film photography

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.

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…

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!

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! :)

Pentax Spotmatic F Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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