in future

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Cinestill 800T has been processed to remove the Anti Halation layer which in some conditions gives lighting a strange glow, it also appears quite prone to light leaks as you can see on the left side of the above image - although in this case I kind of like the effect!

This shoot was planned as a portrait shoot for a friend to create some promotional images for his work as a Music Prodcuer - you can check out Paul’s music HERE :)

I hadn’t planned to compare and contrast these film stocks but the differences between the final images and the way I shot them presented the opportunity to reflect on the different charachters of each stock, overall I like all of these films and very happy with how they came out - here’s my thoughts on each in turn:

Portra 400 - what is there to say about this film which hasn’t been said already? It’s a classic for a reason and is one of my firm faves - clean grain, great details and rich colours. I’m tempted to explore how flexible this film stock is maybe pushing it to 800 and beyond in lower light to see how it coped. Portra is my go to film, a quality product capable of wonderful results.

Lomo 800 - this was a bit of a wildcard choice and it’s a very solid performer, espeically when you consider the price for a pack of three rolls of 120 is about £18. I shot it in good light and in low light in both situations it doesn’t hold up shadow detail as well as the other two stocks but this shouldn’t put you off, the grain structure is more prominent than either Kodak or Cinestill but this is also not bad news - it gives the film a look all it’s own which is good.

Cinestill 800T - this film blows me away - I love the colours, contrast and tones but more importantly for these shots it’s how the film handles shadows with details holding up really clearly even in very low light, it’s expensive stuff that’s for sure but it’s definitely worth a shot in the right conditions. It’s proneness to light leaking could be annoying if you have ‘THE’ killer shot and some random leaks could spoil your hard work - on the other hand it could just add something to the image!

It’s worth stating at this point that I was really pleased with how the Pentax 67 worked on this shoot, I was able to achieve useable images down to 1/30 of a second in low light which pleases me very much! The 105mm 2.4 lens continues to impress me with it’s ability to create 3D like images with pristime sharpness and beautiful bokeh too.

I have some more creative portrait shoots lining up over the next few months so I’ll be continuing the portraits shot on film series and looking forward to exploring more wonderful film stocks!

Nikon F2 review

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Having owned the F2 for 6 months now I can confidently say it has become a firm favourite (yes I know i say that about all my cameras)! The F2 has a big reputation for being a seriously kick ass camera and I can heartily confirm that this reputation is well deserved! The Nikon F2 is an absolute joy to shoot with - I’ve used it on portrait shoots, taken it hiking and shot landscapes with it, used it for street photography and candid portraits of my little boy running about and playing at home - in every situation the F2 is the right tool for the job.

Often when we think of professional spec cameras we assume that these are complex esoteric beasts which require some form of initiation rite to operate and only the enlightened few can master it - and while that may ring true in some cases, not so for the F2! It is a VERY simple camera with an intuitive set of controls laid out in a such a way that it allows the F2 to do what all great cameras do - it gets out of your way and allows you to concentrate on your subject, lovely.

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I’ve already introduced you to the F2 on this blog HERE but it’s such a great camera that I feel it deserves it’s very own blog review! I’ll give a run through of the features and operations of the camera and then we’ll get down to the business of sharing photos taken with it on various shoots and thoughts on using the F2 in practice.

The F2 is a modular design and when it was originally released back in 1971 it was a major selling feature that you could choose from a range of different focussing screens, in later years different prism heads were released which were interchangeable with any F2 body made at any time during it’s production run - this allowed you to decide on which kind of metering system (or no meter at all) worked best for you/a particular situation - my F2 is an F2A which means that it has a metered prism head that uses a needle meter readout, I much prefer this form of read over LED’s but if you like an LED readout then you can check out the F2AS head, or if you don’t want a meter at all you can get a plain prism - lovely! These days the interchangeable nature of the F2 is probably less of a selling point although it will be nice to experiment with some alternative viewfinders at some point in the future.

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OK so we get it, its a nice camera - so what? how’s it different to all the other bloody cameras you have…. great question! I’m glad you asked! let me explain:

Form factor: it’s a big camera! bigger than your standard 35mm camera, I like this! fits in my hand comfortably, the F2 is perhaps the most ergonomic camera I have had the pleasure to shoot with so far!

100% viewfinder: What you see is what you get! the viewfinder shows the whole of the frame (not always a given on some cameras) it’s big, it’s bright, it’s beautiful!

Mechanical: The body requires no batteries to operate, it’s powered by springs and gears - I like this very much! (obviously the meter needs a battery)

Build quality: The F2 was hand built to a very high specification for professional shooters, in an age when things were built to last, its like a Swiss watch that you can also use as a hammer from to time (or just maybe, make photographs with it)!

Looks: yes I am shallow enough for this to be a ‘thing’ in my choice of camera, but flipping heck look at it! Industrial Design at it’s finest - an exercise in form following function if ever there was one.

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I enjoy shooting with the F2 so much and I am such a big fan of the amazing Nikkor lenses that I’ve decided to concentrate my 35mm kit around two Nikon F2’s (I just bought a second one) and an FE2 which I already own (and who knows what other Nikon F mount bodies I’ll take a shine to in future) in part because these are simply amazing pieces of equipment and also because running several different lines of camera (Olympus, Pentax, Canon and Nikon) at the same time gets a bit expensive!

I’d much rather own several bodies which can all utilise the same lenses - giving me more capacity to get some killer glass and shoot it across any camera body that takes my fance. Obviously for Medium Format shenanigans the indomnitable Pentax 67 will be a fixed feature and for just the sheer lunacy of it a Holga 120N is also firmly on my ‘keeper’ list of cameras!

I want to share some of the images I’ve taken with the F2, to date I’ve used it on several portrait shoots and also a few hikes into the wilderness to shoot landscapes, I’ll start with some of the portrait images which I took on a shoot with my friend Arya Ravenswood you can see the full shoot HERE these were all shot on Portra 400 on the F2 with the Nikkor 50mm 1.4 AI lens.

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And now a few images from out and about in the moors around my home, the following images were taken on the same day at two different locations - first three are from Dovestones Reservoir and the rest are from West Nab, all shot on Fomapan 200 on the F2 with the Nikkor 24mm 2.8 AI lens and an orange filter (the observant will notice this is also the same time that I took the header shots for this blog - planning ahead you see, I don’t just throw these things together you know)!

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So there we have it - another blog during which I heap praise upon a particular camera, stating something like ‘so this is the only camera I’ll ever need’ or whatever, clearly I’ve established that I am prone to bouts of enthusiasm when it comes to this kind of thing but this time it’s different… as a result of how much I enjoy working with the F2 I’ve sold off pretty much all my other cameras now, I‘m a photographer not a collector so my ultimate aim here is to shoot not to have loads of cameras just sitting on the shelf - the F2 is a shooters camera, a pro series camera from a time when being a pro photographer was a badge of honour. I make no claims to that badge myself and certainly just owning a decent camera will not make you a better photographer, but owning something as well made with such attention to detail and design is a joy in and of itself - to use it as intended to create work that you are proud of is a whole other level of joy. I can’t guarantee that I won’t buy some other random cameras in future but what i can say is that for me the F2 is the ultimate 35mm film camera.

Portrait shoot with Arya Ravenswood

I recently had the pleasure of working with my friend Arya Ravenswood who is a practicsing Occult Magician & Witch. Arya wanted to create a fresh set of images to use on her website and Social Media (the occult is a very 21st Century operation ya know) and I was thrilled to be asked to help Arya realise her creative vision!

A huge thank you to Arya for the opportunity to collaborate on these images, check out Arya’s website HERE and also a Periscope TV channel HERE Arya has a real gift - go visit her website and find out for yourselves!

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Since I am in the process of rebuilding my portfolio it was a great opportunity to put my new Pentax 67 through it’s paces on this shoot. To mix things up a bit I also used my Nikon F2 as a second shooter, filmwise on both 35mm and 120 formats this was an all Kodak Portra 400 affair mainly to give a consistent look and feel to the images so that they can hang together as a set and also because I bloody love the stuff!

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Working with Arya was amazing, she created two really strong (and of course very Witchy/Occult inspired) looks for us to shoot, we chose two locations (one for each look) and got to it - here’s the first look shot in a local graveyard.

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We didn’t scout the locations beforehand so it was very much a case of paying attention to our surroundings and allowing ourselves to be drawn towards particular details and working with them; having explored one graveyard we moved on to a second just across the valley. As i reflect on these images now I am reminded of the beautiful surroundings, the palpable stillness, the lush green of the grass and moss covered graves contrasting with Arya’s monochrome outfit, the Occult and Christian symbolism, life and death - as above so below….

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Our second look for the day was an opportunity tor Arya to channel her inner Stevie Nicks with a more bohemian, naturalistic look replete with lace, jewelry, bangles, occult symbols and also incorporating the tools of Arya’s trade - a bronze knife, a crystal ball, a chalice and cauldron. We chose some local woods for this look emphasising the natural elements and giving us a new setting to explore this side of Arya’s persona.

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This second set of images is certainly more expressive than the first and the wooded location was the perfect backdrop - walking through the trees we came upon a rocky outcrop which provided the setting for our shoot being set back from the main path and out of view of inquisitive dog walkers and their dogs! (I’ve never seen people skidaddle so quickly upon hearing that we’re doing a ‘Witchy’ shoot)! ;)

The combination of the Pentax 67 and Nikon F2 worked great for me - the Pentax is capable of some uniquely stunning images with a very distinctive, almost 3D look which I love, the F2 is no slouch either and some of my favourite images from the whole shoot came from the 35mm camera, I think this will be my default combination of cameras for the foreseeable future.

There were so many images to choose from on this shoot! It was great to work with Arya to create these images and full credit goes to her for styling the shoot, she did an amazing job on the day too and as a result we made some powerful images together, I think this is some of my best portrait work to date (if i do say so myself) I wish Arya every success in her Macgickal endeavours!

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Pentax 67 review

Ever since I first picked up a film camera and got slowly drawn deeper into the wonderful world of film, I’d heard tell of a mythical monstrous machine called the Pentax 67, today dear friends I am happy to report that my long held dream of owning such a mechanical marvel is realised - behold! the behemoth!!

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So… another new camera eh? yes dear friends - let me take a moment to explain… I’ve sold all my Digital camera equipment!! I’m officially now full time film only! regular visitors to the website will have noticed a different look/format - no more commercial/events/wedding pages, in fact I’ve completely re-imagined my photographic practice so that it’s more in line with my passions and interests and one thing that i had realised for some time was that my digital gear only ever saw the light of day for commercial/events work - having decided to forgo that area of work my digital kit was effetively rendered redundant - i loved my Canon 6D, it served me very well in the 33,000 ish clicks that i made with it.

Having decided on this course of action and sold off all my digital kit and studio lights i was in the market for a suitable main battle camera to replace my 6D and of course in a very short space of time my attention rested upon the Pentax 67!

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I’ve spent the last couple of weeks putting the Pentax 67 through it’s paces,adding a few more lenses and accessories to the set up, just generally getting to grips with it and starting a complete overhaul of my portfolio with the resulting images, let’s take her out for a spin and I’ll show you around….

A BIG part of the draw towards this camera was this lens - the Super Multi Coated Takumar 105mm 2.4 - it is properly LEGENDARY!! able to simultaneously render dream like out of focus areas alongside super sharp and crisp details, giving a wonderfully 3D effect - it’s my favourite lens ever, ever, ever! Here are three of my fave portraits shot with it so far :)

The 105mm fulfills the ‘standard’ focal length on 6X7 format giving an equivalent field of view to a 58mm lens on standard 35mm format, what’s even better is that thanks to a cheap adapter I can also use this amazing lens on my other Pentax medium format camera the Pentax 645 (see review of that camera HERE) when used in this way thanks to the smaller negative size of the 645 it works as an 85mm portrait lens :)

Anyway back to the Pentax 67 - in use it’s actucally a very simple and surprisingly ergonomic experience for such a large camera, as usual the internet is rife with ill judged, misinformed claptrap perpetuated by people who’ve never even held the camera - first and foremost being the “you can’t shoot it handheld” to which i say (insert swear word of choice) I’ve had sharp results hand holding this beast consistently at 1/60 of a second with no problem at all and with a bit more care and attention 1/30 is totally doable too, the mass of the camera is such that any mirror slap is soaked up by the sheer weight of the camera body, plus most of the vibrations/noise comes from the mirror returning to it’s start position i.e. after the shutter has closed and the frame has been exposed so total myth about handholding.

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My version of the Pentax 67 is the thrid version and dates from about 1989 - 1994 (I have no idea how to specifically date the camera by it’s serial number) and to my mind is the best version; earlier models had some mechanical issues present within them from the outset and of course are also much older, there is also a later model the 67ii which is the pinnacle of the range but… it’s EXPENSIVE! and really the only thing it adds is a built in grip (I don’t need this) and an aperture priority mode (I don’t need that either)! so if you’re looking for one of these cameras then go for one that says ‘67’ on the front of the body (earlier models have 6x7 written on the front)

It’s a modular system which means that you can change the prism finder to a wasit level if you like or a metered/non metered head - mine came with a metered head. looking through the prism the finder is about 90% of the actual image which is a bit of a shame but i guess having a 100% finder on a camera this big would have rendered it too unwieldy, it’s not the brightest viewfinder in the world but it’s good and pops into focus well, remove the prism and the focussing screen is HUGE and wonderful!!

let’s get this out of the way… it’s heavy… no denying that, you’ll notice that you have this camera slung over your shoulder!! it’s also big, no getting away from it - although considering the format of negative you’re working with it’s actually smaller than other 6x7 cameras, I really like the straight forward SLR format too - this makes it very easy to transition from your 35mm manual SLR camera and just start shooting straight away.

My latest fave camera combo - the P67 alongside the lovely Nikon F2 a perfect match

My latest fave camera combo - the P67 alongside the lovely Nikon F2 a perfect match

My camera came with the wonderful 105mm 2.4 lens already- i swiftly added the very cool looking lens hood to this and then started casting about for more lenses to try out, the great thing about this system is that these lenses are generally very large and so aren’t really coveted by the mirrorless digital camera crowd, this means they are pretty cheap! By shopping around (in the case of the 200mm that meant importing from Japan and in the case of the 55mm it meant not being too picky about cosmetic condition of the lens body) I was able to put together a selection of three amazing additional lenses for my 67 for less than £250 in total! here they are:

From left to right:

55mm f4 - a wide angle lens equivalent to about 28mm on 35mm format

165m f2.8 - a short tele lens equivalent to about 85mm on 35mm format

200mm f4 - a medium tele equivalent to about 100mm on 35mm format

I’m still testing these lenses out and deciding which to keep in my line up, since I love the 105mm 2.4 so much the two portrait lenses don’t get much of a look in at the moment, despite being fine lenses in their own rightonly time will tell if they will remain in my collection; the 55mm on the other hand is a keeper! Just to prove that the P67 is a flexible camera and suitable for landscape as well as portraiture here are a few shots I got on a short hike in the wonderful West Yorkshire Moors near my home and all shot on the 45mm f4.

It’s a bloody brilliant landscape shooter - I don’t know why this surprised me since it is basically an oversized 35mm SLR, but i was pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable it was to shoot on this walk, it’s weight is a bit of a limiting factor for longer walks and as someone who enjoys the great outdoors I’m not sure I would i regularly take the P67 on a long hike as it is a heavy beast to lug up hill and down dale but I’d definitely take it on shorter walks or to shoot specific scenes with the intention of darkroom printing the results, the 6X7 negatives are wonderful, lots and lots of lovely detail and the 45mm lens is amazing, I’m looking forward to getting into the darkroom soon and printing some of these!

So there we have it, my dream camera is living up to expectations (if not exceeding them) the P67 has helped me to transform my portfolio in a way that no other camera has, it’s flexible enough to shoot on location for portraits and is a very capable landscape shooter too - as with any camera nothing is perfect, but the Pentax 67 is the next best thing!

Review of the Bellini Foto 1 Litre C41 development kit

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I realised recently that for someone who says that they don’t shoot much colour film, I shoot a LOT of colour film! In fact over the last 12 months I’ve been shooting colour film stocks more and more regularly - so much so that i finally decided that developing colour at home was a viable option. This was something that I’d done once before a couple a few years ago but I found the results less than impressive and the chemicals difficult to handle, short lived and therefore expensive.

So having cast about for a suitable kit to get back in the colour film developing game I landed upon the Bellini Foto C41 kit purchased from Nik & Trick Photo - you can find the kit HERE - I must stress at this point that I am not being paid (or to cut out the middle man, sent free film) to say nice things about the Bellini Foto kit, this is my genuine honest feedback on the kit (spoiler alert: I think it’s ace) these are just my thoughts and experiences using it. Likewise I’m not being paid to promote Nik & Trick Photo either (spolier alert: I think they’re ace too) they’re a great independent film retailer and champion of all things film, so I am a champion of all things them! ok now all that is out of the way - on with the blog!

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There’s quite a bit involved in todays blog in which I’ll focus on five things:

1: An overview of the Bellini Foto kit

2: The additional bits of equipment I used

3: My approach to developing

4: Scanning the negatives and the results

5: Conclusion

I think that people (myself included) can be a bit put off colour developing because it’s a bit more of an involved process which is true to a point, but really if you can develop black and white (HERE is a blog i prepared earlier on that subject) then really you can do colour - the key aspect which always gave me pause for thought with colour developing was the short shelf life of the chemicals themselves, with the previous kit I’d used lasting about a month which for my purposes is not long enough - happily there is a solution to this problem which I’ll explain later on, first let me show you what’s included in the kit.

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1: An overview of the Bellini Foto kit

The kit i used is the 1 Litre version and comes supplied with Concentrated Developer, Fixer and Stabiliser plus a ready to use bottle of Bleach, mixing the concetrates is very simple as you can see from the instructions pictured above that are included in the kit.

You get enough developer and fixer to make 1 litre working solutions and loads of stabiliser - enough to make 10 litres! more than enough - which is good because I promptly spilled half of my bottle of stabiliser on the kitchen floor! :(

The key thing with developing Colour even more so than Black and White is to ensure you keep water temperature at a constant 38 degrees, it’s critical in fact!

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It’s worth stating at this point that whilst none of these chemicals are any more dangerous than stuff you have under the kitchen sink, since you are working directly with the chemicals then gloves are essential, as is working in a well ventilated room - this goes for black & white and colour developing - safety first folks!

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2: The additional bits of equipment I used

Getting the Bellini kit is one thing but getting set up to develop colour film you’ll need a few extra items (I’m assuming here that you already have all the kit and caboodle required for black and white such as a developing tank,reels, changing bag, measuring jugs, thermometers etc ) I’ll list the colour developing specific items and provide some explanation of their use along the way:

Sousvide - yes I had no idea what this was until i started looking into colour film developing either!! its a tool used for heating up water for cookery (madness i know) i bought mine for £25 off amazon (other megaretailcorps are available) you can see it pictured on the left below, it’s the U-bend shaped thing which clips to the side of the container and heats the water up. I guess it’s not absolutley essential to have and you could control water temp with a kettle of boiling water I suppose but for me the sous vide just takes all the hassle out of this aspect of the process, you set the control to 38 and wait for the it to do it’s thing - it will then keep the water at that temperature as long as you require.

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Water Bath - Heating the water up in a water bath so that you can then heat your chemicals up to the required temp, as you can see from the pictures I used an old plastic box that we had knocking about in the shed, works perfectly!

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Wide neck bottles - you can see them pictured above, chemical storage bottles with nice wide tops for quick pouring, and plastic for ease of use, you could use empty pop bottles if you like but these were cheap enough and cost me £10 for a set of five.

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Glass storage jars - ok so these I bought to store the chemicals in when not being used, you can see them pictured above at the back of the photo. I got them from Nik & Trick along with a little vaccum pump and rubber stopper thingys (I think they’re supposed to be used for keeping wine fresh but clearly they serve a much better purpose here) fill the bottles with your working solutions of developer, fixer and Bleach - then using the vaccum pump and rubber stopper you pump all the remaining aire out the stopper seals the bottle et voila, your chemicals should now be good for approx 6 months or possibly even longer! definitely worth getting unless you shoot loads of film and can develop regularly so you won’t need to store stuff for long

Funnels - you’ll be pouring chemicals from bottle to bottle and then into developing tank and back into bottle - get yourself some funnels, label them so you keep things seperate

Theremometer - i have a glass photographers thermometer which is nice and accurate I used this to check on the temperature inside my developer bottle during heating

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3: My approach to developing
Step by step instructions are included in the kit and there are a number of different steps required in this process and the timings are quite short so you need to be on your toes and paying attention to whats going on, especially when trying out a new process - for me having something like the Massive Development App to guide me along my way during development is usually my preferred app but unfortunatley whilst in all other aspects the the Massive Development App is amazing, it is actually completely RUBBISH at creating custom development procedures, I mean it’s possible to do but it’s very clunky and not as good as it could be….fortunately for us there is another cheeky little phone app out there which can help, it’s called Develop! and it’s great!

It allows you to easily custom build a film developing process with timings and agitation cycles - you can then press ‘play’ and the app will give you a visual guide to keeping on track through the development procedure, lovely! I find this super helpful and takes some of the pressure off and not having to refer back to the print out instructions that come with the kit when you’re trying to keep an eye on everything else that is going on - highly recommend this app, oh and the best part? it’s free! (i think? I can’t remember now - if it did cost something then it wasn’t very much)

Following the instructions (via the help of the Develop! app) made this a very enjoyable process - setting everything up and getting your chemicals up to working temperature is the long part of the process, once everything is set then the whole process is over in less than 15 mins - you can see from the developing timings on the left above how long each stage takes and the agitation process required.

I messed up the stabiliser stage though - i poured the stabiliser away after use when it turns out it is re-useable for a few films before needing to be changing, this coupled with me spilling half of the concentrate as I was getting set up wasn;t brilliant either, fortunately Bellini supply LOADS of concentrate enought to make 10 litres worth so I think I’ve still got enough left for some more developing sessions with this kit

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4: Scanning the negatives and the results

The moment of truth! I was blown away by the results! clear and spotless negatives which allowed for lovely colours and tones when scanned - of course scanning colour film at home is an art form in and of itself sometimes, but after a little bit of jiggery pokery i was able to get the colour balance i was looking for (I won’t make an already long blog post even longer by discussing the vagaries of scanning - maybe in a later blog) suffice it to say that the negatives I had developed looked great and with minimal processing work i was able to achieve some really lovely finished photos which you can see below.

For more photos from this shoot take a look HERE I developed 3 rolls of 35mm in one go - two portra 400 and one portra 160, the beauty of the C41 process is you can develop different ISO films at the same time with the same process, really pleased with how they came out, of course scanning wise I would still use a professional development service for critical or professional images as the scans are just so much better but I think for personal projects these are just great.

5: Conclusion

Ok so well done for making it this far! my conclusion? I think that the Bellini Foto kit is amazing! i was very impressed with the quality of the negatives and final images, the process was relatively straight forward and I would feel much more confident in using this next time around. I like that given the right storage that the chemicals will last a while and that they are good for approx 12 rolls of film which makes this a great money saving on having films developed professionally - that being said I do need to spend some more time creating a consistent workflow for my scanning and colour balancing to get accurate colour rendition. On some of the photos they came out perfect straight away but others did require a bit of fettling in Lightroom - which is fine - scanning colour film will defintely be a topic for another day though and I am very pleased with the results I was able to achieve on my first run out with the Bellini Kit, I would definitely recommend it.

Street Portraiture on 35mm film with the Nikon FE2 & F2

 
Partners in crime - my trusty FE2 (left) alongside it’s new bezzie mate the F2

Partners in crime - my trusty FE2 (left) alongside it’s new bezzie mate the F2

Lots and lots and lots to update you with since the last blog post which was all the way back in December!! I’ve been mega busy with lots of different projects and got loads to tell you all about, so since it’s almost a quarter of the way through already let’s finally get the 2019 blogging season off to a start shall we!

Remember last time I was saying things like “I’m going to focus more on creating photos” and “I won’t be doing as many gear reviews” and “gear just gets in the way” well I still think that’s true but owing to my contrary nature I’d like to introduce you to my latest gear acquistion… the Nikon F2!! Rather than just a boring old review thought this time I’ll be sharing some images i shot with this amazing camera on a recent portrait shoot as well, but first let me take you for a walk around the F2

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Ever since selling my Nikon F3 last year I have had a Nikon F Series shaped hole in my heart/camera collection (check out this link for the reason why I sold the F3) back in mid December I decided (after not very much deliberation) to buy myself an F2, cos ya know..I worked really hard last year and it’s nice to treat yourself every now and again and it was the run up to Christmas and… well, you get the idea…

I found this beauty on Evilbay for the ridiculous price of £70 and so a deal was done, the caveat being that the camera was from Japan so taking a bit of a punt on condition and shipping times, but as with my previous experience of international purchases the shipping is mega quick, it’s really only on arrival into the custody of Her Mahesty’s rip off merchants here in good old blighty that things slow down, after an almost literal ice age in UK customs my camera was finally released to me and there was much merry making and feasting by all….. sort of… two things became clear fairly quickly 1: it was in very good condition and functionally worked perfectly 2: there were traces of dreaded fungus in the viewfinder and in the mirrorbox which didn’t bode well and therefore i was going to have to shell out some more cash (and wait even longer) before getting to grips with the F2 - it’s all sorted now though, fresh from a good clean and service I even managed to negotiate a part refund from the ebay seller which paid towards the cleaning :)

There’s oodles of info out there on the interwebs about the F2 so there’s not much point in me re-hashing it all, suffice it to say that between 1971 and 1980 if you wanted a professional level Nikon SLR then this was it!! Instead of reeling off a list of it’s features and functions I’m going to share with you a series of images I shot with both the F2 and my trusty Nikon FE2 on a portrait shoot recently, I’ll share my experience of shooting with it too of course and no doubt indulge in some techno-babble along the way as is my want…

Oh yes and interesting/geeky factoid alert! The serial number on my F2 is 7865098 and thanks to the wonders of the internet and some Nikon nerds who collate all this info I was able to date manufature of my particular camera to between May & August 1977 - so this camera is only a few months older than me! :)

Ok so that’s enough camera geekery for one blog, what’s the damn thing like to shoot I hear you cry… well… it’s amazing! build quality is second to none, it just feels very well balanced despite being quite a large camera, the viewfinder is HUGE and bright and lovely which makes manual focussing a doddle, alongside the ever brilliant FE2 I now have my perfect 35mm dynamic duo!

Portra 160 with the FE2 and series e 100mm 2.8

Portra 160 with the FE2 and series e 100mm 2.8

These images were taken on a portrait shoot with Model Rebecca back in Feb when we had a mini heat wave - I was so glad we made the most of the sunshine! The FE2 was loaded with a roll of Portra 160 and with the F2 I shot a roll of Fuji Acros 100 and a roll of Portra 400 - I enjoyed using this combination of film and cameras so much and was very happy with the results that I decided right there and then that I’m going to shoot film from now on for portraiture.

Fuji Acros 100 on the F2 with Nikkor 50m 1.4

Fuji Acros 100 on the F2 with Nikkor 50m 1.4

Let’s take a moment to reflect on the film stocks used on this shoot - I’ve had a couple of rolls of Fuji Acros 100 on ice in the freezer for a few years now and since buying it Fuji have discontinued production :( having only shot one roll of it before I figured I’d give it a whirl and I love the results, developed in HC110 it has a clean and balanced finished with lovely contrast.

Colour film duties were fulfilled by Kodak Portra one roll each of 160 and 400 flavours - I think i overexposed the 400 speed a couple of stops to 200 and shot 160 at box speed - having developed these myself I had some issues getting the right colour balance when scanning at home and for some frames it took me a little while to get the colours to look and feel ‘right’

Portra 400 on the FE 2 with Nikkor 24mmm 2.8

Portra 400 on the FE 2 with Nikkor 24mmm 2.8

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So there we have it - I was so pleased with how both cameras performed and I continue to be impressed at the quality of the Nikon lenses, the images here were shot on the Nikkor 50mm 1.4, Nikkor 24mm 2.8 and the Series E 100mm 2.8 - super sharp shooters the lot of them! If you’ve not tried an old Nikon camera and lens I would urge you to do so - there’s a reason why these were the manufacturer of choice for professionals back in the day.

Portra 160 on the FE2 series e 100mm 2.8

Portra 160 on the FE2 series e 100mm 2.8

I developed the colour film at home too - the first time in a long time that I’ve done that, I was really pleased with how they came out and I’ve got a write up of the process and kit that I used on the way, I promise it won’t be another 3 months before I write another blog, in the meantime happy shooting!




Just Passing Through

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Hello there! long time no see! It feels like a long time since the last blog although looking back it seems I’ve managed to keep it to one post per month just about! My (non photography) work has taken off in a big way and I’m now working away quite a bit and whilst being on the road is certainly a great experience it does eat into my time for things like blogging and of course being away from home and family for prolonged stints is hard too. It is cool that I get to travel though and see all sorts of weird, wonderful and sometimes just plain ordinary places - it also helps that I have a firm belief that if we have the eyes to see it, the world around us is full of images just waiting to be discovered - good job i write a blog then innit?!

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So what have I been shooting whilst out and about, well literally that…these images represent moments on the go, on the bounce, on the hop, out and about, in betweener moments - inbetween meetings, in between appointments, in between places and spaces, hurrying along to catch a train, a bus, a plane - that in between mindest when you’re moving from one place to the next, just passing through, finding a route, not putting down roots…

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I’d love to stalk the streets for hours on end searching for the perfect shot, the decisive moment but when I’m travelling it’s often as I’m on my way from point A to point B that I have the opportunity to take in my surroundings, to connect however fleetingly and momentarily through the lens of my camera.

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I titled todays post ‘passing through’ by which i mean to draw attention to the difference between being a passer by and the act of passing through places and spaces. Passing by suggests an act of avoidance, a disconnect, whilst passing through a place denotes a willingness to explore, to experience, to navigate, to see…the gift we bring is an outsiders eye, a newcomers curiosity but this is neccesarily a temporary state of being with a transcience that will inevitably lead us out of reach.

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As you’ll have no doubt guessed by now this isn’t a technical review post - I definitely subscribe to the idea that the act of photography is about more than a set of techniques and their technical application (althogh these are of course important aspects, they are ultimately a means to an end not the end itself)

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So what end is being achieved here? What is the intent? With these images and subsequent blog post I wanted to apply a more intentional mindset to my work so that it’s less about ‘testing’ the various aspects of a camera and film combo in order to write about it on the interweb and more about creating images which have an underlying theme as in todays case, I’m also interested in incorporated elements of storytelling and exploring different themes, thoughts and emotions through my work and I’m working on several projects to that end as we speak (or as I type - whatever, you get the idea)!

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These images represent the beginnings of a train of thought for my photography, a desire to create a body of work that is ‘connected’ with the theme of passing through which prompts a reflection on how we navigate the world around us, both physical and metaphorical, are we passers by in our own lives? We are bombarded with imagery online and onland which seek to capture our time and attention, can we make time and space to set ourselves apart from the hubub of modern life and simply ‘be’ in a place, eyes open to the expanse of infinite possibilities of fleeting moments.

And if all of that sounds a bit grandiose then as the great Ferris Beuler once said “life moves pretty fast, you might miss it if you don’t stop and look around once in a while” Amen to that!

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For those who are interested the majority of these images were shot on an Olympus 35RC with a couple of shots from my Holga 120N thrown in for good measure films are Kodak Double X, JCH streetpan and Ilford HP5 all developed at home by my own fair hand….I’ll still write gear reviews of course but I’d like to think that at least some of my photography is capable of being more than window dressing for a rambling rumination on the vagaries of X film combined with Y developer to produce Z effect or extolling the virtues of A lens, B camera and C film - this may just be wistful thinking on my part, the true test comes via your contribution dear viewer and how you receive the images, if you made it this far then my sincere thanks for passing through…

Malham Cove - an Art Hike Adventure with the Holga 120N

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Until very recently the whole ‘toy camera’ thing wasn’t something I’d paid much attention to, but I saw a couple of shots on line from the Holga 120N and i was blown away by the strangely evocative images it produces and I just knew I had to try it out! On the face of it the Holga 120N is a crappy childs toy camera with a plastic lens and only the most rudimentary controls and features - it is literally a cheap plasticky box which isn’t very well put together at all and the only part that isn’t plastic is the thin metal spring that triggers the shutter. So why the hell do so many people (myself now very much included) rave about this camera? I took it along with me on another Art Hike on a rainy, foggy Sunday walk to Malham Cove in North Yorkshire to find out.

First things first it’s the images really do speak for themselves - I mean look at them!! The lens is actually surprisingly sharp in the middle, whilst the distortion around the edges adds a ghostly, otherwordly effect which is very eye catching, it uses medium format film which gives it a specific look to it as well, the 6X6 square images have a depth to them which adds to the mystique - it is worth noting that at the moment the Holga is the largest format camera i own :) but it’s more than the aesthetic qualities of the images this camera is capable of that appeals to me.

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A quick shout out to the ‘Art Hike’ crew for such an enjoyable day spent walking around Malham Cove, the rain and mist couldn’t dampen our enthusiasm for nature, creativity, walking and a good old chinwag - always great company, thank you all!

Rogue Leader - Robin who organises these Art Hike capers, he’s a miserable soul - never smiles! ;)

Rogue Leader - Robin who organises these Art Hike capers, he’s a miserable soul - never smiles! ;)

So on the face of it then the Holga is a very strange proposition, usually I’m here telling you about my latest whizzbang camera and how amazing it’s lens or features or built quality are but none of that here…. well sort of….it’s the lack of controls, features or creature comforts of any kind which make it interesting, in this world of instant gratification and camera phones that can create near perfect representations of the world, the Holga is an exercise in limitation - to shoot unencumbered by dials, switches, menus, adjustments, meters, readouts etc etc - it’s wonderfully freeing! it’s just you, a roll of film and a cheap plastic lens - love it!

The controls that you do have are a range focus on a scale of portrait to infinity represented by either a single person, two people, small group or a mountain! You can set the aperture for cloudy conditions or wide open at approximately f8 or stop it down for ‘sunny’ conditions and get something like f11 - again nobody is really sure how accurate these are and it’s entirely likely that it differs from one camera to the next, the shutter speed is fixed at who knows what speed and that’s it! :)

The Holga mummified in electrical tape to stop light getting in and ruining the film - just look at the ‘optical’ lens as well!

The Holga mummified in electrical tape to stop light getting in and ruining the film - just look at the ‘optical’ lens as well!

All of these images shot on Ilford HP5 and FP4, in the murky foggy conditions we encountered on this walk I’d have been better with two rolls of HP5 as it’s a lot more flexible and responds really well to being pushed in development, I think the FP4 struggled in the poor lighting especially at the beginning of the walk, so the Holga shall henceforth dine only on the finest HP5! it’s a good idea to shoot higher speed films anyway since I have no idea what my shutter speed is on the Holga so having some latitude in your film gives me more confidence that I’ll get something!

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So maybe the Holga isn’t perfect but it doesn’t need to be, I paid £20 for mine and for that price it came with a roll of Ilford FP4 film too which is worth about a fiver!! this camera is CHEAP!! it was designed to be cheap! Most of the time photographers are looking for cameras that give them additional features, controls or settings but the Holga has none of that, in fact THAT is it’s feature - it’s more of a mindset thing, without the confusion of dials, buttons and switches to get in your way you are really only left with one option - point the damn thing at something and shoot! the challenge is whether you can make an interesting image under those constraints! I love it! I am officially a Holga convert and the best part is that i am not going to go broke in the process!

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The rain soaked summit of Malham Cove - the other great feature of the Holga is that I can quite happily sling this around my neck in horrible weather and not give a hoot about the rain damaging the workings of the camera, becuase the camera is literally a plastic box with a thin metal spring inside…. if i’ve done my job with the 99p worth of electic tape sealing up the camera then water shouldn’t bother the inner workings at all and anyway if it does it just adds to the charm right?

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In summary then I would heartily recommend you try one - yes you will take some shots with the lens cap on, yes you will make more than a few unintended double exposures, yes you will spend more on electrical tape to seal it up than you paid for the whole camera and yes you will enjoy every second of shooting with it!

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!